Members of the calligraphy club at Kawaguchi High School in Saitama write 250 four-character compound words. The red characters form the character for “happiness”.
Posts Tagged ‘Saitama’
Posted by ampontan on Monday, October 8, 2012
Posted by ampontan on Monday, October 8, 2012
– A person who has something to say about everything
Kurihara Hiroyuki (65) was the owner of three of the Senkaku islets until he sold them to his older brother in 2002. The weekly Shukan Asahi interviewed him for their 12 October issue to ask about the circumstances of his family’s sale of the islets to the Japanese government.
Q: What do you think about the anti-Japan demonstrations in China and the cancellation of the events commemorating the 40th anniversary of the normalization of Japan-China relations?
KH: I thought they might last a little longer, so the convergence of all the demonstrations was unexpected. The domestic backdrop in China is the discord caused by the gap between rich and poor and the anti-Japan education conducted by the government. If this escalates, the dissatisfaction will be directed at their own government. That’s a multi-ethnic state, so its breakup will come quickly. Regardless of their efforts to prevent it, that should happen in about 10 years.
Q: The negotiations for the sale of the islands to the Tokyo Metro District took a sudden turn. Why were they sold to the national government? Was the JPY 2.05 billion price the deciding factor?
KH: That wasn’t it at all. There was debate in the upper house from 6-7 September over a bill to promote the “appropriate management” of uninhabited islands in border areas. Article 16 states, “When the national government deems it proper and reasonable to acquire…the land of the islands in question, the land in question may be expropriated in accordance with the provisions of this law.” If the law passes, the government can buy the Senkakus regardless of the wishes of the Kurihara family. The price at that time would not be appropriate.
So, when it came to the last minute, my brother was intimidated by the government. Land expropriation is a sore subject for the Kurihara family. Our family was told before to leave our home in Omiya (now Saitama City). The price offered for the house and land was too low, so my father turned down the offer. We lost our house in 1961 through a subrogation by proxy. That bill was probably also the reason Gov. Ishihara toned down his comments. If the land were expropriated, Okinawa Prefecture would have jurisdiction…
…To tell you the truth, I’m relieved.
The possibility of expropriation by the Japanese government was the least of their worries. The Chinese have intimidated and harassed the family for 30 years, according to family friends. Representatives of the Chinese government persistently called on them with offers to buy the islands. Some of the representatives were gangsterish and threatening. One Chinese agent for a resort company tried to get them to jointly develop the islets as a resort. Another got so pushy, he put JPY 35 billion in cash on the table, and the family had to file a complaint with the police. During his childhood, Hiroyuki’s son was regularly followed home from primary school by men he didn’t know, and as an adult received a call threatening to disrupt his wedding ceremony. There have also been late night calls threatening harm if the islands weren’t sold to China. The remains of dead animals were sometimes tossed onto the family property.
The Kuriharas finally built a high wall around their property with sharp, pointed objects imbedded in the top, and installed surveillance cameras. The reason younger brother Hiroyuki has dealt with the media rather than his older brother, the owner, is that the older brother prefers not to be seen in public.
Said one family member, “We’ve seen a stream of strange and unsavory people over the past 30 years.”
No wonder they’re relieved.
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.
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 by ampontan on Tuesday, October 2, 2012
MOST Japanese festivals are several hundred years old and conducted at Shinto shrines that are usually much older.
But there are exceptions. One is a festival created this year and held for the first time last Saturday by the Koma Shinto shrine in Hidaka, Saitama. It’s called the Festival of Gratitude for Mugi and Prayer for Manju, and that’s a poster advertising it at the top. Mugi is the general term for barley, wheat, rye, oats, and other grains in the poaceae family. It’s been grown in Hidaka and the western part of Saitama for a long time. Manju are buns with a variety of fillings. Most often it’s bean paste, but there are many varieties, including those packed with meat and even cream custard. The first manju was brought to Japan from China in 1341, where they are also still eaten.
The priests offered a prayer for the bountiful sales of mugi products, and they gave a manju to everyone who came for good luck. To help promote those bountiful sales, there were booths offering a selection of delights, including the locally popular kinchakuda manju, made with wheat flour, Saitama’s own bean paste, and chestnuts. Inoue Hiroshi, the head of the Kawagoe (city) cultural treasure protection council, delivered a special address. Mr. Inoue spoke on Japan’s Wheat Manju, Past and Present.
