30 Apr 2015

The Edicts on Compassion for Living Things

Many years ago, there was an ordinance of animal protection in Japan. It was called 'Shorui-Awaremi-no-rei'; the Edicts on Compassion for Living Things. It was ruled in 1685 by the fifth Shogun, Tsunayoshi Tokugawa (1646-1709), who was born in the Year of the Dog. He is known as the dog Shogun. For Japanese people, he exudes an image of a slightly mentally deteriorated person who treated dogs so generously and crazily as if the dogs come before people. Actually the edicts were not only for the dogs but the all living things. People who violated the edicts by abusing animals were punished, and it is said Tsunayoshi invited the people's indignation, because it was escalated.

However, it's a controversial matter. There are many theories around as to these edicts and himself. Always only his craziness for dogs is emphasized in the history books, but some historians have reviewed the facts themselves.

The difference now from ancient times is that we live in a society based on the common understanding the preciousness of human/animal life. Even though they were extreme edicts, I think it might be one of triggers to think of the value of life for Japanese people at that time.

Source; Wikipedia

29 Apr 2015

A Virtual Reality Tour

While I was staying in Tokyo, I saw the interesting news about a new 3-D virtual tour in Tokyo. That unique special tour is organized by the travel agency (Kinki Nippon Tourist Co.). On this tour, you wear 3-D smart glasses and visit some places. You  can get a 3-D virtual reality look at what Tokyo looked like during the Edo Period by wearing the glasses. For example, if you stand in front of Nihonbashi, you can see the old wooden bridge of Nihonbashi in Edo period (1603-1867) through the glasses. In the same way, if you stand in front of the Imperial Palace, the Edo Castle will emerge corresponding to your eyes' movement. The old images have an overlap with current buildings. So, with and without the glasses, you can compare the past and present of Japan.

Nowadays, the virtual glasses are not new, but I think this tour must be interesting. Especially, if you are interested in Japanese history, you can be transported back in time to the Edo era. This kind of tour may become widespread. In fact, the 3-D tours will be available in other parts of Japan, too. The tour has already started.

24 Apr 2015

The Kitsune no Yomeiri

A sunshower or sun shower is sometimes discribed as 'the Kitsune no Yomeiri' in Japan. It means the fox's wedding. The fox often plays tricks on humans in Japanese legend. When something unusual happens and you are hopelessly confused, we often say you are bewitched by a fox. As for a sunshower, the interesting thing is there are similar words to refer to animals around the world. A common theme is that of clever animals and tricksters getting married or related to the devil.

I quite like the idea of 'the Kitsune no Yomeiri', because it's very Japanese and unique. Just imagine foxes who wear kimono and march along to a village like in the picture below. It's unrealistic but full of imagination and ideas. I sometimes picture scenes from the film, Akira Kurosawa's Dreams in my mind.


From an ancient time, the fox has been a closely-linked animal to the lives of Japanese people. For example, if you go to a shrine, you would notice that there are 2 foxes on the right side and left side, as messengers of God. Japanese eat rice as our staple diet. And rice crop was never without mice. So people built a small shrine around rice fields and sacrificed 'Aburaage' at the altar to draw the fox. Aburaage is a Japanese food product made from soybeans. It's a sort of deep-fried tofu. And it is believed that it's the fox's favourite. People knew the fox was enemy of mice. That's why Inari shrine became widely touted as God for a rich harvest and prosperous business. Even now we call a noodle with Aburaage, 'Kitsune Udon' or 'Kitsune Soba', like 'fox noodles'.

23 Apr 2015

Makunouchi

The other day, when we were in Tokyo, we ate from a 'Makunouchi' bento box. Makunouchi is a popular and common type of Japanese bento which consists of fish, meat, eggs, pickles, and vegetables along with rice and an umeboshi.

