Events:

21 April - 14 May 27th National Confectionary Exposition in Mie, Mie Prefecture
leaflet in four languages:
Venue: Mie Prefectural Sun Arena and peripheral areas --20 minutes bus ride from Ise Jingu Shrine(Naiku) (advance ticket needed)

1-30 April Miyako Odori(Cherry Dance), Kyoto
Maiko and geiko dance performances
Advance tickets are available from overseas at:
The performances are being done at Kyoto Art Theater “Shunjuza”(http://k-pac.org/) this year.

25-28 May Azuma Odori, Tokyo
http://www.azuma-odori.jp/ (sorry, Japanese version only)
Geisha dance performances
Tickets will be available after April 14



seasonal flowers:


cherry blossom forecast :
http://sakura.weathermap.jp/ (Japanese version only)  


Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Michizane and Japanese syllabaries

It snowed today.
The shrines called Tenman-gu(or tenjin) enshrine Sugawara Michizane(菅原道真,845-903) . He loved ume blossoms, so the shrine crest of tenman-gu is a ume blossom.
Many ume trees have yet to bloom, but they are likely to bloom this week.

Kitano Tenman-gu Shrine(北野天満宮) in Kyoto
 on March 9, 2006
photo by 高画質壁紙写真集無料壁紙

Many tenman-gu shrines hold Ume Blossom Festival(Baika-sai, 梅花祭) on February 25th because he died on the 25th day of the second lunar month (on March 26th according to the Julian calendar) in 903.

Sone Tenman-gu Shrine(曽根天満宮) in Hyogo Prefecture
photo by 神戸観光壁紙写真集
In Tokyo, Ume festivals are being held at Kameido Tenjin(亀戸天神) from February 4th to March 4th and at Yushima Tenman-gu(湯島天満宮) in Tokyo from February 8th to March 8th.




Tobi-ume at Dazaifu Tenman-gu in Fukuoka Prefecture
Photo by Yokaphoto.net
He gave a waka poem to the ume blossoms in his garden when being relegated to Dazaifu.

東風吹かば にほひおこせよ 梅の花
あるじなしとて 春を忘るな
"ume blossoms, when the wind is in the east, carry the smell of you all the way to me on the wind. even if I'm not here, never forget to bloom in spring."

Tobi-ume at Dazaifu Tenman-gu in Fukuoka Prefecture
Photo by Yokaphoto.net
Legend has it that a ume tree in his garden followed him to Dazaifu in the air. Dazaifu Tenman-gu Shrine(大宰府天満宮) has a ume tree named Tobi-ume(飛梅). The tree is said to have followed him to Dazaifu.




ume blossoms and statue of  ox
at Kitano Tenman-gu Shrine(北野天満宮)
 in Kyoto on March 9, 2006
photo by 高画質壁紙写真集無料壁紙
Tenman-gu shrines also have a statue of the ox that is regarded as the messenger of the god. A theory says that he was born at the hour of the ox on the day of the ox in the month of the ox in the year of the ox.



Kitano Tenman-gu Shrine(北野天満宮)
in Kyoto on March 9, 2006
photo by 高画質壁紙写真集無料壁紙
Michizane was a minor aristocracy but a prominent scholar. He went by the rules. Tokihira was a scion of a political master. he adapted to circumstances. They didn't get along well with each other, but both of them keenly felt the need to undertake political and economic reforms.


Kitano Tenman-gu Shrine(北野天満宮)
in Kyoto on March 9, 2006
photo by 高画質壁紙写真集無料壁紙
A constitutional government modeled after that of the Tang dynasty worked poorly. The expansion of aristocrats' private properties led to less tax revenue, and the nation's finances were in a critical condition. Japan could no longer rely on China because the Tang dynasty was on the verge of breaking down.



Kitano Tenman-gu Shrine(北野天満宮)
in Kyoto on March 9, 2006
photo by 高画質壁紙写真集無料壁紙
Although Michizane tried to impose a tax on their private properties, it triggered a massive protest among powerful aristocrats who held fast to vested interests. Fujiwara no Tokihira(藤原時平,871-909) ousted Michizane from power.

However, he continued Michizane's efforts to promote political and economic reform and enacted a law to prevent powerful aristocrats including Tokihira himself from increasing private properties.
As a result, his economic reform was not very effective because he adhered fundamentally to the exsiting system.


Kitano Tenman-gu Shrine(北野天満宮)
in Kyoto on March 9, 2006
photo by 高画質壁紙写真集無料壁紙
Some people say that he came up with a way to use 'domestically-produced' letters called kana to change the mentality of bureaucrats who placed China above anything else. In those days, official documents were written in Chinese. Michizane was also famous as a excellent composer of Chinese poems.