The Mugi Culture Gratitude Festival Committee sponsored the event as one of the first activities to commemorate the 1,300th anniversary of the establishment of Koma-gun. (A gun is roughly equivalent to a county.)
Koma-gun was founded by refugees from Goguryeo on the Korean Peninsula. An ancient Korean kingdom, Goguryeo was the loser in a battle against an alliance of the Korean Silla Kingdom and Tang Dynasty China in 668. Koma is written as 高麗 in kanji, which are the same characters used for the Goryeo dynasty of Korea that lasted from 918 to 1392. Goryeo is the origin of the name of Korea, and is derived from Goguryeo. Koma was also used as a synonym for Korea long ago in Japan.
In fact, the Saitamanians think the newcomers established a Goguryeo court in exile there before giving it up and assimilating. One of the first to arrive was Koma no Jakko, an envoy from the court who showed up in 666. He might have been a member of the royal family known by a different name. His spirit is one of the three tutelary deities at the Koma shrine.
Goguryeo is said to have been a grain-producing area. The theme of the new festival is to celebrate the common food culture between the two areas and to remind everyone of the local grain-based foods.
The shared food culture hasn’t traveled on a one-way street. The Japanese introduced Koreans to another popular grain-based product in the first half of the 20th century: beer. Here’s an excerpt from Exploring Korea, a travel guide:
Beer is called Mekchu (맥주) in Korean. The Germans introduced beer to many Asian countries and helped countries such as China and Japan set up breweries and develop brewing techniques. When the Japanese colonized Korea they introduced beer and opened breweries to produce beer for the local elites.
Considering the wealth created on the peninsula and the increase in incomes over all social levels, I don’t know about that “elites” part, but let’s continue. The site has capsule summaries of the three South Korean mass market brewers. Here’s one:
Hite Brewing Company was founded in 1933 and was originally under Japanese ownership during the occupation of Korea. When the company began it was called Chosun Beer but later changed to Hite after gaining independence from Japan.
Chosun Beer was a subsidiary of Dainippon Beer (大日本麦酒株式会社), and was half-owned by local interests. Dainippon was created in Japan in 1906 through the mergers of the companies that made what are now Asahi, Sapporo, and Yebisu beers. It was split into separate units again after the war. Hite was founded in 1933, but didn’t start shipping until 1934.
The reason I provided the company name in characters was to show this part: 麦酒. That seems to have been pronounced biiru in the Dainippon name, and it literally means mugi liquor. The characters themselves were already in use for an older form of proto-beer in Japan and pronounced bakshu in that application.
The characters are also the source for the Korean word maekju, which is the Korean reading of bakushu. The Chinese call beer 啤酒, which is pijiu in Mandarin and bijiu in Cantonese. These days they often dispense with the second character. The first seems to have been a new creation/coinage when beer arrived in China. It’s a combination of 口, or mouth, which is used as a classifier, and another character also known in Japan that means low, base, or common.
OB is the second of the Big Three beer companies in South Korea. That brewery was founded in 1952 by what is now the Doosan conglomerate, but the company had already existed in a different form as Showa Beer, whose major shareholder was Kirin.
Koreans enjoy getting worked up over what they perceive as the faulty Japanese awareness of history and lack of recognition of their contributions to Japanese culture. The case could easily be made, however, that the opposite is closer to the truth. No one in Koma-gun, Saitama, is ignoring history, and one of the Korean county fathers is venerated in the local Shinto shrine. That’s not an isolated example, either: They do the same in Arita, Saga, to honor a key figure in the ceramics culture.
For contrast, allow me subject you to this Wikipedia article called Beer in Korea. Either some boy needs to do his homework, or his teachers gave him bad homework assignments. My guess is the latter.
The Japanese still make bakushu in special circumstances, such as proto-beer festivals at Shinto shrines. Here’s a look at one held annually at the Soja shrine in Koka, Shiga. They started in 1441. The shrine makes three types, and the captions in the video say they are sweet.
Posted by ampontan on Saturday, September 1, 2012
Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, March 30, 2010
IN THE INTRODUCTION to the collection of his pieces written for The New Yorker magazine, Joseph Mitchell wrote that, directly or indirectly, most of his subjects had a strong element of what he called graveyard humor. He attributed that to his turn of mind, and to illustrate said that one of favorite artists was the Mexican illustrator and engraver José Guadalupe Posada:
The majority of the engravings were of animated skeletons mimicking living human beings engaged in many kinds of human activities, mimicking them and mocking them: a skeleton man on bended knee singing a love song to a skeleton woman, a skeleton man stepping into a confession box, skeletons at a wedding, skeletons at a funeral, skeletons making speeches, skeleton gentlemen in top hats, skeleton ladies in fashionable bonnets. I was astonished by these pictures, and what I found most astonishing about them was that all of them were humorous, even the most morbid of them.
