Monday, October 31, 2005

Jidai Matsuri - Festival of the Ages

About 1,200 years ago, Emperor Kammu chose picturesque Yamashiro with its beautiful mountains and clean water as the site of Heian-Kyo, the new capital. This decision made on October 22nd, 794 was the beginning of Kyoto. In celebration of the 1100th anniversary of the founding of the capital and in commemoration of the Emperor Kammu, the citizen of Kyoto established the Heian Shrine in 1895.
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The establishment of Heian Jingu was a symbol of great respect the citizen of that time had for the Emperor. Another purpose was to unite the entire city under the Heian Kosha organization.
As one of the projects of the Heian Kosha, it was decided to annually celebrate October 22nd (the date when the capital was moved to Kyoto) with a grand festival - the Jidai Matsuri (時代祭)
The highlight of this festival is a procession of colorful and varied costumes and articles of the nobility as well as commoners, representing various ages during the passage of more than ten centuries. Thus the name 'Festival of the Ages'.
This procession consists of about 3,000 persons and stretches several kilometers in length. The costumes and equipment used are historically accurate.
The Royal Army of the Meiji Restoration (1868) is headed by a drum and the fife (flute) military band.
The Seven Court Nobles (shown is Sanjo Sanetomi, 1837 - 1891 with some good fashion sense) banded together in an effort to persuade the Emperor not to open the country to foreign relations.
Not sure who he is - noble man or commoner ?
For important imperial functions, the Tokugawa Shogun (1837 - 1853, Tokugawa Ieyoshi, 12th shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate of Japan) sent his deputies to Kyoto to pay his respect to the Emperor and the Imperial Family. As shown, carrying huge traveling boxes is a typical scene of those days.
The procession from the Kenrei-mon Gate of the Kyoto Imperial Palace to the Heian Shrine lasts for nearly five hours. It also includes the charming women dressed in the beautiful kimono of the imperial court (to be continued in next posting).

Friday, October 28, 2005

Halloween - The Pooky Night

Each year, on the last night of October, millions of children across the U.S dress-up in costume and take to the streets for a spooky dose of 'trick or treat' fun. In the late 20th century, most other Western countries adopted Halloween as a part of the American popular culture.
Halloween dates back to Ireland some 2000 years ago. Halloween is supposedly the Day of the Dead. And this festival is called the Pooky Night in some parts of Ireland. Japan does not celebrate a western-style Halloween. Instead the japanese celebrates the 'Obon Festival' which is similar to Halloween festivities in that likewise, it is dedicated to the spirits of ancestors. Meanwhile the chinese celebrates Festivals of the Hungry Ghost - the spirits (of the ancestors) supposedly rose from the dead during the 7th month of the lunar new year and, in order to attract them, food was left on the doors.

Wherever you may be happy Halloween and have fun ! And so much of a celebration, it was reported recently that a body of a suicide woman hanging from tree was mistaken for some halloween decoration. Scary ~

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Something to Talk About Part 3

Celebrating birthdays is a long standing custom that people over the world recognize. Traditionally, birthdays are celebrated as a means to offer congratulations and present gifts in honor of one's birth.
Birthday celebrations date back as far as biblical times, when celebrations among Pharaohs and other significant individuals have been mentioned. There is even some evidence to suggest that in pagan cultures people feared that evil spirits lurked about an individual on their birthday because they tended to become more malicious around important events in one's life. In this case birthdays, weddings, anniversaries and actual births were all noted for their importance and their potential for harm. Because of this, gifts were often bestowed upon the celebrant as a means of wishing them well and offering good luck.

Today is my birthday. Well, it is a happy 31st birthday. Geez, I am not as excited as I normally would be. How come ? But thank you for all the birthday wishes.

Do you get excited about your birthday ?

They say that age is all in your mind. The trick is keeping it from creeping down into your body.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Kurama Fire Festival

