AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Archive for the ‘Arts’ Category

All you have to do is look (150)

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, December 29, 2012

The 21st Kagura Festival in Aso, Kumamoto. The festival brings together different styles of Shinto kagura dance from around the country. This year 10 groups participated.

Posted in Arts, Photographs and videos, Traditions, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Matsuri da! (139): Drunken elegance

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, December 26, 2012

DID you get well and truly sloshed over the long weekend that included Christmas Eve and Christmas? The percentage of Japanese slumped face down on the bar or snoring in their easy chairs was probably no larger than it would be for any other weekend, however. Christmas is a working day here, unless it falls on Saturday or Sunday.

drunken elegance

Besides, not everyone in this part of the world behaves badly when they redline on liquor. In fact, there’s a certain tradition of drunken elegance that’s been turned into a religious ritual and dance. It’s called the konju, which originated as an imitation of the movements of some Chinese guy in ancient times who got a snootful and started rambling. It arrived in Japan in 736, but doesn’t survive in its original form. That’s because it was modified during the reign of the Emperor Ninmyo, which places it somewhere in the early to mid-Eighth Century.

The dance is so elegant, in fact, it’s often performed at Shinto ceremonies throughout Japan. One example was its presentation at the Bugaku festival of the Hodaka Shinto shrine in Matsumoto, Nagano. The folks at the Hodaka shrine thought it would be fun to couple a traditional dance festival with their Daisengu Festival, which rolls around once every 20 years. The konju was part of the choreography.

The performance was held at a site just as elegant for its beauty. The backdrop was the 3,190-meter-high Mt. Okuhodaka in the Japanese Alps. The stage was placed next to a bridge and a pond.

Come clean, now — that’s not how you behaved at the office Christmas party, was it?

Here’s a performance of the dance at a different time and different place. He does look a bit ripped, doesn’t he?

Posted in Arts, China, Festivals | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

All you have to do is look (143)

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, December 20, 2012

The original text of the waka Kimi ga Yo, which became the lyrics of the Japanese national anthem. It was published in 905 in the Kokin Wakashu (Collected Waka of Ancient and Modern Times).

And here’s what the national anthem sounded like when it was first performed in 1870. This performance is by a band at the Myoko-ji Buddhist temple in Yokohama. This music was composed by John Fenton, an Irish military band director, in three weeks. It was replaced with the current music 10 years later because it was thought to lack solemnity.

It is performed annually at the temple because Fenton also served as a military band leader there, and it beats the heck out of me why a Buddhist temple hired a military band leader from Ireland.

Posted in Arts, History, Photographs and videos, Shrines and Temples, Traditions | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Okinamai

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Narazuhiko Shinto shrine in Nara City repairs and rebuilds one of its three shrine pavilions every 20 years, and this year was one of those years. The focus this time was on roof repair. When the work was finished, the shrine presented a performance of okinamai. Designated an important intangible cultural treasure of the nation, okinamai is a “Shinto ritual and play of prayer) thought to be the origin of Noh.

This site provides a more detailed explanation, one part of which notes that the actors go through a period of “purifying abstention and fasting” before the performance because it is a Shinto ritual.

Here’s what the shrine’s performance looks like. The interesting part for me is the relatively casual behavior of the audience, despite the high seriousness of the performance itself. The audience is also as close to the performance as an audience can get.

Posted in Arts, Shrines and Temples, Traditions | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

All you have to do is look (133)

Posted by ampontan on Monday, December 10, 2012

A stage presentation at a local Shinto shrine of historical events related to Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi, extending from the Battle of Dan-no-Ura in 1185 to the Irregular Militia (kiheitai) participation in fighting off foreign invaders in the Bombardment of Shimonoseki in 1864.

(Photo from the Asahi Shimbun)

Posted in Arts, History | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

All you have to do is look (132)

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, December 9, 2012

An outdoor performance of Hagoromo, one of the most well-known Noh plays, in Shizuoka near the beach at Miho. That is also the setting of the drama. The stage was erected in front of the Hagoromo pine, which is estimated to be 650 years old. The earliest written records of the play date to 1524.

