Posts Tagged With: Edo period

Omiai: Love and sex in ancient Japan

Marriage in Japan during the Heinan period

Marriage the way we see it has been a pretty recent phenomenon in Japanese history. During the Heinan period (794-1185) “marriages” were not seen as permanent arrangements. High born people could generally have several partners during their lifetime. Lower class people could not afford to keep more than one wife at a time, but they could change wives easily if the current wives family was of lower social status and could not bring political pressure against them.


Men could avoid being “tied down” to wives by not bringing them into their ancestral home and not building or maintaining private homes for them. A union was more of a family affair where two household were combined, not unlike in the middle ages in Europe, , rather than it being a private affair between two people. Even the children belonged to the household and not to any one of their parents.

Policital alliances

Between the 11th and 15th century, marriages in Japan became even more politicized and controlled by local authorities. The main purpose of marriage shifted from producing off spring to guaranteeing the continuation of the household, to providing guarantees of the social status of the family and ensuring their cooperation. Families took great care to make sure their sons and daughters married to someone of equal or above status. Multiple wives became less common in the upper class and their marriages became more like political alliances.

During the early decades of the Edo or Tokugawa period (1603-1868) the shogunate totally bureaucratized society, permanently fixing the people in the class of their birth as samurai, artist/craftsman, merchants, bankers and farmers. All families were required to register with local authorities and copies of koseki or “family registers” were provided to the shogunate government. The social status of each individual family was fixed in these registers.

Multiple pre-marriage partners

A marriage had to be approved first by a go-between, a role played by local government officals, to make sure that the proper social relationships were maintained and then the marriage had to be cleared by higher authorities. Generally speaking the only youngsters that had a say in their choices of marriages were the sons and daughters of farmers, who over the ages had continued the early aristocratic practice of multiple pre-marriage relationships and finally settling on a partner only after the girl in question became pregnant.

Young unmarried farmers traditionally met in ‘wakamo yado’ roughly translated as “young peoples huts”, to have sex. Young men also traditionally engaged in ‘yobai’, “night time visiting”, of the homes of young women. If a young woman allowed a particular man to continue the ‘yobai’ visits and as a result, became pregnant, the pair would be united in marriage.

After a fall down of the shogunate system of government and elimination of the fixed social classes in 1868, marriages were no longer subject to official government approval. The system of family registration however, still continued, and families still arranged alliances between household for their sons and daughters.

(Graph showing the relation beween love marriages and arranged marriages in Japan)

Arranged marriages

Arranging for two marriage candidates to meet for the first time, was known as Miai, which generally translates as “meet and see”, or more formally as ‘omiai” “honerable meet and see”. Omiai meetings were arranged by relativesm an employer or a go-between, after the families had been thorougly investigated to makes sure their social status was compatible, and photographs were then exchanged.

Arranged marriages or ‘omiai kekkon’ were continied to be the norm in Japan until well into the 1960s, some 20 years after the feudal household law was abolished following the end of WWII.

It was not until the mid 1950s that single Japanese boys and girls began dating “Western style” for the first time in the history of the country. This naturally resulted in the increase of “love marriages” or renai kekkon.

Arranged marriages today

Arranged marriages are still common in Japan today, however especially among the upper classes where marriages continue to be an economic, political and above all, a social union. The tradition of ‘wakamono yado’ continues in the form of  “Love Hotels”and the ‘yobai’ custom has been replaced by visits to the ‘onsen’ or hotspring spa’s and other resorts.

Dozens of marriage bureaus, some of them operating on a very large scale and using the latest technology, have replaced the professional ‘nakodo’ or “go-betweens” and modern ‘omiai’ are arranged in coffee shops, restaurants and hotel lounges. Especially since Japanese people generally do not know how to communicate with the other sex due to going to seperate schools (not all schools are segregated, but all boys or all girls schools are still common in Japan today), seems to be a major cause for marriage brokers to continue to have a job in the foreseeable future.

(source: Japan’s cultural code words)

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Categories: history of Japan, Japanese customs, Stories about Japan | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Burakumin people, at the bottom of the Japanese food chain

Burakumin (部落民, “hamlet people”/”village people”) is an outcaste group at the bottom of the Japanese social order that has historically been the victim of severe discrimination and ostracism. They were originally members of outcaste communities in the Japanese feudal era, composed of those with occupations considered impure or tainted by death (such as executioners, undertakers, workers in slaughterhouses, butchers or tanners), which have severe social stigmas of kegare (穢れ or “defilement”) attached to them or people who had been taken prisoner in one of the many wars waged throughout Japan. Traditionally, the Burakumin lived in their own hamlets or ghettos. This minority group accounts for less than 2% of the population.

The reason other people looked down on others who worked as butchers or tanners is because of buddhism. According to the buddhist faith you should not be involved in the taking of an animals life, which accounts for the strong prejudice agains people working in these trades, especially in a feudal society dominated by the military elite.

The social status and typical occupations of outcaste communities have varied considerably according to region and over time. A burakumin neighborhood within metropolitan Tokyo was the last to be served by streetcar and is the site of butcher and leather shops to this day.

Burakumin villages near Tokyo or Edo as it was formally known

During the Edo period

At the start of the Edo period (1603–1867), the social class system was officially established as a means of designating hierarchy, and eta were placed at the lowest level, outside of the four main divisions of society. Like the rest of the population, they were bound by sumptuary laws based on the inheritance of their social class. The eta lived in segregated settlements, and were generally avoided by the rest of Japanese society.

When dealing with members of other castes, they were expected to display signs of subservience, such as the removal of headwear. In an 1859 court case described by author Shimazaki Toson, a magistrate declared that “An eta is worth 1/7 of an ordinary person.”

Historically, eta were not liable for taxation in feudal times, including the Tokugawa period, because the taxation system was based on rice yields, which they were not permitted to possess. Some outcasts were also called kawaramono (河原者, “dried-up riverbed people”) because they lived along river banks that could not be turned into rice fields.

Since the taboo status of the work they performed afforded them an effective monopoly in their trades, some succeeded economically and even occasionally obtained samurai status through marrying or the outright purchase of troubled houses. Some historians point out that such exclusive rights originated in ancient times, granted by shrines, temples, kuge, or the imperial court, which held authority before the Shogunate system was established.

The end of the feudal era

The feudal caste system in Japan ended in 1869 with the Meiji restoration. In 1871, the newly formed Meiji government issued a decree called Kaihōrei (解放令 Emancipation Edict) giving outcasts equal legal status. (This terminology is not the original, but a later revision. Originally, it was labeled Senmin Haishirei (賤民廃止令 Edict Abolishing Ignoble Classes.) However, the elimination of their economic monopolies over certain occupations actually led to a decline in their general living standards, while social discrimination simply continued. For example, the ban on consumption of meat from livestock was lifted in 1871 in order to “westernise” the country, and many former eta moved on to work in abattoirs and as butchers.

However, slow-changing social attitudes, especially in the countryside, meant that abattoirs and workers were met with hostility from local residents. Continued ostracism as well as the decline in living standards led to former eta communities turning into slum areas.

There were many terms used to indicate former outcastes, their communities or settlements at the time. Official documents at the time referred to them askyu-eta (旧穢多 “former eta”), while the newly liberated outcasts called themselves shin-heimin (新平民”new citizens”), among other things.

The term tokushu buraku (特殊部落 “special hamlets”, now considered inappropriate) started being used by officials in 1900s, leading to the meaning of the word buraku (“hamlet”) coming to imply former eta villages in certain parts of Japan.

Movements to resolve the problem in the early 20th century were divided into two camps: the “assimilation” (同和 dōwa) movement which encouraged improvements in living standards of buraku communities and integration with the mainstream Japanese society, and the “levellers” (水平社 suiheisha) movement which concentrated on confronting and criticising alleged perpetrators of discrimination.

Social discrimination

Cases of social discrimination against residents of buraku areas is still an issue in certain regions. Outside of the Kansai region, people in general are often not even aware of the issue, and if they are, usually only as part of feudal history. Due to the taboo nature of the topic it is rarely covered by the media, and people from eastern Japan, for example, are often shocked when they learn that it is a continuing issue.

The prejudice most often manifests itself in the form of marriage discrimination, and less often, in employment. Traditionalist families have been known to check on the backgrounds of potential in-laws to identify people of buraku background. These checks are now illegal, and marriage discrimination is diminishing; Nadamoto Masahisa of the Buraku History Institute estimates that between 60 and 80% of burakumin marry a non-burakumin, whereas for people in their sixties, the rate was 10%.

Cases of continuing social discrimination are known to occur mainly in western Japan, particularly in the OsakaKyotoHyogo, and Hiroshima regions, where many people, especially the older generation, stereotype buraku residents (whatever their ancestry) and associate them with squalor, unemployment and criminality.

Members of the Yakuza (Japanese maffia)

According to David E. Kaplan and Alec Dubro in Yakuza: The Explosive Account of Japan’s Criminal Underworld (Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley Publishing Co., 1986), burakumin account for about 70 percent of the members of Yamaguchi-gumi, the biggest yakuza syndicate in Japan.

Mitsuhiro Suganuma, the ex-member of Public Security Intelligence Agency, testified that burakumin account for about 60 percent of the members of the entire yakuza.

“Black book” citing information of Burakumin published world wide

In November 1975, the Osaka branch of the Buraku Liberation League was tipped off about the existence of a book called “A Comprehensive List of Buraku Area Names” (特殊部落地名総鑑Tokushu Buraku Chimei Sōkan). Investigations revealed that copies of the hand-written 330-page book were being secretly sold by an Osaka-based firm to numerous firms and individuals throughout Japan by a mail order service called Cablenet, at between ¥5,000 and ¥50,000 per copy. The book contained a nationwide list of all the names and locations of buraku settlements (as well as the primary means of employment of their inhabitants), which could be compared against people’s addresses to determine if they were buraku residents. The preface contained the following message: “At this time, we have decided to go against public opinion and create this book [for] personnel managers grappling with employment issues, and families pained by problems with their children’s marriages.”

More than 200 large Japanese firms, including (according to the Buraku Liberation and Human Rights Research Centre of Osaka) ToyotaNissanHonda and Daihatsu, along with thousands of individuals purchased copies of the book. In 1985, partially in response to the popularity of this book, and an increase in mimoto chōsa (身元調査, private investigation into one’s background) the Osaka prefectural government introduced “An Ordinance to Regulate Personal Background Investigation Conducive to Buraku Discrimination”.

Although the production and sale of the book has been banned, numerous copies of it are still in existence, and in 1997, an Osaka private investigation firm was the first to be charged with violation of the 1985 statute for using the text.

Famous Burakumin

Some Burakumin did manage to fight their way to the top and were actually quite successful in doing so, regardless of their back ground. Here is a list of some of the people that made it to the top.

  • Tōru Hashimoto, politician, lawyer, the 52nd Governor of Osaka Prefecture, and current Mayor of Osaka city 
  • Ai Kago, singer, actress
  • Jiichirō Matsumoto, politician and businessman who was called the “buraku liberation father”
  • Ryu Matsumoto, politician of the Democratic Party of Japan, a member of the House of Representatives in the Diet (national legislature)
  • Toru Matsuoka, politician of the Democratic Party of Japan, a member of the House of Councillors in the Diet (national legislature)
  • Nahomi Matsushima, comedian
  • Manabu Miyazaki, writer, social critic and public figure known for his underworld ties
  • Kenji Nakagami, writer, critic, and poet
  • Mineko Nishikawa, actress and Enka singer
  • Hiromu Nonaka, chief cabinet secretary (1998–1999) 
  • Takashi Tanihata, politician serving in the House of Representatives in the Diet (national legislature) as a member of the Liberal Democratic Party
  • Tadao Yoshida, founder of the YKK Group

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Japanese customs: How Japanese love word plays

Highest form of flattery: Sharaku (right), a now-defunct hand-held copier from Fuji Xerox derived its name from the 18th century illustrator Tōshūsai Sharaku, known for such works as ‘The Actor Otani Oniji II as Yakko Edobei’ (left).

