Monday, March 29, 2010

Where I'm Lecturing the Young Ones

What a strange day in Tochigi today. First it was snowing, then it cleared up, then it snowed again, and now it’s almost sunny. And I hope it will stay like that. Sunny, I mean.

Since I got an unexpected mid-day break today, I had the pleasure of eating lunch with my cats and reading my emails.

And boy, oh boy, those were some emails, let me tell you. It seems that my review of Carl Hoffman’s book (“The Lunatic Express: Discovering the World ... Via its Most Dangerous Buses, Boats, Trains and Planes”) did not go over very well with the travel blogging community. Which, frankly, surprised me, because I had no idea that the mutual adoration society even read my lowly blog at all.

A couple of the emails actually agreed with my review, but the authors, being the gutless wonders that they are, don’t have the balls to say so in public. That’s fine, it’s their choice.

Out of the few emails that rolled in, one stood out the most. The person adopting the “who do you think you are” attitude proceeded to tell me that Mr. Hoffman is a distinguished travel writer (duh, as if I had no clue!), and if I ever want to accomplish anything in the field of travel writing myself, I should have chosen my words more carefully. The email went on to say something about Mr. Hoffman working for National Geographic, and that pissing off people in high places is never a good idea.

What an interesting concept! I’m sure that Mr. Hoffman, being the successful and distinguished travel writer that he is, is as concerned with what I think of his book, as I am with what he had for dinner last night. But I’m really pleased that the emailer seems convinced that my opinion matters, because I’ve never known it to be the case before.

A quick google search revealed that the person, who so earnestly assumed I was a misguided nimwit, is a contributor to Matador Network. No, it has nothing to do with bullfighting, though you might be excused for thinking so. It’s a travel site, actually.
The person is an aspiring travel writer as, I think, everyone who contributes to Matador is.

Now, don't worry, I’m not going to post your name here, I know who you are, you know who you are, and that’s enough for me. And besides, and I’m not as much of a spiteful jerk as you apparently think so.

So here is what I have to say about all this:

I’ll leave the ass-kissing to you, the young and determined ones. I know you want to write for National Geographic someday, and you think that a bucketful of flattery directed at the right people will help you get there. That’s fine and good luck to you.

But when you get to be my age, you’ll eventually realize one funny thing about ass-kissing. It leaves your mouth tasting like crap.

Book Review - "The Lunatic Express" by Carl Hoffman

Midlife crisis. It’s always interesting to see how men deal with it. Some go out and buy Porsches, some exchange their wives for newer models, or go the secretary/intern banging route, and some become Dalai Lama groupies. Mr. Trouble got himself… well, nevermind… Let’s just say he survived the punishment and I didn't go to prison.

And then there’s Carl Hoffman. He didn’t do any of the above (though it sounds from his book that an affair might or might not have happened in the process). Instead, he packed his bags and went traveling on the world’s most dangerous buses, ferries, trains, planes and automobiles. And lived to tell the tale.

That tale is described in excruciating detail in his new book “The Lunatic Express: Discovering the World ... Via its Most Dangerous Buses, Boats, Trains and Planes”.


I myself have done a fair share of “lunatic express” traveling. Among those, there are a few that, still to this day, make me go: “What the f*ck were you thinking?”
– a bus that was a truck that ran out of gas in the middle of nowhere in the mountains (the driver came up with the brilliant idea of driving in reverse on some pretty steep hairpin bends to our destination – to get the last drops of gas in the tank, I eventually ended up using this trick myself one fine day);
- a Sudan Airways flight with broken seatbelts, broken seats and broken everything, including the toilet – I vividly remember a river of sewage flowing down the isle from the rear lavatory;
- a taxi ride in Kinshasa that almost ended in… well, nevermind.
We’re here to talk about Mr. Hoffman’s travels, not my own.

