Samurai Dave: The Roving Ronin Report

Rambling Narrative of Travels, Thoughts, and Embellishments

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

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

Cosplay Halloween 2012 – Tokyo Decadance

http://therovingroninreport.blogspot.com/2012/10/tokyo-decadance-halloween-2012-cosplay.html

Went to Tokyo Decadance’s recent Halloween bash. Here are the pics and video (including last year’s event). I went as a Pirate Samurai as a send-up to the Wako who were actual Japanese pirates many of them samurai 500 years ago.

 

November 28, 2012 Posted by | cosplay, japan, japanese culture, Japanese subculture, tokyo decadance | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Japanese Monks Cutting Bamboo Festival – Takakiri-eshiki

On June 20th, on Mt Kuruma north of Kyoto an interesting ritual is held where Japanese Buddhist monks hack at thick bamboo stalks in order to drive out evil and ensure good harvests. The ritual is known as Takekiri-eshiki and goes back over a thousand years.

The origin of the ritual is said to come from an encounter a monk had with two huge snakes in the 9th Century. The snakes were male and female and they no doubt saw the monk as a meal. The monk, however, was able to kill the male snake with a well-aimed prayer. The female snake pleaded for mercy and promised to guard the waters of the mountain.

In the Takakiri-eshiki ritual, bamboo stalks representing the male snake are cut by sword-wielding monks. There are two teams representing the ancient provinces of Omi and Tamba. It’s believed that whichever team cuts the quicker their represented area will have the better harvest.

For more photos:
Takakiri-eshiki photos

September 21, 2012 Posted by | buddhism, japan, japanese culture, Japanese festival, Kyoto, mt. kurama, travel | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Fuji Fire Festival

At the end of August at the foot of Mt Fuji the town of Fujiyoshida puts on a festival in order to save the inhabitants of Eastern Japan from the wrath of Fuji’s resident goddess. It’s believed that if the Fujiyoshida Himatsuri (fire festival) is not done properly that the mountain goddess will become enraged and Mt Fuji will erupt. 

The festival is over 500 years old but its origins stretch far, far back into a dim and misty age when gods walked the earth and man was but a dream. In those distant times, Ninigi no Mikoto, the grandson of the sun goddess Amaterasu-omikami, came down from the heavens to control the area that would be one day be Japan. He took the daughter of a mountain god as his wife whose name was Konohanasakuya-hime. Konohana became pregnant in one night which made her husband suspicious. She took offense at this and had a doorless hut made which she placed herself in. She claimed if the children were not Ninigi’s they would harmed by the fire she would set. She then had the doorless hut set on fire but delivered three healthy children thus proving her innocence and her children’s divine lineage. 

 At Fujiyoshida’s fire festival one of the main elements of the festival are the taimatsu torches which symbolize the fire Konohana lit to prove her innocence. The other elements are the mikoshi (portable shrine) which carries her spirit and the portable shrine which is shaped like Mt Fuji itself. 

Another name for the festival is Chinka Taisai which means “to  extinguish fire.” The purpose at the end of the festival is to ensure that Mt. Fuji will not erupt for another year.

Despite its serene appearance, Mt Fuji is actually an active volcano. Not active like a Hawaiian volcano but not dormant either. The last time Mt Fuji erupt was 300 years ago. According to the latest research, the pressure in the magma chamber is higher than the last eruption. Whether this means an eruption will occur soon or not remains to be seen.

For more photos:

http://therovingroninreport.blogspot.jp/2012/09/fuji-fire-festival.html

September 21, 2012 Posted by | japan, japanese culture, Japanese festival, japanese folklore, travel | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Yabusame at Nikko – Samurai Horseback Archery

Yabusame is Japanese horseback archery, a tradition that goes back well over 1000 years. The first samurai referred to their profession as “The Way of the Horse and Bow” – the sword as a principle weapon coming much much later.

This Yabusame event took place in Nikko which is 2 hours north of Tokyo. It’s the resting place of Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616), the first shogun of the Tokugawa Shogunate (1603-1867). The Ogasawara Ryu (school of archery) conducted the event. They do Yabusame there in May and October.

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September 14, 2012 Posted by | Archery, festival, japan, japanese archery, japanese culture, Japanese martial arts, samurai, travel, Yabusame | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Geisha Dance as Snow Falls

Maiko (geisha apprentice) dance while snowflakes fall at Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto accompanied with Japanese poetry on snow and winter.

March 2, 2012 Posted by | dance, Geiko, geisha, Geisha Dance, japan, japanese culture, maiko, poetry, snow, travel | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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 | , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Sumo: Asashoryu vs Hakuho – Yokozuna (Sumo Champion) Match at an outdoor sumo event

This is a little blast from the past – I was going thru some of my old archive footage and came across footage of an outdoor sumo exhibit from 2009 at Yasukuni Shrine that they do every April. I’ve gone to it a few times but only once got to see the two Yokozuna at that time face off against each other.

Usually you can only see Yokozuna fight each other on the last day of the tournament, a day which it is quite difficult to get tickets for so this was quite a treat. Yokozuna is a difficult position to reach and only a few ever reach it. There has been up to four Yokozuna at one time and there has been times when there has been none.

Asashoryu was Yokozuna from 2003-2010 and Hakuho has been one since 2007 so for only a short period of time could you see two Yokozuna compete since 2003.

For more sumo, check out this link to photos of Day 13 of the January 2012 tournament:

Sumo Photos

January 22, 2012 Posted by | 2009, asashoryu, japan, japanese culture, Sport, sumo, tokyo, yasukuni shrine, yokozuna, youtube | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2012 New Years Eve Celebrations in Tokyo

Rang in another year in Tokyo. Went to Yasukuni Shrine for the turning of the new year. They beat a drum in the shrine as people make their prayers. From there I took a quick jaunt into Roppongi then onto Tokyo Decadance Bar. Afterwards a number of us went to nearby local shrine.

2012 is the Year of the Dragon and it seems to be off to an auspicious start. Got woken up out of my stupor from a sizable earthquake. Hope there won’t be any repeats like last year!

Happy New Years!

January 11, 2012 Posted by | 2011, 2012, cosplay, culture, japan, japanese culture, New Year's Eve, New Years, tokyo, tokyo decadance | , , , , , | 1 Comment