When an American add man was asked to write for a new liquid plant-nutrient, he imediately could not resist. As soon as he saw the name of the product, 早根早起 (Hayane Hayaoki), he smiled at this example of linguistic creativity. The four characters translate loosely as “early root, early sprouting”; but when spoken out loud, a native listener would recognize the phrase as the idiom equivalent to “early to bed, early to rise.” The clever substitution of the character 根 (ne, root) for 寝 (ne, sleep) gives the name of the product a completely different meaning when written out.

Will this original ネーミング (nēmingu, naming) move gardeners to 財布のヒモを緩める (saifu no himo wo yurumeru, loosen their purse strings) and purchase the new product? It certainly can’t hurt. Japanese folk have a great appreciation for this kind of だじゃれっぽい (dajareppoi, punnish) word play, which — where products are concerned — demonstrates their 創造力 (sōzōryoku, creativity) and 商魂 (shōkon, entrepreneurial spirit).

One of the most successful examples of rebranding in recent memory was that of apparel manufacturer Renown’s men’s socks to 通勤快足 (Tsūkin Kaisoku, Business Express). The socks, made with a new type of fast-drying, antibacterial fabric that discouraged unpleasant odors, were originally put on sale in 1981 under the name “Fresh Life,” but sales were disappointing.

Normally, 通勤快速 (also read tsukin kaisoku) is a type of commuter express train that usually runs only on weekdays. As opposed to 快速 (kaisoku, express), the word 快足 (kaisoku) means nimble-footed. But kaihas a second meaning of pleasant or happy, such as in the words 快眠 (kaimin, pleasant sleep) or 快報 (kaihō, joyful news). So here, tsūkin kaisoku takes on the nuance of “commuting to work on happy feet” — something a salaryman can definitely relate to.

Relaunched with fanfare in 1987 with that catchy new name, the socks achieved バカ売れ (baka-ure, sold like crazy), with revenues rising from ¥1.3 billion in 1987 to ¥4.5 billion two years later.

Another of my favorite examples of this kind of imaginative branding is 写楽 (Sharaku), a now-defunct hand-held copier from Fuji Xerox. Those familiar with art of the Edo Period (1603-1867) will immediately recognize Sharaku as the name of an 18th-century woodblock-print artist, whose full name was 東洲斎写楽 (Tōshūsai Sharaku). In addition to his distinctive drawing technique, Sharaku remains controversial because his illustrious career spanned only 10 months, and to this day nobody’s exactly sure who he really was.

Move ahead two centuries to 1988, when Fuji Xerox chose Sharaku as the name for its new hand-held scanner/copier. The name works because it combines 写 (sha), the second character of 複写 (fukusha, to reproduce) with 楽 (raku, easy), conveying the image of ease of operation when copying images.

Stationery manufacturer Sekisei Co. Ltd. enjoyed success when it named its ring binders for organizing office documents 発泡美人 (Happō Bijin, Foaming Beauty). Normally happō bijin — using the characters 八方美人 and meaning a beauty in eight directions, i.e., all points of the compass — is equivalent to calling someone a flunky or a yes-man, a person who tries to be all things to all people. The 八方 (happō, eight directions) is replaced by 発泡 (happō), here meaning foamed plastic, the material used to produce the binders. The name suggests that arranging these on the shelves will give any office a well-organized appearance.

Want some more? How about the powdered bath salt called (Nyūyōku Taimuzu), named after the New York Times newspaper. Nyūyoku means to enter the bath, but closely enough resembles ニューヨーク (Nyūyōku), the Japanese pronunciation of New York, so that no one will miss the point.

In 1976, Nissin Food Products Co., Ltd. gave its range of instant 焼きそば (yakisoba, fried noodles) the name U.F.O. (pronounced like “you-hoe”). The initials U, F and O are an acronym used to describe the noodles therein as being うまい (umai, tasty), 太い (futoi, thick) and 大きい (ōki, large).

Back in the early 1990s, Nissan Motor Co. sold a 1.5-liter light commercial van with a distinctive rounded body that resembled the shell of a snail. Its name, “S-Cargo” (the “S” stood for small), was a clever play on escargot, the French word for “snail.”

Sharp last year launched sales of a high-tech robot vacuum cleaner named “Cocorobo.” Its name combines 心 (kokoro, heart), and ロボ (robo, robot).

Some product names, such as カルピス (Calpis), occasionally grate on foreign ears. A popular beverage made with fermented lactic acid, Calpis is said to derive from calcium and sarpis, which is Sanskrit for “butter taste.” The company’s founder, Kaiun Mishima (1878-1974), took his inspiration from the Mongolian beverage airag, made from fermented mare’s milk.


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Things to do this week in Tokyo

Nobuyoshi Araki: EroReal

Until Sat Jun 22, 2013 Taka Ishii Gallery

Porn mags? ‘They’re doing it wrong,’ says Nobuyoshi Araki. ‘It’s not about an ambiance or concept; it’s about being real. Not realism, but real – ero-real.’ As someone whose work has often teetered on the line between art and porn, the 72-year-old photographer should probably know. His latest solo show at Taka Ishii Gallery – the 20th to date – offers an alternative to pin-up clichés, featuring 50 of Araki’s attempts to evoke what he calls ‘erotic presence.’ Sometimes the models even get to keep their clothes on.


Open May 25-June 22 Closed Sun, Mon & hols

Time Tue-Sat noon-7pm

Admission Free

Venue Taka Ishii Gallery

Address 5F, 1-3-2 Kiyosumi, Koto-ku, Tokyo

Transport Kiyosumishirakawa station (Hanzomon, Oedo lines), exit A3.

Mitsuaki Iwago: Go With Cats

水 5月 29 – 月 6月 10, 2013 Mitsukoshi Nihombashi main store
Well-known wildlife photographer Mitsuaki Iwago latches onto one of the internet’s favourite memes for his latest exhibition, which coincides with the release of a new, feline-focused photobook. Go With Cats collects 222 images (spot the pun, Japanese readers!) from Iwago’s many encounters with his furry friends, with sections devoted to his travels overseas, around Japan, and portraits of his own pets. Look out for the photographer himself at a series of signings, held on May 29-31 and June 1, 2, 8 and 9.


Open May 29-June 10

Time Daily 10am-7pm (June 10 until 5pm)

Admission Adults ¥800, high school & junior high scholl students ¥600, elementary and under free

Telephone 03 3241 3311

Venue Mitsukoshi Nihombashi main store

Address 1-4-1 Nihombashi-Muromachi, Chuo-ku, Tokyo

Transport Mitsukoshi-mae Station (Ginza, Hanzomon lines)

Irma Thomas

Wed May 29 – Thu May 30, 2013 Billboard Live
The Grammy-winning ‘Soul Queen of New Orleans‘ – who started her career aged 13, singing in a Baptist choir and whose 1962 single, ‘It’s Raining’, was revived by Jim Jarmusch in his movie Down By Law – stretches her impressive lungs at Billboard Live.


Open May 29-30

Time 1st show: Doors 5.30pm. Gig 7pm; 2nd show: Doors 8.45pm. Gig 9.30pm

Admission Service area ¥8,800, casual area ¥6,800

Venue Billboard Live

Address Tokyo Midtown Garden Terrace 4F, 9-7-4, Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo, Japan

Transport Roppongi Station ( Toei Oedo Line, Hibiya Line : Exit 8 )

Grand Recipes of Love Gala Party

Thu May 30, 2013 Grand Hyatt Tokyo (Banquet Rooms)
As Roppongi Hills celebrates its 10th anniversary this spring, the Grand Hyatt Tokyo is getting in on the act with a series of events of its own, the glitziest of which is this black-tie gala party on May 30. ‘Grand Recipes of Love’ kicks off with a round of cocktails, followed by a live cooking station dinner showcasing the hotel’s seven restaurants. Once you’ve polished off dessert, you can take in a gig by Fab Four cover band The Bootleg Beatles, then hit the dancefloor for a disco session that keeps rolling until midnight. Reservations are being taken at 03 4333 8838, and the hotel is offering double rooms at a discounted rate of ¥25,000 to party guests looking to stay the night.


Open May 30

Time 7pm-midnight

Admission ¥35,000

Venue Grand Hyatt Tokyo (Banquet Rooms)

Address 6-10-3 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo

Transport Roppongi station (Hibiya line), exit 1C; (Oedo line), exit 3.


Komazawa Oktoberfest 2013

Fri May 31 – Sun Jun 9, 2013 Komazawa Olympic Park General Sports Ground
If you happened to miss the October fest in Odaiba and Hibiya park, there is more on the way! Swing by to  Komazawa Olympic Park. This one promises to be the most sedate of the bunch, thanks to a slightly out-of-the-way location, though you can expect the same mix of sauerkraut, sausages and pricey German brews served in proper glass tankards.


Open May 31-June 9

Time Mon-Fri 4pm-10pm, Sat, Sun 11am-10pm

Admission Free

Venue Komazawa Olympic Park General Sports Ground

Address 1-1 Komazawa-Koen, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo

Transport Komazawa-Daigaku Station (Denentoshi line)


Until Sun Jun 2, 2013 National Museum of Western Art
Ueno’s National Museum of Western Art has a surefire blockbuster on its hands with this Raphael exhibition, billed as the first large-scale show of the Renaissance painter’s work ever to be held outside Europe. There will be approximately 20 of his oil paintings and sketches featured, among them Ezekiel’s Vision (pictured), Portrait of a Young Woman (also known as La Muda) and Madonna del Granduca, which is being shown in Japan for the first time. These are complemented by a range of works by Raphael’s contemporaries, including prints and decorative pieces that were based on his paintings and designs.


Open March 2-June 2 Closed Mon (except April 29, May 6), May 7

Time Tue-Sun 9.30pm-5.30pm (Fri until 8pm)

Admission Adults ¥1,500, students ¥1,200, high school & junior high students ¥800

Venue National Museum of Western Art

Address 7-7 Ueno Koen, Taito-ku, Tokyo

Transport Ueno station (Yamanote line), park exit; (Ginza, Hibiya lines), Shinobazu exit.


Bakuon Film Festival 2013

Fri May 31 – Sat Jun 8, 2013 Kichijoji Baus Theater
Tokyo’s noisiest film festival returns at the start of the summer for another fortnight of ‘explosions of sound’. Bakuon Film Festival started six years ago, with a simple concept: whatever the film, it had to be loud, and it had to sound good. With towering speaker stacks lending an added whallop to each screening, it isn’t for the faint-hearted – and that’s before you factor in special events like the live soundtracked showing of F.W. Murnau’sNosferatu on June 3, courtesy of psychedelic guitarist Seiichi Yamamoto. The program includes some predictably in-yer-face offerings (Natural Born KillersCarrieScanners), though also more low-key entries like Ben Rivers’ Two Years at Sea and Nicholas Ray’s lost experimental feature, We Can’t Go Home Again. There’s also a special section devoted to Michael Cimino, the cinematic auteur whose career bloomed with The Deer Hunterand then imploded with Heaven’s Gate.


Open May 31-June 8

Time Screening times vary

Admission Regular screenings ¥1,300 (¥3,500 for three); prices vary for special events and screenings

Twitter boid_bakuon

Venue Kichijoji Baus Theater

Address 1-11-23 Kichijoji-Honmachi, Musashino-shi, Tokyo

Transport Kichijoji Station (Chuo, Keio Inokashira lines), north exit.


