AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Archive for the ‘Shrines and Temples’ Category

All you have to do is look (148)

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Twelfth-century warlord Taira no Kiyomori worshipped at the Kamo Shinto shrine in Tatsuno, Hyogo. The shrine recreates in period costume a procession with Kiyomori and his wife Tokiko.

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

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 »

All you have to do is look (137)

Posted by ampontan on Friday, December 14, 2012

Kego Shinto shrine and Kego Park in the Tenjin district of Fukuoka City. (Photo by Ray_go)

Posted in Photographs and videos, Shrines and Temples | 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 (125)

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, December 2, 2012

A fashion show at the Fuki-ji Buddhist temple in Bungotakada, Oita. Established in 718, the temple is a national treasure and the oldest wooden structure in Kyushu. The show was presented by the students of vocational schools, junior colleges, and high schools in Oita. About 300 people attended. (Photo from the Nishinippon Shimbun)

Posted in Photographs and videos, Popular culture, Shrines and Temples | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

All you have to do is look (121)

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The annual cleaning of the Great Buddha of Takaoka, in Takaoka, Toyama. It is one of the three great Buddha statues in Japan, and required 25 men to clean.

Posted in Photographs and videos, Religion, Shrines and Temples | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

All you have to do is look (105)

Posted by ampontan on Monday, November 12, 2012

Autumn at Shakado

Posted in Photographs and videos, Shrines and Temples | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

All you have to do is look (91)

Posted by ampontan on Monday, October 29, 2012

Torii at the Donen Inari Shinto Shrine in the Namamugi district of Yokohama. The Namamugi Incident occurred near here in 1862.

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

All you have to do is look (76)

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Byodo-in Buddhist temple in Uji, Kyoto. It was built in 998, and its most famous building is the Phoenix Hall, built in 1053. Last month, the priests conducted a ceremony, the Hakken-shiki, to temporarily place the spirit of the statue of the Buddha in that hall into a yellow sphere while the hall is being repaired. The work is scheduled to end in March 2014.

Though this is a Buddhist temple, the ceremony was Shinto. Gagaku, which is Shinto ceremonial music, is heard at the end of the video.

Posted in Photographs and videos, Shrines and Temples | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

A feast fit for a shogun

Posted by ampontan on Monday, October 8, 2012

RECORDS exist of a banquet Henry VIII of England gave on 25 February 1528 at Windsor Great Park. Here were some of the dainty dishes fit for a king:

The account includes beef, veal, bacon, oxen, calves, hens, kid goats and lambs and “conies” – an old word for rabbits. In addition to this, some unusual birds were ordered for the table, including 12 plovers, 48 pipers and no less than 96 larks. Two herons were also ordered. It was often the custom to roast birds whole, in some cases arranging the feathers back onto the bird after cooking to create a visual centrepiece for the table to amuse and impress the guests… the letter accounts for a total of 750 eggs, 90 dishes of butter and 5 gallons of cream. Along with these vast quantities of meat, this may help to explain Henry’s expanding waistline and later decline in health.

By expanding waistline, they refer to a suit of armor made for Henry in 1540 that measured 52 inches around the waist. The later decline in health is thought to have resulted from his dietary habits, and some people now think he had diabetes. Also, an ordinary person at the time consumed a gallon of ale daily, and historians assume Henry must have downed more — it’s good to be king, right? So some of that must have been a beer belly.

Records also exist of a meal eaten by the eighth Tokugawa shogun, Tokugawa Yoshimune, at Shakujo-ji, a Buddhist temple in what is now Kawaguchi, Saitama. Rather than a feast, it was a meal eaten while on the road for a 1728 visit to Nikko Tosho-gu, a Shinto shrine in Nikko, Tochigi. (Both of those institutions still exist. The temple was more than 250 years old when the Shogun ate lunch there, and the shrine more than 100 years old. The links will take you to photographs on Japanese-language websites.)

Looking for some PR, the city of Kawaguchi recreated the meal and served it for lunch last week to the man who would have been the 18th Tokugawa shogun, 72-year-old Tokugawa Tsunenari.

The temple records indicate only the foods that were served and not how they were prepared. Prof. Shimazaki Tomiko of the Kagawa Education Institute of Nutrition consulted some cookbooks from the Edo period and supervised the cooking at Ebiya Mikakumon, a local Japanese restaurant.

The meal they served the shogun is shown in the photo at the top. In addition to rice and miso soup, it included roasted tofu and steamed abalone. The desserts at Henry’s feast included a lot of sugar, but that was still a rarity in Japan at the time, so the food was lightly seasoned in soy sauce and (for the abalone) sake. Said Mr. Tokugawa:

“Lately, there’s a lot of food that’s much too sweet, but this was lightly seasoned and quite delicious.”

The Tokugawas don’t wear armor anymore, but he doesn’t need a suit with a 52-inch waist, either:

Modern epicures seldom have the opportunity to eat the plover, heron, or lark dishes favored by Henry and his wives, but if they’re in Kawaguchi in a party of five, they’ll be able to feast like a shogun for JPY 4,000 each at the same restaurant. The meal is called the Yoshimune Lunch on the menu. Would that be the red lacquer special?

Those who read Japanese and are interested in recreating Edo-period dishes themselves might try this cookbook . It was just reprinted as an affordable paperback.

Afterwords:

I read two newspaper accounts of this meal in Japanese. One said there were 12 separate dishes in the meal, and the other said there were 14. Journalists!

Posted in Food, History, Shrines and Temples | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Java jive

Posted by ampontan on Monday, September 24, 2012

SOMETIMES it’s the observation of small matters that leads to the recognition of big differences. The contrast of those big differences sometimes leads to a recognition of the nature of that which is being contrasted.

As an example, here’s a post from the Beijing Shots website. Some people in China are seriously wrinkled over the presence of Starbucks in their country, and some people are cranking themselves into righteously indignant knots about a new Starbucks near a monastery:

The American giant Starbucks has caused heated discussion in China over whether it is appropriate for the world’s largest Western coffee shop to set up in the Lingyin Temple, a Buddhist monastery in Hangzhou, East China’s Zhejiang Province.

The Sina Weibo account of the company’s stores in Shanghai, Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces announced Friday that it would open a shop in the monastery on Saturday. The news was reposted over 4,000 times with many biting comments about the odd combination of the modern commercial shops being set up in ancient temples.

Here’s the problem — particularly the parts after the comma:

A Weibo user said it creates an odd juxtaposition to drink coffee in a setting meant for meditation, as Starbucks symbolizes foreign culture and Lingyin represents traditional Chinese culture. Another user complained that even religious sites are not immune from the invasion of foreign culture.

Starbucks defends itself:

“The new coffee shop is located outside of the central scenic area requiring a 20-minute walk,” a staff member surnamed Wang with the management office of the temple told the Global Times, adding that Starbucks has met all the strict requirements the management office sets for commercial establishments.

But that’s not good enough for an on-call academic:

“The scenic spot’s management office should do its research before opening a foreign brand store at a cultural heritage site,” Zhang Yiwu, professor with the Department of Chinese Language and Literature at Peking University, told the Global Times, adding that finding a balance between Chinese culture and commercialism is critical.

They’ve also forced Starbucks out of the shop it opened in the Forbidden City seven years ago. The company removed their sign from the window two years ago, but that wasn’t enough for a CCTV news reader:

“The Chinese people did not have the taste or tradition for drinking coffee, but Starbucks has turned China into its second largest global market. This is an admirable commercial success. But there is something that is disappointing: there is a Starbucks inside the Forbidden City. I and numerous Chinese and foreign friends believe that it is incongruous to have a Starbucks inside the Forbidden City, because it is ‘obscene.’ I don’t know if Starbucks has any plans to be present at the Taj Mahal Palace in India, or the Pyramids of Egypt, the Buckingham Palace in England and other world cultural treasure and miracle sites, but I ask you to get out of the Forbidden City.”

- Rui Chenggang @ Yale CEO Summit Conference

Do you think this is starting to read as if it were a clinical case study of terminal ethnocentrism? Wait until you read what the Beijing Shots editor wrote:

Editor’s note: In addition to being a huge waste of money, Starbucks is seen by many traditional Chinese as being a culturally invasive. In case you were born yesterday, Chinese people have always drank tea, NOT coffee. It would be a shame for China’s beautiful tea culture to disappear and be replaced by a less sophisticated, coffee. Perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad if Starbucks coffee weren’t so darn expensive.

If China’s several millennia of beautiful tea culture were to be supplanted by the invasion of that crude and barbaric beverage because there are now more than 570 Starbucks outlets in a country of 1.3 billion, it might be because more people wanted to drink coffee than tea. It also might be because Starbucks saw the opportunity to create a new market and took advantage of it. Odd how little confidence the editor has in China’s cultural resilience, despite the confidence he has in its superiority.

And the price of Starbucks products is a matter between the company and its customers. If they’re too expensive or culturally insensitive, drink all the tea in China instead. That’s how free markets work.

There’s more. The editor quotes a foreigner writing on another site who praises something else Mr. Rui wrote: “An essay about Japan that every Chinese person ought to read”. Said the unidentified foreigner:

(It) should indeed be required reading by every Chinese for its poignant and critical analysis of Nationalistic pride and misguided views about Japan. It should also be read by foreigners to de-jade them of the opinion that all Chinese think using a sliver of the perspective that the world at large holds.

Here’s the de-jader:

That bitter part of Sino-Japanese history is just one shadow cast in the two-thousand-year history of Sino-Japanese relationship. It is not everything. The future will be even longer.

We cannot keep repeating that the Chinese language is the ancestor of the Japanese language, wanting the Japanese people to be the descendants of the 3,000 boys and girls that could not find the magical eternal-life potion for the First Emperor of Qin, or forgetting (or even being totally ignorant) of the contributions that Japan has made towards China.

Admitting someone else’s good points does not mean that you are deprecating yourself. On the contrary, it is an expression of self-confidence.

That sets the editor off about the foreigner, not the Chinese news reader:

The attitude from the western multinational corporate mouthpiece reminds us all that Starbucks must in fact be boycotted, otherwise this kind of arrogance, and hostility will continue, as these writers cannot survive without funding from western multinationals. If you consider yourself a person with honor, you ought to also boycott websites such as danwei, and imagethief. and inform others of their malicious agenda….Maybe the time has come to stop whoring out our land, and put heavy restrictions on western multinationals. If we want to protect our culture, then Mcdonalds, KFC, Carefour, Jack Jones, Uni Qlo, all must be limited, not only Starbucks. If the corporate mouth pieces insist on slandering the Chinese people, Chinese culture, and the Chinese government, then it is certainly fair game to turn up the heat on western multinational corporations. What goes around, comes around.

Why yes, they do want to exact revenge on everyone who mistreated them for the past 150 years. Didn’t you know?

What they don’t know is the concept expressed by the economist Tyler Cowan in his book Creative Destruction, and quoted by Don Boudreaux at Café Hayek:

Trade, even when it supports choice and diverse achievement, homogenizes culture in the following sense: it gives individuals, regardless of their country, a similarly rich set of consumption opportunities. It makes countries or societies “commonly diverse,” as opposed to making them different from each other….

Cross-cultural trade does not eliminate differences altogether, but, rather, it liberates differences from the constraints of place.

To which commenter Yevdokiya Zagumenova added:

….and gives the natives who don’t appreciate the loss of illusory control in a world they no longer understand something to rail against with charges of “American Cultural Imperialism” (for example).

The editor at this site isn’t an outlier, if that’s what you’re wondering. The Chinese expressing views such as these in English have become a presence on the Internet.

Now for the contrast. Here’s what I wrote about a new Starbucks that opened in Japan last December:

Starbucks Japan announced they will open a shop on the sando, or approach path, to the Dazaifu Tenman-gu Shinto shrine on the 16th. It will be the first Starbucks shop at a shrine or Buddhist temple.

The Tenman-gu shrine is a large facility with gardens containing 6,000 plum trees in addition to the buildings. A Shinto shrine was first built there in 905, and the current building, registered as an important cultural property, dates from 1591. It was built on the grave of Tenjin, the deification name of Sugawara no Michizane, renowned for his erudition and learning. They’re opening the Starbucks at just the right time, too, as tens of thousands of people will visit the shrine for New Year’s. The visits will continue into January as students make the pilgrimage to ask the deity for a blessing to pass their high school or university entrance examination. Another attraction, the Kyushu National Museum, is within walking distance nearby.

The location demands that this shop not resemble the typical shopping mall Starbucks. It was designed by University of Tokyo architect Kuma Kengo, known for his work on the Suntory Museum of Art and the Nezu Museum. That design combines the traditional and the modern with natural materials, primary among which is 2,000 pieces of Japanese cedar obtained by thinning out forests. It will also have two gardens, one in front facing the sando and one inside with more plum trees. There will be 46 seats in the interior and 10 on the terrace.

The post includes a photo of the interior and a 10-minute YouTube video of the street where the shop is located and the grounds of the shrine itself.

The Dazaifu shop opening was a news item on the day it was announced, but people have since forgotten about it. If anyone complained, it escaped my notice. Starbucks Japan has 955 shops in Japan, according to their website. Yet Japan’s beautiful tea culture is still thriving. Even young people, mostly women, practice the tea ceremony. They have clubs in high schools and colleges. And when they open a Starbucks near a Shinto shrine, they make sure it harmonizes with the neighborhood.

Some people are adaptable and are the stronger for it. Some people are rigid and are the weaker for it.

Some people in the West get all warm and fuzzy and why-can’t-we-get-along about the Chinese. Some, such as the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman, are openly envious of their political and social systems.

Which part of those systems, exactly?

As their own name for themselves indicates, these folks believe they’re the flower in the center of the world.

You know what that makes us.

*****
The website says there are 200 Starbucks outlets in China. There were 570 as of May. Mr. Rui said China was the second largest global market. There are more than 955 outlets in Japan.

There’s no need for me to make pithy comments when I know you’re thinking plenty of pithy thoughts on your own.

*****
Whoops Mr. Moto, I’m a coffee pot.

Posted in Business, finance and the economy, China, Popular culture, Shrines and Temples, Social trends, Traditions | Tagged: , , | 8 Comments »

All you have to do is look (44)

Posted by ampontan on Monday, September 10, 2012

Photo from the Yamagata Shimbun

A group of women beginning a four-day, Shinto-related retreat on Mt. Haguro in Tsuruoka, Yamagata. It ends today. Here’s an excellent video of that neck of the woods.

Posted in Photographs and videos, Religion, Shrines and Temples | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Filthiness is next to godliness

Posted by ampontan on Monday, September 3, 2012

KODANSHA’S Illustrated Encyclopedia of Japan comes straight to the point:

“The concepts of clean and unclean, pure and impure, have been of cultural and social significance in Japan from ancient times to the present.”

These concepts are an integral part of the proto-religion of Shinto, as writings dating from as early as the 10th century reveal. Purification rituals are an essential and frequent activity in Shinto, so the shrines must also be clean and pure.

Most of them, anyway.

The Kabushima shrine in Hachinohe, Aomori, gets downright filthy from February to August. That’s because it’s located on the top of a hill which is one of the primary breeding grounds in Japan for the black-tailed gull. It looks nice and clean when seen from a distance, as in the above photo. But a clearer picture emerges when it’s viewed up close.

Gulls are good at spotting fish schools, and that makes it easier for the community fisherfolk to practice peaceful coexistence. That still requires some patience, however, because an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 gulls wing it this way every year. Notice the umbrella stand at the base of the torii in the photo. They’re provided for human visitors to use, and that’s not because it rains frequently. Reports say that the walkway and stairs can get so slippery, it’s difficult to maintain your footing.

Did the people who built the shrine not know of the potential problems with the local fauna? According to legend, it was established in 1269. The tutelary deities are Tagorihime, Ichikishimahime, and Tagitsuhime, three female kami created by the sun goddess Amaterasu. They were sea goddesses who protected ocean-going traffic. Did the gulls start coming sometime after the 13th century, or did the shrine’s founders not care?

Then again, birdwatchers who like to watch gulls like to visit for that reason. Nowhere else in Japan can these birds be observed at such close range. They’re very accustomed to people — they probably think they’re being magnanimous with the human interlopers — and supposedly have a taste for Kappa Ebisen. That’s a shrimp-flavored snack shaped like a French fry with the consistency of a solid potato chip.

The name Kabushima comes from the combination of kabu, the name for the rapeseed plant in the local dialect, and shima, or island. During the season, the hills are alive with gulls and rapeseed blossoms. It was originally an island, too, until the Navy connected it to the mainland by landfill in 1942.

Here’s a Youtube. Give Hitchcock credit for keeping his lens clean.

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

All you have to do is look (30)

Posted by ampontan on Monday, August 27, 2012

Some of the 600 wind chimes at the Nyorin-ji Buddhist temple in Ogori, Fukuoka. The chief priest, Haraguchi Genshu, started hanging them five years ago. Worshippers pay JPY 500 and attach a written wish to the chime. They’re moved inside the temple at the end of September.

Photo from the Asahi Shimbun.

Posted in Photographs and videos, Shrines and Temples | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

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 »

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 116 other followers