So yeah, he goes on his trip, rides those crazy Peruvian buses, African minibuses, Indonesian and Bangladeshi ferries and gets all philosophical about it. It seems like he set out to find the answer to life universe and everything, but instead all he found was some broad in India who apparently wasn’t bothered much by the fact that he was a married man.

Mr. Woodward, who reviewed this book in the New York Times, couldn’t figure out why Mr. Hoffman did it. Well, of course - the clueless brotherhood of the middle-aged penis… Ask any woman why and she’d tell you why. When men get to a certain age and lose the ability to think rationally, they do stupid things and brag about it, just like back in the junior high days.

Fortunately for Mr. Hoffman, he found a way to turn his midlife crisis bragging into a book and make some money out of it.

Ah yes, the book… It’s serious, or rather, it takes itself very seriously. Full of self-righteous “I’m a traveler, not a tourist” attitude. “I want to go deeper, off the beaten track, meet the people, smell the people, touch the people” humorless prose. Bill Bryson it ain’t. This is heavy-duty “meaning of life” stuff. (Though I’m sure that if Bill Bryson wrote a book about the meaning of life stuff, it would be very entertaining.)

Still, would I recommend this book to others? Yes, from a purely educational point of view. Millions of people travel day in and day out the way Mr. Hoffman described and experienced himself. To them, it’s not a travel-writing adventure, this is how they live. And this is how they die.

PS. It seems that most reviews of this book were glowing. And written by men. Go figure.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Video - Tenno Sai in Utsunomiya 2009

I finally managed to find and upload my old tapes of Tenno Sai in Utsunomiya in 2009.

Here's my first, very rough sample. There will be more.

The quality is what it is - yes, it was raining that night. And if you're reading this entry on the LP website, the video won't show up, unfortunately. Please click over to the blog to view it.


My Tenno Sai 2009 posts are here and here.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Tochigi Cuisine - Shimotsukare a.k.a. cat's vomit

A few weeks ago Loneleeplanet (a wholly excellent blog) presented a list of 10 weird Japanese foods.

While there is no way in hell I will eat live fish (I like my food fresh, that’s true, but not THAT fresh), I am open to trying just about anything, at least once. Yes, even fugu, though with fugu it might be "once" in more ways than one.

Coming from a culture that doesn’t shy away from horse meat (loves me a good smoked horse meat sausage) and many other delicacies that make foreigners shudder at the very thought, my definition of “weird food” is a bit more flexible than what can be expected of a typical gaijin in Japan.

I like whale. I like dolphin. I don’t mind eating insects (and if you fry them, hey, that’s even better) and smelly things (with a chronic sinus problem I can’t smell most stuff anyway). And smelly, fried insects? My favorite!

What gets me are combinations of foods.
Take a few perfectly innocent ingredients, such as, for example, a fish head, soybeans, deep fried tofu skin, some other stuff, including shredded carrots and radish, simmer the living daylights out of it, and the end result is enough to make me barf.

And considering that even the Japanese nicknamed this culinary wonder “neko-no-gero” (猫のゲロ) – cat’s vomit, my reaction is not that far off the mark.

Yes, it’s shimotsukare (しもつかれ) I am talking about here, of course. A traditional dish from Tochigi, Gunma and Ibaraki with all the visual appeal, texture, smell and flavor of semi-digested cat’s puke.

But first things first.
When you’re driving around Tochigi, you can see “Shimo” this and “Shimo” that aplenty. In fact, just today we went to Shimotsuke City, a wholly unremarkable place, located in the… yes, you guessed it, Shimotsuga district.

And you’ve probably heard that Ieyasu TOKUGAWA's tomb and shrine are located at Nikkō, in Shimotsuke. Why Shimotsuke (下野)? It’s the old name for Tochigi.
So it’s only fitting that the culinary delight native to Tochigi (regardless of how famous Utsunomiya might be for gyoza, gyoza ain’t from here) is also named “shimo” something – shimotsukare, to be exact.

