Tokyobling's Blog

Fukagawa Hachiman – Mizukake Matsuri

Posted in Japanese Traditions, People, Places by tokyobling on August 22, 2014

More photos from the grand Fukagawa Hachiman Festival, also known as the Mizukake Matsuri. I took there very early in the day when few omikoshi were anywhere near the shrine. There would be over a hundred of the eventually. There were also still only a few people lined up on the side of the streets with water and hoses and buckets, so the the omikoshi carriers got of relatively easy still. From my own limited experience of this I can say that carrying an omikoshi is bad enough (look at the guys up front – I doubt little things like pain and fear even bother them anymore) without having water randomly thrown or sprayed on your face and head! As usual with Japanese traditions there are highly practical reasons for everything – the omikoshi will toughen anyone up!

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The Danger of Landslides – Kyushu Island

Posted in Nature, Places by tokyobling on August 21, 2014

It has been a strange summer, lots of sun in the east of Japan and massive amounts of rain in the west of Japan. You might have seen on the news or even heard from friends about the huge landslide in Hiroshima Prefecture the other day that has killed 39 people so far with 51 people still missing. These kind of landslides happen often in Japan which is both incredibly densely populated, extremely hilly and prone to getting hit with large rainstorms. Perfect conditions for deadly landslides to occur.

Most landslides happen in rural areas far from any cities or towns and villages and seldom results in deaths or injuries, but one landslide yesterday passed through a town on the outskirts of Hiroshima City burying houses and cars and whole streets. It was followed by several smaller landslides in the same are which have even killed rescue workers trying to save the victims of the first landslide. And all the while the rain keeps on falling.

A couple of years ago I was in Kyushu two weeks after torrential rains had unleashed several smaller landslide that barely hit the news. I took these photos, probably in Kumamoto Prefecture showing the damaged hillsides and wrecked buildings. The photos are very poor in quality as I took most of them while inside a moving car.

An interesting point can be made from looking at the first photo. Do you notice the spot where the hillside simply slid all the way down? Can you see how close and narrow the trees are? The Japanese call this kind of forest for “Incense Forest”, meaning that it looks like a bunch of incense sticks stuck into the ground, with nothing whatsoever of under vegetation, no age differentiation in the trees and most likely artificially planted. In Japan where the annual rainfall of most European countries can fall over a couple of days normal healthy natural forest consisting of a mix of tall trees and a vigorous undergrowth, the excess water will be sucked up by the vegetation very quickly. However, in incense forests like this, the water has nowhere to go, there are not even any streams to discharge it out of the mountains, so it ends up soaking into the ground, usually with catastrophic results.

It is very easy to forget the power of nature: as we spend more and more time in human made environments, focused on screens and keyboards, we sometimes fail to catch the warning signs that out there. Stay safe everyone!

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Fukagawa Hachiman Matsuri – Omikoshi

Posted in Japanese Traditions, People, Places by tokyobling on August 20, 2014

Last weekend saw the massive Fukagawa Hachiman Matsuri in Tokyo’s Tomioka Hachimangu, Koto Ward. It ran from the 13th to the 17th but I only mananged to visit on two of the days, missing the grand finale on Sunday. The festivals is famously known as the Mizukakematsuri, or Water splashing festival for the focus on drenching the omikoshi and the participants in water.

The festival grows to many times it usual size once every three years when the grand fesitval takes place. 2014 was one such year! Your next chance to the grand version of this festival is in 2017.

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Ubagaike – The Pond of the Old Woman

Posted in Places by tokyobling on August 19, 2014

Continuing on my series of obscure but interesting spots, here is Ubagaike – The Pond of the old Woman. In the old days this unremarkable park with its little pond was shallow marshland that grew smaller and smaller as the city of Edo (old Tokyo) grew around it. In 1891 the local government finally had the marsh filled in and the present day park was put in its place. The name of the pond comes from an old legend concerning a stone pillow housed at a nearby temple.

During the reign of Emperor Youmei (585-587 A.D.), in a place called Asajigahara, there was a small trail connecting Oshu and Shimofusa. It was the only trail in the area and along it there was only a single house, inhabited by an old woman and her beautiful daughter. Any traveler wishing to rest on his journey had to stop over at their house where the old lady would promptly bash his head in with a stone pillow and steal his clothes and belongings. The old lady would then dump the bodies in a nearby pond. Naturally her daughter was not happy with this and pleaded with the old lady to stop the killings but there was no persuading her. The body count reached 999 and the daughter was desperate to stop the killing. One day a young man came to stay over and the old lady, as was her habit, took the stone pillow and promptly split his skull open. Upon closer inspection though, the old lady found that she had killed her own daughter who had gone in disguise, hoping that this final sacrifice would persuade the old lady to stop the killings. As the old lady was going mad from the realization of her deeds she took her daughter’s corpse and threw herself and the corpse together into the pond. Since that day, the pond has been knows as Ubagaike, the Pond of the old Lady (old hag might be a better translation).

The park and the pond isn’t much to see anymore, but the legend is interesting enough. It is a short walk from the north of Sensoji Temple in the famous Asakusa District. The final picture is from a series of legends illustrated by Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1798-1861 A.D.) showing the Goddess of Compassion visiting the house of the old lady as she is arguing with her daughter.

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