Samurai Dave: The Roving Ronin Report

Rambling Narrative of Travels, Thoughts, and Embellishments

Snowy Tokyo on Leap Day

Leap Day let its presence be known in Tokyo with a sudden snow shower that blanketed the city. I went around and took some photos and videos of certain spots. In the past several years, snowfalls in Tokyo have become somewhat rarer than in the past.

 

ImageImageImageImageImage

For more photos check here: Snowy Photos of Tokyo

Advertisements

March 6, 2012 Posted by | japan, snow, tokyo, travel | , , , , , , | 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

Ryuhyo – Japanese Drift Ice in Hokkaido

Japanese Drift Ice – Ryuhyo

Ryuhyo is drift ice that appears along the northern coast of Hokkaido (in northern Japan) in the Sea of Okhotsk from about late January to early April. Visitors can take hour-long cruises on ice-breaking ships from northern coastal towns like Abashiri. Drift ice is important to the region’s ecosystem because it helps plankton grow which are the base of the food chain for the region. Unfortunately in recent years Global Warming has reduced the amount of drift ice.

This footage is from about 2 years ago that I just now got around to editing. I was in Hokkaido for the Yuki Matsuri/Snow Festival and decided to go to Abashiri to see the drift ice. This was actually my second time having gone before a few years earlier. I was lucky on both occasions to see the drift ice because some days you can’t see it as it depends on the weather and wind conditions.

March 2, 2011 Posted by | abashiri, drift ice, global warming, japan, nature, Ryuhyo, Sea of Okhotsk, snow, video, winter | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Japanese Igloo Festival – Kamakura Matsuri in Yokote

Japanese Igloo Festival
Kamakura Matsuri

Image
Kamakura Matsuri – Japanese Igloo Festival in the northern Japanese city of Yokote

In the small city of Yokote in northern Japan, the citizens eschew the modern conveniences of warm homes in the middle of February and pile into small snow huts known as Kamakura. It’s the Kamakura Matsuri and they’ve been doing this for over 400 years.

Image
Sori – old fashion sled for transporting toddlers and supplies

Image

Image
Kamakura occupants wearing old fashion hanten coats or donbuku in the Akita dialect

These Kamamura-style igloos are two meters in diameter made of piled-up snow which is then later hollowed out. Inside is a charcoal brazier in the middle to keep the place warm. The temporary inhabitants of these Kamakura sit on cushions while cooking sweet mochi which is a type of a chewy rice cake and heating up a type of non-alcoholic sweet-tasting type of sake known as amazake.

Image

Image

Image

On the far side wall is a makeshift altar to Suijin-sama, the Shinto god of water. One of the origins of the festival is that one time Yokote suffered from a lack of drinking water and the Kamakura were erected to get Suijin-sama’s attention. Suijin-sama’s attention is also requested in the form of rain in order to provide enough water for the coming planting season.

Image

Image

Image

Visitors are invited to enter the Kamakura and freely partake of the mochi and amazake. Many of the occupants of the Kamakura are rather short. This is due to the fact that many local children play house in the snow huts. They are the hosts and hostesses which explains why it’s hard to find hot sake or beer in many of the Kamakura. The ones with bigger inhabitants will sometimes have the necessary liquid refreshment.

Image
Cooking mochi

Image

Image

In addition to the charcoal braziers, the locals stay warm by wearing a straw cape called mino and a traditional winter coat known as a hanten. Hanten is a short winter coat with thick cotton padding which became popular in the 18th Century. In the Akita dialect it is called a donbuku or donbugu by older generations.

Image

Image
Yokote Castle 

Image

Most of the Kamakura snow huts can hold up to about 4-6 people but at the end of the evening I ended up in one that held 17 people! These were all full grown people so there was booze a-plenty leaving me very warm that cold night but with a raging headache the next morning.

Image

Image

Image

The Kamakura Festival is a simple but beautiful festival and it’s very friendly and inviting. The festival is held every year February 15th and 16th from 6pm to 9pm.

Image
Hundreds of miniature kamakura dot the city of Yokote

Image

February 27, 2010 Posted by | Akita, festival, japan, japanese culture, Kamakura Matsuri, matsuri, snow, snow festival, tohoku, tradition, travel, video, vlog, winter, Yokote | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

A Snowy Tokyo Evening on the way to the bus station

Wonder upon wonder! It was snowing in Tokyo on the evening of the first of February! Unfortunately I couldn’t fully enjoy it because I had to catch an overnight bus to Kyoto.

A week ago I complained on Rodger Swan’s last video before he passed away that we had no snow in Tokyo and now here we have snow. Probably just a coincidence but I thank Rodger all the same for sending Tokyo a little winter beauty.

I actually edited and uploaded this on said overnight bus.