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All you have to do is look (128)

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A performance of a local form of ningyo joruri, another name for bunraku, or traditional Japanese puppet theater, on a stage at the Imamiya Shinto shrine in Nue, Katsuura-cho, Tokushima, out in the countryside. The audience sat on orange crates at the same level as the performers. This type of performance is appreciated by many for its openness compared to traditional bunraku, as well as its sense of immediacy.

Posted in Arts, Traditions | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Inaccuracies in image and language

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, November 24, 2012

LAW professor/blogger Ann Althouse picked up a post from The Tokyo Reporter about the Tokyo police objecting to the publication in the weeklies Shukan Post and Shukan Gendai of photos of the Great Wall of Vagina by British artist Jamie McCartney. The great wall is “a series of rows of white plaster casts of the genitals of 400 women”.

The wall itself is the sort of vapid nonsense people in the West enjoy amusing themselves with these days (cf. Vagina Monologues, lady parts, etc.), but Ms. Althouse’s short post is worth reading for two reasons.

The first is that she writes:

The description is accurate but fails to mention how artistic it is.

The line has a link to pictures of the wall panels that makes it clear her comment is ironic.

Of course McCartney can’t understand it. Of course. He was quoted elsewhere as saying:

Japan is a sophisticated and forward-looking culture that should be able to accept all forms of creative expression. The purpose of the artwork is not to be sexually arousing but instead to be educational and alleviate the unnecessary anxiety many women feel about their genitals.

Isn’t it interesting how often people such as McCartney unwittingly parody themselves? Creative expression as psychological education, eh? Perhaps the sophisticated and forward-looking Japanese don’t consider vagina walls to be creative expression. But the less publicity given to this latter-day Barnum, the better.

Here’s the second Althouse observation:

I’m sorry to be pedantic, but don’t say “vagina” for “vulva.” I’m not concerned about obscenity. It’s the false advertising that bothers me. This is “Decorously Framed Vulva,” not “Great Wall of Vagina.”

Just as inaccurate is the The Tokyo Reporter’s description of the two magazines as “weekly tabloids”. Snort.

Tabloid is the term used to describe the form of certain types of newspapers. They are narrower and smaller than the conventional broadsheets. TTR here is using the term inaccurately to describe the magazines’ content. For example:

Tabloids also tend to be more irreverent and slangy in their writing style than their more serious broadsheet brothers. In a crime story, a broadsheet refers to a police officer, while the tabloid calls him a cop. And while a broadsheet might spend dozens of column inches on “serious” news – say, a major bill being debated in Congress – a tabloid is more likely to zero in on a heinous sensational crime story or celebrity gossip.

In fact, the word tabloid has come to be associated with the kind of supermarket checkout aisle papers – such as the National Enquirer – that focus exclusively on splashy, lurid stories about celebrities.

That highlights a problem with both the American image and the description of the Japanese magazines. For the first:

But there’s an important distinction to be made here. True, there are the over-the-top tabloids like the Enquirer, but there are also the so-called respectable tabloids – such as the New York Daily News, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Boston Herald and so on – that do serious, hard-hitting journalism. In fact, the New York Daily News has won 10 Pulitzer Prizes, print journalism’s highest honor.

There’s the second inaccuracy in the TTR description. Japan’s kisha club system for reporters means that journalists working for the respectable daily press are sometimes de facto prevented from writing stories they’d like to write because they might upset the political class, particularly the ruling party. Failing to conduct self-censorship could result in being cut out of the news loop.

But the Japanese print media devised a solution for that long ago: weekly magazines. Those publications are both a type of samizdat press and a proto-print Internet featuring information that the newspapers avoid. Indeed, some of them are published by the major newspaper companies, so they have direct access to that information.

As for the Shukan Post and Shukan Gendai, I’ve read articles in both magazines on political and social topics that were better researched and contained more useful information than many similar articles that appeared in Time or Newsweek during their heydays.

True, each issue is likely to include articles with showbiz gossip or content that appeals to the prurient interest. Some also have sexually suggestive comics and Playboy-type nude spreads. This week’s issue of Shukan Gendai, for example, has a group interview with some women discovering how to use dildoes — but that’s on page 172.