Mitchell’s description of Posada immediately came to mind when I read about the Jaranpon Festival in Chichibu, Saitama, which was held this year on the night of 14 March. Jaranpon is the representation of the sounds of the music played at the festival on bells and drums. It’s also called the Soshiki Matsuri, or Funeral Festival.
That doesn’t sound like anyone’s idea of a good time, but by all accounts it’s more goofy than gloomy. Every year a mock funeral service is conducted for one of the local men, who is dressed in white funeral clothing and placed inside a coffin. Since few people are going to enjoy even a mock entombment before their time, they make things easier for the subject by giving him a bottle of sake.
This is a Japanese festival, and that means everyone is half in the bag already before he gets in the box. How are mourners supposed to have fun if they’re sober? They start drinking around six o’clock, and put him in the coffin about eight. The parishioners from the 75 households in the district turn this funereal festival into a party as a prelude for the local Suwa Shinto shrine’s spring festival. Preliminary events are often conducted the night before a major festival to invite the spirit of the divinity.
The scene is played to the hilt. There’s a funeral tablet on which is written the deceased’s name in the afterlife. One man plays the part of a Buddhist priest conducting the service. He recites a sutra that sounds real, but turns out to be nonsense on close listening. Musical accompaniment is provided by six assistants who ring the bells and beat the drums. Their priestly vestments are actually furoshiki arranged to look like robes. (Furoshiki are wrapping cloths that were originally used to hold one’s belongings when taking a bath, but are now used to transport all sorts of items. They can carry lunches and double as the tablecloth.)
When did the Jaranpon begin? No one knows for certain, though it’s generally attributed to the Edo period (1603-1868). They do think they know how it began, however. The area was suffering from plagues and no one knew what to do to stop them. Desperate, they tried human sacrifice. That worked.
The success presented the town with a conundrum. They had discovered the key to preventing plagues and disasters, but the reality of actually going through with it every year was too gruesome to contemplate. A happy compromise was reached by going through the motions of a human sacrifice with the only actual sacrifice being the townfolk’s sobriety. The choice of hair-legged old men as the victims rather than comely young virgins, as in other cultures, demonstrates the sagacity of the Japanese in these matters.
Marx supposedly said that history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce. Everyone should be glad he was right about something for a change—particularly the folks in Chichibu!
This isn’t Japan-related, but:
* It’s a matter of taste, of course, but many people consider Joseph Mitchell to have been the preeminent American writer of non-fiction. His collection of works from The New Yorker is called Up in the Old Hotel.
* For a sample of the work of José Guadalupe Posada, try here. His illustrations were the inspiration for the cover of the Ry Cooder album, Chicken Skin Music. If the folks in Chichibu know about him, they might well look upon him as a kindred spirit.
Posted by ampontan on Monday, March 15, 2010
HAS THERE EVER been a time when little girls didn’t play with dolls? In Japan, little girls have been playing with paper dolls since at least the Heian period, which began more than 1200 years ago.
Somewhere along the way, that diversion was combined with an old Chinese purifactory rite held along rivers in the third lunar month. People exorcised their impurities by transferring them to paper images and casting them on the waters. Those paper images were called katashiro in Japan.
Early in the Edo period, which began more than 400 years ago, people started displaying three-dimensional versions of these dolls in the home. As the custom became more widespread, the dolls and the displays grew more elaborate, and it became traditional to place a full set of figures consisting of an emperor, empress, attendants, and musicians on several tiers for Girls’ Day, which is 3 March.
That custom eventually became a part of every girl’s life. Parents gave a set to girls when they were born, or on their first birthday, and the girls took them to their new home when they got married.
Little girls and big girls both still play with the dolls. Here’s a look at this year’s Hina events from several perspectives.
The Tomisaki Shinto shrine in Katsuura, Chiba puts on a really biggu show every year for its Biggu Hina Matsuri, and it gives everyone a preview by displaying 1,200 dolls on a 60-tiered platform for the 60 stone steps leading to the shrine torii. Katsuura seems to have become something of a Hina Central. There’s a Shinto ceremony to pray for the success of the festival, and the miko, or shrine maidens, perform dances. Students at the International Budo (Martial Arts) University—an accredited school—gave a naginata demonstration.