Cassandra Wilson

Fri May 31 – Sun Jun 2, 2013 Blue Note Tokyo
On last year’s Another Country, esteemed New Orleans jazz singer Cassandra Wilson touched on Italian favorites, plaintive British folk, nimble Brazilian pop, low-slung American blues and more, infusing each with her trademark shadowed sensuality. Expect to hear songs both new and old when she heads to the Blue Note with a band featuring many of her regular foils, including harmonica player Gregoire Maret, guitarist Brandon Ross and dazzling percussionist Mino Cinelu.


Open May 31-June 2

Time May 31 – 1st show: Doors 5.30pm. Gig 7pm; 2nd show: Doors 8.45pm. Gig 9.30pm
June 1-2 – 1st show: Doors 3.45pm. Gig 5pm; 2nd show: Doors 7pm. Gig 8pm

Admission ¥8,400 adv

Venue Blue Note Tokyo

Address Raika Bldg, 6-3-16 Minami Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo

Transport Omotesando station (Chiyoda, Ginza, Hanzomon lines), exit B3.


This Tom Cruise sci-fi flick ‘plods even as it dazzles’


Director: Joseph Kosinski
Starring: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Andrea Riseborough

If one man is to be entrusted with designing our future, we could do worse than architecture graduate Joseph Kosinski. Whatever its other shortcomings, Kosinski’s 2010 directorial debut, Tron: Legacy, constructed a virtual-reality universe so sharply dressed and decorated it was hard to see why the characters kept trying to escape.

He has repeated that trick in his follow-up, Oblivion, a sleek sci-fi playground of gleaming cloud palaces, where French hipsters M83 provide the electro-classical beats and even Tom Cruise’s dirtied radiation suit looks runway-ready. Set in 2077, 60 years after aliens supposedly laid waste to our planet and forced humanity into this chic sky shelter, Oblivionsuggests the apocalypse may not be all bad news.

One person not delighting in this fashion-forward future is Cruise’s plaid-favouring Jack Harper, a former Marine now plundering our scorched Earth for its few remaining resources. With memories of their past lives wiped, Jack and his lover Victoria (Andrea Riseborough, sadly playing little more than a switchboard operator with benefits) work dutifully under the command of Melissa Leo’s Sally – essentially HAL with a perky Southern drawl. But when one of Jack’s missions turns up an oddly familiar-looking human time-traveller (Olga Kurylenko) from the year 2017, he is forced to question the rules of his existence.

The audience, meanwhile, will be questioning what those rules are in the first place, particularly when Harper is pursued by a parallel human race that has no obvious need for him. Like a haute couture designer with no grasp of ready-to-wear garb, Kosinski continues to lavish far more thought on how his elaborate fantasy worlds look than how they work, and neither the politics nor the human stakes here coalesce into rational or relatable drama. Oblivion finally plods even as it dazzles; a flick through Kosinski’s sketchbook would be quicker and equally impressive.

Oblivion opens nationwide on May 31

Big Beach Festival ’13

Sat Jun 1, 2013 Kaihin-Makuhari Park

The Tokyo-area offshoot of Fatboy Slim’s original Brighton beach party returns to the shores of not-so-scenic Makuhari this June for another dose of bikinis and big beats. Big Beach Festival ranks as one of the biggest dance events of the year, even if much of the assembled crowd is too busy cavorting and ogling to pay much attention to the music. That said, this year’s lineup is looking particularly strong: Norman Cook himself will be headlining, with a live set from fellow ’90s dance heroes Basement Jaxx and big-name DJs including Sasha, Erol Alkan and Maya Janes Coles. Here’s the complete lineup…

Erol Alkan, Ellen Allien, Banvox, Basement Jaxx, May Jane Coles, Fatboy Slim, Hot Since 82, Damian Lazarus, DJ Marc Panther, Nervo, Shinichi Osawa, Red Bull Thre3style Showcase (DJ Kentaro, Four Color Zack, DJ 8man, DJ Iku, DJ Tuskey), Sasha, Sekitova, Tom Staar, System of Survival.


Open June 1

Time Doors 10am. Gig 11am (until 8.30pm)

Admission ¥10,500 adv

Venue Kaihin-Makuhari Park


Eco Life Fair 2013

Sat Jun 1 – Sun Jun 2, 2013 Yoyogi Park
Learn about environmental initiatives and meet some ‘eco idols’ at this annual, government-sponsored festival in Yoyogi Park. The Eco Life Fair looks to be rather more low-key than the park’s recent, insanely crowded Thai and Jamaica festivals, making it a better option if you’re looking for somewhere to take the kids over the weekend.


Open June 1-2

Time June 1 11am-5pm, June 2 10am-5pm

Venue Yoyogi Park

Address 2-1 Yoyogi Kamizounocho, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo

Transport Harajuku Station (Yamanote line), Yoyogi-Koen Station (Chiyoda line), Yoyogi-Hachiman station (Odakyu line)

Great Japan Beer Festival 2013 in Tokyo

Sat Jun 1 – Sun Jun 2, 2013 Yebisu The Garden Hall
It’s the highlight of the year for Tokyo’s hop heads: an afternoon of hardcore tasting, with over 100 varieties of craft beer on offer and the kinds of crowds you might expect on the Yamanote line during rush hour. Once you’ve paid the admission price for the Great Japan Beer Festival, you’re free to drink all the brews you can stomach for the next three-and-a-half hours (though bear in mind that you’ll be supping it from a 50ml tasting glass each time). Rare beers abound, with queues to match. Note that admission is limited to 1,500 people for each session, and the event often sells out, so you might want to pick up a ticket in advance.


Open June 1-2

Time June 1: 11.30am-3pm, 4pm-7.30pm; June 2: 12.30pm-4pm

Admission ¥5,200 on the door; ¥4,800 adv

Venue Yebisu The Garden Hall

Address 1-3-2 Mita, Meguro-ku, Tokyo

Transport Ebisu Station (Yamanote, Shonan-Shinjuku, Hibiya lines)


Daido Moriyama 1965~

Sat Jun 1 – Sat Jul 20, 2013 Gallery 916
That great documenter of Japan’s post-war urban wildlife, photographer Daido Moriyama was recently the subject of a major show at London’s Tate Modern that paired him with American cohort William Klein. Neophytes and dedicated fans are both likely to appreciate this exhibition at the bayside Gallery 916, in which museum co-curator Yoshihiko Ueda (a highly regarded photographer himself) selects 70 key images from Moriyama’s vast catalogue, ranging from 1965 to the present.


Open June 1-July 20 Closed Sun, Mon

Time Tue-Sat 11am-8pm (Sat & hols until 6.30pm)

Admission Adults ¥800

Venue Gallery 916

Address 6F No. 3 Suzue Bldg, 1-14-24 Kaigan, Minato-ku, Tokyo

Transport Takeshiba Station (Yurikamome line), Daimon Station (Oedo line)

Taico Club ’13

Sat Jun 1 – Sun Jun 2, 2013 Kodama no Mori, Nagano Prefecture

Long one of Japan’s better dance festivals, Taico Club put on an unusually strong showing in 2012 – Fuji Rock aside, it was probably our favourite music festival of the year. Can the 2013 edition repeat that success? The programming is as eclectic as ever: techno devotees like Ricardo Villalobos (who’s practically Taico Club’s patron saint), Zip and Magda are joined by the likes of bangin’ Warp Records producer Clark, indie darlings Of Montreal, saxophone colossus Colin Stetson and Diamond Version, a collaboration between avant-garde electronica vets Alva Noto and Byetone (with added help from Japan’s Atsuhiro ‘Optrum’ Ito). Also look out for local festival faves like Denki Groove, Rovo and Zainichi Funk. Here’s the complete lineup:

Cero, Clammbon, Clark, Denki Groove, Diamond Version + Atsuhiro Ito, Eye, JETS (Jimmy Edgar + Travis Stewart aka Machinedrum), Kishi Bashi, Takeshi Kubota, Machinedrum, Magda, Moodman, Nick the Record, Of Montreal, Polaris, Prefuse 73, Rovo, Sambomaster, Colin Stetson, Tycho, Ricardo Villalobos, XXYYXX, Zainichi Funk, Zip

Held at the mountainside Kodama no Mori campsite in Nagano Prefecture, Taico Club is within relatively easy striking distance from Tokyo, albeit more convenient by car than public transport.


Open June 1-2

Time Gates 1pm. Gig 3pm (all night)

Admission ¥12,000 adv, ¥13,000 on the door

Venue Kodama no Mori, Nagano Prefecture


Big Beach Festival ’13 Official After Party

Sat Jun 1, 2013 AgeHa
While the Big Beach Festival is usually a heap of fun, the music itself can tend to get overshadowed by all the drunken revelry, bikini babes and other sources of seaside distraction. If you’d rather hear this year’s impressive lineup in a conventional club setting, the after party at Ageha might be a better option. Norman ‘Fatboy Slim’ Cook won’t be playing, but they’ve got DJ sets from Basement Jaxx, Sasha, Erol Alkan, Maya Jane Coles, Nervo and Shinichi Osawa – a high-calibre bill that should go some way to justifying the hefty ¥7,000 door charge (reduced to ¥5,500 if you’ve kept your Big Beach ticket stub).


Open June 1

Time Doors 10pm

Admission ¥7,000 on the door; ¥5,500 with Big Beach ticket stub

Venue AgeHa

Address 2-2-10 Shinkiba, Koto-ku, Tokyo

Transport Shinkiba station (Rinkai, Yurakucho lines).


Circoloco Lifestyle

Sat Jun 1, 2013 Womb
After playing support to Fatboy Slim at the afternoon Big Beach Festival ’13 in Chiba, fellow Ibiza veterans Ellen Allien, Damian Lazarus and System of Sound will be heading to Womb for an all-night session dedicated to one of the Mediterranean island’s most famous parties, Circoloco. Local man Satoshi Otsuki also plays in the main room, with Shintaro.D and Julien Sato in the downstairs lounge.


Open June 1

Time Doors 11pm

Admission ¥4,000 on the door

Venue Womb

Address 2-16 Maruyamacho, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo

Transport Shibuya Station (Yamanote, Ginza lines), Hachiko exit; (Hanzomon line), exit 3A.

Up Beat! 10th Anniversary

Sat Jun 1, 2013 Club Asia
What’s a Saturday night party without a few pyrotechnics? Expect some awesome turntable trickery from five-time DMC world team champions Kireek and last year’s overall DMC winner Izoh (the first Japanese DJ to clinch the title since DJ Kentaro in 2002). And if that isn’t all impressive enough already, they’ve also got a performance promised from the capital’s original jackasses, Tokyo Shock Boys.


Open June 1

Time Doors 11pm

Admission ¥3,500 on the door; ¥3,000 with flyer

Venue Club Asia

Address 1-8 Maruyamacho, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo

Transport Shibuya station (Yamanote, Ginza lines), Hachiko exit; (Hanzomon line), exit 3A.

All-Night Extreme Cinema

Sat Jun 1, 2013 Shin-Bungeiza
Perhaps wary that the Bakuon Film Festival might lure away some of its regular customers, Shin-Bungeiza is upping the ante with the June 1 installment of its weekly all-nighters. The four ‘extreme’ films start with a couple of recent Time Out faves – po-mo horror The Cabin in the Woodsand bone-crunching actioner The Raid: Redemption – before following up with a couple of rather more humdrum efforts, Nazis-in-space comedy Iron Sky and apocalyptic indie flick Bellflower (pictured).


Open June 1

Time 10pm-5.15am

Admission ¥2,200 on the door; ¥2,000 adv

Venue Shin-Bungeiza

Address Maruhan-Ikebukuro Bldg 3F, 1-43-5 Higashi-Ikebukuro, Toshima-ku, Tokyo

Transport Ikebukuro station (Yamanote, Yurakucho lines), east exit; (Marunouchi line), exit 30

Design Ah!