The magazines are also the occasional target of lawsuits. Based on observation over the years, however, it seems they usually win the ones brought by politicians. They more often lose the ones in which a celebrity is the plaintiff.

Thus, to dismiss them as tabloids in the pejorative sense is to do them a disservice. They’re much more than that, and it’s not possible to describe them using any single English word I can think of.

The irony is rich. The Tokyo Reporter website consists entirely of content that he used the word tabloid to describe. Perhaps he should start reading some of those articles he skips over in the weeklies to get to the stories that he prefers.

*****

Posted in Arts, I couldn't make this up if I tried, Mass media | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

All you have to do is look (114)

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Shiroyone Senmaida rice paddies in Ishikawa, registered both in the Guinness Book of World Records for having 20,000 pink LEDs, and as a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System (GIAHS).

Posted in Agriculture, Arts, Photographs and videos, Popular culture, Thailand | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

All you have to do is look (107)

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A performance of the new kabuki drama Shutendoji in the Sistine Hall at the Otsuka Museum of Art in Naruto, Tokushima. Ceramic plates were used in the museum’s Michelangelo recreation.

Posted in Arts, Photographs and videos, Traditions | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Artistes

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, November 14, 2012

THE Japanese festival tradition isn’t limited to older Shinto ceremonies. For example, high schools and colleges also hold what they call culture festivals. Earlier this fall, the Tokyo University of the Arts, the country’s most prestigious art school, held its annual festival called the Geisai 2012.

It’s staged every year for three days, and this year it featured performances by more than 50 musicians from the music department, an exhibition of more than 50 works of art by students from the fine arts department, a film festival, street stalls, and a beauty contest called the Idol Matsuru! (That last is a bit of collegiate humor — the Japanese refer to teen pop stars as idols, and matsuru, the root word for matsuri, or festival, means to deify as a god.)

It must have been fun, because 100,000 people showed up, and the school doesn’t have that many students.

This year’s theme was “eat! Eat! Art!” Explained the student head of the festival committee:

“The idea is that we want people to feel closer to art. We hope the participants get a taste of the arts that will satisfy their appetite.”

And just like a Shinto festival, Geisai opens with a mikoshi parade. This year’s parade was held in Ueno Park with eight mikoshi designed on non-Shinto themes that included Mexico, frogs, and outer space.

Added the committee chair:

The Geisai is the crystallization of the expression of diversity.

I think it’s safe to take his word for it.

*****
Here’s alumnus Sakamoto Ryuichi giving everyone what they want: A Happy End.

Posted in Arts | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

New Japanese paper

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, November 13, 2012

PERHAPS the most intriguing aspect of Japanese traditional arts and crafts is the willingness of the artists and artisans to use the tools, materials, and techniques to create something entirely new, rather than churn out copies of museum pieces.

One of those artists is former fashion model Sato Yukari of Yosei, Aichi. A former fashion model, Ms. Sato is now working as a designer and a washi (Japanese paper) artisan.

Her story is one that Japanese often tell: She first came to realize the merits of Japan while working overseas. She returned to Ehime in 2010 to begin her work with washi.

Ms. Sato told an interviewer from the Asahi Shimbun that her objective was to have everyone realize once again the excellence of their culture and traditional crafts, and to help add some vitality to the region at the same time.

What she says in the following video isn’t so different from what I’ve already written. Focus instead on how she goes about her work and what she produces.

Posted in Arts, Traditions | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

In their heads

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, September 11, 2012

We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.
-Oscar Wilde

THE terminally serious sitting at their cubicle desks of respectable discussion are missing the point with the intellectual skirt chasing of gravitas and erudition. They’d find it more productive to apply some good old-fashioned Buddhist detachment to the goofiness, mythomania, and triple-digit loon factor of the global gutter press and dumpster-dive right into the middle without holding their noses. The immediate benefit would be a wealth of entertainment superior to most vaudeville of either the 20th or 21st centuries. The payoff would be information more useful and an education more practical than that to be found in their learned periodicals of choice better suited to their class prejudices.

