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

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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

Yabusame – Gunslingin’ Samurai (Japanese Mounted Archery)

Yabusame is a Japanese Shinto ritual involving mounted archery. Archers ride at a full gallop and shoot at three targets set up at certain intervals. Hitting all three, an archer is considered to be very skillful. The ritual is purpose is to bring prosperity and peace.

The video is a complilation of Yabusame events I have been to over the last two years. There are two different schools of Yabusame – Ogasawara Ryu who perform at Asakusa (here 2007&2008) and Takeda Ryu who perform at Meiji Shrine (2006), Miura (2007), and Kamakura (Spring 2007 & Fall 2008)

The song is called “Gunslinger Man” and it fits with the old tradition of samurai on horseback using bows rather than spears and swords as they did later. The Yabusame costume looks rather cowboy-ish.

The music is by the Exotic Ones:
http://www.myspace.com/exoticones

This also a tribute to the memory of a friend of mine who passed away a few years ago:
Jack Hunter Dave, Jr who wrote and sung the song “Gunslinger Man.”
http://my.att.net/p/s/community.dll?ep=87&subpageid=150399&ck=

November 28, 2008 Posted by | Archery, Blogroll, culture, entertainment, festival, japan, japanese archery, japanese culture, life, martial arts, mounted archery, tokyo, travel, video, Yabusame, youtube, zen | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Zen Priest Playing Shakuhachi Current TV Promo

This is a clip I made from the Komuso Zen Priest playing the Shakuhachi (Japanese bamboo flute) for a promo for Current TV.

It’s up for possible airing here:
Current TV Promo: Stop and Listen

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

May 8, 2008 Posted by | Blogroll, culture, current tv, Current TV Promo, flute, japan, japanese culture, komuso, life, music, shakuhachi, travel, video, youtube, zen | , , , , | 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:
http://current.com/items/88939627_zen_priest_playing_the_shakuhachi

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

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

Momote Shiki – Japanese Archery Ritual

Momote Shiki: Japanese Archery Ritual
Centuries-old ritual held for the fortune of new adults


Archers in old style kimono preparing to shoot n the archery ritual known as Momote Shiki

Seijin-no-Hi or Coming of Age Day is celebrated all throughout Japan on the second Monday of January. Throughout the country, similar ceremonies and activities take place among those newly turned 20 such as the wearing of special kimono, going to shrines, attending speeches, and so on. At Meiji Shrine in Tokyo, a unique ceremony takes place that is often overlooked in favor of seeing the kimono-clad girls that populate the shrine on that day.

Behind the main shrine complex an archery ritual known as Momote Shiki is performed for the good fortune of all those turning 20 and becoming new adults. Archers wearing a style of formal kimono that samurai once wore in olden times shoot two arrows a piece at a central target.


Archers arriving at Meiji Shrine in Tokyo

The Momote Shiki ceremony is conducted by the Ogasawara-Ryu, one of the oldest schools of Japanese-style archery. The Ogasawara family has long been associated with martial arts training most especially archery. The founder of the Ogasawara line was Nagakiyo who was born in the mid-12th century. He excelled as a mounted archer and was granted the surname of Ogasawara by the Emperor after the name of his birthplace in modern Yamanashi Prefecture.

12th century Japan was a transitionary time. In prior centuries, the Emperor’s Court ruled the land from Kyoto. Nobles held the reigns of power but as time progressed they began to lose their power to the emerging warrior class. With the increase of violence, the noble administrators had to rely more and more on the formerly despised warrior class to quell the problems. Eventually the warrior class came into its own in the mid-12th century when the powerful warrior family, the Heike or Taira, came to dominate the Imperial Court.


The archers wear a style of kimono worn by samurai 800 years ago

The Heike became arrogant in their new found power thus breeding many enemies. War broke out between them and their powerful rivals the Genji or Minamoto clan. The leader of the Genji was Minamoto-no-Yoritomo. Yoritomo destroyed the Heike family and came to rule all of Japan as Shogun. He ruled from his capital Kamakura which lies an hour south of Tokyo by train.

Nagakiyo had been Yoritomo’s mentor and instructor in mounted archery. With Yoritomo’s ultimate victory, the Ogasawara’s fortunes rose. Yoritomo was keen that his warriors keep their martial skills honed even during peacetime. The reason for this and his decision to set his capital in Kamakura far from Kyoto was the precedent set by his former enemies, the Heike family.


Before shooting, the archers give reverence

One of the prevailing opinions of the day as to why the once powerful Heike family fell so completely was their descent into decadence. They spent more time worrying about their appearance and their poetry ability than they did on their martial skills. One Heike general was famous for abandoning his position in abject terror when a flight of geese so startled him that he thought the Genji were attacking. A great part of this stemmed from the Heike’s close proximity to the culture of the Imperial Court.

Yoritomo did not want his followers to become soft and weak like the Heike. He wanted to establish a strong legacy so he set his new capital in Kamakura far from the Imperial Court. Furthermore, he avidly supported the Ogasawara clan in training warriors to maintain their skill and discipline. A number of archery rituals still practiced today were started because of Yoritomo’s stern insistence that his followers retain their martial fighting skills.


A Shinto Priest preparing to shoot a special arrow to begin the ceremony

Archery whether mounted or on foot was strongly emphasized because at this time the much-praised samurai sword had yet to truly come into its own. In Yoritomo’s time, the bow was the principle weapon of the samurai and the symbol of his profession and spirit.

Yoritomo’s shogunate government lasted until the early 14th century. After his Spartan policies were ignored, the Kamakura Shogunate leaders became lax with luxury and in the end they fell to more determined and stronger enemies. The Ogasawara survived the downfall of the Kamakura shogunate and went on to serve the new shogunate government establish by the Ashikaga clan.


A Shinto Priest loosens and removes his left sleeve so it will not hinder his shooting

Sometime after the power of the Ashikaga shoguns declined, the warlord Tokugawa Ieyasu established a new shogunate government set in Edo (today Tokyo) in 1603. He requested Ogasawara Tsunenao, the head of the clan at the time, to be a mentor and instructor to his son.

The Tokugawa Shogunate ushered in an unprecedented two centuries of peace. Fighting skills were no longer in great demand; however, practice of the martial arts continued but took on a new form. Archery and other martial skills became less about the physical and more about the spiritual. Archery became viewed as a way to self-improvement; of disciplining the mind and soul.

The Ogasawara clan continued to serve the Tokugawa shogunate until 1868 when the shogunate was abolished. In the midst of a rapidly modernizing Japan of the late 19th century, the Ogasawara continued to teach their traditional arts. However, since there were no more samurai to train in Japan’s new society, the Ogasawara opened their school to the general public.

Today the Ogasawara perform a number of archery rituals throughout the year at a number of shrines. Every spring in the Asakusa district of Tokyo, they perform the mounted archery ritual of Yabusame.

The Momote Shiki ritual is carried out on Seijin-no-Hi, Coming of Age Day though the ritual predates the holiday by centuries. Momote – means “hundred hands.” The ritual is a bit of Shinto mathematics: ten archers at a time shoot two arrows a piece. The number of archers times the number of arrows equals 100. The type of arrow used has white fletching or feather. This is the same type of arrow which is sold as good luck charms at shrines during New Years. The Momote Shiki ritual is the origin of this arrow charm. The Momote Shiki ritual used to be held in private until the Edo Period (1603-1867) when it became open to the general public.

Before the archers begin, a Shinto priest shoots a Kabura-ya, a special red-colored arrow with an turnip-shaped head. The arrow makes a whistling noise as speeds along. The noise is believed to drive away evils from all four directions.


Archers draw the bow above their heads before bringing it down to aim

The archers wear a type of kimono known as a kariginu. The kariginu was the everyday dress of the samurai of the Kamakura Period (1192-1333) and was based on clothes worn on hunting expeditions. On their head is an eboshi — a type of hat worn by court nobles in earlier centuries.

The traditional way of shooting the bow is very slow and meticulous. The archers begin by slowly uncovering their left arm and shoulder leaving them and the left side of the chest completely bare. The purpose for this is practicality rather than for ritual purposes.

Traditional kimono robes are loose and flowing which could easily inconvenience the shooting of the bow. Female archers however do not reveal their shoulders and chest. They put their arm through a specially designed hole on the sleeves of female kimono then tie up the sleeve.

The bow is raised upwards and brought slowly down while the arrow is pulled back past the ear. Then at last the string is let loose and the arrow speeds towards the target. The emphasis of the ritual and Japanese archery in general is not on striking the target accurately but on the spiritual repose the archer achieves and maintains throughout the whole ceremony. Balance is sought between spirit and bow when the mind is empty but not dwelling on emptiness.


Archers receive a ceremonial serving of sake after the ritual

A Zen Master of the Kamakura Period once wrote:

No target’s erected
No bow’s drawn
And the arrow leaves the string;
It may not hit,
But it does not miss!

Once all the archers have shot the required number of arrows, they receive a small portion of sake and the ceremony is considered concluded. The health and good fortune of the new adults is thus spiritually assured for the year.


February 17, 2008 Posted by | Archery, Blogroll, culture, event, history, japan, japanese archery, japanese culture, japanese history, kyudo, life, martial arts, meiji shrine, momote shiki, ogasawara ryu, samurai, seijin-no-hi, Shinto, tokyo, tradition, travel, zen | 10 Comments