Until Sun Jun 2, 2013 21_21 Design Sight
It’s all about the kids at 21_21 Design Sight’s first big show of 2013. Put together by the same team behind NHK educational program Design Ah!, the exhibition aims to foster young ‘design minds’ that can wade through the data overload of 21st century life to ‘determine the adequacy of the things around us’ – a laudable aim, if we might say so ourselves. With graphic designer (and show director) Taku Satoh, web designer Yugo Nakamura and musician Keigo ‘Cornelius’ Oyamada overseeing the proceedings, and a welter of hands-on, audio-visual exhibits promised, this should be just as much fun for parents as it is for the little ones.


Open February 8-June 2 Closed Tue (except April 30)

Time Mon, Wed-Sun 10:30am-8pm

Admission Adults ¥1,000, students ¥800, high school & junior high school students ¥500

Telephone 03 3475 2121

Venue 21_21 Design Sight

Address 9-7-6 Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo

Transport Roppongi Station (Oedo, Hibiya lines), Nogizaka Station (Chiyoda line)

Grand Exhibition of Sacred Treasures from Shinto Shrines

Until Sun Jun 2, 2013 Tokyo National Museum
Japan’s shrines are a repository for all manner of cultural riches, from divine statues to paintings to kimono, but (unsurprisingly) it’s not often that you get to see them all in one place. Timed to coincide with the 62nd relocation of Ise Jingu in Mie Prefecture, this lavish show collects notable works from shrines throughout Japan, a full 160 of which have been designated National Treasures or Important Cultural Properties.


Open April 9-June 2 Closed Mon (except April 29, May 6), May 7

Time Tue-Thu 9.30am-5pm, Fri 9.30am-8pm, Sat, Sun & hols 9.30am-6pm

Admission Adults ¥1,500, students ¥1,200, high school students ¥900

Venue Tokyo National Museum

Address 13-9 Ueno Koen, Taito-ku, Tokyo

Transport Ueno Station (Ginza, Hibiya, Yamanote, Keihin-Tohoku lines)

New 10am Film Festival

Until Fri Mar 21, 2014 Toho Cinemas Roppongi Hills Rakutenchi Cinemas Kinshicho, Tachikawa Cinema City, Toho Cinemas Fuchu

Toho’s popular 10am Film Festival – a season of morning movie screenings that allowed audiences to revisit classics from Belle de Jour to Back to the Future – looked set to bow out in 2013, yet another victim of the switchover from celluloid to digital. But fret not, cineastes: after some last-minute wrangling, the event will be continuing in a new, all-digital format. That’s not the only change, either – there are now four Tokyo-area cinemas taking part, with each film now getting an extended, two week run. The following list is for screenings at Toho Cinemas Roppongi Hills; see the official website for details of screenings at other participating cinemas (Japanese only):

April 6-19: The Last Adventure (Les aventuriers) (1967)
April 20-May 3: Roman Holiday (1953)
May 4-17: Pretty Woman (1990)
May 18-31: West Side Story (1961)
June 1-14: Rio Bravo (1959)
June 15-28: Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
June 29-July 12: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
July 13-26: Ben Hur (1959)
July 27-August 9: Forrest Gump (1994)
August 10-23: Cinema Paradiso (1988)
August 24-September 6: Mary Poppins (1964)
September 7-20: Casablanca (1942)
September 21-October 4: Rocky (1976)
October 5-18: Enter the Dragon (1973)
October 19-November 1: The Godfather (1972)
November 2-15: The Godfather: Part II (1974)
November 16-29: The Day of the Jackal (1973)
November 30-December 13: The Towering Inferno (1974)
December 14-27: The Great Escape (1963)
December 28-January 10: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
January 11-24: 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
January 25-February 7: Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing (1955)
February 8-21: Gone with the Wind (1939)
February 22-March 7: Chariots of Fire (1981)
March 8-21: Psycho (1960)


Open April 6-March 21 2014

Time Screenings from 10am

Admission Adults ¥1,000, students & children ¥500

Venue Toho Cinemas Roppongi Hills Rakutenchi Cinemas Kinshicho, Tachikawa Cinema City, Toho Cinemas Fuchu

Address 6-10-2 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo

Transport Roppongi station (Hibiya line), exit 1C; (Oedo line), exit 3.

4th AQFF Asian Queer Film Festival

Until Sun Jun 2, 2013 Cinem@rt Roppongi
Filmmakers from countries including South Korea, Thailand, Hong Kong and Cambodia are taking part in this year’s AQFF, a biennial festival that sheds light on the range of LGBT experiences in Asia. Tanwarin Sukkhapisit’s ladyboy-themed It Gets Better opens the festival, while One Night and Two Days, a trio of shorts by gay cinema pioneer Lee Song Hee-Il, closes the proceedings the following weekend. Films to look out in between include Kim Jho Kwang-soo’s Two Weddings and a Funeral – a feelgood romcom in which the main characters happen to be gay – and Saratsawadee Wongsomphet’s Yes or No, So I Love You, which holds the distinction of being Thailand’s first film to feature lesbian protagonists (the 2012 sequel is also showing). All films screened with English subtitles.


Open May 24-June 2 No screenings May 27-30

Time Screening times vary (Fri, Sat, Sun only)

Admission Screenings ¥1,500 on the door, ¥1,300 adv; closing program ¥2,700 on the door, ¥2,500 adv

Venue Cinem@rt Roppongi

Address 3-8-15 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo

Transport Roppongi Station (Hibiya, Oedo lines)

Categories: Daytrips, Must see, News about Japan, Things to do, Weekend trips | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Good to “Noh”, traditional masked theater.

Noh theater explained

Noh theater explained


The splendor of Noh, fabulous costumes and frightening masks.

The splendor of Noh, fabulous costumes and frightening masks.


Japan has, for centuries been a nation rightly proud of its theatrical heritage. From the very early days of puppet theatre known, eventually as Bunraku to the western world, through its human form descendants of Noh, and later Kabuki, classical forms of theatre in the archipelago have long formed the backbone of nationwide and regional stage based entertainment.

Bunraku puppet theatre, true to its origins remains more popular in the Kansai area around Osaka and Kyoto than anywhere else, with Noh, also an offspring of the area in which Japan’s ruling elite once occupied their respective seats of power also popular to a degree. This popularity is tempered in the central Japanese region though, as, largely in order to survive, what is the slowest, and perhaps most regal form of theatre frequently performed today long since opted to up and move east – following the nation’s upper classes to Tokyo; the modern day seat of both imperial and political power.

In Tokyo, Noh performances in the main schools of the art (Kanze, Komparu, Hosho, Kongo and Kita) can generally be seen every weekend as there are more than double the number of Noh theatres in the capital than any other form of traditional theatre form. There are also some shows put on during the week, in the early evenings for the most part, and at the National Noh Theatre in the Sendagaya area of the capital, special Summertime shows introducing Noh to beginners are always popular.


Noh ( ), or Nogaku (能楽 Nōgaku)—derived from the Sino-Japanese word for “skill” or “talent”—is a major form of classical Japanese musical drama that has been performed since the 14th century. Many characters are masked, with men playing male and female roles. Traditionally, a Noh “performance day” lasts all day and consists of five Noh plays interspersed with shorter, humorous kyōgen pieces. However, present-day Noh performances often consist of two Noh plays with one Kyōgen play in between.

While the field of Noh performance is extremely codified, and regulated by the iemoto system, with an emphasis on tradition rather than innovation, some performers do compose new plays or revive historical ones that are not a part of the standard repertoire. Works blending Noh with other theatrical traditions have also been produced.


Noh is far more about conceptualization than any of the other forms of theatre still being performed in Japan. Whereas Kabuki has long been labeled the theatre of the masses due to its ability to visually entertain those less aware of all but the most famous of Japan’s founding tales, and early-era mythology, Noh requires an awareness, often studied before, of the subject matter to be witnessed.

Imagery and imagination reign in Noh with the comprehension and eventual enjoyment of a given play limited to the mind of each individual watching.

Unlike many other forms of theatre around Japan and the world, Noh plays are not usually rehearsed. The actors themselves do study and practice their given roles of course, but not together before the play is actually put on in front of an audience. This in effect has its pros and cons, with long term fans well aware that the pluses far outweigh the minuses.


Vivid and Powerful Noh masks. Three pictures of the same nō 'hawk mask' showing how the expression changes with a tilting of the head. The mask was afixed to a wall with constant lighting and only the camera moved.

Vivid and Powerful Noh masks. Three pictures of the same nō ‘hawk mask’ showing how the expression changes with a tilting of the head. The mask was afixed to a wall with constant lighting and only the camera moved.

The skills of individual actors tend to shine through when under pressure to get it right first time, and it is always the main actor – known as the shite – who will carry the play. As good as any supporting actors may be, their roles will be designed so as not to do anything to take away from the top dog.

There is only one ‘shite’ in each play and, more often than not, no more than perhaps five to seven actors on stage at any one point in time; oftentimes fewer than five depending on which of the roughly 250 plays in the accepted repertoire of Noh is being shown.

Recognized as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in May, 2001, Noh has safely preserved its status in Japanese and global society as both a theatrical and cultural treasure, although many Japanese, and fewer tourists never actually get near a theatre, claiming the archaic language in use, and slow speed at which things progress to be factors that prevent them from developing an interest in the art.

Jo, Ha, Kyū

One of the most subtle performance elements of Noh is that of Jo-ha-kyū, which originated as the three movements of courtly gagaku. However, rather than simply dividing a whole into three parts, within Noh the concept incorporates not only the play itself, but the songs and dances within the play, and even the individual steps, motions, and sounds that actors and musicians make. Furthermore, from a higher perspective, the entire traditional Noh program of five plays also manifests this concept, with the first type play being the jo, the second, third, and fourth plays the ha (with the second play being referred to as the jo of the ha, the third as the ha of the ha, and the fourth as the kyū of the ha), and finally the fifth play the kyū. In general, the jo component is slow and evocative, the ha component or components detail transgression or the disordering of the natural way and the natural world, and the kyū resolves the element with haste or suddenness (note, however, that this only means kyū is fast in comparison with what came before it, and those unfamiliar with the concepts of Noh may not even realize the acceleration occurred).

Want to experience this ancient form of Japanese culture?

If you are considering to spend an afternoon in the presence of what remains the oldest form of masked theatre (the use of a mask a privilege only bestowed upon the ‘shite’) anywhere in the world, however,remember many of the previous naysayers are captivated and repeat visits are soon planned.

For those interested in attending a show in Tokyo, an Internet search of the aforementioned main school names should turn up more options to sample this treasure than could realistically be listed but will help in English. Otherwise, head on over to the National Noh Theatre site to see what the nation’s main theatre has lined up in the weeks and months ahead.

Do be prepared to splash out a tad as tickets are not cheap – but rest assured you will take away a memory as mystifying as it is impressing.


Categories: Japanese customs, Must see, Stories about Japan, Things to do | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Where to shop: Mitsukoshi department store; the Harrods of Tokyo

Tokyo's version of Harrods

Tokyo’s version of Harrods

Long before reportedly becoming the world’s first department store, the enterprise now known as Mitsukoshi was revolutionising retail practices in Japan. Originally established in 1673 under the name of Echigoya, Mitsukoshi became the first company to break with the Middle Ages tradition of selling door-to-door, instead enticing customers to its kimono store in what is currently central Tokyo. Now, almost 350 years later, the Mitsukoshi brand is famous around the globe, gracing several of the world’s capital cities and boasting 18 stores in Japan alone. Its claim to fame is further enhanced by the fact it was founded by the Mitsui family, and is thus part-responsible for the growth of one of the world’s largest trading companies.

