Samurai Dave: The Roving Ronin Report

Rambling Narrative of Travels, Thoughts, and Embellishments

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

Samurai Festival – Soma Nomaoi 2008 Vlog Account

Soma Nomaoi is a samurai festival in the northern Japan area of Fukushima. It’s a 3-day festival with parades, horse races, mock battles, and wild horse catching.

This is a vlog account of the festival. I plan to get around and making a more indepth one sometime in the future.

The cicadaes are freaking loud in the background so they might drown me out at times.


August 13, 2008 Posted by | Blogroll, culture, entertainment, event, festival, fukushima, horse racing, horses, japan, japanese culture, japanese history, life, samurai, soma nomaoi, tohoku, travel, video, vlog, youtube | Leave a comment

Some Scenes from the Aoba Festival of Sendai

This is old, old footage taken before I had a video camera. I shot these scenes with a digital photocamera so they're very low-res. So watch it in HQ.

Anyway, these are some scenes from the first day of the Aoba Festival in Sendai which is several hundred miles north of Tokyo in the Tohoku region.

The festival celebrates the founder of the city - Date Masamune who was a warlord from the 16th-17th Century.

June 8, 2008 Posted by | Aoba Matsuri, Blogroll, culture, dance, Date Masamune, entertainment, festival, japan, japanese culture, japanese history, life, sendai, Suzume Odori, travel, video, vlog, youtube | 1 Comment

The Japanese Aoba Festival of Sendai

The Japanese Aoba Festival of Sendai
Sendai citizens dance to show their appreciation for their city’s founder

Sendai residents performing Suzume Odori – Sparrow’s Dance

One of the things I have always liked about Japanese festivals is their inclusive nature. Many people from all walks of life participate in festival performances not just professional entertainers. Sometimes it seems as though nearly half a city is participating in these festivals.

Even foriegner residents are often invited to join in with their local community festivities. Participation can range from folk dancing, singing, demonstrating martial arts, or carrying portable shrines known as a mikoshi.

Shoppers get a special treat as fan dancers parade down the arcade

In the northern city of Sendai, the Aoba Festival celebrates the anniversary of the death of the founder of the city, Date Masamune (1567-1636). Date Masamune was a warlord who fought and survived during Japan’s Warring States Period. In the peace that followed he founded the city of Sendai.

Fan Dancers dance in front of a festival float

The Aoba Festival has all the trappings of typical Japanese festivals – decorative floats, armor-wearing samurai processions, shrine parades, taiko drumming, and dancing performances. Unfortunately, I only caught one day of this three-day festival but what caught my attention the most was the hundreds of locals performing fan dances in large groups.

People of all ages were participating from the very young to the very old. Even junior high and high school students took part which surprised me as back home that age group is generally “too cool” to be part of a community event.

High school students performing a traditional dance

The most commonly performed dance at the Aoba Festival is a fan dance which is a local Sendai tradition going back 400 years. Date Masamune ordained a castle to be built in Sendai in the Aoba district. His stone masons are said to have created a special dance known as the Suzume Odori. Suzume Odori means the Sparrow’s Dance. Dancers mimic the movements of sparrows with their fans. The Sparrow incidentally is also the Date Family crest.

Mohawk Drummer leading the pack

Group after group of Suzume Fan Dancers parade through Sendia’s shopping district giving shoppers a show. Children and grandparents alike show off their dancing skills. Granted, the timing of some of the younger ones is a bit off but no one in audience really minds.

Even the wee ones get in on the fun

Date Masamune was a warlord of the Sengoku Period. This was an age of warring provinces where lords great and small struggled to expand or defend their territories. In an age of fighters, Date Masamune was one of the toughest. He survived small pox when he was young at the cost of one of his eyes. His mother spurned him and lavished her affection on his younger brother whom he was later forced to kill to perserve peace. His father was betrayed and murdered.

In his lifetime of war, though, Date witnessed the unification of the country under three successful warlords from the middle area of Japan. Date was clever enough to see which way the wind was blowing and offer allienge to Toyotomi Hideyoshi, one of the great unifiying lords, in 1590. This was when Toyotomi was mopping up the last resistance to his control. Still even with Toyotomi’s unquestionable control of the nation, Date dared to refuse the initial summons and later delayed again Toyotomi’s second summons to offer submission. Date expected death but his fearless candor impressed Toyotomi that nothing came of his disobedience. Date later served in Toyotomi’s disasterous Korean campaigns.

A spry elder struts his stuff

After Toyotomi’s death, Date sided with Tokogawa Ieyasu who eventually became Shogun and subsequently the ruler of all Japan. Date was awarded the lands around Sendai thus becoming one of Japan’s strongest lords. He quickly turned the fishing village of Sendai into a thriving capital.

Though a warrior, Date was farsighted and encouraged dealings with other nations far from Japan – Europe to be exact, sending an envoy to Italy. Unfortunately, his early attempts at globalization came at a time when the rulers of Japan were closing its doors. He was forced to curtail further attempts at international trade while banning Christianity which had made inroads into his domain. Still despite these setbacks, Date proved himself a capable administrator and a benevolent leader to his people. It’s small wonder that the descendents of his people still celebrate him to this day.


