Tokyobling's Blog

Aikido – Meiji Jingu

Posted in Japanese Traditions, People, Places by tokyobling on November 6, 2014

I totally missed this year’s martial arts festival at the grand Meiji Shrine but I had lots of fun at last year’s festival. Aikido was well represented with dozens of practitioners from several countries. When we think of Aikido we don’t imagine the use of deadly blades but sword art is also a central part of Aikido.

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Iaido Performance at Yasukuni Shrine

Posted in Japanese Traditions, People, Places by tokyobling on March 26, 2014

Last weekend while visiting Yasukuni shrine to see the sakura trees I also spent a while watching the semi-annual iaido performance at the Kagura stage in the shrine grounds. There were iaidoka, practitioners of iaido, of both sexes, from young to old and including at least one foreigner. Iaido is a highly philosophical sport focused on the quick drawing of the sword, a resolute attack and a smooth withdrawal. Because it involves actual weaponry there is not competition aspect to it. There are three kinds of swords, a wooden boken that is used for kata (or set movements) with more than one person, iaito which is a blunt metal sword and a shinken, which is a sharpened sword. There are also kata for more than one swords, extra long swords and sneakier “stealth” kata that involves hidden daggers.

Originally iaido was a real practice for real combat situations but these days it is more like a very fluid form of zen meditation, similar to zen archery, kyudo, and not even remotely similar to the combat sports like kendo or naginata. It takes a lot of time and dedication to become reasonably good at iaido. There is something comforting about a sport where the best practitioners are also usually the oldest!

Despite this performance being free for anyone to watch it is not very well advertised apart from a line or two on a sub-page of the ever elegant and modest Yasukuni shrine official website.

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Horagai – Japanese Battle Horn

Posted in Japanese Traditions, People, Places by tokyobling on January 25, 2014

In the old days, before 1600 when the whole of Japan was finally unified under the Shogunate, there were almost constant wars and battles. The feudal lords would fight against each other with large armies and just like in Europe during the same era, the generals and commanders needed different ways to communicate their tactics and orders to the officers in the field. One of these ways was to employ special trumpeters, kaiyaku (貝役), who would blow melodies on the giant conch shells, the horagai (法螺貝) also used by priests and monks since ancient times. The conch shells are carried in special woven baskets and a wooden or brass mouth piece is fitted to the end of it, through which a skilled user can blow up to five different notes. During winter warfare there was always the risk that the users lips would freeze stuck to the brass so many preferred the wooden mouthpiece.

I saw these trumpeters demonstrate their skills at the kobudo festival in Tokyo’s Meiji Shrine last year. One of them was quite young. It is quite easy to fail spectacularly with the horagai, which can be quite embarrassing but these four men blew perfectly. Here is a nice video with some different kinds of religious and military horagai sounds demonstrated.

Their demonstration opened one part of the kobudo festival, which was first blessed in a short ceremony by a young priest.

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Kobudo – Meijijingu Martial Arts

Posted in Japanese Traditions, People, Places by tokyobling on November 12, 2013

Walking around Meijijingu the other week during the Kobudo festival was a blessing, so many photo opportunities! I saw many martial artists practice their art against the backdrop of the gorgeous shrine park. I do not know the name of their styles, but maybe some reader does?

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