Samurai Dave: The Roving Ronin Report

Rambling Narrative of Travels, Thoughts, and Embellishments

Japanese Bowing Deer of Nara

In the old Japanese capital of Nara, deer have been living there free from being turned into burgers for over a thousand years. They live relatively comfortable fed by hordes of photo-snapping tourists. Supposedly close contact with people have given them human characteristics. If you bow to them, the deer will bow back.

September 9, 2013 Posted by | travel | , , , , | Leave a comment

Outdoor Sumo at Yasukuni Shrine

In April, sumo gets back to its roots at Yasukuni Shrine with an outdoor event. In olden times, sumo was generally held outdoors at shrines and temples or before gathered assemblies of august groups such as the shogun, daimyo (feudal lord), even the Emperor.

Hono Ozumo is a special ceremonial sumo event held at a shrine such as Yasukuni Shrine. Lower rank wrestlers (maku-shita) and top rank wrestlers (maku-uchi) compete. Even the yokozuna the highest rank in sumo compete at Hono Ozumo. If there is more than one yokozuna, they will compete against each other. Sumo can have several yokozuna at the same time but it is relatively rare to have more than two. Usually to see a yokozuna match between two yokozuna is a rare treat. Only on the last day of a tournament can one see this and it’s very difficult to get tickets for that day.

This year was a chance to see such a yokozuna match, the first in four years as Yokozuna Asashoryu retired in February of 2010. Hakuho has been the only yokozuna until September of 2012 when Harumafuji was promoted. This was their first yokozuna match at Yasukuni.

For more pics – click here

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May 7, 2013 Posted by | japan, sumo, tokyo, yasukuni shrine | , , , , , | 17 Comments

Samurai Girls Do Battle!!!

Samurai Girls fight with spear and sword at a Shinsengumi Festival in Tokyo. Shinsengumi were a special police force in Kyoto who kept the peace for the Shogun at a bloody price in the 1860s.

May 1, 2013 Posted by | travel | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sumo – Hakuho vs Harumafuji at Outdoor Sumo Event at Yasukuni Shrine

Every April, Yasukuni Shrine holds a honozumo which is a ceremonial sumo event at a shrine. It’s free and open to the first 6000 people. This is one of the few chances to catch a yokozuna match where the top ranked wrestlers compete. Usually this only happens on the last day of a tournament which is often sold out.

This year (2013) newly promoted yokozuna Harumafuji faced off against the reigning yokozuna Hakuho for their first yokozuna match at Yasukuni Shrine. I was rather surprised by the results.

April 30, 2013 Posted by | travel | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Samurai Warlord’s Kyoto Cherry Blossom Festival – Taiko Hanami Gyoretsu


Spring is the time of cherry blossoms in Japan and Japanese love their hanami. Hanami is cherry blossom viewing parties where people gather under the sakura blossoms and make merry.

One of the grandest hanami events ever held was over 400 years ago at Daigo Temple in Kyoto. The host of this hanami was the most powerful man in Japan at the time, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and this gala event could be see as the culmination of an extraordinary life which began in a farmer’s hut. Toyotomi was the medieval Japan’s ultimate rags-to-riches story.

Toyotomi was born to a poor farmer/foot soldier during a time of anarchy known as the Sengoku Period or Warring States when Japan was torn apart by feuding warlords.
He joined the services of Oda Nobunaga an innovative warlord who began unifying the land. After Oda’s death, Toyotomi continued this work and by 1590 succeeded in uniting all the warring factions in the country.

Toyotomi became the strongest leader in Japan but he could not claim the title of Shogun due to his low origins. He was given the title of Kampaku by the Imperial Court. Kampaku was officially an advisor to an adult emperor but it was only formality. Toyotomi ruled the country like the Kampaku advisors and regents had centuries ago. In 1591, he “retired” and took the title of Taiko which is a retired Kampaku. In reality, he remained fully in control. In fact the very next year, Toyotomi launched a massive military expedition against Korea in a grandiose scheme to conqueror Korea and Japan.

Despite or perhaps because of his simple beginnings, Toyotomi liked to live it up. He liked pomp and ceremony, fancy attire, and lavish parties. His cherry blossom party at Daigoji was one of his most sumptuous. At his side was his young son and heir, Hideyori along with his wife and mistresses. It was to be his last great outing though as he would passed away 5 months later leaving the future of his heir in doubt.

For more photos
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Toyotomi Hideyoshi
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April 4, 2013 Posted by | travel | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Samurai Battle Festival – Battle of Sekigahara Festival

In the small town of Sekigahara a festival is put on to commemorate one of the most decisive battles in Japanese history – the Battle of Sekigahara. In 1600, two massive armies converge on Sekigahara and fought a great battle. The winner, Tokugawa Ieyasu went on to become shogun and started a new era known as the Edo Period named after his capital which is today Tokyo.

The main star at the festival is not either of the two opposing leaders suprisingly but Otani Yoshitsugu, a warlord suffering from leprosy who fought for the Western Army against Tokugawa. He’s the tragic hero of the tale of Sekigahara. It’s his forces which get attacked from the rear by a turncoat by the name Kobayakawa Hideaki.

Overall it’s a small re-enactment for such a pivotal piece of history but they do a good job with the drama.

For more info and photos 

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April 2, 2013 Posted by | travel | , , , , | 1 Comment

Japanese St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Harajuku, Tokyo

In Tokyo’s Harajuku area, they throw a parade to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. It’s been going on for sometime and has grown over the years. Marching bands, bagpipers, dancers, Irish settlers, dancing Guinness cans, and samurai(?) all make their appearance. It’s good fun!

March 23, 2013 Posted by | travel | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Japanese Devils Beat You For Good Luck on Setsubun

Setsubun is a Japanese Spring Ritual where on the 3rd of February Japanese drive bad luck in the form of devils from their homes. At many temples and shrines throughout Japan, Setsubun activities take place. At Ishite-ji Temple in Matsuyama city on the island of Shikoku they have an interesting twist on the typical Setsubun activity of driving away devils.
 
Usually on Setsubun devils known as Oni are driven away by beans thrown at them. Japanese say at the same time “Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!” which means “devils out, good luck in!” At Ishite-ji Temple, the devils actually bring the good luck to people in the shape of bamboo staffs that they use to beat people lightly in a rhythmic cadence.
 
The staff they use is a variation of a keisaku stick which is used in meditation sessions of Zen Buddhism. Keisaku is a “warning stick” wielded by a Zen priest known as a Jikijitsu who is in charge of the zazen meditation sessions at Zen Temples. If a student is falling asleep the Jikijisu will administer a beating on the student’s back. The keisaku’s bark is actually worse than its bite as it sounds much lounder than it actually feels. In fact, students will often request a “beating” to keep themselves awake and to relieve muscle cramps. Another name for the keisaku stick is called kyosaku which means “encouragement stick.”
 
The “beatings” administered by the Setsubun devils at Ishite-ji Temple are anything but painful and are for the purpose of giving the “beaten” good luck. So instead of driving the devils away like they do at many other Setsubun events, people actually run to the devils and let them beat them for the good luck aspect of Setsubun.
For Photos:
http://therovingroninreport.blogspot.jp/2013/02/japanese-devils-beat-people-for-good.html

 

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February 21, 2013 Posted by | japan, japanese culture, Japanese festival, Setsubun | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wakakusayama Yaki – Japanese Mountain Fire Festival in Nara

Wakakusayama Yaki is an annual Japanese fire festival in winter where they burn the dead grass on Mt. Wakakusa. The origins of the festival are unclear. The most popular explanation is that the fire festival came out of a territorial dispute between two local temples. Others say the fire was more practical in driving off wild animals and insects.
 
Whatever the origin, it’s a sight to see. Before the fire, they set off 200 fireworks. They also have a live show which being Japan is always entertaining and amusing.
For more photos:
http://therovingroninreport.blogspot.jp/2013/02/wakakusayama-yaki-japanese-mountain.html
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February 17, 2013 Posted by | travel | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Giant Japanese Snake Festival

To honor this year’s Chinese Zodiac animal the Snake, I offer this look at an interesting unique festival from the small town of Sekikawa in Niigata prefecture where they parade an enormous snake made of bamboo and straw. The snake is 82.8 meters long or about 271.6 feet and weighs about 2 tons requiring 500 people to carry it and is in the Guinness Book of World Record as longest snake made of bamboo and straw (wasn’t aware there was such a category).

The festival is a type of Obon celebration – a time when the Japanese remember the spirits of the dead. It also is reminder of a terrible flood which hit Sekikawa in 1967 costing a number of people their lives. The date was August 28th which is why the snake is the exact length of 82.8 to reflect that.

As to why a giant snake, one has to dig further back into the misty past of Sekikawa. Legends say the area was troubled by a giant snake which had been a cursed woodcutter’s wife.

Some centuries ago, a local woodcutter was attacked by a giant snake while he was out gathering woods. Giant snakes have been a common theme in myth and legend and perhaps represent a memory of large snakes which once lived in Japan long ago. The woodcutter killed the snake and deciding on not letting a chance meal go to waste brought it home to eat.

The woodcutter told his wife not to eat any of the snake meat till he returned from gathering more wood. The wife disobeyed him and ate a little of the snake meat. It was so delicious she couldn’t stop eating of it and she ate the entire snake. Then she developed a powerful thirst. No amount of water could quench it. She drained all the water supply at her home and then the village’s supply too. She went to river to slake her unnatural thirst but to no avail. It was there that the wife transformed into a giant snake herself. She left her family and the village forever – or so it seemed.

Some time later after her family had passed away a biwa player was passing through the area. He stopped to rest and while he did so he decided to practice his skills. The snake wife heard his music and was charmed by it. She approached the biwa player and praised his skill. The biwa player being blind as many biwa players were in those days thought he was being addressed by one of the local women. There was a strange musty smell in the air but he thought nothing of it.

The snake wife asked him where he was going and he told her to the village which is now Sekikawa. She warned him not to do so. She revealed to him what she was and that she planned to destroy the village. She only told him this because she was enchanted by his music and wished to spare him. The snake wife then told him not to warn the villagers or he would pay with his life.

The biwa player left very afraid. However, instead of running off he decided to go to Sekikawa and warn them. He told the chief of the village his tale. Some say the biwa player vanished because he was a helpful spirit but others say he died from the snake wife’s magic for having told her secret.

The villagers eventually were able to kill the snake wife and they enshrined the biwa players personal effects in the local temple.

Centuries later in modern times it was thought after the flood that perhaps the old snake wife’s spirit was restless so the festival was held to appease her possibly angry spirit.

The festival began in 1980s and every year they parade two large snakes around the town. A smaller one is carried/dragged by children while the principle snake of 82.8 meters is carried by 500 people.

I was fortunate to bump into a local prominent citizen of the town who told me the story in his own words. He says he remembered the biwa player’s items being on display when he was boy though they aren’t now. I later had dinner with him and wife and several friends of his from Niigata City. Apparently for people of the town there are those who believe the story to be true – to a degree. It is interesting though the number of giant snake stories that abound in the ancient myths and the old legends of times closer to now.

Who knows? But as to the moral of the story with the woman who was changed into a giant snake for eating the snake her husband told her not to, I guess it would be -“Women, don’t eat a man’s snake without his permission” or something to that effect.

For more photos check here

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Giant Japanese Snake of Bamboo
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The woodcutter who killed a giant snake then his wife became one
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February 2, 2013 Posted by | festival, japan, japanese culture, Japanese festival, japanese folklore, matsuri, travel | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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