Gion ends (Yasaka Jinja)

The west entrance gate (Nishi Romon) is always a popular photo spot. It faces onto the Gion geisha area, and in former times the temple complex that stood here was famous for its bell mentioned at the beginning of The Tale of Heike

 

Yesterday marked the official end of the month-long Gion Festival, with a purification ritual at Yasaka Jinja and chinowa (large ring  of cogon grass), to complete the circle as it were.  Unfortunately I arrived in the cool of the evening, too late to participate (the chinowa was up from 10.00 am to 3.00 pm).  Nonetheless Yasaka Shrine is always worth a visit and there was plenty to catch the eye.  (For a full account of the shrine, see Cali and Dougill’s Shinto Shrines, p.143-7.)

 

One of the guardian archers in the West Gate, known in Japanese as 'zuijin'

 

Inside the shrine we talked to a young priest who was fixing the 'masakaki' decorations which stand on either side of the Worship Hall.

 

The masakaki on the left-hand side bears a sword, one of the sacred regalia. The cloth is in five colours (five elements?), which is similar to Buddhist usage.

 

The masakaki to the right bears the other two sacred regalia, namely a mirror and string of magatama beads

 

I’m indebted to the Rev Barrish for the following information regarding the five colours of the masakaki banner, which has its origins in the decorations of the sakaki tree outside Amaterasu’s Cave: “Black (purple) means North (Ara Mitama), Blue (green) means East (Kushi Mitama), Red means South (Sachi Mitama), White means West (Nigi Mitama), Yellow means the sacred Center (Nao-Hi =sun rays).”

 

The Haiden boast some bright colours and this mythical creature, known as a 'baku' and said to eat bad dreams

 

The shrine is dedicated to the storm god Susanoo no mikoto, and there are panels to explain to visitors his significance in mythology where he throws a fit with Amaterasu and tears up the heavenly fields

 

At the back of the shrine is the Yamahoko Hall, where some of the festival floats are stored. It was built in 1968 to house floats which could no longer be stored by their neighbourhoods.

 

From the south gate of Yasaka Jinja there's a beautiful walk through historic streets, which at sunset are empty of tourists and full of beauty

 

One house we passed had a full collection of Gion Festival amulets and charms

 

A fine evening was rounded off with a special Kyo-tofu meal that was divinely delicious. I have a theory the aesthetics of the food are linked to the aesthetics of shrine architecture, but more of that another time...

 

Posted in Kyoto shrines, Shrine visits | Leave a comment

Cooling off (Mitarashi sai)

 

Mitarashi Shrine without the crowds, guardian of the pure water issuing out from beneath it

 

Mitarashi Jinja at festival time, when soaking feet in the divine water brings protection for legs from disease

 

Last weekend saw one of Kyoto’s most popular summer festivals, the wonderful Mitarashi Festival at Shimogamo Jinja.  It comes on the last weekend in July when the sweltering temperatures reach up to 36 degrees or so.  Visitors who walk through the Mitarashi Stream are said to have their feet and legs protected for the coming year.

Quite apart from any healing effect, the festival provides a splash and a delightfully refreshing ritual – and boy, was the water cold!  Almost painfully so.  The event has won increasing popularity in recent years, and the crowds and stalls have proliferated, with foreign tourists conspicuous.  In addition, the shrine has taken to marketing in more serious manner, with candles handed out to all participants (Western influence?), special floating ashikata prayers to float on the water, and some very smartly designed T-shirts.  All in all, I got the impression my local shrine is using increasingly sophisticated marketing and promotion methods.

(The Mitarashi subshrine, dedicated to water, was originally at the confluence of the Kamogawa and Takanogawa, but in 1470 it burnt down in the Bunmei Insurrectioin and was rebuilt on its present site from 1592-6.)

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For a previous account of this life-affirming summer festival, please click here.

The Mitarashi Stream flows through the shrine precincts and into the Tadasu no mori woods.

 

At festival time people holding their footwear in plastic bags make their way through the water to plant candles in rows before the shrine

 

To the left of the shrine are stalls providing cupfuls of the divine water, amulets for good health, and some special Shimogamo T-shirts with aoi leaves and red arrow

 

The spiritual core of the festival - an amulet to protect one's legs from disease for the coming year

 

As evening falls, the candle-lit river wading grows more attractive

Posted in Festivals, Kyoto shrines | 1 Comment

Atago ascent

A lantern-lit pathway to heaven – or at least to the summit of Mt Atago (photo by Samborn Brown)

 

Kyoto boasts two prominent mountains in its environs.  To the north-east, guarding the devil’s gate (kimon), is Mt Hiei, 848 meters tall.  Its guardian shrine is Hiyoshi Taisha, and as the ‘mother of Japanese Buddhism’ it stands at the very centre of the country’s religious history.

Over to the west of the city stands the less well-known Mt Atago, actually the taller of the twin peaks (924 m).  Its guardian shrine is Atago Jinja, head of some 900 Atago shrines nationwide.  It’s dedicated to Atago Gongen, a syncretic deity which protects the city from fire, and once a year it is the scene of a mass pilgrimage.  According to Samborn Brown on his website cyclekyoto,

On the night of July 31, Mount Atago witnesses a huge number of pilgrims. On that night, from roughly 9 pm, Mount Atago plays host to “Sennichi Tsuyasai,” a festival that is all about fire, both good and bad. It is a holy and profound and magical night not to be missed.”The origin of the festival derives from the hope for a thousand days of flame (cooking, heating), and also for a thousand days without home-wrecking fire. From top to bottom, the hike is roughly four kilometers.”

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The following extract by Sanborn Brown comes from the e-book, Deep Kyoto: Walks (available on amazon here).

Sacred Mountain

The mountain was once the border between the former Yamashiro and Tamba kingdoms, independent fiefdoms that vied for power in this part of Kyoto in the pre-Tokugawa period. Prior to that, the first religious site on the mountain was built by a priest called Taicho. At the beginning of the eighth century C.E., he climbed the mountain, cleared an area, and founded a temple. Hakuunji, or White Cloud Temple, was the result of his labor.

For centuries worshippers came to Hakuunji to pray for luck in war, as the temple was home to the patron saint of victory in battle. As a result, generals during the Warring States Period [1] including the great Akechi Mitsuhide and Date Masamune and, later, Oda Nobunaga [2] himself – prayed at the temple.

Change however was afoot in the 19th century, for both Japan and the temple. Before Japan was pried open to the outside world in the mid-19th century, Buddhism and Shintoism were often commingled at shrines and temples throughout the country. However, in 1868, the newly minted Meiji government mandated that Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines be separated under the tenet of shinbutsu bunri (“separation of kami and Buddhas”). What remains today at Atago is a shrine, one of more than 900 Atago shrines in Japan and of which Kyoto is the head.

At this time, according to Bukkyo University professor Yagi Toru, who has written extensively on Mt. Atago and its history and culture [3], Hakuunji was converted into Atago Shrine. In so doing, the Jizo statue devoted to success in battle was relocated to Konzoji Temple in Ohara, in the far north of Kyoto. In its place, fire became the focus of the pilgrimage, and instead of warriors the common people became the primary pilgrims.

Mountain hut in festive mood (photo Sanborn Brown)

The shrine on Mt. Atago was dedicated to Izanami and her child Kagutsuchi, the god of fire. In Japanese mythology, the female Izanami, in union with the male Izanagi, created the eight great islands of Japan. In this creation story, Izanami, alas, died giving birth to Kagutsuchi because of burns she incurred. Her death infuriated Izanagi, who thereupon slew the infant by beheading him. According to one source for the myth, Izanami, close to death, also gave birth to the water goddess Mizuhame, and instructed her to pacify Kagutsuchi, that fire must be appeased.

Fire Festival

The Sennichi Tsuyusai festival in its current form dates to the 1860s and has its roots in fire: in the double-edged prayer for a thousand days of flame for cooking and heating; and, conversely, a thousand days free of home-wrecking fire. The festival thus joins three of Kyoto’s best-known festivals of fire – Okera Mairi, at Yasaka Shrine on New Year’s Eve; the mountain bonfires of Daimonji (Japan’s All Souls Night in August); and the Kurama Fire Festival, in October.

In the not so distant past, in which homes were constructed of paper, wood, and thatched roofs; in which the hearth was the center of the home, and both fed and heated all therein; in which the nightly bath was heated by firewood and kindling; in which pests were driven from fields by fires lit by villagers – fire was a fearsome and divine and daily part of life…

[To read the rest of this extract, download the e-book here: Deep Kyoto: Walks.]

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[1] The Warring States Period was a time of near constant military conflict from the middle of the 15th century until the beginning of the 17th century.

[2] Akechi Mistuhide, 1528 – 1582, was a general of Oda Nobunaga most famouse for betraying him. Date Masamune, 1567 – 1636, was a legendary warrior and founder of modern Sendai city, he was nicknamed the “one-eyed dragon”. Oda Nobunaga, 1534 – 1582, was the warlord who initiated the unification of Japan at the end of the Warring States Period.

[3] See: Yagi, Toru, Hi o Meguru Minzoku Shinyoku (The Connection Between Fire and Folk Belief). Bukkyo University Kiyo Magazine, Issue 104, August 2006. Yagi, Toru, Atagosan To Atago Mairi (Mount Atago and the Atago Pilgrimage). Kyoto: Bukkyo University Press, 2004.

View over Kyoto from Mt Atago (Wikicommons)

Posted in Kyoto shrines, Mountains, Pilgrimage | 1 Comment

Nature religion?

Some people like to describe Shinto simply as a nature religion. It’s not. Or rather it’s much more than that. Walking round Kyoto a few weeks ago made me aware of this when I came across two small shrines that struck me in different ways.

Looking up to the honden of Gosho Hachimangu

One shrine was in the form of small hokora in an area completely covered in concrete (picture above).  Who knows, perhaps centuries ago it had stood among fine fields of greenery with a special spirit of place. Now however it acts uneasily as guardian of a car park. Yet it’s still cultivated by the neighbourhood, out of a sense of tradition.

The other shrine was Gosho Hachimangu, which stands on the central Oike Street. It’s now a small and neglected shrine, overlooked by the people who rush past. As its name proclaims, it’s a Hachiman shrine dedicated to the spirit of Emperor Ojin, his mother Empress Jingu and a female god called Himenokami. Formerly it stood not far away, but was transferred to its present position during World War II, due to forced evacuation – an interesting example of the movability of shrines.  Like the parishioners, the kami had to take refuge elsewhere.

The shrine was founded when the first Ashikaga shogun, Ashikaga Takauji, invited the three deities to be guardian for his new residence. Now the shrine is known for promoting easy childbirth and for protecting small children. Everything about the shrine speaks to the ancestral side of Shinto, and to the cultivation of history and Japanese tradition.

Gosho Hachimagu is hemmed in now by buildings and main road

 

Ancient and modern - purification and pollution

 

Modern style ema, with three exclamations beseeching the three kami

Posted in Ancestor worship, Kyoto shrines | Leave a comment

Jinja Honcho Communications Assistant

Chris Cooling, who has been working as Communications Assistant in the International Dept of Jinja Honcho since 2010

Green Shinto is delighted to carry the following exclusive interview with Chris Cooling, who works part-time as Communications Assistant in the International Section of Jinja Honcho (National Association of Shrines).

Chris was born in the steel town of Hamilton, Ontario but raised on Vancouver Island in the harbour town of Nanaimo B.C.  He first came to Japan for a couple of months on summer vacation from Canada in the late 1980’s with a guitar and a tent, and has been intrigued ever since. Graduating from university in Montreal, he returned to Nanaimo to work in carpentry and landscaping before coming back to Japan in 1997.  Apart from his work at Jinja Honcho, he runs a small independent travel company and plays music.

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1) How and when did you get the job, and have there been any foreigners attached to Jinja Honcho before?  

I had an acquaintance from Kyushu who ended up working at Jinja Honcho in the International Section. We had visited shrines together and enjoyed discussing Shinto and religious topics in general. Our talks, my interest in Shinto and perhaps my Japanese ability led her to suggest me as a candidate when the position became available. Interestingly, I was not asked about my own religious background at the interview but would have truthfully answered that I feel a closer affinity to the First Nation beliefs on the West Coast of Canada than any Christian denomination. That interview was back in July 2010. I do believe there were foreigners working in the International Section before myself but I have never met them.

2) Most Green Shinto readers will have heard of Jinja Honcho without knowing exactly what it is or does.  Could you give a brief description.

Jinja Honcho has roughly 76 employees, comprising 9 departments, a newspaper wing and an architectural office that provides services for shrine-related architecture. It was founded in 1946 as an umbrella organization to administer the some 80,000 shrines (current figure) in Japan following the Shinto Directive in December 1945 that separated religion and state. It promotes educational activities for worshipers, the training of Shinto priests and also focuses on preserving the rituals, festivals and cultural traditions of Shrine Shinto. It maintains a close relationship and reverence for the Grand Shrine of Ise in Mie Prefecture.

Iwahashi Katsuji, chief of the International Department at Jinja Honcho with whom Chris works

3) What exactly is the International Department, and what are its main activities? 

We presently have 4 staff including myself. The International Department’s main activities involve the publication of Shinto related materials in English and seminars for diplomats and other religious groups to better inform them of Shinto activities. There are also overseas trips to interfaith conferences and an increasingly important role as the link for international dialogue as Shinto is receiving more and more interest from around the world. This past year a lot of time was spent organizing the Traditions for the Future event, a historical gathering of religious leaders in Ise that included the United Nations. The International Section staff also take part in the ceremonies and rituals here at Jinja Honcho.

4) How about your own duties?  What kind of things have you been doing?

My own duties are quite varied. I do a lot of proofreading and some translation. I have also accompanied the President of Jinja Honcho overseas on a conference trip and participated in a number of diplomatic seminars. The job is also project based and I have been involved in developing the English website, publishing the very successful Soul of Japan booklet; as well as working with foreign press as a communications director for last year’s Shikinen Sengu (renewal ceremony) and this year’s Traditions for the Future symposium in Ise.

5) What is the most exciting or challenging thing you’ve had to do?

Well, that’s a difficult one but I guess one of the most exciting things was having the opportunity to witness the sacred rituals at Ise Jingu during the Shikinen Sengu in 2013. That was an experience I will cherish all my life.

In terms of the most challenging, I think my colleagues would agree that disseminating Shinto tradition in a respectful and understandable way to the international community continues to be a challenge and one which we continually strive to improve.

6) What would you say are the main concerns of Jinja Honcho at the moment? 

From the perspective of Jinja Honcho I don’t feel there are many major concerns except to maintain the smooth administration that has preceded it. Regarding the International Section and indirectly the greater role of Shinto, I think it is important for Jinja Honcho to keep an open mind towards the interfaith dialogue as well as the debate on environmental issues.  Sharing the traditions, wisdom and practices of Shinto with the international community through art exhibitions, conferences, publications and even festivals has a positive and important role to play in introducing this ancient faith to the world.

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For the English-language website of Jinja Honcho on which Chris has been working, please click on the following link: http://www.jinjahoncho.or.jp/en/.    For the Soul of Japan English-language booklet, click here.

The Jinja Honcho building next to Meiji Shrine in Tokyo, headquarters of the National Association of Shrines which includes nearly 80,000 shrines (photo by Chris Cooling)

Posted in International, Interviews | Leave a comment

Aikido (Jacques Payet)

Jacques Payet of the Mugenjuku aikido school in Kyoto demonstrates one of the techniques (courtesy aikidomugenjuku website)

 

Aikido is a Japanese martial art that does not rely on strength but is based on avoiding conflict and concentrates on using the momentum of the assailant.  It was developed by Ueshiba Morihei, who drew on Shinto traditions.

The following article is taken from Kyoto Journal Issue 79. (For the KJ website, see here.  For Facebook, click here.)

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The Enlightenment of Aikido by BRENDAN JOSEPH RIES, with an interview of Aikido instructor Jacques Payet

UESHIBA MORIHEI was enlightened with the philosophy of Aikido in 1925. Prior to his vision, he went through years of shugyo, or hard training, in different types of Budo such as Judo, Kendo, Kempo, Yagyu Shingan-ryu, Daitoryu Aiki-Jujutsu as well as continual spiritual elevation through the Oomoto-kyo religion. By introducing circular movements to Jujutsu, many of the dangerous locks and throws were eliminated. Perfect timing, hip power and blending with the opponent instead of direct collision were emphasized.

In 1933, Shioda Gozo, a well known Judo disciple, became one of Ueshiba Morihei’s first students and later uchi- deshi, or live-in apprentice. Due to the region’s tension at this time, Aikido training was tough and extremely rigorous.

After World War II, Shioda Gozo started his own Aikido school called Yoshinkan, or, “Cultivating the Spirit School,” based on the original stances and form taught to him by Ueshiba. Yoshinkan Aikido is often thought of as the “hard” style of Aikido because the methods are a product of the tense and rough training done before the war.

Shioda Gozo structured the style in a manner of consistency where students focus on basic techniques and a very strong stance is of vital importance. As Shioda states in his book Aikido Shugyo, “The difference I could see in Yoshinkan Aikido was the extreme importance given to the angles of the feet and position of the hands, the intent is for students to grasp each of the fundamental principles.”

Depending on the time you study with a teacher, your outlook will be quite different from another student. As for Ai- kido, there was a continual process of enlightenment happening before, during and after the war. Of course age also affects this learning. Students from around the world came to study with Ueshiba at different times of his own heightened development, and this is one obvious reason that the style of Aikido varies from dojo to dojo.

Aikido is difficult to master and truly exhibits the dynamic battle between ego and self. This battle is one I person- ally have been engaged in for more than a decade. Aikido does not rely on muscles and strength but concentrates the power of the whole body onto the weak point of an opponent forcing them to co-operate using their own force. Students work with each other in class practicing techniques as a community. It was very difficult to set my Western “competitive” nature aside from my initial training and not show my training opponent my own physical prowess. I compared myself to others, finding some better, others worse. This mindset impeded upon my initial progression in Aikido.

Courtesy of the Mugenjuku school website

Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with French Yoshinkan Aikido instructor, Jacques Payet, who, as a student of Shioda Gozo, developed the internationally known foreigner “Senshusei”, or specialist course. Payet-sensei, aside from having two Yoshinkan Aikido dojos in California, has recently started one in Kyoto, Japan.

In the past three years Payet-sensei has started a new full-time and part-time specialist course called “Kenshusei.” Payet’s mission in starting these “Mugenjuku” (School of Infinite Learning) dojos is to focus on the expansion of the self and realization through training. “The road to harmony,” as Aikido is defined, is not a road that one just starts and then finds sudden realization. Aikido is the continuing challenge of making oneself better through the lessening of ego. It is the person becoming their truest self and as Aikido sensei Jacques Payet states, “a way to become natural.”

The idea in the martial arts is that the teacher is not supposed to teach. The student is supposed to watch the teacher and take things from them. In order to do that, the student must be with the teacher as much as possible. The student has to take care of his needs. The student should focus on being in tune with the teacher and able to read any emotion.

Traditional teaching is that you can’t teach martial arts or Aikido by explanation, it’s by feeling, it’s heart-to-heart, so you have to be in tune with your teacher. You can learn without explanation, without talking. It’s a non-said kind of training. Also, you have to take uke (experience the technique from the sensei), because that is the only way to feel what the teacher is doing. That was the traditional approach.

The uchi-deshi lived at the dojo. We would train six hours and between the training we didn’t sit down. In between and after class you have to go into the office. Shioda Gozo would be in his office and next to his was an office for administration, where all the instructors would be. The role of the uchi-deshi was to learn awareness. Awareness meaning, as an example, if you see that there is no more tea, you pour the tea at the right moment.

One of the trainings that they were doing at this time, which I didn’t do because I was a foreigner, was quite interesting. The idea was to answer the phone right before it was going to ring. At the beginning, if the phone rings more than once, the idea is that you are dead. Those who let the phone ring more than once would be yelled at. Everybody would naturally rush, regardless of what they were doing when the phone rang. Some people became so good at this type of awareness that they often answered before it rang.

Payet with a group of students in Germany (courtesy aikidomugenjuku website)

Another interesting thing was in the office, Shioda Gozo and the instructors were in opposite rooms and the uchi-deshi were facing the front with the doors to our back. There were two doors, one at the back, one at the front and a corridor on each side with a toilet at the end. In the office you could hear talking and suddenly you would hear a door open. We didn’t know which door. We had to run to the door of the toilet just when Shioda Gozo arrived. It was all about timing and awareness because you couldn’t arrive too early or too late.

Timing is very important in Aikido. You have to face that naturally and without hesitation, just at the right moment you open the door and bow, you let him in and you wait outside. Just before you open you should have met and walked with him naturally so that you are in the right mind.

It takes a long time to get natural with it because you always miss something. That’s very hard training because you do it after training for six hours and your body is very tired and there is pressure, so, to be able to do that naturally, that was part of the mental training. And after that the training you prepare the bath. The ritual of the bath was also part of training with the same goal. To learn the proper distance, the proper mind and timing. So, that was the everyday training besides the initial six hours. Uchi- deshi was the opportunity to experience this balance of body and mind.

Shioda Gozo originally learned this concept of awareness from Ueshiba Morehei while he was uchi-deshi. There is one story that the uchi-deshi were sleeping in the dojo and suddenly Ueshiba came out of his room with a wooden sword and yelled a loud “kiai”—the uchi-deshi, half-asleep and bewildered turned on the lights and Ueshiba was standing with a dead rat at his feet he had just killed. He was very upset with Shioda Gozo and said “This rat was chewing away at the offerings I left for the gods. And you who were sleeping right here in front of the shrine, you mean to tell me that you didn’t know what was going on?!”

(courtesy of the aikidomugenjuku website)

I think what made me choose Aikido was probably my sensei’s personality more than the techniques. Shioda Gozo always had a very powerful laugh. I’ve never seen anyone laughing like that. It was really from inside and you could feel the energy and strength of life and always see and feel this vibrancy coming out of him. I thought if Aikido is like that, it is something valuable.

One of the reasons I’m teaching the way I am now is because I have seen Shioda Gozo in two aspects of his life. The first one was when he was in his sixties. He was still very vigorous, his technique was extremely powerful and in those days it was quite ferocious. When you approached him he was very nice, but you could sense danger. I had some fear of him at that time, so I couldn’t really communicate myself to him. It was also very tense in the dojo at that time as well you could feel a strong electricity, a very strange feeling. It was very martial and something dangerous. You had to worry about yourself and be fully aware of what was going on. The most important thing for every instructor at Yoshinkan in the early days was to have a strong and military focused behavior, you had to show that you’re strong.

Shioda Gozo had sponsors from the outside so there was no need for him to expand and cater to the students. He was not interested in getting a large group of students and felt that if students liked the hard training they could stay or leave.

Many of Ueshiba’s students studied with him at different stages. For instance, the earlier student like Gozo Shioda and the other generation are a completely different thing. He was teaching a totally different set of things, the mindset changed before the war, during the war and after. The earlier physical training with Shioda Gozo was quite different than what I experienced at the end of his life.

When I came back to Japan later, Shioda Gozo was in his seventies and quite a different person. He was an old man and a little lonely, so he wanted friends. It was difficult in Japan, because of tradition, and you couldn’t talk with your students face-to-face. The students were nervous around the teacher and had to act quiet, stand by and show distance. They couldn’t have a normal conversation with the sensei. Since I was a foreigner, these rules didn’t apply to me. We could be like father and son and he could just be a normal person. I feel very fortunate to have experienced this.

Courtesy aikidomugenjuku website

Also, on the technical aspect it was quite different. At the end of his life, he was very progressed, he would throw you and when you fell, you smiled. Even though it hurt at times, the timing was so great that you didn’t feel any resistance, like you were falling by yourself and were the only one to blame. When you landed, it didn’t seem like he had done anything. It was amazing, so you wanted to ask him to do it again. When we finished class we were very energized and everybody was laughing. That is the Aikido that I want to do.

The “senshusei” (specialist course) was started in the 50’s by Shioda Gozo for the riot police. The initial idea was to cultivate the police into having a very strong spirit. The best way for the younger generation to experience this intensity was to stop their duties for one year and solely practice Aikido. Generally it was voluntary and the course had about 10 officers a year who were interested in the martial arts and usually experienced in Kendo, Judo, or Karate.

Shioda Gozo wasn’t very interested in expansion and just wanted to have good, strong Aikido. If people didn’t like it, they could go away, that was his feeling. He was never overly polite to students and they could stay if they wanted. When I was uchi-deshi there were a lot of people coming at that time, every year they came from April to December.

In 1990, When I was at the Honbu Dojo, I noticed that there were a lot of foreign students around and they generally got very good training up to shodan (first degree black belt), and nidan (second degree black belt), but after that, they were left by themselves and there was no specific training to get them to a higher level. I thought it was a pity so in 1991, I asked Shioda Gozo permission to set up something as a pilot to the police course that would be aimed at educating for- eign instructors. He liked the idea and said, “Yes, just start.” So, that’s how the foreign senshusei course initially began. The first year we got about 12 people from all kinds of different countries. Yoshinkan Aikido’s foreigner senshusei course has become very successful internationally and it is still running. And now, the new kenshusei course has started in Kyoto as well.

MUGENJUKU The School of Infinite Learning

Courtesy aikidomugenjuku website

Aikido was a big challenge in the beginning because I was used to Karate and Ju-jitsu, which are very straightforward, you work and the result is right there. Aikido, at first, was very frustrating because I couldn’t do anything and I was never satisfied, there was no end, you never reach a place of satisfaction, there is always something you can’t do, or doesn’t work. Each challenge is different for each person. It took me some time to realize that the challenge is what’s so important. This conflict transformation of Aikido really builds up the spirit and character, something much more important than just getting results through basic techniques.

The mission statement for the “Mugenjuku” dojo might be described in Japanese as “shizentai,” which means to become natural. It is not to strive to be a warrior, or anything that you make, but an understanding of focus where obstacles are met at the right moment. I want a dojo where people do the right thing naturally, not because they have to do it for the sake of budo. The way I like to teach Aikido now is to be focused in a natural fashion, so the strength and energy comes without thought. I am not up to teaching from up to down, very strong with a militaristic mind state. That’s great as an experience and lesson, but, that doesn’t go that far. My idea of education and teaching is that it’s not something you force. You give the student some hint and try to open up something in their heart, so that they want to get more and more.

If the student isn’t ready, whatever you give them, it doesn’t go anywhere. As a teacher, you have to feel when is the right moment and give them just what they need at that time, a little something that opens up other things. My idea is that if Aikido is just to become strong and physical, I’m not going to spend my life on it and improve with that. I believe it is something much more important. At least I need to give my life to that.

So, what I want is to give students some inspiration and hints so they can do their own Aikido. It works, because they seem to innovate and to do their own research. I just guide them, when I see there is something wrong I just stop them, direct, but the momentum is there and its going to work, because its not from me, it is coming from inside of them.

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Jacques Payet is teaching Aikido in Kyoto, Japan. For more information on the Kenshusei course or regular classes please see the website here.

For a revealing documentary about the effectiveness of aikido, see this 44 minute NHK programme here.

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Posted in Martial arts and sumo | Leave a comment

Yasukuni visitors

A telltale illustration of how Yasukuni has become a political symbol for the far right comes today from Britain’s Daily Mail.  It shows the kind of bedfellows attracted by the provocations of prime minister Abe – definitely not the kind of company I would want to be keeping!

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Fury of PoWs after new leader of BNP visits shrine to Japanese war criminals who killed Allied troops in Second World War
By MARTIN DELGADO   26 July 2014 Daily Mail

BNP leader Adam Walker, who plans to visit Yasukuni Shrine, attracted by its far-right associations. (Daily Mail)

BNP leader Adam Walker plans to visit the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo
Planned trip has outraged veterans’ associations and former soldiers
Shrine is the most potent symbol of Japan’s militaristic past
Honours Japanese commanders and politicians judged to have committed war crimes

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The new leader of the BNP has been accused of insulting Britain’s war dead by visiting a shrine that honours Japanese war criminals responsible for the deaths of thousands of Allied troops and civilians during the Second World War.  Adam Walker’s visit to the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo has outraged veterans’ associations and former soldiers who worked in horrifying conditions as slave labourers on the bridge over the River Kwai.

Mr Walker, 45, who took over from Nick Griffin last week as chairman of the far-right British National Party, is himself a former soldier.  On its website, the BNP claims to be a ‘patriotic’ party that recognises the ‘huge sacrifice’ of British servicemen and women, yet the Yasukuni Shrine is the most potent symbol of Japan’s militaristic past.  Among those it honours are 14 Japanese military commanders and politicians judged by international tribunals to have committed the most heinous war crimes.

Last night, veterans expressed horror at his decision to visit there.  Robert Hucklesby, 93, spent nearly four years in Japanese prisoner- of-war camps and was forced to work on the River Kwai railway line linking Thailand and Burma.  Taken prisoner in Singapore in February 1942 and transported for hundreds of miles in a cattle truck, he weighed only 7st when he emerged from captivity, after surviving on a diet of rice and watery stew.

Mr Hucklesby, who was a sapper in the Royal Engineers, said: ‘The guards were brutal and hit us with their rifle butts for the slightest misdemeanour.  I am not a vindictive man but I do not have the authority to forgive and forget when so many of my comrades were so badly treated and thousands lie in war graves.’

 

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Yasukuni – think tank

Yasukuni Shrine – prime minister Abe has been advised to refrain from political point-scoring.          (photo Japan Today)

 

Abe should avoid Yasukuni shrine, says int’l think tank
Japan Today JUL. 25, 2014

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe should stay away from a controversial Tokyo war shrine, an international think tank said Thursday, as it offered ideas on defusing mounting Sino-Japanese tensions.

In a new report, the International Crisis Group (ICG) warned that Abe’s visit to the Yasukuni shrine last December “triggered a bitter argument as to whether Japan has fully atoned for its Second World War aggression, a still vivid sore in the region”.

The Brussels-based group also chided China for asserting greater authority over regional airspace, a move that it said “deepened Tokyo’s anxiety that Beijing desires both territory and to alter the regional order”.

“China should calm anti-Japan rhetoric, de-link wartime history from the islands dispute and open senior political channels to Japan,” said the group’s China analyst, Yanmei Xie, referring to a territorial dispute between both countries in the East China Sea.  “Japan should avoid actions and comments suggesting revisionist history views,” Xie added.

The 51-page report comes as Sino-Japanese relations have reached their lowest point in years and as both countries face the increased risk of a military clash.

Abe visits Yasukuni in 2013, provoking widespread outrage (courtesy AP)

It also comes weeks ahead of the August 15 anniversary of Japan’s World War II defeat, a date many politicians in Tokyo mark by visiting Yasukuni, where 14 top indicted war criminals are enshrined, as well as Japan’s dead from World War II and other conflicts.

China and South Korea see the shrine as a symbol of what they say is Tokyo’s unwillingness to repent for its aggressive warring last century. The U.S. tries to discourage visits, which it views as unnecessary provocation.

Abe, who drew condemnation from Seoul and Beijing with his December 26 trip to the shrine, has not indicated whether he plans to make a return visit next month. The conservative prime minister stayed away during a visit by nearly 150 Japanese lawmakers in April.

In its report, ICG warned that both countries should “refrain from escalatory actions” near a group of long-disputed East China Sea islands, called Diaoyu by Beijing and Senkaku by Japan.

“China should refrain from chasing Japanese fishing vessels and send no aircraft, including drones, into the airspace above or near the islands,” it said, adding that there had been “repeated close calls” as a result of Beijing’s willingness to “take risks to keep foreign vessels and aircraft away from its fleets”.  “Leadership in both countries needs to set a tone that prioritises diplomacy to calm the troubled waters,” it said.

© 2014 AFP

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MASSWIPE JUL. 25, 2014 – 11:34AM JST
No secret that Abe really, really wants to visit Yasukuni Shrine as prime minister on 15 August. He’s never done so before in the capacity of prime minister (his only two previous chances were in 2007 and 2013, and he avoided Yasukuni on 15/8 both times). My guess–Abe will visit Yasukuni on 15 August of 2015, the 70th anniversary of Japan’s surrender, provided he’s still in office as prime minister.  So maybe not this year, but next.

And I’ve written this before–the real problem at the Yasukuni grounds area is not the shrine itself, but the Yushukan located museum right next to it. That place is ridiculous and is analogous to a US History museum designed by a bunch of John Birch Society right-wing extremists being located right next to Arlington national cemetery.

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Gion Ato Matsuri 2) Kanko-sai

Turning the mikoshi round and round while shouting 'mawase' is a highlight of the event

 

From this year July 24 has become a busy day for Kyoto.  In the morning 10 mighty floats parade through the city centre.  They are joined by a Hanagasa procession from Yasaka Jinja to make a pleasing spectacle for the enjoyment of the kami – and the thousands of people who come to watch.

In the afternoon and evening of the same day, the three mikoshi (portable shrines) bearing the kami of Yasaka Jinja are borne aloft and carried back to the shrine in an event known as Kanko-sai.  The three mikoshi travel three different routes through the town’s back streets to reach their destination, taking over four hours in all.  There are some 1000 men involved, hoisting the massively heavy mikoshi aloft and jostling them up and down as they shout out ‘hoitto‘ and other ejaculations.  Many of the participants had been drinking beforehand, making it a wild frenzy of an event, capturing something of the primal connections of mankind and the life-force.

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For an overview of the festival, click here.  For the main parade, see here, and the evening before here.  For an in-depth 28min NHK programme in English, click here.

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Carrying the mikoshi is so heavy people have to take it in turns to bear the weight

 

The mikoshi even enter the shopping arcade, heading for the covered food market

 

Learning to be Japanese at a young age

 

The priest resisted the lure of Liption tea

 

Some participants dressed the part but had other things on their mind...

 

... while others just displayed bare-bottomed cheek!

 

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Gion Ato Matsuri 1) Yoiyama

Star of this year's festival – the Ofune float representing the ship in which legendary Empress Jingu sailed for Korea. Rebuilt after 150 years, following its destruction in the Great Fire of 1864, it is the last in the July 24 parade of floats. On its side it carries sixteenth-century fabrics from Portugal.

 

The Hachiman float bears a torii, pine tree and shrine dedicated to the kami

It’s been a busy week for Kyoto.

The second parade of the Gion Matsuri, which took place on July 24, celebrates the return of the Yasaka Shrine kami from their week-long ‘holiday’ in the city centre where they reside in a resting place known as otabisho. The parade of floats takes place in the morning to entertain the kami, who are moved in an afternoon procession of mikoshi known as Kanko-sai.

In the evenings before the parade people are able to walk around the floats and view the treasures on display as well as pray at the shrines.  Religious goods are on sale, and there is a general atmosphere of festivity.  As this is the second time for this to happen within a week, crowds are far fewer than for the Saki Matsuri (Preceding Festival).

The occasion offers the perfect opportunity to view the floats in greater detail and to talk with some of the participants.  It brings one close to the neighbourly nature of the festival.  And according to old-timers, it’s much more like the Gion Festival of old when one could wander around at leisure rather than be crushed by the tourist throngs in the sweltering heat.

The quiet conditions of the Ato Matsuri allow leisurely access to the float buildings where the religious purpose of the festival is apparent.

 

The diversity of float subjects can be seen at the Kurunushi yama, which honours a Heian-era poet, Otomo Kurunushi. One of the Six Saints of Poetry in the Heian Era, he is represented by a sacred figure which dates back to 1789.

 

The Kurunushi float has cherry blossom, of which the poet was fond. Since Kuronushi means black lacquer, the float is different from others in not being bare wood but black-lacquered.

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