5 Mar 2019

Kuwabara Kuwabara

After I got married in the UK, I needed to take the Life in the UK test as a part of my application for Indefinite leave to Remain (ILR). My husband and my friend who used to be a school teacher helped me. She gave her knowledge on a wide variety of subjects. And she mentioned 'touch wood' in order to prevent a confident statement from bringing bad luck. I thought about it in Japanese, and found 'kuwabara-kuwabara'. Kuwabara means a mulberry field, and it came from Sugawara no Michizane (845-903).

He was a scholar, poet and politician, who was born into a family of scholars. He was especially good at Kanshi; the Japanese poetry written in Chinese. He was a genius and a serious man, and passed the entrance examination to the national academy. After graduation he began his career in the court as a scholar, built his career, and served the Emperor as a trusted Minister of the Right. But he fell into disfavour by his rival and was exiled to Dazaifu, Kyushu, and died at the age of 57.

After Michizane's death, plague and drought spread and the sons of the Emperor died in succession, and unlucky things lasted in Kyoto. The Imperial Palace was struck repeatedly by lightning, and the city experienced weeks of rainstorms and floods. As a legend, it is said the mulberry field Michizane owned was never be damaged by lightning, and that Michizane became a thunderbolt and threatened Kyoto. So we say 'kuwabara-kuwabara' as a spell to avoid bad luck, especially lightning strikes.

Attributing this to the angry spirit of the exiled Michizane, the imperial court built a Shinto shrine called Kitano Tenman-gū in Kyoto, and dedicated it to him. A Shinto Shrine 'Dazaifu Tenman-gu' in Dazaifu, Fukuoka is built over the grave of him, and one of the main shrines dedicated to Tenjin; the deity of Academics, scholarship and learning. 

I had a solo trip to Kyushu 9 years ago. Kyushu is a land far from my hometown. And I've visited 'Dazaifu Tenman-gu' as my plan. It was one of the greatest shrines I ever visited. At that time I didn't know much about Michizane, but I knew he was the patron saint of study. I think I was a lucky to have an opportunity at that time to visit there. http://www.dazaifutenmangu.or.jp/en

2 Mar 2019


When I was a student, I read the book 'Chinmoku (meaning Silence)' by Japanese author Shusaku Endo. It's the story of a Catholic missionary priest sent to 17th-century Japan, who endures persecution at that time when Christianity was strictly forbidden that followed the defeat of the Shimabara Rebellion. It is said the character is based on the historical figure of an Italian Jesuit missionary Giuseppe di Chiara (1602-1685). I remember the more I gave myself up to the story, my heart sank and felt so painful and stuffy. It was a very heavy story. This novel was also adapted into a film as the title 'Silence' in 2016, by Martin Scorsese. I haven't seen this film yet though...

Actually, in 1540's, Christian missionaries with Francis Xavier arrived in Japan at all risks and briefly spread the religious mainly in Kyushu area. He was the first Jesuit to go to Japan as a missionary. At first, Jesuits were supported by the shogunate, thinking that they would reduce the power of the Buddhist monks and help trade with Spain and Portugal.  Everything from Western countries should had been novel and strange for Japanese people. The Jesuits believed that it was better to seek to influence people in power and then allow Christianity to be passed downwards to the commoners later. As a result, several daimyo (powerful Japanese feudal lords) became Christians, soon to be followed by many of their subjects. There was a commercial and political merit to become Christians for them, in order to gain more favourable access to gunpowder. At the same time the missionaries faced the hostility of many other daimyōs.

Since 1565, edicts to ban Catholicism had been issued. Yet, overall, remarkably strict policies toward Catholicism hadn't been undertaken due to the need to gain a profit from trade. In 1600 Tokugawa Ieyasu assumed power over Japan. He disliked Christian activities in Japan. The shogunate was increasingly concerned and wary of colonialism seeing that the Spanish had taken power in the Philippines after converting the population, and also fed distrust against Christian daimyos' movements. And he finally decided to ban Catholicism on 1612 and 1613.

In 1637, the Shimabara Rebellion erupted in Nagasaki Prefecture (in Kyusyu). It was largely rebellion involving peasants, against tax hike for clan's construction of a new castle. And also religious persecution of the local Catholics exacerbated the discontent provoked anger from them. Most of peasants were Catholics. A charismatic 16-year-old boy, Amakusa Shiro was chosen as the rebellion's leader, like Japanese Jeanne d'Arc, and entrenched themselves in Hara Castle. Eventually, the Tokugawa Shogunate sent a force of over 125,000 troops to suppress the rebels and, after a lengthy siege against the rebels at Hara Castle, defeated them by ruthless and violent way. Amakusa Shiro was beheaded and the prohibition of Christianity was strictly enforced. Some people think that it was sort of religious war in Japan.

In the mid-17th century, the shogunate demanded the expulsion of all European missionaries and the execution of all converts. At that time, most Japanese Christians lived in Kyushu area, but Christianization had already a national impact. It is said that by the end of the 16th century it was possible to find baptized people in virtually every province of Japan.

In my hometown Sendai, daimyo Masamune Date (1567-1636) had ruled the land, and expanded trade in the remote, backwater Tōhoku region. He was an aggressive and ambitious man, and sympathized with foreign causes. He is known to have encouraged foreigners to come to his land. Also He funded and promoted an envoy to establish relations with the Pope in Rome, and sent Hasekura Tsunenaga (1571-1622) and others from port of Ishinomaki, Miyagi to Spain and the Vatican in Rome as a diplomatic mission in the years 1613 through 1620.

When the Tokugawa government banned Christianity, Masamune, though disliking it, had to obey the law, and let Tokugawa persecute Christians in his domain. It is said his anti-Christian measures were comparatively mild.  (Some sources suggest that Masamune's eldest daughter was a Christian).

By the time Tsunenaga came back, Japan had changed quite drastically; an effort to eradicate Christianity had been under way and Japan was moving towards the 'Sakoku' policy of isolation. This expedition visited such places as the Philippines, Mexico, Spain and Rome. They met the King of Spain, but mission was failed because such negative news had already arrived in Europe. Hopes of trade with Spain evaporated as long as persecutions were occurring in Japan. But at least five members of the expedition stayed in Coria (Seville) of Spain to avoid the persecution of Christians in Japan. And their descendants with the surname Japón (Japan) are now living in Spain.
What became of Stunenaga is unknown and accounts of his last years are numerous. But it is said that the truth of his descendants and servants were later executed for being Christians, suggests that he remained strongly Christian. In the end, Date Masamune suddenly chose to distance himself from the Western faith.

And now, there is the Christian Martyrs' Monument in Sendai. When we went back to Sendai, we visited there. The statues are figures of Portuguese missionary Diego de Carvalho (1578-1624, aged 46), and Japanese warrior and peasant. It was built in 1971 by Christians. In February 1624, 9 Christians include Carvalho, were executed in the icy cold Hirose river by the water cure. Even in a countryside, and that in a favourable region against foreigners and Christians, it is sad there were executions. It should had been one of a painful decisions for Masamune. Their statue also keep in silence, but I wonder what they would say seeing current Sendai.

I am sure Masamune had an ambition to dominate the whole country too. He just found few opportunities to move forward at the time. I think he had a good foresight but always were hampered by resistance from others. We also visited Sendai City Museum again, where painting, letter and others from Europe display, which Tsunenaga brought back to Sendai. It was a good opportunity to visit a historical place in my hometown and learn local history not only fragmentary but also in conjunction with whole Japanese historical movement.

22 Oct 2018


When I watched English historical drama, I felt that the monk's shaved head 'tonsure' was very impressive. Why did they have such weird hair-styles? It is said to be a sign of religious devotion or humility. According to Wikipedia, the term originates from the Latin word meaning clipping or shearing, and referred to a specific practice in medieval Catholicism, abandoned by papal order in 1972. And then I thought, Oh, our Japanese people had weird "Chonmage" hair-styles, too. The chonmage is a form of Japanese traditional topknot haircut worn by men. It was originally a method of using hair to hold a samurai helmet steady atop the head in battle, and became a status symbol among Japanese society. It was only a hair-style, but it was still Japan‐shaking matter.

If you hit Chonmage-atama, it makes the sound of anachronism,
If you hit Zangiri-atama, it makes the sound of Westernization.

This is the part of the song lyric that was popular in the Meiji period (1868-1912), when modernization in Japan was beginning. Zangiri-atama means the hairstyle with cutting off the topknot. When I learnt this lyric at school, I thought it's rhythmic, comic and humorous.

Kido Takayoshi (1833-1877) was one of the principal promoters of the Meiji Revolution of 1868. When the American Commodore Matthew Perry reached Japan in 1854 and Japan signed the treaty, Kido felt the position between America and Japan was not equal. Being accepted as a modern nation by western countries and being equal, he thought Japan needed modernization. He was the person who always tried to take cutting-edges. He had an eye on the700-year-old 'Chonmage-hairstyle' which was despised and denigrated by Western people. He promoted cutting chonmage hair, and he became a role model. It is said that some men who had chonmage-cut, were called 'gross' by their wives and divorced. Modern people think it's ridiculous, but they had such a sense at that time.

On another front, Iwakura Tomomi (1825-1883) was extremely disapproving of Kido's hair-idea. He had believed the chonmage hairstyle was symbolic of Japanese soul and identity. When he led the 2-year-around-the-world-journey, visiting the United States and several European countries with the purpose of renegotiating the unequal treaties and gathering information to help effect the modernization of Japan, he was the only person who wore traditional Japanese clothing with chonmage hairstyle among the members. There is a picture of the them, Iwakura looking proudly with Japanese style in the middle. And also the other people's jackets look too big for them!

Source; Wikipedia
During the mission, Iwakura realized that Japan was not in any position to challenge the western powers in its present state. Also he noticed he was publicly derided, and he decided to have chonmage-cut and to wear western clothing.

To promote modernization, the key person was the Meiji Emperor. They had thought if he changed his hairstyle, people might follow him. That idea was successful. Of course, it wasn't easy, but the Meiji Emperor decided to have his chonmage cut. Cutting hair is nothing for us, but it must be hard for them. They were so brave. I know it take a lot of grit to depart from tradition and accept new things. It's interesting to know that there was a deep connection between 'Chonmage' and 'Modernization' and the fact that Japanese nation moved and stepped forward together to Modernization. Without Chonmage, we are Japanese.

13 Sep 2018

Craft News

I started to sell my crochet items at a lovely shop; Suzie's gift and tea shop in Maldon, Essex. They sell handmade crafts and serve fresh and yummy food & drink. The shop is located on a main street in Maldon. It's a very cosy and friendly atmosphere.  A Little Mouse's Crochet sells various items; animal soft toys, purses, baby blankets etc. I am regularly going to add some more. Please drop in and have a look.