If you think I’m red-lining it on the loon meter myself, follow this trail and watch where it leads.

Let’s start with Tokyo Sports, a daily tabloid of the type that prints all the news that isn’t fit to print, extensive coverage of sports news with huge headlines, and speculation on the physical characteristics of the sexual organs of female celebrities.

Here’s an excerpt from their 23 August edition.

“It would be a good idea to ban the Korean Wave, or even K-Pop. That would include Girls’ Generation and Kara. Korean consumer electronics and other products make their way into Japan, but I think there will definitely be a boycott. (Person connected with the Liberal Democratic Party).”

That’s Square One: A solitary unidentified guy in an unidentified party position biting into the red meat of the sort that people chew whenever there’s an uproar between two nations. The Korean Wave is no more likely to banned in Japan than French fries were to be renamed Freedom Fries in the US a decade ago during the runup to Iraq War II.

Now for Square Two: Someone from enews, “The Voice of Korean Entertainment”, read the article and gave it to Erika Kim to translate and Lee Kyung-nam to put into publishable form. Here’s their treatment.

“One official from the leading opposition party, the Liberal Democratic Party, has even told the Japanese press that Japan should ban any Korean wave related content and K-Pop… According to a Japanese newspaper, Tokyo Sports, the official said, “We need to ban the Korean wave, K-Pop, everything. Girls’ Generation (SNSD) and Kara are also out of the question. Korean electronics make their way into Japan, but a boycott will definitely arise soon.”

See how quickly they upgraded to “an official” telling “the Japanese press” that they “need to ban” the Korean wave, K-Pop, “everything”?

Square Three followed shortly thereafter. MTV Iggy picked up the enews story and ran this headline:

Japan Wants to Ban Korean Media Over Dokdo Islands

We’ve gone from an unidentified someone to the entire country in a virtual blink of the eye. Using the enews story as a basis, Janine Bower reported:

“Right now, Japanese officials are working to place a ban on all forms of Korean media.”

Bower wanted to give the site’s readers some background, but research and reading comprehension do not seem to be her strong points:

“It all comes down to a fierce territory dispute between what are called the Dokdo Islands to the Koreans, and the Takeshima Islands to the Japanese. Japan believes that the islands belong to them because the US government abolished Korea’s ownership of them during World War II.”

Janine must have been playing with her i-Pad during class. In addition to the rules for preposition use, she doesn’t know that Korea never had “ownership” of the islets until they seized them in 1954, so the US government couldn’t abolish anything. After World War II, the Americans upheld the Japanese ownership of the islands that dated from 1905 and rejected the Korean claim through the peace treaty.

And now we fly off the board entirely and into the world of the vernacular South Korean news media, which always has one foot in the gutter and every columnist is Drama Queen for a Day in drag. Lee Jeh-yeong got a whiff of the story and wrote a column for the Korean site Ajunews. Lee is being the pundit, so here’s how he starts:

“I visited Japan in 1990. One evening, I asked a young man in the subway for directions. He was true to the famous Japanese reputation for kindness by giving me very detailed instructions. But he kept repeating the same words in clumsy English two or three times. I thought this was strange, and wondered if he was being too kind. Just then I realized what was really happening. This young Japanese man, who had alcohol on his breath, somehow wanted to show off to his Japanese friends that he was good at English.”

That’s one possibility. Another is that alcohol had loosened the man’s tongue at the expense of briskness. We’ve all seen it happen. Yet another is that Lee’s English isn’t very good, and the Japanese man wasn’t sure that he understood. A fourth is that the Japanese man lacked confidence in his own English and was trying hard to convey the information to Lee. Finally, maybe he was just being kind. Everyone else in the world who visits Japan thinks their kindness to befuddled strangers is delightful. Lee complains about it and looks for ulterior motives.

Then again, the idea of being kind to foreigners struggling with the language might be a foreign concept for Lee. I was once lashed with a torrent of verbal abuse from a young female clerk in a Busan supermarket because my very rudimentary Korean wasn’t good enough to understand her instructions on where they stocked the instant kalguksu I wanted to buy and take back home. I have no idea what she said, but she was behaving as if I had tried to slip my hand up her dress. It was all I could do to keep from laughing in her face. Finding similar stories on the Web is easy to do.

