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Japanese sake and cuisine, travel and history, literature and art, film and music by Ad Blankestijn
29 Apr
It may come as a surprise to hear that my present hometown Kobe is a popular tourist destination (more than 22 million annual visitors incl. day trippers)... but these are mainly Japanese tourists and they come in my view for the wrong places (and not only as tourists but also to marry - Kobe is a popular wedding ceremony destination!).

What I mean with the "wrong places" is that Japanese visitors throng to the Ijinkan, the foreigner's houses in Kitano, or to Kobe's Chinatown – both solid tourist traps, without anything of historical value to attract the serious visitor. No wonder that most foreign tourists prefer to remain among the temples of Kyoto.

That being said, there are several extremely interesting destinations in the wider Kobe area (incl. Ashiya, Takarazuka and the Hanshin area between Kobe and Osaka) that are worth giving up your Zen garden for and traveling the short distance to this port city, but these are not very well known (and perhaps a bit specialist in nature). But if you are interested in sake, architecture, literature or art, they are certainly worth your time!

Here they are:

[Kikumasamune Sake Brewery Museum (Photo Ad Blankestijn)]
1. For sake buffs: Nada Gogo - Sake breweries and brewery museums
Wedged between the green Rokko Mountains and the blue waters of Osaka Bay, the sake area of the Five Nada Districts stretches from Nishinomiya to Kobe (skipping Ashiya), with in all several tens of large and small breweries. Today, it is not such a beautiful area as it has been densely built up in a haphazard way with flats, outlets and warehouses, but you will forget this once you stand inside the breweries which often feature buildings in historical style.

In the Edo-period, it became clear that the Nada area was optimally suitable for sake brewing due to the climate (cold winds blowing down from the Rokko mountains in winter); the water (the famous Miyamizu, the iron-less, mineral-rich water found in certain wells in Nishinomiya); the streams running down from the mountains which made rice polishing by water mills possible; the availability of good rice in the immediate vicinity; and, finally, being at the seaside with good natural harbors which made transport of the sake to Edo (Tokyo) easy.

Several breweries in the area operate small museums that offer visitors a glimpse into the history, traditions and methods of the craft of sake brewing. They also give visitors ample opportunity to find out what makes Nada sake special — and to taste the difference. I will publish a full guide to the Nada Gogo on this blog, so here are just two highlights from among the museums with exhibits of traditional sake brewing tools: those of Kikumasamune and Sawanotsuru, both housed in traditional wooden buildings.

The Kikumasamune Sake Brewery Museum is located in the Mikage district. Kikumasamune was founded in 1659 by the Kano family. One of the largest breweries in Japan, it already started exports to the U.K. in 1877. Its dry-tasting sake is representative of the sake of Nada. In the museum grounds you can see a well (with the traditional mechanism for hoisting up buckets of water) as well as the water mill for rice polishing (in the Edo-period, these mills made a higher rice polishing ratio possible, which led to a clearer taste of Nada sake and therefore an advantage in the competition with other breweries which still used hand-polishing). Inside, the museum illustrates the entire brewing process with such implements as brewing vats, koshiki (steam baskets) and a sake press.

[10 min walk south of Uozaki St on the Hanshin line; 9:30-16:30; CL New Year holidays; free].

[Sawanotsuru Sake Museum (Photo Ad Blankestijn)]
The Sawanotsuru Brewery, too, is one of Japan's largest brewing companies. It was one of the first Nada brewers to start producing ginjo sakes and is known for its deep-tasting products in the dry Nada-style. The Sawanotsuru Sake Museum was carefully rebuilt after being toppled in the 1995 earthquake. During the reconstruction, part of the site was excavated and an old sake press was discovered, with large ceramic pots set in the ground to receive the pressed sake. Besides a large number of impressive brewing vats and huge sake presses, particularly beautiful is also the replica of a koji room, with the small koji boxes neatly stocked against the wall.

[10 min walk southwest from Oishi St on the Hanshin line; 10:00-16:00; CL Wednesdays, Obon holidays, New Year holidays; free]


[Entrance Yodoko Guest House (Photo Ad Blankestijn)]
2. For architecture buffs: Yodoko Guest House or "Yamamura Residence" by Frank Lloyd Wright
A private residence designed by world-famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959), the only private residence he designed in Japan. Now called "Yodoko Guest House," as its owner is Yodogawa Steel Works, its original name was "Yamamura Residence." The house was constructed from 1918-1924 as a summer villa for the well-heeled sake brewer Yamamura Tazaemon (of the Sakuramasamune Brewery in Uozaki, Kobe).

[Sitting room (Photo Ad Blankestijn)]
The four floors of the house have been set into the hill in symmetrical steps, so that the house is nowhere taller than two stories. From all levels there are wonderful views of Kobe Port and Osaka Bay. The house has not been built from concrete, but from blocks of soft-textured Oya stone. The design is ingenious, and the decoration inside is marvelous as well, with mahogany framework, characteristic light fixtures and square copper plates with a delicate leaf design. See my separate post about this wonderful and magical place, designed by an architect who was in love with Japan.

[10 min walk from the north side of Ashiyagawa Station on the Hankyu Line. There is a map on the website. Hours: Open on Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday and National Holidays. 10:00-16:00; fee]


[Takenaka Carpentry Tools Museum (Photo Ad Blankestijn)]
3. Also for architecture buffs: Takenaka Carpentry Tools Museum (Takenaka Daiku Dogukan)
If you have ever wondered with what technical means Japan's temples, castles and palaces were built (and who hasn't?), then it is a good idea to make your way to the Takenaka Carpentry Tools Museum in Kobe. This beautifully furbished museum offers an in-depth overview of carpentry tools, their development and how they were used to build Japan's wooden architecture. The museum owns more than 15,000 traditional tools and various materials concerning their use and development. It was set up by the Takenaka construction company which originated in a carpenter's shop established in 1612. Learn all about the ax (ono) and the adze (chona), chisel (nomi) and gimlet (kiri), saw (nokogiri), hammer (tsuchi) and plane (kanna), carpenter’s square (sashigane) and marking gauge (kebiki) and the all-important and beautiful ink pot (sumitsubo) for marking straight lines on various surfaces. This is the most beautiful tool you'll find in the museum: a thread wound around a wooden spool has a needle attached to its other end. The needle is stuck in the surface and the thread unwound to mark the straight line - as it unwinds, it passes cleverly through a small ink pot.

[3-min walk from Shinkobe St. (map on the English museum website); 9:30 – 16:30; CL Mondays (the following day when Monday falls on a national holiday ), New Year holidays, occasional days; fee.]

[Ishoan (Photo Ad Blankestijn)]
4. For literature buffs: Ishoan - the residence of Tanizaki Junichiro
Tanizaki Junichiro, Japan's foremost 20th century author, lived from 1923 to 1943 in the Ashiya-Kobe area and Ishoan is the name of the house he rented from 1936 to 1943 (the name means "leaning on pine trees" but the trees are gone as the house originally stood on a slightly different spot). Tanizaki lived here with his third wife, Matsuko, her daughter from a previous marriage and her two sisters in a menage that must have resembled that of the The Makioka Sisters. In this house Tanizaki made his (first) modern-Japanese translation of The Tale of Genji and also started writing The Makioka Sisters. Much of the action in this novel is based on events in the lives of Tanizaki and his family in the late 1930s. I am not talking about the larger plot - the work was not autobiographical but purely a work of fiction - but about the small, seemingly inconsequential details of daily existence that together give life to the novel. The house also has many small interesting details. Note the dining room table which though small, can be extended - an example of the rational simplicity Tanizaki liked. The lamp hanging from the ceiling in the sitting room is a copy of the original and expresses Tanizaki's dislike of the bright lights you usually find in Western-style rooms: as stated in his In Praise of Shadows, he preferred half-dark and shadowy spaces, so the bottom side of this lamp is closed, and the light is only indirect. This house is a magical place (see my previous, detailed post for more details)!

[450 meters north of Uozaki St on the Hanshin line; or 150 meters north of Uozaki St on the Rokko Liner; or 900 meters south of Sumiyoshi St on the JR line; only open on Saturday and Sunday, now closed for repairs until February 2017; 10:00-16:00; free]


[Tessai Museum]
5. For art buffs: Tessai Museum
The Tessai Museum stands in the grounds of the popular Kiyoshikojin Seichoji Temple (one of the most interesting temples in the wider Kobe area, not because of its statues, architecture or gardens, but because it is a living temple and one of the few that has retained its fusion with Shinto and various folk beliefs). The museum houses a large collection of representative works of the last great Nanga or “literati painter,” Tomioka Tessai (1836–1924), a tradition that found its inspiration in the literati landscape painting of the Southern School (“Nanga”) in Yuan, Ming and Qing China. Important painters of this tradition in Japan had been Ike Taiga, Buson and Urakami Gyokudo.

Tomioka Tessai was born in Kyoto where he studied Chinese and Japanese classics. He championed traditional ways against the influx of Western ideas, also in painting, and traveled widely in Japan. He mostly lived and worked in Kyoto and was a very prolific painter with a total output of about 20,000 works. The works of his last years, after he had turned 80, are considered his best. Besides the literati style, he also worked in other styles as the “native” Yamato-e style, the folksy Otsu-e style and he made humorous haiga, haiku paintings. He was also a great calligrapher. His best works are large landscape paintings characterized by strong and free brushwork.

The collection is shown in rotating exhibitions of about fifty works each. The museum is a fitting tribute to this eccentric painter and the beautiful works he created.

[15 min walk from Kiyoshikojin St on the Hankyu Takarazuka line; 10:00-16:30; CL Mondays, irregularly for re-installation, summer / winter times, etc., so check in advance at http://www.kiyoshikojin.or.jp/en/tessai/; fee]


[Kosetsu Museum of Art (Photo Ad Blankestijn)]
6. Also for art buffs: Small museums in the Hanshin area 
The area between Osaka and Kobe ("Hanshin area"), along the various train lines that connect both cities, is characterized by the presence of many interesting private museums, set up by entrepreneurs from Osaka, who also had their residences here. Although they possess interesting collections with rare art works, these museums are easy to miss as they are only open a few weeks each spring and autumn (therefore, be sure to check if the museum is open before going there!). Here follows a brief overview of the best small museums:

Hankyu Kobe line:
Mikage: Kosetsu Museum of Art
Sitting in a quiet street close to Mikage Station, this museum houses the small (about 500 pieces) but fine collection of Murayama Ryuhei (artistic name: Kosetsu), the founder of the Asahi Newspaper. There are Chinese paintings and ceramics, Japanese paintings, Buddhist images, swords, armor, tea ceremony utensils and Korean ceramics. Exhibitions are held twice a year in spring and autumn, when about 50 objects are on view. The quality of this small collection is excellent.
[5-min walk south-east from Mikage station on the Hankyu Kobe Line; 10:00-17:00; only open in spring and autumn, check in advance; no CL during exhibitions; fee; http://www.kosetsu-museum.or.jp/]

Hankyu Kobe line:
Mikage: Hakutsuru Fine Art Museum 
Kano Jihei, president of the Hakutsuru Breweries, founded the Hakutsuru Fine Art Museum in 1931 as one of Japan’s first private museums, housed in a traditional-style building. That building from 1934 is a delight: a two-storied building in Oriental style, its roof and other design features mimicking Momoyama architecture. The main part of the 1,300 pieces strong collection is formed by Chinese art, from bronzes to ceramics and paintings. Japanese items include archaeological treasures, decorated sutras, handscrolls and screens. The museum shows a selection of about 120 pieces in two thematic exhibitions a year. (Note that this museum is different from the sake brewery museum also operated by Hakutsuru and located near Hanshin Uozaki St)
[15-min walk northeast (and uphill) from Mikage St on the Hankyu Kobe Line; 10:00-16:30; only open mid-Mar - early Jun & mid-Sept - late Nov., CL Mondays - check in advance at http://www.hakutsuru-museum.org/; fee]

[Hakutsuru Fine Art Museum (Photo Ad Blankestijn)]
Hankyu Kobe line:
Ashiyagawa: Tekisui Museum
Tekisui (“Fresh Green”) was the artistic pseudonym of banker Yamaguchi Kichirobei, who founded the Yamaguchi Bank in Osaka, and after his retirement enjoyed his hobby of collecting tea utensils and tea ceremony objects. What adds color to the collection are the other interests of Tekisui: karuta or Japanese playing cards, clay dolls and hagoita or battledores. The collection consists of about 1,500 objects.

[10-min walk from Ashiyagawa station on the Hankyu Kobe Line (in fact, not far from the Yodoko Guest House); 10:00-16:00 (enter by 15:00); CL Monday, summer, winter - check in advance; fee; http://tekisui-museum.biz-web.jp/]

Hankyu Kobe line:
Shukugawa: Kurokawa Institute of Ancient Cultures
A collection of rare artefacts from China and Japan, set up by Kurokawa Koshichi, a financier from Osaka, to administer the collection of art and antiquities of his family. As the name indicates, it is primarily a research facility. Many of the 10,000 pieces owned by the institute are rare and unusual. They are from both China and Japan. In the Chinese section, we find oracle bones, jade and bronzes from the Shang and Zhou Dynasties; belt hooks, roof tiles and tomb slabs from the Han dynasty; and bronze mirrors from all periods. From the Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties we have paintings and calligraphy, as well as inkstones, ink sticks, seals and rubbings. In the Japanese section we find bronze bells from the Kofun period and mirrors and roof tiles from all periods. There is also a large collection of swords and sword ornaments. Then we have a large group of sutras (Nara and Heian) and objects used in Buddhist rituals. Besides calligraphy, we also find paintings by Korin, Hoitsu, Kiitsu and Goshun.

[Take a bus from Hankyu Shukugawa St and get off at Kayando stop, then walk 800 m west (walk back in the direction from which the bus came and take the first road to the right - there is a sign also in English pointing here. Follow this road uphill). Or take a 10-min taxi from Hankyu Shukugawa St; 10:00-16:00; CL Mondays; only open during spring and autumn exhibitions, see website for dates: http://www.kurokawa-institute.or.jp/; fee]

Hankyu Takarazuka line:
Ikeda: Itsuo Art Museum
This museum houses the art objects collected by Kobayashi Ichizo (1893-1957), the founder of the Hankyu and Toho consortia of companies. The emphasis is on works related to the tea ceremony, as well as paintings by Buson and Goshun. Mr. Kobayashi was born in Yamanashi Prefecture and came to Tokyo where he joined the Mitsui Company after university. He founded his own company, the Hankyu Railway at age 34 and went on to establish the Hankyu Department Store and the Toho Movie and Theater Company not long afterwards. He set up several other business organizations as well. In the war years he served as cabinet minister, but a more enduring feat was the establishment of the Takarazuka All Girl’s Revue. From his forties he also took an interest in the tea ceremony and started a large collection of tea utensils, calligraphy and paintings for the tea room, lacquer ware and Buddhist objects. The total collection of Kobayashi Ichizo comprises 5,000 pieces, among which are fifteen important cultural properties.

[10 min walk from Ikeda St on the Hankyu Takarazuka line; 10:00-17:00; CL Mon (except NH), NY, BE (check in advance); fee; http://www.hankyu-bunka.or.jp/]

Hankyu Imazu Line (for Takarazuka)
Kotoen: Egawa Museum of Art
The small Egawa Museum exhibits the collection of Mr Egawa Tosuke, former chairman of thr Kofuku Bank. Set up in 1973, unfortunately the museum experienced some problems in the period after Japan's economic bubble burst, and had to sell off part of its holdings. But there is still enough to see. The collection is focused on paintings (suibokuga and Edo-period literati paintings, such as work by Ike Taiga) and implements for the tea ceremony. A small but fine museum.

