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

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

2012 Emperor of Japan’s New Year Address

On January 2 the Japanese Emperor makes 5 appearances with members of the Imperial Household to give a short (emphasis on short) speech welcoming the New Year.

Although the Japanese Imperial system goes back well over a millenia, the tradition of making public addresses to gathered crowds only dates back to after WWII.

I’ve been to the New Years Address about 4-5 times now. The interview footage is from the 2009 and 2010 speeches.

This year however was different than previous years and the Emperor made direct mention to the Earthquake of March 11th and the continual suffering of those directly affected by it.

January 10, 2012 Posted by | akihito, blog, Blogroll, japan, Japan Earthquake, Japan Vlogger, japanese culture, japanese emperor, japanese imperial palace, New Years, tokyo, tokyo imperial palace, video, vlog | , , , , | Leave a comment

Happy New Years 2011 From Tokyo!

Happy New Years from Tokyo! Here are a few scenes of me celebrating the new year in a couple of places from one of my old watering holes when I used to live in Otsuka the Black Sheep in Ikebukuro where I did the countdown. Then I moved on to Shinjuku to Decadance Bar which is like a mini-Tokyo Decadance event every weekend.

At the end of the night I ended up in Roppongi fairly hammered before stumbling back home and missing my connection stop. All in all, a good time! Happy New Years!

From some other New Years Activities in the past:

New Years Eve at Zojo-ji Temple in Hamamatsucho

New Years Day Activities at Yasukuni Shrine

January 2, 2011 Posted by | 2010, 2011, culture, drinking, japan, japanese culture, New Year's Eve, New Years, party, tokyo, tokyo decadance, travel, video, vlog, yasakuni shrine, youtube, zojo-ji | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Some New Years Activities at Yasukuni Shrine

Over the New Years holiday, I visited the controversial Yasukuni Shrine for some of their New Years activities that they had over 3 days. Martial arts, shamisen, dance, archery, sword-making, and head biting lion dogs Yasukuni had it going on.

January 6, 2010 Posted by | japan, japanese archery, japanese culture, Japanese martial arts, New Years, tokyo, travel, video, yasakuni shrine | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Happy News Years!!! Welcome 2010!!!

Just a quick Happy New Years message from yours truly, Samurai Dave! Let’s hope the next decade is better than the last one! Happy New Years!!!

January 2, 2010 Posted by | 2010, japan, New Year's Eve, New Years, tokyo, travel, video | , , , | Leave a comment

Remembering the Millenniums (2000&2001)

The first decade of the 21st Century is drawing to a close. 10 years ago the world waited with anticipation for the year 2000. Some with hope, some with dread. Many thought the world would end either by God’s doing or by faulty computers. Remember Y2K? Anyway 2000 came and went as did 2001 for those crusty pedantic people who maintain 2001 was the real first year of the millennium – though all the big soiree were scheduled on New Year’s Eve 1999 (as Prince would have wanted it).

Where were you when the new Millennium dawned? Were you partying it up like there would be no tomorrow as some prophesied or were you at home cleaning the guns waiting for the Apocalypse of civilization?

I was at a New Age Concert thrown at the Pyramids of Giza.
Millennium at the Pyramids

For the 2001 New Years, I was working at a country&western club in Austin, Texas getting my lip chewed on by some tasty fillies.

Post your comments or video responses on your memories of what you were doing when the Millennium(s) dawned.

An account of my 2001 New Years’ experience and my disappointment of not having a hover car.

I threw a bone up into the air, and it still came down a bone

Well the New Year has dawned and still no Apocalypse.
Damn, I was so looking forward to rioting and looting!
I finally had to cancel my subscription to the “Y2K
Survival” Magazine. 

It’s 2001. Where the hell is my hovercar? Wow, hey,
guess all those past predictions about this year have
become pretty disappointing. No moon bases, hover
cars, ray guns, alien invaders, flashy futuristic jump
suits, black monoliths, or world peace (ha! we were so
naive back then). 

[NOTE: I had no idea how bad things were going to get 9 months down the road that year]

I worked security at Dallas, a country/western club
my uncle manages in Austin, TX. I wore a white tux
shirt with a black bow tie, cowboy boots and a black
cowboy hat (and trousers of course). I looked more
like a stripper at Chippendale’s than club security.

It was my job to check IDs and walk around breaking up
any fights. As these Texans tend to be rather big and
my karate a bit rusty, my plan was if a fight broke
out let them beat each other senseless then go over
and kick them in the balls. Granted, it wasn’t much of
a plan but at least I had one.

I drank too many cheap champagne toasts when the New
Year struck so I was buzzing when they put me back on
the door. I tried hiding this but it was hard when new
arrivals showed up and I greeted them with a “What the
hell do you want?” instead of “Hi! Welcome to Dallas
etc…”

Some inebriated young filly gave me a New Year’s kiss
that practically turned into a New Year’s mauling. She
damn near chewed my bottom lip off then tried to
convinced me that I liked it. She couldn’t possibly
have known that I had given S&M up as my New Year’s
Resolution.

