Category Archives: Life in Japan

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Before the Festival

there is an expression in Japanese, `ato no matsuri`(after the festival)…but what happens before the festival?

Scene 1

This year I wanted to get to the summer festival early.
I recently found out that the festival is a time when the gods are let out to play and that is why they are paraded about on the o-mikoshi , or portable shrines. I was curious to see how it started, and feel the anticipation of those moments just before the gods are set free…

All the years I saw the summer festivals in the past, I never thought much of that beginning point. I enjoyed watching the elaborate portable shrines that are carried by a team of men in hapi coats with matsuri (festival) motifs or patterns…shouting heave, ho, and other expressive grunts that give the festival its lively air to the sound of taiko drums. It was always fun to hear the vendors along the sidelines shout out Welcome and announce their wares. From tako yaki to ringo ame to all things grilled on skewers or fried, the festival smells, colored streamers and tanabata decorations make it a joyful time.

Why this year did I feel called to watch the `start`? I am not really sure, but it was a new feeling to be there before the festival. I stood in the middle of the shrine grounds while the majority of those around me were busily getting ready . Young men and women in white hapi coats, older men in purple and young men in red, priests in silk robes, and kagura performers holding their masks, all clearly each with a specific `purpose` for the festivities. It was like watching behind the scenes at a grand spectacle as the cast of characters were taking their places and getting ready to perform their roles. I wasn`t thinking about the omikoshi  or when it would be brought out, rather I just felt the energy around me and watched and listened to the anticipation in the air.

I stayed in one place as the movement all around me seemed to take more and more of a `shape`, and at one point I could just feel it… the gods were being let out!

I got so excited, almost like a childlike feeling to see that all the energy mounted into the moment where it was happening, the portable shrine was being taken from the main shrine! I turned to where the `action` was…the omikoshi  being brought forth into the shrine grounds—carried by the team of men who were not yet screaming their shouts, but ceremoniously performing the sacred act of bringing out the gods!

I hope you  enjoy watching the scene in the video below and feel the meditative quality of those moments …the sense of not knowing what was to happen next…in the entrancing energy of the first moments before the festival!

Scene 2

Now that I had seen and felt these first moments, I was ready to dance through the still empty streets while the vendors were setting up their stalls!
Dance? You may ask!
Yes, this is a year for me of dance walking through Japan!

I was sitting in front of a mask-vendor`s stall, thinking about whether to buy an anime mask to get into the matsuri mood.

But the festive price of 1000yen made me stall.  My video collaborator and I sat in a shady spot waiting for the right moment,when a friend passed by and offered me a cape.

That was the signal! I put it on and was ready to dive into the empty streets, to greet the moments before the festival.  To get a hit of intoxication from the gods who were just starting their wild three days of being let loose in these streets!

Please enjoy `Before the Matsuri Dance Walk` video below,

**There is a Japanese expression, `Ato no matsuri` which means `After the festival`, or `too late!`. You can find a related post on BB here
`Mae no matsuri` could be a new expression to describe this feeling of anticipation `before the matsuri`.  We could coin it here.

There`s still time.
Don`t be late!** Zehi (by all means!) get to your summer festival early!

Video credit:
presented by Joanne G. Yoshida
filmed by Utsu-shin
location: Nagahama Shrine, Oita, Japan

Joanne G. Yoshida

Passengers in Japan Push 32-ton Train Car to Free Woman

Dozens of Japanese train passengers pushed a 32-ton train carriage away from the platform to free a woman who had fallen into the 20-centimeter eight-inch gap between the train and platform. The act of heroism was captured by a newspaper photographer.

A public announcement that a passenger was trapped prompted about 40 people to join train officials to push the carriage, whose suspension system allows it to lean to either side, the Yomiuri newspaper reported.

The unnamed woman in her 30s was then pulled out uninjured to applause from onlookers at JR Minami-Urawa station, just north of Tokyo.

After just an eight-minute delay, the train went on its way.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=WR7o1TFZCFU

Dance Walk Japan!