February 2, 2010 Posted by | japan, snow, tokyo, travel, video, vlog | , , , , | 1 Comment

Japanese Snow Lantern Festival in Hirosaki

Japanese Snow Lantern Festival
Brightening up the Winter Sky

user posted image
Snow Lantern Festival of Hirosaki

Winters are long in Tohoku, the northern region of mainland Japan. Snow and ice are common fare there. A skier’s boon but a common man’s burden. In ages past before sports skiing and winter fashion, winter was something to be dreaded and suffered through. It is no wonder that a multitude of snow festivals dot the Tohoku region. These festivals are the locals’ way of making Winter seem little less unfriendly and little less bleak.

user posted image
Hirosaki Castle

user posted image

One such festival takes place in the city of Hirosaki in the Aomori Prefecture which is the northernmost area of the Japanese mainland. Capitalizing on the beauty of winter, residents of Hirosaki create lanterns made completely made of snow in early February.

user posted image

user posted image

user posted image

The lanterns for the most part resemble the type of lantern found in Japanese gardens and shrines. There are hundreds of these spread through the grounds of Hirosaki Castle. Some of the snow lanterns however are rather avant-garde shaped with just a hint of the essence of a traditional stone lantern.

user posted image
Avant-Garde Snow Lantern

user posted image
Mickey Mouse Snow Lantern Shows Off Japanese Obsessive Love for all Things Disney

Where in the stone lanterns there would be empty spaces for the placing of candles, painted portraits are set. The portraits resemble closely that of Hirosaki’s Neputa Festival in Early August. The Neputa Festival consists of large oval shaped floats with painted scenes from Japanese and Chinese stories.

user posted image
Snow Lantern with Mt. Iwaki

user posted image

The Snow Lantern Festival’s portraits depict the faces of Japanese women, samurai, and legendary Chinese heroes from the works of the Three Kingdoms and the Outlaws of the Marsh. In the evening, they are illuminated from within much in the same way the Neputa floats are.

user posted image

user posted image

user posted image

While the Neputa Festival goes back centuries, the Snow Lantern Festival goes back only decades – three to be exact. The Festival started in 1977 as a way to bring the community together during the long cold winter. It has since become one of the five biggest snow festivals in the Tohoku area.

user posted image
One of the few non-lantern structures to be seen at the festival

user posted image

Throughout the Festival, local volunteers patrol the grounds looking to repair the lanterns and clearing the pathways. They place the portraits on the lanterns and fasten them in place with short bamboo sticks. Across the old moat, dozens of small kamakura – or snow huts – are set up each with an individual candle.

user posted image
A Volunteer Repairs a Snow Lantern

user posted image
Three hundred miniature Kamakura snow huts dot the the bank of the castle moat

Hirosaki’s Snow Lantern Festival may not be a major extravaganza like the Snow Festival a little further north in Sapporo but it has a pleasant charm of its own. The Snow Lantern Festival in this respect represents the Japanese character best – simple but elegant; the quintessential concept of Japanese wabi-sabi.

user posted image

user posted image

user posted image

The only drawback to all this charm and elegance, however, is the music they choose to play in the background. Instead of playing traditional Japanese music particularly the guitar-like shamisen which Hirosaki is known for, they play less than quality modern music that is a cross between old style enka and modern pop music from mediocre artist without financial clout to sue the city for playing their music.

user posted image

user posted image

Music aside, the illuminated snow lanterns and the miniature kamakura snow huts with Hirosaki Castle as a backdrop make for a winter fairy-tale land.

user posted image

user posted image

February 22, 2009 Posted by | culture, event, festival, hirosaki, history, japan, japanese culture, matsuri, snow, snow festival, snow lantern festival, tohoku, travel, video, vlog, winter, youtube | , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Juhyo – Japanese Monster Trees!!!

Juhyo: Japanese Monster Trees
In winter mild-mannered conifers become hulking monstrosities of snow and ice


Strangely-shaped trees called Juhyo (monster trees) lurk on Mount Zao.

They’re out there lurking in the dark, in the desolate wilderness of winter — the beautiful and eerie offspring of Yuki Onna, the Japanese snow woman spirit. They are the Juhyo, or monster trees. Every winter the trees of Mount Zao in the Yamagata Prefecture undergo a shocking transformation. From mild-mannered conifers, these trees become hulking monstrosities of snow and ice.


Heading up to the summit and the land of the Juhyo.

What makes the trees into monsters is a wintery cocktail of snow and ice shaken and stirred by a blustery freezing Siberian wind. The snow and ice cakes the conifer trees so completely that often the original shape of the tree is so distorted that’s it unrecognizable as such.

To the Japanese, trees in Japan often have a spiritual nature. At many Shinto shrines, trees are venerated as having a kami or type of spirit. One type of spirit is a kodama and it is believed that to cut down a tree containing such a spirit will bring about bad luck, so they are marked off with sacred rope. As with many spirits in Japan, these tree spirits can be beneficial, dangerous or neutral.


Juhyo Kogen – Monster Tree Plateau.

In rural areas, it was thought that if trees reached a thousand years of age, they could come alive, particularly at night, and some were quite dangerous. Woodcutters out after dark had to be extra cautious of running afoul of these creatures.


Me and the Juhyo.

Fortunately for visitors, the Juhyo monster trees are apparently dormant, content to stand still showing off their weird and beautiful shapes. In this respect the Juhyo resemble the snow spirit Yuki Onna. Yuki Onna is the female personification of winter in Japan. On one hand she represents the haunting beauty of snow and ice in her form as a beautiful pale woman with red lips and black hair.

On the other hand she represents winter’s deadlier side as she would freeze her hapless victims to death with her breath or she would lead them astray so they would perish in the wilderness. Like Yuki Onna, the Juhyo are beautiful in their odd way but they serve to remind viewers of the fate that awaits anyone who stays too long out in winter’s domain.

While the monster trees may be docile, the weather is not. Visitors may either encounter perfect weather with sunny clear blue skies in which to view the Juhyo or face freezing cold winds and such thick fog that they can barely see past their nose.


A Christmas tree gone over to the Dark Side.

I had the misfortune of it being a day with weather of the latter sort. The monster trees were practically swallowed by the swirling white mist. The main path was closed off to keep visitors from getting lost and becoming monster trees on their own. Luckily for us monster-hunters, there was a sizable herd of Juhyo next to the visitor center.

During the day — if you could even call it day — the wind was fierce. My face, feet and hands kept freezing while my glasses kept fogging up. It took quite a bit of hot sake back at the center to get the warmth back into my cold bones.


A dinosaur tree?

In the evening, the monster trees really come to life when the visitor center illuminates them with an array of multi-colored lights. At this time the trees really take on the shape of things unearthly. To me, the Juhyo don’t resemble monsters as much as they do the terrain of some alien landscape on another planet.


The Juhyo look like the bizarre terrain of an alien landscape.

The Juhyo are atop Mount Zao in the northern prefecture of Yamagata. Zao, like many mountains, is actually a volcano and an active one at that. The Juhyo can be seen at Zao Onsen, which is reachable, by bus from Yamagata City station. Take the cable car of the Zao Ropeway to the midway point and get on the Sanroku Line, which goes to the top to the Juhyo-kogen: Monster Tree Plateau. The Juhyo exist from mid-January to mid-March depending on current weather conditions.


Juhyo Godzilla

March 18, 2008 Posted by | japan, juhyo, monster trees, Mt. Zao, nature, snow, tohoku, travel, winter, Yamagata, Yuki Onna, Zao Onsen | 3 Comments

Setsubun – Japanese Spring Cleaning Exorcism (Vlog Video)

https://samuraidave.wordpress.com/2007/02/06/setsubun-devils-driven-out-in-japanese-spring-ritual/
Setsubun is February 3rd and it’s kind of like Groundhog Day, New Years, and Halloween all rolled up into one. It’s a day where Japanese seek to drive Oni or Devils from their homes by throwing beans at them. Oni don’t like beans – makes them go blind apparently.

Also many temples and shrines have mami-maki which is where people throw beans and other items at gathered crowds. To catch these items is to bring you good luck all year.

This Setsubun a sudden snowstorm struck in Tokyo. A rather ominious sign as the Setsubun is a Spring Ritual and exorcising the devils is like driving Winter out. I think it was a sneak attack by the Setsubun Devils myself. However the ritual must have worked because the next morning the sun was out.
Background music by Super Girl Juice:
http://www.sgchannel.com

February 7, 2008 Posted by | culture, demons, devils, event, festival, folklore, japan, japanese culture, life, oni, Setsubun, snow, spring, tokyo, tradition, travel, video, vlog, winter, youtube, zojo-ji | Leave a comment

Devils Make Sneak Attack on Japanese Spring Ritual – Setsubun

Sudden Snowstorm Interrupts Japanese Spring Ritual
Sneak attack by Setsubun Devils?

user posted image
Setsubun Devils enjoying the sudden snowstorm in Tokyo

A sudden snowstorm swept in silently and swiftly during the early morning hours in Tokyo this Feb. 3. Three centimeters of snow covered the capital in a fairly heavy snowfall. Train services were disrupted, traffic backed up, flights were cancelled, and at least 100 people were injured. Although snow is not unusual in Tokyo, these days, however, snow has become less common over the years. Last year it only snowed once and very briefly at that.

