Saturday, 24 April 2010

New Garden friend

So, as some of you know we are busy making a large garden here in our backyard in Sanda, Japan. This has attracted many birds, insects and slugs to our formerly dead lawn; but we now have a new member of the backyard. Today I found a very lovely and pretty large (7 inches) Japanese five-lined skink (a lizard to all the laymen) just basking on a stick beside the tomato beds. I hope I didn't scare him off as they love to feed on our worst enemies the dreaded slug and the cursed beetle. This is exciting for us and shows that when you create a garden you rehabilitate the dead suburban land we are all so familiar with. Small animals can make their homes, the cycle of life is encouraged by not using pesticides or herbicides and you end up with a much richer daily backyard adventure. So we have a new friend to compliment the Momo-bird, the jerk bird and the little white butterflies, Jackie has decided to name him "Takarazuka" and we hope he sticks around.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Sake-no-tare Jinja (Sah-keh-no-tah-ray Jeen-ja)

We took a little drive down the road the other day to visit another local shrine, this one honouring the kami (spirit) of alcohol. Yes, here in Sanda there is a shrine of the Shinto religion (Japan's native religion) to the demon liquor. Strange as it may seem to mix religion with alcohol anyone who has ever drank it knows that there is definetly something to be respected/feared in it. This respect the Japanese hold for alcohol (sake) is shown in their honourific form by adding o to the beginning of the word. So one must call it o-sake. When any word is prefaced with this o, it means that the Japanese are honouring the kami inherent in the subject. So water (mizu) is called 0-mizu, bento-boxes are called o-bento, sushi is called 0-zushi, you get the idea. This shrine we visited had large casks of sacred sake stored around the grounds and plenty of sitting places to enjoy these spirits. The architecture was also quite interesting as it's main gates stand in a rice paddy and the shrine is perched on a hill overlooking the fields. The woodwork of the building has many detailed spirits and animals carved into it. By the looks of it, sake-tare is a very old shrine, one of the interesting free cultural elements anyone can explore here in Kansai. So next time you crack a brewsky honour the kami and call it o-beer, and if in town come down and say a little prayer to the sake shrine, just remember to respect it.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

The people are waking up

This is James Corbett, an independent media reporter here in Kobe Japan. His reports are excellent and balanced. He is a very well spoken and well researched man, check it out and watch his news reports.....

Friday, 16 April 2010

NEW!! Shrine of the Week (The Fox shrine, Sanda)

We have decided to share one of our new off time favourites, exploring the many shinto shrines (Jinja) of Japan. The country is literally littered with these charming and often ancient sacred sites set up to venerate certain spirits or energies that the Japanese call Kami. Almost everything has a Jinja set up to venerate the many kami that seem to inhabit all things in existance. Miniature wayside shrines called hokora which honour individual kami can occasionally be found at the side of streets. While large shrines can contain many kami veneration sites called sessha or massha within. This need to create shrines all over Japan was spurned from their native religious belief that nature embodies spiritual creative forces that take on many manifestations. These manifestations can be anything from a mountain to a tree to an idea.
But all this religious definition aside, these places are amazing examples of the traditional Japanese wooden architecture and a balance between built structures and natural landscape which seeks to embody balance rather than the modern bent of destroying the site to build upon it. This week we went to a great shrine in the mountains ten minutes outside of our house. This was an archers shrine that venerates the spirit of archery and a few tree spirits. The place was fantastically old and featured a strange design where you enter beneath the main hall of archery while climbing up a picturesque mountainside. All in all I would have to say this is my favourite of local Jinjas! Enjoy

This is a pretty standard entrance to a jinja, they are called Torii gates and they are meant to purify entrants and ward off evil spirits from the shrine.

Jackie and these stone beasts also do well warding off the evil.

Very unique entrance which passes under an archery hall all made of dry stonework, ie no mortar!

The Main hall in the mists of a post rainy morning.

This tree seems to be important to the shrine in that it has been marked with the sacred rope of shinto which honours kami.

So Jackie hugged it.

