Tag Archives: Japan

Japan’s Future Imagined 300 Years Ago

In her essay entitled “Ichinichi Edojin”,  Hinako Sugiura introduced the future of Japan imagined more than 300 years ago. She summarizes the predictions as follows.

(1) A sense of the season will disappear. (Food of season will come very early.)

(2) People will like what’s expensive in everything. After they enjoyed the lavish things, they will fall in love with geeky hobbies. (Unique outfits will be very popular. Retrospect of classics will attract lots of attention.)

(3) Women play active roles in many areas. (The areas dominated by males will disappear.)

(4) Nature destruction. (People build houses deep in the mountains. Even sacred mountains get vulgar.)

(5) There will be no difference between professionals and amateurs. (Especially in entertainment industry.)

(6) Hand-made stuff will be replaced with cheap packaged products. (e.g. Tanabata package, New Year’s package etc.)

(7) Adults will read comic books and more children read difficult books.

(8) Children come to enjoy spicy food.

(9) Japanese language will be corrupted and jargons will get popular. At last, enigmatic katakana  words will spread.

(10) Professional prostitutes will get rich and enter the business world.

(11) Old people try to look young and old love will be popular. Young people will enjoy old people’s taste and hobbies.

(12) Bon and New Year will come together. (Events will get popular.)

It’s interesting that most of them have come true more or less. What kind of future can we envision now?

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Two Symbolic Plants for Japanese Summer

Now Sakura (cherry blossom) is well-known as a representative of Japanese spring. Then which plant best represents Japanese summer? When I envision a nostalgic summer scene, two plants immediately come to mind: asagao (morning glory) and hoozuki (Chinese lantern plant). They bring up the image of summer vacation, festivals and the Bon season. While sakura trees are on the street, making a part of the landscape, these plants are usually enjoyed at home – in flower pots to decorate the space under the eaves of houses.

Asagao

854-iriya[1]

Morning glory is a typical plant used as an educational material in the subject called living environmental studies for children in lower grades in elementary schools. Usually, they take care of their own pots from seeding, watering to gathering the seeds with writing observation diaries. Asagao is adopted in schools not only because it’s easy to grow but also it will bring lots of awareness to children such as the importance of taking care of plants and scientific wonders. It’s no exaggeration to say that this kawaii flower cultivates our basic gardening skills.

Growing  asagao, however, is not only a childish hobby. Recently it gets attention as one of the popular spiecies for green curtain, but this flower has been popular since a long time ago. At first, it was imported to Japan more than 1,000 years ago as a medicinal plant with a laxative effect. In the edo period, asagao, especially mutant ones became very popular among common people. Even today, plant lovers enjoy mutant morning glories, calling them henka-asagao (henka means ‘change’).

I got some henka-asagao seeds this year, so will post the outcome on this blog once it successfully blooms 🙂

Hoozuki

880-hou[1]

Hoozuki had been used as a medicinal plant in the old times as well. It became also popular in the edo period and both asagao and hoozuki were sold by plant peddlers. While it was used for various purposes like a tranquilizer among common people, it is said that yuujo (courtesan or professional prostitute) used hoozuki when they wanted to have an abortion. Aso, this plant has been used to decorate Buddhist altars at home as it looks like lanterns guiding the spirits.

Summer Festivals Featuring Asagao and Hoozuki

Today, in many parts of Japan, asagao markets and hoozuki markets take place, announcing the arrival of summer. One of the most famous ones are Iriya Asagao Festival in Kishibojin Temple (also called Kishimojin Temple),Tokyo and Hoozuki Ichi in Sensoji Temple, Tokyo. Those who visited Japan in the old times, like Philipp Franz Balthasar von Siebold, Robert Fortune and Vittorio Arminjon, were fascinated by the Japanese gardening culture in which even poor people enjoyed growing plants making the best of the limited space and resources. These festivals can be a great chance to get a glimpse of the traditional Japanese gardening culture which is still alive.

Hoozuki Ichi
Date: July 9 and 10, 2014
Venue: Sensoji Temple
Address: 2-3-1 Asakusa, Taito-ku, Tokyo
Access: 5 min walk from Asakusa St. (Tokyo Metro)

Asagao Festival
Date: July 6-8, 2014
Venue: Iriya Kishibojin Temple
Address: 1-12-16 Shitaya, Taito-ku, Tokyo
Access: 1 min walk from Iriya St. (Tokyo Metro), 3 min walk from Uguisudani St. (JR)

(photo courtesy of  http://sozai-free.com/)

Kaidan: Cooling Off Without Air Conditioning

Summer in Japan is really hot and humid.  Yet there is a cool way to refresh without air conditioning in Japan – enjoying kaidan (ghost stories).

It sounds like a joke, but ghost stories seem to have a cooling effect scientifically. The mechanism is, people get tense when they feel fear, which causes the peripheral blood vessel to contract. It impedes the blood circulation.  The body surface temperature goes down as a result.

With or without this evidence, kaidan has been popular as summer-time entertainment since the old days. It may be partly because of bon, a Japanese buddhist custom in summer. During the bon period, it’s believed the ancestors’ spirits come back to this world.  Actually lots of Japanese summer festivals such as tanabata, toro-nagashi  and okuribi derive from or related to this belief. So people might feel the dead souls somewhat closer than other seasons.

There is another view on the origin of kaidan as summer entertainment.  In 1800s,  a famous kabuki  scriptwriter Tsuruya Nanboku IV wroted stories for natsu-kyogen (kabuki theatrical  productions during summer) including a splendid play entitled “Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan”. At that time, summer-time productions were played by young actors with lower price because the top actors took vacation. To attract the audience during summer, kaidan , which had been played in spring or autumn till then, was played with novel settings. It is said that kaidan was established as a Japanese summer tradition since then.

Katsushika Hokusai (葛飾北斎) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Traditional Kaidan Stories

When I was small, my grandma used to tell me ghost stories. I was so scared but I learned the lessons behind such as the sin of betrayal at the same time. Some of my favorites are:


Traditional Ghost Arts

For most Japanese people, the typical image of ghost is not like Casper but a sad, beautiful woman wearing a white kimono. When I was a kid, I truly believed that ghosts had no legs, but later I learned this was a creation of Maruyama Okyo, a famous artist in the past.

Oyuki.jpg
Oyuki” by Maruyama Ôkyo (1733-1795) – Found at: http://eee.uci.edu/clients/sbklein/GHOSTS/html/edoghosts/pages/oyuki.html. Via Wikipedia.

If you’re interested in appreciating the traditional ghost arts, it’s worth visiting Zenshoan temple in Yanaka, Tokyo in August.  Every summer, they exhibit Encho‘s (famous rakugo storyteller in 1800s) collection of ghost paintings, one of the best of this kind in Japan.

Zenshoan’s Location
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