Mitsukoshi’s main store and headquarters are presently located in Nihonbashi, a powerful stone’s throw from the Bank of Japan. The company has maintained a presence on the existing site since 1683, although the architecture has obviously undergone several redesigns. Currently, the imposing 95-year-old Rennaisance-style Mitsukoshi buildings, which span several blocks, represent everything that is glamorous about shopping in Japan, holding similar status to Harrods of London and Galeries Lafayette of Paris. The main entrance is adorned with large bronze lion statues, reportedly replicas of those in London’s Trafalgar Square. These icons have become the most popular meeting place in the area, for young friends and distinguished business-folk alike.

The history of the Mitsukoshi Head Store, once labelled ‘the greatest architectural asset east of the Suez Canal,’ is certainly eventful. In 1914, it housed what was claimed to be Japan’s first escalators. Nine years afterwards, as with much else in Tokyo, it was burned to cinders during the Great Kanto Earthquake – and rebuilt two years later. In 1927, it claimed to stage Japan’s first fashion show in the area now known as Mitsukoshi Theatre. In 1932, business was boosted by the completion of Mitsukoshimae Subway Station, which was built into the basement floor of the department store. Then, during the Allied Occupation of 1945-52, the eighth floor was actually converted into a Catholic Church.

In 2010, Mitsukoshi Head Store continued to attract locals and tourists in their millions, its wide range of coin lockers for luggage making it particularly convenient for the latter. Several international brand names are housed within (Ralph Lauren is the latest), with armies of dapper staff forever seeking to charm customers with their smiles. Store highlights include the legendary kimono section, currently located on the fourth floor. There are seven restaurants on the upper floors of Mitsukoshi, serving pricey but enjoyable Chinese and Japanese cooking, including an impressive array of shark fin dishes. Ten cafes are also on site, including one which bears the Harrods name. With grilled food and even a pizzeria occupying the basement, shoppers are spoiled for bank-account-threatening choice when it comes to dining.

Since establishing its Fine Arts Department in 1907, Mitsukoshi has enjoyed a long and fruitful connection with the art world and a section of its sixth floor is permanently devoted to the exhibitions of established and up-and-coming artists; an art display at Mitsukoshi is considered to be the pinnacle of every young artist’s aspirations, especially due to the well-connected and well-endowed nature of the clientele.

Mitsukoshi department store flagship store

Mitsukoshi department store flagship store

Categories: Must see, Things to do, Where to shop | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Japans treasures: Go

(For an English translation, please scroll down)

master and geisha playing go

master and geisha playing go

wat is go?
Go is een bordspel wat veel in Japan wordt gespeeld. Het is vergelijkbaar met dammen of schaken. Het spel staat bekend om de vele mogelijke strategische spelvormen ondanks dat het vrij simpele regels heeft. Schaakmeeser Emanuel Lasker zegt hierover: “De regels van het Go zijn zo elegant, organisch en rigoreus in haar logica, dat als er een intelligente levensvorm in het universum bestaat buiten de aarde, ze vrijwel zeker een variant van Go zullen spelen!”
De twee spelers plaatsen om de beurt zwarte en witte stukken (stenen genaamd) over vrije kruispunten (dit noemt met punten) over een grid van 19×19 lijnen. Beginnelingen spelen vaker op een kleiner bord van 9×9 of 13×13. Het doel van het spel is om de stukken van de tegenspeler te omringen. Als je een stuk speelt op het bord, dan mag je het stuk niet meer verzetten, tenzij dit stuk door de tegenspeler van het bord af wordt gespeeld. Get spel eindigt pas als geen van de spelers meer een zet kan maken. Het spel heeft geen spefieke regels hoe het moet eindigen. Op het einde tellen de spelers hoeveel stukken van het bord zijn gespeeld en wie er een groter deel van het bord tot zijn teritorium heeft geclaimd om te bepalen wie de winnaar is. Een speler kan het spel ook opgeven en zo de verliezer worden.

de geschiedenis
Volgens legenden gaat de oorspong van het ‘Go’ terug naar Yao en Shun, twee legendarische keizers van het oude China. Hoewel gelijksoortige spelen als Go, waarbij het de bedoeling is dat je de stenen of stukken van je tegenstander omringt met die van jou, door heel Azië werden gespeeld, is het helaas niet te achterhalen waar Go oorspronkelijk vandaan komt. Er is een theorie die zegt dat Go oorspronkelijk werd gebruikt om de toekomst te voorspellen.
We weten echter wel dat de originele vorm van Go uit China komt. Het spel werd met name tijdens de lente en herfst gespeeld. Van oorspong op een veld van 17×17 vakjes, tegenwoordig speelt men op 19×19 vakjes.
In het boek van ‘Sui’ wat werd uitgegeven in de 7e eeuw, staat in beschreven de voorliefde van Japanners voor Go en Sugoroku (een soortgelijk spel) en Bakuchi (gokken), gaat men er vanuit dat Go in ieder geval niet later dan de 5e of 6e eeuw naar Japan kwam. Het lievelingsbord van de keizer Shoumu kun je terugzien in Shousouin, een gebouw waar vele oude kunststukken uit vroeger tijden te zien zijn.

go om geld
Met Go kon serieus geld worden verdiend. Er gaat zelfs een verhaal dat de priester Kanren en meester in het Go een spelletje speelde met de keizer Daigo. De priester won en kon met het geld wat hij van de keizer had afgetroggeld een tempel bouwen!

de grondlegger van het go
Een persoon die een significante impact had op het spel Go was Hon’inbou Sansa. Deze priester woonde in Tacchuu Hon’inbou bij de Jakkou tempel in Kyoto. De invloed die deze man op het spel had, is te vergelijken met de invloed die Sen no Rikyuu had op de thee ceremonie en Zeami had op Noh. (klassiek Japans muziek drama). Nadat de Tokugawa Bakufu was aangetreden, werd deze man uitgenodigd om naar Edo te komen om Go aan de nobelen te leren.

vrije plekken
Rond de Edo periode werd ook het ‘vrije plekken systeem’ ingevoerd. Dit systeem zorgt ervoor dat spelers geen vaste beginopstelling meer hoefden aan te nemen zoals dat hiervoor wel gebruikelijk was. Hierdoor werd het mogelijk nieuwe strategieën te ontwikkelen zoals ‘fuseki’ (start strategie) en ‘joseki’ (de stenen voor beide zijden op de beste plek neerzetten) en werd veel meer een veelzijdiger spel met meer ingewikkelde strategieën.
In het begin van de 20e eeuw werd dit vrije plekken systeem ook in China ingevoerd en is het nu onderdeel van de internationale Go regels.

officiele baan
Tijdens de Edo periode kon je je brood verdienen als professionele Go speler. De Bakufu gaf Go spelers een salaris en liet ze spelen in het Edo kasteel. De beste spelers onder de Meijin (Go grootmeesters) kregen de post van Godokoro. De Godokoro had veel macht, waaronder het recht om een licentie te verstrekken. Vandaar ook dat er serieus gestreden werd in de vorm van Sodo (vecht go) om deze post van Godokoro te bemachtigen.

go en de gewone bevolking
Rond de 15e en 16e eeuw verspreide Go zich onder het gewone volk. Go werd zo populair dat er zelfs Senryuu (grappige haiku) over werden geschreven. Bijvoorbeeld ‘Ik houd van, en haat mijn Go rivaal’.
In het midden van de 19e eeuw was Go zo populair dat er ook meer dan 10 vrouwen hadden met een licentie.
Tijdens de Meiji restauratie stortte het Go establisement in. Alle hoofden van de scholen verloren niet alleen hun salaris, maar ook hun Samurai status.
Pas in 1924 een jaar na de grote kanto aardbeving, krabbelde Go weer een beetje op.

de ‘uitrusting’
Wat heb je nodig om Go te kunnen spelen?
Natuurlijk de ‘Goban’ (het bord), de ‘Goshi’ (de stenen) en de ‘Goke’ (bakje om de steentjes die je hebt gewonnen in te leggen). De spelers zitten tegenover elkaar en spelen over de grid lijnen die ‘Me’ worden genoemd.
Er worden meerdere houtsoorten gebruikt om het Go bord te maken, maar de Kaya boom (Torreya nucifera) wordt gezien als het beste materiaal. Voor de zwarte Go stenen is de Nachiko steen die wordt gemijnd in het Kumano gebied het beste en voor de witte stenen worden witte schelpen vanuit het Hyuuga gebied gebruikt.
Een volledige set bestaat uit 181 zwarte stenen en 180 witte stenen en deze zijn precies genoeg om alle ‘Me’ van het bord te bedekken. Voor het bakje voor de stenen wordt hout van de Morus boom vanuit het Izu schiereiland gebruikt.

Wil je zelf ook eens Go proberen?
Kijk dan eens op
Dit is een website waarbij je op een interactieve manier het spel en alle strategieën je eigen kunt maken. Wil je liever een ‘echt’ bord. Kijk dan eens op” Deze website is wel alleen in het Japans. Hier is nog een alternatieve website met winkels waar je het spel Go kunt kopen in Tokio. Deze website is helaas ook alleen in het Japans.


master and geisha playing go

master and geisha playing go

What is Go?

Go is a board game that is played in Japan. It is comparable with checkers or chess. The game is known for the many strategic moves you can make eventhough it is simple in its rules. Chessmaster Emanuel Lasker refers to it as: “The rules of Go are so elegant, organic and rigorous in its logic, that if there are intelligent life forms out there in the universe (other than us), they will definitely play some form or other of Go.” Two players both place black and white stones on the board across free intersections on a grid of 19×19 lines. Beginners usually play on a board of 9×9 lines or 13×13 lines. The aim of the game is to surround the other players pieces and claim the biggest territory. Once a piece is played, it cannot be moved, unless it is conquered by the opposite player and therefore removed from the board. Go only ends when none of the players can make a move. The game does not have any specific rules how it should end. At the end both players count how many pieces they have played off the board and who has claimed the biggest territory to assess who is the winner. A player can also give up and forfeit the game.

The history

According to legends the game of Go goes back to the Yao and Shun. Two legendary emperors of ancient China. Although games like Go were played all over Asia, it is not exactly clear where the game originated from. Most, however, say it originates from China/ There is even a theory that claims that Go was originally used for divination purposes! All we know for sure is that the original form comes from China, although back then the game was played with a grid of 17×17 and now it is 19×19. In the book of ‘Sui’, which was published in the 7th century, it is written that Japanese have a love for Sugoroku (a game like Go) and for Bakuchi (gambling), because of this publication it is widely thought that Go was introduced to Japan no later than the 5th or 6th century. The favourite board of emperor Shoumu can be seen in Shousouin a building where many ancient artefacts are kept.

Go for cash

By playing Go you could earn a good living. There is even a story that tells of priest Kanren, who was a Go master, who played with emperor Daigo. The priest won and with the earnings he was able to build a new temple!

The founding father of go

One person that meant a lot for Go was Hon’inbou Sansa. This priest lived in Tacchuu Hon’inbou at the Jakkou temple in Kyoto. The influence this man had on the game is comparable with the influence Sen no Rikyuu had on the tea ceremony and Zeami had on Noh. (classical Japanese music drama). After the Tokugawa Bakufu came into power, this man was invited to come to Edo to teach Go to the establishment.

Free moves

Around the Edo period, the free moves system was introduced. This system meant that players no longer had to place their pieces according to a set beginner position, but where able to place they pieces wherever they liked. This meant that a large number of new strategies could be used like the ‘fuseki’ (start strategy) en ‘joseki’ (placing the stones on both sides on the most advantageous spot). The game became much more intricate in its details and more complicated strategies where developed.
In the beginning of the 20th century this ‘free style’ Go was introduced back into China and now it is part of the international rules of Go.