So what is shimotsukare? This:

Looks yummy, doesn’t it?

It has a somewhat viscous consistency and is a little sweet and a lot sour. And normally, people from other parts of Japan refuse to eat it. Can’t say I blame them, really. It took a certain Kansai transplant ten years to bring himself to try it, and another ten years to convince himself he liked it.

In Dr. Trouble’s family the dish is traditionally served on New Year’s day.
Grandma Trouble has her very own secret shimotsukare recipe, which when I asked about it, she flatly refused to share with me. It’s the “you ridicule it and don’t eat it, you don't get to watch me make it” principle. Fair enough.

I promised her that maybe next year I will try… Maybe…

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Kashima Shrine - Shinto and Bushido part 2

Because Ms. Trouble is not feeling well, I will take over today and continue my report from the 14th Shinto Seminar at Kashima Shrine in Ibaraki. Part 1 is here.

Changes in interpretations of Bushido

Prof. Kanno’s talk continued about how Bushi (roughly the same as Samurai) emerged in late 9th Century. His remaining time was assigned to the explanation of “Bushido” by mentioning the numerous changes of interpretations of “Bushido” throughout the history of Bushi. Please visit English Wiki page of Samurai (above) to study its history in detail, but I give you the bare bones examples of Samurai history (copy&paste from Wikipedia).

It is important to note that the distinction between samurai and non-samurai was so obscure that during the 16th century, most male adults in any social class (even small farmers) belonged to at least one military organization of their own and served in wars before and during Hideyoshi's rule. It can be said that an "all against all" situation continued for a century.

During the Tokugawa shogunate, samurai increasingly became courtiers, bureaucrats, and administrators rather than warriors. With no warfare since the early 17th century, samurai gradually lost their military function during the Tokugawa era (also called the Edo period).


In the absence of real warfare, we play with sticks and feel good about ourselves. 

“Bushido” – a book written in English by a Christian convert

In 2004, Prof. Kanno published a book titled “Bushido no gyakusyuu”/武士道の逆襲 (Bushido’s encounter), in which he criticized the thing we call “Bushido” these days. This current view of Bushido had been mostly influenced by Inazo NITOBE, and is not the Bushido that Samurai sought when they trained to be warriors.

The 20th century Bushido is a rather modern ideology for Japanese during Meiji era. For ordinary Japanese, or even non-Japanese, Bushido is more of less what Inazo NITOBE (新渡戸稲造) described in 1900.

Dr. NITOBE (he had a Ph. D degree in agricultural economics) was a Christian convert (Quaker) and he met his wife, Mary Patterson Elkinton, at a Quaker community in Philadelphia. Yes, a converted Quaker wrote “BUSHIDO: The Soul of Japan” in ENGLISH, and then it was translated into Japanese!!! Therefore, if you are interested in Bushido, please go to the above Wikipedia link in English. It is quite well described, I would say.

“Original bushido was nothing but the realism based upon military science developed by private warriors (= samurai) who could survive on battlefields. The ultimate mission of bushi as a warrior is to terminate enemies on the battlefields so as to defend not only himself but also his family members and his Lord, which was far different from the bushido in NITOBE’s book,” Prof. Kanno explained.

NITOBE’s book “Bushido” was published when NO Samurai (as a ruling class in feudalism) were present in Meiji Japan. NITOBE’s Bushido was totally and utterly different from the original survival principles of a warrior on a battlefield, and fermented into (merely) Morality.


 Morality that is enthusiastically embraced by weekend "warriors"

Where is Bushido in 21st century Japan???

Personally, I am not into interpretations of Bushido as defined by a variety of scholars. My biggest concern is the perpetuity or commercialization of Bushido in present-day Japan, a country that abandoned its warrior tradition (based on Japan Law).

