2012/02/23

Shintoism and the guardian animals

 In Japan we have our own religion, Shintoism.
Briefly speaking Shintoism originated  from the nature worship and the ancestor worship.
 From the ancient period , our life is always greatly influenced and controlled by nature.
Because of the geographical reason, people always struggled and (even now struggle) with the natural disasters in this country.
 Especially in the country where the life depended very much  on the agriculture,  nature played an important role.
 Our life was deeply involved in  nature. (even now)

 In this situation people naturally learned the power of  nature and respected it.
People thought the god descend and rest in  nature, such as  mountains, rocks,  trees, etc.
 They built a  shrine in such places so that they could be protected by the god.
In each village and town there is it's local shrine, and the people of the area take care of the shrine and participate the annual events and the festivals of the shrine.

 Then they also respected the spirit of their ancestor and began worshiping it.
 In this way the number of the god increased in Shintoism.
Shintoism is deeply related to the life of the people, but at the same time it was closely connected with the nation under the emperor in history.

 Anyway Shintoism was for the peace and prosperity of the local community  which is deeply controlled by nature.
 People always entreated something to gods.
 Even now when we visit a Shinto shrine, we pray  to try to get some benefit from the god.


 There are a great number of  Shinto shrines with a great number of  gods.


When you visit a Shinto shrine, you always find a pair of guardian animals.
Generally speaking we find dogs or  tigers called 《komainu》 at the entrance of the shrine.


But you can find other animals  as well.

 In Kyoto there is  《a philosopher's path》, near this path  is a tiny local Shinto shrine where you can find the mice as guardian animals in front of a tiny sub shrine.
 This sub shrine is dedicated to a mythological god 《ookuninushi》. He was one time saved by a mouse in the myth.

                                     a mouse with a big belly is for 《having a baby》
                               
                                 a mouse with a scroll is for the study


  All over this country there are 《Inari》Shinto shrines.
 Inari shrines are dedicated to the god of the agriculture and the commerce.
 At the Inari shrines you always find the foxes, messengers of the god Inari.

                      Fushimi Inari Shinto shrine of Kyoto , head shrine of all of the Inari shrines

                                 

 Now we sometimes find a Shinto shrine called 《**tenmangu》shrine.
**tenmangu shrine is dedicated to a historical person named Michizane Sugawara of the
9th c.  This time you always find oxen, his guardian animals. I will talk about this person or this shrine someday.
 
         

                             
 In 《Goou》Shinto shrine near the imperial palace park you can find wild boars.
This time the god enshrined here is another historical person of the 8th c. 《wakeno-kiyomaro》.
In a legend when he injured his leg , he was protected very much by wild bores and finally his injury was cured.
 Because of this reason, this shrine is good for the problems of feet,legs and the back.
So why not visit this shrine for my feet, very important tool for a guide.


Under the ceiling of the gate something purple is hanging , this represents a good luck charm.

 And of course I bought a good luck charm 《omamori》 for my feet.

  

2012/02/14

NARA

Kansai region is the old region which consists of  several prefectures including Kyoto.
Nara is in Kansai and  an ancient city.

 Like Kyoto Nara was once the capital city of Japan.
Capital city was an important city  where the emperor lived .
The 8th century is the《 Nara period》and  Nara prospered most.
Today Nara is a quiet local city, but full of historical places.
During the Nara period, the Buddhism flourished very much, so even now there are a lot of Buddhist temples here.

As usual you can find Shinto shrines as well.
 In the eastern part of the city , there is a big natural park 《Nara park or the deer park》, in and around the park you can find several interesting historical places.

The deer,native Japanese deer, is legendary  sacred messengers of the god of a shinto shrine 《Kasuga Taisha shinto shrine》(world cultural heritage site)and is one of the symbols of Nara.

 In fact you can find lots of deer everywhere. They are wild deer but protected.
They sell special cookies for the deer  that the tourists can buy and give them.
As a result ,the deer of Nara don't afraid of the people, sometimes too spoiled and tame.
If you buy the cookies, immediately several hungry deer run up to you to rob them, watch out!


 Another symbol of Nara is a big Buddha of 《Todaiji Buddhist temple》(world cultural heritage site), which is considered to be the largest bronze 《 ancient 》statue of Buddha in the world.
                   
