Tokyo Notebook

-・- From My Everyday Life to Japanese Culture -・- Why don't you see the real Japan, not the typical foreigners' version.

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06 2011

Daruma, Daruma, Daruma

We stopped over at Shorinzan Darima-ji (少林山 達磨寺, Daruma temple) on the way to Sarugakyo hot spring resort.

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Daruma-ji is a temple of Soto Zen School (曹洞宗) in Takasaki City located in Gunma Prefecture.
According to the temple’s HP, in 1680 a villager found a piece of fragrant wood after a flood and enshrined it in a small temple. One day a disciplinant visited there and carved a seated figure of Daruma-Daishi (達磨大師, Bodhidharma: the transmitter of Zen from India to China) out of the wood. Later in 1697, the temple established as Daruma-ji by Shinetsu(心越禅師), the Zen Priest from China.

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The terrace of the main hall abounds with daruma dolls.

The temple is famous for daruma dolls modeled after the seated figure of Daruma-Daishi.
It’s a talisman of good luck to Japanese. The dolls meet various requirements. The word on body shows a purpose, for example, good luck (福), celebrations (寿), victory (必勝), success in an entrance examination (合格), and so on.
For us, I mean not locals, it’s regarded as a votive doll: we first fill in the left eye upon setting the goal or wishing something, then fills in the right eye upon fulfilling.

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Locals get a new daruma doll for good luck every year and bring an old one to the temple.

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The doll has a winsome look.

My best friend’s mom bought small one for me!
I filled in the eye upon setting a small goal for myself.
I hope I will fill in the other eye anytime soon.

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14 2010

The Origin of Myself

I was born, raised and still living in Azabu, Tokyo, and here is my hometown.

However, if someone asks me where my origin is, I’d say I originate, as an individual, in the land in this photo (I cannot answer a deep question like where is my origin as Japanese or humankind, though.)

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A mountain area of Uonuma district, Niigata prefecture (新潟県魚沼郡) It's one of the snowiest areas in Japan

This is my paternal grandfather’s home village.
I spent several weeks there in my childhood. I’m not sure when this photo was taken, but the picture of the village in my eyes is similar to the photo: unpaved winding road, stepped rice paddies and scattered houses. I think there were 20 households at that time.

My mother came from a seaside town in Aichi Prefecture (愛知県), and I do like the town. But, I don’t have such emotional attachment I feel from the village to the town where my mother’s family live.

According to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, as of Jan. 1, 2010, Tokyo's 23 wards have a population of 8,502,527 people. It's my guess there aren’t so many native-born Tokyoites, and if going back three generations or more, there are much fewer people whose ancestors are all Tokyoites. In my case, my father was born in Tokyo, but my mother and grand parents weren’t, so maybe, I’m not a genuine Tokyoite. Genuine Tokyoites (they can't even equal the pride of genuine Kyotoites, though) have a lot of self-respect.

The land of my heart now has only 4 or 5 households.

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An airborne imagery of the village borrowed from google map.

This less-than-perfect Tokyoite sits between one of the world's biggest cities and the depopulated village.

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28 2010

The Word of Junji Yamashita

cormorant fishing master

I couldn’t fully write what Junji Yamashita (山下純司, 1934-), Usho (鵜匠, cormorant fishing master), told me in the last post. He is a representative for Usho in Nagara River area and an expert with five decades of experience.

I’d like to pass essence of his comments to you.

When the master launched into his theory on modern Japanese after answering my questions about cormorants (鵜), it sounded like a homily at first (I have to admit that…).

He said, “Modern Japanese tend to forget all of us are a part of nature. That is why people panic when death is approaching. They don’t know what providence they live in conformity to and how to make their final exit. We must become close to nature and live with other creatures.”
(I understood that “modern Japanese” meant people without the base of one's belief or clear-cut faith and pets are excluded from “other creatures.”)

Then, I noticed, though worded differently, his theory was just the same as that of Toemon Sano (佐野藤右衛, 1928-), a master gardener called cherry blossom guardian (桜守) in Kyoto. I wrote about his story in the previous post.

The masters mentioned the conception of life and nature ancient Japanese apparently had. Maybe, people who are engaged in primary industries still share the same view.

Fortunately or unfortunately, because humans have a highly developed brain, cerebral neocortex, we apt to confuse humans are “special” and think about oneself too deeply and excessively.

We’ll keep thinking about oneself anyway, but I realized it’s important to find an appropriate balance between a human as just one of living creatures and a social existence by the word of the two experts.

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09 2010

Go Beyond Household Goods

Naito store (内藤商店) has dealt in shuro (シュロ: palm) brooms and brushes since 1818 in Kyoto.

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Standing in entertainment district, on Sanjo Street (三条通り) between the Kamo (鴨川) and Takase (高瀬川) River, the shop cut a conspicuous figure among modern buildings. The wooden old house shows that it’s a long-established store.

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When my friend and I walked along the street last July, she spotted the shop and urged me to take a picture of it. She said, “It still survives because it’s in Kyoto." In Kyoto, more people would take care of their houses, furnishings and items in the same way that their ancestors did using the same types of household goods.