Inazo NITOBE was born in Great Imperial Japan where the Emperor had the supreme command of the Army and Navy (Article 11 of Constitution of the Empire of Japan). My personal feeling is that although Bushido was somewhat fermented and a bit smelly in Imperial Japan, it still was meaningful to its citizens.

I am afraid to say that Bushido in Japan has already vanished. It’s nothing more but glorified cosplay.


Monday, March 8, 2010

Review of 14th Shinto Seminar at Kashima Shrine - part 1

This is Dr. Trouble talking...

Intro to this report is here.

When a Biologist attends a Humanities symposium

The 14th Shinto symposium was held in honor of Kashima God (Takemikazuchi). Since I hold a PhD degree in bioscience, all the conferences I know are related to life sciences, and are a lot different from “Shinto and Bushido”. In Kashima, there was no DNA, molecular genetics, cell biology, blah blah, blah…

And what annoyed me the most at this event was the fact that I couldn’t figure out, from the speeches, what bits and pieces had already been known for a long time and what ideas were new. We did not see any pretty pictures in PowerPoint presentations marked with shining green or red laser pointers on a big screen…

Here, I just wanted to mention that I’m going to review this meeting from a “hard science” researcher’s point of view. OK? So if that’s clear, let’s proceed.

“Fu-do (風土)” written by Tetsuro Watsuji, a philosopher

The first speaker was Professor Kanno (a Buddhist monk with a shaved head, wearing a suit) from Tokyo University. The title of his talk was “Nature, Shinto, and Bushido”. He first described the influence of weather on ancient people’s perception of nature. Actually, he referred to Tetsuro Watsuji's (和辻哲郎) book(s). That guy was a philosopher and a historian and got his PhD in literature in 1932 at the age of 43. He was also a tutor of the current Empress, Michiko, when she was engaged to Akihito (based on Wiki Japan). Since I am lazy below is a copy&paste from Wiki regarding Watsuji’s major achievement.

Watsuji's three main works were his two-volume 1954 History of Japanese Ethical Thought, his three-volume Rinrigaku (Ethics), first published in 1937, 1942, and 1949, and his 1935 Fudo. The last of these develops his most distinctive thought. In it, Watsuji argues for an essential relationship between climate and other environmental factors and the nature of human cultures, and he distinguished three types of culture: pastoral, desert, and monsoon. (The French philosopher Montesquieu had developed a theory along similar lines, though with very different conclusions.)

Prof. Kanno’s talk consisted mostly of introducing Watsuji’s work with some of his own comments on it. He started his speech by saying that all human activities at any level are merely attributed to the exchange of materials between individuals and nature. Without any involvement with “Fu-do” (surrounding environments) no human life is achieved, meaning all human activity relies on the surrounding nature. Very true, and I agree with it.

He went further explaining three types of cultures in the world: pastoral (= Europe, for instance), desert (Mid-east, for example), and monsoon (South East Asia, with Japan included). Watsuji came up with this idea while stopping at a variety of harbors on his study trip to Germany, Prof. Kanno explained.


Keywords on different types of climates are shown in Table 1. (click on image to enlarge)

His point was that because monsoon climate is fertile enough to supply water to rice fields thanks to frequent rains, most Japanese find divinity in almost everything, but then the weather becomes unpredictably uncontrollable and that makes people come to terms with nature which has no apparent “law and order” and accept it as it is.

Note that typhoons may or may not land in Japan at the time of harvesting rice. God only knows. Therefore, this monsoon-type climate has a strong affinity to the Shinto principle, Prof. Kanno concluded.

In other words, “People grown under different climates find it hard to understand Shinto.” In another words, he thinks that “there is no room for religions which originated in other types of climates to be included in Japan”, Prof. Kanno added and was laughing when he said it… 

We get to watch a martial arts presentation as part of the seminar

Samurai in Christianity, but not in Bushido

I was not happy with such an exclusive attitude and one Japanese writer’s name came to my mind - Shusaku Endo (遠藤周作). He was a Christian who had a unique but controversial opinion on Jesus from Nazareth.