After ranting for a few paragraphs, Lee concludes:

“The Japanese themselves will probably never admit it, but they have now developed an inferiority complex towards the Republic of Korea (大韓民国). They’ve added a “Korean complex” to their “White complex”, and Japan’s far right has been overcome by a profound dread. They’re anti-Korean and anti-Korean wave. If they take one more step, they’ll be shouting for all the foreigners to get out of Japan.”

See what you would have missed if you hadn’t gone dumpster diving?

The key passage came in the middle, however:

“Mass culture is like the water of a river. It isn’t possible to stop the flow of the river through artificial means. In the past, we indiscriminately banned Japanese culture, but at the time, many Koreans thought Japan = First Class and were infatuated with Japanese culture. During the colonial occupation, and then until the 1990s, our inferiority complex towards Japan drove a hostile reaction toward Japan, the Japanese, and Japanese culture. Now, however, our national brand is ranked #7 and the Japanese national brand is ranked #27. They fear Korea and are rushing headlong into anti-Korean sentiment and banning the Korean wave.”

I’ve always thought mass culture more closely resembled chewing gum than the waters of a mighty river, but we can let that pass. After all, many people outside of South Korea enjoy their version of disposable television programming and music. More important is the selective amnesia that Lee shares with his readers.

Japanese pop culture was prohibited entirely in South Korean until 1998 — only 14 years ago. Deregulation began that year on 20 October. The government permitted manga to be sold and award-winning movies from international festivals to be shown in theaters, but not on television. There have since been three more deregulations.

* As of 10 September 1999, concerts were permitted in venues with 2,000 seats or fewer, though the prohibition on CD sales and broadcasting remained. More movies were permitted, still in theaters only.

* As of 27 June 2000, international award-winning film manga could be shown in theaters only. The restriction on the number of seats in halls for musical concerts was lifted, but CD sales and broadcasting was still forbidden. Some electronic games were allowed to be sold, except television games such as Nintendo. Some sports, documentary, and news programs could be broadcast on television.

* As of 1 January 2004, the screening of all movies and manga was allowed in theaters only, music could be sold in shops, and television dramas were allowed on cable channels, with age restrictions.

As far as I can determine — Koreans aren’t forthcoming about this — it is still illegal today to broadcast Japanese television dramas, films, cartoons, and concerts on regular television, or Japanese music on the radio.

South Koreans also seem to be as hazy on history as Janine over at MTV Iggy. Even the academics, as Prof. Ishii Ken’ichi demonstrates. He starts by citing a passage in Media Asia:

Japan and Korea, both of which had blocked the importation of each other’s cultural products, have opened their media markets in recent years. Since 1989, the Korean government has gradually lifted the gate for several cultural products, such as Japanese pop music records, limited films and television programmes and animation. Korean television dramas traditionally limited their portrayals of Japanese to those who participated in Japan’s colonization of Korea. Meanwhile, Japan permitted, for the first time, the broadcasting of Korean music on the air in June 2000. (Dal Yong Jin, “Regionalization of East Asia in 1990s”, Media Asia, 29(4), p227, 2003)

Note that Dal gives the Koreans credit for lifting some of their restrictions first before the Japanese eliminated their imaginary ones. But Prof. Ishii quickly sets the record straight. The emphasis is his:

“Media Asia” is one of the most prestigious academic journals on media and communications in Asia. Also Dal Yong Jin is a Korean Ph.D. candidate majoring in media and cultures, who will probably become a professor in media and communications. However, the above quoted paragraph is based on a completely wrong belief. In fact, Japan has never prohibited any foreign cultures (including Korean ones) on TV. Thus, it was impossible for Japan to “permit for the first time the broadcasting of Korean music in 2000″.

Prof. Ishii is generous and calls it a misconception. It’s also possible that Dal either made the story up, or took the word of someone else who made the story up.