June 8, 2008 Posted by | Blogroll, culture, dance, festival, japan, japanese culture, japanese history, life, toyotomi hideyoshi, travel | , , , | 2 Comments

3 Drunk Gaijin chat about Penis Festivals, Anime, and Japanese History

This vid is from Givemeabreakman’s response channel Gimmeaflakeman.

This was after the Nagoya Penis Festival back in March where Victor, Daichen, and myself drink Old Crow Whiskey and chat about the penis festival, our dislike of anime, and japanese history. I do a 2-3 minute spiel covering the ages of Japan from beginning to present day.

Enjoy our drunken ramble!

May 11, 2008 Posted by | Anime, Blogroll, culture, drinking, entertainment, festival, japan, japanese culture, japanese history, life, matsuri, Nagoya, penis festival, travel, video, youtube | , , , | 1 Comment

Komuso Zen Priest Playing Shakuhachi Video

Komuso were Zen Buddhist Priests who used to travel about playing the Shakuhachi (Japanese Flute) for meditation and alms. Komuso means “Priest of Nothingness.”

I encountered this Komuso while I was in Nagoya. Komuso ceased to exist from the late 19th Century onwards.

The titles are bits of Zen sayings from samurai and Zen Masters. The subtitles tell the tale of the Komuso and their ultimate fate.

It’s up for possible airing at Current TV:

Register and hit the green “I like it!” button, please!

May 8, 2008 Posted by | Blogroll, buddhism, busking, culture, entertainment, flute, japan, japanese culture, japanese history, komuso, life, music, Nagoya, travel, video, vlog, youtube, zen | , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Chance Encounter with a Komuso Zen Priest – A Vision from Japan’s Past

Komuso – Japanese Zen Priest
A chance encounter with a vision from Japan’s past 

A vision from the past – A Komuso Zen Priest

While I was in Nagoya last month, I was walking to my temporary home for the night (i.e. an internet cafe) when I encountered a vision out of Japan’s past – a Buddhist priest playing a Japanese flute known as a Shakuhachi.

The Shakuhachi player was dressed as a Komuso, a type of Zen Buddhist priest who once wandered throughout Old Japan playing their flutes for alms and meditation. Like some kind of ghost, the komuso just stood there playing his flute while people walked around the him practically ignoring him as he ignored them. It seemed a thing unreal.

Komuso used to play the Shakuhachi (Japanese Bamboo flute) for alms and meditation

Centuries ago in Old Japan the streets of cities and villages were accustomed to the sight of a Buddhist priest playing a bamboo flute with his head completely covered by a straw hat. This was the Komuso. Komuso were Zen Buddhists priests who wandered about Japan playing the Shakuhachi for both meditation and alms.

Komuso belonged to the Fuke sect of Japanese Zen Buddhism. Fuke Zen comes from the teachings of Linji Yixuan, a Zen teacher from China in the 9th Century. Fuke however is the Japanese name for Pahua one of Linji’s peers and co-founders of his sect. Pahua would walk around ringing a bell to summon others to enlightenment. In Japan, it was thought the Shakuhachi could serve this purpose.

Komuso means “Priest of Nothingness”

Fuke Zen came to Japan in the 13th Century. The priest were known first as komoso which means “straw-mat monk.” Later they became known as Komuso which means “priest of nothingness” or “monk of emptiness.” Fuke Zen emphasized pilgrimage and so the sight of wandering Komuso was a familiar one in Old Japan.

Komuso practiced saizen which is meditation through blowing on the Shakuhachi as opposed to the sazen which is meditation through sitting as practiced by most Zen followers.

Komuso wore straw hats which hid their ego and their identity

The shakuhachi flute was the instrument used to achieve this desired state. Shakuhachi derives its name from its size. Shaku is an old unit of measure close to an American measurement of a foot. Hachi is eight which in this case represents the measurement of eight-tenths of a shaku. True Shakuhachi are made of bamboo and can be quite expensive going upwards to $5,000 in modern times.

Komuso wore a woven straw hat which covered their head completely looking like an overturned basket. The concept was that by wearing such a hat they removed their ego. What the hat also did was remove their identity from prying eyes. It’s no wonder that komuso was a popular disguise for spies and supposedly the deadly ninja.

Old and New Japan blending together

When the Tokugawa Shogunate came into power over a unified Japan at the beginning of the 17th Century, the komuso came under the government’s wary eyes. Many komuso had formerly been samurai during the Sengoku (Warring States) Period (16th Century) and were now lay clergy. The potential for trouble was there because many of them had turned ronin when their masters were defeated – most likely by the Shogunate and their allies.

The Shogunate instead of destroying this potential menace instead turned the komuso into a positive force, at least from their perspective. Therefore komuso were granted the rare privilege of traveling through the country without hindrance. The reason for this special permission was that many komuso had been co-opted into becoming spies for the Shogunate. And some were outright spies in komuso disguise.