I didn’t know about the shop, but I recognized the goods were handmade at first sight. According to a guide book (Old Kyoto: a guide to traditional shops, restaurants, and inns) and New York Times, until the mid-1970's, all of the shuro brooms and brushes were made right here by Rikimatsu Naito, a fifth-generation broom maker. Now the shop sells the products made by handful craftsmen in Kyoto.

It seems that there are many fans of the shop and their goods across the country,other than specialized craftsmen who use them in their work. Some people stop at the shop and buy a handmade (last for a lifetime) push broom when visiting Kyoto, and the others get various cylindrical brushes for their many purposes.

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It might be Kyoto magic that makes me find meaning in things excessively, but I feel life philosophies of the shopkeeper and users through the products.

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25 2010

Unspoiled Scenery

When I went to shitamachi (下町, see Definition of Shitamachi) last weel to visit my friend's izakaya (居酒屋: a Japanese-style pub), I got my eye on this old-style shichiya (質屋: a pawn shop) near my friend’s place.
I felt like I was back in the 1950's.

pawn shop

According to Nationwide Pawnshop Union Alliance Society (全国質屋組合連合会) in Japan, the pawnbroking dates from the Kamakura period (鎌倉時代, around 1185-1333) and has a history of 700 years.

Until the 1960's, pawn shops were closely connected with people's everyday life and offered secured loans. However, the number of the shops has been decreasing with the development of the consumer loan business. There were over 20,000 shops across the country in 1958, but about 2,500 in 2009.

Many prosperous merchant families and estate owners run pawn shops as a sideline in the olden days. This shop might be one of the cases because my friend said that the shop operator holds real estate that would be a main source of income.

When I was a child, there were old-style shops like this in Azabu, but remaining pawnbrokers rebuilt their shops and houses into modern buildings for rent.

I think it's almost like a miracle that I can see the unchanged shop in central Tokyo.

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02 2010

System of twenty-four Seasonal Divides

I wrote in the last post that “shochuu-mimai (暑中見舞い)” is sent from the end of the rainy season until the beginning of fall (立秋, ritsushu) according to the calendar. Ritsushu is Aug. 7 or 8, and after that day, the greeting card is called “zansho-mimai (残暑見舞い).” Zansho means late-summer heat.

This custom is common knowledge even Kinakinw knows.

So, what calendar does ritsushu belong to?
I vaguely assumed it would be based on the lunar calendar (旧暦) for a long time. But, it was not accurate, to say the least.

Ritsushu that divides shochuu-mimai between zansho-mimai is one of “twenty-four setsuki (二十四節気)”, a system of twenty-four seasonal divides of the solar year. It was originated in ancient China to make date on the lunar calendar correspond to seasons based on the solar calendar.

24setsuki1

According to the lunar calendar, each month started on the day of new moon. The period between new moon and the next was 29.5 days on an average, and then there were about 354 (multiply 29.5 by 12) days in a year, which was 11 days shorter than 365 days year on the solar calendar. Thus, the difference between the calendar date and seasons was getting large year after year. When the difference was reaching 29.5 days, an intercalary month (閏月: uruu-tsuki) was added. (That year had 13 months.) Twenty-four setsuki was the criterion for deciding when an intercalary month was added. (HP of National Astronomical Observatory of Japan: NAOJ)

As already mentioned in the previous post, “Cherry Blossoms and Saigyo”, a specific date in the lunar calendar varies on the basis of 365 days year. To know the seasons was really important for agricultural work.

24setsuki

In twenty-four setsuki, a solar year is firstly divided into four seasons, and secondly, each season is divided into six priods. Japanese still know many of them as words that express seasons.

2010’s Setsuki in August
“Ritsushu (立秋, the beginning of fall)”: August 7
“Shosho (処暑, the end of summer heat)”:August 23

The calendar was reformed in 1872. Though the lunar calendar is no longer official, even now NAOJ announces the date of each setsuki every year.

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18 2010

Mobile phone Charms and Netsuke

A famous Japanese theater director exposed his ignorance on TV few days ago.
Taking mobile phone charms (or straps, 携帯ストラップ) for example, Mr. Noda asserted that more Japanese are acting in a childish manner.

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This is my sister’s mobile phone.

At the beginning of diffusion of cell-phones in Japan, most of the charms were simple lanyards to help users hold their phone. However, now many people personalize their mobile phones with variety of charms.

I understand that the charm is a contemporary version of netsuke (根付) that was developed in Japan during the Edo period (1603-1868).

It seems that netsuke can be defined in two ways: as antique art and commodities.

According to International Netsuke Society, a netsuke is a form of miniature sculpture served both functional and aesthetic purposes. A small toggle called netsuke was attached to a cord to stop it from slipping when men suspended a pouch from kimono sash. Netsuke often beautifully decorated with elaborate carving, lacquer work, or inlays of rare and exotic material (e.g. wood, ivory, precious metals, shell, coral, and semi-precious stones).
There are many keen collectors all over the world, and items made by master craftsmen in the Edo period are traded at a really high price.