She later staggered out of the club with the
assistance of her friends and to assure us at the door
everything was under control she said: “It’s ok, I’m
the designated driver.” Ah, my lips still bleed when I
think of her!

I left Austin Jan 4 heading back to Tennessee. The
miles clicked slowly past as the gene pool drew
steadily shallower while I drove through Louisiana,
Mississippi, and Alabama. Near the Alabama/Mississippi
border around 2 am, I came to the conclusion that
admiring deer while driving was hazardous especially
when they are standing in the middle of the freeway
and you’re doing 75 miles per hour. In trying to avoid
God’s simple yet stupid creature, my car swerved left
and right then completely around. (A Hovercar would
have been helpful at this point) I was now continuing
on my journey which was fine except I was going
backwards at 70-75 m.p.h. In this harrowing near death
experience the only lofty soul-searching thought that
ran through my head at the time was: “Well, this isn’t
good.”

My car must have had the same thought because it went
off the road and crashed into the woods. I actually
was able to drive off minutes later. My driver’s side
mirror had been sheared off but the rest of the car
was fine except for the mashed up front end but that
was from an earlier encounter with an inbred that
couldn’t read Stop signs.

Damn flea-ridden beast! To think I once cried when
they shot Bambi’s mother. Now I wish I had pulled the
trigger myself!

As no one was around when it happened, had I been
forced to shuffle off this mortal coil no one would
have ever known what had happened. If ever I do pass
the way of all flesh in a similar manner you know the
deer are behind my vehicular demise and I hope some of
you will wreck unholy vengeance upon their misbegotten
tasty hides in my name.

At least I lived to tell the tale. For a bit I was
wondering if perhaps I was dead living out some
bizarre Jacob Ladder-like pre-Afterlife until I pulled
over at a truck stop at the next exit. The singing
fish display, the bumper stickers that said “My other
car is also a piece of shit”, and the mud flaps with
naked women silhouettes reassured me I was still in
the land of the living. No self-respecting Afterlife
Limbo dimension would display such vulgar items and
even Hell wouldn’t be so tacky.

I hope no one else had such a close shave from the
Reaper’s scythe.

December 31, 2009 Posted by | 2000, 2001, blog, Blogroll, egypt, great pyramid, humor, Middle East, Millennium, New Year's Eve, New Years, travel, video, vlog | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

2009 New Years at Zojo-ji, A Japanese Temple in Tokyo

With the New Year coming up, I thought I’d dredge up some of my unused footage from this year and show how and where I rang in 2009. For those of you in Tokyo this New Years, Zojo-ji Temple in Hamamatsucho is worth a visit as they have lots of activities going on from Buddhist priests chanting, mochi-making, hatsumode (New Years Prayer), hot sake drinking, burning old New Year charms, ringing the huge bell, and selling charms and food.

December 30, 2009 Posted by | 2009, buddhism, japan, japanese culture, New Year's Eve, New Years, tokyo, Tokyo Tower, travel, video, vlog, zojo-ji | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Japanese Devils Scare the Laziness out of Kids

Japanese Devils Scare the Laziness out of Kids
Namahage – Japanese Devils with a Strong Work Ethic

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Namahage – the bane of lazy children

“Twas the night before my skinning…”
Imagine you were a young child living in the Northwestern part of Japan on the small peninsula of Oga. It’s the holiday season and instead of waiting eagerly for fat jolly old elf with a sack full of toys to bring you presents, you’re dreading the arrival of a bunch of hairy scary devils with a handful of butcher knives who threaten to peel off your skin if you’ve have been lazy all year. It makes the lump of coal Santa Claus leaves with naughty children pale in comparison. If you can get your head around that, perhaps you can understand this bizarre bit of psychological child abuse known as the Namahage.

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Part of the Oga Welcoming Committee

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Namahage come in a variety of shapes and colors throughout Oga

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The Namahage are Japanese devils who visit villages on the Oga peninsula every New Year’s Eve. They wear straw coats, carry large kitchen knives, and wooden buckets. They come in the night down from their mountain homes howling and waving torches. The Namahage burst into homes stomping about looking for lazy children. If the children are hiding, the Namahage will flush them out threatening to take them into the mountains.

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Namahage are your childhood nightmares in the flesh

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Namahage stomps around the house looking for hiding children

The head of the household will try to appease the devils with a specially prepared meal accompanied with sake. He assures them that no one has been lazy in his household. Then the Namahage seeing all from their mountaintop look into their secret book which records the doings of every household and challenge that statement. The head of the household again promises that all have been obedient and hard-working and pleads with the devils not to take his wife and children into the mountains. It takes considerable effort to control these devils with their strong work-ethic.

