Fuji Self-Sacrifice

Green Shinto is privileged to carry this piece by Pat Ormsby, a licensed priest with Kompira Shrine.  Resident in the environs of Mt Fuji, she has written previously about the Seven Sacred Trails up the mountain.  She also has a unique insight as a foreigner into the Fuji-ko sect rituals, which she attends, and in the piece below she writes of one of the earliest leaders of the sect, Jikigyo Miroku (1671-1733).

(For an interview with Pat Ormsby, please click here.)

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The Self-Sacrifice of Jikigyo Miroku

By Patricia Ormsby, in memoriam of Michael C. Ruppert

Background
Confucianism is a philosophical tradition that has had a major impact throughout the Orient. According to one expert, Royall Tyler, “The essential character of what I call here a ‘Confucian mode of thought’ is an absorbing religious or philosophical concern with achieving, and more particularly, with maintaining a stable and harmonious society. It goes without saying that Confucianism has an essential ethical dimension and that it has much to say about self-cultivation…” (1)

The major concerns of the medieval period in Japan (1185-1600), a time of constant warring, had to do less with that than with suffering, passions and enlightenment, which Buddhism addressed. During the prosperous Tokugawa reign (Edo Period, 1600-1860s), however, Buddhism took a backseat to new religions, with three historical figures of note, Suzuki Shosan, an unorthodox Zen master; Hasegawa Kakugyo, founder of the Mt. Fuji faith; and Jikigyo Miroku, a popular leader of the 1700s who turned the Fuji faith into a major movement, the Fuji Confraternity.

A photo of Fuji Confraternity members from the early twentieth century (exhibited in the Togawa Oshi house)

The Fuji Confraternity
The Fuji Confraternity incorporated elements of nature worship (i.e., folk Shinto), Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism, and also bore some influences from Christianity, which had recently been popular and then was banned in Japan.  Having finally achieved peace, the people of Japan wanted to ensure its stability and a time of prosperity for all, much like the Christian concept of the “millennium” after a time of terrific traumas and a major die-off, but they associated this not directly with the outlawed Christianity, but with the Buddhist concept of the Maitreya bodhisattva (Miroku in Japanese), a future Buddha who it is said will appear at a time when all Dharma has been forgotten, and will bring about a period of enlightenment. (2)

Jikigyo’s Life
On Jikigyo Miroku, the Encyclopedia of Shinto (3) explains,

“His lay name was Ito Ihei, and he was born to a peasant family [in 1671 near Ise]. He moved to Edo [now Tokyo] at the age of thirteen, where he worked at a kimono fabric shop. A hometown compatriot introduced him to the cult of Mount Fuji, known as Fuji Shinko, and in 1687 he took the religious name of Jikigyo [meaning “fasting practice”]. The following year he made a pilgrimage to the summit of Mount Fuji, where he experienced an eschatological revelation that the “renewal of the world of Maitreya” (Jp. Miroku) was beginning.

In 1717 Jikigyo became the sixth leader of the Fujiko confraternity and in 1722 added the appellation Miroku to his religious title. In addition to his business activities, he conducted an aggressive proselytizing campaign, appealing to all potential converts, regardless of who they were…Jikigyo’s distinguishing hallmark was [his] focus on interior faith.”

Jikigyo prophesized that he would die on Mt. Fuji at age 68. To put his life and faith in perspective, commoners were not allowed to travel freely across Japan during the Edo Period. Only religious pilgrimage was allowed. The cost of that, however, was equal to a farmer’s annual income. (4)

Even now, when travel has become nearly prosaic, we can still relate to it as a life-altering experience, giving new insights and inspirations. The word “cult” has been used a lot in reference to the Fuji Confraternity. Because of its popularity, the authorities considered it a potential threat, and they tried banning certain of its practices. More than once its leaders were interrogated on suspicion of Christianity. The followers, however, found ways to observe the letter of the law while fulfilling their need for spiritual sustenance.

 

For Fuji-ko members, the foot of the volcano represented this world and the rarefied air of the summit enlightenment.