 In the Buddha's hall people try to go through a tiny hole to get a passport to the paradise.










 In the parc there is a national museum, where you can see the exhibition about Buddhism,especially a lot of Buddhist statues are exhibited.


 In the old quarter of Nara, you can find a sake brewery.  If you pay 400yen, you can taste 5 different types of sake. Good place to take a rest after walking ! And you can get this small sake cup as souvenir.




 The night-time of Nara is very quiet. But at this time of the year (in winter), for several days you can enjoy the special night event. During this period  there are places where you can visit even at night, such as 《Kaidan- do 》of Todaiji temple.


 But throughout the year you can visit 《Nigatsu-do》of Todaiji temple.
This wooden building (designated as a national treasure) has a kind of a deck or a terrace projecting over the cliff with  lanterns hanging.
You can enjoy a mysterious but peaceful  atmosphere in  quiet surroundings.
Far away you can see the lights of the town.
 In March there is a famous annual event of this place《omizutori》, at nigh the monks carrying a huge torch walk on the terrace,then lots of people visit here to see that.

 To go there you have to walk up the hill in the park or there is a tiny road. At night there are not many people and the area is  very quiet and dark, so you had better take a taxi.






A five storied pagoda of a Buddhist temple 《Kofukuji》(world cultural heritage)is lit up.



2012/02/10

IMARI porcelain

 Imari is the name of a small city in Kyushu, one of the 4 major islands of Japan,and this island is the west one.
Imari city is situated in the western part of Kyusu, and it has been well known for the porcelain.
 Near here is another town of porcelain《Arita》,where a Korean potter found a quarry of kaolin at Izumiyama.  You can visit this quarry.


 And he made the very first Korean style white porcelain in Japan in the early 17th century.
 The porcelain made in this area was shipped from the port of IMARI, that's why it was called 
《IMARI》.

  A great master 《Kakiemon》succeeded in the creation of the porcelain with the design in red on the milk white background in the 1640s.
 In Arita there is a store 《kakiemon》.The present master Kakiemon is the 14th generation, designated as a living treasure.
 With the plenty of space, in the milk white background, the simple elegant design in persimmon red is painted.
Behind the store is a gallery, if you go out of the gallery, you can find a persimmon tree, legendary tree.
  The founder of 《kakiemon》 was strongly impressed with the color of the persimmon and created this persimmon red, his trademark.
《柿 kaki》of kakiemon means persimmon in Japanese.







This persimmon tree, in the fall you can see the persimmons.



 Now the local lord assembled the artists of 《akae》, which literally means 《red painting》(so the painting with colors),in the same area. This area was and   is called 《akae-machi/town》.
 Even now in this area there are porcelain stores, among them the most famous one is probably 《Imaemon》.  Imaemon was exclusively engaged in the 《akae》painting on the porcelain for the local lord.
 The type of the porcelain made in the workshops for the exclusive use of the lord is called
《Nabeshima》named after the lord Nabeshima.
 In the store of Imaemon you can appreciate the very graceful porcelain Nabeshima.
Present master of Imaemon is the 14th generation.

 The lord Nabeshima moved the workshops with the kilns to 《okouchiyama》area in Imari city to prevent the special technique of Nabeshima style from leaking out.
This area nestles in the valley and now there are 24 kilns.



 Even now there are lots of workshops ,stores and galleries in the town of Arita.
Let's visit another place 《Gen-e-mon》 which has 260- year-history.
 Here you can visit a wonderful museum of 《old Imari》. 《old Imari》was the one that was made during Edo period(17c-1868). 
Those Imaris of this museum were once exported to Europe, but later they were repurchased.
Imari porcelain was very much appreciated and loved by the European nobles.



Here you can visit the workshop, too.







2012/01/31

Green tea, maccha

 Every day Japanese drink green tea.
Only tea or with a sweet, with the food, during the meal or after the meal...

 Green tea, we use this word 《(o)cha》 or 《ryoku-cha》in Japanese.
The tea tree for the green tea belongs to the camellia family and this is the same tree as  that  for the black tea and the Chinese tea. The difference is in the manufacturing process of each tea.
 In order to make green tea, the tea leaves are steamed and quickly dried, while the tea leaves are fermented in the process of making the black tea and the Chinese tea.