The city’s main Hina Matsuri, or doll festival, was held from 26 February to 6 March and featured 25,000 dolls in nine locations. One local primary school had an exhibit of 1,366 folk dolls from 84 countries. The city also exhibited Japan’s biggu-est hina doll, which is a towering 120 centimeters tall, or just a skoche shy of four feet. It should be no surprise that the festival is a biggu deal for the city’s merchants—it attracts more than 150,000 people every year.
Those stone steps are 15 meters high and two meters wide, by the way. It took 20 people 90 minutes to set up the display, and boy that was fast work.
The hina season is the peak period for Kuroda Hiroshi and his wife Katsumi of Koshigaya, Saitama, who work together to make traditional crafts. Mr. and Mrs. Kuroda make full sets of hina dolls by hand. One set costs from JPY 150,000 to JPY 230,000 (about $US 2,540). That’s expensive, but customers are paying for handmade craftsmanship and a unique product. Said Mr. Kuroda, “I’ve been doing this with my wife ever since we got married. If one of us were lacking, we couldn’t make good products.” He says the most popular sets now are the smaller ones with dolls from 15 to 20 centimeters high (just shy of eight inches), perhaps as a result of the economic downturn.
Arita-cho in Saga has been one of Japan’s leading porcelain and ceramics centers since the late 16th century. They’ve had plenty of experience creating elaborate and elegant works of porcelain art, particularly during the 18th century, when European nobility went into a continent-wide collectors’ frenzy and spent enormous sums on their products. It stands to reason they’ve got their fingers in this pie too.
The Arita Hina Ceramics festival began last month, and the big draw was the display of porcelain hina dolls from kilns in three countries at the municipal offices on the 28th. The kilns represented were the heavy hitters in the world’s porcelain industry. From left to right: Lladro of Spain, Kakiemon of Arita-cho, and Meissen of Germany. That’s Arita’s chief municipal officer giving the glad eye to the Spanish team. Porcelain folk were particularly intrigued by comparisons of the three companies’ distinctive use of color.
The Kakiemon and Meissen kilns have been around for centuries, but Lladro is a relative baby doll, established in 1950. It didn’t take them long to become the world’s leading porcelain doll manufacturer, however. Aficionados cite their use of color and curves as the factors that set them apart. Their price sets them apart as well. A set of two dolls sells for JPY 1.05 million, or roughly $US 11,590.
Some people sigh at their beauty. Others sigh at the price.
Boys generally aren’t interested in this sort of thing—it is Girl’s Day, after all—and besides, guys are more likely to sigh over living dolls than the porcelain variety.
That’s why the favorite doll event for manly men was in Higashiomi, Shiga, last week, when three young women from the Tankai Calligraphy Culture Vocational School dressed up as Hina doll attendants. They even served visitors shirozake (white sake, made with rice malt and sake), a beverage traditionally consumed at these celebrations, and posed for photos. I’ve never had shirozake, but if they want to pour, I’ve got a cup to bring.
The event was called the Human Hina Festival, and it was the centerpiece of a larger local festival that will last until the 28th. This year’s festival is the 13th. The students appeared as living dolls two days running, for two hours each. Said 20-year-old Kato Mako, one of the human hinas, “It was difficult because my feet went numb, but a lot of people took my picture, so it was a good experience.”
Being a doll must be harder work than it looks!
I mentioned last week that some Japanese still believe inanimate objects have spirits, and that also applies to the hina. It just doesn’t feel right to dump them in the trash if they’re no longer wanted or needed. It’s worth clicking the link to find out the solution some people have devised.
And yes, the Tankai Calligraphy Culture Vocational School has a website, though it’s in Japanese only. You don’t have to read Japanese to appreciate their calligraphy gallery, however.
Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, July 9, 2008
SOME STORIES write themselves, and this is one of them.
The Hydrangea Park Commemorative Planting Society in Ogano-machi, Saitama, planted 2,200 hydrangea bushes at the local Oshika Shinto Shrine a few years ago.
Their objective was to create a “a village shrine in a grove” (chinju-no-mori), which is an ancient Japanese concept. Shinto deities are thought to have been originally worshipped in forests, and that’s the reason so many shrines were built in the woods. Shinto shrines surrounded by trees, even in the cities, are still a common sight in Japan today.
