Monday, May 10, 2010

Tanijyugo Suijin Matsuri. Part 2

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The first Suijin site is a large tree on the bank of the river just next to the candy-colored bridge.

This is the spot where the small ferry boat used to cross the river. Before the river was dammed it was much more violent than now, and many people drowned at this spot.

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A few older people turn up carrying bamboos with streamers attached. On the streamers are written the names of children of the family. It should have been the parents bringing the banners, but it was left up to the grandparents.

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The old Onusa on its bamboo pole is first removed and thrown into the river. This is a traditional form of purification. Polluted things are thrown into the water and taken away to the depths of the sea.

In former times the Onusa was attached to the tree by someone climbing up the tree. The long bamboo pole is a more modern "safer" way.

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On the opposite bank of the river the Suijin Matsuri of kawado is underway. I just checked and realized that I havent posted about it yet, so will do that in a few days.

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Once the Onusa and streamers are attached to the tree the priest then performs some more rituals. Sake is poured at the base, and some rice is scattered.

The purpose of the Onusa is to pacify the spirit of Suijin, the Water God. Spirit-pacification is a major part of what is now called Shinto,but its roots lie in Daoism and Yin-Yang Theory.

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We then move downstream half a kilometer to the second site. This is right above what used to be a deep and dangerous part of the river that had the "7 day whirlpool". If your boat got sucked into it, it would take 7 days to row out. This is also the site of the local Enko legend, something else I havent gotten round to posting about yet.

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Following the rituals everyone heads back to the shrine for the closing ceremony. Everyone in attendance is given a Mikuma, a small folded paper that contains a few grains of the rice that was on the altar as an offering to Suijin. The rice is from the village, and the priest suggests we add the grains next time we cook some rice.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Tanijyugo Suijin Matsuri



On Wednesday (May 5th) it was Childrens Day, but in my area it was also time for the annual Suijin Matsuri. Usually we go over the river to the matsuri in Kawado, a rather grand affair with processions and boats etc. Previous posts can be found here.

This year I decided to visit our local matsuri, far more low-key, and becoming more low-key year by year.

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The shrine is dominated by 2 huge pieces of giant bamboo, at leat 12 meters long, to which are attached Onusa, a type of purification wand. These will be taken down to 2 spots on the river and replace last years.

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The Onusa are laid in front of the offering table in front of the Suijin Mikoshi. In former times the mikoshi would then be carried down to the 2 spots by the villagers. More recently it was carried by a pick-up truck. This year, for the first time, it will stay in the shrine as there are simply too few villagers taking part. Other than the priest and the 2 musicians and 5 village elders, I was the only person there.

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Most villages no longer have a priest, but ours lives right next to the shrine, and I noticed what a great garden he has.

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After the ceremonies that consisted mostly of purifiication rituals and the reading of norito ( commonly called shinto prayers, but more akin to "reports" to the kami) the 6 of us manhandled the huge Onusa down the shrine steps to the river.

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One was tied to a little truck to be carried downriver a few hundred meters to the second Suijin spot.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Nagasaki National Peace Memorial Hall

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Only opened in 2003, the Nagasaki National Peace Memorial Hall memorializes the victims of the atomic bombing.

Built underground, the surface is a large shallow pool with 2 glass "walls".

At night 70,000 fibre-optic lights make for an intriguing display.

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The glass walls point towards the epicentre of the bomb blast on the opposite side of the valley.

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The glass walls descend underground into 12 light pillars symbolizing hope for peace.

The first level has on overview of the hall below and photos of some of the victims.

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The hall was designed by Akira Kuryu

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At the end of the memorial Hall itself, framed by the pillars of light, is the registry of names of all the victims.

The memorial Hall is open every day of the year except over the new year period. There is no entry charge.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Japanese White-eye

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This little guy flew straight into our window and dropped like a stone. We put him in the shade up high out of reach of the local cats and an hour later it was gone, so I presume it was OK.

In Japanese it is known as mejiro, which means white eye.

It is common throughout Japan and most of East Asia, It was kept as a caged bird because of its song.

Introduced into Hawaii for pest control in the early twentieth century, it is now a dominant species there.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Another Gotsu sunset

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Went for a short walk along the mouth of the Gonokawa and couldn't resist some sunset shots.

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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The diverse Komainu of Suwa

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Komainu, the pairs of guardian "lion/dogs" that guard the entrance to shrines, come in a variety of styles and forms. All the ones depicted here are found inside the grounds of Suwa Shrine in Nagasaki.

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This was the first time I have ever seen one standing on its hind legs...

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Though its partner I have seen before on a temple roof.

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One of the pair always has its mouth open, the other its mouth closed.

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Suwa is an interesting shrine . It was established in the seventeenth Century expressly to combat the influence of Christianity.

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The pairs are seen as male/female, and the open and closed mouth represent the "a" and "un" sounds (equivalent to Alpha and Omega).

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The most famous pair at Suwa is probably the ones known as "Stop Lions". One wraps a string or thin strip of paper around their legs when praying to stop something, like smoking.

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As the komainu age they become weathered, moss covered, and sometimes damaged, all of which contributes to their strange appearance sometimes.

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The money washing komainu is another that I had never seen before. Apparently washing your money here will cause it to double.