 It is said that already in the 8th century the tea was introduced into Japan from China.
 But in the 12th century a zen monk introduced the manufacturing method of 《ten-cha》,
from which  《maccha》(fine powdered green tea) is made.
Another monk  began growing the tea trees in Kyoto, later he finally found the ideal place for the cultivation of the tea trees.

 This place is Uji.

This 《ten-cha》(or maccha) created 《a culture of the green tea》in Kyoto.

 Now in Japan there are different producing centers of the green tea, and the area whose output  is the biggest is Shizuoka prefecture, more than 40 % of the total output.
Now in Uji they produce a high quality green tea, because of the historical and the cultural background of Kyoto.

 In the 15th century 《the tea ceremony》 was created and loved by the high ranking people,
such as shogun and the samurai generals.
 In the 16th century a great tea master Sen- no- rikyu a perfected a tea ceremony《wabi-cha tea ceremony》, his descendant inherited this culture of tea and founded the major tea schools which still exist in Kyoto.

Anyway 《maccha》(very fine powdered green tea)is indispensable for the tea ceremony,
so Uji was a very important place to make a good maccha at that time.
 Of course even now Kyoto is the center of the tea ceremony, 《maccha》green tea is one of the most important products of Kyoto.

 Tea ceremony is a social contact , that is , a host warmly prepares the quiet comfortable place  and  makes a good tea for the guests, and the guests appreciate  the arrangements and of course a bowl of good tea. But as this is a ceremony, there are manners and method that we have to know.  Even now there are 《tea ceremony schools》 where we can learn how to do the ceremony.

 In order to make 《maccha》green tea for the tea ceremony, we use a tea bowl and a bamboo tea whisk.
 According to the tea schools they use a different type of  tea whisk.
Tea spoon is very often made of bamboo too.
     
We visited a maccha green tea factory in Uji which has a 300-year history.
Today they mainly use a modern factory, but still the milling process is done by a traditional  millstones(operated by machine).







 In order to cultivate the tea trees for maccha , they cover the trees to protect the strong sunshine from about 30 days , as a result  the leaves contain more amid acid, that is, the tea has 《umami》.  Umami is one of the tastes that the human beings feel, besides 《sweet,salty, bitter, sour》, and this was discoverd by Japanese scholars. Anyway because of this  《umami》, this type of  green tea has a profound taste.
 The green tea  is good for the health, especially maccha...because as for maccha, we can drink almost every parts of the leaves.
There are various medical effects in the green tea, such as the control of high blood pressure, aging, cholesterol , the prevention of cancers,etc.

 At home we can easily enjoy drinking maccha.
 We put a tea spoon of maccha and pour the hot water from 70℃~85℃.















 Or you can use it for a cooking.
These days they make a variety of sweets using maccha.
















2012/01/24

Hakone, hot springs

All over Japan, we have hot springs《ONSEN》

Japanese, young and old ,love hot springs very much since the old days.
 In the past people went to a spa for a cure , a recuperation, of course taking  hot springs is good for the health, moreover good for the relaxation.
So Japanese enjoy onsen, even monkeys....these days.


 One of the hot spring towns is Hakone, Kanagawa prefecture.
Hakone is in a national park, Fuji-Hakone-Izu national park, which consists of 4 different regions.
Hakone region is characterized by the  volcanic topography, caldera, and hot springs.
If you visit Hakone, you visit 《caldera》, huge crater in a shape of a bowl surrounded by cliffs.
But actually you can not feel that.
Volcanic activities, eruptions were in the prehistoric days.
Now this place is a place a scenic beauty,  if you are lucky, you can see Mt.Fuji.
                                   from lake Ashi
even from the shinkansen( bullet train), you can see Mt.Fuji .
this picture is from《shin-fuji station》


 According to the visibility rate of Mt.Fuji, you have more chances to see Mt.Fuji in winter.
January is 76%, July is  8%.  
But if you are lucky, you can see Mt.Fuji in any month.
               

 This area is  easily accessible from Tokyo,  so Hakone is  one of the most popular hot spring towns and tourist spots.
Besides hot springs there are a lake, a historical monument, museums,a place where you can feel  tiny tiny volcanic activities,etc.