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In modern Japan, a charm or a little figure attached to a cord is also called netsuke, and it has been a product familiar with the public from long, long before mobile phones were developed. For many Japanese who has a netsuke culture, it’s natural to attach it to a purse or a wallet now and forever.

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It's hard for Japanese to miss the mobile phone’s hole that is convenient for attaching it.

A netsuke collector, Shingo Ymaguchi (山口真吾) takes a same view with me that dolls and figures of phone charms have originated as netsuke in the Edo period. Indeed, a phone charm is often called “a netsuke strap.” Some people use traditional netsuke as phone charms.

Look at the wonderful antique netsuke collection.

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They are only 2 - 4 centimeters tall.
In the Edo period, men used the pouch with netsuke. Some of them look too lovely for men, but it was a sense of fun with style.

Some people who don’t know our culture might find it intriguing that men and women of all ages use phone charms and say, ‘How strange!’ The others might make a wrong assumption that the charms show Japanese juvenility.

Kinakinw gets fed up with the simple Japanese who follow the irrelevant accusation blindly.

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04 2010

Best Wishes for Your Health

tanabata1

The bamboo branches decorated with streamers and strips of paper are “Tanabata festival (七夕, Star Festival)” decoration in my office. It’s a little unglamorous.

July 7th of the lunar calendar is the day of Tanabata. In general, we celebrate the season festival based on the new calendar, while it’s held on August 7th after the rainy season in many cities in the northern area of Japan.

The origin of the festival is considered old-time Chinese tradition in which women prayed that they would improve handicraft skills. The tradition was based on the legend, like Greek mythology.
‘There was a girl (Vega, Lyra) who was good at weaving. After she married a cowherd (Altair, Aquila), she neglected her weaving, so the god put the Milky Way between them. The only chance they have to see each other is on the night of July 7th’.

The tradition was introduced into Japan in the 8th century and was incorporated into Obon (お盆), Japanese Buddhist festival to recognize ancestral spirits. It became popular among ordinary people in the Edo Period (1603-1868).

On the day, people write their wishes on strips of paper and hang them from bamboo branches. When I was a child, I loved to decorate bamboo branches, but I forgot what I wished.

Yesterday, I read the strips young staffs wrote.
I introduce their nonsense wishes.

‘I want a muscular body.'
Ok. Get in shape by yourself. Kinakinw

‘I want to live in a room decorated with good taste.’
I see. Go to IKEA. Kinakinw

‘I want to be taller.’
Sorry. It’s too late. Kinakinw

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Hiroshige (1797-1858), a famous ukiyoe artist, depicted the festival.

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Tanabata festival in Sendai City 2009 / sendaiblog
Many shopping streets adopt the festival as an effective event for drawing spectators.

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02 2010

Are You All Right without a Parasol?

Different people have different customs.
A Higasa (日傘, a parasol) is one of typical examples.

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From the beginning of summer, many Japanese women use a parasol to shield them from UV light. In contrast, those in Western countries, in which a parasol was used some time ago, seem to lack sufficient attention to sunlight though it’s too obvious that UV light causes the long-term damage to the structure of the skin.

I got a perfect tan in my teenage years but quit tanning because of the appearance-damaging effects of UV light. I don’t excessively protect against it, like Michael Jackson. However, I always carry the black higasa in the picture during the summer and avoid direct sunlight.

There are other ways to protect against UV light besides a parasol: for example, sunscreen lotion, hats and long-sleeved clothes. But a higasa is superior to them because it serves the other purpose of giving cool shade.
Yes. It’s tolerably cool under a parasol.

I use a parasol in many beach resorts and Western countries without hesitation.

Let me point out one thing.
I don’t care if your country doesn’t have a parasol culture, but don’t look at me weirdly if I put it up. So what? It’s just a parasol.

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Shouen Uemura (上村松園, 1875 -1949) Claude Monet (1840 – 1926)

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13 2010

No One is Stronger than a Mother

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This is a very common sight in front of a kindergarten nearby.
Some parents, almost always mothers, drive their children to and from the kindergarten, and others use customized “mama-chari bicycles (granny's bicycles)”.

Bicycles are a popular mode of transportation in Japan. Many mothers living in Tokyo ride mama-chari bicycles with a child seat. To avoid leaving children at home, a mother goes various places everyday by the bicycle with her child on it: going to a supermarket, a laundry, a bank, a post office, and so on.

To choose the mama-chari bicycle isn’t so much because of an environmental concern but efficient traveling in the center of the capital where one has trouble finding a parking place. It’s an economic and intelligent conclusion. My town is known for its international community, and more foreigners have started pedaling with their children in recent years.

A bicycle with two child seats has been allowed if it meets certain conditions since the Road Traffic Law was revised in 2009. Before that, however, the indispensable transportation for mothers was accepted silently.

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Azabu is a hilly town.
I’m deeply impressed when I see that a mother climbs a steep slope by the bicycle with two children on the front and the back, in addition, with several grocery sacks around her arms.

I take off my hat to mothers.

母は強し3

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