user posted image
Sudden snowfall in Tokyo at Senso-ji Temple

user posted image
Shrine attendants work to clear a path

What makes this snowfall particularly significant if not ominously suspicious was the date. Feb. 3 is the Japanese holiday of Setsubun, a day when Japanese seek to drive bad luck out of their homes and bring in happiness. Setsubun is a more active version of Groundhog Day where Japanese take matters into their own hands to try and bring an earlier end to winter. On the old Japanese calendar, Setsubun was considered the day before Spring – despite the real Spring being a few more weeks away.

user posted image

user posted image
Praying to a snowy Buddha for perhaps warmer weather

The bad luck is represented by Oni – Japanese devils. There are many devils in Japanese folklore which can be good, bad, or neutral. The Setsubun Devils are known for being one of the bad ones. They are typically believed to be invisible intangible spirits that will inhabit places to bring misfortunate to all if they are not driven out. Their visible appearance is that of a shirtless devil with horns, shaggy hair, sharp claws and teeth, and wearing tiger pants. They come in red, green, and blue colors. If their sharp teeth and claws aren’t enough, they have heavy iron-studded clubs as well. This fierce creature is partially based on the Chinese Zodiac signs of the ox (ushi in Japanese) and tiger (tora in Japanese). Ushitora is related to “North Gate.” North was considered a very unlucky direction in Ancient China (probably because so many invaders came from that way) and this belief was adopted by the Japanese in the 8th and 9th Centuries.

user posted image
A Snow-covered Kabuki Star

user posted image
Snow at Senso-ji Temple is Asakusa, Tokyo

Along with bad luck, Setsubun Devils represent Winter and the old year too. The ceremony of driving the devils out symbolizes the ending of Winter and the coming of Spring while making everything new for the New Years. Setsubun is close to the Chinese New Years and before Japan switched to the Western calendar system, Setsubun was the day before the Chinese New Year. Japanese want their homes to be free of all the old bad feelings of the previous year. Setsubun is a bit of “out with the old; in with the new” of New Years, spring cleaning, and exorcism at the same time.

user posted image
Zojo-ji Temple in Tokyo

This Setsubun if one were inclined to see the supernatural in everything and believe in omens as people did in olden times this, they might believe the sudden snowfall to be devil-wrought. Perhaps the snow was a diabolical sneak attack by the devils in the early morning hours to thrawt the Setsubun exorcism activities at shrines and temples. In these places, beans and other such items are thrown “to” not “at” gathered crowds. This is known as mame-maki. It is believed that to catch such items, a person will have good luck all year.

user posted image
Some Ninja and a walking bag of chips prepare to do Mame-Maki at Zojo-ji

user posted image
Ninja Chips – crunchy and deadly snackfood for the assassin in all of us

Although the devils threw quite a bit of snow which caused a number of train delays, there were still crowds of people at temples and shrines, their hands outstretched looking for a bit of luck. I went to my favorite temple for mame-maki: Zojo-ji in Hamamatsucho. Zojo-ji always has a few celebrities and a sumo wrestler doing mame-maki. Their mame-maki has more than just a handful of tossed beans. I got several bags of snack food, two wash clothes, nine packets of bean, and six health bars. the health bars were dangerous! I got hit in the head twice and once right smack in my face.

user posted image
Snowfall at Kanda Myojin Shrine

user posted image
Decorations at Kanda Myojin Shrine

After that I went to Kanda Myojin Shrine where I saw two Setsubun devils prance about on a catwalk seeming to enjoy the mayhem the weather had caused. At Kanda Myojin Shrine they do a traditional mame-maki where they throw handfuls of individual beans rather than packets. The beans were rather difficult to pick out from the heavy snow flakes that were coming down. No one bothered to pick any of the beans up that had fallen on the ground. At Zojo-ji because everying is in a package, you have people going up and down for mame-maki. This makes for a writhing crowd as some people are jumping up to catch packages while others are diving down to get the fallen ones and getting bumped heads in the process.

user posted image
A Devil revels in the mayhem of an unexpectant snowstorm

user posted image
A Kimono-clad girl indulging in mame-maki at Kanda Myojin shrine

After Kanda Myojin’s mame-maki, we were lead into a room where we could choose small packages of beans, candy, and oranges. All in all I had a decent Setsubun mame-maki haul by the end of the day.

user posted image
A decent Setsubun Mame-Maki haul

In the end despite the weather, the Setsubun exorcism ritual must have worked. The next morning the sun came out and melted the snow away. Better luck next year, devils!

user posted image

February 7, 2008 Posted by | Blogroll, culture, demons, devils, event, folklore, japan, japanese culture, life, ninja, oni, Setsubun, snow, spring, tokyo, tradition, travel, winter, zojo-ji | 1 Comment

Brief Snowy Day in Tokyo

Last week it snowed briefly in Tokyo on my way to work. I love snow but it doesn’t snow in Tokyo that much any more these days.

January 31, 2008 Posted by | japan, life, snow, tokyo, travel, video, vlog, youtube | Leave a comment