One of Kyoto's most dramatic festivals - the Kurama Fire Festival is held annually on the night of October 22nd.
This festival dates back some 1000 years ago when the god of the Yuki shrine was invited to visit (enshrinement of the god as a protector deity) from the Imperial Palace where the deity was said to reside. To light the way and welcome the god, flaming torches were placed along the road leading to the shrine. To commomerate this event, this festival is now held annually.
To get there one has to take the Eizan line train from Demachiyanagi Station to Kurama Station and the trip takes about half an hour. But by the time when I arrived at the Demachiyanagi Station (around 5.00 pm) the train were already packed and extremely long queue lines stretched out of the station (approximately 2 - 3 hours waiting time I was told by two japanese girls that I met at the station - Iwata-san and Kasai-san). When I was about to give up my plan to see the festival, Ono-san (another stranger) approached us and suggested that all four of us might as well share the fare and take a cab (single journey, 3000 yen) to Kibune-guchi Station. From there, it will be another 15 minutes walk to the temple area. What perfect strangers ! And we becoming friends !
As early as 6.00 pm , bonfires were set alight in front of houses along the street.
School children were seen carrying little fire torches in their hands.
On the other hand, men wearing loincloths shouldered huge flaming torches.
During the torch procession, men were drinking beer and sake and were shouting in celebration. Torches lit up the night sky as cries of 'Sairei ! Sairyo !' filled the air.
It was really cold last night. Ono-san bought us amazake (sweet, nonalcoholic japanese drink made from fermented rice). I had tempura udon for my dinner.
At about 8.00 pm, torches were gathered together one after another heading for the main gate of the Kurama Temple.
At its half-way point, the procession made a brief stop (the place where we were anxiously waiting for some great fire show).
Giant blazing torches were held furiously high up in the air.
Sparks showered over participants and spectators - being hit by these sparks is said to be very auspicious.
The spectators were excited and almost went berserk ! The vigorous fire performance was so superbly entertaining and spectacular.
Very heavy duty - the torch is approximately four metres in length and 100 kg in weight.
After a brief stop for about 10 minutes, torch carriers continued their journey to the Yuki Shrine.
As the procession reaches the precincts of the Yuki Shrine, the festival eventually reaches its most dramatic point (between 9.00 - 10.00 pm). But the main gate of Kurama Temple leading to the shrine (best viewing spot) was unbelievably crowded and impossible for us to get there, unless one goes there really really early.
No doubt the festival is legendary. It was an incredible fire display ! And lucky me ... need not to queue for the train. We had our cab waiting for us.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Fisherman's Market Kobe

Nearby Kobe Harbourland, there is a mosaic-like effect shopping and gourmet food mall. Vicky and I had dinner in the Fisherman's Market.
Welcome to Fisherman's Market Kobe !
All-you-can-eat seafood buffet : 2800 yen / person.
Large selection of seafood (sushi, chilled shellfish, fried seafood appetizers and entrees and more) plus pizza, pasta, sandwiches and salad bar.
First serving. Soup (tomato-base with fishball) and seven varieties of salad (e.g. smoked salmon, tuna sashimi, caesar salad and etc).
Second serving. Huge crab legs and other fried seafood appetizers. Pizza and pasta.
Third serving. All-you-can eat prawns. Clams and oysters. Yum yum. I love carbonara pasta. It is never worth to eat buffet. I know that I could only eat this much. Sometimes I just try so hard and continue gabbing the food, continue eating and so much damage to the body (overfeeding of the body in a single meal).
Fourth serving. Here I go again. Dessert and cakes. Oh, I have eaten too much. We must go !
Last serving. Burrppp ! Pathetic I know ... four scoops of ice cream.
The seafood buffet was just ok. Nothing splendid but the staffs were quite friendly. The restaurant was a little crowded (weekend nights probably). Canary Wharf vs Canary Warf (hhmmm).
The many empty cans of clams.
The 108 metre high Kobe Tower at night.
kobe harbourland
The giant ferris wheel and the classy MOSAIC shopping mall at night - notable tourist promenade. Really cool spinning bright lights from the ferris wheel and the way it reflects on sea water.
Click here : Shop Guide to Mosaic Kobe Harbourland (in japanese only).
Kobe has strived to recover from the tremendous sorrow and damage by the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake. The city has moved forward with renewed vitality. Kobe now presents a contrast between the old and the new, providing a colourful way of life and enjoying a reputation as an international port city where people from both Japan and abroad love to live (seen here is a painting of the Old Harbour).

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Images of Kobe - Ijinkan

Kobe is one of Japan's most attractive cities. Local tourists go there and enjoy the feeling of foreign travel without actually a need to leave the japanese soil.
Kobe was one of the first cities to open for trade with the West, as of 1868. Ijinkan (ijin means foreign people and kan means house) are the 19th-century residences of Kobe's foreign traders, clustered in the Kitano area. One can get first hand impression how foreigners in Japan used to live.
Approximately 30 of these Western-style homes still remain. Many of these houses became National Treasure and are now open for the public to visit. Only very few remain on private hands and less is available for rent.
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Of so many visits to Kitano, I have only seen the insides of two - The Uroko-no-Ie and The Original Holland House of Ailion. The Uroko-no-Ie has a castle-like exterior and is nicknamed the Fish-scale House because of its slate walls.
The colorful wooden clogs in The Original Holland House of Ailion.
From clogs to windmill to blogs. Nice picture, nice pose and beautiful Vicky.
One can enjoy wearing Dutch national costumes (free of charge) or other dresses (1000 yen).
The Weathercock House is constructed as the house of German trader G. Thomas in 1909, and famous for the weathercock on the steeple.
There are quite a few of nice souvenir shops.
Other picture : The statue of a naked woman.
The famous buta man (pork steam bun) in Nankinmachi Chinatown Kobe. Most of the time, a very long queue into the shop - The Ryoshoki Buta Manju. Very famous shop, it seems.