Remember that we had converted some Samurai to Christianity back in the 16-17th centuries. Ukon Takayama (高山右近) and Harunobu Arima (有馬晴信) were the “last converted Samurai”, who were sent to Manila, or executed, respectively.

Well, Prof. Buddhist monk very conveniently did not mention them and their religious persuasion – Christianity, because this fact cancels out his theory.

Remember the title of the seminar? Yep, “Shinto and Bushido”. And according to Prof. Kanno, there is no need to have non-native religions in Japan. Which is kind of ironic, when you consider the fact that he himself is a Buddhist monk.

The story continues in part 3…

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Kayabuki in Utsunomiya - Where Waiters Are Monkeys

We were bored today and thought that seeing a couple of monkeys in goofy costumes would be a swell idea. No, we didn’t go to a cosplay event, we went to Kayabuki.

Kayabuki is a restaurant (actually, an izakaya, to be precise) in the Miyukihoncho part of Utsunomiya (address: 4688-13 Miyukihoncho, parking available) where two monkeys work as waiters (or waitresses – sorry I didn't feel like pulling down underpants). Their names are Yacchan (presumably a boy) and Fukuchan (presumably a girl, though I’m not sure).

Tonight only Fukuchan was on duty. And let me tell you, the masked and wigged monkey in the mask was a very creepy sight.

And if not for those monkeys, there would be no reason for Kayabuki (phone: 028-662-3751) to be famous. It’s a less-than-average izakaya. Somewhat dirty and grungy, but not enough to be a skanky dive. The food is OK, but just barely this side of OK. The service is non-existent. No wonder then that when a British TV crew visited Kayabuki some time ago, some customers said that the monkeys were actually better waiters. At least they brought you things, which cannot be said about the human staff.

Do you want a hot towel?

We were being purposely ignored for about 30 minutes. So much effort went into that ignoring that I was beginning to worry that mamma-san and her helper might sprain their necks from turning their heads to avoid looking at us.

But when we finally managed to place our order (teppanyaki x2 and oolong tea x2), the food arrived relatively quickly. Mamma-san’s helper for some very strange reason insisted on explaining the menu to us in English. Even though Dr. Trouble was answering her in perfect Japanese.

Inside Kayabuki

Oh yeah, the menu… ignore the fancy menu posted on the wall. The one with stuff like boar, deer and duck. There’s none of that, that menu is just for show. Today’s choices were: teppanyaki with chicken and tofu with meat. Plus the usual sides of kimchi, gyoza and tempura (which consisted mostly of onions).

Tonight we were treated to only one monkey, Fukuchan. And thank goodness, because that was enough to creep me out. The monkey did her schtick of delivering hot towels for about 30 minutes and then disappeared behind the bar.

Fukuchan getting friendly with customers

That was our cue to pay and leave. Oh yeah, speaking of paying… Our bill should have been 2200 yen (teppanyaki 900yen x2, plus oolong tea 200 yen x2), but we were charged 2600 yen and no explanation was forthcoming as to why. I was planning to leave a tip for the monkey (the sign on the wall asks you to do just that) but after being overcharged 400 yen, I changed my mind.

Fukuchan sans the creepy mask

Conclusion: it was interesting for one night, but we won’t be back. I can ignore nasty attitude (god knows, I have plenty of that myself) but I won’t put up with being ripped off.

Here's a short film, sorry about the cellphone camera quality:

PS. And you better not mess with Yacchan, he is 4th dan in karate:

Still, it's a creepy place, definitely not my favorite. I much prefer this - aaaahhhh, now THIS is paradise! (Click on the link ONLY if you love cats!)

Friday, March 5, 2010

Kashima Shrine - Intro to Report on 14th Shinto Seminar

Dr. Trouble has the floor today. Consider yourselves warned.