Many Komuso were former samurai

Only true Komuso, though, could play the honkyoku which were musical pieces of such complexity that only those adept with the Shakuhachi could perform them. Sometimes komuso were asked to perform these pieces to see if they were true komuso or the Shogun’s spies in disguise. However, it mattered little as some of the true komuso were also on the Shogunate’s payroll.

Komuso could move freely throughout Old Japan unlike Ronin (masterless samurai)

In 1868 when power was relinquished by the Shogunate to the Emperor, the komuso bore a significant brunt of the animosity from Imperial forces. Komuso were so synonymous with spies for the Shogunate that the Komuso were utterly abolished in 1871 and even the playing of the shakuhachi as a solo instrument was prohibited for several years.

The komuso had meddled in the affairs of the secular world and ultimately paid the price for it. The practice of the Komuso did not die out entirely though and shakuhachi continues to be played for both entertainment and meditation.

Modern Komuso are faint echoes of their past

May 8, 2008 Posted by | Blogroll, buddhism, culture, flute, japan, japanese culture, japanese history, komuso, life, ninja, ronin, samurai, shakuhachi, spies, travel, zen | , , , , | 12 Comments

Golden Dragon Dance of Tokyo Video

Kinryu-no-Mai or Golden Dragon Dance is performed every year in Asakusa, Tokyo to celebrate the founding of Senso-ji Temple.

On March 18, 628 AD two fisherman found a small gold Buddhist statue in the river. Supposedely, a Golden Dragon appeared in the sky to mark the event. A temple was built for the statue and Asakusa grew from then on.

Music by the Secret Commonwealth:

The Secret Commonwealth

March 28, 2008 Posted by | Asakusa, buddhism, culture, dance, dragons, Golden Dragon, Golden Dragon Dance, japan, japanese culture, japanese history, Kinryu-no-Mai, Senso-Ji, tokyo, tradition, traditional art, travel, video, vlog, youtube | Leave a comment

The Golden Dragon Dance of Tokyo

The Golden Dragon Dance of Tokyo
Golden Dragon Dance Celebrates Asakusa’s Beginning

The Golden Dragon of Asakusa

Once a year in Asakusa, located in the northeast edge of Tokyo, a special kind of early spring ritual dance is held. The dance — called “Kinryu-no-Mai” in Japanese — is conducted not by people but by a golden dragon.

Naturally, it’s not a real dragon but the dance commemorates the visitation of a “real” dragon of golden hue that appeared over 1,300 years ago.

The golden dragon entertains the crowd.

The golden dragon of today is merely a diminutive representation of the mighty majestic beast that dropped from the heavens one day long ago. The copy is a mere 15 meters long and weighs in at 75 kilos, while the real one was reportedly 30 meters long and weighed who knows what.

The golden dragon at rest

What brought about this unexpected celestial visitation was the discovery of a small golden statuette of a Buddhist deity by two fishermen in the Sumida River on March 18, 628. The statue depicted Kannon, a popular deity known for her compassion in the face of human suffering.

Touching the dragon’s head is thought to bring good fortune.

This small statue was enshrined and the area later became a popular spot for pilgrims. Over time, the village of Asakusa expanded and its temple, Sensoji, where the statue was kept, grew in importance.

Had the visiting dragon been of Western extraction, it no doubt would have devoured the two fishermen on the spot and made off with the golden statue and taken it to its private hoard.

The golden dragon about to devour a photographer

Oriental dragons, however, are generally more benevolent. They’re known for dispensing wisdom and happiness rather than fire and poisonous fumes.

Golden dragons are rarely seen because they are often invisible. They only appear at certain moments to mark auspicious events, as one dragon did when the Kannon statue was found.

Ladies in Geisha costume provide the Golden Dragon with Traditional music to dance to

The golden dragon dance is held in honor of both the dragon’s visit and the statue’s discovery which basically help to create Asakusa. Eight men hold the dragon aloft on poles and twist it about while ladies made up like geishas play music on traditional instruments. The dragon dances three times before it disappears for another year.

A mural of the dragon dance on the wall of Asakusa Station

March 26, 2008 Posted by | buddhism, culture, dance, event, festival, japan, japanese culture, japanese history, tokyo, tradition, travel | 2 Comments

Samurai Dave meets Givemeabreakman at Japanese Penis Festival

I went to the Honen-Sai Fertility festival again in the Nagoya area. I bumped into a fellow Youtuber, Gimmeabreakman, who has quite a market share of subscribers and views. He does a number of videos on Japanese culture, language, and on the Youtube community.

Here’s a cool vid he just put up about this past Honen-Sai festival. Mine will probably be up in a few weeks as I have other vid projects to finish first.

Check out his Youtube page at:

March 16, 2008 Posted by | event, fertility, fertility festival, festival, japan, japanese culture, japanese history, life, matsuri, Nagoya, penis festival, travel, video, vlog, youtube | Leave a comment