Samurai Dave: The Roving Ronin Report

Rambling Narrative of Travels, Thoughts, and Embellishments

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

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December 16, 2008 Posted by | art, Asakusa, hagoita, japan, japanese culture, japanese history, New Years, tokyo, traditional art, travel | , , , , , | 4 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

Seijin-no-Hi Pictorial Montage Video

The following video is a pictorial montage of Seijin-no-Hi from 2006-2008 taken at Meiji Shrine in Tokyo. The shrine holds an archery ritual which is pictured here known as Momote Shiki in honor of the new adults.The music is by The Sushi Cabaret Club, a band based in Nagoya, Japan:
The Sushi Cabaret Club

January 21, 2008 Posted by | Archery, beautiful girls, Blogroll, Coming of Age Day, culture, event, furisode, japan, kimono, life, meiji shrine, momote shiki, montage, photographs, seijin-no-hi, tokyo, tradition, traditional art, travel, video, vlog, youtube | Leave a comment

Kimono Girls on Japan’s Coming of Age Day – a Dying Tradition?

Japan’s Coming of Age Day
Kimono-Clad Girls a dying tradition?

Kimono-Clad Girls at Meiji Shrine in Tokyo on Coming of Age Day
D.Weber
D.Weber

It was the second Monday of January and once again Japan’s new adults were out and about enjoying their new-found adulthood on the national holiday of Seijin-no-Hi: Coming of Age Day. Many young women sported their decorative kimono with the long-sleeves called furisode. While most young men wore suits, there were a few here and there that wore the formal male kimono known as a hakama.

Japan especially likes marking the ages of its populace and Seijin-no-Hi is no exception. In November, the little ones are all decked out in pretty kimono. Girls ages 3 and 7 and boys aged 5 are honored every year on the Shinto holiday, Shichi-Go-San. Another national holiday is Keiro-no-Hi in September which is respect for elders day.

As for Seijin-no-Hi, the national holiday is only a little over half-a-century old having started in 1948. Now the focus is mainly on the young women in their stunning kimono while the boys get second billing. In the past, however, the emphasis was on the boys. Young men had two coming of age celebrations in which they would change their names. At 12 and 16 they would individually go through their own private special ceremonies. For samurai households, this was a big deal with much pomp and ceremony.

As I usually do every Seijin-no-Hi, I went to Tokyo’s Meiji Shrine which serves as a magnet for kimono-clad girls and avid photographers. Meiji Shrine’s courtyard was packed with people. Disappointingly most of them were visitors and photo-hunting photographers. Occasionally, the dull visage of the monotonous fashion of the throng would be broken up with the arrival of brilliantly colored kimono-clad girls either alone or in small groups. A declining population, rising kimono prices, and a growing disinterest in traditional culture has led to fewer sightings of Seijin-no-Hi’s main attraction.

D.Weber

The price of kimono has risen sharply over the years especially handmade ones. A number of the furisode kimono worn on Seijin-no-Hi are family hand-me-downs, rented, or pre-made from China. The overall cost can be quite staggering. A full-fledged new furisode can be as much as $10,000. And the accompanying beauty make-over with hair styling can run up to a thousand dollars. The appointments have be made months in advance.

Kimono-Clad Girls become celebrities for one day
D.Weber

Why all the hassle and expense?

D.Weber

“For the parents it is their desire. From the day a girl is born they have the desire to dress her in furisode when she becomes 20 in the seijin shiki, take her picture, and send it to relatives as custom requires. In some cases, the mother herself also wore a furisode she received from her mother in her seijin shiki…

D.Weber

“If they have the possibility of dressing their daughter in a Y1,000,000 kimono it is proof that they have worked hard all their lives and can afford it. It is the result of their life work…But the girls do not always understand their parents’ feelings and they say they would prefer a car.”

(from A Companion to the Anthropology of Japan – Fashioning Cultural Identity: Body and Dress by Ofra Goldstein-Gidoni)

Kimono-Clad Girls entering Meiji Shrine
D.Weber

A growing percentage of young women are opting for evening gowns which while still expensive are far less expensive than the furisode and more practical.

D.Weber

At Meiji Shrine, two girls attracted their fair share of attention by their bold mixing of traditional fashion with modern goth chic. For footwear, they eschewed the normal sandals and tabi socks for trendy boots. One of them sported a red heart shaped bag while the other had a death’s head dangling from hers. One of them had braided hair and the other’s hair was short with a streak of red running through it.

A bold mixture of modern and traditional
D.Weber

In this reporter’s humble opinion, I hope that the tradition of wearing the furisode kimono continues. Evening gowns are a dime a dozen throughout the world but the wearing of the furisode kimono is a unique Japanese phenomenon.

