Sunday, May 16, 2010

Kawado Suijin Matsuri. part 1


Most years on May 5th we cross over the river to the Suijin Matsuri in Kawado. This year we went instead to our local Suijin Matsuri in Tanijyugo.

Like all matsuri, the kawado Suijin Matsuri begins with ceremonies in the local shrine.

Earlier in the morning the kids had their own Enko Matsuri.


The priest told me that this is the most important ceremony of the year. Kawado is built in the fork of 2 rivers, the Yato and the Go, and has suffered from devastating floods, most recently 50 years ago, so pacifying the god of the river is important. 2 other priests from villages upriver also take part.


The procession with the mikoshi descends the steps from the shrine on its short journey to the riverbank.


Kawado is not much bigger than Tanijyugo, yet the matsuri here is still well supported by the people of the village, though I hear complaints that every year there are fewer and fewer people.


To the accompaniment of flute and drum the parade heads for the riverbank where the boats wait for the next stage.

Cinco de Mayo 78

In the procession there are a couple of Hanakasboko, a parasol-like object with colorful attachments. I have been unable to find out anything about them, though later this week I'm going to a matsuri that has especially large ones, so maybe I can discover their origin and purpose.


The last 100 meters along the rocky riverbank the mikoshi is put on a trailer and pulled.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Rice planting maidens. Saotome.


Saotome, rice-planting maidens from last weekends Tauebayashi Matsuri up in Atoichi.


Saotome appear in all kinds of rice planting ceremonies and rituals all over Japan. The link between agriculture, fertility, and sexuality was common to many rites in agricutural societies, though as far as I know in Japan the explicit link still exists at only one shrine up in Asuka.


Nowadays the maidens come in all ages.


It is difficult to overstate the obsession Japanese have with rice.


To the horror of any Japanese who know me, I don't like the plain, white, sticky, stuff!

Barbarian that I am.


Actually for most japanese, rice only became the staple food relatively recently. For most of japanese history the common people subsisted on a porridge made from various grains. White rice was reserved for special occasions.


The rich lived on white rice, and it is believed emperors and lords sometimes died from beri-beri.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Atoichi Children's Tauebayashi Matsuri


I had a thoroughly enjoyable time at the Atoichi Children's Tauebayashi Matsuri.


Following a small ceremony in front of the school, the procession made its way to the rice paddies that belong to the school.

For those whose only experience of Matsuri is at the major sites in the towns and cities, you are missing a very important aspect of matsuri, and that is community. In village matsuris there is a real festive atmosphere not based on alcohol. As at the rest of the time in these remote communities, people are friendly to visitors and one genuinely feels like a guest.


All the generations were involved, even the school principal, seen here on the drum.

The children come from the elementary school as well as Junior Highschool, Highschool, and even a couple of college students.

While Tauebayashi may have its roots in days long gone, it, like Taiko drum groups, Yosakoi dancing, etc are mostly a late twentieth Century phenomenon.


The festival in Atoichi is in its sixteenth year, and I would say it was a success in its aim of keeping alive the sense of village community.


As we were leaving we were given a couple of bags of mochi, rice cakes, made from last years harvest.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Atoichi Elementary School


On Sunday we drove up into the mountains to the village of Atoichi where we found a wonderful example of an old, wooden school building. It was built in 1931, and apparently that makes it one of the oldest.


Most Japanese schools, especially post-war, look like abandoned prisons or factories (which is pretty much what they are in my opinion), but all the wood of this one made it feel quite humane.

One man I spoke to, about my age, said that when he was at the school there were 400 students.

Now there are 19.


There was a big room for practising Tea ceremony. On a chart in the entrance hall was a list of all the local community members, mostly elderly, who volunteer at the school teaching things like art, tea ceremony, etc.

In one of the hamlets that make up Atoichi, the youngest member of the community is 78.


There was a computer room with at least 10 computers, which probably means it has the best computer to student ratio in any Japanese school.

I wonder how many more years it will be till the school is closed and the building begins its descent to becoming one more Haikyo.


It was Sunday, but most of the student body were in the playground, dressed up for Matsuri.


Behind the school buildings are some paddies, where the students grow their own rice, and today was the annual Tauebayashi (Rice planting song and dance) Festival.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Tanijyugo Suijin Matsuri. Part 2


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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


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.


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


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.


The hall was designed by Akira Kuryu


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


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


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


Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The diverse Komainu of Suwa


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.


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


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


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


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


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


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.


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


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


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.