I just wondered why this is called 'makunouchi'? This word was traced back to the Edo peirod (1603-1867). 'Maku' means act curtain, and 'uchi' means in, inside or between. So it means 'between-act bento' and was served during the intermissions of Japanese traditional play Kabuki and Noh performances.

Nowadays, you can buy a variety of bento boxed meals at convenience stores, supermarkets, department stores, lunchers, anywhere in Japan. Also many types of bento boxes called ekiben are sold on trains or train stations. They have regional characteristics. Many Japanese people enjoy eating ekiben during their train journeys, because ekiben provides you local food specialities as a part of travel. From my hometown Sendai, bento of Gyūtan which is made from grilled beef tongue is famous:)

21 Apr 2015

Purikura

'Purikura' has changed remarkably in the last 20 years! 'Purikura' are sticker pictures which are taken in Purikura booths. It's still a popular activity among especially Japanese school girls and young adults. Printed pictures on sticker paper in multiple copies are shared with friends.

When I was in my 20's, it was also a popular activity after/before drinking party with friends. You could choose frames or decoration with the touch-screen and stylus. That's all. But now, the booths themselves look different - more bigger. Also you can write and draw freehand with a variety of pen colours and styles.

When I went out with my nieces, we took 'Purikura' together per their request. On our pictures, we all had big eyes like after having post-plastic surgery.


While I was waiting for my nieces who had decorated on the touch-screen, I took a photo of this kids' Anpanman ride in the amusement arcade.

Peace Lily

I bought a pot of peace lily today. It's one of my favourite plants:)
 

20 Apr 2015

Tea Cup and Saucer

Loving cuisines and items from your own country is common to all people. With me too. When I went back to my parents' house, I took a pair of tea cups and saucers out from my box. I left these because I thought I would not have a chance to use these. But I decided to bring these to the UK this time.


They are thin and very fragile, but a beautiful design. I have collected blue and white dishes. So I put these into my hand-luggage.


Still there is no chance to show off, but I am going to display these in a cabinet in the future. You can see a watermarked picture of a Japanese woman in the bottom of the cup.


18 Apr 2015

Tea Leaf Box

When I was in Tokyo, my friend gave me this tin tea leaf box:) It's a very Japanese design. Thank you!


The advantage of this is having a inside lid. Not only for tea leaf, but you can put biscuits or sweets as well. So when I traveled to Kakunodate, I bought a small teaspoon for this. It is a famous local craft, which is called kabazaiku; covering items with polished cherry bark. Lovely!

17 Apr 2015

Today's Sky

Wasanbon

I brought my friends this as a present from Japan. This is called Wasanbon. It's a fine-grained Japanese sugar made from sugar cane.

I found this lovely sakura-shaped sweets at a department store. At the department store, you can get some local sweets from all over the country. This is from Nara (prefecture). The sweets' company Matsuya started their business on 1842. They look so lovely and are very gentle taste:)


15 Apr 2015

Sendai Castle

There used to be a Sendai castle (aka Aoba castle) in my hometown Sendai. It was the castle where the first daimyo of Sendai Domain, Date Masamune, lived. But the castle was destroyed repeatedly by earthquakes and fires. The castle was different from others, it was a one-story building. Now there is no castle building, but it's a popular tourist spot. I always think, if there was a castle, Sendai could have attracted more people...


Although, this site is located on the top of small mountain (Aoba mountain), and it provides a fabulous view of Sendai city and the Pacific Ocean in the distance.

As an aside, there is a bridge famous for suicides near there. There are many ghost stories from there...


On the last day in Sendai, we visited the ruins of the castle with my family. It was the first time to visit there after the great earthquake for me. There was a heavy and huge statue of a black kite on the stone pedestal previously, but it fell off during the 2011 earthquake!


This must be new.


There is Gokoku Shrine, which is the Sendai branch of the Yasukuni shrine.


I missed to take a photo of a huge part of stone walls, but they were reconstructed and you can feel how great the castle was.