[5 min walk from Kotoen St on the Hankyu Imazu line; 10:00-16:00; only open for exhibitions in spring and autumn, CL Mondays; fee; http://www.egawa-mus.or.jp/]

22 Apr
Hyakunin Isshu, Poem 17
chihayaburukamiyo mo kikazuTatsutagawakarakurenai nimizu kuguru to wa
千早ぶる神代もきかず龍田川からくれないに水くくるとは
Not even heard ofin the legendary ageof the mighty gods:the River Tatsuta in scarletand the water flowing under it.
Or, when kuguru is read as kukuru, the last two lines become:...the waters of the River Tatsutatie-dyed in scarlet.

Ariwara no Narihira (825-880)
[Scarlet autumn leaves (Photo Ad Blankestijn)]
The beauty of the red maple leaves in autumn at the River Tatsuta.

The River Tatsuta flows through the lowlands east of the Ikoma Mountains south of Nara City. The area is famous for its maple trees and its autumn foliage and figures prominently in classical poetry.

The present poem was not actually written at the River Tatsuta, but on a screen painting of that river. The custom to write poems on screens with paintings in Yamatoe-style came up at the end of the 9th c. and was quite common in the 10th c. This is made clear by a head-note in the Kokinshu which reads: "Composed on a the topic of autumn leaves flowing down the Tatsuta River, as painted on a screen belonging to the Nijo Empress when she was still called the Mother of the Heir Apparent." In other words, the poem celebrates the success and glory of the Nijo Empress in giving birth to the Heir Apparent, with its reference to the Age of the Gods. The present poem is one of the first such "screen poems" (byobu uta); in the 10th c. both Yamatoe screens and accompanying poems were produced in large numbers.

"Chihayaburu" is a makurakotoba for the Age of the Gods. "Karakurenai" is scarlet, literally "Chinese scarlet," as this particular color nuance probably came from China.

The meaning of the last two lines changes depending on whether one reads the verb as kukuru or kuguru. Kukuru is probably the original reading, meaning "to tie-dye." So the waters of the Tatsuta look as if they have been tie-dyed in scarlet - tie-dyeing was a technique that came up in the 8th c., in which cloth was bound, folded or compressed to achieve different colored patterns. This is quite a complex and refined comparison (mitate). But in later centuries (and also in the time of Hyakunin Isshu compiler Fujiwara Teika) the verb was read kuguru which means "to pass under," resulting in the interpretation of blue water flowing under the surface covering of the fallen red foliage. And that is also beautiful.

[Narihira looking for the ghost of Ono no Komachi, by Yoshitoshi (Photo Wikipedia)]
The courtier and poet Ariwara no Narihira (825-880) was counted both among the Six and Thirty-six Poetic Immortals. He was also thought to be the protagonist of the mid 9th c. Ise Monogatari (The Ise Stories), which formed around a collection of his poems, and was inspired by his many renowned love affairs. The grandson of two emperors (Heizei and Kanmu), he was a model of the handsome, amorous nobleman. Various imperial anthologies contain almost 90 of his poems. Donald Keene has remarked about him: "Narihira combined all the qualities most admired in a Heian courtier: he was of high birth, extremely handsome, a gifted poet, and an all-conquering lover. He was probably also an expert horseman, adept in arms, and a competent official. These aspects of his life are not emphasized in the Tales of Ise, but they distinguish Narihira from other heroes of Heian literature, including Prince Genji." But because of his many love affairs he was also criticized in contemporary records as "unrestrained in self-indulgence." He would perhaps have been the perfect lover for Ono no Komachi, but there is no indication that they ever met, although speculation has always been rife.

[Also included in Kokinshu 294]References: Pictures of the Heart, The Hyakunin Isshu in Word and Image by Joshua S. Mostow (University of Hawai'i Press, 1996); Traditional Japanese Poetry, An Anthology, by Steven D. Carter (Stanford University Press, 1991); Hyakunin Isshu by Inoue Muneo, etc. (Shinchosha, 1990); Genshoku Hyakunin Isshu by Suzuki Hideo, etc. (Buneido, 1997); Ogura Hyakunin Isshu at Japanese Text Initiative (University of Virginia Library Etext Center); Hyakunin Isshu wo aruku by Shimaoka Shin (Kofusha Shuppan); Hyakunin Isshu, Ocho waka kara chusei waka e by Inoue Muneo (Chikuma Shoin, 2004); Basho's Haiku (2 vols) by Toshiharu Oseko (Maruzen, 1990); The Ise Stories by Joshua S. Mostow and Royall Tyler (University of Hawai'i Press, 2010); Kokin Wakashu, The First Imperial Anthology of Japanese Poetry by Helen Craig McCullough (Stanford University Press, 1985); Kokinshu, A Collection of Poems Ancient and Modern by Laurel Rasplica Rodd and Mary Catherine Henkenius (University of Tokyo Press, 1984); Kokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1994); Shinkokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1995); Taketori Monogatari-Ise Monogatari-Yamato Monogatari-Heichu Monogatari (Shogakkan, 1994). Hyakunin Isshu Introduction - Poem 1 - Poem 2 - Poem 3 - Poem 4 - Poem 5 - Poem 6 - Poem 7 - Poem 8 - Poem 9 - Poem 10 - Poem 11 - Poem 12 - Poem 13 - Poem 14 - Poem 15 - Poem 16 - Poem 17 - Poem 18 - Poem 19 - Poem 20 -
15 Apr
Hyakunin Isshu, Poem 16
tachiwakareInaba no yama nomine ni ourumatsu to shi kikabaima kaerikomu
立ち別れ
いなばの山の
峰に生ふる
まつとしきかば
今かへりこむ
Even if I depart nowand leave for Mount Inaba,on whose peak grow pines,if I hear you pine for meI will right away hurry back!
Ariwara no Yukihira (818-893)
[Pine tree in the mountains (Photo Wikipedia)]
Regret about the parting from friends in the capital when being sent as governor to the provinces. The poet stresses how difficult it is for him to leave. This poem was probably written during the farewell party held for the poet. 
The courtier, bureaucrat and poet Ariwara no Yukihira (818-893) was the scholarly older brother (by a different mother) of Ariwara no Narihira (Poem 17) and a grandson of Emperor Heizei, via Prince Abo. He reached the court rank of Chunagon, middle counselor. Four authentic poems have been preserved in the Kokinshu, and four more in the Gosenshu. The present poem was written in 855 when Yukihira was sent to serve as governor of Inaba Province (now part of Tottori Prefecture). Provincial governor was a middle-ranking position, financially not unattractive, but unpopular as it meant one had to leave the bright lights (and career possibilities) of the capital. 
The poem contains two pivot words (kakekotoba). Mount Inaba (a mountain in Inaba Province, close to the seat of the provincial government) is also a pun on "inaba," "even if I depart." And "matsu" in line four means both "pine tree" and "to wait" - or "to pine." Additionally, the first three lines form a jokotoba (preface) to "matsu." Note that the pine tree standing lonely on the mountain is also a symbol for the loneliness of the poet in Inaba Province.
[Ariwara no Yukihira in exile on Suma Beach, with the two fishing girl sisters, by Yoshitoshi (Photo Wikipedia)]
Mostow tells that Yukihira was in the first place known for his exile to Suma (in present-day Kobe), where he presumably had a love affair with two fisher girls, Matsukaze and Murasame. The sisters waited in vain for Yukihira after he had returned to the capital Heiankyo (Kyoto). This story was picked up in the Noh play Matsukaze and also led to a popular change in interpretation of the present poem: instead of reading it as written when Yukihira left Heiankyo to go to Inaba, it was interpreted as written when Yukihira was leaving Inaba, to return to the sisters on the beach of Suma (although this disregards the opening line!). Yukihira's exile in Suma may also have inspired Murasaki Shikibu to have her hero Genji exiled to the same place in the Suma and Akashi chapters of the The Tale of Genji.

[Also included in Kokinshu 365]
References: Pictures of the Heart, The Hyakunin Isshu in Word and Image by Joshua S. Mostow (University of Hawai'i Press, 1996); Traditional Japanese Poetry, An Anthology, by Steven D. Carter (Stanford University Press, 1991); Hyakunin Isshu by Inoue Muneo, etc. (Shinchosha, 1990); Genshoku Hyakunin Isshu by Suzuki Hideo, etc. (Buneido, 1997); Ogura Hyakunin Isshu at Japanese Text Initiative (University of Virginia Library Etext Center); Hyakunin Isshu wo aruku by Shimaoka Shin (Kofusha Shuppan); Hyakunin Isshu, Ocho waka kara chusei waka e by Inoue Muneo (Chikuma Shoin, 2004); Basho's Haiku (2 vols) by Toshiharu Oseko (Maruzen, 1990); The Ise Stories by Joshua S. Mostow and Royall Tyler (University of Hawai'i Press, 2010); Kokin Wakashu, The First Imperial Anthology of Japanese Poetry by Helen Craig McCullough (Stanford University Press, 1985); Kokinshu, A Collection of Poems Ancient and Modern by Laurel Rasplica Rodd and Mary Catherine Henkenius (University of Tokyo Press, 1984); Kokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1994); Shinkokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1995); Taketori Monogatari-Ise Monogatari-Yamato Monogatari-Heichu Monogatari (Shogakkan, 1994). Hyakunin Isshu Introduction - Poem 1 - Poem 2 - Poem 3 - Poem 4 - Poem 5 - Poem 6 - Poem 7 - Poem 8 - Poem 9 - Poem 10 - Poem 11 - Poem 12 - Poem 13 - Poem 14 - Poem 15 - Poem 16 - Poem 17 - Poem 18 - Poem 19 - Poem 20 -
6 Apr
Hyakunin Isshu, Poem 15
kimi ga tame
haru no no ni idete
wakana tsumu
waga koromode ni
yuki wa furitsutsu

君がため
春の野に出でて
若菜つむ
わが衣手に
雪はふりつつ

For your sake
I went into the fields of spring
to pick young greens,
while on the sleeves of my robe
the snow kept falling.

Emperor Koko (830-887, r. 884-887)

[Fields in early spring at the foot of Mt Nijo, Nara (Photo Ad Blankestijn)]
A poem sent with a gift of young greens.

Picking young greens in the fields and eating these was a romantic custom of the palace that formed part of the New Year festivities. It was considered to guarantee good health in the new year and is the predecessor of the modern custom the eat Seven Herb Porridge (nanakusa-gayu) on January 7. In the modern case, small amounts of seven different herbs are added to the porridge and these may well have been similar to the greens picked in the Heian period: nazuna or shepherd's purse, hakobe or chickweed, seri or water dropworth, gogyo or cudweed, hotokenoza or henbit, suzuna or turnip and daikon or white radish.

[The modern Nanakusa herbs (Photo Wikipedia)]
The poet, Emperor Koko, was the third son of Emperor Ninmyo and placed on the throne at the age of 55 by the Fujiwara regent Mototsune to replace Emperor Yozei (see Poem 13). It was in his reign that the politically powerful system of the Fujiwara regency was instituted. He has 14 poems in imperial anthologies. 
The Kokinshu includes a head note for this poem, stating that it "was sent together with young greens to someone when the emperor was still a prince." The addressee is unknown. Sending such greens formed a wish for good luck and longevity to the receiver in the new year.

[Same poem in Kokinshu 21]References: Pictures of the Heart, The Hyakunin Isshu in Word and Image by Joshua S. Mostow (University of Hawai'i Press, 1996); Traditional Japanese Poetry, An Anthology, by Steven D. Carter (Stanford University Press, 1991); Hyakunin Isshu by Inoue Muneo, etc. (Shinchosha, 1990); Genshoku Hyakunin Isshu by Suzuki Hideo, etc. (Buneido, 1997); Ogura Hyakunin Isshu at Japanese Text Initiative (University of Virginia Library Etext Center); Hyakunin Isshu wo aruku by Shimaoka Shin (Kofusha Shuppan); Basho's Haiku (2 vols) by Toshiharu Oseko (Maruzen, 1990); The Ise Stories by Joshua S. Mostow and Royall Tyler (University of Hawai'i Press, 2010); Kokin Wakashu, The First Imperial Anthology of Japanese Poetry by Helen Craig McCullough (Stanford University Press, 1985); Kokinshu, A Collection of Poems Ancient and Modern by Laurel Rasplica Rodd and Mary Catherine Henkenius (University of Tokyo Press, 1984); Kokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1994); Shinkokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1995); Taketori Monogatari-Ise Monogatari-Yamato Monogatari-Heichu Monogatari (Shogakkan, 1994).Hyakunin Isshu Introduction - Poem 1 - Poem 2 - Poem 3 - Poem 4 - Poem 5 - Poem 6 - Poem 7 - Poem 8 - Poem 9 - Poem 10 - Poem 11 - Poem 12 - Poem 13 - Poem 14 - Poem 15 - Poem 16 - Poem 17 - Poem 18 - Poem 19 - Poem 20 -
3 Apr
Where can you find the best hanami spots in Kyoto?

Here are my five favorite cherry blossom locations:

[The canal in Okazaki Park]
1. Okazaki Park, Keage Incline and Tetsugaku no Michi
This is my favorite walk because of the great variety of scenery, the many, different cherry blossoms, and the combination of "industrial archaeology" with ancient temples. For starters, in Okazaki Park (which is easily reached from Jingumichi St on the Tozai subway line) you have a nice scene of cherry trees along the canal which runs next to Niomondori, south of the Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art. (In April, boat rides on the canal are available).


[The Keage Incline]
Follow Niomondori east; just before the crossing with Shirakawadori you will see the Lake Biwa Canal Museum and in this area you'll also find a staircase where you can go down to the starting point of the Incline (see my article about the Incline and Lake Biwa Canal Museum, a hydro-electric engineering project from the Meiji-period that was to bring water from Lake Biwa to Kyoto for irrigation and electricity generation). Follow the Incline all the way up, past the boats, and you will walk between the cherry trees that have been planted on both sides of the Incline (see here for another post with more photos). At the very end, above Keage Station, is a park with a statue of the young engineer Tanabe Sakuro, who was in charge of this project; here you can also have a picnic if you have brought a bento. This finishes the first leg of the walk and you can return by going down to Keage Station (Tozai line); when you still have stamina left and want to continue, pass through the tunnel below the Incline and enter the grounds of Nanzenji.

[The Philosopher's Path, Tetsugaku no Michi]
There are occasional cherry trees here, but the nice part of the walk is Tetsugaku no Michi (the Philosopher's Path, named after Kyoto University professor Nishida Kitaro who liked to stroll here), starting past Eikando temple, where in 1922 cherry trees were planted along the stream by painter Hashimoto Kansetsu who lived here in the neighborhood. The path is a bit narrow, so avoid the weekends. Near the northern end of the path, you will find a few interesting temples. Reikanji (a nunnery with an excellent collection of dolls) and Anrakuji (a temple with an interesting legend about two disciples of Honen and the palace ladies they converted) have special openings (Reikanji the first week of April, Anrakuji on Saturdays during the first ten days of April) and Honenin, which always has part of its garden open, in addition opens its Main Hall and Abbot's garden to visitors during the first week of April. A nice bonus to the sakura along the Philosopher's Path.


