Saturday, April 17, 2010

Adakaya Kojins

The main kami in my area is known as Omoto, and is represented by a straw serpent. Up in Izumo a similar kami goes by the name of Kojin, and it is also represented by a serpent made of rice-straw. In the Higashi izumo area these straw serpents have developed into large sculptural forms. The 2 pictured here are from Adakaya Shrine.

You won't find Kojin in the ancient chronicles as it has nothing to do with the ruling classes or the political Shinto of the shrines. It is a "folk" kami, which simply means it was/is actually worshipped by people. It is a kami that combines elements of ancestor and nature worship.

Though now in the grounds of Adakaya Shrine, these 2 altars would have been moved here during the late Meiji Period when the government closed down half the folk shrines in the country and moved them to state shrines.

The number of gohei in front of the altars, as well as the care and attention that goes into creating these straw serpents attests to the continued importance of Kojin to the local people. The only other place I have seen such large Kojin was on the eastern side of Dogo, the largest of the Oki Islands.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Shimonoseki Kaikyokan


Shimonoseki Kaikyokan is the big, new aquarium located right on the seafront in Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi Prefecture.


It was designed by the Nikken Sekkei Company who also designed our local aquarium, Aquas.

Whereas the design of Aquas was based on the shark form, Kaikyokan is supposedly based on the whale form.


The entrance foyer has a huge whale skeleton on display. (Nearby at the fish market you can by whale steaks)

Many of Japan's whaling fleet are based in Shimonoseki. Ooops... I mean of course Japan's "research" fleet.


By all accounts the aquarium has good displays, but at 1,800yen for entrance, the short time I had as I passed through Shimonoseki meant I didn't go in.


They do have a big display of Fugu.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Vacation 2010 Day1: Coventry.


I took a break from posting recently as I went on vacation.

A lot of friends and family read this blog, so I thought I would post vacation pics here.

My first day was in Coventry, the city I grew up in.


One of the first things I notice when I return to Europe are the trees. They are different from Japan. Older and gnarlier. The streets of European cities tend to have more trees than in japan.


It was really nice to see stone buildings, especially sandstone. This is Swanswell gate in the old town wall dating to the fifteenth Century.


The area around Millenium Square has been redeveloped with a great Transport Museum (free), and more public art. This statue is of Whittle, the inventor of the jet engine.


The skyline in my old neighborhood used to be dominated by the gasworks, but they have long gone and been replaced with Ricoh Stadium, the home of the Coventry FC.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Tachikue Gorge


Tachikue Gorge on the Kando River just south of Izumo City is a great place to spend a quiet couple of hours.


The area is a designated scenic area because of the towering rock formations, many of which have buddhist names as this was a center of Shugendo. All that remains now though is one temple, Reiko-Ji, and 1500 statues along the cliffs and around the giant trees.


There are 2 suspension bridges that cross over to a pleasant footpath. The times I`ve been there I`ve been the only one there. There is a youth hostel in the gorge, but storms a few years ago caused it to close and I don't know if it has opened again. There is also an Onsen on the main road side of the river that has great views of the gorge from its open-air baths.


There are regular buses to Tachikue from outside Izumo-Shi railway station, though the best way to approach it is by walking down the river valley from the mountains :)


Saturday, April 10, 2010

More Colourful Koi


Japanese koi come in an astonishing number of breeds.

Here are a few of the major ones.....


KOHAKU.... white with large red markings on top

TAISHO SANSHOKU..... similar to the Kohaku but with the addition of black.

SHOWA SANSHOKU.... black koi with red and white markings/


CHAGOI..... meaqns tea colored... olive green, brown, bronze etc

SHIRO UTSURI... black with white markings

GOLD OGON..... single color, ranging from gold to yellow.


AKA BEKKO.... red with small black markings

BEKKO.... White, with small black markings.

UTSURI MONO..... 2 colred in an almost checkerboard pattern. Several color combinations.

hagi3501Align Center

Monday, March 22, 2010

Yomi, The Underworld!


When it comes to where you go after death, the Japanese have had multiple places to believe in. Probably the most common nowadays is the Pure Land of Buddhism, and also the christian notion of heaven has had some influence. Before the introduction of Buddhism there were several places, Ne no Kuni (land of the root), Tokoyo no Kuni, the land of everlasting life that lay across or under the sea, but the classic version is Yomi, the land of the dead.


Yomi is where Izanami went to after giving birth to the kami of fire caused her death. Her partner, Izanagi, was under strict instructions not to follow her, but he did anyway and discovered a place underground filled with rotting corpses. The description of Yomi reads like the inside of a tomb. Anyway, Izanagi was chased by the hideous guardians of Yomi and only managed to escape by blocking the entrance with boulders.


