If you are in Tokyo and interested in Japanese calligraphy, shodo, you might want to and see the 54th annual Nihon Shosakuin exhibition on the second floor of the National Art Center in Roppongi. The exhibition is nothing less than massive, it would take a day or two to just read all of the beautiful calligraphy that is on display. The exhibition runs until the 17th of February, 13:30. Calligraphy came to Japan with the introduction of writing from China and as usual they have made it into a beloved national art form. Almost all schools in Japan teach calligraphy to their students and there are many school clubs dedicated to the subject. Japanese still take great pride in beautiful handwriting and a lot of people keep the tradition of writing with ink and brush alive.
One of the more interesting traditions involving calligraphy is the kakizome (書き初め), the first writing of the new year. In the old days people would write a poem on the the first day of the new year, using ink made from the first water drawn from the well. These days though, many people settle on writing characters that they like or find promising for the new years. I have even seen sets of ink, brushes and paper set out in bars and night clubs in the first few days of the year. It is interesting to see young and old club goers and bar-hoppers sit down and concentrate on this ancient art before getting back on the dance floor or karaoke machine!
Even though this is an ancient art form there are still trends and movements in the styles presented by the different artists, and to my untrained eye the writing looked more subdued than the wild sprawling writing I saw a lot of when I visited the exhibition in 2010.
One of the most important days in the life of any Japanese is the Seijin no hi (成人の日), the coming of age day and the ceremony that marks a Japanese person’s entrance into adulthood. While last year’s ceremony here in Tokyo was marked by a massive (at least by Tokyo standards) snowstorm, this year we had much better weather. I took these photos at Tokyo’s grand Meiji Shrine (明治神宮) as the young beauties were coming to pay their respect at the shrine. We certainly had nothing like this in Europe when I grew up!
For most young women the day starts early in the morning as they prepare their kimono, the make up and their hair settings. It can take a couple of hours to get ready and people often book their hair salon months ahead. Little old ladies up and down the country is recruited en masse to help the young ladies put on their kimono. Even normal everyday kimono are daunting for today’s young and these elaborate setups are impossible to achieve on your own, even for the very few twenty year olds that have gone to the trouble of learning how to do it.
It is great to see these young people and their parents brimming with pride! There are few young men dressing up in kimono as well, but they are so few I almost never manage to get any good photos of them. This year I think I saw two, at the Meiji shrine. Not all young people wear kimono though, there are quite a few people who are happy with a sombre black suit and a few people who make a point of wearing outrageous costumes sure to irritate their elders, all in the manner of youth in all countries, during all times. These young women in the photos however, are most probably the pride of their families!
Winter is hell for us Awaodori dance lovers, if it was not for the only more or less annual winter Awaodori performance in Tokyo’s Dome City I don’t know what I’d do! Every year, as part of the grand Furusato Matsuri event being held inside Tokyo Dome there are a few big Awaodori performances outside, given to the general public visiting the LaQua fairground just next to Tokyo Dome near the Korakuen subway station. This year again it was a combined effort of dancers from the mega stars Suikoren and the Hyottokoren with added assistance from the Minami-Koshigaya Tensuiren. The drum team was even more gifted with guest appearances from quite a few different Tokushima prefecture teams.
The performance is held in the freezing winter evening under the LaQua Mandala Globe, which is made by a Toksushima company and is one millionth the size of the Earth, roughly twelve times ten meters. It is part of the LaQua/Tokyo Dome City winter illuminations program to attract visitors to this fair ground even in the colder month. This year it is set to run until February 16th.
Tokyo Dome City where this event is held is one of Tokyo’s permanent fair grounds, and full of attractions aimed at kids and young couples. Maybe not the first place to visit for the average casual tourist but a given day trip for any family or people who stay a little longer in Tokyo. The other choices for fair grounds would be (to mention a couple) the Hanayasiki at Asakusa or Odaiba.
It is February and that means the glorious Warabi Hadaka Matsuri, or the Doronko Matsuri, or the Yotsukaido Mud Festival is drawing closer. On the 25th of this month the toughest men of the city of Yotsukaido in Chiba prefecture to the east of Tokyo will dress up in nothing but loincloth and wade into the freezing waters of a muddy rice field to enact a ritual that is to guarantee them good luck for the year and good coming harvest. There are several parts to the festival, chanting in the water, a game of “kibasen” (one man on the shoulder of three others who battle other similar teams) and of course the blessing of the infants! In this ceremony infants not yet one year old are carried into the water and given a symbolic drop of mud on the forehead, applied with a rice stalk from last year’s harvest. I took these photos at last year’s festival that was so cold they had to break the thick ice of the pond before the ritual could start.
The festival involves a lot of mud, so spectators in the first rows will probably get a bit of splatter so if you intend to see it in person I’d recommend leaving your nicest clothes home for the day! You can see my earlier post, with more information, here. The festival takes place in and around the tiny hill top shrine of Warabi Mimusubijinja (和良比皇産霊神社) which is said to date back to 811 A.D. The pond is naturally fertilized which makes it an even more interesting experience if you get too close to the mud!
The Yotsukaido city council festival information page is here.