Samurai Dave: The Roving Ronin Report

Rambling Narrative of Travels, Thoughts, and Embellishments

Ganbaremasu Japan! Support for Japan in the wake of the 3/11 Earthquake and Tsunami

This is a video I made in support of Japan after the earthquake and devastating tsunami which caused much damage and loss of life in northeastern Japan in the Tohoku region.

Over a couple of days I got Japanese and foreign-residents to show their support and togetherness in dealing with the aftermath. I included footage of various Japanese festivals to showcase Japanese spirit and strength. Many of the festival clips were taken at events in the Tohoku area. The singing is from the World Cup celebrations this past summer.

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April 26, 2011 Posted by | 2011, culture, earthquake, festival, japan, Japan Earthquake, japanese culture, Japanese festival, tohoku, tokyo, video, vlog | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2010 Kuroishi Neputa Matsuri

2010 Kuroishi Neputa Matsuri

Kuroishi Neputa Matsuri is a Japanese festival in the small town of Kuroishi in the Aomori prefecture in the northern Japanese region called Tohoku. For the festival, the people of Kuroishi make floats of washi – japanese paper – and paint them with scenes from Japanese and Chinese history and legends. The floats are illuminated from within so it makes for some beautiful artwork.

December 31, 2010 Posted by | culture, festival, japan, japanese culture, Japanese festival, matsuri, neputa, Only in Japan, tohoku, travel, video, vlog | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Japanese Igloo Festival – Kamakura Matsuri in Yokote

Japanese Igloo Festival
Kamakura Matsuri

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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.

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Sori – old fashion sled for transporting toddlers and supplies

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Cooking mochi

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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.

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Yokote Castle 

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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.

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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.

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Hundreds of miniature kamakura dot the city of Yokote

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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

Boating Through a Japanese River Gorge – GeibiKei Video

Geibikei is a scenic river gorge in the northern prefecture of Iwate where people can take flat-bottom boats piloted by singing boatmen. The boatmen guide the boats along with poles much with the gondaliers of Venice.

I was back up in Iwate again for festivals (in case you can’t tell I have a thing for festivals). One of them was rescheduled later on the weekend so I had to extend my trip.

With my extra time, I decided to go to Geibikei, a place I visited on a whim 3 years ago with my folks when we were touring the Tohoku area.

It costs about 1500Yen for a 90-minute trip there and back. At the half-way point, you can walk around a bit. On the way back, the boatmen sings traditional songs.

October 23, 2009 Posted by | boating, boats, geibikei, iwate, japan, nature, tohoku, travel, video, vlog, youtube | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Geibikei – Floating Thru a River Gorge in Northern Japan

Floating Through a River Gorge in Northern Japan
Geibikei Gorge – Iwate Prefecture

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Flat-bottom boats ply the river in Geibikei Gorge

In northern Japan in the prefecture of Iwate is a little known natural treasure known as Geibikei. Geibikei is a river gorge enclosed by tall rocky cliffs some 100 meters high. Visitors can take large flat-bottom boats piloted by a singing boatmen who pole along the shallow slow-moving river somewhat like the gondoliers of Venice.

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The boat pilots guide the boats with poles like the gondoliers of Venice

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The round-trip boat journey takes about an hour with a stop in the middle for a quick walkabout. The walk ends at a cul-de-sac where one can try their hand at getting a bit of luck. There’s a hole in the canyon wall across a pool which people try to cast charms into in order to get good luck. For 100 Yen ($1) visitors can purchase 5 stones that have charm characters carved into them. The five are for long life, love, luck, destiny, and your own personal wish.

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My first toss went straight into the hole and thinking myself done I gave my other charms to some of my fellow passengers. I forgot until later to see which charm was the lucky one.

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Good Luck Charms for throwing

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Visitor try to cast their good luck charms into the hole to make their luck come about

On the return, the boat pilot will sing old traditional songs that echo off the cliff walls. It’s a very serene Zen-like experience to be floating along that slow-moving river with the cliffs looming high above, the occasional piercing cry of a bird of prey on the wing, and fish swimming past as the boat pilot sings old folk medleys from long ago.

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One of the highlights of the trip is the boat pilots singing old traditional songs as they pole along

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My first visit to Geibikei was completely by accident a few years ago. My parents were visiting and having seen Tokyo and Kyoto before, they wanted to venture into the more unknown regions of Tohoku, the northern section of Japan.

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A small shrine along the river’s edge

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Tohoku is a region which often goes overlooked by overseas travelers especially by those in Japan for the first time. Tokyo and Kyoto and the surrounding areas tend to lure visitors to them and use up much of their time leaving little if any time to explore the hinterlands. It’s a shame because Tohoku has a lot to offer, Geibikei being one such place.

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I had only seen the name Geibikei in passing in one of my guidebooks. I had no intention of going there until I stumbled upon a poster of it in Hiraizumi, a town we were visiting at the time. The picture was enough for me to decide to schedule it into our itinerary.

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Although close to Hiraizumi, like much of Tohoku, Geibikei isn’t easy to reach. Trains don’t run so regularly as they do further south. We took the southbound train which runs about twice an hour to the little city of Ichinoseki where we transferred to the sometimes-once-hour-sometimes-less train to Geibikei station.

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Not much there but there was a convenient store, ever the bastion of civilization in the woolly wilds of the hinterlands or the concrete jungle of Tokyo.