[Cherry blossoms and pagoda in Ninnaji Temple]
2. Ninnaji Temple and Hirano Shrine
Ninnaji is famous for its late blossoming yaezakura, so plan this as your late-in-season hanami. Called "Omuro-zakura," the trees do not grow taller than just two meters and the branches hang low, so it feels as if you are wading through low hanging blossom clouds! It is also interesting to see the pagoda of Ninnaji temple rise up from these blossom clouds. Here is another post on Ninnaji's cherry blossoms. (If you like Buddhist art, also have a look at the wonderful sculptures in the Ninnaji Museum).

[Blossoms and stone statues in Rengeji Temple]
Don't forget to drop by at Rengeji, a small temple to the east of Ninnaji, which has some interesting stone statues sitting amid the blossoms.

An easy way to get to Ninnaji is to take the Keifuku Electric Railroad to Omura Ninnaji Station.

[Heian court ladies during the Cherry Blossom Festival of the Hirano Shrine]
If you can plan your visit to Ninnaji on April 10, you can take the Keifuku Line to its terminus, Kitano Hakubaicho, and then walk north along Nishiojidori until you reach the Hirano Shrine (on the east side of Nishiojidori after passing the crossing with Kamitachiuridori). The Hirano Shrine is famous for its yozakura, which are lighted up in the evening, but the best event to see here is the Cherry Blossom Festival (Okasai) on April 10, which features a mikoshi procession of people dressed in Heian court dress - the colorful costumes make a nice contrast with the blossoms. It starts at 10:00; the mikoshi return in the early afternoon, so you can also first go to Ninnaji.


[Cherry blossoms and tulips in Kyoto Botanical Garden]
3. Kyoto Botanical Park and Nakaragi no Michi, on the bank of the Kamo River
The 24,000 sq.m. large Kyoto Botanical Park stands in northern Kyoto, along the banks of the Kamo River, and incorporates an original piece of woodland. There are 500 cherry trees, of the varieties Somei, Yoshino and Shidarezakura. They stand along the paths and in grassy areas and you are allowed to picnic under the trees, although alcohol is forbidden. But as this is a botanical garden, you have other flowers as well. I particularly like the combination of the red tulips at the entrance to the gardens with the backdrop of pink cherries.

[Nakaragi no Michi alongside the Kamo River]
The best way to enter the botanical gardens is the north exit, as this is immediately next to Kitayama Station on the subway line. See my post about these gardens with more pictures here. Again, there is an interesting bonus: next to the north gate stands the Kyoto Garden of Fine Arts, a plaza with walls of cascading water, designed by Ando Tadao in his familiar style of smooth concrete, where eight famous paintings of world art have been copied on large ceramic tiles (see my post about this museum).

And finally, take a stroll along the path running between the botanical gardens and the Kamo River, called "Nakaragi no Michi" - here, too, are some beautiful cherry blossoms. There are benches here, so you can sit down and enjoy the river scenery (and finally break open your cup sake).


[Cherry blossoms and boats in Arashiyama]
4. Arashiyama (and Seiryoji)
Arashiyama (or Ranzan in Chinese-style reading, as found in the names of hotels and restaurants) means "Storm Mountain" so at first sight it would not seem one of the most scenic spots in Kyoto, but that is only the name of the 381 m. tall mountain that rises up steeply on the right bank of the Hozu River here. Arashiyama is a popular cherry blossom spot, and the old-fashioned Togetsukyo Bridge spanning the river here can get crowded, but as it happens the nicest blossom viewing spot is from the extensive (and not crowded) Kameyama Park (on the east bank). From the hill at the back of the park, you have a great view over the steep gorge of the Hozu River, where the sakura hang as pink clouds on the mountain slope. The trees were planted here at the order of the 9th c. Emperor Saga, who had them brought from the sacred groves in Yoshino.

[Gorge of the Hozu River]
The beauty is in the valley with its steep wooded cliffs, the river with the flat-bottomed boats that carry tourists via the gorge from Kameoka, the old-fashioned Togetsukyo bridge that spans it, the temples and their gardens, and the quiet countryside behind it all. Read more in my previous article on sakura in Arashiyama.

[Kyogen performance in Seiryoji]
And again we have a bonus: Seiryoji Temple, where on April 3, 9 and 10 the Saga Dainenbutsu Kyogen is held, a unique ancient religious theater performance, started by the Buddhist monk Enkaku in the hope of seeing his deceased mother again. The performances which begin at 13:30, 14:30 and 15:30 are free. In the same period, the birth of the Buddha (which took place on April 8) is celebrated at Seiryoji. In addition, the treasure hall with great statues is also open. Don't forget to see the Chinese-style Shaka statue in the main hall.

Seiryoji is 15 minutes by foot from JR Sanin Main Line Saga-Arashiyama Station; Arashiyama can be reached from the same station, or from the Arashiyama Hankyu and Keifuku stations.


[Weeping cherry tree in Shojiji]
5. Oharano with Shojiji and Shoboji temples
Finally, a "hidden spot," that is to say, a hanami spot where you will find very few other visitors and almost certainly no tourists. In Oharano, in Kyoto's Western Hills, you will find a cluster of temples: Shojiji, Hobodaiin, Shoboji and the Oharano Shrine. Shojiji is nicknamed "hana no tera," "Blossom Temple," and features a cherry tree presumable planted by the poet Saigyo when he was head of the temple (in reality, it is a descendant of that tree). Saigyo is known for the many poems he wrote about cherry blossoms, and also for his wish to die under a cherry tree in the blossom season - a wish that seems to have been fulfilled to the letter. Shojiji also has some good weeping cherry trees, and an interesting array of Buddhist statues in its small museum. Even more interesting statues - a very sensual Boddhisattva statue - can be found in neighboring Hobodaiin.


[Single blossoming tree with borrowed scenery in the modern garden of Shoboji]
But for more blossom beauty, you'll have to walk to another temple in this area, Shoboji. Sit down on the veranda and observe the garden, which incorporates the Eastern Hills lying on the horizon as borrowed scenery (shakkei). It was a masterful stroke of the garden designer to plant just one slender cherry tree right in the middle of this scenery, as a foreground to the borrowed landscape. The rocks in the (modern) garden form a sort of intermediaries that lift the eyes above the low garden wall and then on towards the distant mountain scenery.

The temples in this area, far from the path trodden by tourists, are very quiet, making this the ideal place to enjoy cherry blossoms.

You can reach these temples by first taking the JR to JR Mukomachi Station or the Hankyu line to Hankyu Higashi-Muko Station, and then either a bus to Minami-Kasugamachi (after which it is a 15-min walk) or a bus to Rakusaikokomae (20-min walk). There is about one bus per hour.
2 Apr
Hyakunin Isshu, Poem 14

Michinoku no
shinobu mojizuri
tare yue ni
midare someishi
ware naranaku ni

みちのくの
しのぶもぢずり
誰故に
乱れそめにし
我ならなくに

That my love has become confused
like the tangle-patterned prints
of Shinobu from the far north,
is not my fault,
but only because of you!

Minamoto no Toru (822-895)

[Mojizuri Stone in the Mojizuri Kannon temple, Fukushima (Photo Ad Blankestijn)]
The poet complains that it is not his fault that he has fallen into a forbidden love, but the "fault" of the lady in question who is just too attractive. In the Heian-period, a forbidden or secret love was love for the wife of another man, or for a lady of a much higher rank than one's own.

"Michinoku," the area mentioned in the poem, is the eastern part of the Tohoku region; "Shinobu" is an actual place name for a locality which now lies in the outskirts of Fukushima city.

"Shinobu-mojizuri" refers to an ancient dyeing process in which moss fern (shinobu) was rubbed into cloth, creating a "wild" pattern; shinobu is also a pivot word with as second meaning "to love secretly." The whole phrase "Michinoku no / shinobu mojizuri" is a preface (jo) to the word midare, disordered.

"The tangle-patterned prints of Shinobu from the far north" are symbolic for a heart moved by love - just as the prints were pressed on textiles, so the heart of the poet has been imprinted with feelings of love; and just as the prints are tangle-patterned, so his heart is confused (or wild).

That does not exhaust the many rhetorical tricks of this poem, for "some" in "somenishi" is also a pivot word meaning both "to dye" and "to begin." In the meaning "to dye" it moreover provides engo or word association back to shinobu of which we already noted the double meaning of a "fern" and "secret or forbidden love."

[Mojizuri Kannon Temple in Fukushima (Photo Ad Blankestijn)]
The poet is Minamoto no Toru (822-95), the luxury-loving son of Emperor Saga, who had been made a commoner with the family name "Minamoto" (or Genji), just like the fictional Genji in the Genji Monogatari (in fact, Minamoto no Toru may have provided one of the models for the character of Genji). He became an official of the highest rank and was known as "the Riverbank Minister of the Left" (Kawara Sadaijin) after a huge mansion he had built on the west bank of the Kamo River in Kyoto, where he hosted poetry gatherings. There was also a large garden where he evoked a romantic scene at Matsushima Bay in Tohoku by boiling vats of salt water (like the people in that area did for salt production). He was therefore considered a model of courtly elegance (furyu).

In fact, the above poem gave rise to the (undoubtedly fictional) story that he had indeed traveled to far-away northeastern Japan on some official business. In the village of Shinobu, known for its production of the unusual fern-type kimono design, he fell in love with a local woman and delayed his return to the capital. Eventually he had to leave and that is when he supposedly wrote the poem about his love confusion.

But although this story is undoubtedly untrue and Minamoto no Toru probably never left the capital, it became a famous utamakura (an allusive place-name used in waka poetry).

[Minamoto no Toru (Photo Wikipedia)]
As the famous haiku poet Basho centuries later undertook his trip to the north described in Oku no Hosomichi to visit the utamakura of that region, he also came to Shinobu and the Mojizuri Stone and wrote the following haiku:

The skilled hands picking up rice seedlings remind me of the making of tangle-patterned cloth in the past.
[Sanae toru / temoto ya mukashi / shinobu-zuri]
He visited in spring and saw how the local women were setting out rice seedlings in the paddies - this reminded him that in the past those same skilled hands had been making the "tangle-patterned prints" of Shinobu.

[Basho statue in the grounds of the Mojizuri Kannon Temple (Photo Ad Blankestijn)]
In Shinobu in the outskirts of Fukushima City now stands a small Kannon temple. In the grounds lies a big rock, the Mojizuri Stone, which supposedly was used to rub the fern patterns into the cloth. It also figures in a continuation of the story of the village woman loved by Minamoto no Toru: after she visited this Kannon temple for 100 days, she was allowed to see the face of her far-away lover, as in a mirror, in the Mojizuri Stone...

To make things more complicated, this poem is also quoted in quite a different context in the first story in The Ise Stories (Ise Monogatari), where a man, hunting in the village of Kasuga in Nara, through a crack in their fence spies on two lovely sisters and sends them a poem written on a piece of the hem of his hunting cloak - which happened to be printed with a Shinobu leaf-tangle pattern. The present Hyakunin Isshu poem is then quoted as the answer from the sisters. 
References: Pictures of the Heart, The Hyakunin Isshu in Word and Image by Joshua S. Mostow (University of Hawai'i Press, 1996); Traditional Japanese Poetry, An Anthology, by Steven D. Carter (Stanford University Press, 1991); Hyakunin Isshu by Inoue Muneo, etc. (Shinchosha, 1990); Genshoku Hyakunin Isshu by Suzuki Hideo, etc. (Buneido, 1997); Ogura Hyakunin Isshu at Japanese Text Initiative (University of Virginia Library Etext Center); Hyakunin Isshu wo aruku by Shimaoka Shin (Kofusha Shuppan); Basho's Haiku (2 vols) by Toshiharu Oseko (Maruzen, 1990); The Ise Stories by Joshua S. Mostow and Royall Tyler (University of Hawai'i Press, 2010); Kokin Wakashu, The First Imperial Anthology of Japanese Poetry by Helen Craig McCullough (Staford University Press, 1985); Kokinshu, A Collection of Poems Ancient and Modern by Laurel Rasplica Rodd and Mary Catherine Henkenius (University of Tokyo Press, 1984); Kokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1994); Shinkokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1995); Taketori Monogatari-Ise Monogatari-Yamato Monogatari-Heichu Monogatari (Shogakkan, 1994).Hyakunin Isshu Introduction - Poem 1 - Poem 2 - Poem 3 - Poem 4 - Poem 5 - Poem 6 - Poem 7 - Poem 8 - Poem 9 - Poem 10 - Poem 11 - Poem 12 - Poem 13 - Poem 14 - Poem 15 - Poem 16 - Poem 17 - Poem 18 - Poem 19 - Poem 20 -
28 Mar
Hyakunin Isshu, Poem 13
Tsukuba ne no
mine yori otsuru
Minanogawa
koi zo tsumorite
fuchi to narinuru


  Like the River Mina
falling down from the peak
of Mount Tsukuba,
so my longing has grown
into a deepening pool.

筑波嶺の
峰より落つる
みなの川
恋ぞつもりて
淵となりぬる

The Retired Emperor Yozei (868-949)
[Mount Tsukuba]
As time goes by, the poet's love grows deeper, like the deep pools in a river, which starts as a small trickle, but then expands into a wild stream.

The poet, Emperor Yozei (868-949), reigned from 876 to 884, as a child emperor. He was forced to abdicate by Regent Fujiwara no Mototsune and replaced by Emperor Koko, a son of Emperor Ninmyo. The histories transmit several anecdotes about Yozei's cruelty and mental instability, but these should probably be taken with a large grain of salt, for (as so often happened in Chinese and Japanese historiography) they may be fabrications to justify the forced abdication and whitewash the action by the Fujiwara powermonger.

After he had abdicated, Yozei led a very long life, and he often organized poetry gatherings. However, the present poem is the sole one with which he is represented in the imperial anthologies. In the Gosenshu anthology, this poem is accompanied by a head note reading "Sent to the Princess of the Tsuridono."

The "Princess of the Tsuridono" has been identified as Suishi, the daughter of Emperor Koko; the princess indeed did become the wife of Ex-Emperor Yozei, so this poem can be considered as a rare example of a love poem that actually was effective!

Mt Tsukuba stands in central Ibaraki Prefecture and has two peaks, Nantaisan and Nyotaisan. It is already sung about in the 7th c. Manyoshu. Its height is 876 meters; the Tsukuba Shrine is located on the mountain. As the mountain with its characteristic shape can be seen from afar in mainly flat Ibaraki, it is a famous landmark.