We rented bicycles to tour the island, stopped in front of the torii...
We rented bicycles to tour the island, stopped in front of the torii…

This year I discovered the pleasures of `dance walk` as a way to travel in Japan. It has become my favorite means of transportation and has taken me to visit one of Japan`s World Heritage sites, as well as to explore the area around where I live in southern Japan, and to see things with a new sense of discovery.

I would like to share a mini-`how to` manual with you so that you might try it too in Japan or wherever you are! I will also show you a few of the sites in Japan I have visited through this combined means of exercise and expression.

For dance walk travel, you don`t need much. I recommend these basics:
1. a backpack with easy-to-move-in light clothes for dancing,
2. an i-pod with music you might like to choose in advance to go with the mood of the site and what you wish to express
3. a video camera so you can share the experience
4. a friend or collaborator who shares your enthusiasm and openness, who is not shy to be with you as you will be dancing through the trip!

camera ready

5. (optional) Yoga Mat for stretches in your room and a small overnight kit if you will be staying overnight

take some time to stretch in your room...
take some time to stretch in your room…

As the idea of dance walk is discovery, it is best to travel with an empty mind and an open heart. Every site has its own special nature, so the first thing to do when you arrive at the site is to `greet it` with your movement. Breathe in the sights, the architecture, the sky, the trees, the flowers. If the moon is out, what luck you are in! Greet the moon with your gestures, connect with the sun…feel into your breath, and whenever you are ready turn on the music, begin to listen and feel your own rhythms, listen to your body, and let yourself move–in all directions— from the heart!

I learned in a dance workshop about `greeting` a site and asking its permission. Just as you would to a dance partner, when you dance walk in a site, it is a beautiful thing to `ask` if it is o.k. for you to enter. This can be done through gesture, breath, a short meditation or a simple offering of something you bring from nature or from your heart.

I recently went to Miyajima, one of Japans National Treasure sites located a ferry ride from Hiroshima, to do a dance walk by the famous orange torii gate and Itsukushima Shrine. You may know of this site famous for the shrine that appears to float in the sea at high tide.

The video of the dance walk became seven segments, starting in the morning hours before sunrise (the ocean tide and tide and travellers had not yet come in) where me and my video collaborator were the only ones in the site; to the sunset hours where we met some travelers who shared a dance with me in front of the Itsukushima Shrine

I also had a chance to dance with deer who roam the island, but as enthusiastic as I was for the chance to meet them through my dance, they showed indifference. Still those moments when I sat on the grass face to face with a deer were amazing memories for me!! They are part of the dance too. You can see the segment that has my `dance` with the deer here:

Part one starts with greeting the famous torii here and continues here as its power and the power of the tides bring me into both backwards and spinning movements that brought me a deep reverence for the site.

Whether it is a famous site, or a backstreets road, allow yourself to connect with the surroundings and be open to new movements and experience. Don`t hold back! Enjoy the movement! People might think you are a little strange, but the beauty is, people might think that anyway so it gives you a little freedom to go the extra step, to add a little shimmy or sway into your walk, and hopefully to connect with people heart to heart on your travels.

Other dance walks I have done this year include a Cherry Blossoms Dance Walk, and most recently a Rainy Season Dance Walk to dance by a pond of lotus flowers but it rained so hard I just got a short scene! My dream is to go to a dance walk on Mt. Fuji! And little by little to have others join with me in the dance through Japan…
Next time won`t you dance with me!

My dance walk in Miyajima begins here:

and you can find an assortment of dance walks here

Joanne G. Yoshida teaches Shake Your Soul/Kripalu Yoga Dance in Oita, Japan, where she has lived with her husband and daughter for fourteen years.
Feel free to share your comments and questions about her Dance Walk Japan or any of your dance walk plans!! Like Joanne`s Yoga Dance Walk on Facebook HERE.

miyajima peace statue

President of KFC Japan Buys Colonel Sanders’ Suit and Tie

The president and chief executive of Kentucky Fried Chicken Japan purchased the trademark white suit worn by company founder “Colonel” Harland Sanders at auction Saturday for $21,510 — then promptly tried it on.

Masao “Charlie” Watanabe grinned while putting on the suit jacket and black string tie at the Heritage Auctions event, standing beneath a photograph of Sanders. He had already planned to attend a company marketing meeting in Dallas, but arrived early after he found out about the auction, he said.

Watanabe was one of hundreds of in-person, telephone and online bidders vying for various items, including a gun belt owned by legendary outlaw Jesse James and leg irons that restrained abolitionist John Brown.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=GBNbqa0M9pk

Read the rest of the story: President of KFC Japan buys Colonel Sanders’ trademark white suit at auction for $21K.

Japan Enacts Law Needed to Ratify International Child Custody Pact

Japan enacted Wednesday a law needed to ratify an international treaty to help settle cross-border child custody disputes, paving the way for implementation of the pact in Japan possibly early next year.

The House of Councillors at its plenary session unanimously approved the legislation, which stipulates domestic implementation procedures for the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. The parliament endorsed the treaty late last month.

After completing all domestic procedures, Tokyo aims to join the convention with 89 signatories by the end of this year. The pact sets out rules and procedures for the prompt return to the country of habitual residence of children under 16 taken or retained by one parent, if requested by the other parent.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=5JLxYuObScM

JR East – Please Don’t Walk When Using a Smartphone

Officials at East Japan Railway Company have begun asking people not to use mobile phones while walking inside train stations.

The move came after a 5th-grade boy suffered minor injuries when he fell off the platform onto the train tracks at Tokyo’s Yotsuya Station. He was looking at his phone screen while walking.

Posters saying “No cell phones while walking” are on display in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Station. Announcements are also being aired inside the station, asking people not to use cellular phones while walking.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=FKL7pRSJaRA

Hotaru-bi no Chakai: A Tea Gathering in the Fire of Fireflies

For anyone set to visit Kyoto this weekend, there’s one event Japanese haven’t failed to celebrate at the Shimogamo Shrine. Wondering what this is? Here’s all you need to know about the Hotaru-bi no Chakai.

Shimogamo Shrine is one of the oldest shrines in Japan which is located north of Kamo and Takase Rivers of north-central Kyoto. The shrine dates back to the prehistoric periods and the first reference of the Shimogamo was of a fence repair dating back to 2BC.

The shrine has served as a central religious aspect for Kyotoites. It has said that the shrine played a significant role in the Heian period when prayers for the capital where held in that area. In countless tales, of which includes “Tale of Genji”, Shimogamo Shrine has been featured.

Today, this Kyoto shrine has been registered under the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Shimogamo contains 52 building all of which are recognized as iconic Cultural Properties. A number of events take place at the Shimogamo Shrine of which include the Hotaru-bi no Chakai

About Hotaru-bi no Chakai:

Hotaru-bi no Chakai is the event held at the beginning of June which is a special tea gathering done amidst the glow of live fireflies. “Hotaru” translates to firefly while “bi” refers to fire. “Chakai” on the other hand means tea gathering. This event shows the true essence of Japanese tradition where one of its aims is the preservation of Tadasu no Mori, “The Forest of Justice,” which surrounds the Shimogamo Shrine.

Hotarubi no Chakai

For the event, around 600 fireflies are released over the stream called Mitarashigawa which serve as invites to the grandiose tea gathering. Usually, a reservation is required for one to attend the ceremony but there are other programs of the Hotaru-bi no Chakai open to the general public.

If you are ever in the area, make sure to check the Shimogamo Shrine. Other than the Hotaru-bi no Chakai, the ancient “Juni-hitoe” where 12 layers of the kimono will be shown and various dance performances are set for the night. Twenty long established stands also sell around the area at 1pm where the popular Kyoto souvenir, yatsuhashi and the common rice dumpling, mitarashi dango is being sold.

Akihabara: The One Stop Japan Spot for Otakus

Japan is notable for its many splendour tourist spots such as Shibuya, Okina and Kyoto. However, if there is one spot Otaku’s from all over the world wish to visit and this would be none other than Akihabara. Akihabara has been considered Japan’s one-stop-shop for all anime lovers and enthusiasts.

Where in Japan:

Located in Sotokanda, Tokyo Prefectur, Akihabara (秋葉原) is two stations north of Tokyo Station. Locals call the area Akiba after the local shrine. This area has gained quite the recognition from all over the world due to its diehard otaku culture. Major developments have already occurred thanks to the Akihabara Crossfield complex that promotes Akihabara as the centre for global electronics technology and trade.

How to Get There:

It’s easy to head to Akihabra thanks to Japans’ complex train systems plus their trains give meaning to “faster than a speeding bullet.” There are two options of which are as follows:

  1. From Tokyo Station: Akihabara is located two stations north of Tokyo Station by Keihin-Tohoku or JR Yamanote Line. The trip costs 130 yen and will only take three minutes. However, during the weekdays, Keihin-Tohoku line skips one station between Akihabara and Tokyo which will cut off a few seconds off travel time.
  2. From Shinjuku Station: Travellers should take the JR Chuo Line (colour orange) from Shinjuku to Ochanomizu Station of which takes approximately ten minutes. After, take a quick transfer to JR Sobu line (colour yellow) for one more station headed to Akihabara. This trip takes two minutes max. Alternate options also include taking the yellow train without transfer from Shinjuku to Akihabara for seventeen minutes trip. The fare costs 160 yen for either case.

What to See:

As mentioned, Akihabara is the centre for Otaku enthusiasts and lovers. From maid cafes to Tokyo anime centres selling merchandise and games, everything can be found here. It’s best to load up the wallet because the merchandise scattered around can easily lure Otakus in.

  1. Maid Cafes: Cosplay themed restaurants abound where food is served basically by waitresses in frilly and colourful attires. These “maids” also engage in fun activities with the guests.
  2. drinks

  3. Tokyo Anime Center: This is found on the UDX building of Akihabara Crossfield where anime related exhibitions are held.
  4. akihabara-2

  5. Gundam Café is extremely popular where food is served in gundam themes. A gift shop is also connected where visitors may purchase souvenirs and goods.

gundam-cafe

Why Visit Akihabara:

While Akihabara is heaven on earth for Otakus, some visit the area for real steals when it comes to the latest gadgets and electronics. Various centres offer whopping deals that are definitely a real steal as compared to any other place in Japan or overseas.

When to Visit:

Akihabara is open all year round! Take a trip to one of Japan’s busiest and most Otaku-friendly place on earth.

Important Reminders:

Japanese don’t like tourists taking photos inside stores. Unless you’re a famous celebrity or you’ve got special permission, keep the trigger happy camera’s to yourself or outside the store.

Japan’s Abe says day-care slots for all children by 2017

Under huge pressure from Japanese working mothers, the prime minister says he will aim to have enough openings at day-care centers for all children within a few years.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe gave the speech at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo on Friday. Abe spoke about the government’s economic growth strategy, which will be announced around June this year.

Abe said that Japanese women’s capabilities are still not fully utilized in the workplace and their role makes up the core of the growth strategy. And he said he is sure that enabling the women to fully use their abilities could be a driving force to put Japan back on the path to growth.

Read the rest of the story: Abe: Day-care slots for all children by FY2017.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=HmVmojwp-GY

Matchmaking Monks, help couples and temples prosper

A growing number of Buddhist temples have been capitalizing on the nation’s recent matchmaking boom.In the middle of last month, 12 men and women, mostly in their late 30s and early 40s, gathered at Anrakuji, a Nichiren-sect temple in the city of Wakayama, for a singles event, with each doling out ¥2,500 to participate.

“Please value the chance of meeting each other here even if you don’t find a partner,” the temple’s chief priest, Shunko Yoshino, 35, said at the event’s kickoff.

Each man was allotted three minutes to introduce themselves to their female counterparts, talking about their jobs, families and other aspects of their lives.

Read the rest of the story: Matchmaking priests bring couples together, help temples prosper.