The entrance to Yomi is up in Izumo, not far from Matsue, just off Route 9. One would think that the entrance to hell would be a big deal, but its actually hard to find, marked with a handpainted sign up a small farm road. The farmer who lives next to it doesnt seem at all bothered by it.


A few kilometres away is Kamosu Shrine, and this is where Izanagi stopped and rested after fleeing Yomi. Afterwards he purified himself with water to get rid of the pollution of death, and in the process created Amaterasu and Susano, among others.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Omiwa Shrine


Omiwa Shrine is the major shrine at the base of Mount Miwa in Nara Prefecture. Known as Mount Mimoru in the ancient chronicles, Miwa is generally considered to be where the Yamato established themselves and eventually formed what became the Japanese state.

Much emphasis is placed on Omiwa Shrine not having a honden, the inner sanctuary where the shintai (god-body) of the kami resides, as the mountain itself is considered to be the honden. There are though plenty of other buildings of typical Ryobu shinto design.


The kami is considered to be Okuninushi, the Izumo kam who ceded the land to the Yamato. He took up residence here along with other kami from Izumo to protect Yamato. Not long afterwards Amaterasu was moved to Ise.


Omiwa shrine became marginalized as the center of power moved north, first to Nara and then to Kyoto, and as the courts focus switched to Amaterasu and Ise. However in the middle ages Omiwas declining fortunes were reversed as it was revived by Buddhism. Until the Meiji eras seperation of buddhas and kami (shinbutsu bunri) the area was home to a lot of temples. After shinbutsubunri the temples were mostly destroyed or converted to shrines. There is an excellent paper on this subject The Separation of Gods and Buddhas at Omiwa Shrine


Snakes have been important elements in the mythology surrounding Omiwa shrine and mountain, and the most well-known story concerns a Princess Yamato Totohi Momoso. The Kojiki and Nihon Shoki both give different versions of who she was, but the story is essentially the same. She slept with the Kami of Miwa everynight and asked to see him during the daytime so she could see him in light. He agreed as long as she promised not to freak out. Next morning she saw him in his form of a white snake, and she freaked out. He got angry and disappeared into Mount Miwa and she became so distraught she killed herself by stabbing herself in the genitals with her chopsticks. She was buried in the nearby Hashihaka (chopstick grave) Kofun. Historians tend to believe this is the kofun of Queen Himiko.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Shimenawa & Rock


Rock and stone plays a major part in ancient Japanese mythology, so it's not surprising to find them marked as sacred with a shimenawa.


Iwakura, "stone seat" are rock outcroppings found often on mountaintops and are places where the kami descend to earth. They will often be fenced off behind shimenawa rather than having the shimenawa on them.


As with most other places in the world, rocks with unusual shapes and such will often have stories and legends associated with them. The one above is at a female fertility shrine on Mount Daisen, and its easy to see what it reopresents.


This rock has Sainokami carved in it. sainokami are male/female kami found in pairs at village boundaries, crossroads, etc. originally represented by a male and female rock, later they began to be carved as figures.

An evening on Tsunoshima 664

And, of course, there are lots of memorial stones that will have shimenawa on them.

I'm looking forward to reading a book I just got on the new discipline of Geomythology, the study of the geological foundation to human myths.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Concrete Wabi Sabi: Mountainsides

An Afternoon Around Sanbe Dam4125

Any look at the aesthetics, or economics, of concrete in Japan would have to look at concreted mountainsides.

Lunchbreak 7490

There is no doubting that Japanese mountainsides are, by and large, steep. That comes partially from Japans "newness" geologically speaking, and that steepness causes problems that can be remedies by concrete.

An Afternoon Around Sanbe Dam4129

But whether the truly staggering amounts of concreted mountainsides in Japan are truly necessary.... thats another thing.


Like many of the roads, bridges, tunnels, and tetrapods, their function is more to provide profits for concrete and construction companies. And jobs of course.

An Afternoon Around Sanbe Dam4126

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Samurai with guns

One day in Yamaguchi City 5952

These 2 draincovers are on Ishin kaido, Restoration Road, in Yuda Onsen, Yamaguchi. The restoration referred to is the Meiji restoration of 1868 whereby the government forces were defeated and the emperor "restored" to rule by the Imperial faction led by the domains of Satsuma and Choshu (the previous name for what is now Yamaguchi Prefecture). The partnership of Satsuma and Choshu had been brought about by Ryoma Sakamoto of Tosa domain. An early meeting of all three parties took place in Yuda Onsen.

One day in Yamaguchi City 5951

The civil war to bring about the Meiji restoration is known as the Boshin war, and both sides used plenty of foreign weaponry. The Imperial faction used a lot of French Minie rifles, and these were more accurate and had a longer range than the guns used by the Shoguns forces. This may not have been a deciding factor, but is must have helped in their victory.