Samurai Dave: The Roving Ronin Report

Rambling Narrative of Travels, Thoughts, and Embellishments

Fuji Fire Festival

At the end of August at the foot of Mt Fuji the town of Fujiyoshida puts on a festival in order to save the inhabitants of Eastern Japan from the wrath of Fuji’s resident goddess. It’s believed that if the Fujiyoshida Himatsuri (fire festival) is not done properly that the mountain goddess will become enraged and Mt Fuji will erupt. 

The festival is over 500 years old but its origins stretch far, far back into a dim and misty age when gods walked the earth and man was but a dream. In those distant times, Ninigi no Mikoto, the grandson of the sun goddess Amaterasu-omikami, came down from the heavens to control the area that would be one day be Japan. He took the daughter of a mountain god as his wife whose name was Konohanasakuya-hime. Konohana became pregnant in one night which made her husband suspicious. She took offense at this and had a doorless hut made which she placed herself in. She claimed if the children were not Ninigi’s they would harmed by the fire she would set. She then had the doorless hut set on fire but delivered three healthy children thus proving her innocence and her children’s divine lineage. 

 At Fujiyoshida’s fire festival one of the main elements of the festival are the taimatsu torches which symbolize the fire Konohana lit to prove her innocence. The other elements are the mikoshi (portable shrine) which carries her spirit and the portable shrine which is shaped like Mt Fuji itself. 

Another name for the festival is Chinka Taisai which means “to  extinguish fire.” The purpose at the end of the festival is to ensure that Mt. Fuji will not erupt for another year.

Despite its serene appearance, Mt Fuji is actually an active volcano. Not active like a Hawaiian volcano but not dormant either. The last time Mt Fuji erupt was 300 years ago. According to the latest research, the pressure in the magma chamber is higher than the last eruption. Whether this means an eruption will occur soon or not remains to be seen.

For more photos:

http://therovingroninreport.blogspot.jp/2012/09/fuji-fire-festival.html

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September 21, 2012 Posted by | japan, japanese culture, Japanese festival, japanese folklore, travel | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Ninja vs Samurai at a Japanese Festival (Nagoya Matsuri)

The age-old question of “Ninja vs Samurai – who would win?” was tackled recently at Nagoya Matsuri in a fight between a blue-clad ninja (a Smurf ninja?) and an armor-wearing samurai. The results may surprise you; however with Ninja, things are not always as they seem…

November 3, 2011 Posted by | japan, japanese culture, Japanese festival, martial arts, matsuri, Nagoya, ninja, Only in Japan, samurai, video | , , , , , , , , , , , | 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 Phallic Festival – Yokote’s Bonden Matsuri

Japanese Phallic Festival – Bonden Matsuri
Sexual Innuendo Festival

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Festivals participants struggle uphill to deliver a gift, a decorative Bonden pole, to the god of a local shrine in return for a bountiful harvest

At first glance, Yokote’s Bondon Matsuri in Northern Japan may seem rather innocuous. Tall decorative pools are paraded through the streets where later they are taken up a mountain and offered to a Shrine for the sake of a good harvest.

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Bonden Poles with topped with decorations

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Anpan Man: hero to children and bread everywhere

However, if one probes a little deeper they will discover that the 4-meter tall Bonden poles are actually suppose to represent the penis and only men can participate in carrying it up the mountain. When the Bondon poles are brought to the shrine on the mountain, the whole phallic symbolism becomes very clear. 

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A Bonden Pole is thrust through the Shrine’s Gates

Men lower their Bonden poles to a horizontal position before vigorously “entering” through the Torii gate and later the main shrine building. Other particpants form a defensive league to protect the shrine’s virtue and when the Bonden carriers try to ram their poles through the opening, the defenders push back. Eventually the shrine’s defenses are beaten and it gradually submits. Sometimes the poles bend and break which made me wince just watching.

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The Bonden Matsuri takes place over two days in mid-February and its purpose is two-fold: to pray for successful harvests in the coming planting season and for the men to show off their vigor and prowess. The god of the shrine is a god of strength and the men compete with each other to show off their manliness. 

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The first day of the festival is rather mild. All the Bonden poles both big and small are gathered near the town center. A judging contest is held to determine who has the best decoration atop their Bonden. Many of this year’s decorations had depictions of a tiger because the animal for the Chinese Year of 2010 is the tiger. 

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Several decorations were of samurai. The most popular samurai this year was Kato Kiyomasa. While Kato Kiyomasa had nothing to do with the town of Yokote or Akita prefecture for that matter he did have something to do with tigers much to their dismay. Kato was a samurai general in the late 16th Century who took part in the great invasion of Korea from 1592-1598. While there, Kato hunted and killed a tiger in the Korean mountains.

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Kato Kiyomasa – Samurai and Tiger-Killer

Another samurai warlord presented at this year’s Bonden Matsuri was Takeda Shingen. He too lived in the 16th Century during the turbulent time of the Sengoku Period or Warring States Period when Japan was divided between so many warring factions. Takeda Shingen was practically a legendary figure even in his day and his nickname was the “Tiger of Kai” which was the province he ruled.

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Takeda Shingen: The Tiger of Kai (modern day Yamanashi Prefecture)

After all the groups have presented their phalluses err… decorative Bonden to the judges, some of the team members start showing off their prowess by attempting to balance the poles on their hands, shoulders, and even heads. This is an imitation of the Kanto Festival which takes place in August in Akita City where participants balance tall bamboo poles decorated with paper lanterns on their hands, shoulders, heads, and hips. The problem is the Bonden poles are too top heavy to get a good balance. More often than not the person’s attempt ended with the Bonden pole crashing to the ground sometimes damaging the decorations.

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Attempting to balance the Bonden

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On the next day, all groups assemble near the town center around 10 then parade through the town. They go about 2-3 kilometers to the outskirts of the town then trek up a mountainside. At the bottom of the mountainside is a wide wooden gate building. It’s here where the Bonden Matsuri gets exciting and lewd that is if you know the symbolism behind the poles. 

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With decorations removed, the Bonden Poles have a clothed wrapped squared-shaped frame at the top which bares a striking resemblance to the head of something normally kept out of decent sight. The Bonden pole is lowered to a horizontal position and the men with it charged lustily at the gate’s entrance. Other men are standing at the gate’s entrance to resist their advances. A pushing match ensued with both sides shoving and pushing until finally the Bonden team has its way and goes through the gate tunnel to the other side. Then some of their team turns around to resist the next group of Bonden carriers.

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And away we go!

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After all the heaving and thrusting, the Bonden make their way up the mountainside. It’s a good half-hour walk made difficult with all the piled up snow. The Bonden poles are carried erect the whole way with team members switching up the carrying duties. 

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When they reach the shrine near the top there is short but very steep slope to get to the main shrine building. Each Bonden team gathers together at the bottom of the slope gathering their strength and bravado before rushing up the hill. Sometimes they stumble and fall but eventually they make it up to the top. 

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At the top after a bit of a breather, the Bonden carriers with unflagging spirits once more rise viagra-oulsy to the occasion and repeat their performance pushing, shoving, and thrusting into the shrine itself. I hope they at least bought the shrine dinner at first.

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The final push

Once done, one by one the Bonden teams spent and exhausted make their weary way down the mountain with their Bonden poles carried limply in the horizontal position. I have seen fertility festivals with actual penis floats that were less overtly sexual than this.

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March 24, 2010 Posted by | travel | , , , , , | 3 Comments

Gokaicho: 7-year festival at Zenko-ji Temple in Nagano, Japan

Every seven years, at the temple of Zenko-ji in Nagano City they reveal a statue that is normally kept hidden. The statue is a 13th Century replica of a Buddhist statue which supposedly was the first Buddhist statue to officially come to Japan in the 6th Century.

This first introduction of Buddhism set off a religious war which was more about political power than anything else between the Soga clan and the Mononobe and Nakotomi clans. The statue got tossed into the river but was later fished out and ended up at Zenko-ji in Nagano. A replica was made during the Kamakura Period (1192-1333) and that one is revealed to the public every 7 years.

The 7 year festival occurred this year and the last time to see it was the end of May so I went there during May to get a glimpse of the statue and a glimpse at Japan’s history.

December 9, 2009 Posted by | buddhism, culture, festival, Gokaicho, japan, japanese culture, japanese history, nagano, travel, video, Zenkoji | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

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

14 Meter Tall Gundam Float and more Giant Gundam in Odaiba

This is a short follow-up to my Gundam vid. Here I talk about a 14 meter tall Gundam float made of Japanese paper – washi – that I saw at a festival in Aomori, the “Gundam Gap” in my Japanese Anime experience, my video game experience with Gundam: Federation vs. Zeon, and a little bit more about this Gundam’s “secret” potential.

June 26, 2009 Posted by | Anime, festival, goshogawara, Gundam, japan, Japanese Anime, japanese culture, matsuri, nebuta, neputa, Only in Japan, pop culture, tachi neputa, tohoku, tokyo, travel, vlog, weird, WTF, youtube | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 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