Daibutsu, Kamakura

Daibutsu, Kamakura
Daibutsu in Kamakura, June 2010. There were thousands of school kids visiting that day. It was still great fun.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Japan trip update

I am enjoying my stay in Tochigi. This trip is mainly to visit family and not to sightsee so no temples or shrines or castles this trip.

On Monday we went to Flying Garden restaurant. One of my favorite restaurants to visit. I had the chicken and hamburg and two plates of rice. I was stuffed.

Yesterday we woke up to several inches of snow on the ground here in Otawara. I helped my father in law shovel the snow off the driveway.

Today we went to Bell Mall in Utsunomiya and had a nice italian lunch and later Starbucks. We also played the claw games at the arcade and won a lot of Tomica cars.

There are so many people wearing surgical masks. Think about if people did that in the United States. It would be a lot easier to rob a bank or convenience store.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

I will be here

This is where I will be for the next two weeks visiting family in Otawara, Tochigi. I will also be visiting family in Nikko. Other then that I have no specific plans. We will probably go to places like Bell Mall in Utsunomiya and if I have a chance, I will take walks around Otawara.

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I'd like to walk to this shinto shrine on top of the hill overlooking town if I have time. I've been there before but I have not walked there by myself. Below the shrine at the bottom of the hill is a Buddhist temple that I have also been to before as well.

In the past I have walked to the Tobu mall from home which is about a 25 minute walk each way. There is a McDonald's there. The only one in Otawara. There is no Starbucks in town. For that, we go to Bell Mall. However, there is a Mister Donut next door to the Tobu Mall and their coffee is not bad. And the donuts aren't bad either.

I will try and post updates when I am there.

Akira Kurosawa's Red Beard

This is another great movie from Akira Kurosawa. This is not one of Kurosawa's many samurai movies but a movie about the harsh life in a 19th century medical clinic near the end of the Edo period.

The movie chronicles the tumultuous relationship between an arrogant young doctor and the compassionate clinic director, Toshiro Mifune, in his last role for Kurosawa. Of the 8 or 9 Kurosawa films I have seen I place this one at the top along with the Seven Samurai. What I really liked about the film was how well it showed the life and feel of 19th century Japan.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

When the Last Sword is Drawn

This movie, by Yojiro Takita, is set at the end of the Edo period in Kyoto, and revolves around Kanichiro Yoshimura, a lone samurai whose sole purpose in life was to make enough money for his family so he joined the Shinsengumi.

His fellow samurai warriors initially viewed him as dishonorable for his mercenary, seemingly greedy approach, especially Saito, another member of the Shinsengumi, guardians of the Imperial capital and the shogun's last samurai corps.

It is here that Kanichiro proves himself time and time again as a master swordsman with great loyalty, eventually earning the respect of Saito and the other samurai.

This 2003 movie won several Japanese Academy Awards including Best Actor. It was a good samurai movie from the period of the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate. The Shinsengumi was the Shogun's last samurai corps dedicated to defending the Shogun. That is what the film is about. How a samurai, who seemed to be only in it for the money, but in the end, he showed his loyalty and courage.

There were many actors in this film that I have seen before recently in Japanese TV dramas, including one that I think was also in the TV drama "Shinsengumi." Overall it was a good movie and I recommend it.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Cool Umbrella

Here is a cool umbrella. It has a samurai sword handle. For those who want to pretend they are Saigo Takamori .......... or Tom Cruise.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Birth of the Japanese Style

Up until about the early 14th century, aristocrats and high ranking warriors copied Chinese style. Tea ceremonies were held in rooms decorated in the Chinese style with chairs, cabinets, and other furniture imported from China.  There were neither mats nor an alcove. Sometimes there were a few screens painted by Chinese masters. Porcelain vases held flowers, the Japanese art of flower arranging, ikebana, had not yet been invented.

In the 14th century, the art of meeting, such as the tea ceremony and other gatherings, was still being developed, and the Chinese style decor played an important part. Japanese artists emulated the Chinese style. However, over time, the Japanese artists began to acquire techniques and skills that set the stage for a new and original style in the 15th and 16th centuries, a Japanese style. This new style arose during the Muromachi period of the 15th century.

This new style differed from previous forms of interior design by its use of mats and a new form of internal space in the house. 

In the early 15th century, the aristocracy began to use tatami throughout their rooms and not just for seating. The mats originally were used as a seat or bed but now their use became widespread in the house of wealthy samurai warriors. Bamboo blinds and hangings were gradually replaced by movable partitions covered with white paper, or shoji, which let the light filter through.

The new Japanese style won over the Kyoto aristocracy, nobles and especially the samurai, as well as the upper middle class. It was not until the late 16th century, however, that the new interior style reached the wealthier classes in the provinces.

In the samurai aristocracy's residences, the increased use of tatami was accompanied by the introduction of a new architectural form, the shoin zakuri, a space used as a reading or meeting room with chests of drawers and shelves for storing scrolls. An alcove (tokonoma) was built into one corner. This interior style, which evolved into the "Japanese house," became popular during the time of the Ashikaga Shogun Yoshimasa.

The new interior style led to more interest in local art production such as pottery for use in the tea ceremony. It also led to the size of objects being reduced in order to fit into the shoin zukuri, and small rooms, 4.5 tatami in area.

Although the Muromachi period was a time of civil wars (Onin War), peasant uprisings, and the assassination of the Shogun Ashikaga Yoshinori, it was also a time of great cultural growth. The Japanese Tea Ceremony, Japanese flower arranging, The Noh Japanese drama, and ink painting all appeared during this time.

The World Turned Upside Down: Medieval Japanese Society

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Japanese Pirates

You may not have realized it, but Japan has a long history of piracy on the open seas. From long before the 10th century to the beginning of the Edo period (early 1600s) the Japanese seas were infested with pirates. The Japanese pirates were called wako. During the chaos of civil wars of the 14th century, piracy grew to unprecedented proportions. The wako not only ravaged Japanese coastal villages, but even ventured across the seas to plunder the Korean and Chinese coasts. They sowed terror throughout eastern Asia.

In the 14th century, several thousand pirate-warriors of Kumano launched raids on southern Kyushu. These pirate-warriors were so powerful that they were socially recognized as warrior groups just like the other powerful clans throughout Japan. Since ancient time however, the authorities, including the Shoguns, had tried to control the destructive wako.

The piracy expanded suddenly in the mid-14th century due to the civil wars. The wako of northern Kyushu and the many sea islands launched expeditions on the coast of Korea. In 1350, 100 Japanese wako ships attacked the southern coast and returned 4 more times that year. After that, the raids became more constant, and massive. Some wako fleets included as many as 350 ships in 1374 and some fleets comprised from 2,000 to 5,000 men.

The pirates mainly looted the granaries and harvests. The ease with which the pirates attacked the Korean coasts drew more warriors who were only too happy to plunder with impunity. On the open seas, pirates attacked Korean ships and also kidnapped local populations and took them back to Japan to sell as slaves or hold as ransom.

The raids became increasingly bold. Like the Vikings in earlier times, the wako sailed farther and farther up the rivers, operating as far inland as the Kaesong region near Seoul. Later, the wako began transporting horses on their ships so they could raid the interior of the country.

Other pirate chiefs turned their eyes to the riches of Ming China. After Korea, it was China's turn, in the 15th century, to suffer the bloody raids of the Vikings of the Far East.


The World Turned Upside Down: Medieval Japanese Society

The Wako: History of the Sea