Official job

During the Edo period it was possible to make a serious living as a professional Go player. The Bakufu gave any official Go players a salary and let them play in the Edo castle. The best players among the Meijin (Go masters) received the position of Godokoro. The Godokoro had a lot of influence and power, among which the right to issue licences. In order to obtain this position of Godokoro, many people battled it out by playing Sodo (fighting go).

Go and the commoners

Around the 15th and 16th century, Go spread among the common people. Go became so popular that there were even Senryuu (funny haiku) written about it. For example ‘I both love and hate my Go opponent.’ In the middle of the 19e century Go  became so popular that more than 10 women had licences to practice Go. During the Meiji restauration, Go’s popularity plummeted. All the heads of the Go schools did not only lost their wages, they also lost their samurai title. Only in 1924, one year after the great Kanto earthquake Go reestablished itself.

The ‘gear’

What does one need to play Go? Ofcourse the ‘Goban’ (the board), the ‘Goshi’ (de stones) and the ‘Goke’ (bowl used to place your opponents stones which you have won into) The players sit across from each other and play the different grid lines, called ‘Me’.
 There are several different kinds of wood used to manufacture the Go boards, but according to the experts wood from the Kaya tree (Torreya nucifera) is considered the best material. For the black Go stones the Nachiko stone is mined in Kumano area. The best material for the white stones are shells from the Hyuuga area.
A full set consists of 181 black stones and 180 white stones. These are exactly enough to cover the entire board. For the Goku, the little bowl, the best wood to use is that of the Morus tree that comes from the Izu peninsula.

Would you like to try Go yourself?

Then please visit
This is an interactive website that has many tutorials on Go and teaches you step by step to become a great Go player.

If you prefer the ‘hands on’ experience, you can by your own Go board in Tokyo at these places:” (website only in Japanese) or click here for a list of all Go shops in Tokyo. (also only in Japanese)

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Japans treasures: the tea ceremony

(For an English translation, please scroll down)

Je kunt de Japanse cultuur niet bespreken, zonder het ook over de theecermonie te hebben. De theeceremonie stond bovendien aan de wieg van andere culturele activiteiten zoals Kaiseki Ryori cuisine en Sukiyaka zukuri architectuur, keramiek en kunst.

‘Cha’ is Japans voor thee. Er zijn aardig wat uitdrukkingen in het Japans waar thee in voorkomt. Zoals bijvoorbeeld:’Chagake ni taifu nashi’(groot zijn is niet altijd handig), ‘Mecha kucha’ (ongeorganiseerd) en ‘Cha cha o ireru’ (iemand plagen door hem te onderbreken).

De naam voor theeceremonie is Chado. Dit stamt af van Cha-no-yu (heet water thee) wat later Chado (thee kunst) werd.

Oorspronkelijk vanuit China

De theeceremonie komt oorspronkelijk uit China. In het begin van de 9e eeuw werd het overgebracht naar Japan door Japanse gezanten die naar China gingen gedurende de Tang dynastie.(618-907)

Deze mannen waren erg onder de indruk van wat er een China allemaal gebeurde aan het keizerlijk hof, en zo werd de theeceremonie vanuit China naar Japan gehaald. De stijl die vanuit China werd geïntroduceerd, heet Dancha. (Dit betekent letterlijk blokthee aangezien thee oorspronkelijk werd verkocht in blokken waar er tijdens de ceremonie stukken van werden afgebroken en in gekookt water werden geplaatst.

Macha (groene thee in poedervorm) die we nu allemaal associëren met de Japanse theeceremonie, werd pas populair tijdens de Chinese Song dynastie (960-1279). Deze vorm werd in Japan geïntroduceerd, tezamen met de ‘Zen’ doctrine door de Japanse priester Eisai (1141-1215) tijdens de Kamakura periode (1192-1333). Deze man heeft een boek geschreven over thee als medicijn en in het boek schrijft hij dat thee een magisch middel is voor een lang leven. Gezien de gemiddelde levensverwachting van Japanners, zou daar best nog iets in kunnen zitten.

Japanese macha (espresso tea)

Japanese macha (espresso tea)

Thee proeven; samurai-style

Aan het einde van de Kamakura periode werd de theecultuur pas echt populair. Het fenomeen theefeestje kwam in zwang. Er werden veel verschillende soorten feestjes georganiseerd, waaronder de Tocha (thee gevecht). Dit was een feestje waarbij geld kon worden verdient. Deelnemers aan dit evenement moesten thee proeven en dan moesten zeggen wat voor thee en zelfs water ze net hadden gedronken en waar dit vandaan kwam. Voor de winnaars kon dit best lucratief zijn. Deze vorm van theeceremonie werd in deze tijd erg populair met name onder Samoerais. Deze mannen hadden aardig wat trofeeën verzameld, geïmporteerd vanuit China, die ze graag aan hun vrienden wilden laten zien. Een theefeestje was daar een uitgelezen mogelijkheid voor. Op dat moment was er nog geen haard in de woonkamer, dus de thee werd niet voor de neus van de gasten klaar gemaakt. De theeceremonie zag er toen dus heel anders uit dan hoe we die nu kennen.

De kunst van de stilte en eenvoud

Rond de 15e eeuw veranderde de theeceremonie sterk. De trend werd om de schoonheid te zien in de simpelere dingen; Wabicha genaamd. (Wabi is het esthetische en morele principe van stilte en simpliciteit). Sen no Rikyu was hiervoor verantwoordelijk. Hij bedacht dat de theeceremonie in een aparte, hiervoor aangelegde kamer moest plaatsvinden.

De regels waren streng ten opzichte van hoe deze kamer eruit moest zien. Zelfs de ingang (Nijiri guchi) werd opzettelijk klein en laag gehouden, zodat iedereen die binnen trad, ongeacht zijn of haar positie wel moest buigen voor de meester.

Ook werd door hem in deze tijd het gereedschap uitgevonden wat tegenwoordig nog steeds wordt gebruikt voor de theeceremonie.

Helaas liep het niet goed af met de beste man. Hij was erg geliefd aan het hof vanwege zijn kennis en kunde, maar werd uiteindelijk gedwongen zelfmoord te plegen door de orde van Hideyoshi.

In de Edo periode (1603-1867) werd het principe van ‘do’ uitgevonden. (het meesterschap in bepaalde kunsten en sport). Zo kwam het dat de theeceremonie haar naam ‘Chado’ kreeg.

In de 18e eeuw werd de theeceremonie zo populair, dat het niet alleen meer weggelegd was voor het hof de adel en de gegoede burgerij. Ook onder de gewone bevolking werd het populair. Voorheen was het heel moeilijk om de bevoegdheid te krijgen om de theeceremonie te leren en uit te oefenen. Met de invoering van het Iemoto systeem, werd het mogelijk voor iedereen om deze kunst te beoefenen. Uiteraard waren er genoeg mensen die hier niet van gecharmeerd waren en zeiden dat de theeceremonie slechts nog een goedkoop volksvermaak was geworden en haar glans had verloren.

Ook een keer een echte Japanse theeceremonie meemaken?
Hama-rikyu Garden Office Tel: 3541-0200
Address: 1-1, Hama Rikyu-teien, Chuo-ku, Tokyo (Zip: 104-0046)


Japanese tea ceremony

Japanese tea ceremony

(For an English translation, please scroll down)

You cannot talk about Japanese culture without mentioning the tea ceremony. The tea ceremony stood at the cradle of other cultural activities such as the Kaiseki Ryori cuisine and Sukiyaka zukuri architecture, ceramics and art.

‘Cha’ is Japanse for tea. There are quite a few expressions in Japanese that include the word ‘tea’. For:’Chagake ni taifu nashi’(It is not always convenient to be big), ‘Mecha kucha’ (disorganised) en ‘Cha cha o ireru’ (teasing someone by interrupting them).

The name of the tea ceremony in Japanese is Chadou. This stems from Cha-no-yu (hot tea water) this later became Chado (tea art).

Originally from China

The tea ceremony is originally from China. In the beginning of the 9th century tea was first brought Japan by Japanese emissaries that went to China during the Tang dynasty.(618-907)

These men were so impressed by what was happening in China at the Royal court, they brought a lot of these Chinese traditions and wares from China to Japan. Including the tea ceremony. The style that was introduced from China was called Dancha. (This litterally means block tea since the tea was originally sold in blocks that were used during the tea ceremony. During the ceremony pieces were broken off these blocks and were put into boiled water.

Macha, green espresso tea

 Macha (groene tea in power form) the one we now associate with the Japanese tea ceremony, did not become popular until the Chinese Song dynasty (960-1279). This form was introduced to Japan together with the ‘Zen’ doctrine by the Japanese priest Eisai (1141-1215) during the Kamakura period (1192-1333). This priest wrote a book about tea as a medicine and in the book he wrote that tea has some magic properties that help the drinker to gain a long life. If you look at the average age of most Japanese, there might be some truth in that!

Japanese macha (espresso tea)

Japanese macha (espresso tea)

Tea tastings; samurai-style

In the late Kamakura period the tea culture really picked up and became popular. The fenomenon of the tea party became the thing to do. Many different types of tea parties were organized among which the Tocha (tea fight).  This was a special kind of tea party where money could be made. Participants to this event had to taste tea and tell the others what kind of tea it was and even what kind of water the tea was made with and where it came from. For the winners this game could be quite lucrative. This form of tea ceremony became especially popular among Samurai. These men had collected quite a few trophies from China during raids or while trading and of course they were all to happy to show them to their friends. A tea party was the perfect opportunity to show off. At that time there was no such thing as a living room separate from the kitchen area. The tea was made over a fire right in front of the guests. The tea ceremony was quite different then from what it is today.

De kunst art of silence and symplicity

Around the 15th century the tea ceremony changed drastically. The trend of the time was to see the beauty in simple things, called Wabicha. (Wabi is the esthetic and moral principle of silence and simplicity). Sen no Rikyu was responsible for introducing this new way of thinking. He was the one that decided that the tea ceremony should take place in a separate room that was especially designed for this purpose.

The rules were strict in regards to how this room should look. Even the entrance (Nijiri guchi) was made really low on purpose so anyone who entered this room, no matter what his or her position, had to bow for the master in order to enter.

During this time special tools  designed and used for the tea ceremony that are still in use today.  Unfortunately things for Sen no Rikyu did not end well. He was very loved at the court because of his knowledge and expertise, but was forced to commit suicide (senpukku) by the order of Hideyoshi.

In the Edo period (1603-1867) the principe of ‘dou’ was invented. (this is the mastery of certain arts and sports). This is how the tea ceremony got its name ‘Chadou’ and became a highly valued art only practiced by specialized tea masters that had to work and slave for years to perfect their art.

In the 18th century the tea ceremony became so popular that it was not only solely for the court and the nobility. Even among common people the tea ceremony became popular. Before it had always been difficult to receive a licence to learn and practice the tea ceremony. When Iemoto system, was first introduced, it became possible for everyone to learn this art form. Of course there were many people that thought this to be an abomination and said the tea ceremony had only become a cheap parlor trick now that is was introduced to the commoners and had lost its shine, but this really propelled the ceremony forward and made it common place in the hearts and minds of many Japanese.

Would you like to witness a real Japanese tea ceremony too?

Here is some more information on how to do so.