 

Mount Fuji
To Shugendo pilgrims (Buddhism combined with Shinto, of which the Fuji faith continues to be one part) the plains and villages at the foot of Mt. Fuji represented this world, of mundane concerns; the deep, dark mossy forests on black lava fields of its middle reaches, the transition—perhaps death; and the bare slopes, rarefied air and fabulous views from the summit, enlightenment.

Tyler (1) again:

Pilgrimage costume of the Fuj-ko Confraternity

“Jikigyo, as he admitted, had no learning whatsoever. Certain writings of his are nonetheless revered in the Fuji cult, though the only one published is entitled Sanjuichinichi no maki [31-Days’ Scroll]. This document contains Jikigyo’s last teaching. Perhaps it was transcribed from Jikigyo’s oral instruction by a disciple, it is not as badly written as Jikigyo’s letters, but the Fuji cult was assuredly not a literary movement.

“Jikigyo’s spelling of the name Miroku (which he received, spelling and all, from Sengen [goddess of Mt. Fuji]) is highly significant. Mi means oneself, or myself, but it also means mibun, or one’s station in life. Roku, the word for a samurai’s stipend, is the material largess which one receives from above, from a lord, from heaven, or, as in this case, from Sengen. It is also a pun on roku, flat, or straight. Thus the name Miroku evokes a plenty to be enjoyed in average life by the average, but true and honest man.

“Jikigyo was assiduous in the cult and never missed the regular annual ascent of Fuji. Indeed, it is recorded that when he and his ko [fraternity] lodged at the Yoshida-guchi (on the north side of the mountain), he performed his devotions so loudly and late into the night that his fellow ko members were unable to sleep. At last they complained to the oshi (guide) [in essence, ‘travel agent’] in charge of their quarters. When Jikigyo refused to desist, he was expelled from the building. Unfortunately, his reputation was such that no other oshi would have him. Only one Tanabe Juroemon was at last willing to take him in. This Tanabe became an important disciple and attended Jikigyo during his last days.

By the time of this incident, Jikigyo had probably already done the inevitable: he had given away all of his personal wealth to the clerks and manager of his business.

The Age of Miroku
Jikigyo announced the coming of the Age of Miroku. He traveled and everywhere saw evidence of misrule and injustice. He continued to have visions from Sengen, who instructed him to advance his plan by five years. That plan was to “achieve perfect union with Sengen by fasting to death on the summit of Mt. Fuji.” (1)

He had a portable shrine about three feet high made and transported in from Edo, and he sat in this shrine as he fasted. Only he was not allowed to sit at the summit of Mt. Fuji. True to the authoritarian nature of the time, the Sengen Shrine, which had jurisdiction over the summit forbade him to do so at the last minute.

He nonetheless fulfilled his vow to help all sentient beings at a crag called Eboshi-iwa, a few hundred meters down from the summit on the north slope. He drank only one cup of snow water each day, possessed almost continuously by Sengen. Tanabe Juroemon, who was assisting him, transcribed his messages. On the 30th day, he said, “Well, now I am going home.” He recited the litanies of Fuji and closed his eyes. Tanabe wept, closed the doors of the shrine, heaped rocks over it and descended.

Monument of Jikigyo Miroku near Shiraito_Falls (Wikicommons)

Jikigyo’s Death and Teachings
His death was a sensation. The tabloids of the time, single page block prints hawked on street corners in Edo, spread the news, and the cult grew rapidly.

Jikigyo was actually not quite dead then. Tanabe went back up and heard a voice from within the pile of stones. The voice stressed Jikigyo’s four cardinal principles: uprightness, compassion, kindness and frugality. Tanabe stayed around, but after repeated inquiries brought no response, he finally went back down again.

Another lesson Jikigyo repeatedly stressed, that undoubtedly contributed to the success of the Fuji Confraternity, was the essential equality of all people, including women, who he believed should be judged on their achievements rather than their status. He urged the practice of Confucianism, with its emphasis of diligence on one’s proper work in this world. In this way, he never constituted a threat to the hierarchy of Japan’s society at that time. He recognized the class divisions, but he emphasized their unity.

