Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Daidai Kagura - spiritual Shinto performance

In this entry, Dr. Trouble is going to bore you to tears talk about Kagura (神楽) – a shinto dance performance we saw at the Rei Taisai festival at Nakamura Hachimangu in Moka.

The Origins of Kagura

In the Japanese myths, Kojiki and Nihon Shoki, there is a part called “Iwato kakure (岩戸隠れ)” where Amaterasu (天照), the Sun Goddess, got upset at her younger brother, Susanoo (須佐之男), because he was ruthless and mean to her. He used to poop and then scatter his scat in her Palace. When Amaterasu was weaving textile dedicated to another god, Susanoo threw a skinned horse, which he skinned himself, by the way, at Amaterasu. She couldn’t take it anymore and decided to hide herself in a “heavenly rock cave” (Amano Iwatate). This incident is called “Iwato kakure (岩戸隠れ) – Amaterasu hiding herself in Iwato”. As she was the Sun goddess, the world plunged into darkness and disasters ensued. Or something like that.

An urgent meeting took place among the deities about how to get her out of there. One idea was proposed by a god named Omoikane (思金神), which was to perform a ritual ceremony in front of Iwato to attract Amaterasu’s attention. One goddess, Ame no uzume (天宇受賣命) actually stripped herself naked and performed a nude erotic dance in a "funny" and “hard” way (please, don't ask, I don't know, that's what the book says, OK?), which caused laughter among the other deities.

Her dancing is considered as the origin of Kagura and she is the first Miko (巫女 - shinto female shaman). Amaterasu was curious about what was going on outside her hiding place and stuck her head out to take a look at Ame no uzume’s dancing. Ame no tajikarao (天手力男神 - the god of Armstrong, or rather, strong arms) grabbed Amaterasu’s hand and dragged her out. The sexy, naughty dance was successful. Amaterasu was pulled out of Iwato. The sun came out again.

The “stripper” goddess - Ame no uzume - is enshrined at Meta shrine (賣太神社) at Yamatokouriyama city (Nara prefecture), Kurumazaki shrine (車折神社) in Kyoto, Tsubaki Grand Shrine (椿大神社) in Suzuka city (Mie prefecture), Uzume shrine (鈿女神社) and so on.

Dance performance of Ame no uzume at Iwatate. Unfortunately, this is the “approved for all audiences” version.

Ame no tajikarao is enshrined at several shrines, such as Tejikarao (手力雄) shrine in Gifu city and Kakamu city, Togakushi shrine (戸隠神社) in Nagano city, Amano tanagao shrine (天手長男神社) in Iki city, and a bunch of others.

The god with strong arms, image: wikipedia

Note that later on, Ame no uzume met a long-nosed reddish-faced deity, Sarutahiko (猿田彦), and married him. Please visit our old post if you want to know more about that encounter.

Why Kagura is called "Kagura"?

Another bit of entertainment you can enjoy at Rei Taisai at Nakamura Hachimangu is Daidai Kagura (太々神楽 - shinto theatrical dance), performed at the Kaguraden (神楽殿) Hall located to the left of the Honden (本殿) Hall (main building).

Kagura (shinto theatrical dance) is a dance performance dedicated to shinto deities. Kagura denotes singing and dancing that take place at Kamukura/kamikura (神座), and that means “place where deities reside” or “sacred place to invite holy spirits or to calm evil spirit down”, or something like that. It’s shamanism of sorts. After the shaman invites the gods, they act as messengers between deities and “ordinary” human beings. A divine message is sent to the participants (human beings) while shinto priests are in “Kami gakari (神懸かり - oracular divination) and your wishes are transferred to the gods through the priests, as well. This dancing and singing performance to welcome the deities was then called Kagura (神楽 - gods’ entertainment).

Daidai Kagura at Nakamura Hachimangu

Although we did not watch the entire performance, we found it quite impressive. We also saw a great number of people enjoying it. They were mostly old ladies and gentlemen. To be precise, about one third of the audience consisted of disabled persons, sitting in wheelchairs assisted by their family members. Personally, I think it was great that this festival provided entertainment for people who couldn’t move around freely. Too many matsuri simply ignore those in the audience that are handicapped and mobility-impaired.

The actors were shinto priests at Hachimangu. Some had masks but others revealed their faces. We saw our favorite Sarutahiko! And an old dude with a very odd smile, as well.


And two strange looking guys:

And here, our video of the performance:

To be continued, whether you like it or not…

PS. Our other entries detailing the Rei Taisai at Nakamura Hachimangu in Moka are:

Monday, September 27, 2010

Yabusame Overload

What we can see at the Rei Taisai festival?

Here is a brief program description of Nakamura Hachimangu Rei Taisai that took place on September 19, 2010:

  • 10:00 Sacred horses parade
  • 11:00 Rei Taisai opening ceremony and sword performance
  • 12:00 Yabusame
  • 13:00 Daidai Kagura
  • 13:30 Mikoshi procession

In this entry we’re going to talk about... you guessed it... Yabusame.

Yabusame in general

At present, Yabusame (流鏑馬) is a ritual ceremony, which takes place on shrine grounds during special occasions. However, in the past it was meant to be a training exercise to master the skills of traditional Japanese mounted archery that were vital among the samurai. Well, at least among those who wanted to survive their first battle.

Dressed in traditional fashion, an archer on a running sacred horse shoots Kaburaya - a signal arrow, or whistling-bulb arrow (鏑矢). “Kabu” literally translates to “turnip” (カブ) and “ya” (矢) is an arrow. A certain type of Kaburaya, called “Hikime Kabura” (蟇目鏑), that has four pierced holes in its “turnip”-shaped head, is really a “whistling”-bulb arrow. While shot into the air, the air goes through the holes, and that makes Hikime Kabura whistle. It’s like shooting a pipe in the air! The sound is believed to purify the place by getting rid of evil spirits. As you can see, these arrows are not a tactical weapon, rather it’s a ritual sign, kind of like a blank salute at a military ceremony.

You can see the "turnip" shaped tip here, though this is just an ordinary yabusame arrow, and not the whistling kind.

In the 10th century, based on Chu-yu ki (中右記), an account written by Udaijin (右大臣) - Minister of the Right - Munetada FUJIWARA (藤原宗忠), Yabusame was indeed described as a practical tactic. During the late Heian and Kamakura era, war was one of the opportunities for samurai to show their honor (self-assertion, in other words) where they had one-to-one and hand-to-hand (or rather, sword-to-sword) fights. It started off by self-introduction (say your name, title, affiliation, name of your lord, and so on) and shouting all of it out loud while riding the horse towards your enemy. No strategic idea existed in combat, as a whole.

Yabusame in olden days, image: wikipedia

Later on, when the style of battle was transformed from a bunch of individual fights into a complex battalion led by a supreme commander staying at HQ (headquarters) that was a long way from the front lines, an individual samurai (soldier) was forced to act like one of the pieces in a chess game (mostly a pawn, sadly). Since then, individual combat skills were not as indispensable as before. Yabusame has lost its practical significance, and then became solely a ritual for self-discipline.

What happened next was the “formulation” of the whole procedure, which was conducted, in large, by two schools; one is the Ogasaware school (小笠原流) and the other was instituted by Yoshiari MINAMOTO under the Imperial order of Uda (宇多天皇). It is recognized as the Takeda school (武田流) of archery.

In the mid Edo period, when there was no warfare going on, the 8th Tokugawa Shogun, Yoshimune TOKUGAWA (徳川吉宗), encouraged samurai to improve their martial arts. And Yabusame, which was outdated by then, was also integrated in his “must-learn-how-to-do-things” list.

Here is the formula of Yabusame according to the Ogasawara school (sorry, the link's in Japanese only.)

Yabusame today, image: wikipedia

Traditional Yabusame Uniform:
  • - jacket and pants: Suikan (水干) - Heian era style cloth made of silk
  • - hips and waist are covered with mukabaki (行藤), made of deer skin
  • - shoes called Monoigutsu (物射沓), made of deerskin leather
  • - left arm is covered with Igote (射小手) - sort of an arm protector in gold
  • - deerskin gloves on both hands
  • - Ayaigasa (綾藺笠), made of Igusa (イグサ) - soft rush (juncos effuses) on your head - you can see the traditional hat in the photo above.

Shiny arm protector on her left arm

Yabusame Track
  • - 2 cho long (町); cho is an ancient unit corresponding to 109 meters, so the track is approximately 218 meters long,
  • - covered with either grass or sand,
  • - target is square-shaped (54 by 54 cm), made of Japanese cypress,
  • - number of targets is three, the target is fixed diamond-style (one corner facing to the sky)
  • - it is quite normal for the archer to scream while shooting (as you can see in our YouTube video below).
There are more detailed descriptions of the Yabusame ritual, but I think this should give you a pretty good idea…

Yabusame at Nakamura Hachimangu

I am afraid that you’ll have to suffer once again through the war in which Yoshitsune (義経) was indirectly killed by his half-brother Yoritomo (頼朝). This war is called “Oshu Seibatsu (奥州征伐) = conquering Mutsu province”. Yoritomo was the Commander in chief of the battle. See this post, if you want to know more.

When Yoritomo MINAMOTO stopped at Nakamura Hachimangu to pray for triumph in battle, the rural lord of the Nakamura district in Shimotsuke Province, Munemura NAKAMURA (中村宗村), joined Yoritomo’s army. Yes, the name of district is the same as the family name of the lord.

Since Munemura contributed to the victory in the battle for Mutsu Province, as a reward he was appointed to the position called Jito (地頭) – Medieval land steward in the Date district in Mutsu Province (currently in Fukushima Prefecture). He and his family members moved, settled there, changed last name from NAKAMURA to DATE (伊達) and became the founders of the DATE clan (伊達氏). Yes, the Date clan was founded by a bunch of Mokans, how about that?

In 1736, over 600 years after Munemura’s death, his descendant, Yoshimura DATE (伊達吉村) stopped by at Nakamura Hachimangu on his way to Edo (ancient Tokyo), probably due to Sankin Kotai (参勤交代), I guess. He must have respected the origin of his clan and therefore donated sacred horses to the shrine. At that was the origin of the Yabusame ceremony at Nakamura Hachimangu.

Honda one horse power champion ready to go.

In terms of performing Yabusame, Honda - a motorcycle and automobile enterprise, always gets involved.

Why Honda? Why at Nakamura Hachimangu?

I’m guessing that the local Honda plant, which is very nearby, gives charitable donations to the shrine for the upkeep of horses. You know, being good neighbors and all that. Just as last year at Rei Taisai, this year we also saw the Honda-sponsored black horse (1 horse power, approx 400kg) performing Yabusame.

Close relationship between Nakamura Hachimangu and HONDA. They are practically next-door neighbors.

Mrs. T already reviewed the skill of archers at this year’s Yabusame performance in this post and videotaped it. If you haven’t seen it already, take a look now.

To be continued...

PS. Our other entries detailing the Rei Taisai at Nakamura Hachimangu in Moka are:

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Historical background of Nakamura Hachimangu (中村八幡宮)

Not that you really care, or want to know... But guess what? Dr Trouble will tell you anyway.

So, here we go.

Nakamura Hachimangu - sorry, the link in Japanese only - (中村八幡宮) is said to be one of the shrines built in 676 by Emperor Temmu’s (天武天皇) ordinance.
Alternatively, it is said to be built in the mid 11th century by Yoriyoshi (源頼義) and Yoshiie (源義家) MINAMOTO.

When they joined the Zenkunen War (前九年の役), which took place in Mutsu Province (陸奥国) - the tip of mainland Japan, they built eight shrines in the northern Kanto region and Nakamura Hachimangu is believed to be one of them.

In 1189, this shrine appeared in the approved chronicle named, Azuma Kagami (吾妻鏡), stating that Yoritomo MINAMOTO (源頼朝) was against the Oshu FUJIWARA clan (奥州藤原氏 – Northern FUJIWARA, a ruler in Mutsu during the Heian Period (平安時代) and Yoritomo’s soldiers went on to conquer Mutsu. The Northern FUJIWARA clan was decimated by Yoritomo, because they harbored his (Yoritomo’s) enemy - Yoshitsune MINAMOTO (源義経). Actually, he was a younger brother of Yoritomo, though the mom was different. Yes, Yoritomo’s intention in this war was to kill his half-brother, Yoshitsune… And he succeeded… Poor Yoshitsune. Victorious Yoritomo. The usual stuff that history’s made of.

Yoritomo’s troops, on their way to Mutsu, stopped at some shrines in Shimotsuke province (下野国), currently Tochigi Prefecture (栃木県), such as Futaara Shrine (二荒山神社) in Utsunomiya on July 25, 1189, Mamada Hachimangu (間々田八幡宮) in Oyama (we visited there for Ja-matsuri in May) where Yoritomo planted a pine tree (though it died in 1905), and Nakamura Hachimangu. They stopped at several other shrines on their way to Mutsu, praying for victory. All that praying definitely worked for them - they won.

Here is one tip. We have numerous shrines named “Hachimangu (八幡宮)”. These shrines are dedicated to triumph in battle and skills related to martial arts. Hondawake no mikoto (誉田別命), who is considered to be identical to Emperor Ojin (応神天皇), is enshrined in every single Hachimangu. Therefore, the nickname of Hondawake is Hachiman-Sama (八幡さま).

Probably due to the characteristics of Hachiman-Sama, Rei Taisai at Nakamura shrine includes Yabusame (archery on horseback) and a sword performance – both related to martial arts.

Now, let's pray for victory.

To be continued...

Friday, September 24, 2010

A Little Bit About Moka City

If you are a Tochigi native and hear the words “Moka city” (真岡市), though it's also spelled Mooka and Mohka in romaji, then maybe you kinda sorta perhaps know that it’s located somewhere in the southeastern part of Tochigi Prefecture.

You probably also can come up with something along the lines of the SL train, cotton (Moka cotton used to be very well-known during the Edo period), and industrial parks.

They still make cotton the traditional way in Moka, but mostly it's only for show.

Approximately 82,000 people live on Moka’s 167 km2, which means that the population density is about 494 per square kilometer. Just a quick comparison, the capital city of Tochigi, Utsunomiya has approx. 500,000 inhabitants in 417 km2 and that’s more or less 1,212 people per square kilometer. So, Moka is just one of 100 thousands of ordinary Japanese towns. Nothing special at all.

View Larger Map

Map of Igashira Park

Let’s continue… here’s another “if”. If you have kids of elementary school age, I am sure that at least once during their summer vacation they beg you to take them to Igashira Park (井頭公園). Within 933,000 km2 of Igashira Park there is a huge swimming pool called Ichimannin pool (= ten thousand people’s pool). It is called so since this pool is big enough to accommodate 10,000 people! I remember that I went there with my friends by bicycle all the way from Utsunomiya (approx. 25km) when I was in junior high. Yes, it’s kinda fun and exciting place for kids. Of all ages. As Mrs T can attest.

The most famous Mokan is certainly Monk Sho-do (勝道上人), a pioneer of Buddhism in Japan, and the guy who made Nikko Mountains the religious center they are now. Since he appears quite often in our blog, I’m not going to explain to you about his achievements. Instead, bother Mrs T to finally post the long-overdue Monk Sho-do entry that I prepared sometime in the last millennium (if not in the Jomon era), and on which she’s been sitting all this time. The wench put it in her book, but not here on the blog. Evil woman!

Another popular Mokan, one who is still alive, is Akane ODA (小田茜). I knew that she was from Tochigi, but did not know that she was from Moka. She looks a little like Martina Hingins (the Swiss tennis player).Though Akane is two years older than Hingis and prettier. Her career started when she was 12 years old, according to Wiki in Japanese.

Pic of Akane ODA from Sankei shinbun

Why we love Rei Taisai at Nakamura Hachimangu

Personally I prefer visiting matsuri festivals that are relatively in small size and less-known. If the matsuri is popular enough to attracts thousands of people, everything is under strict control and you will end up being there 3 to 4 hours prior to the events just to be able to claim a tiny space for yourself, with barely enough room to press the release button, while you’re squashed by crowds (= riots?) from all sides, with 12 other people per square meter. I am not saying that we will be in the front row of a Formula One race. These are priority seats assigned for aged but wealthy and ruthless Nikon and/or Canon users, who have no quips whatsoever about beating you to death a tripod, if you so much as allow your big toe to cross over into their territory.

I can haz this spot!!!

So we are quite happy living in a dasai prefecture in a rural area, and as Mrs. T said in her previous post, Rei Taisai (例大祭) - the biggest and most prestigious annual event at Nakamura Hachimangu (中村八幡宮) is one of our favorite destinations to shoot. It’s cozy and pleasant in size and popularity and, above all, Mokans always show their hospitality. Though they do tend to be a little shy when sober, you know.



You need to visit Moka yourself, otherwise you’ll never know how nice this city and its people are.

To be continued...

Monday, September 20, 2010

This person is a thief - he uses copyrighted materials without permission

He hotlinks and uses copyrighted photos without permission:

I'm sorry but I don't speak Czech, and I can't see if there is an email address on that blog. And I can't figure out how to leave a comment over there either.

So, unfortunately, I have to post it here.

Mark Yajeji, or whoever you are, you are a thief. You never asked if you could use my photos on your blog. And no, my photos are NOT licensed under Creative Commons.

Please remove them. Otherwise, I will be forced to contact your ISP and report you for using copyrighted materials without permission. And in case you're not aware, it's called stealing.

PS> He never contacted me, and even though he apologized on his site for using copyrighted material, I had to remove my photos myself on my end as he had hotlinked to them.

Festival at Nakamura Shrine in Moka

There are many reasons why we love the city of Moka. Last week showed yet again that the people of Moka are truly exceptional. In fact, they are so exceptional, they deserve a special blog post to show you just how much we love them. And yes, such a post will indeed be coming up soon.

In the meantime, let me tell you about yet another reason why we love Moka - the festival at Nakamura Hachimangu.


Last year I had to be dragged there kicking and screaming. I wanted to stay home, or at the very least - in the car and read a book.

This year, September couldn't come soon enough. And today, I willingly woke up at an ungodly hour ready to head to Moka at the crack of dawn.

The festival itself is nothing special. There is yabusame (traditional archery on horseback), there is batto embu taikai (where people wave swords and show off their mad katana skillz), there is a traditional stage play for those with impaired mobility (a very cool feature, I wish more events had something like that!), and there is a mikoshi parade.

What makes this event special is the heart that the organizers put in its preparation and execution. People are friendly, accommodating, cheerful and well-meaning. In other words - typical Mokans.

I'll be boring you with this festival all week, so get ready.

Today, let's start with yabusame. That's the bit where guys (and a gal - there was one girl doing it as well) in traditional costumes get to ride horses and shoot arrows. Not indiscriminately though. There is a path, and there are set targets. Still, it's quite exciting to watch.


Turned out he was the captain of a local riding club. No wonder!


This older guy ruled the course - I don't think he missed a shot at all. The girl was decent. I remember her performance last year, and this year her skill has visibly improved. And she was kinda pretty too.


The boys in the audience really enjoyed her performance.


But the other guy (not pictured here), ohmygod. Missed every single shot. In his defense, he did wear very thick glasses. Still, it was sad to watch...

To be continued...

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The right way to use Eigo Noto

These guys and gals deserve an Oscar. This is brilliant.

Now I'm going to die laughing every time I have to sing "Head Shoulders Knees and Toes" with my students.

So guys, when is part 2 coming out?