Samurai Dave: The Roving Ronin Report

Rambling Narrative of Travels, Thoughts, and Embellishments

Samurai Warlord’s Kyoto Cherry Blossom Festival – Taiko Hanami Gyoretsu


Spring is the time of cherry blossoms in Japan and Japanese love their hanami. Hanami is cherry blossom viewing parties where people gather under the sakura blossoms and make merry.

One of the grandest hanami events ever held was over 400 years ago at Daigo Temple in Kyoto. The host of this hanami was the most powerful man in Japan at the time, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and this gala event could be see as the culmination of an extraordinary life which began in a farmer’s hut. Toyotomi was the medieval Japan’s ultimate rags-to-riches story.

Toyotomi was born to a poor farmer/foot soldier during a time of anarchy known as the Sengoku Period or Warring States when Japan was torn apart by feuding warlords.
He joined the services of Oda Nobunaga an innovative warlord who began unifying the land. After Oda’s death, Toyotomi continued this work and by 1590 succeeded in uniting all the warring factions in the country.

Toyotomi became the strongest leader in Japan but he could not claim the title of Shogun due to his low origins. He was given the title of Kampaku by the Imperial Court. Kampaku was officially an advisor to an adult emperor but it was only formality. Toyotomi ruled the country like the Kampaku advisors and regents had centuries ago. In 1591, he “retired” and took the title of Taiko which is a retired Kampaku. In reality, he remained fully in control. In fact the very next year, Toyotomi launched a massive military expedition against Korea in a grandiose scheme to conqueror Korea and Japan.

Despite or perhaps because of his simple beginnings, Toyotomi liked to live it up. He liked pomp and ceremony, fancy attire, and lavish parties. His cherry blossom party at Daigoji was one of his most sumptuous. At his side was his young son and heir, Hideyori along with his wife and mistresses. It was to be his last great outing though as he would passed away 5 months later leaving the future of his heir in doubt.

For more photos
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Toyotomi Hideyoshi
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April 4, 2013 Posted by | travel | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Japanese Devils Beat You For Good Luck on Setsubun

Setsubun is a Japanese Spring Ritual where on the 3rd of February Japanese drive bad luck in the form of devils from their homes. At many temples and shrines throughout Japan, Setsubun activities take place. At Ishite-ji Temple in Matsuyama city on the island of Shikoku they have an interesting twist on the typical Setsubun activity of driving away devils.
 
Usually on Setsubun devils known as Oni are driven away by beans thrown at them. Japanese say at the same time “Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!” which means “devils out, good luck in!” At Ishite-ji Temple, the devils actually bring the good luck to people in the shape of bamboo staffs that they use to beat people lightly in a rhythmic cadence.
 
The staff they use is a variation of a keisaku stick which is used in meditation sessions of Zen Buddhism. Keisaku is a “warning stick” wielded by a Zen priest known as a Jikijitsu who is in charge of the zazen meditation sessions at Zen Temples. If a student is falling asleep the Jikijisu will administer a beating on the student’s back. The keisaku’s bark is actually worse than its bite as it sounds much lounder than it actually feels. In fact, students will often request a “beating” to keep themselves awake and to relieve muscle cramps. Another name for the keisaku stick is called kyosaku which means “encouragement stick.”
 
The “beatings” administered by the Setsubun devils at Ishite-ji Temple are anything but painful and are for the purpose of giving the “beaten” good luck. So instead of driving the devils away like they do at many other Setsubun events, people actually run to the devils and let them beat them for the good luck aspect of Setsubun.
For Photos:
http://therovingroninreport.blogspot.jp/2013/02/japanese-devils-beat-people-for-good.html

 

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February 21, 2013 Posted by | japan, japanese culture, Japanese festival, Setsubun | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wakakusayama Yaki – Japanese Mountain Fire Festival in Nara

Wakakusayama Yaki is an annual Japanese fire festival in winter where they burn the dead grass on Mt. Wakakusa. The origins of the festival are unclear. The most popular explanation is that the fire festival came out of a territorial dispute between two local temples. Others say the fire was more practical in driving off wild animals and insects.
 
Whatever the origin, it’s a sight to see. Before the fire, they set off 200 fireworks. They also have a live show which being Japan is always entertaining and amusing.
For more photos:
http://therovingroninreport.blogspot.jp/2013/02/wakakusayama-yaki-japanese-mountain.html
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Sohei - Japanese Fighting Priest
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February 17, 2013 Posted by | travel | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Giant Japanese Snake Festival

To honor this year’s Chinese Zodiac animal the Snake, I offer this look at an interesting unique festival from the small town of Sekikawa in Niigata prefecture where they parade an enormous snake made of bamboo and straw. The snake is 82.8 meters long or about 271.6 feet and weighs about 2 tons requiring 500 people to carry it and is in the Guinness Book of World Record as longest snake made of bamboo and straw (wasn’t aware there was such a category).

The festival is a type of Obon celebration – a time when the Japanese remember the spirits of the dead. It also is reminder of a terrible flood which hit Sekikawa in 1967 costing a number of people their lives. The date was August 28th which is why the snake is the exact length of 82.8 to reflect that.

As to why a giant snake, one has to dig further back into the misty past of Sekikawa. Legends say the area was troubled by a giant snake which had been a cursed woodcutter’s wife.

Some centuries ago, a local woodcutter was attacked by a giant snake while he was out gathering woods. Giant snakes have been a common theme in myth and legend and perhaps represent a memory of large snakes which once lived in Japan long ago. The woodcutter killed the snake and deciding on not letting a chance meal go to waste brought it home to eat.

The woodcutter told his wife not to eat any of the snake meat till he returned from gathering more wood. The wife disobeyed him and ate a little of the snake meat. It was so delicious she couldn’t stop eating of it and she ate the entire snake. Then she developed a powerful thirst. No amount of water could quench it. She drained all the water supply at her home and then the village’s supply too. She went to river to slake her unnatural thirst but to no avail. It was there that the wife transformed into a giant snake herself. She left her family and the village forever – or so it seemed.

Some time later after her family had passed away a biwa player was passing through the area. He stopped to rest and while he did so he decided to practice his skills. The snake wife heard his music and was charmed by it. She approached the biwa player and praised his skill. The biwa player being blind as many biwa players were in those days thought he was being addressed by one of the local women. There was a strange musty smell in the air but he thought nothing of it.

The snake wife asked him where he was going and he told her to the village which is now Sekikawa. She warned him not to do so. She revealed to him what she was and that she planned to destroy the village. She only told him this because she was enchanted by his music and wished to spare him. The snake wife then told him not to warn the villagers or he would pay with his life.

The biwa player left very afraid. However, instead of running off he decided to go to Sekikawa and warn them. He told the chief of the village his tale. Some say the biwa player vanished because he was a helpful spirit but others say he died from the snake wife’s magic for having told her secret.

The villagers eventually were able to kill the snake wife and they enshrined the biwa players personal effects in the local temple.

Centuries later in modern times it was thought after the flood that perhaps the old snake wife’s spirit was restless so the festival was held to appease her possibly angry spirit.

The festival began in 1980s and every year they parade two large snakes around the town. A smaller one is carried/dragged by children while the principle snake of 82.8 meters is carried by 500 people.

I was fortunate to bump into a local prominent citizen of the town who told me the story in his own words. He says he remembered the biwa player’s items being on display when he was boy though they aren’t now. I later had dinner with him and wife and several friends of his from Niigata City. Apparently for people of the town there are those who believe the story to be true – to a degree. It is interesting though the number of giant snake stories that abound in the ancient myths and the old legends of times closer to now.

Who knows? But as to the moral of the story with the woman who was changed into a giant snake for eating the snake her husband told her not to, I guess it would be -“Women, don’t eat a man’s snake without his permission” or something to that effect.

For more photos check here

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Giant Japanese Snake of Bamboo
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The woodcutter who killed a giant snake then his wife became one
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February 2, 2013 Posted by | festival, japan, japanese culture, Japanese festival, japanese folklore, matsuri, travel | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Happy New Years 2013 From Tokyo!!!

Scenes from New Years Eve celebrations in Tokyo from the traditional at Zojo-ji Temple to avant garde cosplay at Tokyo Decadance in Shinjuku.

Happy New Years!

January 2, 2013 Posted by | travel | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Back-Been Busy!

After a fair bit of time of not posting videos, I’m back. I had some technical difficulties with my Mac and Windows Movie Maker was too much of a hassle to re-learn. I got the Mac fixed and now I’m back to watching my videos take ages to upload again – uh, yay?

Anyway, I stayed busy over the summer going to a number of events and festivals that you can see snippets of here.

Enjoy and stay tuned for more videos to follow!

September 14, 2012 Posted by | travel | , , , , | Leave a comment

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

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

Japanese Ghost Stories – The Demon’s Arm (Ogre of Rashomon)

Summertime is ghost-time in Japan. It’s time to tell scary stories in order combat the summer’s heat with the cold chill that only ghost stories can bring.

This story is a version of the Ogre of Rashomon as the story is named in Yei Theodora Ozaki’s Japanese Fairy Tales. I however refer to the titular creature as a demon based on the Japanese word “oni” which is demon/devil.

Hirosaki Neputa Festival shows Watanabe fighting the Demon of Rashomon Gate

Rashomon is a gate that once stood in Kyoto that lapsed into disrepair and became a place of ill repute. According to legend a demon took up residence there and snatched up passer-bys. Eventually it bit off more than it could chew when it tried to grab a samurai.

The photos were taken by me of the temple gate of Zojo-ji Temple in Tokyo, a shot of a float from the Nebuta festival of Aomori showing a samurai fighting a demon (Raiko and Shuten-doji), and a depiction of the story on a float at the Neputa Festival in Hirosaki, Aomori Prefecture. The other images are 19th Century woodblock (ukiyoe) prints.

Check out my other ghost stories:

Japanese Ghost Stories

July 29, 2011 Posted by | demons, devils, folklore, Ghost Stories, Ghosts, japan, japanese culture, japanese folklore, japanese ghost stories, Japanese Ghosts, Japanese Horror, Storytelling, supernatural, weird | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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.

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