Wednesday, September 28, 2016

An episode from history


Please take a look at these three Japanese kanji characters.
It used to be a name of a place.

It reads “tsu-ru-ma”, which means “a place full of water.”
These are the original characters for the place called "Tsuruma".

In fact, villagers of this area were often bothered by floods from a small, winding river.

However, in 1910, when the city of Nagoya decided to make their first public park at this place by reclaiming the site, they wanted to keep the original name but with different kanji to make a better impression on all the visitors to the new park, that is “鶴舞" (Tsuruma) park.

They use the kanji for "crane” and “dance”, but they still have the same reading.
In Japanese culture, a crane is a symbol of happiness and longevity and it sounds just perfect for the first public park in Nagoya.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

A Pair of Muddy Boots

My daughter came home to stay overnight on the way to Ena, a mountainous town in Gifu, which is the prefecture next to ours.

She was on a business trip with her colleagues to a stone wholesale company. Her landscape company does business with them.

Do you know how GOOD it is for a mother to see her daughter home with her backpack?
Besides, she was carrying her helmet and a pair of muddy boots!  Good job.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

What I thought about the Respect For The Aged Day

September 19th, the third Monday of September,  was a national holiday named the Respect for the Aged Day.

Various public ceremonies were held in many cities and towns throughout the country.
Our school district held a ceremony at an elementary school gymnasium and invited every person aged 70 or over in our area.

That day I helped at reception with the woman's organization that I am a part of.  Dance and band performances by elementary and junior high students delighted the guests.


Japan is becoming an aged society.

There were 34.61 million people as of last week aged 65 or over. This was 27.3 percent of the total population, according to a report.

There are many discussions about this, such as the large tax burden on the younger generation, a quality and quantity of nursery houses for the elderly, and the amount of pension and more.

A Japanese life expectancy has been ranked very high but we have to consider how elderly people pursue a healthy life without being bedridden for the rest of their life.

At the same time, men and women who retired from their companies at the age of 60 or 65, should be promised another regular job so as to keep their enthusiasm toward life as long as they are healthy.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Radio Exercises in Tsuruma Park

Tsuruma Park in Nagoya was the first public park in the region. It was established in 1909.
The existing modern and classic buildings and monuments tell us many stories related to the origin of this park and life in Nagoya in the early 1900s.

The boy statue in front of us is one example.
He is frozen in the middle of doing calisthenics, called “rajio taiso”, which literally means “radio exercises”.

“Rajio taiso” has a long history of 88 years, from the first broadcast of exercise routines over the radio by the Japan Postal Insurance Bureau.
“Rajio taiso” is a kind of rhythmic exercise to music on the radio. The program starts at 6:30 in the morning every day and goes for 15 minutes.

The insurance bureau started this project so that people would be more conscious of maintaining good health since the Japanese life expectancy was quite low at that time. Strictly speaking the idea for radio broadcast calisthenics came from the US.  The exercise consists of 13 different but easy movements to stimulate almost all of your muscles -- even the inactive ones -- to get your blood circulating.

It was included as a regular group routine at elementary and junior high schools.
Later, in the 1950s, it was aired on TV as well as on the radio several times a day; it became very popular among adults at offices, factories and also at many other workplaces.
Currently, it is reported that 20% of the entire population, or around 27 million people, and 76% of elementary schools, still do radio exercises.

Regardless of age, almost all Japanese people can perform the 13 movements if they hear the music or sometimes simply by humming it. Here in Tsuruma Park, somewhere between 100 and over 350 people, usually seniors, gather around the Sougakudo bandstand for “rajio taiso” every morning throughout the year.Tsuruma Park is the perfect place for a “rajio taiso” gathering, and it has been this way for 50 years.

If you would like to join in doing “rajio taiso”, you don’t need to apply.
All you have to do is to get up early.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Ahead of time

Just last week on February 3 , we celebrated ”Setsubun", the Bean-Throwing Festival in our homes, at shrines and in temples throughout Japan.

It is one of our seasonal, happy events, which drives away evil from our homes and brings in only good fortune and good health to every household by throwing roasted soybeans.

Meanwhile, according to the Japanese traditional calendar,  February 3 marks the last day of winter and we name February 4  "Risshun", the first day of spring.

Though I know we will have some more cold and freezing days until the real spring arrives here, it is exciting to have some signs of spring not only in nature but also in everyday objects, such as a flower arrangement on an alcove, a hanging scroll and even some cups and saucers that depict spring.  That way we enjoy some signs of spring in homes much in advance.

What's more, very often at a department store, we will find a seasonal food item with an appealing presentation such as "wagashi."  These are Japanese sweets and reflect each season in their shapes and colors. Defined wagashi is such a delight to our eyes and finally to our mouth.

All these things are something we have been practicing  for centuries and we learn this  from our parents and grandparents  as a common practice in our daily lives.  I do love choosing  a hanging scroll at our alcove when our traditional calender marks the arrival of season a little bit earlier.

Somehow we enjoy the signs of the season ahead of time.

Sunday, January 03, 2016

An awe-inspiring experience


My final tour for 2015 was for four pleasant young adults from Mexico.

I showed them around two spots they wanted to visit.
The first spot was Atsuta Jingu shrine, which has a 1900-year-long history. They were impressed very much by the spiritual atmosphere in the huge wooded grounds.
I explained the basic history of Atsuta shrine and how regularly visiting shrines is part of daily life in Japan.

They seemed to enjoy the divine atmosphere just as they might appreciate the spiritual places in their home country.  And there, we had a strange experience when we drew an omikuji -- a slip of paper which tells your fortune -- at the shrine.


 Omikuji give some useful advice that you should keep in mind in your everyday lives.
 Interestingly, it tells you what your lucky color is too.

 While I was translating the content of the fortunes for each of the four, they found out they were somehow wearing the exact colors that their fortune predicted for them. Purple, silver, dark blue and green.

 Amazing! Was it just a coincidence? But wait! Coincidence rarely occurs to four people together at the same time. No matter what, it was an awe-inspiring experience for them.

"The deities of Atsuta shrine are welcoming you."

They really liked that this happened to them. I was happy for them, too.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Shioiri no Niwa (Garden with a tidal pond)

Let me introduce you to a unique type of Japanese garden in Shirotori.
We call it Shioiri Garden. “Shioiri” means “incoming tide" in English.
As you imagine from the word, “incoming tide,” the water in this pond depicts the incoming and outgoing ocean flows of Ise Bay.

The main concept of the garden is to portray the tides.
Ise Bay has been so prominent for people living in this region.

Please take a look at the wall in the background with white and grey checkered patterns.
It depicts some mountains in this central region such as Mt. Ontake or the Kiso Mountains.
With that being said, you can see how Shioiri Garden incorporates yet another expression of nature from our region.

It looks very modern though.
Modern technology has made this garden so unique, that it won the Urban Landscape prize from the city of Nagoya 24 years ago.

There are three points I’d like to introduce you to so that you will be able to enjoy the garden.

First, the water is controlled by a pump to reproduce the movement of Ise Bay's ocean tide.
If you stay here, you will be able to see the tide slowly coming in and out every 30 minutes.

Second, a winding titanium pipe hovering on the surface of the water, is eye catching.
This modern sculpture expresses the waves reaching shore after hitting rough rocks.

Lastly, there you can see some fountain spouts along the pipes.
They emit water to fill the pond like that of a tide gradually coming in, which is mesmerizing to watch.

Aside from these three elements, the garden designer also arranged a pair of rocks, one large and one small, in the pond to give you the image of the pair of sacred rocks at the shore near  Ise Grand Shrine in Mie Prefecture.

For some people, they are reluctant to call Shioiri Garden a Japanese garden.

However, considering Japanese strolling gardens were very much appreciated by daimyo; I’m sure they would have enjoyed a unique spot in which they could entertain their important guests.

I personally love the challenging idea of Shioiri Garden.
It is definitely a Japanese garden of this century.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Story of Tamateru-hime -----the way people cherish and enshrine a historical icon---

Tamateru-hime, who is enshrined in Senzo-in Temple, was extraordinarily beautiful and intelligent, but was treated miserably by her stepmother.

One rainy day, a young noble court man happened to see her put her own straw hat on a rain–soaked Buddhist statue in the street to protect it from the rain. He was very much impressed with her piety and finally married her.

Only once in every eight years, the original statue of Tamateru-hime is open to the public.
At the same time a huge amount of white cotton strings, called “Oteito” in Japanese, are connected together to make a long rope.

One end is tied around Tamateru-hime’s finger and it is run all the way across the temple precinct and the other end is finally attached to the front gate.
Visitors feel close to Tamateru-hime by touching the strings connected to her, and pray to lead a happy life just as Tamateru-hime did.

At the time this ritual started in Senzo-in Temple a long time ago, local people brought plain white cotton -- enough to make a kimono about 12 meters long -- to the temple.
They wrote their own names on the cotton and tied the pieces together one after another to make long ropes to run through the precinct.

After the ritual was over, the temple priest stamped the temple inscription to purify the cloth and gave it back to each family. They finally made this into a white kimono, namely as a burial vestments, to help one’s soul reach heaven safely.

Or pregnant women used this purified cloth simply to bundle their swollen bellies, wishing Tamateru-hime would protect young women and ensure they delivered their babies safely.

Regardless of the times, people have been longing for salvation and comfort not only from deities, but also from some outstanding, historical icons.

This is why Tamateru-hime and her Cinderella story have been cherished by many people especially young women over the centuries.

Senzo-in Temple stands in the south of Nagoya as one of the twelve sub temples to support Kasadera Temple. Kasadera Temple which belongs to the Shingon sect of Buddhism was the southernmost of the “Four Guardian Temples” surrounding Nagoya Castle. Kasadera Temple used to form a large temple town with its 12 disciple temples being stood side by side. It is said that Tamateru-hime and her husband made a great amount of donation to re-build Kasadera Temple.  It was renovated and well-maintained by the happy noble couple for the first time in 100 years since the temple was constructed in 736.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Shirotori Garden as a treasure box of history and culture

Let me tell you about Shirotori Garden.
This location was originally a lumber yard dating back to the Edo period in the 17th century.It had been used as a lumber yard for many years until the Ise Bay Typhoon hit and destroyed this entire area 70 years ago.

 In 1989 when the city of Nagoya hosted the World Design Exposition, the city decided to build a Japanese garden at this site to commemorate the Exposition. 
 So this Japanese garden is relatively young and new when you compare it with the famous ancient Japanese gardens in many other areas. But I personally believe that there is another good reason that Shirotori Garden is located in this place. And that is closely related to our history of the samurai world.
Let me go back to the story that this site was originally a lumber yard 400 years ago.It was a significant period in our history when the outstanding samurai, Tokugawa Ieyasu who was a native of this region won an important battle that finally unified the Japanese society in peace.He opened the government in Edo, the present Tokyo in the east of Japan. 
In order to rule the society and hand down his power to the next generations for many years, he made three of his sons the rulers over important regions in Japan. One of these regions was Owari, the present Nagoya area. Tokugawa Ieyasu put a great importance on the Owari region to protect Edo from a possible attack by samurai warriors. They were against his power and mostly stayed in the west since they lost the war with Ieyasu. Nagoya was a perfect location for a fortress to ward off his enemies. Thus, he ordered to build Nagoya Castle as a symbol of his absolute power.

He handed down the national property of the huge Kiso mountain area to the first landlord of Nagoya Castle, who was his 9th son, Yohinao.  Kiso was rich and famous for its good quality lumbers and this caused a local economy to flourish.  That way the Owari Tokugawa family became  the largest and influential power out of three branches of the Tokugawa family.
When the second lord of Nagoya Castle, Mitsutomo retired, he left the castle and lived on a vast property where he enjoyed a large scale Japanese garden. As the society became more stable, top samurai called daimyo enjoyed an abundant life rich in culture. Building a garden at their huge properties was one of the examples.
Speaking of Japanese gardens, they are roughly divided into three types
1) strolling garden
2) dry garden
3) tea garden
A daimyo garden is a strolling garden.
They very much loved this type of garden because it was a show of their influence. The gardeners showed great craftsmanship through replicating natural landscapes. The feudal lords spent a huge amount of money and time to complete these vast gardens. Take one of the daimyo gardens the Owari Tokugawa family owned for example, it could compare in size to about 15 baseball stadiums.
I believe it is, for one thing, for their family legacy and for another showing their dignity over other daimyo. They made these gardens not only for their own pleasure but for entertaining other important daimyo. Such events consisted of seasonal viewing, tea ceremonies and traditional dance performances. They occasionally exchanged political talks in the gardens. Having the Shogun at the garden was their greatest honor.
A daimyo garden has distinct elements such as ponds, rocks and stones, mountains, rivers and streams, bridges, arbors, plants, flowers and trees. And at Shirotori Garden, the Kiso mountain area which was exclusively given to Owari Tokugawa family by Ieyasu is faithfully depicted so as to symbolize their strong relationship.
There are many unspoken messages held within the garden. It will be very challenging and exciting for me  to explain the stories behind some interesting spots in Shirotori Garden.
I think a daimyo garden is just like a huge wonderland of those days.
Especially Shirotori Garden will send us various messages  such as the Owari Tokugawa family history,  the history of Nagoya, the charms of Japanese gardens and our tradition and culture.
Although Shirotori Garden does not have a long history but it was designed so carefully and faithfully to show us every features and elements of a traditional Japanese garden.

What is lucky for us in Shirotori Garden is that we are able to enjoy all three types of gardens as well.
So let's enjoy strolling around Shirotori Garden and feel the nature just like daimyo and their families and guests once did many centuries ago.