This poem uses the technique of jo-kotoba, a preface, consisting of the first three lines. "Fuchi" is a deep pool in a body of water.
[Same poem in Gosenshu 776]References: Pictures of the Heart, The Hyakunin Isshu in Word and Image by Joshua S. Mostow (University of Hawai'i Press, 1996); Traditional Japanese Poetry, An Anthology, by Steven D. Carter (Stanford University Press, 1991); Hyakunin Isshu by Inoue Muneo, etc. (Shinchosha, 1990); Genshoku Hyakunin Isshu by Suzuki Hideo, etc. (Buneido, 1997); Ogura Hyakunin Isshu at Japanese Text Initiative (University of Virginia Library Etext Center); Hyakunin Isshu wo aruku by Shimaoka Shin (Kofusha Shuppan); Basho's Haiku (2 vols) by Toshiharu Oseko (Maruzen, 1990); The Ise Stories by Joshua S. Mostow and Royall Tyler (University of Hawai'i Press, 2010); Kokin Wakashu, The First Imperial Anthology of Japanese Poetry by Helen Craig McCullough (Staford University Press, 1985); Kokinshu, A Collection of Poems Ancient and Modern by Laurel Rasplica Rodd and Mary Catherine Henkenius (University of Tokyo Press, 1984); Kokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1994); Shinkokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1995); Taketori Monogatari-Ise Monogatari-Yamato Monogatari-Heichu Monogatari (Shogakkan, 1994).Hyakunin Isshu Introduction - Poem 1 - Poem 2 - Poem 3 - Poem 4 - Poem 5 - Poem 6 - Poem 7 - Poem 8 - Poem 9 - Poem 10 - Poem 11 - Poem 12 - Poem 13 - Poem 14 - Poem 15 - Poem 16 - Poem 17 - Poem 18 - Poem 19 - Poem 20 -
22 Mar
Hyakunin Isshu, Poem 12
amatsukazekumo no kayoijifukitoji yootome no sugatashibashi todomemu 
O winds from on high,blow shutthat path through the clouds,so that I can detain a moment longerthese heavenly maidens' forms!
天つ風
雲のかよひ路
吹きとぢよ
乙女のすがた
しばしとどめむ
Archbishop Henjo (816-890)

[Not the Gosechi dancers, but maiko dancing at the
Miyako Odori performance]

The beauty of the dancing girls performing the Gosechi dance is such that the poet confuses them with heavenly maidens.
"O winds blowing from the heavens, close off  the paths to the clouds, as I want to enjoy a while longer the forms of these heavenly dancers!"
Not a very priestly poem, but Henjo, who later took the tonsure and reached the church rank of archbishop, wrote this presumably during his time at court, between 844 and 849. The Gosechi was a dance celebrating the harvest, performed by four to six young unmarried women from aristocratic families. Those families would compete with each other in having their most beautiful daughters take part. The Gosechi dance was an immensely popular event at court and the beautiful dancers attracted much attention - in The Tale of Genji, Yugiri, the son of Prince Genji, falls in love with a Gosechi dancer.

The custom of performing the Gosechi dance at court presumably originated in the time of Emperor Tenmu (the husband of Empress Jito of Poem 2), who, when on an excursion to Yoshino, played the koto "upon which heavenly maidens appeared dancing in the sky." Henjo praises the (real) dancers by comparing them to those heavenly maidens from the legend (a sort of "angels" in Western terms), and at the same time he praises Emperor Ninmyo by comparing his reign to that of the famous Tenmu. 

Henjo (816-890), originally named Yoshimine no Munesada, was a courtier and waka poet at the court of Emperor Ninmyo, which he entered in 844. Emperor Kanmu was his paternal grandfather and both Ariwara no Narihira and Emperor Ninmyo were his cousins. When the emperor died suddenly in 849, Henjo took vows as a priest of the Tendai school. He studied for two decades at Enryakuji Temple on Mt Hiei with the famous priests Ennin and Enchin. Meanwhile, he also participated in literary activities at the court. He used the temple Unrinin in Murasakino as his residence close to the capital (it occupied much of the terrain which now belongs to Daitokuji). In 885 he attained the rank of Sojo, archbishop. Despite that, he was also rumored to have had a love affair with Ono no Komachi (see Poem 9). Henjo is counted among both the Six and Thirty-six Poetic Immortals and has 35 poems in the Kokinshu and later anthologies.

[Same poem in Kokinshu 872]References: Pictures of the Heart, The Hyakunin Isshu in Word and Image by Joshua S. Mostow (University of Hawai'i Press, 1996); Traditional Japanese Poetry, An Anthology, by Steven D. Carter (Stanford University Press, 1991); Hyakunin Isshu by Inoue Muneo, etc. (Shinchosha, 1990); Genshoku Hyakunin Isshu by Suzuki Hideo, etc. (Buneido, 1997); Ogura Hyakunin Isshu at Japanese Text Initiative (University of Virginia Library Etext Center); Hyakunin Isshu wo aruku by Shimaoka Shin (Kofusha Shuppan); Basho's Haiku (2 vols) by Toshiharu Oseko (Maruzen, 1990); The Ise Stories by Joshua S. Mostow and Royall Tyler (University of Hawai'i Press, 2010); Kokin Wakashu, The First Imperial Anthology of Japanese Poetry by Helen Craig McCullough (Staford University Press, 1985); Kokinshu, A Collection of Poems Ancient and Modern by Laurel Rasplica Rodd and Mary Catherine Henkenius (University of Tokyo Press, 1984); Kokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1994); Shinkokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1995); Taketori Monogatari-Ise Monogatari-Yamato Monogatari-Heichu Monogatari (Shogakkan, 1994).Hyakunin Isshu Introduction - Poem 1 - Poem 2 - Poem 3 - Poem 4 - Poem 5 - Poem 6 - Poem 7 - Poem 8 - Poem 9 - Poem 10 - Poem 11 - Poem 12 - Poem 13 - Poem 14 - Poem 15 - Poem 16 - Poem 17 - Poem 18 - Poem 19 - Poem 20 -
15 Mar
One of the most "famous" legends from Kobe ("famous" within quotation marks as almost nobody today has heard of it), is the tragic story of Unai, the so-called "marriage-refusing maiden." For us living CE 2016 it is a weird story, but it seems to have haunted the imagination of the ancient Japanese. The Kobe legend inspired several 8th c. Manyoshu poems as well as the Kan'ami Noh play Motomezuka. In addition, the basic version of the legend can be read in the poem-tale collection Yamato Monogatari, dating from the mid-tenth century.

[Otomezuka, near Ishiyagawa St on the Hanshin line in Kobe]
Let's start with the Kobe legend. A young women, called Unai, was torn between two particular suitors, without being able to make a choice (she should have done like Miriam Hopkins in Design for a Living (1933) by Ernst Lubitsch, who takes both her lovers Frederic March and Gary Cooper!). Unai has been named after the village in the Ashiya area where she hailed from (deriving from the term "unabara," which means "vast ocean"), and one of her lovers came from the same village. The other one came from Chinu, on the coast SE of Osaka. Unai did not know what to do - both young men were equally wonderful and she just couldn't make a choice. To decide the case, in the Noh play she has the suitors compete by shooting at waterbirds on the Ikuta River. But both arrows strike the same bird, even simultaneously... and Unai in despair throws herself into the river.

This will shock modern readers: there seems to be no psychological justification for her suicide. Perhaps it is an extreme example of what the Japanese call "enryo," "deference to others." Unai apparently felt bad that these fine young men were fighting each other on her behalf and thought that she could solve the matter by removing herself from the equation. Rather than bring unhappiness to those who loved her, she ended her own life. (By the way, this situation is mirrored in The Tale of Genji, where Ukifune is unable to choose between Kaoru and Niou and decides to drown herself in the Uji River - without, by the way, succeeding for she is saved.)

But that was a miscalculation: both lovesick suitors immediately followed her in death...

[Otomezuka]
People later built her grave on the coast. That is now - still according to legend - the Otomezuka tomb in Higashinada-ku, Kobe. At some distance, on both sides, the tombs of the two suitors have been placed. (Of course, these graves are really kofun, keyhole graves from the 4th century, where local potentates were buried. The legend was later attached to such pre-existing graves).

The best poem version is by Takahashi no Mushimaro (active 720s-730s), who was known for his poems on travel and various local legends. As Edwin Cranston says in the introduction to his translation, Mushimaro recasts the three suicides in terms of flight and pursuit and so manages to convey the blindness of passion.

The Noh play Motomezuka ("The Sought-for Grave") goes one step further than the Manyoshu poem and Yamato Monogatari story by showing us the afterlife of Unai. A priest, who is traveling through the Ikuta area, meets the ghost of Unai and listens to her sad story. The landscape is suitable desolate: although already the season of picking the green spring-shoots, the Kobe countryside is still unnaturally bleak and wintry. We hear the sad story of Unai told by her ghost. She adds that she now suffers torment in Buddhist Hell as punishment for her "offense" (the "offense" presumably being that she was held responsible for the deaths of her lovers, an instance of the misogynistic side of the Buddhism). Despite the priest's earnest prayers, the ghost finally vanishes into the darkness of Unai's tomb, making a mockery of its location, "Ikuta" (which after all means "Field of Life"). Indeed, a sad and strange story...

[Another version of the same tale, called "the Maiden Tegona of Mama," is set in Ichikawa near Tokyo and has also inspired several Manyoshu poems.]
References: A Waka Anthology, Volume One: The Gem-Glistening Cup by Edwin A. Cranston (Stanford, 1993) contains a translation and discussion of the poem by Mushimaro; 20 Plays of the No Theatre by Donald Keene (Columbia, 1970) contains a translation of the Noh play Motomezuka. The Yamato Monogatari has been translated by Mildred Tahara as Tales of Yamato: A Tenth-Century Poem-Tale (Hawaii, 1980).
12 Mar
Hyakunin Isshu, Poem 11
wata no harayaso shima kaketekogi-idenu tohito ni wa tsugeyoama no tsuribune
わたの原八十島かけてこぎ出ぬと人には告げよあまのつり舟
That I have rowed outover the broad sea plain,heading towards the innumerable isles,please tell my beloved one,you fishing boats of the sea-folk!

[The sea off Shimane Pref., leading to the Oki Islands]

A poem about the sadness, loneliness and worries of an exile. 
"That I have rowed out with the innumerable islands on the wide sea as my target, please, fishing boats, tell that the one left behind in the capital!"

[Cliffs in the Oki Islands]
Yasoshima (lit. "eighty isles," in the sense of "innumerable islands") stands for the Oki Islands., an archipelago of about 180 islands 50 to 90 kilometers north of the Shimane Peninsula. The two main islands are Dozen and Dogo. From an early time the islands were used as a place of exile for political prisoners, of whom the most famous ones were the emperors Gotoba (who died there) and Godaigo, a few centuries after Ono no Takamura. There are therefore many historical remains. The isles are now part of the Daisen-Oki National Park. The inhabitants live mainly from fishing and cattle raising. Lafcadio Hearn visited the islands in 1892, spending a month there, and wrote about his experiences in Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan.

[The Oki Islands are known for bull fights, not between an armed man and an animal, but much fairer, between bull and bull]
The "person" (hito ni wa) to whom the message of the poet about his indeed having left in exile has to be given, has been a matter of speculation. Some believe this to have been the poet's aged mother, taking the poem in the Confucian sense of filial piety, but more popular is the idea that it refers to a woman at court with whom Takamura had an affair (it is then also thought that that affair was in fact the main reason for his exile - just as Prince Genji in The Tale of Genji had to go into exile to Suma because of his affair with Oborozukiyo).

Note that the "fishing boats of the sea-folk" (ama no tsuribune) have been personified in what can only be an ironic fashion, for these fishermen will - in contrast to the poet - soon return to their safe harbor. 
The courtier and scholar Ono no Takamura (802-853) was in the first place famous for his poetry in Chinese (of which however very little has been preserved). Because of his knowledge of Chinese, he was asked by the government to join the 837 embassy to Tang China, but as he refused (such trips were dangerous and like Abe no Nakamaro of Poem 7, many never returned) he was exiled to the lonely Oki Islands off the coast of present-day Shimane Pref. - this is the official explanation for his exile. Two years later he was allowed to return to Heiankyo and he eventually reached the court position of imperial adviser (sangi). Twelve of his Japanese poems are extant, among which six in the Kokinshu. Takamura was known for his love of archery and horsemanship and became the subject of various romantic tales, including a romance about his love life. He also played a role in a number of odd legends, such as that every night he would climb down a well to visit Hell and help King Enma to judge sinners.

[Same poem in Kokinshu 407]References: Pictures of the Heart, The Hyakunin Isshu in Word and Image by Joshua S. Mostow (University of Hawai'i Press, 1996); Traditional Japanese Poetry, An Anthology, by Steven D. Carter (Stanford University Press, 1991); Hyakunin Isshu by Inoue Muneo, etc. (Shinchosha, 1990); Genshoku Hyakunin Isshu by Suzuki Hideo, etc. (Buneido, 1997); Ogura Hyakunin Isshu at Japanese Text Initiative (University of Virginia Library Etext Center); Hyakunin Isshu wo aruku by Shimaoka Shin (Kofusha Shuppan); Basho's Haiku (2 vols) by Toshiharu Oseko (Maruzen, 1990); The Ise Stories by Joshua S. Mostow and Royall Tyler (University of Hawai'i Press, 2010); Kokin Wakashu, The First Imperial Anthology of Japanese Poetry by Helen Craig McCullough (Stanford University Press, 1985); Kokinshu, A Collection of Poems Ancient and Modern by Laurel Rasplica Rodd and Mary Catherine Henkenius (University of Tokyo Press, 1984); Kokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1994); Shinkokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1995); Taketori Monogatari-Ise Monogatari-Yamato Monogatari-Heichu Monogatari (Shogakkan, 1994).Hyakunin Isshu Introduction - Poem 1 - Poem 2 - Poem 3 - Poem 4 - Poem 5 - Poem 6 - Poem 7 - Poem 8 - Poem 9 - Poem 10 - Poem 11 - Poem 12 - Poem 13 - Poem 14 - Poem 15 - Poem 16 - Poem 17 - Poem 18 - Poem 19 - Poem 20 -
6 Mar
Hyakunin Isshu, Poem 10
koreyo konoyuku mo kaeru mowakaretsutsushiru mo shiranu moAusaka no Seki
これやこの行くも帰るも別れては知るも知らぬも逢坂の関
This is that placewhere people come and go,parting time and again,both friends and strangers,the Barrier of Meeting Slope.
Semimaru (10th c.?)

["Osaka" or "Meeting Slope" between Kyoto and Otsu; the smaller road to the right is a section left of the old Tokaido]
"Meeting is the beginning of parting," as is clear when observing the flow of people at the Osaka Barrier.

The Osaka Barrier ("Meeting Slope", originally written as "Ausaka" and not connected at all with the city of Osaka!) is a historical spot. It formed the border between the old capital Heiankyo (now Kyoto) and the province of Omi (now Shiga Prefecture, with as capital Otsu), where the road to eastern Japan started. It formed the entrance to Kyoto (the Tokaido also passed through it) and was a crucial traffic artery, apparently already busy in the ninth century.

20160304_122020[Heavy traffic in the narrow pass, close to the site of the Osaka Barrier]
Today it still is, as both Route No. 1, the Keihan line and the Meishin Expressway struggle for space in the narrow pass, while the JR Tokaido and Shinkansen lines use tunnels bored through the mountain. The only difference is that people on foot are seldom now, you only see cars swishing by...

20160304_121402[Monument at the site of the ancient Osaka Barrier]
The poem aptly paints the hustle and bustle of the Barrier by use of contrast: people setting out on a journey and others who are coming back, the many farewells but also meetings (as indicated by the name Meeting Slope), the passing by of people who know each other and those who are complete strangers. One meets in order to part and says goodbye in order to meet again... the world is in a constant flux, a truly Buddhist view of life.

[Semimaru playing his luteby Yoshitoshi]
Semimaru, the purported poet, is a legendary figure who may have been based on a blind musician who lived in the second half of the 9th c. He was a skilled biwa player and rumor has it that he even was of royal birth... but such is indeed the stuff of legend. The recluse who supposedly lived in a hut near the Osaka Barrier also figures in several Noh plays. There are three Seki-no-Semimaru Shrines along the road that leaves Otsu for Kyoto. The Shimo-Sha Shrine is the largest and stands closest to Otsu (just a 10 min walk from Otsu St.).