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The boats can fit up to 60 people but we were fortunate not to need its full capacity. Instead we had plenty of space to have a picnic and more importantly, drink beer. Like Japanese fashion on land, we had to remove our shoes before boarding.

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We passed other boats filled to the gills with giggling school kids from junior high. My folks got a kick out of watching kids just being kids despite being in school uniforms. The kids were laughing and joking and some girls had their feet in the water.

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One boat of school kids, however, was quiet and somber. We found out why as it passed us – the school teacher was on that one. The kids on that boat were well-mannered and a little glum, no doubt cursing their luck to have wound up on the same boat as the teacher.

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For those adventurous types on the loose in the northern country, Geibikei is certainly worth a visit. Geibikei can be reached in about 30 minutes by train or bus – neither of which run frequently – from Ichinoseki in southern Iwate.

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October 3, 2009 Posted by | Blogroll, boating, boats, geibikei, iwate, japan, japanese culture, nature, photographs, photography, tohoku, travel | , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Nishimonai Bon Odori – Japanese Dance for the Dead Video

In the small town of Nishimonai in the northern prefecture of Akita, the locals perform a Bon Odori – a special dance for Obon which is a time for honoring the ancestors.

The Nishimonai Bon Odori is unique in that some of the dancers were a black hood to represents the spirits of the deceased. Other dancers wear a patchwork kimono of silk fabric known as hanui and a woven straw hat called a amigasa.

You can’t see the faces of the dancers which gives the whole dance a kind of surreal quality.

For those practicing Japanese, take the challenge in seeing if you can comprehend the Akita-ben (dialect) of the singers.

September 24, 2009 Posted by | Akita, Bon Odori, culture, dance, festival, japan, japanese culture, Nishimonai, Nishimonai Bon Odori, Obon, tohoku, tradition, travel, video, vlog, youtube | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Nishimonai Bon Odori – Japanese Dance for the Dead

Japanese Town Dances to Remember the Dead
Nishimonai Bon Odori

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Nishimonai Bon Odori – Japanese Dance for the Dead

Obon is the time in Japan to pay respect to ancestral spirits. Japanese will travel to their home towns in order to pray at their ancestors’ graves. It’s believed the spirits of the departed return during the 3-day holiday – mainly in mid-August. These returning spirits are not to be feared like the ones that come with Halloween. In fact, they are welcomed and many communities put on a variety of celebrations.

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Some dancers wear a black hood to represent deceased spirits

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One of the most common features of Obon is the Bon Odori, a special dance for Obon. Bon Odori dances vary from region to region each having their own particular form.

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Some of the dancers wear a straw hat known as amigasa

In the small town of Nishimonai in the northern prefecture of Akita, the locals perform a Bon Odori which is a mixture of an old harvest dance and a memorial to a fallen samurai lord.

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The Nishimonai Bon Odori is unique in that some of the dancers were a black hood to represents the spirits of the deceased. Other dancers wear a patchwork kimono of silk fabric known as hanui and a woven straw hat called a amigasa.

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Some dancers wear hanui a patchwork kimono of silk fabric

The dancers’ faces are obscured by the hoods and straw hats giving the dance a surreal ghostly-like quality.

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The singers sing in the old Akita dialect which many Japanese outside of Akita have difficulty understanding.

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The Nishimonai Bon Odori takes place just after the traditional dates for Obon from August 16-18, the big day being the 18th where the dance lasts for several hours in the evening.

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September 22, 2009 Posted by | Akita, Bon Odori, culture, dance, festival, japan, japanese culture, matsuri, Nishimonai, Nishimonai Bon Odori, Obon, tohoku, tradition, travel | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Funekko Nagashi – Japanese Boat-Burning Festival Video

Here’s a video on a Japanese Boat-Burning festival known as Funekko Nagashi which takes place in the northern city of Morioka. The festival is part of the Obon tradition, a time when many Japanese travel to their hometowns to pray at their ancestors’ graves.

Here they contruct makeshift boats, pack them with fireworks, and set fire to them as they float down the river.

September 10, 2009 Posted by | festival, fireworks, Funekko Nagashi, iwate, japan, japanese culture, matsuri, morioka, Obon, Only in Japan, tohoku, tradition, travel, video, vlog, youtube | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Funekko Nagashi Matsuri – Japanese Boat Burning Festival

Funekko Nagashi Matsuri
Japanese Boat-Burning Festival

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Boats burning on the river in Morioka

Obon is the time for honoring the dead and praying to the ancestral spirits in Japan. Traditionally it is believed that the souls of the departed return to the world of the living and later return at the end of Obon. Many Japanese head to their home towns in mid-August to pray at their ancestors’ graves.

Numerous communities put on dances known as Bon Odori. The most common feature of Obon is the lighted paper lantern floating on the water. People placed lanterns with the names of the departed written on them in waterways. These lanterns represent the souls returning to the underworld, the other world.

The city of Morioka in northern Japan sends the spirits off in style by burning makeshift boats stuffed with fireworks.

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Makeshift boats are created specifically for the festival then burnt

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The boats are packed with fireworks

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Beowulf and the Vikings would have loved this festival

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September 9, 2009 Posted by | culture, event, festival, fire, fireworks, Funekko Nagashi, iwate, japan, japanese culture, matsuri, morioka, Obon, tohoku, travel | , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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