Jikigyo was a difficult man, but his life and death had, and continue to have, a big impact.

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1Tyler, Royall (1997) “The Tokugawa Peace and Popular Religion: Suzuki Shosan, Kakugyo Tobutsu, and Jikigyo Miroku.” In: Peter Nosco, ed., Confucianism and Tokugawa Japan, pp.92-119. (Where not noted otherwise, my information on Jikigyo comes from this source.)
2 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maitreya
3 http://eos.kokugakuin.ac.jp/modules/xwords/entry.php?entryID=464
4 http://ichinen-fourseasonsinjapan.blogspot.jp/2013/07/mount-fuji-4.html worth reading!  Provides great photos and a sense of the places the worshippers visited.

8th Station of the ascent of Mt Fuji, at the Ganso Muro hut where a small shrine has been erected. The steps to the right lead up to the spot where Jikigyo Miroku died. (photo by Kenji Saito)

Posted in Fuji, Shinto sects | Leave a comment

More on hemp

There is a long article on a website entitled Hemp Culture in Japan by David Olsen, which covers the plant’s many connections with traditional culture.  Though the author is evidently not an expert on Shinto, he does make reference to a large number of books, as can be seen in the extract below from the full-length piece.  (For those wishing to read the whole piece or follow up on the book references, please click here.)  It’s worth noting that hemp is a variant of the cannabis plant; marijuana is a different variant.

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Hemp Culture in Japan by David Olsen

Hemp was already a well-established crop by the time written language and recorded history appear during the Yayoi Period.   The indigenous Ainu on the northern island of Hokkaido made their colorful costumes from hemp fiber during this period, circa the 3rd century AD (Constantine 1992).   These people lived in patriarchal clan groups and wore clothes of hemp and bark.   Also, the complex Shinto system of multiple patriarchal deities developed as numerous clans each adopted a patron saint. (Hooker 1996)

Hemp field in France (courtesy Wikicommons)

A few centuries later, Bukkyo (Buddhism) made a similar journey starting from India across the Himalayas to China, on to the Hermit Kingdom of Korea, and ending up in Japan.  In the long migration from India to China, the teachings of the Buddha were modified.  However, from China to Korea, the basic tenets remained unchanged.

Upon arriving to Japan however, the natives adapted and intertwined Buddhism with both the traditional mythological religion of Shinto and their reverence for hemp.  Shinto is the ancient ‘way of the gods’, a ritualistic expression of profound respect for the kami (the intrinsic god-like spirit) in nature.  Purity and fertility are held paramount, and hemp is considered a symbol of both.

The Kojiki (the native chronicle of Japan) relates that after creating Japan, the ‘primal pair’ [Izanagi and Izanami] consulted each other saying, “We have now produced the great eight-island country, with the mountains, rivers, herbs and trees.  Why should we not produce someone who shall be lord of the universe.” (Moore 1991)  This pair then begot the founding goddess-figure, Amaterasu Omikami (sun goddess) who is enshrined at Ise.

The prayer recited at the shrine is called Taima (hemp) [Jingu taima refers in fact to the Ise amulet].   Hemp [seed], salt and rice are the sacred staples that are used as part of all the rites at the shrine (Yamada 1995).  The emperor himself is regarded as a direct descendant of these gods and acts as the high priest of the folkloric Shinto belief.

“At Shinto jinja (shrines) and Buddhist tera (temples), certain objects are symbolically made from hemp.  For example, the leg-thick bell ropes, and the noren, a short curtain that hangs over the doorways and brushes the top of the head as one enters the room, must be hempen.  The noren acts as a symbolic purification rite, meant to cause evil spirits to flee from the body.” (Robinson 1996)

Indeed, the Shinto priests and faithful used hemp fibers as symbolic elements in their religious ceremonies.  One such use was the waving of a gohei (a short stick) with undyed hemp fibers attached to the end.  Shaking these asa fibers above the patron’s heads apparently drove the evil spirits from the soul.   Further, hemp was a symbolic gift of acceptance and obedience from the groom’s family to the bride’s in times of matrimony (Robinson 1996).

