AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Archive for the ‘Traditions’ 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.

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All you have to do is look (148)

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, December 27, 2012

Giving young people the experience of harvesting and threshing rice as it was done in the middle ages at a rice paddy in Bungotakada, Oita, which has been designated as an important cultural landscape of the nation. It’s an annual event, and this year 500 people participated.

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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.

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All you have to do is look (146)

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, December 23, 2012

Scenes of big fun from the 61st Ohara Festival in the Tenmonkan shopping district in Kagoshima City. A total of 25,658 people in 325 groups participated in the two day event, which attracted roughly 230,000 spectators.

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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.

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All you have to do is look (142)

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A festival for offering the uni, or sea urchin, back to the sea as a gesture of thanks, conducted by the Akama Jingu in Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi, where a lot of them are caught. The local sea urchin cooperative is the sponsor. This year’s event was the 54th, and about 100 people in the industry participated.

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Matsuri da! (137) Getting in hot water

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, December 15, 2012

THERE’S no better place in the world to take a bath in Japan, whether it’s at home, a small public bath in the neighborhood, a large public facility with extra features (such as massages and meals), or a hot spring resort.

The Japanese understand better than anyone that they’ve been blessed with hot water, and that’s one of the reasons for the annual festival held at the Shiobara hot springs in Shiobara-machi, Tochigi.

The Shimobarans themselves don’t know how long they’ve been taking the waters, but it was already well before 1659, when the supply was abruptly cut off by a tsunami. The folks in the neighborhood were so concerned they offered a prayer at a local shrine. Lo and behold, the water was restored. Hallelujah!

Grateful for their good fortune, they held a ceremony to distribute the sacred water to other shrines nearby.

Every year since then, they recreate that ceremony to give thanks for the spa waters and to pray for the prosperity of the resorts. It starts with a special Shinto rite for scooping out and dividing the water. That’s performed by five miko, or shrine maidens, who are second-year junior high school students. The water is then taken in a procession of 100 people dressed in white robes to the Shiobara Hachiman Shinto shrine, and then to other shrines and ryokan in the area.

It all concludes with a performance of the Urayasu dance by third-year junior high school students.

Well, it really concludes with a hot bath followed by a cooling beverage, but you know what I mean.

Here’s what the Urayasu dance looks like when performed in another location.

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All you have to do is look (138)

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, December 15, 2012

The annual Osu Street Performance Festival in the Osu commercial district of Nagoya. It features 50 performing troupes and attracts about 400,000 spectators. The photo above shows a woman dressed as an oiran, Edo period courtesan/entertainers. They often became celebrities, and were supposed to be skilled in the tea ceremony, flower arranging, calligraphy, and be knowledgeable about scholarly matters.

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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.

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All you have to do is look (134)

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Nagasaki Kunchi, an important intangible cultural treasure of the nation, conducted by the Suwa Shinto shrine in Nagasaki City. They have a larger stage for more performances once every seven years, and this year was a big stage year. Practice for the fall event starts in June. The Chinese elements are distinctive of Nagasaki.

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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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Matsuri da! (136): Hand dancing

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, December 8, 2012

THOUSANDS of festivals are held in Japan throughout the year, and it’s a safe bet that one or more is underway on any given day. While most of them share common elements, both traditional and modern, they also have an element unique to their community or region. The Nagawa Fall Festival in Hachinohe, Aomori, is a case in point.

There is the Shinto kagura dancing at the Suwa shrine. There is also deer dancing, pestle dancing (a form of kagura), tiger dancing, and Hawaiian dancing. There is a procession with a mikoshi, or portable Shinto shrine. There is a fire department parade with the fire department kids’ club, a primary school parade, a traffic safety parade, a beer garden, and a gateball championship.

All of that you can see and do at other festivals. But only at the Nagawa Festival can you see five floats in a procession with women performing the Nambu hand dance to the accompaniment of shamisen and taiko.

And this is what it looks like.

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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 »

Sex, culture, history, and the Japanese

Posted by ampontan on Monday, December 3, 2012

AUTHORS Dekune Tatsuro and Nakamura Akihiko held a wide-ranging discussion about the Japanese view of sex throughout history that was published in the weekly Shukan Bunshun. Here are some translated excerpts:

Nakamura: When you think of the Japanese view of sex since ancient times, the first thing you become aware of is a certain easygoing attitude.

Mr. Nakamura then quotes a poem from the Manyoshu about a soldier going with the troops to Kyushu.

Nakamura: The Katori in this poem is probably the Katori of Chiba Prefecture. The solider has made a firm promise to a young woman there. But as soon as he arrives at Chikushi, he sees a young woman so attractive he completely forgets his promise and gets her pregnant (laughs). The editing of the Manyoshu was an enterprise conducted under the aegis of the national government. It’s amazing this poem is so prominent in the collection.

Dekune: Sexual morality then was quite different than it is today. In those days there was no system of monogamy, and there wasn’t even the custom of having sex in a room. They did it out in the fields. Even now there are still practices that resemble the old Kurayami festival. Men and women would meet, pair off, and head to the grass for sex. Recently, people don’t go to those lengths, however (laughs).

Nakamura: That’s because the people became able to build their own houses. That’s when the custom changed to night crawling.

Dekune: The Heian nobility did quite a lot of night crawling. The Genji Monogatari was written to overcome the vicissitudes of that practice. It starts with how to write a love letter in the form of a waka, and how to carry affairs to their conclusion. In a way, it’s a textbook for male/female relations. The male and female nobles, including the Emperor, competed to read it. It was very easygoing.

Nakamura: Incidentally, Fujiwara no Michinaga was said to be one of the models for Hikaru Genji. He gained power by marrying off his daughters to the Emperor, and setting up their son as the next Emperor.

To determine whether or not his daughter was pregnant, he would pull on her nipples to see if milk came out. I don’t know whether a woman lactates when she is pregnant, but it would be unthinkable today for a father to grab his daughter’s breasts like that….

Dekune: When I first came to Tokyo in early 1965, and rode on the Joban train line, a young woman in her 30s sitting across from me suddenly pulled out her breast and fed her baby. No one thought that was unusual….

Nakamura: Erotic ukiyoe used to be called “funny pictures” (笑い絵). That sort of sensibility is the Japanese view of sex itself, I think. The people who have been easygoing, laughing a lot and enjoying themselves in male-female relations, without putting on a show of getting weirdly deep, have been the Japanese, don’t you think?

Dekune: We’ve been laughing for 2,000 years (laughs).

*****
There’s a lot more to the interview, but some of the historical references are obscure and of lesser interest. They also discuss the taste some male members of the nobility and warlords had for young men, and suggest that Oda Nobunaga liked the female role. But that’s not my stroke, and I’m the one doing the translating!

Posted in History, Sex, Social trends, Traditions | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

All you have to do is look (122)

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Kishiwada Danjiri Festival held annually in Kishiwada, Osaka, is an example of the intensity with which Japanese participate in these traditional events. Danjiri is the local term for a festival float, and each of the 34 districts in the city has one. They are pulled at maximum speed through town, and they don’t slow down for turns at intersections. In fact, that maneuver also has a special name: yarimawashi. (Photo: Asahi Shimbun)

The following Youtube video is a compilation of some of the mishaps that have occurred over the years. Get your socks on before pressing play — and remember that they still do this every year.

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

 
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