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Hard Negotiations with Namahage

As the negotiations drag on, the head of the household offers more sake and along with mochi – rice cake – while begging that his wife and child not be taken away. Eventually the Namahage relent placated by the offerings and the sincerity of the head of the household. They bless the next year’s harvest and wish good health to all the members of the household. As the Namahage leave, they promise (or rather threaten) to return next year.

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Devils Coming Thru!

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Namahage – Oga’s unofficial ambassador

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For children the whole experience can be rather nerve-wracking. When the Namahage arrive they immediately seek out any hiding children and make as though they will take off with them right then and there. The parents or grandparents make a show of trying to save their child without much luck and only through careful negotiation amply accompanied with sake are they successful. Thus children learn gratitude for being saved from drudgery of working in the mountains for the harsh Namahage.

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In the old days, Namahage terrorized both lazy children and wives

In olden times, communities in areas such as Oga could not afford the luxury of laziness especially with the winters as long and harsh as they are. It’s not difficult to understand why community leaders would have gone to such efforts to instill a strong work ethic in their youth. Today the ritual is traditional. In the past it was a more serious matter – teaching the youth to work hard for their community’s survival and their own.

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Namahage have a strong work ethic

The original legend runs that the Namahage Devils arrived from China and caused the people of Oga much trouble. A deal was struck between the people and the Namahage that if the Namahage could build a thousand-step staircase for the main shrine in a single night, the people would supply them with a young woman every year; but if they failed, they would leave the people alone. The Namahage readily agreed and set to work.

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Namahage working hard to win their wager

The lusty devils were so efficient that by the end of the night they had only one stone left to lay before dawn even hinted in the sky. One fast-thinking person however came to the rescue and mimicked the cry of a rooster thus signaling that dawn had arrived. The Namahage, believing they had lost, left and went into the mountains but they return every year for their pound of flesh.

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A Namahage hears a mimicked rooster and thinks they have lost

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The Namahage go into the mountains but promise to return once a year

There are several theories as to the origins of the Namahage. One theory is that Namahage are derived from an ancient mountain deity. There are many native traditions of gods coming for a visit – though not quite with the fanfare of the Namahage. Another theory is that they are based on Yamabushi – shinto priest who leaved hermit-like existence in the mountain.

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Yamabushi – Shinto Hermit Priest – one suspect for the Namahage origin

Yet another theory hints that the Namahage might be based on shipwrecked sailors from Europe most likely Russia. Given the age of festival, it could be that they were those hardy explorers, the Vikings. It would explain the trouble they caused probably in foraging raids and the bet with the supply of woman.

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Shipwreck Foriegners might be another possible origin of the Namahage

The name “namahage” comes from the local dialect. “Nama” refers to the patch of skin that forms on the skin if someone sits too long at the fire ie being lazy. “Hage” means to scrap away the mark. This is why the Namahage carry their large knives to scrape away the laziness of their victims.

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Namahage carry large knives to scrape the laziness from victims

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For travelers, New Years is not a good time to see Namahage as it’s primarily a private affair. Participating households don’t want a bunch of camera-flashing tourists to ruin the effect of scaring their kids straight. Some of the local hotels arrange Namahage visitations but given it’s the New Years the whole thing can be rather pricey. Fortunately for the Namahage-seeker, there is the Namahage Museum in Oga where year-round, they can see a performance of the New Years’ event sans the crying children.

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Making a Namahage Mask at the Namahage Museum

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Visitors can become a Namahage at the Namahage Museum

In February, there is the Sedo Matsuri or simply the Namahage Festival which takes place next to the Namahage Museum in Oga. In the evening several men come down a hillside wearing straw coats. Near the shrine, two Shinto priests bless Namahage masks then precede to mask the men. Once they are all masked, they begin stomping and howling. Thus the Namahage are born.

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Dancing Devil

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A little while later they come down again with blazing torches. While young children cry and hide, others chase after the Namahage seeking to grasp a straw from their coats for good luck. Some of the Namahage dance, some of them play Taiko drums, and some of those of softer disposition play Rock, Paper, Scissors with children brave enough to match wit and hand with the Namahage.

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Namahage playing Rock, Paper, Scissors

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Drumming Devils

At the end of the festival, a priest presents an offering of mochi – rice cake – burnt black on a fire. The Namahage grudgingly accept the offering then return to their mountain lair. But everyone knows the Namahage keep watch on them and will be back without fail next year.

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Priest offering mochi to Namahage

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The Namahage promise/threaten to return next year

March 4, 2009 Posted by | Akita, culture, devils, drums, event, festival, folklore, japan, japanese culture, music, Namahage, New Years, Oga, Only in Japan, Roving Ronin Report, taiko, tohoku, tradition, travel, video, vlog, winter, youtube | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

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