Hama-rikyu Garden Office Tel: 3541-0200
Address: 1-1, Hama Rikyu-teien, Chuo-ku, Tokyo (Zip: 104-0046)


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Japans cultural treasures: shodou; the art of calligraphy

(For an English translation, please scroll down)

Shodo examples and utensils

Shodo examples and utensils

Shodou; de geschiedenis
Japan had naar alle waarschijnlijkheid geen schrift voordat de Chinese karakters werden geïntroduceerd in het land. Het oudste artikel wat ooit is teruggevonden is de Kin’in (gouden postzegel) die aan de Japanse keizer werd gegeven door de keizer van China tijdens de late Han

kanji, on’yomi en kun’yomi
De adoptie van het Chinese schrift was helaas niet ideaal voor Japan. Doordat China en Japan destijds veel handel dreven, werden veel nieuwe woorden vanuit China letterlijk overgenomen. Deze karakters pasten netjes bij de desbetreffende woorden. Een ander probleem was dat
Japanners vaak niet goed de klanken uit de Chinese taal konden nadoen, en daardoor zijn de Japanse klanken vaak net iets anders dan de Chinese klanken. De introductie van het Chinese schrift is met golven gegaan en vanuit verschillende regio’s. Hoewel de voertaal in China momenteel Mandarijn is, was dat in het verleden anders en werd in elk district een ander dialect of zelfs een compleet andere taal gesproken. De Chinese karakters die in China werden gebruikt waren wel universeel, maar de uitspraak dus niet. Hierdoor kwam het dat er meerdere soorten uitspraken werden verbonden met 1 karakter. (On’yomi) Later werden Chinese karakters geselecteerd op basis van betekenis (Kun’yomi). Een Japanse verta-ling van het Chinese karakter werd gezocht en die werd vanaf dan verbonden met het karakter. Toen later hiragana werd geintroduceerd werd hiraga gebruikt als aanvulling in combinatie met het Chinese karakter aangezien het Japanse woord vaak niet geheel aansloot op het Chinese karakter waardoor aanvulling nodig was.

Shotoku-taishi (de prins van keizer Yomei) zond een koerier naar China in 607, tijdens de Sui Dynastie. De koerier bracht de kennis voor het produceren van zwarte inkt, papier en penselen met zich mee. Vanaf deze tijd werden de eerste teksten op papier geschreven.
In de Heian periode (794-1192) was het voor een nobel man het belangrijkste om academisch geleerd te zijn, en daarna kwam het twee na belangrijkste; kalligrafie. Voor dames was shodo het belangrijkste, gevolgd door muziek en Waka (korte gedichten). In deze periode werd het schrift nog uitsluitend gebruikt door de elite en kon het gewone volk nog niet lezen en schrijven.

De edo en meiji periode
In de Edo periode (1603-1867) konden zelfs normale mensen leren lezen, schrijven en rekenen op kleine privéscholen Terakoya genaamd (tempelschool). Het schoonschrift werd toen Tenari genoemd wat leren met de hand betekent.
In de Meiji periode (1868-1912) werd kalligrafie op school gedoceerd onder de naam Shuji (het leren van schrijven). Deze naam veranderde later in Kakikata (de wijze van schrijven).
Vanaf ongeveer het midden van de Meiji periode werd kalligrafie shodo genoemd (de kunst van het schoonschrift). Kalligrafie is altijd erg belangrijk geweest in Japan en een mooi handschrift in dagelijkse werkzaamheden wordt dan ook zeer gewaardeerd. Dit is ook de reden dat goede kalligrafeerders bijzonder werden gerespecteerd en er legenden en verhalen over hen werden verteld.

Een van die kalligrafie ‘celebrities’ was de heer Kukai. Hij was de oprichter van de Shingon sekte. Hij was zo goed, dat hij vijf regels tegelijkertijd kon schrijven door vijf penselen tegelijkertijd vast te houden. Eén in elke hand, één in elke voet, en één in zijn mond. De uitdrukking ‘niemand is perfect’ is gebaseerd op ‘Kobomo fude no ayamari.’ Zelfs Kobo (dat was de bijnaam van deze priester) maakt zelfs wel eens een foutje.

Een andere ‘celeb’ was de befaamde ‘Ono no Michikaze. Hij stond in de top 3 van beste artiesten. Op een dag zag deze man een kikker die probeerde om op een hoge tak van een wilgenboom te springen. De tak was zo hoog, dat het steeds mislukte, maar dat weerhield de kikker er niet van om het steeds weer opnieuw te proberen. Ono was hier zo van onder de indruk dat hij vanaf dat moment besloot om nooit op te geven en altijd te proberen zijn kunsten te blijven verbeteren. Dit verhaal is zo beroemd dat de scene met de kikker op een prentje is getekend genaamd Hanafunda. (Hanafunda is een set spelkaarten die geïllustreerd zijn door afbeeldingen die de maanden van het jaar moeten voorstellen.)
Okagami, een boek van de late Heian periode, beschrijft nog een verhaal van een beroemde kalligrafie artiest, Fujiwara no Sukemasa genaamd. Het verhaal gaat dat Fujiwara een meester was met een penseel. De beschermheilige van het dorp zou hem hebben gevraagd een tekst te schrijven, maar de beste man was op reis en stond op het punt te vertrekken. De beschermheilige zorgde vervolgens dat het ging stormen, waardoor Fujiwara niet kon vertrekken. Dit verhaal werd wijd verspreid en Fujiwara kreeg de eer om de beste kalligrafie artiest van Japan te worden genoemd in zijn tijd.

Hiragana was van origine gebaseerd op Chinese karakters en was ontwikkeld zodat vrouwen ook de mogelijkheid hadden om te schrijven. Echter, mannen begonnen niet veel later het veel gemakkelijke hiragana ook te gebruiken. Kino Tsurayuki, een dichter, was degene die een juiste balans instelde tussen het gebruik van Chinese karakters en hiragana. Hiragana kalligrafie raakte uit de mode tijdens de Kamakura periode, vandaar dat je tegenwoordig geen hiragana karakters meer terug vindt in hedendaagse kalligrafie.

De tweede wereldoorlog
Tijdens de tweede wereld oorlog werd kalligrafie alleen gebruikt voor propaganda, maar daarna kwam er een nieuw soort kalligrafie in zwang. Namelijk de Avant-garde kalligrafie. Deze stijl is herkenbaar door de snel geschreven karakters die vaak onleesbaar zijn. De teksten worden meer gewaardeerd om hun esthetische waarde dan om de inhoud. Het gaat er niet meer om of je tekst wel of niet begrijpt of dat de inhoud poëtisch is. Deze vorm van abstracte kunst wordt ook wel Zen’ei Shodo genoemd.

Wil je zelf ook eens Shodo proberen?
Kijk dan eens op
De lessen zijn gelukkig erg betaalbaar, maar JPY 1,000 per les. Elke les leer je verschillende kanji te schrijven en krijg je advies van sensei Suiha.

A woman practicing the art of shodou (Japanese calligraphy) at Hasedera temple in Kamakura.

A woman practicing the art of shodou (Japanese calligraphy) at Hasedera temple in Kamakura.


Shodou; the history
Japan probably did not have a writing system before the introduction of Chinese characters were introduced. The olthest article that has been found is the Kin’in (golthen stamp) that was given to the Japanese emporer by the emporer of China in the late Han period.

Kanji, on’yomi and kun’yomi
The adoption of the Chinese writing system was, unfortunately, not itheal for Japan. Since China and Japan were doing a lot of trading back and forth at that time, Japan did not only adopt the Chinese characters, but also a lot of Chinese words. For these Chinese words the characters really fit to the Chinese pronounciation. However Japanese often had problems with the Chinese pronounciation since Chinese and Japanese use different sounds, so even though Japanese might use Chinese words and Chinese characters for these words, the pronounciation may differ to adjust to the Japanese tongue.

The introduction of the Chinese writing system went in waves and from various regions. Even though the main language in China now is Mandarin, this was different in the past and a lof of regions had their own specific language or dialect. Although the Chinese characters that were used in China were universal and meant the same thing wherever you were within the country, the pronounciation could vary tremendously since people in one region spoke a different language or dialect than in another region. This meant that one Chinese character had different pronounciations, thepending on what part of China you were at.  Since the Chinese trathers came from all over China, the Japanese copied these various different pronounciations and did not choose one uniform way for one single character. This meant that one simple character could have 6 or 7 different ways of pronouncing it.

This use of Chinese characters (by looking strictly at the Chinese pronounciation is called (On’yomi). Later the Chinese characters were not selected on the basis of their pronounciation anymore, but on their meaning and were coupled with a Japanese way of pronouncing it. This way of using the character is called  (Kun’yomi).

The way if worked with the Kun’yomi was that a Chinese character was selected and a Japanese translation was connected to this character.  At a later stage the hiragana writing system was introduced. Hiragana was used as an addition to the Chinese characters since the Japanese word often did not fit all too well with the Chinese characters so it was necessary to thevelop another kind of writing system to use alongsithe the Chinese style characters.

These days the On’yomi and Kun’yomi are still in use today. One character can be pronounce the Chinese way (On’yomi) or the Japanese way. For instance the character 下. This character means below, down, unther, bottom, beneath, untherneath. The On’yomi reading is ka or ge. The Kun’yomi reading on the other hand ranges wildly. For instance you can read it as: shita, shimo, moto, sage, kuda, oro or ori. Let’s recap, so that means 9 different ways to pronounce one simple carachter. You’ll start to untherstand why Japanese is one of the most difficult languages in the world.

Black on white

Shotoku-taishi (the prince of emperor Yomei) sent a courier to China in 607 AD during Sui Dynasty.  The courier brought the knowlegthe for producing black ink, paper and brushes. From this time onwards the first text were written on paper. In the Heian period (794-1192 AD) it was very important for a noble man to be acathemically schooled and the second most important thing was to be able to write beautifully. For ladies calligraphy was the most important thing followed by music and Waka (short poems) In this period writing was only used by the elite and the common people were not able to read or write.

In the Edo period (1603-1867) even regular citizens could learn to read, write and calculate at special private schools called Terakoya genaamd (temple school). Calligraphy was then known unther the name Tenari which means: ‘learning by hand.’
In the Meiji period (1868-1912) calligraphy was taught under the Shuji (learning how to write). This name changed later in Kakikata (the way to write).
From the middle of the Meiji periode calligraphy was called shodou (the art of writing). Calligraphy has always been very important in Japan and a beautiful script in daily tasks is still very much appreciated. This is one of the reasons why great calligraphy artist where celebrated in Japan and myths and legends about them were created.

One of those calligraphy ‘celebrities’ was mister Kukai. He was the founder of the Shingon cult. He was so good that he could write five lines at the same time by holding 5 brushes at the same time. One in each hand, one in each foot and one in his mouth. The expression ‘nobody is perfect’ is based on ‘Kobomo fude no ayamari.’ Even Kobo (the priest’s nickname) sometimes makes a mistake.

Another ‘celeb’ was the famous ‘Ono no Michikaze. He was in the top 3 of the best calligraphy artists. One day this man saw a frog that tried to jump on a high willow branch. The branch was so high that he kept failing. This did not dissuade the frog to keep on trying. Ono was so impressed by this frog that he decided never to give up to improve his art. This story became so famous that the scene with the frog was drawn on a picture card called Hanafunda. (Hanafunda is a set of playing cardsw that have been illustrated with drawings that represent the months of the year)
Okagami, a book of the late Heian period describes the tale of the calligraphy artist, Fujiwara no Sukemasa. The story goes that Fujiwara, a master with a paint brush, was asked by the local ‘kami’ or God to write a text, but the man was travelling and was about to leave. The kami then caused a big storm preventing Fujiwara from leaving. This story was widely spread and Fujiwara was from then on called the best calligraphy artist of in his time.

Hiragana, one of the scripts still in used today by Japanese, was originally based on Chinese characters and was developed so that women also had a means to write. (Of course women were considered inferior and unable to learn the regular writing system used by men)

Not long after, men also started using the much easier hiragana writing system. Kino Tsurayuki, a poet, was the one who created the right balance between using Chinese characters, called kanji and hiragana. Hiragana calligraphy fell out of favour in the Kamakura period,  this is why you will hardly ever see any hiragana  in modern calligraphy.