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The Turntable Komainu is one a circular stone base that you spin around as you make your request. It was used by local prostitutes to pray for bad weather that would keep the sailors, their customers, in port longer.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Golden Week-end walk day 2

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I was up walking at first light. Not sure of the time as I havent owned a watch in more than 20 years. In the shrine at Mitsu I found a small but interesting Kojin.

From here I headed inland, south towards Matsue. The road sign said 10 kilometers, but I would be following a zig zag route to visit small shrines up in the hills.

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I stopped in at Sada Shrine, once the most important shrine in Izumo until Izumo Taisha took that role in the late heian period. This is the home of Izumo Kagura, believed by many to be the root of all the kagura in western Japan. Excavations in the area around the shrine have found the earliest traces of the Yayoi in this part of Japan.

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By 7 the paddies were a hive of activity, with planting or preparations for planting underway. In my village because of the strange weather we are still a week or two away from planting. I also noticed someone unloading bamboo shoots from their bag. This year there are none in my area yet.

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At an old temple, numbered 27 on one of the pilgrimage routes, I found this lovely wooden Jizo. Most Jizo are stone.

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The morning got hotter as I approached the city. Lots of traffic and convenience stores.

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I hit the shore of lake Shinji about 2k along from Matsue. The road around the lake was a non-stop line of traffic. This is Golden Week.

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The first place I headed was the ashi-yu ( foot bath) outside of the Ichibata railway terminal. My feet appreciated the soak in the hot water. Ashiyu can be found in many onsen areas, and I imagine they are from the time when most people in Japan travelled as I have been, on foot.

It was noon, 24 hours exactly since I started my walk. I had visited 16 shrines, a couple of which that were not marked on the map. Now its time to sit down and find out about what I have seen.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Golden Week-end walk

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I took advantage of the spell of wonderful weather this past weekend to go for a 40k walk. I wanted to walk the last section of the Shimane coast that I had not yet walked. I started out at Kasaura, a little village up on the Shimane Hanto (peninsular) north east of Matsue. I headed up the cape that protrudes north, passing through Noi, where I found a wonderful example of an old-style mikoshi in the local shrine.

Being the Japanese coast, I was never far from tetrapods.

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On up through Sezaki, then over to Konami, all just little fishing villages with a few hundred inhabitants. I like these places. The houses are so close together there are only narrow passageways and steps between them, making labyrinths. I could see the shrine on the hill but I had to enlist the help of a passing local to help me navigate through the maze to find the steps up.

Being the Japanese coast, I was never far from concreted mountains.

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And on up through Tako to Okidomari, the northernmost settlement on the tip of the cape.
Concrete aside, the coast is quite spectacular, with white beaches and a clear, turquoise sea.

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There are lots of rugged cliffs, little islands, sea caves. At times the coast of Shimane reminds me of Cornwall.

Then back down the cape along the only road back through Konami to Nonami, a "town" big enough to have three shrines, one of which was mentioned in the 8th century Izumo no Fudoki.

At the Hinomisaki branch shrine I spent at least 30 minutes chatting with three middle-aged ladies. There were the usual questions, where are you from, where are you going, what are you doing. I explained how I walked all over Shimane visiting shrines, learning the stories, histories, etc. One lady seemed to have a hard time getting her head around it. She kept asking "why?", but no matter what explanation I gave she blurted "But they are Japanese kami!!".
Reminded me of a recent conversation wher I mentioned to a young woman that I made kagura masks and she replied..."BUT!! you are not Japanese!!!!"

Nihonjinron. The true Japanese religion.

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And so I headed on,... the sun was a few hours from going down and I needed to find a nice place to sleep. On though Kaka, the place to take the boat tours to the Kaganokukedo.
No boats were going out today though as it was way too windy. And on through Owashi, visiting shrines in each village. I noted that the majority of shrines had female kami.

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I made my bed on the cliff above the roaring surf looking down on Mitsu, and beyond it the nuclear power station at Kashima. Built on a faultline that is much bigger than originally claimed, a second reactor is planned to be built here. (when I got home Yoko told me that the company had just publicly apologized for not replacing 530 parts that should have been replaced as part of scheduled safety maintenance)

I love sleeping outside, and I don't do it often enough! I watched a sublime sunset, and then woke regularly through the night and watched the full moons progress across my ceiling.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Inside nagasaki ferry terminal

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The inverted, truncated, cone section of the Nagasaki ferry terminal is a large open space lit by strong, natural, light from the roof.

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Designed by Shimane-born architect Shin Takamatsu, it reminds me a lot of another of his building, the Public Spa at Tamatsukuri Onsen (which I haven't posted yet)

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Saturday, May 1, 2010

Nagasaki Ferry Terminal

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As we walked towards the new Nagasaki Ferry terminal to catch the tour boat to Battleship island, I had a sneaking suspicion it was a Shin Takamatsu design.

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It had all the hallmarks of his work,.... metal, concrete, glass, simple platonic solids, often with spaces cut out...., and a certain whimsy I appreciate in his work.

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Sure enough, I was right, it was designed by him and built in 1995.

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I have photos of two other ferry terminals designed by him, at Shichirui, and Sakaiminato,.... I will post them soon....

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The best part of this structure was the inside, and photos of that I will post tomorrow.

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