Semimaru Jinja (Shimosha), Otsu[Semimaru Shrine, Otsu]
(Includes parts from my previous post about this poem)

[Same poem included in Gosenshu, 1089]References: Pictures of the Heart, The Hyakunin Isshu in Word and Image by Joshua S. Mostow (University of Hawai'i Press, 1996); Traditional Japanese Poetry, An Anthology, by Steven D. Carter (Stanford University Press, 1991); Hyakunin Isshu by Inoue Muneo, etc. (Shinchosha, 1990); Genshoku Hyakunin Isshu by Suzuki Hideo, etc. (Buneido, 1997); Ogura Hyakunin Isshu at Japanese Text Initiative (University of Virginia Library Etext Center); Hyakunin Isshu wo aruku by Shimaoka Shin (Kofusha Shuppan); Basho's Haiku (2 vols) by Toshiharu Oseko (Maruzen, 1990); The Ise Stories by Joshua S. Mostow and Royall Tyler (University of Hawai'i Press, 2010); Kokin Wakashu, The First Imperial Anthology of Japanese Poetry by Helen Craig McCullough (Staford University Press, 1985); Kokinshu, A Collection of Poems Ancient and Modern by Laurel Rasplica Rodd and Mary Catherine Henkenius (University of Tokyo Press, 1984); Kokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1994); Shinkokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1995); Taketori Monogatari-Ise Monogatari-Yamato Monogatari-Heichu Monogatari (Shogakkan, 1994).Hyakunin Isshu Introduction - Poem 1 - Poem 2 - Poem 3 - Poem 4 - Poem 5 - Poem 6 - Poem 7 - Poem 8 - Poem 9 - Poem 10 - Poem 11 - Poem 12 - Poem 13 - Poem 14 - Poem 15 - Poem 16 - Poem 17 - Poem 18 - Poem 19 - Poem 20 -
1 Mar
March (sangatsu) is also called Yayoi, meaning "plants grow luxuriantly." Plum blossoms are in full bloom and so are yellow rape flowers. Green plants also grow abundantly. The weather is getting warmer and a bit more spring-like. As cherry blossoms are seen later in the month, March is also called Sakurazuki, Kagetsu or Hanamizuki.

In the beginning of the month, on March 3, is Hina Matsuri or the Doll's Festival (also called Momo no Sekku or Joshi no Sekku). This day of praying for the growth and future happiness of young girls was originally a purification ritual. Dolls functioned as substitutes (katashiro) used to draw away impurities and malevolent spirits from people, and they were floated away in rivers and streams, or otherwise destroyed, taking human pollutants with them. Since the Muromachi period, this has changed into the custom to decorate sets of Hina dolls in the home, and enjoy certain foods as hishimochi (diamond-shaped rice cakes, colored red, white and green) and shirozake (sweet white sake).

[Photo Wikipedia]
Hina dolls are not ordinary dolls, but ceremonial dolls, a heritage of the family, sometimes handed down for generations. They are only taken out for the Doll's Festival and carefully kept in boxes during the rest of the year. They are usually put out in the second or third week of February and immediately taken away again the day after the Hina Matsuri. The classical way of display is on five or more tiered steps covered with bright red cloth. The dolls represent the imperial court, with the emperor and empress on the top row, ministers, court ladies and musicians. Around the dolls, several intricately made miniature household articles are placed. Not surprisingly, a whole, classical set of hina dolls is very expensive.

In March, several museums in Japan hold hina doll exhibitions. The Tokugawa Art Museum in Nagoya, for example, brings out the Hina doll collection of the Owari Tokugawa family, and this is a very gorgeous set. The Kyoto National Museum also holds a smaller Hina doll exhibition, as does the Yodoko Guest House (Yamamura Residence) near Kobe. But the most attractive display is always in the Hokyoji Temple in Kyoto, where dolls originally belonging to imperial princesses are exhibited.

Hokyoji Temple, Kyoto[Hokyoji or Kyoto's "Doll Temple"]
From March 1 to 14 the Omizutori festival is held at Nara's Todaiji Temple, part of an annual rite called shunie. On the evening of March 12 the monks light large torches made from pine branches and bamboo (taimatsu) and wave them around from the large outer gallery of Nigatsudo, showering the spectators with sparks (this dance and waving of torches is called "dattan no mai"). After that, a water-drawing ceremony is performed at the well in front of the temple hall (on March 2, this water has been "sent" here in the Omizu-okuri ceremony held at the Jinguji Temple in Obama, Fukui). The Omizutori festival announces the beginning of spring.

Nigatsudo of Todaiji, Nara[Nigatsudo of Todaiji Temple, Nara]
Feb. 15 in the lunar calendar is the day the Buddha passed on into Nirvana (Nehan), so temples usually commemorate this occasion in March. Several temples in Kyoto display large, colorful paintings called Nehan-zu in which the scene of Buddha's passage into Nirvana is depicted. Examples are Shinnyodo, Sennyuji and Honpoji.

On approximately March 21 falls Shunbun, Vernal Equinox or Spring Higan-e. This day, on which daytime and nighttime are of equal length, is thought of as the end of the cold weather and is also the Buddhist holiday Higan-e. On or close to this day, the Japanese usually visit the graves of their ancestors to clean the grave and offer incense and flowers (ohaka-mairi). From the old ritual of offering food to the ancestors developed the custom of eating botamochi, a ball of soft rice covered with sweetened bean paste. This day is a National Holiday.

Botamochi[Botamochi]
Also around March 21 usually also falls the start of the Hanami or the flower viewing season. This is the time to go out and enjoy cherry blossoms. Originally it was a time to pray for an abundant harvest. People intently follow the news to see when the "sakura front" (sakura zensen) will roll over their heads. This is such an important event that there are many specific terms related to Hanami.

Mokuren [Mokuren]
There are two more March flowers: Nananohana are the cruciferous yellow flowers of rape, which cover the fields in this season; and Mokuren, the lily flowered magnolia, which has large upright chalices for flowers, either light-red or white. It flowers just before the cherry blossoms start.
As regards foods that are in season, in March shells are delicious, for example hamaguri (Venus clams) or akagai (ark shells). Karei (flatfish) is also in season around the Doll's festival. Various sansai (mountain vegetables) can be plucked in the spring mountains (haru no yama) in this season, such as zenmai (royal fern) and seri (water dropwort). In the fields of spring (haru no no) also yomogi (mugwort) and warabi (bracken) are found.

The weather in March becomes more "spring-like" (haru meku) and light mists (usugasumi) may veil the hills. Note that early March is still the season of plum blossoms, until the cherry blossom takes over after Shunbun no Hi. Harusame is the word for a soft spring rain. Although there still are some cold days, nodoka (balmy) is the word for springtime.
28 Feb
Japanese Cooking: A Simple ArtJapanese Cooking: A Simple Art by Shizuo TsujiMy rating: 5 of 5 stars

Shizuo Tsuji (1933-93) was the founder of the Tsuji Culinary Institute in Osaka, today still Japan's most prestigious institution for training professional chefs, so you can be certain that this "Renaissance man of Japanese and world gastronomy" knows what he is talking about! Although "Japanese Cooking, A Simple Art" is a cookbook containing recipes, it is also much more. The author first discusses the essence of Japanese cooking, with its emphasis on simplicity, seasonal freshness and beauty of presentation; next he introduces ingredients and utensils; and after that follow 20 chapters presenting all the basic Japanese food techniques, such as making basic stock (dashi), making soups, slicing and serving sashimi, grilling, simmering, deep-frying, steaming, one-pot cooking, making pickles, sushi, noodles, etc. This is followed by a second part containing 130 carefully selected recipes, which together with the 90 recipes already contained in the first part, help you to build up a repertory ranging from the basic everyday "soup and three dishes" formula to preparing gala dinners. This book is truly the Bible of Japanese Cuisine!

Washoku


A Dictionary of Japanese Food: Ingredients & CultureA Dictionary of Japanese Food: Ingredients & Culture by Richard Hosking
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Not so much a dictionary as an encyclopedia, as Japanese food terms are not only defined in English, but also copiously annotated and explained, making this book a good overall introduction to the Japanese cuisine. That quality is enhanced by the 17 appendices which focus on important elements of Japanese cuisine, from explanations how sake is made, or miso, to articles on umami and sushi.


World Food JapanWorld Food Japan by John Frederick Ashburne
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Excellent, concise introduction to Japanese food and drink, from ingredients to types of restaurants, and from regional dishes to seasonal foods. Foodies should carry this with them to Japan, together with Hosking's Dictionary of Japanese Food (Tsuji's book is a bot too heavy, but be sure to read it before leaving your home).


Modern Japanese Cuisine: Food, Power and National IdentityModern Japanese Cuisine: Food, Power and National Identity by Katarzyna J. Cwiertka
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

With "Modern Japanese Cuisine: Food, Power and National Identity" Katarzyna J. Cwiertka has written one the best books about Japanese food culture I know. It is much more than the title says: this essay is not only about modern cuisine, that is to say how the Japanese came to eat meat and other outlandish dishes, but much more importantly, it reveals how Japanese food as such was defined. Like many other “typically Japanese” cultural experiences, washoku, the “traditional” Japanese cuisine was only devised in the late 19th - 20th century, after Japan opened its gates to the world.
Take rice, which is still considered as an almost sacred, Ur-Japanese basic food: in pre-modern times rice was only eaten by a few percent of the population, the upper classes, the rest – including those who cultivated it – could not afford it. Farmers paid their taxes in rice and only in very good years could they eat some of it, mixed with other grains and vegetables – and that was not the present-day white rice.
Read my complete review on my blog Japan Navigator.


Tsukiji: The Fish Market at the Center of the WorldTsukiji: The Fish Market at the Center of the World by Theodore C. Bestor
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Absorbing ethnographic study of Tsukiji in Tokyo, the world's largest seafood market. A jewel of a book that explains the complex social institutions behind Tsukiji's hundreds of morning auctions. Bester portrays Tsukiji's rich internal culture, its central place in Japanese cuisine and the mercantile traditions that have shaped it since the 17th c. Bester shows how the fish market is a combination of (free) marketplace and binding customs that inhibit total competition (much like Japan's economy at large). In this way, Bester in fact provides a powerful analysis of the everyday workings of Japanese culture. "Tsukiji, the Fish Market at the Center of the World" is an academic book, but with a twist, for in an appendix the author provides a tourist guide to Tsukiji as well.
You have perhaps heard that the fish market will move to a new location in November this year, but don't worry, it will remain "Tsukiji."

When you are interested in Japanese food and drink, please also see my blog Japanese Food and Sake Dictionary. View all my reviews at Goodreads
25 Feb
Shinto Shrines: A Guide to the Sacred Sites of Japan's Ancient ReligionShinto Shrines: A Guide to the Sacred Sites of Japan's Ancient Religion by Joseph Cali
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An excellent guide to the most interesting Shinto shrines in Japan, with a very complete introduction about Shinto, Shinto architecture, etc. Shinto shrines so far have played second fiddle to Buddhist temples, so this guide is very welcome. Although there are usually no statues or gardens, and you can't enter the buildings, Shinto shrines can give visitors a feeling of great purity with their gracious architecture and the beautiful natural locations in which they are often situated.


View all my reviews

24 Feb
Hyakunin Isshu, Poem 9
hana no iro wautsurinikeri naitazura niwaga mi yo ni furunagame seshi ma ni
花の色はうつりにけりないたづらにわが身世にふるながめせしまに
As the color of the cherry blossomshas lost its luster
in vain
so I have passed through the world
gazing at the falling rains.
Ono no Komachi (ca. 850)

Zuishinin, Kyoto
[Zuishinin, Kyoto, a temple associated with Ono no Komachi]

Sadness about the decay of human life, symbolized by the fading of the color of the cherry blossoms.

"The color of the cherry blossoms has faded to no purpose, while the long rains of spring were falling. My beauty has also faded, while I was lost in idle thoughts." 
This is a complex poem, rich in puns, all the more so as Ono no Komachi was a symbol for feminine beauty. Of course the cherry blossoms in the first two lines are to be interpreted as symbols for Komachi's decline - her beauty is fading like the color of the blossoms. Moreover, the cherry blossoms - which anyway only bloom a short time before falling off - have faded before their time due to the long rains; in the same way, the beauty of the poetess has faded before reaching fullness. That is why her life has been in vain...

The adverb "in vain" (itazura ni) in the third line modifies both what goes before it as what follows after it. So the blossoms (and her beauty) have faded in vain, and her life has also been in vain. "Furu" in line 4 and "nagame" in line 5 are both pivot words (kakekotoba). "Nagame" means both "long rains" (naga-ame) and "to gaze pensively;" "furu" means "to fall" (of rain) and "to pass time" (or even "to grow old"). 
Zuishinin, Kyoto
[Inscription of the present poem in Zuishinin, Kyoto]

Ono no Komachi (fl. mid 9th c., dates perhaps 825-900) was ranked among the "Six Poetic Geniuses" by Ki no Tsurayuki, the compiler of the Kokinshu. Komachi was probably born in the northern provinces in the first decades of the 9th c. About a hundred poems have been transmitted under her name in various collections, of these only about 20 (those included in the Kokinshu and Gosenshu) can be considered as genuine. Nearly all her poems are about passionate, but unhappy love and the infidelity of men. They are verbally complex and contain difficult to translate puns. Ono no Komachi's life has become the stuff of legends, whereby it is rather convenient that practically nothing is known about her. She is considered to have been very beautiful in her youth, but also haughty and cruel towards her lovers - for that last attitude she was "punished" with an unhappy old age. 
[Ono no Komachi as an old woman]
Most notable among the legends about her cruel treatment of her lovers is the one about Captain Fukakusa, a high-ranking courtier. Komachi promised that if he visited her continuously for a hundred nights, she would become his lover. He visited her every night, regardless of the weather, but died (of exhaustion, or the cold?) on the ninety-ninth night... Another type of legend tells how, as punishment for her mistreatment of her lovers, when her beauty had faded, she was forced to wander around in rags, looking so wretched that all mocked her. There is even a legend about her death: how her skull was left in the fields, the wind blowing through the eye sockets with an eerie sound... (I taste some male revenge in these stories). In the 14th and 15th centuries, the Ono no Komachi of legend became the subject of five Noh plays and even Mishima Yukio continued the tradition by writing a play about her. The present poem fits nicely into that tradition of legends and may in fact have formed the basis of it.

As the pictures show, the Zuishinin temple in Kyoto's Yamashina ward, propagates its association with Ono no Komachi (she presumably found a refuge here later in life; others say it is supposedly the place where Captain Fukakusa visited her), but there is no historical proof for that - just as, for example, the association of Murasaki Shikibu, the author of the Genji Monogatari, with Otsu's Ishiyamadera is spurious.  (Another Kyoto temple associated with Ono no Komachi is Onodera (Fudarakuji) near Ichihara Station on the Kurama line of the Keifuku Dentetsu).

