Friday, January 28, 2011

~ JAPAN PREP PART 3 ~ Mikuni Matsuri and Tojinbo 三国祭りと東尋坊



CLICK TO VIEW THE SLIDESHOW.

One of the Japanese traditions that I love and miss so much is Matsuri.  Matsuri (祭) is the Japanese
word for a festival or holiday. Matsuri are usually sponsored by a local shrine or temple, though they can
be secular.  Normally I hate being in a crowd of people, especially in urban area, but being in a Matsuri
crowd is an exception. The reason is quite simple.  Because I see many smiles there.

As I get older, I come to understand the true meaning of Kan Kon Sou Sai (冠婚葬祭).  It’s a Japanese
word refers to four ceremonial occasions in family relationships. As you see below, the word is made up
of four kanji characters, which refer to the four main rites of passage in one’s life.

冠 (kan) - the coming of age
婚 (kon) - marriage
葬 (sou) - funeral
祭 (sai) - ceremonies for ancestors

Cerebrating one’s passage with the people around him/or her (such as family, relatives, friends or
neighbors) is so basic, yet it's universally important. It’s a way to show your respect to others, and to
yourself. By being a part of the circle, one may re-discover who she is, or where he is at.  It is also a
great opportunity to have skin-to-skin conversation with the people around you. And most importantly,
It is a physical experience where you can feel the presence of temperature, vibe, or emotions. Now that a
world is becoming more virtual than ever, I find the custom like this very precious, and necessary for our
universal peace.

Anyhow, I missed Matsuri so much that I looked up online before our last visit to Japan in May.
Fortunately I found one, called Mikuni Matsuri, which takes place in Mikuni town, of Fukui-Prefecture.
It is known as one of the three famous Matsuri in Hokuriku region (北陸三大祭り).  The biggest
attraction is Dashi (山車: Carts with 5 meter-tall paper dolls of historical figures). Dashi are carried
through the narrow streets of Mikuni by people in different costumes, with bands playing traditional
music until midnight.

There were also about 500 street venders selling food and games that are unique to matsuri occasions.
Just being there breathing in the air filled with smoke and smell of food, or looking at young girls dressed
up to attract boy’s attention made me feel so nostalgic.

The highlight of the night, was “火の太鼓” (The Fire Drum), the drum performance/ Jam session by the
local members.  Boys, girls, mother and father, they all took turn, and played as they felt. I was
fascinated not only by their energetic performance, but was seriously moved by their joyful faces.

On the next day, we walked along a coast, head to Tojinbo, a series of surreal, eerie basaltic cliff.
Tōjinbō is a well-known place to commit suicide in Japan. According to statistics, as many as 25 people
(virtually all of them young unemployed men) commit suicide by jumping off the 70-foot-high cliffs
annually. On the walking trail along the cliff, there were many signs with some motivational words to
keep people to from jumping.  There was even a phone booth, equipped with coins or calling cards so
that they can call the help line.  It was quite a contrasty experience to visit the sight, especially on the day
after such a lively event in town.



私はお祭りが大好きです。都会の人ごみは苦手なのですがお祭りの人ごみだと許せてしまいます。なぜか、
と言えば単純です。みんなの顔が楽しそうだから。

最近歳を重ねてくにつれて、冠婚葬祭への関心と重要性をひしひし感じるようになりました。人生の節目を尊重
し、それを家族、親族, 友人そして近所の人たちといったコミュニティ単位で時間を共有すること。それによって
体感できる人の体温、空気、そして会話のリズム。 周囲の人を認識することによって見えてくる自分の所在。 
そんなことを再確認できるとても素敵な習慣だなあと思うのです。

日本訪問中の5月に何処かでお祭りはやっていないかしら、と探した末に見つけたのが福井県三国町での三国祭
りでした。三国祭りは北陸三大祭りの一つとも称されており、その最大の呼びものが、巨大な武者人形山車
(高さ5m)の行列です。各町内から自慢の山車が参加して、笛、太鼓、三味線のおはやしとともに情緒漂う街中
を夜遅くまで練り歩きます。

又、三國神社に続く町並みには500以上の露店が並び、浴衣やじんべいなどを着てお父さんやお母さんに手を
引いてもらっている子供たち、異性を少し意識しておしゃれをしてきたような学生さん、露店から漂う独特の
り、辺り一面にたちこむ白い湯気などが、私の記憶の深い部分をうずかせます。

その晩のハイライトは、火の太鼓という、町内の会員の方々による太鼓と横笛での豪快なジャムセッション
でした。みなぎる若い力を鼓動で表す男性、笑顔いっぱいでたたく中年の女性、ベテランの男性、など様々な
人々が自由に表現する様はとても晴れやかで、その音色は強く、そして温かく私の魂に響いてきました。

祭りの翌日は海岸沿いへ、東尋坊という高さ約25メートルに及ぶ岩壁の周辺の散策をしました。ここは自殺の
名所としても全国的に有名で、各所に自殺を思いとどまらせるための句碑や看板設置してありました。又、周辺
の公衆電話にはテレホンカードや10円硬貨を常備して誰かに相談ができる「救いの電話」が設置され、自殺を思
いとどまらせる努力があちこちに見受けられました。前の晩のお祭り騒ぎとは極めて対局的な一面が見受けれ、
複雑な気分の一日でした。



Monday, January 24, 2011

~ JAPAN PREP PART 2 ~ 金沢 Kanazawa

Click to view a slideshow.