Kitano Tenman-gu Shrine(北野天満宮)
in Kyoto on March 9, 2006
photo by 高画質壁紙写真集無料壁紙

Ancient Japan had no writing system, so an ancient writing system employed Chinese characters to represent the Japanese language.
Each Chinese character represents a single syllable, but it needs many brushstrokes.
Kana (hiragana and katakana, both Japanese syllabary characters) were created by simplifying Chinese characters to be written faster in the 9th century.
Sone Tenman-gu Shrine(曽根天満宮) in Hyogo Prefecture
photo by 神戸観光壁紙写真集

The characters were regarded merely as the simplified forms of Chinese characters. So kana was as sort of a subculture that was mainly used by female and lower-class male aristocrats. Most of the high-level male aristocrats used Chinese characters that were approved as official ones.

Tokihira received Imperial command to compile the first anthology of poems.  He ordered some middle and lower class bureaucrats including Ki no Tsurayuki(紀貫之) to compile Kokin Wakashu(A Collection of Ancient and Modern Japanese Poetry) written in Chinese and kana characters.
This anthology led Kana characters to become more popular and part of mainstream culture, and it paved the way for the rise of female writers such as Murasaki Shikibu(紫式部), Sei Shonagon(清少納言).

If flower was mentioned in those days, it would remind nobles of ume blossom. Ume came from China and its blossom was a flower that symbolized China.
However, flower came to mean cherry blossom in Japan in the middle of the Heian Period when the Chinese culture became less influential and an indigenous culture developed in every aspect.

Tokihira made no attempt to reach the highest position of power called Sessho kanpaku(regent and chief adviser to the Emperor). His younger brother Tadahira obtained real political power after he died at the age of 39, and it was transmitted to Tadahira's descendants. Tokihira's descendants were not promoted.
There was a rumor circulating that his early death was attributed to the curse of Michizane's vengeful spirit. He has been portrayed as the villain hostile to Michizane.

Chinese characters were used in the Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese languages. Vietnam abolished Chinese characters from its language in 1954. In Korea, Chinese characters are used at a low frequency. Korean people use Hangul(Korean phonetic characters) on a daily basis. Unlike Japan, Hangul was promulgated by Sejong the Great(the fourth king of the Joseon Dynasty of Korea) in 1466.


Friday, February 24, 2012

Ume festivals(2)


Tsukigase Bairin on March 24, 2008
photo by 高画質壁紙写真集無料壁紙

















Tsukigase Bairin(月ヶ瀬梅林, Tsukigase ume grove) in Nara City, Nara Prefecture has a long history.
Smoke-dried, young ume fruits were used as an ingredient for safflower dyes. Tsukigase was a major production area of ume fruits for safflower dyes. It is said that there were 100,000 ume trees in the area around 1810 to 1830.

Tsukigase Bairin on March 24, 2008
photo by 高画質壁紙写真集無料壁紙


















The oldest ume tree in the grove is estimated to have lived 600 years, so it is believed that the origin of the grove goes back at least 600 years.

Tsukigase Bairin on March 24, 2008
photo by 高画質壁紙写真集無料壁紙

















The Tsukigase Bairin was first introduced as a site of scenic beauty in a book published in 1772.

Tsukigase Bairin on March 24, 2008
photo by 高画質壁紙写真集無料壁紙

















The production of ume fruits decreased with the decline of safflower dyes after the Meiji period. The ume grove came to ruin, but it was designated as a national scenic beauty in 1922 due to the efforts by local people and government to preserve the grove.

Tsukigase Bairin
photo by 高画質壁紙写真集無料壁紙

However, the grove were almost forced to be converted into fields during the war. A dam's construction threatened to submerge about 3,800 ume trees after the war. Some transplantable old trees were moved to some areas near Tsukigase Bairin, and a new ume grove was made in Tsukigase Village.

Now about 13,000 ume blossoms attract many tourists.


Hirohashi Bairin on April 3, 2006
photo by 高画質壁紙写真集無料壁紙


















Hirohashi Bairin(広橋梅林)  is one of the the three major ume groves in Nara Prefecture, along with Tsukigase Bairin and Ano Bairin(賀名生梅林).

Hirohashi Bairin
photo by 高画質壁紙写真集無料壁紙
Hirohashi Bairin
photo by 高画質壁紙写真集無料壁紙











Minabe Bairin on February 28, 2005
photo by 高画質壁紙写真集無料壁紙




















Minabe Bairin(南部梅林, Minabe ume grove) in Wakayama Prefecture has 20,000 ume trees on its 30-hectare site.

Minabe Town and Tanabe City in Wakayama Prefecture are major production areas of ume fruits for umeboshi(pickled ume fruits.)

A species of ume called Nanko-ume(南高梅) is considered to be the finest product for umeboshi. It was originated in Minabe Town.