[Same poem in Kokinshu 113]References: Pictures of the Heart, The Hyakunin Isshu in Word and Image by Joshua S. Mostow (University of Hawai'i Press, 1996); Traditional Japanese Poetry, An Anthology, by Steven D. Carter (Stanford University Press, 1991); Hyakunin Isshu by Inoue Muneo, etc. (Shinchosha, 1990); Genshoku Hyakunin Isshu by Suzuki Hideo, etc. (Buneido, 1997); Ogura Hyakunin Isshu at Japanese Text Initiative (University of Virginia Library Etext Center); Hyakunin Isshu wo aruku by Shimaoka Shin (Kofusha Shuppan); Basho's Haiku (2 vols) by Toshiharu Oseko (Maruzen, 1990); The Ise Stories by Joshua S. Mostow and Royall Tyler (University of Hawai'i Press, 2010); Kokin Wakashu, The First Imperial Anthology of Japanese Poetry by Helen Craig McCullough (Staford University Press, 1985); Kokinshu, A Collection of Poems Ancient and Modern by Laurel Rasplica Rodd and Mary Catherine Henkenius (University of Tokyo Press, 1984); Kokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1994); Shinkokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1995); Taketori Monogatari-Ise Monogatari-Yamato Monogatari-Heichu Monogatari (Shogakkan, 1994).Hyakunin Isshu Introduction - Poem 1 - Poem 2 - Poem 3 - Poem 4 - Poem 5 - Poem 6 - Poem 7 - Poem 8 - Poem 9 - Poem 10 - Poem 11 - Poem 12 - Poem 13 - Poem 14 - Poem 15 - Poem 16 - Poem 17 - Poem 18 - Poem 19 - Poem 20 -
19 Feb
Besides the Yukishibori Honjozo Namagenshu, Daishichi has one more seasonal sake for the winter season: Yukishibori Honjozo Nigorizake.

Daishichi Yukishibori Nigori, a nigori sake with a light fizz by the Daishichi Sake Brewery 
Yukishibori Honjozo Nigorizake is Daishichi's only "nigori" or "cloudy sake," a sake which during pressing has been passed through a wide mesh so that the sake is not transparent as usual, but contains a "milky" or "cloudy" sediment of fine rice particles. This settles on the bottom of the bottle during storage, and as you want it in your glass (in contrast to sediment in wine) as the cloudiness is the whole point of this sake, you should gently turn the bottle a few times up and down so that the cloudiness is evenly divided before pouring.
The sediment in fact not only contains rice particles, but also koji and yeast. The rice particles are good for the very distinctive physical texture, and the koji and yeast provide a particular and powerful flavor. The rice particles vary in size depending on the brewery (from very fine to large chunks of whole rice grains). Most nigorizake is relatively sweet.

Daishichi's Nigorizake contains only very fine rice particles. Like the Yukishibori Namagenshu it is a honjozo (premium sake with a small amount of pure alcohol added to make the taste lighter), but instead of being "nama" (unpasteurized) it is a Nama Chozoshu, a sake that was stored unpasteurized and heated only once before shipping. In other words, it is a "semi-namazake," or "semi unpasteurized sake." Thanks to the unpasteurized storage, this Yukishibori has another interesting characteristic: it contains small bubbles, a fizz which has been caused by a second fermentation in the bottle (during storage).

Sparkling sake is popular both in Japan and abroad - it is a refreshing drink for on the beach or at garden parties - but Daishichi's bubbles are refined and small, just enough to add some spice to the taste and to provide a counterweight to the general sweetness of a nigorizake. The result is a unique "cloudy" sake with a light fizz. And of course this sake has also been made with the kimoto method (Daishichi is Japan's No. 1 Kimoto brewer), which means it has a rich taste. The alcohol percentage is 14.5%.

Yukishobori Honjozo Nigorizake was first made in 1994 and its name "Pressed in the Snow" has the same origin as that of its "elder brother," Yukishibori Honjozo Namagenshu.

Serve very cool at 8 degrees Celsius and keep the bottle on the table in a wine cooler. The gentle aroma and slight fizz stimulate the appetite. Drink as an aperitif, with light starter dishes, or with a dessert of fruits like melon, peach and pear. And in case of Western food, it fits to sautés or spicy dishes. Note that like the unpasteurized and undiluted Yukishibori, this sake is only sold in winter.

Kanpai!
Disclosure: the blog author Ad Blankestijn works for the Daishichi Sake Brewery. He is also an accredited sake sommelier and sake instructor. Daishichi website - Daishichi Facebook Page 
16 Feb
Hyakunin Isshu, Poem 8
waga iho wamiyako no tatsumishika zo sumuyo wo Ujiyama tohito wa iunari

わが庵は
都のたつみ
しかぞすむ
世をうぢ山と
人はいふなり
Although I live contentedly in my hut to the southeast of the capital,it seems people call it "Grief Mountain." 
Priest Kisen (early 9th c.)

Scenery in Uji, Kyoto
[Scenery in Uji]

A contented life as hermit in Uji.
Thanks to the use of an intricate kakekotoba (pivot word), this poem is almost impossible to translate. In the last two lines ("yo wo Ujiyama to / hito wa iu nari") in fact two different sentences have been overlaid, playing with the fact that the "u" in the name Uji (or Ujiyama, Mt Uji) can also mean "bitter." So the poet says "yo wo u," "the world is bitter," and at the same time "Ujiyama to hito wa iu nari," "it seems people call it Ujiyama." Both the Uji River and Uji Mountain were associated with gloom, as many now famous scenic spots were in the past, as they were more lonely and distant than at present. The meaning of the poem, however, is contrary to that: the poet says that he lives contentedly in his hermitage in Uji, southeast of Kyoto. People of the world (or worldly people) may think that he leads a life of bitterness and difficulty, without the amenities of the capital, but on the contrary, to him life in the world is full of bitterness.
Byodoin temple, Uji, Kyoto
[Byodoin Temple, Uji, Kyoto Pref.]

For modern eyes, Uji (a city in southern Kyoto Prefecture) boasts a striking natural setting, with attractions as the scenic Uji riverside, but also several famous temples, as Byodoin with its Phoenix Hall built in 1053 and its wonderful Amida statue, or Manpukuji, the head temple of the Obaku Zen sect built in Chinese Ming style in 1661; famous is also the Ujigami Shrine built in 1060. The last ten chapters of the classical novel The Tale of Genji have been situated in Uji as well. And, finally, Uji is famous for its green tea.

Priest Kisen is a legendary figure, just like Sarumaru of Poem 5. Although his name is mentioned in the preface to the Kokinshu (Ki no Tsurayuki, the compiler, choose him as one of the Six Poetic Sages, Rokkasen), only this one poem can be firmly attributed to him and nothing is known about his life - but that fits a hermit, of course.

[Same poem in Kokinshu 983]References: Pictures of the Heart, The Hyakunin Isshu in Word and Image by Joshua S. Mostow (University of Hawai'i Press, 1996); Traditional Japanese Poetry, An Anthology, by Steven D. Carter (Stanford University Press, 1991); Hyakunin Isshu by Inoue Muneo, etc. (Shinchosha, 1990); Genshoku Hyakunin Isshu by Suzuki Hideo, etc. (Buneido, 1997); Ogura Hyakunin Isshu at Japanese Text Initiative (University of Virginia Library Etext Center); Hyakunin Isshu wo aruku by Shimaoka Shin (Kofusha Shuppan); Basho's Haiku (2 vols) by Toshiharu Oseko (Maruzen, 1990); The Ise Stories by Joshua S. Mostow and Royall Tyler (University of Hawai'i Press, 2010); Kokin Wakashu, The First Imperial Anthology of Japanese Poetry by Helen Craig McCullough (Staford University Press, 1985); Kokinshu, A Collection of Poems Ancient and Modern by Laurel Rasplica Rodd and Mary Catherine Henkenius (University of Tokyo Press, 1984); Kokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1994); Shinkokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1995); Taketori Monogatari-Ise Monogatari-Yamato Monogatari-Heichu Monogatari (Shogakkan, 1994).Hyakunin Isshu Introduction - Poem 1 - Poem 2 - Poem 3 - Poem 4 - Poem 5 - Poem 6 - Poem 7 - Poem 8 - Poem 9 - Poem 10 - Poem 11 - Poem 12 - Poem 13 - Poem 14 - Poem 15 - Poem 16 - Poem 17 - Poem 18 - Poem 19 - Poem 20 -
13 Feb
Seasonal sakes are popular in Japan and one of the seasonal drinks from the Daishichi Sake Brewery for the first months of the year is Yukishibori Honjozo Namagenshu.

Daishichi Yukishibori Genshu
Yukishibori Honjozo Namagenshu is Daishichi’s version of shiboritate or "freshly pressed sake," also called shinshu, "new sake" (which Philip Harper has named half tongue-in-cheek “sake nouveau”). Shiboritate is indeed the new sake of the brewing year (the first bottles are usually released in December, the new brewing year starts always in October) which is sold immediately after pressing without aging the sake. So what you get is brash and green, but also very lively. In addition, shiboritate sake is often unpasteurized (nama) in order to leave the young aromas intact, and brought out as genshu, undiluted sake - in the case of usual sake, some pure water is added to the brew to bring the alcohol percentage down to 14% or 15%, but in the case of genshu you get the full treatment.

Daishichi's shiboritate "Yukishibori Honjozo Namagenshu" is indeed both unpasteurized and undiluted (alc. 18%). It is premium sake of the honjozo type. Typically, a limited amount of  brewer's alcohol is added to honjozo to make the taste lighter. But Daishichi wouldn't be Daishichi if it didn't pay extra care: Daishichi's brewer's alcohol is made from rice and not from sugar cane as is normally the case, with the idea that rice should be the one and only ingredient of sake.

Yukishibori has of course been made with the kimoto method (Daishichi is Japan's No. 1 Kimoto brewer), which means it is sake with a rich taste and with "body." Together with the youth of the shiboritate type of sake, that creates a unique combination: first you taste the fresh acidity of the newly pressed sake, and next the deep umami and richness typical of kimoto sake.

The name “Yukishibori” means “Pressed in the Snow,” and is meant to conjure up the image of a sake brewery in a snowy landscape in Northern Japan (the Tohoku region where Daishichi is located): while the sake is being pressed inside the brewery, outside the snow is falling heavy and thick.

Yukishibori Honjozo Namagenshu was first brought to market by Daishichi in 1992, the 240th anniversary of the brewery (which was founded in 1752). Normally, Kimoto sake is matured for a long time (and the fact that it is ideally suitable for maturation is one of its important characteristics, as we will see in this series), so it is interesting to find it here in the shape of such a fresh and young sake - which is also quite a technical feat.

Yukishibori is only sold in winter. The ideal serving temperature is 10 degrees C. Drink it on its own, as an aperitif, or pair it with fresh seafood, sashimi, seafood salads, or raw oysters, in general with foods which have a fresh taste but which also possess a powerful umami. This sake should at all times be kept in the refrigerator and the opened bottle should be consumed as soon as possible.

Kanpai!

(Yukishibori Honjozo Namagenshu is only available in Japan)
Disclosure: the blog author Ad Blankestijn works for the Daishichi Sake Brewery. He is also an accredited sake sommelier and sake instructor. Daishichi website - Daishichi Facebook Page 
8 Feb
Hyakunin Isshu, Poem 7
ama no harafurisakemirebaKasuga naruMikasa no yama niideshi tsuki ka mo

天の原
ふりさけ見れば
春日なる
三笠の山に
出でし月かも
When I gaze into the distanceacross the plain of heaven,I see the same moonthat came out from behindMt Mikasa in Kasuga!
Abe no Nakamaro (698-770)

Wakakusayama seen from Nara Park
[Wakakusayama seen from Nara Park]

An expression of longing for the poet's native land.

Mt Mikasa is presently called Wakakusayama, it is the hill that looms above Todaiji and the Kasuga Shrine in Nara. It is part of Nara Park. The 342 m. high hill is covered with turf and is known for the turf burning conducted every year on January 15. "In Kasuga" refers to the general area of the Kasuga Shrine. Just as Mt Mikasa / Wakakusayama now dominates central Nara, so it was in the Nara period, when the present poet saw it as a symbol of his hometown and country.  
[Abe no Nakamaro at his farewell party in China
by Hokusai]

Abe no Nakamaro (698-770) was in 717 sent to study in China, with a Japanese embassy to the Tang court that also included Kibi no Makibi and the priest Genbo. He remained in the Chinese capital Changan where he took a Chinese name and accepted an official post, becoming a severe case of "going native" (although it must be admitted that there were only very few chances to return). He also established a literary reputation in Chinese and is said to have befriended such major Chinese poets as Li Bai and Wang Wei. In 753 he attempted to return to Japan with the embassy of Fujiwara no Kiyokawa, but was shipwrecked on the coast of Annam (showing how dangerous sea travel was at the time, the ships were often driven completely off course by typhoons). He then became governor-general of Vietnam (at that time under Chinese control) and finally died in Changan after 54 years of absence from home. We have only two poems by Abe no Nakamaro, but the present one is very famous and opens the "Travel" section in the Kokinshu.
[Abe no Nakamaro gazing at the moon by Toshioka Yoshitoshi]
In fact, the circumstances of composition of our poem have been documented, both in the Kokinshu and in the Tosa Diary by Ki no Tsurayuki (ca 935). That last document tells how Ki no Tsurayuki, by ship on his way back from Tosa (Kochi Pref.) to the capital Kyoto, saw the moon rise out of the sea, and not above the rim of the hills as in the capital. That fact reminded him of Abe no Nakamaro, who must have seen that same "moon rising from the sea" when he wrote his famous moon poem. At that time, as Ki no Tsurayuki tells, Abe no Nakamaro was about to board a ship back to Japan at the coast of China (placing this in the year 753, the year of Abe's failed attempt to return to Japan). Chinese officials gave him a farewell banquet in the evening (when an extraordinarily beautiful moon had risen) and they composed Chinese poems for each other. But Abe no Nakamaro was moved to write a poem in Japanese as well, as "in our country we have composed poems since the age of the gods." The Chinese were of course unable to understand it, but the poet explained the meaning in Chinese. After they had it thus interpreted for them, the Chinese were able to judge its feeling and appreciate it. "China and this country have different languages, but since the radiance of the moon is the same for both, men's feelings about it must surely be the same." (translation from Japanese Poetic Diaries by Earl Miner). 
By the way, as Mostow adds, envoys to China used to pray in Nara's Kasuga Shrine for a safe return. So Nakamaro compares the moon he sees in China to the particular moon that rose the night he prayed at the Kasuga Shrine before he left Japan - it is not a general comparison of Chinese and Japanese moons.

[Same poem included in Kokinshu 406]References: Pictures of the Heart, The Hyakunin Isshu in Word and Image by Joshua S. Mostow (University of Hawai'i Press, 1996); Traditional Japanese Poetry, An Anthology, by Steven D. Carter (Stanford University Press, 1991); Hyakunin Isshu by Inoue Muneo, etc. (Shinchosha, 1990); Genshoku Hyakunin Isshu by Suzuki Hideo, etc. (Buneido, 1997); Ogura Hyakunin Isshu at Japanese Text Initiative (University of Virginia Library Etext Center); Hyakunin Isshu wo aruku by Shimaoka Shin (Kofusha Shuppan); Basho's Haiku (2 vols) by Toshiharu Oseko (Maruzen, 1990); The Ise Stories by Joshua S. Mostow and Royall Tyler (University of Hawai'i Press, 2010); Kokin Wakashu, The First Imperial Anthology of Japanese Poetry by Helen Craig McCullough (Staford University Press, 1985); Kokinshu, A Collection of Poems Ancient and Modern by Laurel Rasplica Rodd and Mary Catherine Henkenius (University of Tokyo Press, 1984); Kokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1994); Shinkokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1995); Taketori Monogatari-Ise Monogatari-Yamato Monogatari-Heichu Monogatari (Shogakkan, 1994).Hyakunin Isshu Introduction - Poem 1 - Poem 2 - Poem 3 - Poem 4 - Poem 5 - Poem 6 - Poem 7 - Poem 8 - Poem 9 - Poem 10 - Poem 11 - Poem 12 - Poem 13 - Poem 14 - Poem 15 - Poem 16 - Poem 17 - Poem 18 - Poem 19 - Poem 20 -
29 Jan
The ancient name for February (Nigatsu) is Kisaragi, meaning "to wear more clothes due to the cold." As it also is the month of plum blossoms which are considered as a harbinger of spring, other names are Ume-zuki (Plum Month), Umemi-zuki (Plum Viewing Month) and Hatsuhana-zuki (First Blossom Month).