D.Weber
Hopefully not the last of the Coming of Age Kimono-Clad girls

January 21, 2008 Posted by | Blogroll, Coming of Age Day, culture, event, furisode, japan, kimono, life, Meiji, meiji shrine, photographs, seijin-no-hi, tokyo, tradition, traditional art, travel | 7 Comments

Current TV Fire Twirler Promo Vid

This is a promo vid I did for Current TV a few months back with footage from the Flaming Aussie set to traditional Japanese music.

http://current.com/items/77167652_flame_twirling_promo

December 20, 2007 Posted by | Australia, Blogroll, current tv, dance, fire, fire dancing, fire twirling, flame-twirling, flute, japan, life, music, Sado Island, shakuhachi, summer, traditional art, travel, video, youtube | 1 Comment

Japanese Night Festival Lights Up Cold Sky

Chichibu Night Festival Lights Up the Sky
Gigantic floats, chanting pullers and spectacular fireworks draw thousands of revelers


A decorative float burdened with singers makes it way down the streets of Chichibu, two hours northwest of Tokyo.

The Chichibu Yo-Matsuri (Night Festival), dating back to the 18th century, is one of the three most famous night festivals in Japan. The small city of Chichibu lies two hours northwest of Tokyo in the mountainous regions of Chichibu National Park. Despite the cold, large crowds descend upon the city every year in early December to see the colorful, illuminated floats parade through the streets.


Festival participants

Six massive decorative floats festooned with a myriad of lanterns are pulled through the streets by large teams of men and women in festival attire. The floats weigh nearly ten tons and some of them are over 30-feet high. These floats require teams of nearly a hundred people pulling and pushing to get them moving. In front of the floats two long lines of people pull on large ropes while chanting “Wa-shoi! Wa-shoi!” (which is like saying “Heave, ho!”). Between them, walked colorfully-attired men rhythmically clacking wooden blocks together.

On the floats themselves, groups of singers waving handheld lanterns chant and shout as they pass by. On each float a taiko drum is beaten furiously, accompanied by wildly shrilling flutes. On top of the float, sometimes a man stands waving a folding fan to the rhythm of the taiko drum and flutes.


A fishy decorated float

Occasionally, the parade hits a bit of a snag much to the relief of the rope pullers and float pushers, no doubt. Some of the rope pullers tried to bamboozle yours truly into pulling their seven-ton float, but I sheepishly declined, claiming an allergic reaction to physical labor.

The floats eventually come to a small, but steep hill where pullers and pushers have to gather up a surge of energy to yank their heavy float to the top of the hill, which also marks the end of the parade.


A singer aboard a float sings out into the cold night

South of the parade, fireworks light up the cold night sky. Below, dozens of temporary food stalls serve up piping hot food and drink to the thousands of visitors.


The backsides of two colorful floats

The Chichibu Yo-Matsuri is definitely a festival to experience. However, festival-goers should be wary of the earliness of the last trains back to Tokyo. The last trains back end around 10:30. This I did not know. When I took a train at 10:40, I reached a station that was still a good ways out of Tokyo and remained there until the next morning. I ended having to take refuge from the cold in an all-night “Manga-kissa” — Internet/comic book cafe.


Shanghaied!


Fireworks explode over a busy street


“Wa-shoi! Wa-shoi!”


Three red-headed maidens decorate the back of one float

December 13, 2007 Posted by | Blogroll, chichibu, culture, entertainment, festival, fireworks, floats, japan, life, matsuri, parade, traditional art, travel, winter, Yomatsuri | Leave a comment

Sexy Japanese Belly Dancing Video

A pair of sexy Japanese Belly Dancers I met on the Japanese Island of Sado during the Kodo Taiko Drum Earth Celebration concert.

They’re a duo known as “judWa”

Oh, the noise in the background on some sections of this pod are cicadas – they were freaking loud on Sado. 

It’s also up for votes on Current TV:
http://current.com/items/89141833_sexy_japanese_belly_dancers#response

September 22, 2007 Posted by | belly dancing, Blogroll, culture, dance, flame-twirling, japan, Sado Island, sexy, traditional art, travel, video | , , | 1 Comment

Sexy Japanese Belly Dancers

jud Wa – Sexy Japanese Belly Dancing Duo
The Far East Meets The Middle East


jud Wa: Japanese Belly Dancing Duo performing on Sado Island

Belly Dancing: the word conjures up in the mind’s eye exotic desert locations where beautiful women in silken robes dance sensuously either in opulent palace harems for the pleasure of sultans or in luxurious, enormous tents of nomadic desert chieftains. In modern times, belly dancing has spread across the globe finding adherents everywhere including Japan.

Modern belly dancing is a mish-mash of original folkloric elements, strong stereotype images, and modern pop culture additions. Some groups hold to the traditional ways while others use a variety of forms.


Aco has been doing Belly Dancing for 6 years

Belly dancing was introduced to the West from Turkey and Egypt. Heavily-laden with misconceptions and lingering Victorian repressive prudishness, the old Western view of belly dancing was one of heathen hedonism that was at the same time exotic, repelling, alluring, sensual, and morally damnable. One form of belly dancing which evolved (or de-evolved) from the Vaudeville days of entertainment became burlesque dancing which later became full on stripping. Even today some uninformed people still associate belly dancing with stripping.


K has studied Belly Dancing in Turkey and Egypt

Like many Americans, my image of belly dancing had been firmly entrenched in my brain by old episodes of “I dream of Jeanii” and the like. The silken robes and tassels, the coin-bras/belts, the navel jewels ? much of these were actually products of Hollywood imagination. In addition, despite the impression given by the Silver Screen, belly dancing was not a seductive dance used in order to entice the sultan and win from him favors and attention. Belly dancing was often performed at celebrations such as weddings or it was done privately in small groups with members of the same sex as a way of passing the time.

I first saw live belly dancing performed at night clubs in Cairo several years ago when I was living there. A few of the belly dancers that I saw were Russians and were rather new to the dance. This was obvious when their male patrons would come up and dance around them often doing the dance better than the girl. In fact, belly dancing has not always been exclusively for females. There have been male dancers as well both in the modern times and in the past.

Although Japan has many of its own native dance styles from formal geisha dances to traditional folk dances, the appeal of foreign dance has always been strong from hip hop to flamenco to belly dancing.

I encountered a Japanese belly dancing duo recently during a taiko drum festival on Sado Island in northwestern Japan. They call themselves by the Hindu name “jud Wa” which means “twins” due to the similarity of their appearance. Their stage names are K and Aco. jud Wa is currently based in Tokyo and perform there regularly.


Aco playing the sagat: Egyptian finger cymbals

They use a variety of forms in their performances. K balances a sword on her head and Aco uses the sagat — Egyptian finger cymbals. At night they dance with fire. Fire dancing is another addition to modern belly dancing that many audiences have come to expect. On Sado, they were accompanied by another Japanese-based belly dancing group named gKazoku h which had both a male and female belly dancer. The male dancer performed in the evening while Aco and K rhythmically waved fiery torches.

Both of the girls have studied belly dancing close to five years. They have visited Egypt to study the techniques of dancers there. K has also traveled to Turkey. When I asked them why they liked belly dancing, their first response was: “It’s sexy!” I couldn’t argue with them on that point.

Their choice of using a Hindu name for their group is interesting one because it coincides with one of the origin theories of belly dancing. One theory is that belly dancing was part of the native dance of the Roma people or gypsies whose roots go back to India. Supposedly they picked up other dance styles from the lands they had traveled through and incorporated them into their dance.


The popularity of sword-balancing in Western Belly Dancing was sparked by a painting from French Orientalist Jean-Leone Gerome

Other origin theories say belly dancing came from the birthing rituals of Northern Africa designed to ease the child birthing process. Some theories trace the origins of the dance all the way back to Ancient Egypt. The fact is many countries from India to Middle Eastern and African countries had similar native dance styles that over the centuries have been melded into a variety of belly dancing styles.


jud Wa also plays with fire

Let the experts dither over the details, though. Belly dancing is a fascinating and exciting form of entertainment and not a thing to miss wherever it is performed — but leave your misconceptions behind.

September 15, 2007 Posted by | ancient egypt, belly dancing, Blogroll, cairo, culture, dance, egypt, japan, life, Middle East, Sado Island, sexy, traditional art, travel | 8 Comments

Kodo Earth Celebration 2006 Fringe Event Video

This is a video I made from my digital camera’s video function of last year’s Kodo Earth Celebration’s Fringe Events:

 

Taiko Drum Festival brings Cheer to Old Island of Exile

August 24, 2007 Posted by | Blogroll, culture, dance, Earth Celebration, entertainment, festival, folklore, japan, Kodo, life, matsuri, montage, music, music concert, Sado Island, summer, taiko, traditional art, travel, video | Leave a comment

Rock the VOTE III: Japanese Biwa Player Playing Old Tune

The Roving Ronin Report Presents:

Japanese Biwa Player Playing An Ancient Song of Battle

It’s up for votes on Current TV:

http://www.current.tv/watch/70143572

Please register and vote!

Biwa is a Japanese lute played with a large pick. They are often used to tell old stories such as the Tale of the Heike.

The Tale of the Heike is a long tale about the rise and a fall of the Heike family in the 12th Century. Taira-no-Kiyomori led his family to the highest position in the country. Eventually, their enemies brought them down defeating them in a number of battles.

Dan-no-ura was the site of their last battle. It was a great sea battle and the Heike were completely destroyed. Many of them perished by leaping into the sea including the young emperor.

Centuries later, a blind biwa player, Hoichi, unknowingly played for these restless spirits and almost lost his life as a result. He paid the price with his ears being ripped off by one of these ghosts.

A thunderstorm struck while the biwa player played making me think that perhaps the Heike spirits were still restless.

June 29, 2007 Posted by | biwa, Blogroll, culture, current tv, entertainment, folklore, Gempei War, Ghosts, Hauntings, heike monogatari, japan, kwaidan, life, music, samurai, traditional art, travel, TV, video | 2 Comments