Why would someone from a country with these Taliban-lite broadcast restrictions, both past and present, foam at the cybermouth about Japan adding to its White Complex with a Korea Complex and being on the verge of driving all the foreigners out of the country?

The likely answer is, to use a common sports expression, that the Japanese and the Japanese presence are “in their heads“ in a way that the Koreans never have been, aren’t now, and never will be in Japanese heads. Articles with this sort of content and language about South Korea do not exist in Japan outside of a dumpster. It’s difficult to find anything remotely similar to this even on the “far right” sites they like to complain about. Perhaps the best explanation is to be found by consulting Stedman’s Medical Dictionary or a psychiatric journal.

Because this is South Korea, there is also the aspect of plagiarism. Keeping the locals from seeing the original enables South Korean industry in general, and the media industry in particular, to snatch it for themselves without royalties or attribution. For example, here’s a comparison of Japanese originals with the South Korean knockoffs. (I’ve seen another in Korean shops myself.) Just yesterday, a thread popped up on the Korean Internet complaining that the opening scene to a music program hosted by the singer HaHa was ripped off from a Japanese commercial for Softbank, a telecommunications and Internet company. Here’s the Softbank ad:

And here’s the HaHa intro:

Finally, a third reason is green old envy. Any Japanese success internationally causes the gnashing of Korean teeth domestically. When the sanctions on Japanese culture were first partially lifted in South Korea in 1998, the Japanese government sponsored a series of events for Japan Week. One was a concert by Japanese singer Sawa Tomoe, whose mother is Korean and who spent some of her childhood in that country. She sang songs in Korean and English, and the South Korean government gave her permission to perform two songs in Japanese. One of those songs, as this article describes, was “’Kokoro’ (Heart), in which she put to her own melody a famous Korean poem that her grandfather–a renowned Korean poet himself–had translated into Japanese.”

Ms. Sawa wanted to sing another song in English, but decided against it after the Koreans made it clear they were displeased with her choice. The song the South Korean government didn’t want their countrymen to hear a woman of partial Korean heritage sing, even in a third language, says all you need to know about how deep the Japanese are in their envious heads.

The lyrics were neither politically nor socially controversial. Rather, they are about a lonely man trying to cheer himself up and give himself encouragement. Here it is in the original Japanese with the original singer.

UPDATE: Reader Avery M took the trouble to translate the Japanese Wiki page on Korean media censorship into English, and sent us the link. Thanks, Avery!

Posted in Arts, I couldn't make this up if I tried, International relations, Mass media, Music, Popular culture, South Korea | Tagged: , , | 10 Comments »

Lanterns, lions, and Taiwanese proto-pub rock

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, August 25, 2012

OF the many cultural treasures in South Korea, one of the finest is the Gyeongbok Palace in northern Seoul. Built in 1394 and rebuilt in 1867, it was the main palace of the Joseon dynasty. It’s really a complex rather than a single building, and it’s also the site of the National Folk Museum and National Palace Museum. Naturally, it’s a popular destination for tourists, both foreign and domestic. One of the attractions is the hourly changing of the guards, which is more frequent that the similar ceremony at Buckingham Palace. That’s a photo of the Gyeongbok Palace gate above.

Gyeongbokgung is accessible by Line #3 on the Seoul subway, which has a station nearby. Five years ago, the officials in charge of such things came up with the idea of using models of traditional Korean lanterns to light the corridor from the subway to Exit #5.

They used a design identical to that of the stone lantern in front of the Muryangsu Hall at the Buseok Buddhist temple in Yeoungju. The temple was built in 676 and has become another well-known tourist attraction. The stone lantern out front has been designated as National Treasure 17. This is it:

And here are the six models of National Treasure 17 lining the Seoul subway corridor on Line #3.

Aren’t they an attractive addition to the underground corridor? It’s an improvement over plain tile walls. But only photos of the lanterns remain, because the lanterns themselves aren’t there anymore. They were taken out in June.

A group of citizen-activists with the provisional name of The Search for the Location of Cultural Treasures (the actual name is clumsier) decided to get upset about the lantern installation five years after it happened because it reminded them of the stone lanterns that line the main pathway to Shinto shrines in Japan. Therefore, in South Korea, they fall under the category of ilje janjeh (日帝残滓), literally “detritus from the Japanese Empire”. The term is commonly used in the country’s news media.