Shogoin Setsubun Mamemaki[Setsubun in Shogoin Temple, Kyoto]
The most important festival in February is Setsubun, on either February 3 or 4, although this is not a public holiday. The word "Setsubun" literally means "seasonal division" and used to refer to the day prior to the first day of spring (risshun), summer (rikka)  autumn (risshu) and winter (ritto) in the lunar calendar. Today, however, it is only employed to refer to the festival held on the day prior to risshun, because this day is the most important one as it marks a new start. In that respect, it is comparable to New Year's Eve - as a kind of "Spring's Eve."

Setsubun Tsuinashiki Demon dance in Nagata Shrine, Kobe[Tsuina in the Nagata Shrine Kobe] 
Rituals on Setsubun have to do with chasing out evil influences as a sort of spiritual or ritual house cleaning (or better "soul cleaning") before the start of spring. They are:
Tsuina or oni-yarai. Originally held on New Year's Eve and introduced from Tang-China, this is an exorcism rite. Participants carry bows and clubs made from peach wood and symbolically chase away figures wearing demon masks.Mame-maki. Bean-scattering ceremony. The scattering of roasted soy beans to expel evil spirits began in the 15-16th centuries and in popular folklore became linked with the above Tsuina ceremony. Participants shout "Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!" ("Out with the demons and in with good luck"). The bean scattering is done by a toshi otoko, a male family member born in the same Zodiac year (nowadays, happily, toshi onna also can take part). Afterwards one should eat the same number of beans as one's age to spend the year free from problems. Yaikagashi. Smelly heads of sardines are stuck on thorny holly branches and hung over doorways to drive out the demons.On this day, many shrines and temples hold Setsubun events (some are listed here). Often famous persons from TV, show business or sports (sumo) will take part, and in Kyoto there are even bean-throwing maiko!

The typical food for Setsubun are ehomaki, "Lucky Direction Sushi Rolls," thick uncut sushi rolls in which any combination of ingredients goes.

Ehomaki [Ehomaki]
As stated above, Setsubun is the day before Risshun (February 4 or 5), literally (and rather ironically as this is the coldest time of the year) "the Beginning of Spring (Spring Rises)," the time when the increase in life-giving sunlight becomes noticeable. Traditionally, on this day amulets or lucky couplets (daikichi, good luck) would be hung at the door to avert evil. The period of about a month from risshun is called soshun, "early spring."
February is also the month of various winter festivals. The most famous (and modern) one is probably Sapporo's Snow Festival (Sapporo Yukimatsuri, Feb. 1 to 5), when giant snow sculptures are created in the city's Odori Park. More traditional is the Kamakura Festival in Yokote, a city in Akita Pref., when in several spots in the city igloo-like snow houses (kamakura) are built where children play house (Feb. 15-17). The kamakura feature altars dedicated to the Deity of Water (Suijin-sama) and in the evening rice cakes (mochi) are grilled over charcoals braziers and amazake (a sweet rice drink, not sake!) is served.

Although not Setsubun, there is a national holiday in February and that is National Founding Day (Kenkoku kinen no hi) on February 11. This holiday was first designed in the early Meiji period, in 1872 to be precise, when it was called kigensetsu. It was seen as the date that the (entirely mythical) emperor Jimmu ascended the throne in Kashihara in 660 BCE, after traveling from southern Kyushu to Nara. After WWII this holiday was discontinued, but it was brought back in the mid-sixties under the guise of "national founding day," and meant to serve as an appeal to people to respect their country and to cooperate to make it a better place to live.

A rather tricky day in February is Valentine's Day (as elsewhere February 14), which is being lustily exploited by the Japan Chocolate and Cocoa Association and its members. Although Japan is not a Christian nation and couldn't care less about a saint called Valentine, it has become a "Day of Chocolates" on which women give a box of chocolates to their boyfriend as an expression of love. OLs and other female office staff may also give chocolates to their bosses or other male colleagues, but these are called giri-choko or "obligatory chocolates" and are far removed from any idea of tenderness. Commercial exploitation in Japan has even gone so far that March 14 has been set up as "White Day" on which men have to return the sweet gift.

A more serious matter is that mid-February is also the time of the Entrance Examination Season (Juken shizun), as the new school year starts on April 1. In Japan, it is necessary to do an examination in order to go to a high school (after three years of middle school) or university / college. (In the case of private schools, there are always entrance examinations, starting with kindergarten!). But the heaviest and most stressful entrance examinations are those for prestigious universities, such as Tokyo University or Kyoto University, or among private establishments, Keio, Waseda and Doshisha. It is important for students to join a top-ranking university, as that will make it possible four years later to get a good job with a prestigious company or ministry. So this is a nervous time for hopeful students and you can often see them with their mothers in the Tenmangu Shrines, earnestly praying for some divine assistance from the God of Learning, or writing their wishes on wooden votive tablets.

The food of the season is called nabemono, one pot dishes cooked at the table and served directly out of the cooking pot - the diners can pick the ingredients they want directly from the pot. Further ingredients can also be successively added. It is either eaten with the broth (usually in case of strongly flavored stock) or with a dipping sauce (lightly flavored stock). It is a dish that warms both body and heart - it is after all the most sociable way to eat with family and friends.

Ume in Kyoto Gyoen [Ume in Kyoto Gyoen]
The flower of the season is in the first place the ume or plum blossom (early February through mid-March). Before sakura (cherry blossoms) became popular in medieval times, the ume ruled supreme in Japan's flowery firmament, as it did and still does in China, from where it was brought to Japan in the 7th c. The ume is in fact not really a plum (the official name is prunus mume), but a tree (and fruit) between plum and apricot, so it seems reasonable to use the Japanese word "ume." The ume is the flower of the perfect Confucian gentleman, the junzi (kunshi in Japanese): that it braves the cold to put out its flowers signifies its strength and endurance, while its subtle aroma stands for its virtue that unobtrusively transforms society. The ume trees can grow very old, sometimes even a few centuries, making them with their gnarled trunks a symbol of longevity and happiness.

The ume also has various practical uses: as pickled plums (umeboshi, one of my favorite delicacies) or as umeshu, a liqueur made from ume and either shochu or sake (often called wrongly "plum wine"). Finally, as the ume was the favorite flower of Sugawara no Michizane, a ninth c. statesman, scholar and Sinologist, who was deified after he died in exile, you will find it prominently in the many Tenmangu shrines dedicated to him all over Japan. 
Fallen camellias (tsubaki) in Honenin, Kyoto [Fallen camellias (tsubaki) in Honenin, Kyoto]
The other important flower of February is the camellia or tsubaki, adding a touch of color to gardens in the heart of winter. The Japanese camellia has red, five-petaled flowers. Indigenous to Japan, it has been cultivated for centuries. It is also a useful plant for in traditional times oil obtained from tsubaki seeds was used as hair oil, both for the top-knots of men as for the high coiffure of women. The camellia was also treasured for its hard wood. The notion that samurai hated tsubaki as the flower drops off whole, like a human head falling, is not based on any fact. In reality, both samurai and courtiers loved to grow rare and ornamental varieties of tsubaki. The flowers were also popular as chabana, flowers in the tea room.
Although February is so cold that all you want to do is take shelter with your legs under your kotatsu, its electric heating element going at full blast, your lower body snugly under the futon draped over the table frame, late February (around the 25th) finally is also the time the Haru Ichiban or "First of the Spring Heralding Winds" blows. This is a strong south wind which drives the temperature up, and although it is only temporary (the temperature soon drops again), it provides a welcome foretaste of the approach of spring...


26 Jan
Hyakunin Isshu, Poem 6
kasasagi nowataseru hashi nioku shimo noshiroki wo mirebayo zo fukenikeru

かささぎの
渡せる橋に
置く霜の
白きを見れば
夜ぞふけにける
When I see the whitenessof the frost that lieson Magpie's Bridgethen I knownight has deepened.
Otomo no Yakamochi (718-785)

Shinshinden, Gosho, Kyoto
[Shinshinden Palace, Gosho, Kyoto -
showing the "Magpie Bridge,"
the stairs leading up to the palace]

A fantasy on a cold winter night, while the poet waits in vain for his beloved in the palace.

Central to the poem is the phrase "kasasagi no wataseru hashi," "the bridge that magpies spread," of which two interpretations are possible. The first and most important one reads this in the light of the Tanabata legend of the Ox Herd and Weaver Maid, two constellations in the sky and also lovers, who could only meet once a year, on the seventh day of the seventh month, when magpies would form a bridge across the River of Heaven with their wings so that they could cross. This is such a famous legend that most critics since Teika have read the poem as referring to this beautiful legend. The whole poem should then be interpreted as composed when the poet gazed at the stars in the winter sky which was filled with frost, which he then associated with a frost-covered magpie bridge in the heavens. The silent assumption is, that, like the Ox Herd, he was hoping for a rendez-vous with his beloved, but that the night deepened without her coming.

In waka, magpies are often associated with "frost" (shimo) - the reason being the white spots on their black breasts and wingtips.

The legend of the Ox Herd and Weaver Maiden had already come from China in the Nara period and was very popular in Yakamochi's time - one section in the Manyoshu contains 128 tanka and 5 choka dedicated to the legend. The Tanabata festival was made popular by Yamanoue no Okura, who had studied in China and wrote many Tanabata poems after his return to Japan. In Japan, the story was merged with the legend about a celestial weaver maiden, Tanabatahime.

An interesting point is that the Eurasian magpie (Pica pica) was unknown in Japan until it was brought from Korea in the 16th c. In China, where the legend originated, magpies were common birds, so the Japanese learned the name without knowing the bird (they probably thought the "kasasagi" was a kind of "sagi," a heron). In China the folk story about the Ox Herd and Weaver Maiden already occurs in a book written in the 2nd century.

[The Cow Herd and the Weaver Maiden by Tsukioka Hitoshi]
The other interpretation is based on the modern, scholarly evidence that in the Heian-period, the "Magpie's Bridge" referred to bridges or stairs leading up to palace buildings. In that case, the poet is waiting for his beloved inside the palace grounds and sees actual frost on the actual bridge or staircase while she keeps him waiting. It is however the question, whether this naming of palace staircases already existed in the Nara period when the poem was written, so this interpretation is less certain than the previous one.

And of course, we don't have to make a choice: it is quite possible to read this simultaneously in both interpretations, for while gazing at the staircase leading up to the palace, the name "Magpie's Bridge" will have reminded the poet of that other pair of lovers, Ox Herd and Weaver Maiden, who also had such trouble meeting... 
Statue of Otomo no Yakamochi, Takaoka, Toyama Pref.
[Otomo no Yakamochi, statue in front of
Takaoka Station, Toyama Pref.]

Otomo no Yakamochi (718?-780) is famous as the compiler of the Manyoshu and the last major poet included, with the substantial number of 479 poems, making up 10% of the total Manyoshu volume as a sort of "poem diary." Yakamochi, the scion of an influential family, grew up as a fashionable young man in literary court circles and exchanged love poems with innumerable woman. At age 30 Yakamochi served as governor of Etchu (now Toyama Pref.) where he diverted himself with excursions to scenic spots and parties with other officials, catching everything in his unique poetry, known for its delicate depictions of nature. Unfortunately, after his return to the capital Nara in 751 he was so busy furthering his career and at the same time embroiled in political intrigue, that he wrote little or no poetry anymore. He is a member of the Thirty-six Poetry Immortals. As Donald Keene says in Seeds in the Heart, his poetry lacks the grandeur of Hitomaro, but his voice is distinctive. "Anticipating the Kokinshu, his poetry is often melancholy rather than tragic, exquisitely phrased rather than explosively intense." Yakamochi wrote in almost every mode, from highly personal lyrics to public poems composed to a command from the court.

To commemorate Otomo no Yakamochi's sojourn in Toyama, the city of Takaoka has set up a museum dedicated to Yakamochi and the Manyoshu, the Takaoka-shi Manyo Rekishikan. There is even a "Yakamochi Theater" where the poet's life is introduced by way of computerized life-sized dolls, as well as a garden with 70 plants and flowers mentioned in the Manyoshu. See here for more information. 
[Same poem included in Shinkokinshu 620]References: Pictures of the Heart, The Hyakunin Isshu in Word and Image by Joshua S. Mostow (University of Hawai'i Press, 1996); Traditional Japanese Poetry, An Anthology, by Steven D. Carter (Stanford University Press, 1991); Hyakunin Isshu by Inoue Muneo, etc. (Shinchosha, 1990); Genshoku Hyakunin Isshu by Suzuki Hideo, etc. (Buneido, 1997); Ogura Hyakunin Isshu at Japanese Text Initiative (University of Virginia Library Etext Center); Hyakunin Isshu wo aruku by Shimaoka Shin (Kofusha Shuppan); Basho's Haiku (2 vols) by Toshiharu Oseko (Maruzen, 1990); The Ise Stories by Joshua S. Mostow and Royall Tyler (University of Hawai'i Press, 2010); Kokin Wakashu, The First Imperial Anthology of Japanese Poetry by Helen Craig McCullough (Staford University Press, 1985); Kokinshu, A Collection of Poems Ancient and Modern by Laurel Rasplica Rodd and Mary Catherine Henkenius (University of Tokyo Press, 1984); Kokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1994); Shinkokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1995); Taketori Monogatari-Ise Monogatari-Yamato Monogatari-Heichu Monogatari (Shogakkan, 1994). Seeds in the Heart, Japanese Literature from Earliest Times to the Late Sixteenth Century by Donald Keene (Henry Holt and Company, 1993).Hyakunin Isshu Introduction - Poem 1 - Poem 2 - Poem 3 - Poem 4 - Poem 5 - Poem 6 - Poem 7 - Poem 8 - Poem 9 - Poem 10 - Poem 11 - Poem 12 - Poem 13 - Poem 14 - Poem 15 - Poem 16 - Poem 17 - Poem 18 - Poem 19 - Poem 20 -
22 Jan
Hyakunin Isshu, Poem 5
okuyama nimomiji fumiwakenaku shika nokoe kiku toki zoaki wa kanashiki
奥山に紅葉ふみわけ鳴く鹿の声きく時ぞ秋は悲しき
When I hear the voiceof the crying stag stepping through the autumn leavesdeep in the mountains -then I really feel the sadness of autumn

Sarumaru Dayu (late 9th c.?)
Deer in the Kasuga Shrine, Nara
[Deer in the Kasuga Shrine, Nara]

The acute sadness of autumn when one hears the cry of deer deep in the mountains.
When the poet hears the stag crying for its mate, deep in the mountains in autumn, he really feels how sad autumn is, for he, too, is separated from his beloved. This situation (the deer crying for its mate as a symbol for the poet calling for his beloved) occurs often in poetry since the Manyoshu.

A straightforward poem, without any kakekotoba etc., but there are nevertheless some difficulties in interpretation. The first point is: who is stepping through the autumn leaves? Modern commentators of the poem take this to be the poet, and that also seems to be the meaning in the Shinsen Manyoshu (and Kokinshu) in which it is first collected, but the traditional interpretation (also of Teika) is that it is the deer - and that is the one I have followed in my translation.

The second point is: what type of autumn leaves? As Mostow remarks, in another edition of this poem, "momiji" is written with characters that mean "yellow leaves" rather than "scarlet leaves," so originally the yellow leaves of the bushclover may have been meant. But in the medieval and early modern period, it was believed to be set in late autumn and the momiji to refer to fallen maple leaves.

Finally, it should be remarked that the view that autumn is a season of sadness is a typical view of city dwellers. For peasants it is a season of harvest and gladness; one has to live at a remove from the agricultural cycle to be able to see autumn as a season of decay and so as a symbol of the transitoriness of human existence.


About the poet, Sarumaru Dayu (Dayu is an official title, "Senior Assistant Minister") nothing further is known and he is probably a fantasy figure, although counted as one of the Thirty-six Poetic Immortals. Some believe him to have been the son of Prince Yamashiro (who was the son of Prince Shotoku) but there is nothing to substantiate this. Significant is that the present poem is included in the Kokinshu as an anonymous poem. Also, no other poems have been ascribed to Sarumaru Dayu. From the headnote in the Kokinshu we know that this poem was written "at the poetry contest at Prince Koresada's house," which puts it in the late 9th c.

[Also included in: Kokinshu, Autumn Part A, 215]References: Pictures of the Heart, The Hyakunin Isshu in Word and Image by Joshua S. Mostow (University of Hawai'i Press, 1996); Traditional Japanese Poetry, An Anthology, by Steven D. Carter (Stanford University Press, 1991); Hyakunin Isshu by Inoue Muneo, etc. (Shinchosha, 1990); Genshoku Hyakunin Isshu by Suzuki Hideo, etc. (Buneido, 1997); Ogura Hyakunin Isshu at Japanese Text Initiative (University of Virginia Library Etext Center); Hyakunin Isshu wo aruku by Shimaoka Shin (Kofusha Shuppan); Basho's Haiku (2 vols) by Toshiharu Oseko (Maruzen, 1990); The Ise Stories by Joshua S. Mostow and Royall Tyler (University of Hawai'i Press, 2010); Kokin Wakashu, The First Imperial Anthology of Japanese Poetry by Helen Craig McCullough (Staford University Press, 1985); Kokinshu, A Collection of Poems Ancient and Modern by Laurel Rasplica Rodd and Mary Catherine Henkenius (University of Tokyo Press, 1984); Kokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1994); Shinkokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1995); Taketori Monogatari-Ise Monogatari-Yamato Monogatari-Heichu Monogatari (Shogakkan, 1994).Hyakunin Isshu Introduction - Poem 1 - Poem 2 - Poem 3 - Poem 4 - Poem 5 - Poem 6 - Poem 7 - Poem 8 - Poem 9 - Poem 10 - Poem 11 - Poem 12 - Poem 13 - Poem 14 - Poem 15 - Poem 16 - Poem 17 - Poem 18 - Poem 19 - Poem 20 -
20 Jan
Matsuo Taisha (also called Matsuonoo Taisha) is one of the oldest shrines of Kyoto. It now is in the first place the tutelary shrine of sake brewers, but that has not always been the case. It was established in 701 by the immigrant Hata clan. The shrine stands facing the Katsura River, with its back to a hill (Mt Matsuo) on which an iwakura can be found: a grouping of large sacred rocks. Such stones were believed to be places where the kami (deities) would take their abode. This was the original cult place and it is still intact; later, the shrine was built at the foot of the hill.

Matsuo Taisha, Kyoto
[Tsuridono Hall in front of the Main Hall,
from where prayers are offered]
The deities honored in Matsuo Taisha are Oyamakui no kami and his consort Nakatsushimahime no mikoto (a third deity, Tsukiyomi no mikoto, the kami of the moon and brother of the Sun Goddess, is housed in a separate shrine a short distance away). Oyamakui was a kami revered by immigrant clans such as the Hata. The Hata probably came to Japan from Korea in the 4th or 5th century. They settled in what is now the Kyoto area and are also connected with the Fushimi Inari Shrine and with Koryuji Temple. They were welcomed in Japan because they brought advanced technologies, such as sericulture, weaving and water control. In the mid-sixth c. the clan comprised more than 7,000 families.

Matsuo Taisha, Kyoto
[Kyokusui Garden, by Shigemori Mirei]
The Hata developed this area and later helped the court to establish the capital here in 794. Oyamakui has been called a mountain god, although that term may obscure his real identity: he is rather the deification of the pure and life-giving water that streams down from the mountain. That is evident from the Reiki no taki ("the Falls of the Holy Turtle"), a waterfall in the grounds behind the main hall, and also from the Kame no i ("Well of the Turtle"), a natural well also on the mountainside. The turtle is the messenger of the kami of Matsuo. After the foundation of Heiankyo, together with the kami of the Kamo Shrines, Matsuo-san was promoted to become one of the protectors of the capital.

Matsuo Taisha, Kyoto
[Shinyoko, with stacked sake barrels]
The link with sake is much more recent. It only comes from the Muromachi period (when sake brewing became an industry) and was connected again with water, in the form of the belief that sake of which the brewing water contained some water from the Turtle Well in the grounds of the shrine, would never turn sour (sourness due to hiochi bacteria was a big problem for early brewers). So Matsuo-san became a protector of the craft of sake brewing, something which is still his most important function today. Sake breweries often have a small Shinto altar (kamidana) dedicated to Matsuo-san in the brewery, near where the actual brewing takes place, and at certain important times such as the beginning of the brewing year, the brewers will worship there together. Every year new amulets from the shrine are received as well and brewers often visit the Matsuo Shrine for the Jo-u Festival in November, when prayers are said for successful brewing.

But the link of sake is not with the actual founding history of the shrine (the Hata brought several new technologies to Japan, but sake brewing was not among them) - this in contrast to the other major "sake shrine," the Miwa Shrine to the south of Nara (in Sakurai), which has a deeper connection with sake, in the sense that sake figures in its foundation legend, where it is presented as a gift to mankind from the gods.

Matsuo Taisha, Kyoto[The torii gate. At the back the Romon gate.]
The Matsuo Shrine stands immediately next to Matsuo Station on the Hankyu Arashiyama Line (running between Katsura and Arashiyama), and the approach to the shrine is brief. The main hall dates from 1397 (with repairs in 1542). An "important cultural property," it has a roof of shingles from cypress bark and long overhanging eaves in the front and back (called ryonagare-zukuri). A stream, the Ichinoigawa ("First Well River") runs through the grounds and has beautiful Japanese rose bushes (yamabuki) from mid April to early May. Two of the wooden statues of male deities the shrine owns are now "national treasures," and one female deity has been declared an "important cultural property." These kami images date from the 9th c. and are among the earliest statues of Shinto gods. They are well worth seeing.
Matsuo Taisha, Kyoto[Iwakura no niwa, garden with huge rocks like the iwakura on top of Mt Matsuo, by Shigemori Mirei]
The shrine gardens have been beautifully laid out by one of the most famous 20th c. garden architects and garden historians of Japan, Shigemori Mirei (1896-1975). The first garden lies in front of the small shrine museum housing the kami statues and is called Kyokusui no niwa (Garden of the Winding Stream - in Heian japan such streams were used to float down sake cups and compose poetry) - it features the big upright rocks Shigemori Mirei became famous for, as well as his modern use of concrete; the second garden, Iwakura no niwa ("Garden of the Sacred Rocks"), lies next to the shrine museum and imitates the iwakura on top of Mt Matsuo, the original cult place of the shrine; the third garden (Horai no niwa or "Paradise Garden") lies to the right between the large torii and the Romon gate, behind a restaurant. It is a pond garden with standing stones, perhaps a bit less typical of Shigemori Mirei's work because of the large pond, but nonetheless beautiful; it was finished by the son of the garden architect, as Shigemori Mirei unfortunately died in the period he was working on this garden.

Matsuo Taisha [The Turtle Well]
The three gardens plus the shrine museum, the waterfall Reiki no taki and the Turtle Well can all be seen together for a small fee. There is another fee to climb Mt Matsuo to view the iwakura. Thanks to its sake connection, the shrine also has a a small sake museum which in recent years has been nicely refurbished. There are old tools, cups and other implements, old labels and advertisements, etc. Entry here is free. It is to the left of the Romon, in the same building as a Mori tsukemono shop - interestingly, they have some pickles made with sakekasu (sake lees) which are only sold here.
The biggest festival of the shrine is the Shinkosai, which is held the first Sunday after April 20; it includes a mikoshi procession where one mikoshi will be boarded on a boat on the Katsura River (it will return three weeks later in a second festival called Kankosai). Other important festivals are Hatsumode (the first shrine visit at New Year), Setsubun on February 3 or 4, the Kerria (Japanese rose bush) Festival (April 10 to May 5), Oharae (Great Purification) on June 30, Ontasai (Rice Planting Festival) on the 3rd Sunday of July, Hassakusai (Harvest Festival) on the first Sunday of September, and the above-mentioned sake brewing prayers on the Jo-u day (old calendar) in November (thanksgiving for successful brewing is likewise held on the Chu-yu day in April).

Immediately next to Matsuo Station on the Hankyu Arashiyama Line. Or take bus 28 or 73 from Kyoto Station; bus 63 from Sanjo Keihan Station.Read more about this and other Shinto shrines in: Shinto Shrines, A Guide to the Sacred Sites of Japan's Ancient Religion by Joseph Cali and John Dougill (University of Hawai'i Press).  Japanese materials: Nihon no Kamigami, Jinja to Seichi edited by Tanikawa Kenichi (13 vols, Hyakusuisha). Shukan Jinja Kiko (50 vols, Gakken). Kyoto Yamashiro Jiin Jinja Daijiten (Heibonsha).
19 Jan
On of the best places to enjoy the sight of wild monkeys in Japan in this Year of the Monkey is Jigokudani Onsen in Nagano Prefecture.

Jigokudani Onsen, Nagano 
"Jigokudani" or "Hell's Valley" is in fact a name also given to other places in Japan with a lot of volcanic activity such as steam rising from between the cliffs - leading to good onsen (hot springs). Jigokudani in Yamanouchi is located 850 meters above sea level, in the mountains of northern Nagano, so there is a lot of snow here in winter. In fact, the area is buried in one meter of snow for a third of the year.
The troupe of about 200 "snow monkeys" you find living here despite the harsh conditions are Japanese macaques, who have adjusted to the cold and the snow. The place is unique as it is the only place in the world where wild monkeys bath in hot springs (but then, they are Japanese monkeys, so they just love hot baths!).

Jigokudani Onsen, Nagano
The bath, by the way, is man-made and the area is a park (Jigokudani Yaen Koen), but left undeveloped thanks to the fact that it is part of the Joshinetsu Kogen National Park. Another reason must be that it is relatively hard to reach, cars and buses have to remain at a far distance and a 30 min. trek through the snow is necessary. The park is open throughout the year.

Jigokudani Onsen, Nagano 
The above pictures are from a visit we made to Jigokudani in a previous Year of the Monkey. The monkeys are quite photogenic and they have a positively blissful look on their faces when they sit soaking in the warm water!

Jigokudani Onsen, Nagano
How to get here: Take the Nagano Dentetsu line from Nagano to Yudanaka Onsen (45 min.). From there, take a bus to the Kanbayashi Onsen bus stop (10-15 min, 1 to 2 buses per hour) and then hike for 30-40 min to the monkey park. Near the park is also the rustic Korakukan ryokan, where you can stay the night and take an onsen bath indoors yourself. There is a small fee for entrance to the park. 
[Live camera of the Monkey Park]
18 Jan
2016 is the Year of the Monkey (sarudoshi) in Japan, the ninth year in the cycle of 12 signs from the Japanese (and originally Chinese) zodiac.

Huge Ema for the Year of the Monkey in Matsuo Taisha, Kyoto[Huge Ema for Year of the Monkey in Matsuo Taisha, Kyoto]
Monkeys are indigenous to Japan in the shape of the Japanese macaque (Macaca fuscata), a medium-sized wild monkey with a short tail, which gets about 60 cm tall. Wild monkeys are relatively common, a number of decades ago when they were counted they numbered 30,000. Wild monkeys are found in Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu, but not in Hokkaido which is too cold (the Shimokita Peninsula at the northern tip of Honshu, where about 100 monkeys live, is the northernmost habitat of any primate in the world). Japanese monkeys live in troops of 20 to 150 individuals organized in strict hierarchy.

The monkey plays an important role in Japanese folklore. Japanese myth makes mention of a monkey deity, Sarutahiko, and some shrines like the Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine in Otsu treat the monkey as a divine messenger. Until early modern times it was believed that keeping a monkey tied to a post in stables would keep disease away from the horses (going back to the Chinese belief that monkeys could in general drive illness away). Monkey shows (sarumawashi) were once a common street entertainment (happily, not anymore).

In contrast to China, where the monkey is regarded as an emblem of ugliness, lust and trickery, in Japan it is an animal of good standing. It is a fortunate birth year as Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-1598) was born in a monkey year: he is a singular case in traditional Japan of a man raising himself from a low-born station to the highest rank and power in the country (on top of that, he was said to be "monkey-faced"). But monkey years are considered unlucky for marriage, for "saru," "monkey," is a homonym with "saru," "to leave," suggesting divorce.

[Gibbon reaching for the moon's reflection by Ohara Koson]
Monkeys play a large role in Japanese fairy tales, such as the story of Momotaro or Little Peachling. The animal also figures in many proverbs: "Even a monkey falls sometimes from a tree" ("Anybody can make a mistake"), "To teach a monkey to climb a tree" ("To do something superfluous"), and "The monkey seizes the moon" (an example of delusion: long-armed monkeys made a chain hanging down from a branch in a tree, until the branch broke and they were drowned). "A dog and a monkey" points at the same unfriendly relations as our "a cat and a dog."

[Ukiyoe of Sun Wukong fighting a wind demon]
The most famous Chinese monkey is the monkey king Sun Wukong from the novel Journey to the West (Xiyouji). an extended account of the legendary pilgrimage of the Tang dynasty Buddhist monk Xuanzang who traveled via Central Asia to India to obtain sacred texts (sutras) and statues. In the fantasy novel, he has several supernatural protectors, the most important one being the monkey Sun Wukong, who is also his disciple.

Wild monkey in onsen bath in Jigokudani, Nagano[Wild monkey in onsen bath, Jigokudani, Nagano]
The most famous Japanese wild monkeys live in the Jigokudani Monkey Park in Nagano Pref., called "Hell's Valley" after the boiling water that naturally bubbles up in this volcanic area. This results in a good onsen (hot springs), one inside the rustic hotel for humans, and one outside in the snow for the monkeys. Called "Snow Monkeys," the macaques descend from the steep cliffs and forest to sit in the warm waters of the onsen, looking almost human, and return to the forest in the evenings.

Monkey Carving in Toshogu Shrine, Nikko["See no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil" monkey carving in Toshogu Shrine, Nikko]
The most famous representation of monkeys in Japan is the carving on the Nikko shrine: one covers his eyes with his hands, another his ears and the third one his mouth. With a pun on "saru," they represent mizaru "seeing-not", kikazaru "hearing not" and iwazaru "speaking-not." Such monkeys are also often found as stone statues by the roadside and they are associated with the Koshin cult and the God of the Road. They continue teaching us the moral lesson of "seeing no evil, hearing no evil and speaking no evil."

[Written with information from Japan, An Illustrated Encyclopedia (Kodansha) and We Japanese (an old publication of the Fujiya Hotel)]
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