But let's go back to Onsen, hot springs.
Hakone was famous for  《7 hot springs 》before, today in Hakone there are around 20 hot springs.
 One of those is Ashino-yu.  《YU》 means 《hot water 》.
Ashino-yu onsen is a tiny hot spring village.
The altitude of this village is around 870m, so it snows in winter(not all the time though).
But winter is the best season to feel the real meaning of a spa,
and more attractive.

 Here is a onsen ryokan 《hot spring japanese style hotel》.
The history of this ryokan dates back to the Edo period , 17th century.
In the ground of this ryokan  there is the source of  hot springs, which gush  220 liters of hot springs of 60℃ per minute.
 Of course there is a  medical effect for   《neuralgia, rheumatism, skin disease etc.》
But people just enjoy hot springs.

 These days the life style of the Japanese greatly changes, so there are different types of onsen ryokans.
 For example, this ryokan was remodeled and modernized.
But still they keep  the element of a typical traditional Japanese style room...with a little bit of modifications.

As usual there is a big public bath of onsen in this ryokan, besides in this room there is a bath of hot springs outside of the room.
 This style is fashionable these days, but expensive.
           
So generally people use a big public bath, without a bathing suit, this is a rule.



































One of the great pleasures of staying in a ryokan is the local food and...sake?
                     
Hakone is in the mountains, but if we go down the mountains we reach the sea.
There are fishing ports where they can easily get the fresh fish.
Why not enjoy  lots of fresh sashimi ?









2012/01/16

10 Chapters of Uji

Main characters are
  ☆ Kaoru.... the second son of Genji...actually he is the son of a wife of Genji(the young lady that he  married when he was older) and a nephew of Genji.
  Later he got to know the truth.
  His character is serious. He can control his emotion. He is deeply absorbed in Buddhism.

 ☆ Ninou-no-miya.... a grandson of Genji. His character is sociable, cheerful, playboy type.
   
They are almost the same age, so they are rivals.

☆ Hachino-miya....a brother of Genji, but their mothers are different.
      After various misfortunes,he left Kyoto and moved to  Uji with his 2 daughters.
     He led a quiet life of Buddhist training and pursuit.
   
☆ 3 daughters of Hachino-miya.....
       Ooi-gimi.... the older daughter, Kaoru love her.
       She has decided to stay single all her life, following her father's advice.

       Nakano-kimi....the second daughter of Hachino-miya....Niou-no-miya love her.

       Ukifune....the third daughter of Hachino-miya, but her mother is different from the mother of other 2 daughters. Her mother was one of the high ranking employees of Hachino-miya. So she couldn't marry Hachino-miya. So her mother married another man and left Kyoto.  She grew up in the countryside. She resembles  Ooi-gimi in appearance.

  (story)

  Kaoru respected  Hachino-miya very much. So very often he visited his villa of Uji.
One day he saw 2 daughter by chance, and he fell in love with Ooi-gimi(the older sister).
 He told Niou-no-niya about 2 daughters, and he was very much interested in them too.

 One day he had a party in the villa of his uncle Yugiri(the first son of Genji)which is situated in Uni.  That villa stands on the riverside. On the other said of the river was the villa of Hachino-miya.
 At the villa of Hachino-miya, they listened the sound of the music which came from the other side of the river, and sent a letter to Yugiri's villa.
Then Niou-no-miya replied to  a letter, and this time Nakano-kimi(the second daughter) answered the letter.  In this way they began writing each other.


 Her father Hachino-miya told their daughters to take pride in their high birth, and told them to stay in this quiet place Uji was better than being criticized disgracefully outside of Uji.

 One day Hachino-miya went to a temple in a mountain to stay there a while.Then he got sick there and died.

 Kaoru loved Ooi-gimi, but she was determined to remain single and stay in Uji, following her father's advice.

 Ooi-gimi tried to make her younger sister Kaoru's wife, but Kaoru tried to make her Ninou-no-miya's wife.
 In any case the ranking of those 2 men is very high,and those ladies don't have their parents,
so even if they marry those men they don't expect to be their official wives.