The head of the group, a Buddhist priest named Hyemun, added that the Gyeongbok Palace is more closely associated with Confucianism than with Buddhism, so it was inappropriate to have Buddhist lanterns in the subway nearby.

The company operating the subway wanted to leave them in the corridor, but then the mass media got involved. That settled that. The company is wholly-owned by the city of Seoul, so they thought their only choice was to bend to public opinion. They weren’t happy about it, however, because the lanterns had to be dismantled by hand to be removed.

Others recalled that the same type of traditional Korean lantern which reminded some people of the detritus of the Japanese Empire also stood in front of the Changdeok Palace in Seoul. That’s another one of the Joseon Dynasty palaces, and this one dates from 1412. The lantern there stood outside, so it was easier to remove in February. At last report, the traditional Korean lantern Japanese Empire detritus at the Cheongwadae, or Blue House, the office and residence of the South Korean head of state, is still there.

Lions

Still, the Koreans had it a lot easier than the Japanese would if the same bee were to buzz in their bonnets. The latest expample of purifying their line of sight of the imperial detritus of centuries worth of Korean tradition involved only the removal of six elaborate light fixtures in the Seoul subway and a cultural relic at a palace. So far.

But Japan has more than 88,000 Shinto shrines nationwide, ranging from large facilities with more than a million visitors a year to plain neighborhood wooden structures smaller than the average house. Large or small, almost all of them have a pair of lion-like statues standing guard to ward off evil from the premises. Here’s a photo of one.

They’re called koma-inu, and the name literally means “Korean dog”. The word koma was used in ancient times for the Korean Peninsula.

The Japanese think they were of Indian Buddhist origin, but the models they used came from China through the Korean Peninsula. If Japan were to be seized by a detritus disposal spasm, it would take years to remove these Buddhist images at Shinto facilities that have Korea in their name. Their associations are closer to the unclean than the Korean lanterns.

Not all of the statuary at the 88,000 shrines would be removed. Some of them have foxes instead of koma-inu. And the Mimeguri Shinto shrine, in Tokyo’s Kuroda Ward, has the statue of a real lion.

No one knows when the Mimeguri shrine was founded, but it was definitely there in 1693. The tutelary deity of the shrine is Mitsui Takatoshi, the founder of the Tokyo store in 1673 that later became the Mitsukoshi department store. It was called Echigoya in those days, and it’s shown on the left in this Hiroshige print.

The modern Mitsukoshi was modeled after Harrods in London, and their main store in Tokyo has a statue of the same sort of lion on the first floor. That lion was copied from the beasts that surround the statue of Nelson in Trafalgar Square. The British Empire detritus at the Mimeguri shrine was once on the first floor of Mitsukoshi’s Ikebukuro store. The shrine asked for it when the store closed.

That’s not the only oddity at the shrine. Shinto shrines have a gate with two columns at the entrance called a torii. This shrine has a tori with three columns arranged in a triangular shape.

It was modeled after the torii at the Konoshima Shinto shrine in Kyoto, which has one of a handful of triple toriis in the country. The idea is that the third column connects the shrine to another shrine on the next lot. This one came from the Mitsui estate. In fact, the shrine’s name in Japanese (三囲) can also be read as Mitsui.

There are also stone lanterns of the traditional Japanese Empire detritus variety on the grounds, without any visible connection to the Mitsui family business.

They do look a bit like Korean National Treasure 17, but then the statue of the beast at the main gate of Gyeongbokgung also looks a bit like some of the Korean lions at Shinto shrines. Except those are really Chinese.

Isn’t East Asia fun?

And because it isn’t possible to have too much East Asian fun, let’s have some more! The Taiwanese duo in the video below was known as the King of Kinmen, and the style of music they’re playing is called nakashi. Here’s an explanation of its origin:

(A)ccording to Tsan Yi-cheng (詹益城), who was once one of Taiwan’s most recognized faces on the nakashi scene, the most credible of these stories gives credit to Japanese sailors during the early 1900s for inventing this primitive form of pub rock.

“Nakashi originated in port towns such Tamsui and Keelung. Japanese sailors would come ashore and, being sailors, frequent bars. Of course there were no tape or CD players, so the sailors had to make their own entertainment,” Tsan said. “So they performed music which took on aspects of enka, or Japanese country music and filled it with lyrics about roaming the world and having a girl in every port.”

According to Tsan, the result of this odd musical coupling was unlike anything people in Taiwan had ever seen or heard before. Until the Japanese sailors came along, local pub and teahouse bands were still using traditional Chinese classical instruments rather than western ones.

“With their guitars, accordions and appetite for good times, Japanese sailors revolutionized bar and teahouse music in Taiwan,” the Peitou-based nakashi star said. “They enthralled crowds in teahouses and bars and, of course, drove the women wild with their contemporary musical style.” As Japan’s colonization of Taiwan continued, nakashi slowly became the music of choice for both the occupying forces as well as the Taiwanese.

As more locals began to pick up accordions and guitars, however, nakashi slowly became localized. Instead of drawing on enka for inspiration, Taiwan’s nakashi players added elements of Fujienese and Taiwanese folk to the tunes.

Instead of forming disposal squads of purity inspectors, the Taiwanese turned their detritus of Imperial Japan into a golden good time.

Nagashi with a g, by the way, is the word for the practice in Japan of singers and musicians going from bar to bar at night to perform for tips. That’s probably the origin of the Taiwanese term. When I first arrived in Japan, I knew one old nagashi singer who accompanied himself with an acoustic guitar, but I haven’t seen him or anyone else do it in quite a while.

Here’s what it looked and sounded like in Taiwan during a nagashi renaissance.

Posted in Arts, History, Music, Popular culture, Religion, Shrines and Temples, South Korea, Traditions, Travel | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Kagura Koshien

Posted by ampontan on Monday, August 20, 2012

THE climactic stage of the 94th annual national high school baseball championships has arrived — the semifinal games will be played today, and the finals are tomorrow. One of the most well-known sporting events in Japan, the championship is commonly referred to as Koshien after the name of the Hyogo stadium where the games are played. (It’s also the home park of the Hanshin Tigers major league team, who are forced to take a long road trip every summer at this time.)

This event is so well known that the term Koshien is now used colloquially to refer to any national high school championship competition. This post presented the Koshien for a new competition featuring the combination of calligraphy with dance and music. One of my college students this spring said performing with her club in a similar competition was her favorite memory from her high school days. (There’s also a brief description of the Manga Koshien.)

Another new and different Koshien began last year with content that might surprise even Japanese — the performance of kagura. That’s an ancient Shinto ritual of dance and music for the divinities whose origins are at least 1,300 years old. It is also performed in some areas of the country as a folk-drama during shrine festivals. The appeal of kagura in the latter context is easy to understand when you realize the art contains elements similar to that of a Broadway musical comedy, albeit from a different millennium.

This year’s Kagura Koshien was the second, and it was held at the end of last month in Akitakata, Hiroshima, at the Kagura Monzen Tojimura. In addition to a kagura dome, that facility also has a hot springs resort with lodgings.

Ten schools from five prefectures took part, with representatives from Hiroshima, Shimane, Tottori, Kochi, and Miyazaki. Last year’s inaugural event featured five schools, and while the first three of those prefectures are in the same region, Miyazaki is in Kyushu, which is some distance away. That suggests the idea is catching on in other parts of the country. The event organizers reported there were about 1,600 spectators. Said one of the students, 17-year-old Fujii Riiya:

“I learned a lot by watching the kagura of the other schools. I hope the younger students take part next year.”

Here’s an explanation of the origins and more formal varieties of kagura, and here’s a description of the pop variety, with a blow-by-blow account of one of the plots.

And in an excellent example of synchronicity, this YouTube video digest of the Kagura Koshien was uploaded just this weekend. Watch it to discover how an ancient ritual could capture the imagination of high school students.

Posted in Arts, Education, Festivals, Imperial family, Traditions | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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