Using hydrangea instead of trees is a novel concept. The large bushes are a pleasant and attractive symbol of the hot part of the summer season now that the torrential rains are over, and 2,200 in full bloom in one location must be quite impressive. (Hydrangea are native to East Asia and North and South America, but the most popular ornamental variety in the U.S. came from Japan.)
The Oshika shrine decided to hold a hydrangea festival three years ago, and it’s now part of their calendar every year. Unlike the other festivals we talk about here, it’s not a religious event. Rather, it’s just a nice way to spend some time outdoors in the summer among the flowers.
This year, the shrine decided to stage a kabuki play. They chose the well-known drama, Shiranami Gonin Otoko, or The Five Male Thieves. First performed in 1862 at the Ichimura-za in Tokyo, the main characters are indeed thieves modeled after real people. The protagonist is Nippon Daemon (three syllables, nothing to do with devils), a slight twist on the name of the bandit Nippon Saemon, who was hanged in 1747.
The plot and its twists are quite complex, but two scenes from the drama are famous. In the first, one of the rough-and-ready thieves goes to a kimono shop masquerading as a young woman of the upper class, with the idea of extorting money. Consider the acting skills required to pull off that role convincingly.
In the final scene, Daemon battles two of the thieves, whom we learn are actually undercover policemen, and gets the better of them. He eventually promises to turn himself in later in the day, and the drama ends.
This drama featuring five thieves was performed at the Saitama shrine by seven local policemen, all from the traffic division. They began rehearsals in June at the police station dojo on their own time, assisted by a kabuki preservation society and some junior high school volunteers.
Being policemen, they said they changed the ending slightly to put their fictional brother officers in a better light. They also threw in some cautionary tales about traffic accidents, reckless driving, and telephone swindles.
The word dasai in Japanese denotes a person who is a dweeby, uncool dork. Some years ago, the hyper-cool sophisticated hipsters in Tokyo started adding the first syllable of that word to the name Saitama, where the shrine is located, to refer to the prefecture as Dasaitama. (Everyone around the world knows that all the cool people live in big cities and the hinterlands—everywhere else—are full of geeks.)
But if the cool people happened to have been in Dasaitama last weekend, they could have spent a pleasant day outdoors at a religious institution surrounded by 2,200 hydrangeas in bloom to watch a famous kabuki drama about thieves performed by policemen. Contributing to the success of the event were a volunteer horticultural society, a volunteer kabuki society, and some curious and enthusiastic junior high school kids.
That doesn’t seem dasai to me. In fact, I think it’s kind of cool.
But perhaps it’s as the Japanese say: Tade kuu mushi sukizuki ni. Or in English, some insects even like to eat the tade plant. (It must not be very appetizing.)
More simply put: There’s no accounting for tastes, is there?
Here’s a plot summary in English of Shiranami Gonin Otoko.
Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, February 20, 2007
If you’re in Japan and your idea of art is something more than manga, J-pop, and anime, you’ve got it better than you might think. There are excellent museums of all kinds even in medium-sized provincial cities, and the larger the city, the greater the variety of art.
Here are just a few examples of what you could see today, with previews from the museums’ websites.
Taisho Retro and Showa Modern Posters / Himeji City Museum of Art
This exhibition shows posters both as printed matter and as an advertising medium, with a focus on the production and printing technologies. Most of the posters shown are about 100 years old. The one you can see in the link is advertising carbonated water. Note that horizontal printing in those days was from right to left, as it was in China. Runs until March 25; 800 yen
Nabeshima: Porcelain for the Shogunate / Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka
In Arita, in present-day Saga Prefecture, one of Japan’s leading ceramic production centers, artisans created ceramic art for the Nabeshima han feudal lords, but their work came to be prized the world over. This exhibit of 230 works from several museums and private collections is a glimpse of the pinnacle of the art. Runs until March 22; 900 yen
Maori Treasures from the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa / Tokyo National Museum
This is the first major exhibition of Maori art in Japan. It features about 160 pieces that include canoes and weapons in addition to clothing and jewelry. Runs until March 18; 600 yen
Surrealisme / Museum of Modern Art, Saitama
The exhibition includes 110 paintings, photographs, and other works by 30 artists, including Man Ray, Ernst, Magritte, Miro, Dali, and Picasso. Nothing else need be said. Runs until March 22; 900 yen.
Note that all these exhibitions are cheaper than a movie ticket. Also, all the websites are to be found on the left sidebar for future reference.