For all those who do not know this is how we are to properly address the kami when you approach the shrine, First bow, clap twice, then bow twice but they forget the best parts, you can always ring the bell of the shrine to wake the kami and then throw in a coin to honour and give the kami a little more convincing for your prayers.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Our First Trip to Nara

Nara is the oldest capital of Japan (700C.E.). It is also the birth place of Buddhism in Japan. Our friend Seiji was all alone of the weekend as his wife had taken their children to Tokyo to look after her sister's children, her sister was on a business trip. So Seiji said he was going to be lonely (an amazingly cute thing for a 40 year old doctor to say). So he asked us if we wanted to go to see Nara with him. We said "of course". It was very lucky that the new teacher at the other branch of our school had come down on the Saturday. Seiji asked if she wanted to come too. So Helen stayed at our house, we had a lovely breakfast at home and set off to Nara.
The Buddhist monks in Nara decided that deer were the messengers of god and set down laws in Nara such that no one could hunt deer. For over a thousand years the deer of Japan have known that this city is a safe haven and they have flocked to it like Mecca. The end product is that the city of Nara has thousands of semi tame deer roaming freely like cows do in India. All over the tourist areas vendors sell stacks of wafer like crackers for the tourists to feed to the deer. The deer love these crackers but have no way to purchase them. This is the biggest joke on the deer ever. Because of this we thought it would be appropriate to tell you of our trip to Nara from the perspective of the deer.

"Hello I am a Nara deer, I would like to take you through a typical day in Nara"

"First I spend my morning bowing to tourists to get some crackers" ... "I really wonder what they are made of?"

"Then I sit on the boulevard with my friends and we talk about today's tourists"

"I warned them about this man named Seiji who tried to eat me, apparently he does not know that the law is on my side, I am a protected messenger of god"

"I barely got out of that situation alive, Seiji was crazy.... what should I do now?"

"I think I will attend a wedding hum.... I wonder if bridal veil tastes like crackers?"

"I took a drink under this beautiful cherry blossom tree... I wonder if the blossoms taste at all like cracker, mmm delicious crackers"

"This got me to thinking... maybe if I got a job I could obtain this fabled 150 Yen that allows these Japanese to so easily buy crackers."

"Crackers aside... I would like to show you some of the sites of Nara, this is Nan-dai-mon the great gate to the oldest wooden building on Earth, it also happens to be the largest. The people must pay 600 Yen to get in, that's a lot of crackers."

"This is what brings in all the tourists. The largest, oldest wooden building on Earth, it's what keeps the crackers flowing."

"This is the closest that I have ever got... even though I am the messenger of god, they still don't let me near him."

"As you can see this ain't your uncle's cottage in the woods, this is a BIG wood building."

"Inside sits Buddha, I wish I could see him just once, he is the provayer of crackers."

"He is very large... well you couldn't put a little buddha in there the building this massive. It's the kinda of place that makes a Hummer look like a Tonka"

"This guy looks very violent for a Buddhist."

"In Nara we have a big bell, no one seems to ring it, Helen and Seiji did not."

"This man Seiji finally got the right idea, he is not supposed to eat us, he is supposed to feed us crackers."

"These are my friends."

"We have a plan, I will pretend to shop, ya know interested in the merchandise, while Kazuko is the look out and Yoshimi raids the back for crackers."

"For some reason these people are stockpiling ancient stone lanterns, maybe they think that they are also the messanger of god."

"These humans came in traditional fur."

"We all thought that they were real pretty."

"We decided to head uptown to Kasuga Shrine where rumour has it the crackers are extra tasty."

"We decided to take a preening pit stop, if we look pretty we get more crackers, FACT!"

"We finally made it to Kasuga."

"There was a Shinto wedding being held, we were glad we had fixed ourselves up, but deer were not allowed in and the people were too distracted to buy crackers."

"I'm glad I live in Nara, during cherry blossom season it is beautiful."

"The five story pagota just as old a the big temple is a very good place to obtain crackers."

"This man was teaching his son the way of Shinto."

"As you can see our favourite pagota is very nice but there are many others in the city."

"As I approached I met two wonderful people, they had many crackers, but could not speak Japanese, I will not hold that against them."

"Good bye from Nara, I am just a small deer I need to go to bed my belly is full of crackers, today was a great success. Maybe you too can come to Nara and feed me crackers. Or if you have job for me it would be much appreciated, you know what they say, give a deer a cracker feed him for a day, give a deer a job and he can buy his own crackers."