Yoshino Baigo on March 14, 2010
photo by 高画質壁紙写真集無料壁紙


















The Yoshino Baigo Ume Festival(吉野梅郷梅まつり) being held at Yoshino Baigo(吉野梅郷) in Ome City, Tokyo from February 18th to March 31st.

Yoshino Baigo on March 14, 2010
photo by 高画質壁紙写真集無料壁紙


















The World's Ume Park on March 17, 2006
photo by 高画質壁紙写真集無料壁紙

The World's Ume Park(世界の梅公園) in Hyogo Prefecutre has various kinds of ume trees that come from East Asia including China, Taiwan, Korea and Japan.


The World's Ume Park on March 17, 2006
photo by 高画質壁紙写真集無料壁紙




The World's Ume Park on March 17, 2006
photo by 高画質壁紙写真集無料壁紙





Ono-baien
photo by 高画質壁紙写真集無料壁紙



























Ono-baien(小野梅園, Ono ume garden) in Zuishin-in Temple(隨心院), Kyoto


Ono-baien
photo by 高画質壁紙写真集無料壁紙
 
 
 


Osaka-jo Castle Park on March 21, 2008
photo by 高画質壁紙写真集無料壁紙
 
Osaka-jo Castle Park(大阪城公園) in Osaka opened in 1974.  As of March 2006, the park had 1,240 ume trees of 97 different kinds on its 1.7-hectare site.  Admission to the park is free.





Osaka-jo Castle Park on March 21, 2008
photo by 高画質壁紙写真集無料壁紙



Kyoto Imperial Garden
photo by KYOTOdesign 

Kyoto Imperial Garden(京都御苑) has about 220 ume trees.

  







other major ume-blossom viewing spots in the Kanto region:

●Ogose bairin (越生梅林)  in Ogose Town, Saitama Prefecture is one of the three major ume groves in the Kanto region.
●The origin of Soga Bairin(曽我梅林)  in Odawara City, Kanagawa Prefecture dates back about 600 years. some people say it started when many ume trees were planted to store ume fruits for umeboshi as a military ration.
●Atami Baien(熱海梅園, Atami Ume Garden)  in Kanagawa Prefecture opened in 1886. As of January 2009, The garden had 454 ume trees of 60 different kinds including 100-year-old trees.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Ume festivals(1)

Several ume festivals are taking place in Japan, but ume blossoms are late in blooming because of the severe cold this year.
Although ume(梅,Prunus mume) is often translated into English as plum, it is more closely related to the apricot. Plum(Prunus salicina) is referred to sumomo(酢桃 or 李) in Japan.

The Mito Ume Festival(水戸の梅まつり) is being held at Kairaku-en(偕楽園) and Kodo-kan(弘道館) in Mito, Ibaraki Prefecture from February 18th to March 31st.

Kairaku-en


Kairaku-en
photo by 日本列島お国自慢
 
Kairaku-en (偕楽園) is a traditional garden that Tokugawa Nariaki(徳川斉昭), the 9th lord of the Mito Domain, built in 1842. The garden is one of the Three Great Gardens of Japan, along with Kenroku-en(兼六園) in Kanazawa and Koraku-en(後楽園) in Okayama.
The garden has 3,000 ume trees of 100 different kinds.

Kobuntei
The Kobuntei(好文亭) is a a traditional Japanese style building built in the garden in 1842. The building is said to have been built to Nariaki's design.

Japanese traditional style house interior
/ 水戸(みと)・好文亭(こうぶんてい)
/ TANAKA Juuyoh (田中十洋) /flickr
The Kobuntei was burnt down due to the war in 1945 and partially destroyed due to a lightning strike in 1969. It was reconstructed each time.


Japanese traditional style house
 / 水戸(みと)・好文亭(こうぶんてい)
 by TANAKA Juuyoh (田中十洋) /flickr

Its mud walls crumbled due to the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11th in 2011. At the same time, landslides occurred and the roads were cracked in the garden.
Japanese traditional style house interior
 /水戸(みと)・好文亭(こうぶんてい)
 by TANAKA Juuyoh (田中十洋) /flickr

No damage was done to 3,000 ume trees, but no visitors could see the trees in full bloom last year.



Japanese traditional style house interior
/ 水戸(みと)・好文亭(こうぶんてい)
by TANAKA Juuyoh (田中十洋) /flickr

The disaster-relief work was completed, so the whole of the garden was reopened on February 7th this year.


Japanese traditional style house interior
/ 水戸(みと)・好文亭(こうぶんてい)
 by TANAKA Juuyoh (田中十洋) /flickr

The name Kobuntei(好文亭) is derived from Kobunboku(好文木) which is another name for ume. Kobunboku(好文木) means the tree liking for learning.