 Ooi-gimi worried so much that finally she fell sick and died.
Naka-no-kimi was left alone,so Niou-no-miya married her and she left Uji to move to Kyoto.
She gave birth to a boy.
But she couldn't be his official wife.

 Kaoru often visited her. He loved her this time.

 Kaoru married a daughter of the Mikado.

 One day he saw Ukifune(the 3rd daughter) at the villa of Uji(she dropped by the villa).
As she resembled Ooi-gimi so much, he fell in love with her.

 Ukifune's mother took her to Naka-no-kimi's house to ask to take care of her.
So she stayed there.
 Niou-no-miya saw her and immediately tried to approach her  by force.
As a result, Kaoru moved her to the villa of Uji secretly.

 But soon Niou-no-miya found her and visited Uji when Kaoru was not there.
Finally Ukifune couldn't resist his passion and force.
 On a snowy night, Ninou-no-miya came to Uji ,and they spent a day of love on a tiny island next day.(this is one of the most impressive scenes)
               
 Kaoru tried to take  Ukifune as wife in Kyoto, but he  was suspicious of the relation with Ninou-no-miya , so he reproached her.

 Ukifune was distressed by a love triangle and finally tried to commit suicide in the river ( and left home wandering around  and she lost consciousness.)

 After she disappeared, attendants tried to find her everywhere in vain.
So they reached the result that she would have jumped into the river.
And they even had a funeral without her body.

 But actually she was found  by  a Buddhist monk and his family and taken to their house which is situated at the foot of a mountain of Kyoto.

 At last Ukifune asked the monk to make her a nun.
 And she received a ceremony to be a nun.

 One day this monk went to the imperial palace to have a ceremony of prayer.
He told this story to the mother of Niou-no-miya.
And she told the story to Kaoru.

Kaoru tried to visit her, but she refused to see anyone.

 This novel ends here.

 In my tour you can visit places related to this novel.
   http://sites.google.com/site/kyotoguidedtour/










      

2012/01/15

The Tale of Genji

Before those 10 chapters is a long  story of Genji Hikaru.

 First of all, we have to know  various different systems and customs of the period of this story(11th C) to understand this novel.

 The marriage system of the nobles was polygamy, the wife whose family is the top ranking was given the title " official wife ", as for the imperial family "empress".
Men visited the houses of their wives.
In case of the imperial family, wives lived in the same palace, which is big enough.

 At that time the ladies of the nobles always stayed at home and they didn't show their faces in front of  men, being served and protected  by  lots of  women attendants.

 Very often men could steal into the room of the ladies if only they could win the attendants over to their side.  So adultery, immorality, unfaithfulness happened .
Women's position was not very high.

 Until the 10 chapters of Uji, the story is the life of Genji.
His father was the Mikado(emperor) and  his mother's ranking was not the top ranking in the imperial court.
But she was loved by the Mikado most, which caused the jealousy and bullying in the imperial court.  Finally she died when Genji was still a child.
This is the beginning of the novel.
 We can see the life of Genji which contains  all the elements of  life,  loss of somebody very close,  secrets, difficulties,  joy, love, grudge, marriage, family love,  downfall, demotion,  promotion,  prosperity, betrayal, grief...
                             


 Lots of women appear, but he found a girl of 10 years old who was a niece of the lady he loved most. This lady is a wife of his father.  And this lady gave birth to a boy.(this boy later became the Mikado)
 Now Genji took in this girl to bring up to be an ideal lady, so she also was loved most by Genji
among many women of Genji. Her name was Murasaki-no-ue.

 But her happiness was not perfect. She couldn't have her own children.
And later Genji married a young lady who became an official wife.(her father was the Mikado).


Perfect happiness doesn't exist in this novel , even if  that happens it doesn't last forever.

Genji Hikaru , after he lost Murasaki-no-ue, he was very much shocked and  crushed with grief.
He  retired from this world to be a monk.
His death is not clearly described, but suggested.

Then time went by.
The story of 10 chapters of Uji begins.....












About Me

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kyoto, Japan
I'm a national licensed English and French speaking tour guide living in Kyoto ,and I cover the majority of this country. I am a free lance guide. Why don't you visit Japan with me./ Je suis guide touristique qui habite à Kyoto. Je guide non seulement Kyoto, mais le Japon entier.