My first visit to the Hokuriku region (which faces on the Sea of Japan, bordered by the Japan Alps) was
Kanazawa City, of Ishikawa prefecture.  Kanazawa, the biggest city in the Hokuriku region is a castle
town that was ruled over by the Maeda family for three centuries after the first lord Toshiie Maeda
entered Kanazawa Castle in 1583.

The Kaga domain (加賀藩 Kaga han: includes current Kanazawa city as the capital), which was
founded by Maeda Toshiie, was powerful feudal domain.  Its income rating, over 1,000,000 koku, was
the highest in the nation, after the Tokugawa shogunate itself.

Since the Kaga Clan invited many artists and craftsmen to this area, it achieved a high level of
craftsmanship that continues to flourish to this day. Kanazawa is also famous for their special products
like rice, sake, sweets, etc., due to its temperate and rainy climate with heavy snow in winter.

We rented  a couple of bicycles for a day and toured around town during the day,  and then head West
for about 1 hour to Taihei Sushi (太平寿司), a sushi restaurant, that was recommended by our friend,
who is a Sake Sommelier in NYC.  It’s needless to say that the sushi was excellent, but I was really
entertained by the presentation of each sushi piece.  I felt like I was eating pieces of  craftwork.
The local sake we tried, Tengumai Yamahai (天狗舞の山廃仕込み)tasted pure and smooth. It was
the perfect compliment for the freshest meal (In fact most of the fish were still alive till we ate them) .
It even made our bike ride back more exciting.  We ended up getting back in town in 40 minutes, racing
a quiet road at night.

The picture above is a rice field near Taihei Sushi. It was well worth riding bicycle (ママチャリ) for
an hour to the suburb area of Kanazawa, since we’ve got to feel the vibe of what the real life is like
around the area.

初めての北陸旅行で訪れた街は金沢でした。五月の日本海は穏やかで、海の色はカリビアン
を思わせるようなエメラルドグリーン色なのには驚きでした。

加賀百万石の勢力を誇った前田家の城下町である金沢の町並みには、繁栄時の歴史の足跡
が街の各地に見られて、歩いていても自然と優美な気持ちになりました。街全体の美意識の
高さによるものでしょうか。また、観光客でごった返す京都や鎌倉などの古都に比べると
比較的静かで、全体的に落ち着いた印象でした。五月にしてはわりと日差しが強く、カラ
フルな日傘をさした女性の姿が印象に残りました。

ハイライトは自転車を一日レンタルして東茶屋街、各お寺などを巡った後、昼下がりに酒
きき師の友人のおすすめで太平寿司さんに一時間かけて自転車で一時間かけてうかがったこ
とでしょうか。太平寿司さんは金沢市内より西の郊外にあり、周りは田んぼで蛙の合唱が聞
こえてくるのどかなエリアでした。お寿司は新鮮でローカルでしか目にする事のできないネ
タを沢山出していただきました。一品一品が美しい細工者のようで、味覚と視覚の両方で楽
しませていただきました。お寿司と一緒にいただいた 天狗舞の山廃仕込みは、とてもスムー
ズで飲みやすく、お寿司には最高の組み合わせだったので沢山飲んでしまいました。おかげ
で帰りの自転車の旅は、もう夜で車も少なかった為、レースのように駆け抜けて40分くら
いで戻れました。

私にとっての旅行の醍醐味とは、やはりその街の華やかな表の顔と、地元の方の暮らしぶ
りをかいま見れるローカルなエリアにある裏の顔の両方を訪れる事と、そこの空気を吸って
食べ物を食べて、地元の人と会話を交わして、その街に住むって一体どんななんだろう、
と肌で感じられることでしょうか。

Friday, January 21, 2011

~ JAPAN PREP PART 1 ~ 鞍馬山 (Mount Kurama) , North Kyoto



Click to view the slideshow on my flickr.


Mount Kurama (鞍馬山 Kurama-yama?) is a mountain to the north-west of the city of Kyoto
It is the birthplace of the Reiki practice, and is said to be the home of Sōjōbō, King of the Tengu
who taught swordsmanship to Minamoto no Yoshitsune
Kurama Temple (鞍馬寺 Kuramadera?) is now designated as a national treasure of Japan.


I had a chance to visit my friend, Rosie-san (in the pic above), who lives below the mountain.  According to her,
Mount Kurama has been known as a power spot for about a century, and she comes almost every other day, 
before she goes to work.  So we joined her ritual one morning in May. The dewy air, sounds of insects, birds, 
frogs and chanting by the monks were heavenly harmonized and quite soothing.
I'd recommend every one to go there early in the morning (around the sunrise) where you can have it on your own.
This is what I call "a luxury time".



Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Snow n Pong!



Click to view the flickr slideshow.

A perfect way to get warm and burn some calories you've accumulated over the snowy holiday season.



Monday, January 10, 2011

New Year's day 2011



Click to go to my flickr slideshow.

We celebrated our new year's day in traditional Japanese way.
Akane above, wrote her new year's resolution in calligraphy. (書き初め - Kakizome)