Thursday, March 12, 2009

The London Gherkin

6 hours in London 3139

A bit of non-Japanese architecture as I work my way through my photo backlog :)

The building known as the Gherkin in London was finished in 2003, and so a trip back to England I made a point of going to see it.

6 hours in London 3173

In the middle of "The City", Londons financial district, the building real name is 30 St. Mary Axe, which is its address.

6 hours in London 3205

The 40 story glass tower was designed by Norman Foster and Ken Shuttleworth.

6 hours in London 3159

I visited on a Sunday when all the offices were closed so the streets were deserted allowing me to wander into the roads to get good views.

6 hours in London 3147

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Temples & Snacks


I love wandering around the old neighborhoods of Japanese towns and villages. All these photos are from one of the old parts of the castle area in Hamada.

There are usually a mishmash of architectural styles and periods. The photo above is probably Meiji era, and was probably a school originally.


The area south of the castle had an awful lot of "Snacks", or Sunaku, little drinking establishments that don't serve meals, just alcohol and "bar snacks" and in some instances female companionship.


I counted at least 30 within a few hundred metres of walking back streets. Most of them kind of funky.


There were also a lot of temples, many of them quite picturesque, with statues, and gardens etc

I'm not sure if there is a direct relationship between a neighborhood having a lot of temples and a lot of bars :)

There is a lot of history in these neighborhoods, and not the contrived museum kind of history one finds in tourist areas, and perhaps more interesting because of that.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Hamada Hachiman Shrine


There are steps leading up to Hamada Hachiman Shrine.

More than 100 of them.

There are steps leading up to most shrines and temples.

I did a rough calculation, and figure I must have climbed more than a million by now.


The steps and road to the steps lead back in a straight line to where Hamada castle stood on its hill overlooking Hamada, as this shrine was the tutelary shrine for the lords of Hamada.

Hachiman, kami of war, tutelary deity of all samurai.


It's a fairly standard Hachiman shrine, though I noticed on my last visit that it had a whole new set of front doors.

Behind the main shrine is a small secondary shrine, a Densha, some type of rice paddy kami, and a small old Inari shrine.


Being hamada, of course there is a kagura den.


To the side of the main shrine is a second, much larger Inari shrine. This was moved here from a few hundred metres away about 30 years ago. The original shrine was established by a son of the lord about 400 years ago.


Though its locally known simply as Hamada Hachimangu, its real name is Hisamitsuyama Hachimangu.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Pink, green, blue bridge.


When giving directions to people driving to our place, the one landmark we can easily give is the pastel pink bridge across the Gonokawa connecting Tanijyugo with kawado. It was recently repainted, so the pastel shades are bright again.


I guess the bridge is about 40 years old as there was a major flood back in the 60's, so the embankments have been raised since then. I have seen some old photos from the 1920's or 30's that showed a low wooden bridge crossing the river at this point.


Before the Meiji period there would not have been a bridge here as either side of the river belonged to different Hans, or Domains. Our side of the river belonged to Iwami Ginzan, so was controlled directly by the Bafuku in Edo. The Kawado side of the river belonged to Hamada Han.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Tengai Dance, Omoto Kagura

This short video is from my favorite of all the Omoto Kagura dances. The tengai is the canopy above a kagura performance space. The kami descend through the colored paper streamers and into the dancers.


The tengai dance is unusual in that it is not humans who dance, but the tengai itself. I have not come across anything like this anywhere else in japan, and I have a lot more research to do to understand it.


For Omoto kagura there is a somewhat different tengai, among the paper streamers are lantern/box like structures.


The boxes are connected by ropes to the priests who sit at the side of the area.


Before the dance begins long streamers inside the boxes are unfurled and hang down. I suspect the writing on them has daoist or esoteric buddhist meaning, as Omoto Kagura was brought to this area by Yamabushi of Shugendo.


The dance begins slowly with the boxes being lowered and raised slowly, gradually the tempo increases and then lateral movement, swinging, and twisting all begin. As with normal kagura, at times audience members or musicians will shout when a particularly fine sequence of movements are executed.


I've seen the Tengai dance performed by 3 priests, and once by only 2 priests, and was stunned by the intricacy and complexity of the movements created.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Typical Japanese Landscape 16


A view over the rooftops in Hakata, Fukuoka; though it could be any Japanese city.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Takashima Sunset


This is one of the draincovers from town of Misumi which lies near the Japan Sea coast about halfway between Hamada and Masuda. It depicts a sunset over takashima, a small island just off the coast that has been uninhabited for about 30 years.

The flowers in the design are Azaleas, and Misumi will be having an Azalea Festival soon when the 50,000 Azaleas in the town come into bloom.


I was fortunate to watch a sunset there last year.






Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Hina Matsuri (Doll Festival)


Today is Hina Matsuri, when displays of dolls in Heian Period costume are put up in homes. The dolls at the top are of the Emperor and Empress. This display is at Yoko's family home in Kyoto.
The festival comes from the ancient practise of using straw dolls thrown in the river to carry away sin and pollution, a practise which continues today in such matsuri as MushiokuriOdori.

Though May 5th is the National holiday called Childrens Day, in actuality it is celebrated as Boys Day, and Hina Matsuri is celebrated as Girls day.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Shakechi Hachiman Shrine, Hamada


Shakechi Hachiman Shrine is tucked away in a quiet neighborhood just off Route 186, the main road south out of Hamada towards Hiroshima.

Like most shrine it is unmanned, but I was surprised to see a display case with ofuda and Omamori for sale, until I learnt that amulets from this shrine are known specificly for traffic safety, so when you get a new car this is the place to come for protection while driving.


There are quite a few secondary shrines within the grounds including this Inari Shrine.


There is an Ebisu shrine, and Omoto Shrine, and a Jyunisha, which I believe is a shrine to the 12. animals of the Chinese zodiac.


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Invented traditions: Emperor Jimmu & Saint Valentine

Invented traditions are not unique to Japan, they are the mainstay of all nation-states, but Japan does seem to have an inordinate amount of them.

This month we have had two of them.

On Wednesday, February 11th, it was National Foundation Day in Japan. National Foundation day was created in the Meiji era to celebrate the founding of Japan by the first Emperor Jimmu on February 11th 660 BC! This date comes from the early chronicles of Japan written in the late 7th Century by the Yamato rulers to justify their rule over Japan. Historians believe Jimmu, and the nine emperors after him, are pure fabrication. Certainly the date of 660BC is hundreds of years before the first of the people who would later be known as the Japanese started arriving in the islands. Its also 1,000 or more years before the Yamato rose to regional prominence in the Kinai area.

From the Meiji era until the end of the Second World War these ancient fairy tales were taught as history, and while this is no longer strictly true there is certainly an encouragement to believe them as history even nowadays. There is a school history textbook that includes a map of Jimmus invasion from Kyushu to the Kinai, and nowhere does it state that this is myth not history. Also even today in front of Heian Shrine in Kyoto is a sign in English about "2,600 years of Imperial rtule in Japan".

There is. I believe , a general tendency in Japan to believe that Japans culture and history go back much further in time than historical fact. (an excellent book looking at Japanese historians and the ancient myths is here)

Then, on the 14th of February we had Valentines day. I know valentine traditions are quite varied around the world, but for me there are two aspects that define it. One, it is a day for romance and romantic love, and secondly, there is the element of anonymity and secrecy. Japanese Valentines day has neither of these elements.

Valentines Day in Japan is for women to give chocolates to men. This should include your boyfriend, if you have one, but mostly its for giving chocolate to your boss and your male co-workers. There is no anonymity, as the chocolate is "giri choco", obligation chocolate, and one month later on March 14th, White Day, the men are supposed to return the favor to the women who gave them giri choco. In actual fact White Day is much more low-key, and I believe there is far less return-gift giving.

The chocolate companies in japan make half their annual sales in the few weeks leading up to Valentines Day. There lies the clue as to who invented this unique Japanese tradition.

The Englishman has some funny post on Japanese valentines chocolate...