Japanese traditional style house interior
/ 水戸(みと)・好文亭(こうぶんてい)
 by TANAKA Juuyoh (田中十洋) /flickr

Ume came to be called so because of an episode in a record of Jin Dynasty of China named "晉起居注".
Kairaku-en on March 10, 2011
ume trees were  almost in full bloom
According to it, ume trees were blooming as long as the Emperor Wu(晉武帝,236-290) was dedicated to learning, and they had not bloomed as long as he was neglecting learning.


Kobuntei and Joban Line train
Joban Line train stops at Kairaku-en Station(the temporal passenger station) during the festival.

Japanese traditional style house
/ 弘道館(こうどうかん)
by TANAKA Juuyoh (田中十洋) /flickr



Kodo-kan(弘道館) was built as a public school for the children of samurai families by Nariaki in the Edo Period. It was also damaged by the quake.
Japanese traditional style house
/ 弘道館(こうどうかん)
by TANAKA Juuyoh (田中十洋) /flickr






 The garden illuminated the trees with lights
on March 5  in  2011
Kairaku-en means the garden to enjoy with common people.
As its name indicates the garden was open to the public six times a month, and admission to the garden is free now (entry into the Kobuntei costs 190 yen.)

 fireworks on March 5 in 2011

on March 5 in 2011
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Friday, February 17, 2012

Kamakura and Bonden

Kamakura Festival in Yokote City, Akita Prefecture was held on February 15th and 16th. It is one of the New Year holiday events and used to be held on the 15th day of the 1st month in the lunar calendar. The festival dates back 400 years. 
Yokote Kamakura  festival in 2005
photo by 日本列島お国自慢


















Local children say to visitors from inside a snow house called kamakura, "Haitte tanse!(Please come in!)." Each kamakura house has a household altar dedicated to the god of water. Visitors make monetary offerings to the god. The children serve baked rice cakes and amazake which is a sweet drink made from fermented rice.

There is a household altar dedicated to the god of water in kamakura
at the festival in 2005
photo by 日本列島お国自慢



They are baking rice cakes on a wire sheet over earthen charcoal brazier
at the festival in 2005
photo by 日本列島お国自慢




  

Yokote Kamakura Festival, Akita-ken by shibuya246 /flickr


Yokote Kamakura Festival, Akita-ken by shibuya246 /flickr


Yokote Kamakura Festival, Akita-ken by shibuya246 /flickr



Yokote Kamakura Festival, Akita-ken by shibuya246 /flickr




Yokote Kamakura Festival, Akita-ken by shibuya246 /flickr


Yokote Kamakura Festival, Akita-ken by shibuya246 /flickr


Yokote Kamakura Festival, Akita-ken by shibuya246 /flickr



Akita Shinkansen by shibuya246 /flickr


Bonden was also an event held on the 15th day of the 1st month in the lunar calendar.


Yokote Bonden Festival by shibuya246 /flickr



Bonden or Bonten(梵天) is a large-scale Gohei(御幣) which is a wooden wand with two zigzag paper streamers used in Shinto rituals.

Yokote Bonden Festival by shibuya246 /flickr


There are several theories about the origin of this event, but its origin is uncertain.






Yokote Bonden Festival by shibuya246 /flickr



The bonden contest was held on February 16th and bonden will be dedicated to the Asahi Okayama Jinja Shrine(旭岡山神社) in Yokote on February 17th.



Yokote Bonden Festival by shibuya246 /flickr



The event dates back 280 years.



Yokote Bonden Festival by shibuya246 /flickr





Yokote Bonden Festival by shibuya246 /flickr





Yokote Bonden Festival by shibuya246 /flickr




Yokote Bonden Festival by shibuya246 /flickr




Yokote Bonden Festival by shibuya246 /flickr




Yokote Bonden Festival by shibuya246 /flickr




Yokote Bonden Festival by shibuya246 /flickr




Yokote Bonden Festival by shibuya246 /flickr



photo by 秋田の車窓から
Inukko Matsuri
Inukko Matsuri(Little Dog Festival) is held in Yuzawa, Akita Prefecture on February 11th and 12th. The festival dates back 400 years.

Villages in Yokote were beset by a band of brigands about 400 years ago. The lord of a domain exterminated it.
People put little dogs(inukko), cranes and tortoises made of rice flour at the door and by the window in prayer for keeping off brigands on the 15th day of the 1st month in the lunar calendar.
The festival is said to come from this custom.

photo by 秋田の車窓から
Inukko Matsuri
Children built little snow houses at the door and put inukko in the houses. They stayed up half the night playing.

Little dogs, cranes and tortoises made of rice flour are available at this festival. They are made for decoration now, but people used to bake and eat them after the event to drive away evil until the middle of World War II.