As Ms. Trouble demanded, here is part one of the report on 14th Shinto symposium at Kashima Shrine, an Ichinomiya Jingu (yep, this shrine is not a “Jinja” but a “Jingu”) in Hitachi (old name of Ibaraki Prefecture). 


Entrance to Kashima shrine. This type of torii is even called "Kashima style". Doesn't take a genius to figure out how it got its name, right?

What is an Ichinomiya (一の宮) shrine? 

An Ichinomiya shrine is considered to be the most prestigious shrine (number one shrine) within a particular district. For example, in Utsunomiya that would be Futara Yama Jinja – that shrine up on the hill in front of Parco. And Futara's official title is “Ichinomiya”.

Descending shrines in a district are named Ninomiya (二の宮) – number 2, and Sannomiya (三の宮) – number 3. 

Here are a few indicators by which you can figure out whether a particular shrine is an Ichinomiya.

Normally, an Ichinomiya shrine:

1. worships local pioneering deities who are classified as Kunitsu-kami (国津神),
2. is considered by the locals to be the most familiar shrine in the district,
3. is listed in Engishiki-jinnmyo-cho (延喜式神名帳), which is a list of shrines published in 927 (yeah, that’s not a typo, we’re talking 10th century here).

However, it does not necessarily mean that an Ichinomiya worships a prestigious deity.

But what it does mean is that Kokushi should visit the number one shrine on his arrival in the district. Kokushi is a Pontius Pilate type of official who is sent from the central government to oversee a province, collect taxes, deal with local matters, etc. So it was only sensible that Kokushi had to pretend that he admired the local deity regardless of his (Kokushi's) greediness and brutality toward the natives. All in a day’s work in politics, you know… And if you are smart, you can easily figure out now that Kunitsu-kami is a god version of Kokushi. 


Shrine building 

Major big-name gods such as Amaterasu, who are classified “Amatsu-kami” (天津神) cannot be worshiped at Ichinomiya based on the above reasons. In other words, most Kunitsu-kami variety of gods are an offspring of one god, Ohkuninushi, meaning “Great Land Master”, and who is the ruler of Izumo Province

In ancient Japan, we had many provinces and they all needed their own local gods, but don’t worry. The Great Land Master was such a fertile deity that he had, at least, six wives and 180 or 181 children. No, no, no, he was not a Mormon.

Was Takemikazuchi a fat sumo wrestler??? 

Among approximately 600 (give or take a dozen here and there) Kashima shrines, here, in Kashima, is THE Kashima Shrine. All the Kashima Shrines worship the same deity, Takemikazuchi-no-mikoto (武甕槌神). 



 image: Kashima shrine website


 He was born from the blood splashed onto rocks when Izanagi chopped Kagu-tsuchi’s head off, because Kagu-tsuchi caused his mom's, Izanami, death by burning her private parts while he was being delivered (because he was a god of fire). So his papa, Izanagi, killed him, and voila, from the blood of Kagu-tsuchi Takemikazuchi was born. All this mess is described in a chapter called Kami-umi, a.k.a. Creation of Deity, 神産み, in collections of Japanese myths - Kojiki and Nihon shoki. 

He appeared in Ashihara-no-nakatsukuni (葦原中国), which according to one interpretation means Japan itself, or Izumo (出雲) district, based on another interpretation - heitei (平定= Conquering) part of the myths mentioned above. 

While he was trooping on hostile ground (= Ashihara-nakatsukuni, 葦原中国), he had a fight with Takeminakata-no-kami (建御名方神), one of the sons of the fertile Great Land Master, Ohkuni-no-nushi (大国主). 

This event is considered to be the origin of the fighting tradition between two nearly-naked-fat-guys-sweating-and-trying-to-push-one-another-outside-a–circle, a.k.a. Sumo 


Image: wikipedia

Our pal, the god of Kashima was the winner of this first sumo fight and because of that, he is worshipped as a patron deity of anything related to martial arts. 