The second world war
During the second world war calligraphy was only used for propaganda purposes. After the war another kind of calligraphy became popular. This was  the Avant-garde calligraphy. This style  you can recognize by the quickly written characters that are often times not legible. The texts are more appreciated for their esthetic value rather than their message. It is no longer important whether you understand a text or whether it is poetic. This form of abstract art is called Zen’ei Shodou.

Would you like to try shodou yourself?
Click on this link for more information about one of the best schools in Tokyo
The lessons are very affordable, only  JPY 1,000 per lesson. Every time you learn to write different kanji and you will be advised by sensei Suiha.

A woman practicing the art of shodou (Japanese calligraphy) at Hasedera temple in Kamakura.

A woman practicing the art of shodou (Japanese calligraphy) at Hasedera temple in Kamakura.

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A day at the park

(For an English translation please scroll down)

Afgelopen zondag ben ik heerlijk een dagje naar het park gegaan. Naar Shinjuku gyoen om precies te zijn. Dit park is gelegen in de buurt van Shinjuku gyoen mae (halte op de Marunouchi lijn) en is ook bereikbaar vanaf Shinjuku station.

Dit park was eerst de residentie van de Naitō familie (zij waren landheren ofwel Daimyo’s) in de Edo periode. Later werd het gebied open gesteld voor het publiek en werd er een park van gemaakt. Zie hieronder een plattegrond.

Map of Shinjuku gyoen park

Map of Shinjuku gyoen park

Zo rond deze tijd, eind maart/begin april begint de tijd van de bloesems. Voor de kersenbloesems is het nog een beetje te vroeg, maar de pruimenbloesems en de Magnolia bomen stonden al volop in de bloei. Het was een mooie dag en dan gaan de meeste Japanners er op uit. Zodra het begin van maart in zicht komt en de pruimenbloesems (ume) in bloei raken en het weer wat warmer wordt, zie je Japanners in de parken picknicken. Hanami wordt dit ook wel genoemd. Hanami betekent letterlijk ‘bloemen kijken’. Deze picknicks vinden dan ook vaak plaats onder de bloesems van de kersenbomen.

People enjoying the first rays of spring sun at Shinjuku gyoen park

People enjoying the first rays of spring sun at Shinjuku gyoen park

Zo ook afgelopen zondag. Het weer was heerlijk en de eerst Hanamiers waren al te vinden in Shinjuku gyoen. Wij hebben alleen een wandeling gemaakt door de 58.3 hectare aan park die er te vinden zijn. De omtrek van het park is ten aardige 3.5 km, dus je kunt er een flinke wandering maken.
Het park heeft drie heel aparte stijlen; de Franse formele stijl, de Engelse landschapstijl en de traditionele Japanse stijl. Het park heeft bovendien meer dan 20.000 bomen waaronder zo’n 1.500 kersenbomen (Shidare en wilgen kersenbomen) die bloeien vanaf eind maart tot eind april. De Shiradi-en wilgenkers bloeien wat eerder in het seizoen (eind maart-begin april en de Kansai kersenboom bloeit juist wat later, zo rond eind april. De bloeitijd is afhankelijk van de temperatuur. Wanneer Tokio een warme en vroege lente heeft dan bloeien de bomen eerder dan wanneer het in de lente nog wat frisser is. Andere bomen die je in het park kunt vinden zijn de cedar bomen uit het Hymalaya gebied die ver boven de andere bomen in het park uitkomen. Daarnaast zijn er de tulpenboom, de cipressen en de plantanen. Verder is er nog de broeikas waarin meer dan 1.700 tropische en subtropische planten te vinden zijn.

People enjoying a pick nick at Shinjuku gyoen

People enjoying a pick nick at Shinjuku gyoen

Als je even een drankje wilt doen of een hapje wilt eten, dan kan dat ook in dit park. Er zijn twee theehuizen te vinden en een restaurant. Hoewel de theehuizen niet zo mooi zijn als die in Hamarikyu park is dit park zeker de moeite van het bezoeken waard!

Na het park zijn we naar het Shinjuku station gelopen om daar de Oedo lijn te nemen naar Toshimaen. Daar is namelijk een van de leukste onsens in Tokio te vinden; Niwa no Yu. Niwa betekent tuin en daar kun je bij deze onsen zeker van genieten. Het complex heeft een dames- en herengedeelte met daarin een sauna, een turksstoombad en twee hete onsenbaden. Tevens is er een buitenbad en zijn er twee kleine badjes voor 1 persoon. Verder is er ook nog een zwembad en zijn er buiten twee jacuzzi’s en nog een extra sauna. In het zwembad is zwemkleding verplicht, maar kunnen zowel mannen als vrouwen komen. Om het uur zo’n beetje worden er een soort van aqua gym oefeningen gegeven waar je gratis aan mee kunt doen. De buitenbaden en sauna zijn ook alleen met zwemkleding aan toegankelijk en bevinden zich in de prachtige tuin met waterval. De buitensauna is verlicht met kleine lampjes dus als het donker wordt dan geeft dat een sprookjesachtig licht.

The exterior of Niwa no yu onsen

The exterior of Niwa no yu onsen

Boven is er ook nog genoeg te doen. Zo kun je er diverse massages krijgen waaronder een lichaamsmassage, een gezicht-, voet, of Thaise massage en zijn er diverse relaxruimtes te vinden, is er een winkeltje die diverse streekproducten verkoopt uit steeds weer een andere streek en is er een restaurant en bar. Je kunt er dus met gemak een dag in doorbrengen, maar als je na 18:00 uur ‘s avonds komt dan krijg je korting op het entree geld. Het adres is 3-25-1 Koyama, Nerima-ku, Tokyo en deze onsen is open van 10 uur ‘s ochtends tot 11 uur ‘s avonds en de entree is ¥2,250 voor volwassenen en ¥1,260 na 6 uur ‘s avonds. Een andere prettige bijkomstigheid is dat de huur van een handdoek en klein handdoekje voor in de onsen bij de prijs is inbegrepen samen met een speciaal pak wat je aan kunt trekken voor in de relax ruimtes. De speciale heren- en damesafdeling is overigens wel volledig naakt en lezen of eten en drinken is in de baden niet toegestaan. Voor meer informatie zie de website.

Wij hebben zondag genoten van een heerlijke lichaamsmassage en een gezichtsmassage. De massages worden uitgevoerd door getraind personeel en zijn echt een aanrader. De masseuses gaan zeer zorgvuldig te werk en weten al die ‘knoopjes’ met gemak te vinden. Natuurlijk is het uitzicht op de tuin een extra fijne bijkomstigheid!


Last Sunday I spent the day going to the park. To Shinjuky gyoen to be exact. This park is near Shinjuku gyoen mae (subway stop) with the Marunouchi line and can also be reached via Shinjuku station.

This park was first the residence of the Naitō family (they were landlords or Daimyo’s) in the Edo period. Later this area became public property and was turned into a park. See map below.

Map of Shinjuku gyoen park

Map of Shinjuku gyoen park

Around this time, late March/early April it’s the start of the blossoms period. For cherry blossoms it is still a bit early, but the plum blossoms and Magnolia trees were already blooming. It was a lovely day and when the weather is nice, that is when most Japanese go out of their cramped apartments to enjoy some fresh air. As soon as it becomes March and it is the start of the Ume (plum blossom) season, if the weather permits, you can find Japanese lounging in the parks around Tokyo and enjoying a home made pick nick. Usually obentou (home made lunch boxes). This is called Hanami. Hanami literally means ‘watching flowers’. These pick nicks usually are underneath the cherry trees so that is where the name comes from.

People enjoying the first rays of spring sun at Shinjuku gyoen park

People enjoying the first rays of spring sun at Shinjuku gyoen park

Last Sunday was no exception. The weather was wonderful and the first Hanami fans were gathering in Shinjuku park. Mind you, if it is prime Hanami season (when the tree’s are at their finest) you can no longer see the grass, that is how crowded it is in all the parks featuring prime Hanami ‘real estate’. We did not enjoy a pick nick, but only strolled around the 58.3 hectare that the park boasts. The circumfrance of the park is 3.5 km so there is enough park to enjoy.  If you like gardens then Shinjuku gyoen is for you, the park has three very distinct styles; the French formal style, the English country style and the traditional Japanese style. Furthermore the park has over 20,000 trees among which are 1,500 cherry trees.  The cherries bloom from late March until the end of April. The Shidare and weeping cherry bloom a bit earlier in the season (late March early april) and the Kansai cherry blooms a bit later, around the end of April. The start of the cherry blossoms depends primarily on the weather. When Tokyo is experiencing a pleasant and mild spring the trees bloom earlier than when it is cold and dreary.

Of course cherry trees are not the only trees in the park. Other trees you can see are the Hymalayan ceder tree that tower far above any of the other trees within the park and you can also see the tulip tree, some cypresses and plantanes. If you prefer tropical or subtropical plants you can see those at the green house. Where more than 1,700 species can be found.

People enjoying a pick nick at Shinjuku gyoen

People enjoying a pick nick at Shinjuku gyoen

If you feel the need for refreshments, but did not bring your own (alcoholic beverages are not allowed inside the park by the way) then you can go to one of the two tea houses or the restaurant within the park. Although the tea houses are not as nice as the one in Hamarikyu park, they are well worth the visit!

After enjoying a leisurely stroll through the park (admittance to the park cost 200 yen by the way) we walked towards Shinjuku station to take the Oedo line to Toshimaen. There you can find one of the more fun onsens in Tokyo. Why do we consider it more fun? Because this onsen has a communal area where both men and women can enjoy the rich health restoring properties of the onsen water together.

The name of this special onsen is Niwa no Yu. Niwa means garden and they certainly have a lush one you can enjoy at Niwa no yu. The complex also has a separate ladies and gentlemen area where bathing is strictly allowed in the nude. Inside you can find a Turkish steam sauna, a regular sauna and two hot baths, one with jets for a nice massage. There is also an outdoor area with one large pool and two smaller ones for one person.

In the middle of the complex you can enjoy a lovely swimming pool where they give some kind of aqua stretch exercises which you can join free of charge. This area is for both men and women and can only be entered with swimming wear. From the pool you can go outside to enjoy two Jacuzzi’s and an extra Finnish sauna. The outside pools and sauna are also only admissible with swim wear. These baths are in the lovely garden which is frequented by a host of different birds and even has a little waterfall! The sauna is decorated with fairy lights that give a magic admosphere when it gets dark..

The exterior of Niwa no yu onsen

The exterior of Niwa no yu onsen

On the second floor there is also plenty to do. You can get a lovely massage for instance. On the menu are: full body massage, face and neck massage, foot massage and a thai massage. There is also a shopping area with products from local area’s, which differ from month to month. If you get hungry or thirsty you can get something from the bar or restaurant. They have the most wonderful ice cream and the restaurant has authentic Japanese dishes. It is easy to spend an entire day here, but if you come after 6 PM you get a discount on the entrance fee so that is definitely recommended. The address is:

3-25-1 Koyama, Nerima-ku, Tokyo

The opening hours are from 10 AM until 11 PM and the entrance fee is ¥2,250 for adults and ¥1,260 after 6 o’ clock. Another nice touch is the free rental of two towels and a special outfit to be worn in the relax areas and the restaurant. One minor detail is no drinking, eating or reading allowed in the bathing areas.  For more information please see the website.

We enjoyed a wonderful body and face massage. The massages are performed by dedicated professional staff and are highly recommended. The masseuse are really thoroughly and can easily find those pesky areas that need work. Of course the view of the gardens is another lovely benefit!

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