There was an old Otemon (gate), but it was also destroyed completely by the fire of Sendai bombing on 10 July, 1945. It was a commanding presence, and I always think that I wanted to see it.

Source; Wikipedia
In Sendai, it had just started to bloom cherry blossoms at that time. I was glad that we visited Sendai in such a season. I don't know when we can see this view next time.


The Last Night's Sky


14 Apr 2015

Total Lunar Eclipse

We didn't expect that we could see the Total Lunar Eclipse that night. When we had dinner at a restaurant, we realised the beautiful full moon had risen up from the edge of the mountains. It was so beautiful.


It was a perfectly clear sky, until the moon was covered by the shadow. It was the first time to see the total lunar eclipse for me. How lucky we were!

13 Apr 2015

Tazawako

From Kakunodate, we headed to Tazawako; Lake Tazawa. The funny thing was that a foreign couple we saw at the hotel and a few samurai houses in Kakunodate, had visited Lake Tazawa as well:) What a coincidence!

Lake Tazawa is a caldera lake, and the deepest lake in Japan at 423 metres (1,388ft). When I was a child, I visited there with my family as a summer holiday. I boarded a swan-shaped pedal-boat with my father. I remember that I had got scared a bit with waves, especially when a big ferry passed by. 


This area is a popular for a holiday. There are several hot spring resorts and also ski resorts near the lake.

By the lake, there is a statue of the legendary maiden of beauty, Tatsuko, who wished for undying youth and beauty. It is said that she visited a shrine to make a wish night after night. And she received a divine prophecy, and she found the holy spring and sipped water. Then she have been turned into a dragon, a lake-goddess after that.



The hotel we stayed at was standing by the lake. I booked the room on the internet, but suddenly I became anxious about our booking, after I saw the guide book saying that the hotel is closed to business between November and the middle of April. It was still the beginning of April! I wondered if it opened.

In fact, the hotel was open. But we were only the customers! It was a middle sized hotel, but only we were the guests. It was interesting experience as if I was bewitched by animals or mythical creatures from a local folk take or something. I conceived of a story 'Chuumon no Ooi Ryouriten' which is written by Kenji Miyazawa. It's a story about two young British hunters who get lost in the woods and discover a strange restaurant. Like that, this area is isolated and surrounded by mysterious atmosphere. I was sorry for hotel staff, but we had a nice experience with their good services.


The view from the hotel room was a perfect! At night, we enjoyed seeing total lunar eclipse from the room as well.


After the moon was covered by the shadow, the weather had started to change. I really felt the strength of nature by these views.

Next day was miserable weather, but the hotel's shuttle bus drove us around the beautiful lake and then to the nearest station. It was a great holiday in Japan.

12 Apr 2015

Kakunodate

We moved toward the north, and travelled to northern Japan, Akita. We enjoyed watching cherry blossoms in Tokyo and warm spring weather, but there was still a winter view in Akita!


Here we are. We arrived at Kakunodate. And the big mouse's power as a bad weather bringer burst away. Heavy rain...

After we had lunch, we checked in a hotel and were stuck in a nice hotel on that day because of heavy rain.


After watery clouds had gone, next day was a perfect weather.

Kakunodate is a former castle town. Despite the loss of its castle, Kakunodate remains remarkably unchanged since its founding in 1620. The town is now famous for its samurai tradition with beautiful weeping cherry blossoms.


We visited there, unfortunately a couple weeks early for a cherry blossoms (late April and early May), but there was no choice for us. Normally many tourists visit Kakunodate during cherry blossoms' season, but it was so quiet. Anyway, it used to be a quiet area, so it was nice.


The town consists of two distinct areas, the samurai district and the merchant district. Once home to 80 families, the samurai district still has some of the best examples of samurai architecture in all of Japan.


We visited 2 high ranked samurai houses. Some of them are opened to the public. Staff explained about samurai's life there.


Many good conditioned items such as armours, kimono, toys etc. were displayed.





We had a nice experience in Kakunodate. :)