What to see at Kashima-jingu

The bit “mikazuchi [雷]” in the name of the Kashima god means “thunder”, and a “thunder god [raijin/雷神]” is believed to be equivalent to a sword god. And so in Kashima they have a holy sword called Futsu-no-mitama” or “Kuro-urushi-hyoumonn-tachigoshirae" 黒漆 (black Lacquer) 平文 (a technique to inscribe letters on thin-layered gold or silver) 太刀 (sword) 拵 (make). 


image: Kashima shrine website 

Among the old swords in Japan, this is the longest one (2.71m) and one of the oldest (late 8th century). Because of its ridiculously long size, it was actually combined at four junctions. (Be sure to ask Ms. Trouble about her theory regarding the size of the sword and its owner's penis.)

Behind the shrine building in the forest, there is a stone called “Kaname-Ishi”. Although this stone is tiny, it's buried damn deep inside the ground, and it is believed to be the lid to keep a giant catfish causing earthquakes steady.

The spirit of Kashima god being delivered by deer express to Nara.

Kashima_deerSince Kashima Jin-gu occupies about 700.000m2, approximately 30 deer enjoy their life under the divine patronage on the shrine grounds, similar to what you can find at Kasuga Taisha (春日大社) in Nara. 

It makes sense because Kasuga Taisha was built by the Fujiwara clan (藤原氏), descending from the Nakatomi clan (中臣氏). Nakatomi no Kamatari (中臣鎌足) was the founder of the clan and he was a Kashima native. And both Kashima and Kasuga worship the same god, Takemikazuchi-no-kami. 

Note that when Takemikazuchi-no-kami was sent to Ashihara-nakatsukuni by Amaterasu-ohmikami, another deity, Amenokaku-no-kami (天迦久神), was a messenger to deliver orders from Amaterasu to Takemikazuchi-no-kami. 

Amenokaku-no-kami is a deity of deer. And thanks to that, at Kashima Jingu (shrine), deer is considered as a messenger of god. It is also believed that the spirit of god (Takamikazuchi-no-kami) was sent to Kasuga Taisha in Nara by taking a year-long ride on a white deer’s back. 

Some readers might be familiar with Japan’s professional soccer league, called “J League”. Kashima city has its own team - Kashima Antlers. And yep, it was named after the deer at Kashima Jingu. Brazilian soccer legend, Zico, used to belong to the team. The sponsor of the team is Sumitomo “METAL” industries, and not a wimpy Softbank or some newspaper company.


They're very proud of their deer in Kashima.

And the "Ka"- 鹿 - in "Kashima" means deer.

And that is pretty much it about Kashima Jingu. 

Although it is said that the shrine’s history goes all the way back to 7th century BCE, that statement is controversial. Very much so. 

When considering those Japanese myths and the character of the deity worshipped at Kashima, we sort of can agree that Kashima Jingu was like a forward player in a soccer game, attacking local independent poobahs in yet-unconquered parts of northern Japan, called Emishi/Ebisu/Ezo (蝦夷). 

In fact, according to wiki in Japanese, Kashima Jingu has Aterui's (アテルイ) head (Aterui was one of the generals from Emishi). No wonder that a god of martial arts is worshipped there! 

And that’s why we had a meeting about Shinto and Bushido in Kashima on a stormy, rainy, snowy day (with a tsunami thrown in for good measure). 

Confused yet? No? Don't worry, you will be.

The story will continue in part 2…

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Odds and Ends from Haa Valley in Bhutan

Don't get me wrong, I love Japan. But because there's more than just Japan in the world (though I do know people who would try to argue with me on this one), today we'll revisit Bhutan.

I miss Bhutan, I really do. I want to go there again, but since my name is Budget Trouble, a trip to Bhutan won't be happening anytime soon. Unless I find me a cash-tossing corporate sponsor. The only other alternative is to sell myself into sexual slavery, but since it's me we're talking about here, I doubt there would be any takers, I'd make a lousy slave.

Anyway, where were we? Ah yes, Bhutan. Haa Valley, an adorable place within easy reach from Paro.


While driving around we stumbled upon a village festival with singing and dancing and bow-and-arrow shooting. And in case you didn't know, archery is a very serious business in Bhutan.


In some countries it's hunting rifles, in Bhutan it's bows.


And if you're big enough to hold this thing, you're old enough to shoot it.


And if you're old enough to shoot it, you're old enough to do all sorts of other things.


And here's what it looked and sounded like (yeah, I finally figured out how to post videos, how awesome is that?):

Monday, March 1, 2010

Shinto Seminar at Kashima Shrine in Ibaraki

Getting up at 6:30AM on Sunday to drive about a hundred kilometers in the pouring rain (and sometimes snow) to attend a Shinto seminar requires dedication. A lot of dedication. And we haz that.

So while the world at large is worrying about tsunami from the earthquake in Chile, I am sitting at a wedding hall nearby Kashima shrine and writing this while Prof. Kakumyo KANNO (who also happens to be a Buddhist monk) from Tokyo University, is speaking about interactions and material exchange between the individual and nature. About aggressiveness towards nature and how very un-shinto that is.

The seminar’s main theme is Shinto and Bushido. Shinto and the way of the warrior. Shinto and martial arts. Shinto and a whole bunch of really boring things.


That the conference (organized by the International Shinto Research Institute – Shinto Kokusai Gakkai) is being held at Kashima shrine in Ibaraki is not accidental. The shrine has long been a special place for warriors and martial arts practitioners. Why? It’s dedicated to the god of peace and martial valor – Takemikazuchi-no-kami.


Back in the olden days, he was ordered by Amaterasu (the big momma sun-goddess) to unify Japan. And when he got done with that, he settled in Kashima, which back then was an important place in the Kanto region. And because Takemikazuchi was such a swell guy, after his death, he was enshrined in Kashima as a god of peace. Not just any wimpy, old god of peace, but a strong and manly one. And all that manliness had a great appeal to warriors of the day.

Why would warriors worship a god of peace? Probably because he was brave, honorable and, presumably, had a large penis – something that all good warriors would like to aspire to.

In the middle ages Takemikazuchi morphed into a god of courage and martial valor, and when a very important dude of the time, such as Yoritomo MINAMOTO (源頼朝), the founder of the Kamakura Shogunate (鎌倉幕府) began to worship at the shrine, the great unwashed followed.


By the shrine entrance

These days the shrine is an important place to all those (penis or no penis) who practice martial arts. And that's not all, Kashima style martial art (with swords) was named after this shrine. And since we don’t have samurai anymore, Takemikazuchi became the patron god of martial artists. Today we saw groups of judo, aikido and kendo kids who came to pray here before major competitions. In the pouring rain, no less.

We were also treated to a kendo performance, which after freezing our butts during prayers at the shrine was a much welcomed diversion. It was blissfully warm in the training hall.


With real swords, too.

Professor KANNO is still going on about the types of nature and the origin of “bushi”. I am sure that Dr. Trouble (who is a card carrying member of Shinto Kokusai Gakkai) will give you his thoughts on this topic very soon.

Now I will pretend that I am enjoying this lecture and do everything in my power not to fall asleep.

I am waiting to hear the panel speakers: John Breen (almost bought his book on the new history of Shinto, but at 2400 yen it was too pricey for me), Alexander Bennett and Mukengeshayi Matata. Need. To. Stay. Awake… 


Yes, the panel discussion was THAT interesting...

And if anyone is interested, the whole symposium will be shown on some Japanese cable channel on April 24th and 25th. And the woman sitting in the last row, furiously typing on a MacBook – that’s me. Hi guys!

And here is a short film from the panel presentation: