Sunday, June 27, 2010

Something about a three-legged crow and Japanese soccer

by Dr. Trouble

What is Yata Garasu?

Since the Japanese soccer team has been, so far, doing an OK job in South Africa, here is an entry to cheer them on. And a little something for Shinto otaku, as well. Of course.

Image: Wikipedia

I am sure some of you must have already heard about the symbol on the Japanese team’s uniform. It’s a crow with three legs called Yata Garasu (八咫烏) and it’s an official symbol of the JFA (Japan Football Association).

This tri-pedal crow, as almost everything else in Japan, of course, appears in the collections of Japanese myths: Kojiki and Nihon Shoki, where it is believed to be a messenger of kami (gods).

Also, at three shrines located within this UNESCO World Heritage Site: Kumano Hongu Taisha (熊野本宮大社), Kumano Hayatama Taisha (熊野速玉大社) and Kumano Nachi Taisha (熊野那智大社) in the Kumano district in Wakayama prefecture, this crow is worshipped as an embodiment of the sun. And I will come back to this Kumano thingy later.

Kumano Hongu Taisha, Image: Wikipedia

In Japanese myths, this black crow was sent from Takami musubi (or Takagi no Kami) living in Taka Amahara (高天原) to the 1st Emperor Jimmu (神武天皇) as a guide when he and his troops were heading from Kumano (southern Wakayama and southern part of Mie prefectures) to Yamato province (currently it corresponds to the present day Nara prefecture). His mission was called Jimmu Tousei [(神武東征) = Emperor Jimmu’s mission to conquer the East]. And thanks to this tri-pedal black crow's guidance, Emperor Jimmu’s conquest was triumphant.

Emperor Jimmu, or so they say. Image: Wikipedia.

Why is it a symbol of JFA?
The original idea of integrating a tri-pedal crow into JFA came from Tairei UCHINO (内野台嶺 1884-1953), a classical Chinese (ancient kanji) scholar, who was a professor at what is currently Tsukuba University (it had a different name back then) and a buddhist monk of the Soto school (曹洞宗) of Buddhism. He was one of the great contributors and founders of today’s Japanese soccer. Another contributor of turning soccer into a popular sport in Japan was Kakunosuke NAKAMURA (中村 覚之助), who himself was a soccer player, coach and translator. Mr. NAKAMURA’s translation of a British football manual was the first book to introduce modern soccer in Japan.

In honor of Mr. NAKAMURA’s efforts, JFA decided to adopt Yata Garasu as its symbol, BECAUSE Mr. NAKAMURA was from Katsuura, Nachi district (那智勝浦町), where Kumano Nachi Taisha (熊野那智大社) is located! Does it make sense now?

image: JFA archives

Why is Japan successful in South Africa?
The team has been wearing the three-legged black crow for a while now, but their mission has been largely unsuccessful up until this year. How come?

Here is my interpretation, or as I call it – the “flu theory”. As everybody knows we had the pandemic of avian flu during the last world cup and the poor three-legged crow was sick. But lately, there has been a SWINE flu pandemic. The crow is resistant to this strain and the Japanese team driven by Honda can do much better!!!

PS. And as soon as I post this entry, those suckers will get eliminated. Murphy’s law. No crow can beat that.

Ehhhh... just call me baka.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Want to see what Japan looked like in the past?

We are finally getting around to scanning old negatives and photos (if no negative exists) that are gathering dust and growing fungi at the PILs house.
There are literally hundreds of them. And we're not even talking about all the stuff that grandma keeps in her precious photo boxes. It will probably take us years to finish this project.

But, in the meantime, on Tochigi Daily Photo - our photoblog - we posted the first batch. You can see it here.

We won't be posting them on Budget Trouble, as this platform (typepad) has the very annoying tendency to make photos look like crap. And since they're old, and many of them already look like crap, we'll stick them on our photoblog instead.

So, every Sunday on Tochigi Daily Photo you can see a new batch of images of Japan as it used to be.



Sunday, June 20, 2010

Buddhist Ceremonies at Chuzenji Temple on June 18th

Or, more precisely:

Chuzenji Kannon-ko (中禅寺観音講) and Jizo (地蔵) Nagashi (地蔵流し)

Chuzenji temple (中禅寺), which is the Lake Chuzenji (中禅寺湖) branch of Rinnoji temple, sits on the east shore of the lake. The temple was established by Monk Sho-do in 784. Link in Japanese is here.

View Larger Map
Location of Chuzenji temple

It is said that the 18th day of every month is in some way related to Senju Kannon (千手観音 = Bodhisattva), one of three deities worshipped at Rinnoji temple (輪王寺) in Nikko city.

Yes, the temple at Chuzenji belongs to Rinnoji temple (that big, red thing, currently wrapped in plastic netting for renovations, at the Shrine and Temple Complex of Nikko, about 20 km away, is what most people think of when they hear the name “Rinnoji”) and Senju Kannon is a Buddhist deity assigned to Mt. Nantai. Mt. Nantai is that big pile of rocks and soil that sits just on the north side of the Chuzenji lake.

If you want to be a Nikko otaku, visit our old post (look somewhere in the middle of that article) in which the relationship between Buddhist and Shinto deities and the three holy mountains (Nantai, Nyoho, and Taro) in Nikko is described.


View of Mt. Nantai from the Godaido hall (五大堂) of Chuzenji temple… Yes, the rainy season - tsuyu (梅雨) is upon us. Yuck.

The gold statue of a “sitting” Senju Kannon is in the Sanbutsudo hall (三仏堂) of Rinnoji temple in Nikko’s Sannai district, whereas the wooden statue of a “standing” figure of Senju Kannon, which is believed to be made by Monk Sho-do himself, is in the Main hall of Chuzenji temple… Is Senju Kannon standing, because he's afraid of flooding, or something?? So that he can immediately get the hell out of there, or even if he is flooded, he can, at the very least, float because he is not made of metal (gold)? Who knows…

Ooops! We were right. In 1902, on September 28 - 29 there was a huge storm in the Chuzenji lake area, which caused a debris flow (mudslide) from the mountains. The standing statue, along with everything else, was washed away into the lake. Then three days later – a miracle happened!!! Senju Kannon was found floating on the surface. I guess since he has so many hands, it wasn’t difficult for him to swim around for a little bit. Since then, this statue has obtained even more religious relevance.

Rest in peace with the solace of Jizo Kannon

Now, why do we have a special reason to have a Buddhist ceremony in the name of Senju Kannon on June 18th?

As we mentioned earlier, the 18th is ennichi (縁日) of the 1000-armed Kannon (Senju Kannon). Don’t ask us why, it says so.

Nikko is not only a place for admiring temples and historical artifacts, but also for enjoying the nature. Or a combination of both. As mentioned in another one of our older entries, we are supposed to climb Mt. Nantai this summer. And this rugged, outdoorsy activity includes shinto ceremonies, as well. It IS a lot of fun when the weather is fine, however, the Nikko nature occasionally goes really wild. And when it gets wild, we get casualties. Even Senju Kannon himself was a casualty – of that mudslide in 1902.


Ritual Buddhist ceremony held at the Godaido hall in Chuzenji temple. Technically, only the press people were allowed to shoot there…

Chuzenji temple is responsible for the spiritual well-being of the casualties in Nikko. On June 18th, monks from Rinnoji temple and elsewhere get together at the Godaido hall of Chuzenji temple and perform a ritual Buddhist ceremony at 10 AM. Family members, relatives, and friends of casualties come for this event from all over Japan.


Grand master monk (left) exhausted after chanting and performing rituals for the deceased.

Schedule of what happens on June 18th:

A. You arrive at Chuzenji temple and pay 500 yen entrance fee.

B. Then, you contribute 2000 yen to attend a Buddhist ceremony called Chuzenji Kannon-ko and to go on a cruise on the Chuzenji lake (called Jizo nagashi: 地蔵流し).

C. At 10:00 in the Godaido hall, monks arrive and chant for casualties, that takes approximately an hour.

D. Move to the Hashiri-daikokutendo hall (波之利大黒天堂) to pray for your good luck, safe delivery (if you’re pregnant), and so on.


Participants praying at the Hashiri-daikokutendo hall

E. Go elsewhere to have lunch. Enjoy whatever local yummy yummy you can find. Or eat bento you brought with you.

F. Thin, white slivers of Japanese paper printed with the image of Jizo are distributed to the cruise participants before setting off.


Name of the deceased is put on this paper, like this:


G. At 13:00 ferry leaves the port in front of Chuzenji temple and takes you on a trip around the lake. You can hear the monks chanting from the speakers. Your ferry ticket is included in the 2000 yen you paid earlier.

H. You throw thin white Jizo papers into the lake and pray for the deceased.


Old gentleman praying for the deceased, others throwing Jizo-printed papers.

I. The ferry sails nearby a small island named Kozukejima island (上野島) where parts of Monk Sho-do’s bones are enshrined. Parts of his neck, actually.


Kozukejima island. It is also known as one of the best fishing points among the local fishing otaku.

J. You come back to the port and are free to go home.

See you there next year.

You can see more photos from Chuzenji Kannon-ko and Jizo Nagashi on our other blog - Tochigi Daily Photo - here.

Monday, June 14, 2010

"Utsunomiya Now and Then" - book review

Yesterday we finally received the book we ordered two weeks ago. It’s a limited edition album of old and new Utsunomiya photos published by Kyodo Shuppan (郷土出版), titled very appropriately – “Utsunomiya Now and Then” - 宇都宮今昔写真帖 (今: now, 昔: past, 写真帖: photobook).


When it first appeared in Jan/Feb 2010, for some reason it did not occur to me to buy it. Now, if you want it, bookstores have to search for remaining copies and that’s why it took two weeks for it to arrive. The price is steep too, 11 000 yen (11 550 tax included). Buying books like these is yet another reason why we’re perpetually broke.

This is only one of the books in the series, and I am now contemplating getting at least one more – “Nikko, Kanuma” (two cities in one book).

Other available Tochigi prefecture titles are:
Oyama, Tochigi, Shimotsuke, Shimotsuga” - one book, and “Nasu” – one book.

This “konjyaku” (now and then) series is not limited to Tochigi though, it covers all (well, most, some areas are missing from the listing) of Japan. - Link here.

We, however, are only interested in our local prefecture. Why? Our other blog – Tochigi Daily Photo is the answer.

So, what about the book? It’s nice. Black and white. All old photos have references showing their present-day equivalents. What is somewhat disappointing is the fact that the photos aren’t really old. As in “old-old” old. There are some from the 1930s and maybe one or two even older, but the majority of images come from the 50s, 60s and 70s. Why? The publisher says it’s the “nostalgic era” in Japan, just like the 50s and 60s in the US.

Here are two of the oldest photos in the book:


Meiji era

This is Taisho era. Guess where? *

Our conclusion? A very fine book, but we'd be better off with scanning grandma's old photo albums. She has literally dozens of them. And we have a brand new, awesome scanner now, too.

*) Where Parco is now.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

A Little Bit about Heike Taisai (featuring Mina Hayashi)

The little girl sitting by Miss Nippon (yeah, I know, it doesn’t look like her at all, but all the newspapers said it was really Miss Nippon) is emperor Antoku (安徳天皇).


Emperor Antoku was a little boy who became Emperor when he was two years old. Miss Nippon is supposed to be his mom, Tokuko TAIRA (平徳子) who was the daughter of Kiyomori TAIRA (平清盛). He was the most famous and successful TAIRA clan member. Kiyomori is Emperor Antoku’s grandpa. Go through Kiyomori TAIRA’s Wiki to understand Heike Taisai - I’m too lazy to give the full-blown version here.

But here’s the Cliffs Notes summary:

Do you remember the Battle of Danno ura (壇ノ浦の戦い) in our old entry about Sarutahiko? That was the war when Sanshu no Jingi (三種の神器), the Imperial Regalia of Japan, were lost.

Back in 1183, the TAIRA clan people (= Heike - 平家 in Japanese) were kicked out of Kyoto by Yoshinaka MINAMOTO (源義仲). And while being kicked out, they sort of kidnapped poor Emperor Antoku, along with the Imperial Regalia of Japan. Emperor Antoku’s grandmom decided to jump into the Danno ura sea, with Antoku naturally, and both drowned. Miss Nippon also tried to die with them but that chickenshit was saved… there’s something in the old legend about her being pulled out by her long hair using a rake. How exciting. Go figure. The Imperial Regalia sunk too, but allegedly, the jewels were recovered, though not the sword. Again – allegedly.


The remaining Heike members kept running away from the MINAMOTO clan (= Genji - 源氏 in Japanese). A remote village called Yunishikawa (湯西川) in Nikko city, where the Heike Taisai festival is celebrated, is considered to be “one” of the places where the Heike people were hiding for a certain period of time. It is said that the grandchild of Kiyomori TAIRA, Tadafusa TAIRA (平忠房), escaped there and his offspring lived there. We are not certain about that but that’s what it’s said.


Mayor of Nikko (middle) taking a nap

Heike Taisai just reenacts the escape of the Heike clan to Yunishikawa – currently a district in Nikko city. However, there is no historical reference about Kiyomori TAIRA (played by the mayor of Nikko city), Emperor Antoku (a 3rd grade girl from a local elementary school was chosen to play him), and Tokuko TAIRA (Miss Nippon, Mina Hayashi - 林史乃) getting together and escaping to Yunishikawa… It’s all just a fake parade…


Mina Hayashi modeling Heian era fashion

More photos (but not of Miss Nippon) can be found on our other blog here and here.

And more photos of Mina Hayashi, Miss Nippon 2010, with all the grace and personality of a bunraku puppet, are here.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Summer Festivals and Events in Tochigi, 2010 edition - part 2

Somebody asked me why we don't ever write about current events in Japan and the world. Why? Why bother? Millions of other blogs have that covered. But since you insist, here's my personal commentary about the stuff that is happening: oil leak - yawn; Israel - if you've been reading this blog for more than 5 minutes, you know which side I'm on; Kan - honestly, I don't give a flying f*ck through a rolling donut about Japanese politics.

Instead, let's talk about the REALLY important stuff this summer - summer festivals in Tochigi!

This is our entry for the Japan Blog Matsuri, June edition, hosted by Loco in Yokohama. And this month's topic?

Hot Fun in the Summertime!

So, here we go, here we go, here we go.
And again, the star rating reflects our own opinion. Your experience may vary.

This is part 2 of our listing. Part 1 is here.

Our Beloved Moka City(真岡市) and its environs

Official site is here
  • Summer festival in Moka
Link here
From July 23rd to 25th (Fri to Sun) in Moka downtown - Yatai parade, ritual ceremony, and fireworks are planned.
Rating: ***

So put your festive fundoshi on, and we'll see you there!

  • Natsukoshi sai (夏超祭)
On July 31st at Ohsaki shrine where several ritual ceremonies take place. Detailed info will be updated soon.
Rating: **
  • Gion festival at Yasaka shrine in Mashiko city (益子町八坂神社の祇園祭)
In late July, this festival takes place during three days. More info coming soon.
  • Twin ring Motegi Hanabi no saiten (ツインリンクもてぎ 花火の祭典)
Link in Japanese only.
On Aug 14 (Sat) starting at 19:20 fireworks at Twinring Motegi (F1 and Indy racing circuit).
Rating: **
Utsunomiya city (宇都宮市)
  • Tenno festival (天王祭)
From July 15 to 20th (Sat to Thu) in downtown Utsu where approx. 40 mikoshi march from the castle park to Futaara shrine. See ya there!!!
Rating: ** and 1/2
A short clip from last year's festivities:

There's more here and here and here. And even here.

And if you haven't subscribed to our YouTube channel yet, what are you waiting for? A special, gold-pressed invitation delivered by a dashing, young man in a tuxedo?

Sorry, we tried, but he got a better paid job as a pool boy in Aruba.
  • 35th Miya festival (第35回ふるさと宮まつり), August 7 and 8.
Official site in Japanese.
Lots of traditional street performances, mikoshi parade, Yosakoi dancing, and anything else you can come up with, including taco and kebab food stands. Watch our YouTube video here. See ya there!!!
Rating: ** and 1/2
And as a special treat, Ms Trouble promises to sport a festive hairstyle this year.

  • Fireworks in Utsunomiya
Link here
On Aug 21st by the Kinu river, 15 thousand fireworks are expected. Free parking available. Notorious for bad weather.
Rating: **
Southern part of Tochigi (県南部)
Oyama city
Official site in Japanese
  • Omoikawa no nagashibina (思川の流しびな)
Link in Japanese
On July 4th (Sun) at the western side of Oyama city hall (by the Omoi river) paper dolls are put on boats made of straw and sent down the river.
Rating: *
  • Oyama gion festival (小山祇園祭)
Link in Japanese
On July 18 (Sun) from 14:30 to 20:00 in Oyama city downtown a Shinto ritual ceremony and a mikoshi parade take place.
Rating: * and 1/2
  • Oyama summer festival 2010 (2010おやまサマーフェスティバル)
It takes place at the beginning of August by the Omoi river. Detailed info will be available soon.
Rating: **

Other cities in southern Tochigi
  • 96th Fireworks in Ashikaga city, 2010 Watarase summer festival 第96回足利花火大会
Link in Japanese
On Aug 7th from 19 to 21:00 by Watarase river where approx. 20 thousand fireworks are expected.
Rating: **
  • Hyakuhattoh Nagashi (百八灯流し)
It takes place at the beginning of August. 108 candles are put on boats sailing down the Uzuma river (巴波川) at night. It’s a Buddhist ceremony that is assigned as “Important Intangible Folk-cultural Property” by Tochigi city.
Rating: * and 1/2

We wish you all (yes, even to the moron who so persistently leaves nasty comments) a fabulous summer!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Firewalking at Kobugahara Mt. Kongo Zuihoji temple

Dr. Trouble, knowing that it will be sometime around October before I get off my butt and write something, was kind enough to prepare this entry.

Having given it 3 stars in our Tochigi summer festival listing, it’s easy to guess that was one event that we were not going to miss (though we almost did, Dr Trouble forgot about it). So we got into our car and headed deep into the wilderness that is the northwest part of Kanuma city, where the population of monkeys, or even bears, is greater than that of Homo sapiens… This time we did not forget to take a ladder (two ladders actually) to be able to get a nice view from above the crowds, instead of fighting for a prime spot with “mature” photographers (those old retired guys who attend every possible matsuri out there and who will stab you without a moment of hesitation if it means a better viewing spot, I hate those f*ckers).

But, traditionally, first things first

Mt Kongo Zuihoji temple was established by Monk Sho-do in A.D. 757. He stopped by on his way to Nikko and named this area Kobugahara (古峯原). He was then 23 years old. He is well-known for developing Nikko’s religious area, but he actually did much more than that - stay tuned for a post devoted to him, and him only - it's coming up soon. Together with the Nikko shrine and temple complex, Kobugahara is a place where Buddhist monks are known for their rigorous discipline. A disastrous flood in 1919 caused a tremendous loss of buildings and statues there and the temple and its accompanying structures had to be reconstructed, a lot of them from scratch.

Kobugahara Mt. Kongo Zuihoji temple belongs to the Shingon school of Buddhism, Daigo class (真言宗醍醐派). Kongo Doji (金剛童子) is primarily worshiped there. Other than that, there are literally tons of statues at that place, and you can have a good time simply by clicking on this link. And since we didn't really take any photos of the temple grounds, this link is as good as it gets.

On the last Sunday in May, the annual fire walk training is conducted at Mt. Kongo Zuihoji temple (古峯原金剛山瑞峯寺) in Kanuma city. Religious devotion of well-disciplined monks is strong enough to walk on burning coals.

And since the weather was misty and pretty chilly Ms. Trouble herself was desperate to jump into the red flames fueled by pieces of sacred wood and gasoline. (Actually, it was raining, and I swear I am getting a waterproof video camera ASAP!) Fun times! The objective of the ceremony was to pray for your well-being, good luck for your business, for your country to win the Eurovision song contest next year… Or something like that. By the way, congratulations to Germany, probably the only European country that is not bankrupt yet and can actually afford to host the contest in 2011.

Anyway, what were we talking about?

Oh, yes, firewalking...

These pictures tell you pretty much everything you need to know.

Shinto-style mikoshi carried by Buddhist monks and that mikoshi obstructed my view since the moment the ceremony began (yay for ladders!)

Drum performance before the ceremony. There were also a lot of Buddhist prayers...

Monks ready to start the fire.

We finally could get some warmth (too late for Ms Trouble though, she caught a cold) and the fire helped the cameras dry quicker!!!

Oharai ceremony (it's Shinto style, isn’t it??)

Old monk doing some good old-fashioned firewalking

And yeah, they carried the mikoshi through the fire passage too. (Ms. Trouble was half hoping it would burst into flames, she so didn't want it to be returned to its spot by her ladder).

And when the monks got done, it was time for the civilian population to show how tough their feet were.

Yes, including kids

And after the torment it was time for a sweet reward - setsubun-style candy throwing

See you there next year!

PS. More photos here, and Ms Trouble was kind enough to brave the elements to shoot these two videos:

Part 1 - Prayers and taiko drumming before the ceremony:

And part 2 - walking on burning coals: