Samurai Dave: The Roving Ronin Report

Rambling Narrative of Travels, Thoughts, and Embellishments

Joma Shinji – Kyudo (Japanese Archery) Exorcism Ritual for New Years

Joma Shinji is a New Year’s Japanese Archery Ritual for driving away evil for the coming year. Six archers dressed in formal samurai kimono known as kariginu shoot two arrows a piece at a large circular target. On the back of the target is painted an upside kanji character for “oni” which means “devil.” Striking the target is believe to expel evil particularly shots which pass through the oni character.

Since ancient times in Japan, arrows have been seen as having the power to banish and destroy evil. Even the twanging of bow strings is thought to ward away evil spirits. During New Year’s, decorative wooden arrows are sold at temples and shrines as good luck charms for the coming year.

Joma Shinji takes place at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine in Kamakura on January 5th. The ritual dates back to a time when Kamakura was the military capital of Japan (1185-1333). The first hereditary shogun, Minamoto no Yoritomo, promoted a variety of military type rituals usually involving archery such as Joma Shinji. In his day, the bow was the primary weapon of the samurai, their profession being known as “The Way of the Horse and Bow.”

Yoritomo was keen that his warriors not become soft even in times of peace. He was all too mindful of what had happened with his enemies, the Taira family. The Taira were once the dominate samurai clan of Japan but they became too intoxicated with the luxuries that power can bring and many of them preferred to excel in non-warrior pursuits such as music and poetry.

War broke out between the Taira and Minamoto and eventually the Taira were utterly defeated in 1185. It has often been pointed out that the Taira’s love of luxury and leisurely pursuits were a major factor in their downfall. Yoritomo did not want the same happening to his samurai so he decided to place his shogunate capital in Kamakura far away from the debilitating influence of the aristocratic culture of Kyoto and he encouraged the continual practice of the bow in annual rituals and contests.

Today the Ogasawara Ryu, a school of Japanese Archery, conducts the Joma Shinji Ritual. The Ogasawara school and clan was established in the Kamakura Era by Ogasawara Nagakiyo who became an archery instructor to Yoritomo. The Ogasawara Ryu does a number of archery events throughout the year including Yabusame, mounted archery.

For more photos check here: Joma Shinji Photos

January 22, 2012 Posted by | 2012, Archery, culture, history, japan, japanese archery, japanese culture, japanese history, Japanese martial arts, kyudo, New Years, Shinto, travel, youtube, zen | , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Dezuiri 2012 – Yokozuna (Sumo Champion) New Year Ring-Entering Ceremony at Meiji Shrine

Every year on January 6th, to celebrate the coming year, the current sumo champion(s), Yokozuna, come to Meiji Shrine and perform a Dohyo-iri or ring-entering ceremony. For Yokozuna there are two styles – Unryu the more common is seen as a defensive stance and Shiranui is a more offensive stance. They are named after Yokozuna by those names – though there is debate that there was a mix up and that each wrestler actually performed the other’s style.

Anyway, Hakuho performs the less common Shiranui style dohyo-iri and wears a Shiranui style rope which has two loops in the bow. I read somewhere there is a superstition that Shiranui has brought bad luck to previous Yokozuna who performed that style. It remains to be seen if Hakuho will escape such a fate.

January 10, 2012 Posted by | 2012, japan, japanese culture, japanese history, Japanese martial arts, martial arts, meiji shrine, sumo, tokyo, video, yokozuna | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Magome – Old Japanese Post Town in Kiso Valley

Magome is old Japanese Post Town on the old Nakasendo Road which used to connect Tokyo to Kyoto during the Edo Period (1603-1867). Travelers would stop at towns like Magome to stay the night and for checkpoint inspections as travel was highly regulated in those days.

Magome has some really nice old fashion buildings and the main part is closed to vehicle traffic. From Magome there is a two-hour hike to another post town, Tsugamo, but I didn’t have the right winter gear for it. Maybe next time.

February 11, 2010 Posted by | japan, japanese culture, japanese history, nagano, travel, video, vlog | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gokaicho: 7-year festival at Zenko-ji Temple in Nagano, Japan

Every seven years, at the temple of Zenko-ji in Nagano City they reveal a statue that is normally kept hidden. The statue is a 13th Century replica of a Buddhist statue which supposedly was the first Buddhist statue to officially come to Japan in the 6th Century.

This first introduction of Buddhism set off a religious war which was more about political power than anything else between the Soga clan and the Mononobe and Nakotomi clans. The statue got tossed into the river but was later fished out and ended up at Zenko-ji in Nagano. A replica was made during the Kamakura Period (1192-1333) and that one is revealed to the public every 7 years.

The 7 year festival occurred this year and the last time to see it was the end of May so I went there during May to get a glimpse of the statue and a glimpse at Japan’s history.

December 9, 2009 Posted by | buddhism, culture, festival, Gokaicho, japan, japanese culture, japanese history, nagano, travel, video, Zenkoji | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Look at the Northern Japanese City of Morioka

Morioka in northern Japan is the capital of the Iwate Prefecture. I went there recently for a festival where they burn makeshift boats for Obon – the festival for honoring their ancestors’ spirits.

In this video I take a look at the city of Morioka itself and talk a little about its past and some of its sites.

September 9, 2009 Posted by | history, iwate, japan, japanese culture, japanese history, morioka, tohoku, travel, video, vlog, youtube | Leave a comment

Japanese Golden Week

Golden Week is a spring holiday in Japan when many Japanese travel. May 3-5 and to some degree April 29th are national holidays and the whole country seems to move to the other side of the country. 

Here I talk about the tradition of Golden Week and the hassles of traveling during this time. Still it’s nice to get up to a week off, something we never get in the States.

Here I talk about How I spent my Golden Week Holiday past and present.

The first few years I worked or stayed home. In 2007, I started traveling going to a samurai festival in Yamagata Prefecture then another festival in Hiraizumi in Iwate.

In 2008 I saw ancient Imperial court music known as Gagaku and dance Bugaku at Meiji Shrine on Showa Day – April 29th. Then I went again to the samurai festival in Yamagata and a castle nearby. I went to Hiraizumi again and the day after to a replica of what Hiraizumi once looked like.

This year I went to Tohoku yet again starting in Kakunodate a town with samurai houses in Akita. After that I stopped by Lake Tazawa then went to a Jomon site, a stone circle in northeastern Akita that goes back over 4000 years.

I took a ferry boat from Aomori city that night to Hakodate and saw the last place of defense for the old followers of the Tokugawa Shogunate.

The next day I took a ferry to ShimoKita where I went to the land of ghosts known as Osorezan. It’s a smoky sulphuric dead landscape said to be where people go when they die.

June 10, 2009 Posted by | festival, Golden Week, hakodate, hokkaido, japan, japanese culture, japanese history, Jomon, tohoku, tokyo, travel, video, vlog | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

At New Year’s Japan Breaks Out the Paddles – Hagoita Ichi

At New Year’s Japan Breaks Out the Paddles
Traditional game paddle hagoita is decorated with kabuki actors, geisha, and celebrities


A market stall brimming with traditional Hagoita paddles

The Annual Hagoita Ichi Fair is held in Asakusa, Tokyo close to the New Year. Around the temple grounds of Senso-ji Temple dozens of market stalls are set up to display and sell their decorative hagoita. Hagoita in English is known as Battledore but this word doesn’t really help many people understand what a hagoita is either. It’s best to say that a hagoita is a wooden paddle or racket.


A Hagoita salesman peddling his wares

In the past, hagoita were used in the game hanetsuki which was similar to badminton. The game was played by girls around New Year’s. If a girl missed the shuttlecock (called a hane), her face would be smeared with ink. The game would go on until one girl’s face was covered with ink.


Hagoita paddles with modern cute characters

Hanetsuki also served as a ritual bestowing health upon the players and providing protection from mosquitoes. Because of this belief, the traditional present to a newborn baby girl is a hagoita which is seen as a good luck charm to protect the health of girls.


Anime characters from the past to the near present

Although hanetsuki declined in popularity, the hagoita became popular in their own right as ornamental pieces. In the Edo Period (1615-1867) decorative hagoita paddles were sold at traditional fairs known as hagoita ichi. Hagoita are decorated with portraits printed on fabric and pasted to a paddle in order to make them protrude like a relief.


Geisha have always been popular Hagoita designs

Hagoita range in all sizes from small hand-size ones to gargantuan ones nearly the size of a person. Hagoita run from about 500 yen (US$5) to 500,000 yen ($5000) for the extremely large ones.


Hagoita depicting popular Kabuki Characters

Popular Kabuki characters or actors are the traditional hagoita portrait along with Geisha. Some hagoita portray scenes from well-known Kabuki plays such as the Atsumori incident which occurred during the Gempei War (1180-1185).


Atsumori and Kumagai – two famous figures from Japanese history

Atsumori is a famous incident from the epic “Heike Monogatari” which tells of the war between the Genji and the Heike clans. At the Battle of Ichi-no-Tani, a Genji samurai known as Kumagai captured the young and elegant Heike warrior Atsumori. Taking in account the boy’s youth and having recently almost lost a son of the same age, the Kumagai wanted to release the boy but there were too many Genji warriors about. The boy’s fate was sealed either way.

Kumagai took the youth’s head humanely with dignity and respect. Kumagai shortly left the life of a samurai and retired to become a monk. The story of the incident has been popularized in Noh and Kabuki plays. At the Hagoita Ichi, one can find many hagoita paddles of all different sizes depicting this scene.


Two hagoita paddles portray a famous woodblock print of a Kabuki actor by Sharaku

Nowadays, Kabuki hagoita paddles will find themselves next to Hello, Kitty! hagoita along other new popular themes such as anime characters, sumo wrestlers, baseball players, and TV stars.


Modern Celebrities adorning Hagoita


A saleswoman standing amongst her hagoita

December 16, 2008 Posted by | art, Asakusa, hagoita, japan, japanese culture, japanese history, New Years, tokyo, traditional art, travel | , , , , , | 4 Comments

Kyoto’s Festival of Ages – Jidai Matsuri Part II

Kyoto’s Festival of the Ages
A look at the Jidai Matsuri (Festival of Ages) of Kyoto: Part II


An Imperial Guard – statues of these guards can be found at certain Shinto shrines

Court nobles and Imperial guards represent the Fujiwara Period (897-1185), a time when the powerful noble family, the Fujiwara, controlled the governance of the country as ministers to the imperial court. One of the most powerful Fujiwara ministers was Fujiwara-no-Michinaga (966-1027). He arranged to have his daughters marry the emperors and have his grandson of one of these unions ascend the throne. In time the Fujiwaras’ power weakened and they had to rely more often on the warrior families, chiefly the Heike and the Genji, to control the country. Eventually, the Fujiwara would be succeeded by the military Heike family who in turn were destroyed by the Genji in the Gempei War.


The fierce Tomoe Gozen – samurai warrior woman

Following in the train of the Fujiwara nobles comes some of the most famous women of Japanese history. Astride a horse dressed in samurai armor carrying the deadly long-bladed naginata is Tomoe Gozen. Tomoe fought beside her husband, Minamoto-no-Yoshinaka, as one of his most trusted captains in the Gempei War. In 1183, Yoshinaka captured Kyoto from Heike forces. His success went to his head and his ever-suspicious cousin, Yoritomo, ordered his half-brother, Yoshitsune, to destroy the would-be upstart. Tomoe fought gloriously in her husband’s last battle. Reports of her end are mixed. Some say she died in battle, others that she took Yoshinaka’s head with her and perished in the sea, and others say she ended her days as a nun.


Famous Writers of the 11th Century: Sei Shonagon and Murasaki Shikibu

The writers Sei Shonagon and Murasaki Shikibu follow the warlike Tomoe. Sei Shonagon (966-1025) was a sharp-witted lady of the court whose observations of courtly life are preserved in her famous work: “Makura-no-Soshi” (The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon). Murasaki Shikibu (980-1014), also a lady of the court, penned the internationally renowned classic, the “Genji Monogatari” (Tale of the Genji).


The first Shogun and his troops returning after a successful campaign

The next military procession is of the early samurai warriors of the 9th century led by General Sakanoue Tamuramaro. Sakanoue was the first military commander to be named “Shogun” by Emperor Kammu. Originally, the title “shogun” was given temporarily to military leaders to subdue the turbulent Ezo (Ainu) natives of Tohoku, the northern region of Japan. This procession depicts the triumphant return of the Shogun Sakanoue after a successful campaign.


A court noble from Kyoto’s early days

Court nobles wearing straight swords come next to greet the emperor of the early Heian Period (794-1185). The colors of their robes signify their rank.


Boys dressed in colorful costumes with bird wings on their backs

Children wearing colorful costumes with the wings of butterflies or mythical birds on their backs precede the arrival of the mikoshi (portable shrine) of Emperors Kammu and Komei.


Mikoshi – portable shrine – of the spirit of the first and last reigning emperors in Kyoto

The Shinko-Retsu (Procession of the Sacred Carriages) brings a close to the Jidai Matsuri. The two mikoshi transfer the spirits of Kammu and Komei to the Heian Shrine.


Late 8th Century Archer who guarded Emperor Kammu’s procession into Kyoto on Oct. 22, 794

Accompanying the mikoshi are 8th – 9th century archers from the Tamba region noted for their skills with the bow. When Emperor Kammu first moved the capital to Kyoto, these archers guarded his sacred procession into his new capital. And with their departure, the Festival of Ages with its glimpse into the past draws to a close.


A Poet of an earlier age peeks out at the modern world

October 30, 2008 Posted by | Blogroll, culture, festival, japan, japanese culture, japanese history, Jidai Matsuri, Kyoto, life, travel | , , , , | 1 Comment

Kyoto’s Jidai Matsuri – Festival of Ages Part 1

Kyoto Celebrates History with Festival Parade
Japan’s Imperial city on full display during ‘Jidai Matsuri’


An Imperial Princess with two attendants from yesteryear

Every year on Oct. 22, the city of Kyoto celebrates its long history with the Jidai Matsuri — “Festival of the Ages” — a long procession of participants dressed in the various fashions of Japanese history. The festival was created in 1895 to mark the 1,100 anniversary of the founding of Kyoto as Japan’s imperial capital.

On Oct. 22, 794, Emperor Kammu decided to relocate the imperial capital to what is today modern Kyoto. The imperial capital used to be 30 miles to the east in Nara, a city brimming with powerful, politically scheming Buddhist institutes. While the capital was in Nara (710-794) a certain amorous Buddhist priest nearly got himself named emperor by a lovesick empress. She died, however, before he could make his dream a reality and all the priest received was a swift banishment for his efforts. This incident and the strong influence of the Buddhist Temples on the imperial court, helped to prompt the move away from Nara.

The Imperial Court remained in Kyoto until 1867 when it was relocated to Tokyo. Kyoto was crushed by the news — even today some of Kyoto’s citizens will refer to Tokyo as the “new capital” despite the fact that all of Japan had been ruled from Tokyo since the beginning of the 17th century. Still, pride in their city is unflagging and a few decades later, Kyoto was seen celebrating its long and glorious history. In 1895, the Heian Shrine was constructed, which is a 2/3 scale model of the original imperial palace. The first Jidai Matsuri marked its opening.

The Heian Shrine and the Jidai Matsuri honor the spirits of Emperor Kammu (reigned 781-806) and Emperor Komei (1847-1866), the first and last reigning emperors of Kyoto. The participants in the procession represent famous moments and people who left their mark on Kyoto, Japanese history, and culture. The costumes are historically accurate and have been painstakingly recreated using traditional methods.

The Jidai Matsuri begins at Kyoto Gosho — the old Imperial Palace — and winds its long way to Heian Shrine. There are over 3000 participants in the Jidai Matsuri and the procession lasts for two hours. It takes the participants 2.5 hours to reach their destination at the Heian Shrine.

The Jidai Matsuri follows a reverse chronological order, starting in the mid 19th century and going backward to the founding of the city a thousand years earlier.

The first participants arrive in horse-drawn carriages that would have looked right at home in Victorian London, except for the dress of their passengers. Inside the carriages sit Japanese and foreigners dressed in kimono symbolizing the opening of Japan to the world in the 19th century.


Horsedrawn carriage with Japanese and Foreign Occupants from the Meiji Period

Behind them comes the Royal Army of the Meiji Restoration which fought against the Tokugawa Shogunate government in Tokyo in order to restore the power and dignity of the Imperial Court, led by Emperor Meiji. A number of Imperial supporters actually wanted Japan to remain closed off from the world but after the fall of the Tokugawa Shogunate, it became all too apparent that Japan could not remain isolated any longer.


Meiji Troops – they fought supporters of the Tokugawa Shogunate to restore the Emperor’s power

The Edo Period (1615-1866) is represented by a delegation from the Tokugawa Shogunate paying a visit to the emperor. In 1600 Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first Tokugawa Shogun, won a great battle at Sekigahara which assured his power as sole ruler of Japan. The emperor bestowed upon him the title of Shogun in 1603.


Representatives of the Tokugawa Shogunate

Though he retired in favor of his son two years later, Tokugawa still oversaw much of the governance of the country until his death in 1616. The seat of power for the Tokugawa Shogunate was Edo — modern day Tokyo. Tokugawa Ieyasu’s successors and their ministers were less inclined to deal with foreign affairs and so they passed a series of edicts which basically closed Japan off from the rest of the world for almost 250 years.

Another representative of the early Edo Period is Izumo-no-Okuni (1600) who was the originator of the art of Kabuki. She was once a maiden in the service of the Izumo Shrine, one of Japan’s holiest Shinto shrines, and became famous in Kyoto for her dancing. She created the first Kabuki dance with young women dressed as samurai. The dancing was apparently too distracting for the samurai and other men that the stuffy Tokugawa Shogunate banned women from the stage as of 1629. From then on, all roles, including those of the women, would be played by men.


Izumo-no-Okuni – creator of Kabuki dance with one of her players

A large ornate oxcart represents an official visit paid to the emperor by Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1590. Toyotomi arose to power from humble beginnings in the wartorn Sengoku (Warring States) Period. After the death of his lord, Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi continued his master’s work in uniting Japan under one banner.


A colorful wagon pulled by an ox

Under Toyotomi, the tea ceremony rose in popularity amongst the samurai and later other classes. Though a creative and innovative leader, in his later days he foolishly attempted to invade China through Korea, which bogged both countries down in needless destruction and death.

Following Hideyoshi is Oda Nobunaga. His entry into Kyoto in 1569 represented the culmination of many warlords’ life dream during the Sengoku Period. To be able to march into Kyoto and proclaim to fight in the emperor’s name was the ultimate sign of warlord’s success in those turbulent times. Many had been unable to do so because they were beset upon all sides by enemies.


Oda Nobunaga and his troops entered Kyoto in 1569

In 1560, a powerful warlord, Imagawa Yoshimoto, tried to march all the way to Kyoto but was killed enroute in a surprise attack by Oda Nobunaga. Oda fought many battles to quell the warlords who would not submit to his power — he even fought against the militant Buddhist clergy. His bloody career came to an end in 1582 when he was killed by one of his own generals in a surprise attack.

The gap in years shows with the arrival of Kusunoki Masashige, which jumps the procession back over 200 years to 1330. Kusunoki was a samurai of the early 14th century and fiercely loyal to the emperor. Japan was ruled at the time by the disintegrating Shogunate government in Kamakura (one hour south of Tokyo). Emperor Go-Daigo plotted to overthrow the Kamakura Shogunate, but was exiled. Kusunoki aided in the emperor’s escape and fought against Kamakura forces with skill and ingenuity.


The loyal Kusunoki Masashige

In 1333, the Kamakura Shogunate fell and Imperial power was restored, but only temporarily. Many samurai were dissatisfied with their reward for their aid and with the court noble’s high-handed attitude. One of the chief leaders at the time, Ashikaga Takauji, sided with the discontented samurai and drove Go-Daigo into exile where he set up a rival imperial court in the south which lasted several decades. Ashikaga Takauji then went on to set up a new Shogunate in the Muromachi district of Kyoto. He and his successors have been left out of the Jidai Matsuri entirely. I realized with this conspicuous absence that this “Festival of Ages” is not so much a celebration of Japanese history, but a celebration of Kyoto’s history and its emperor. Those who neglected the emperor have been left out of the procession.

However, in 2007 the gap between Oda Nobunaga and Kusunoki Masashige was finally filled with the added representation of the Shogun Ashikaga Takauji.


Ashikaga Takauji finally gets to appear in the Jidai Matsuri

As for the faithful Kusunoki Masashige, he remained loyal to Go-Daigo and died heroically in battle against Takauji’s forces in 1336. A statue of Kusunoki was erected in Tokyo nearly six centuries later to commemorate his selfless devotion.


Kusunoki Masashige’s colorfully-attired troops from the early 14th Century

Behind Kusunoki comes the Lady Shizuka, a famed Kyoto dancer of the late 12th century, who was the lover of the hero Minamoto-no-Yoshitsune. Hers is a sad story. Yoshitsune was a brilliant Genji general in the Gempei War (1180-1185) fought between the great families of the Heike and the Genji. His success, however, earned him the jealously and distrust of his half-brother, Yoritomo, the leader of the Genji. In 1185, Yoritomo forced his half-brother to flee and live like an outlaw.


Shizuka Gozen (Lady Shizuka): tragic herione of the late 12th Century

Four years later facing capture and certain execution, Yoshitsune committed suicide. Shizuka, pregnant with his child, was captured by Yoritomo. Reportedly, she danced for him and so charmed him that Yoritomo spared her life and that of her unborn child only if it was a girl. Unfortunately, the baby turned out to be a boy and was soon put to death so it would not grow to manhood and seek vengeance for its father.

Representing the Kamakura Period (1185-1333) are the Yabusame Archers. Yabusame is a Shinto ritual with military practicality. A Yabusame archer had to shoot an arrow at three targets spaced out along a track while riding a galloping horse. The first Kamakura Shogun, Minamoto-no-Yoritomo, encouraged his samurai warriors to practice Yabusame to keep their skills sharp. Yoritomo set his capital in the east in Kamakura away from what he thought of as the debilitating influence of Kyoto.

Sometime after Yoritomo’s death, the position of the Shogun was usurped by his wife’s family, the Hojo, who ruled in the name of the figurehead Shogun as Regent. They established a firm government that resisted an attempt by one emperor to overthrow them (which probably reflects the absence of the Hojo in the Jidai Matsuri) and two invasions by the Mongols. They were financially weakened by their efforts to defend Japan against the Mongols. Half-a-century later, the Kamakura Shogunate was overthrown by forces loyal to the emperor.


A Yabusame Archer and his retainers

October 27, 2008 Posted by | Blogroll, culture, festival, Festival of Ages, history, japan, japanese culture, japanese history, Jidai Matsuri, Kyoto, life, travel | , , , , , , | 6 Comments

A Japanese Beer Trilogy

Here’s a trilogy of videos on Japanese beer – one on beer vending machines in Kyoto, another one on a draft beer vending machine in Tokyo, and a final one on historical beers – beers with labels of famous people in Japanese history with short bios.

This first video is from BusanKevin in Kyoto talking about the wonders of outdoor beer vending machines in Kyoto on a hot day:

In response, I did a video on a draft beer vending machine I discovered in a pool hall in Tokyo a few nights ago.

Taste was not to bad but it gave me a huge head of foam which is quite common anyway even with live servers:

background music by Super Girl Juice

Later that same night I came across some “Historalicious” Japanese beer which were beer bottles with labels depicting famous people from Japanese history. Get your drink on while learning some Japanese history with Historalicious Japanese Beer – if you can read the bloody small cursive writing on the label:

Crack open a cold one and enjoy the Japanese Beer Trilogy!

August 17, 2008 Posted by | beer, Blogroll, culture, drinking, entertainment, japan, japanese beer, japanese beer vending machine, japanese culture, japanese history, life, shinsengumi, tokyo, travel, video, vlog, youtube | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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