Saturday, March 31, 2012

Origin of shimenawa


Shimenawa, the ropes usually made of rice-straw though increasingly of plastic, are found in many places in Japan though typically at shrines. They can be found wrapped around sacred rocks, sacred trees, strung across torii, shrine entrance gates, and across shrine structures. they come in a huge diversity of styles and sizes up to the 5 ton giant at Izumo Taisha.


There are many theories as to the origin of shimenawa, many connecting it to the use of rope to mark possession of things or space, and I have also read that it originates in the rope tied around the campsite of central Asian nomads, but the simple truth is nobody knows for sure.


When it comes to the mythological origin of the shimenawa however we are given two different origins, one connected to Amaterasu and the other to Susano. Not surprisingly the myth connected to Amaterasu is by far the dominant.


According to the Iwato myth, wherein Amaterasu hides herself away in a cave and plunges the world into darkness, she is finally tempted out by the dance of Uzume, and after Tajikarao pulls her out another kami stretches a rope across the cave entrance to stop Amaterasu from going back in. I realize that myths do not have to make sense, but this story makes no sense at all because if a shimenawa is supposed to stop a kami from entering a space, then why are they used to mark space that is inhabited by kami?


In Okayama there is a story that tells how Susano instructed the local people how to make a chinowa, a hoop woven out of reeds or sometimes rice straw that by passing through purifies the person. Further north in Tottori a similar story tells how in return for a kindness Susano teaches a local man how to string a rope along the street to purify it and keep out disease. Shimenawa mark sacred space, and in Japan the sacred is equated with purity, so these stories make much more sense.


So why is the Amaterasu version the most common? Since the beginning of recorded history the Yamato have been denigrating Susano and elevating Amaterasu. Much of contemporary "shinto" is still tied to Imperial Shinto and the State Shinto of the late 19th Century. These forms of shinto placed the imperial family and Amaterasu at the apex and this is still put forward today. The Yamato were relative latecomers, even their own myths say that Susano and his descendants ruled over "Japan" before they did, so it makes sense that some of Japanese culture must originate from Izumo traditions.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Kumano Shrine, Awa City


The Kuman shrine in Awa City is located about halfway between Anrakuji and Jurakuji, temples 6 and 7 of the Shikoku Pilgrimage. There are about 3,000 Kumano shrines all over Japan and they are branch shrines of the famous Kumano Sanzan, the three shrine complexes in Wakayama. Kumano was a major cultic center in medieval times and the yamabushi from there spread all over Japan. The Kumano deities are linked with many of the temples on the Shikoku Pilgrimage and the Kumano yamabushi seem to have created some of what later became the 88 temple pilgrimage.


The shrine had an unusual pair of zuijin. Normally they are represented in a seated position in armor and with bows and arrows, but here they were standing in robes. I have seen this style only once before in Kunisaki.


Also unusual was the walkway to the shrine buildings were covered. I have seen this before in Okayama.


A sessha (sub shrine) in the grounds had an unusual pair of ceramic komainu. The open mouth of one was stuffed full of 1 yen coins.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Vacation 2011 Day 13 through Kelaa M'Goun

As we approached the town of Kelaa M'Gouna it became more and more built-up.


The floodplain of the river was green with trees and irrigated fields and tons of birds made more noticeable by the birdwatchers among the group. Lots of palms, barley, lima beans etc and a lot of red poppies scattered among the barley...

The town itself was incredibly busy and noisy, quite startling after a week in the wide-open spaces of the high country we had spent the last week in. We visited a hammam, a public bath and later sat in a sidewalk eatery for lunch before heading out of town into the foothills of the Atlas Mountains and the Valley of the Roses.


The Draa Valley is home to thousands of kasbah ruins, some of them quite large.

That evening we stayed in a gite in a village. The next few days through the Valley of the Roses will be greener, wetter, and more inhabited than the Jebel Sahro....


Monday, March 19, 2012

New Hiroshima Draincovers


When I first visited Hiroshima City I could not find any manhole covers with interesting designs, but in the past year or so 2 new ones have appeared. This first one shows senbazuru, " a thousand origami cranes".


Origami cranes are not unique to Hiroshima, they are a traditional item, but Hiroshima is associated with them especially outside of japan because of the story of  Sadako Sasaki. Aged 2 when the bomb exploded over Hiroshima she later contracted leukemia and set about making 1,000 cranes before she died. people from all over the world now send senbazuru to Hiroshima.


The second design features the local baseball team the Hiroshima Carp, possibly related to the construction of a new stadium. I have zero interest in baseball so have no idea if the team is any good.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Tokoro Museum (outside)


Located on the island of Omishima, just a few hundred meters from Toyo Ito's Museum of Architecture, the Tokoro Museum houses a collection of contemporary sculptures belonging to wealthy art collector Atsuo Tokoro.


Actually Ito's museum grew out of a scheme for him to build an annex for this museum.


Its constructed on a slope on the clifftop with fantastic views over the Inland Sea and its design is somewhat reminiscent of a climbing kiln.


2 plain concrete walls topped with an arched wooden lattice roof is divided into 3 section and access to each section is via an external "corridor". The end wall opens opens onto an elevated patio.


The museum is open from 9 to 5 and closed on Mondays. Entrance is 300 yen for adults though its a little cheaper if you by a combined ticket to also visit the nearby Museum of Architecture and the Ken Iwata Mother & Child Museum.


Access is by an infrequent bus service.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The 7 Lucky Gods around Shikoku


The Shichifukujin, the 7 lucky gods, are very popular in Japan despite their being mostly "foreign" gods. On my little walk around Shikoku I encountered them at many of the 88 temples, like these small figurines at the mountaintop temple of Tairyuji in Tokushima.


They are often depicted riding a "takarabune", a treasure boat, together like this at Meitokuji in Kochi.


Many temples, especially in Ehime, had fairly new and larger collections of their statues like Ryukoji in Ehime.


The next temple, Butsumokuji, I visited just afew days before New Year and the statues had fresh offerings in front of them in preparation for the large number of visitors expected I would guess.


This small figurine was at Gokurakuji in Tokushima.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Shikoku 88 Temple 8 Kumadaniji


Kumadaniji means Bear Valley Temple and is located up a valley, though it is believed it was even further up the valley originally. Some distance away at the mouth of the valley stands the main gate, considered to be the finest of all the 88 temples. It was built in 1688.


The main gate contained 2 fairly standard Nio, but in the middle gate were 2 brightly-painted nio of a quite different style. I must admit I know nothing about this style, though they seem to me to look very Hindu.


The main deity of the temple is the Thousand-armed Kannon (Senju kannon) and the statue was supposedly carved by Kukai. The founding legend has a story of the Kumano gods, as do many of the 88 temples and this leads historians to believe that sites connected to Kumano ascetics are one of the sources of the 88 temple pilgrimage.


Notable structures include a pagoda and this belfry. The main hall is a twentieth century construction.


Monday, March 12, 2012

Hidden Crosses

When Christianity was outlawed in Japan in the early 17th Century many people took their faith underground and are now known by the name kakure kirishitan, "hidden christians". They employed many subterfuges to disguise their faith, perhaps the most well-knoiwn being to equate the Virgin Mary with the Goddess Kannon.

Another was these stone lantern pedestals which originally had a lantern on top to form a cross with truncated horizontals. Hidden Christians are associated most strongly with parts of Kyushu, especially the area around Nagasaki, but these three examples are not from there.

The top photo is from a temple in Ehime, Shikoku, the second from Hagi in Yamaguchi, and the bottom one is in a temple in Tottori.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Kanzui Matsuri 7


The next dance at last years all-night matsuri in Kanzui was Oeyama, a big production with an unusually large cast for a kagura dance so I will split it into two posts. the story is based on a Noh play of the same name which itself was based on a story in the Heike Monogatari. In the first scene the hero, Minamoto Yorimitsu, and an aide leave Kyoto on a mission to destroy demons that have been kidnapping and eating young women.  On the way they meet a tengu/yamabushi who tells them that the demon will not harm yamabushi so they should discard their armor and wear the garb of mountain priests. the tengu also gives them some drugged sake that will disable demons but not affect humans.

The next scene introduces a villager who works in the mountains as a woodsman.


The next scene introduces a princess who is found in the mountains washing bloodstained clothes in a stream. She was captured by the demons but her flesh was too tough and bones too large to be eaten so the demons kept her as a laundry maid.


She promises to guide them, now dressed as yamabushi, to the demons lair on Mount Oeyama.

Friday, March 9, 2012



Yamabikokan is the name of Tottori City History Museum.


Its located near Ochidani Park to the south of the castle area.


I didnt have time to go inside and see what they have on display and I have been unable to find out who the architect is, though I found its color scheme quite pleasant.


Its closed on Mondays and entrance is 500yen for adults, though there is a small reduction for foreign visitors.


Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Hamada Castle


This is an artists impression of what Hamada castle would have looked like. It no longer exists as it was torched by the Lord of the castle in 1866 to stop it falling into the hands of the approaching Choshu forces.


This entrance gate that now stands at the entrance to the inner fortifications was originally a gate to a samurai residence in Tsuwano. the Choshu forces passed through Tsuwano on their way west but the Tsuwano Lord chose to keep his men inside tsuwano castle rather than engage the invaders.


The castle and surrounding castle town were built in 1620 by the Yoshida clan though control of the domain and castle passed to a branch of the Matsudaira a few decades later.


There are fine views over Hamada from where the keep once stood.