Historically, the priests dressed in hemp robes as well.  It is in death that Shinto and Buddhism blend into a common braid.   The relatives continue to visit the graves, leaving offerings and praying in the Buddhist way.  Yet at home, a family shrine with the departed’s picture and memorabilia is tended in the Shinto tradition with hand claps, incense, and worshipping of the kami (deity) within.

The Japanese traveled long distances searching for salt, seeking enlightenment and following pilgrimages.  In olden times, these merchants, wandering pilgrims and traveling believers were obliged to leave an offering to the sahe no kami (protective deities) before embarking on a journey.  “These deities were represented by phalli, often of gigantic size, which were set up along highways, and especially at cross-roads, to bar passage of malignant beings who sought to pass . . .  Standing as they did on the roadside and at cross-roads, these gods became the protectors of the wayfarers; travelers prayed to them before setting out on a journey and made a little offering of hemp leaves and rice to each one they passed.”(Moore 1991)

Hemp has various practical uses, including string and clothing (courtesy Rakuten)

In another old tradition, rooms of worship were purified by burning hemp leaves by the entrance.  This would invite the spirits of the departed, purify the room and encourage people to dance.  “On the first evening, fires of hemp leaves are lighted be-fore the entrance of the house, and incense strewed on the coals, as an invitation to the spirits. At the end of the three days, the food that has been set out for the spirits is wrapped up in mats and thrown into a river.  Dances of a peculiar kind are a conspicuous feature of the celebration, which is evidently an old Japanese custom; the Buddhist elements are adscititious (derived from outside).” (Moore 1991).

This ritual took place as part of a Buddhist holy day for “giving respect and making amends with departed ancestors”.   The current tradition at this August Obon festival involves the similar practice of leaving offerings of the departed’s favorite foods on the grave, perhaps to purify or satisfy the restless soul.  At some time in the past, hemp leaves were likely a part of this ritual as well.

Zen (the meditative Taoist-influenced branch of Buddhism) was especially influenced by hemp.  Samurai (elite warriors) and scholars who followed the subtle tenets of Zen express hemp’s inspiration in arts like haiku (short poems), aikido (a martial art), kyudo (archery) and chanoyu (tea ceremony).

A well-known children’s adventure story tells about a technique used by ninja (warriors) to improve jumping skills.  The student ninja plants a batch of hemp when he begins training and endeavors to leap over it every day.  At first this is no challenge, but the hemp grows quickly everyday and so does the diligent ninja’s jumping ability.   By the end of the season, the warrior can clear the 3-4 meter high hemp.  This certainly attests as much for hemp’s vitality as the ninja’s ability (Mayuzumi 1996, Masuda 1996).

The formal dress of the Samurai warriors was hempen as were the training clothes of meditators and martial artists.  In kyudo (archery) the bow’s string is specifically hemp, which reflects a connection with the meditative practice of Zen as well as hemp’s toughness as a fiber (Mayuzumi 1996).

In an elaborate, pre-bout ceremony called dohyo-iri, the reigning Sumo wrestling grand champion Yokuzuma carries a giant hemp rope around his ample girth to purify the ring and exorcise the evil spirits.  This continues even today, as the belt worn by Hawaiian-born champion Akebono is also made of hemp (Wein 1996-97).

Sumo champion Akebono doing the 'dohyo-iri' ritual (courtesy chijanofuji)

Hemp is also being grown in Nagano Prefecture for making the bell ropes, curtains and other essential goods for Shinto and Buddhist houses of worship (Maeda 1995).  In this area, the hemp tradition lives on in festivals and dance.  The Japan National Tourist Organization tells about this in their on-line brochure:

“Oasahiko Shrine: Just walking to this quiet shrine is a lovely experience.  On either side of the road are 400 to 500-year-old black pines designated a Prefectural Natural Monument.  Several wonderful festivals are held here: . . . a lion dance (shishi mai) in November to honor the god who brought hemp and cotton to the province . . .”

On the smallest of the four main Japanese islands (Shikoku) hemp is grown for the use of the imperial family.  When Emperor Hirohito died in 1989, a coronation was held for his heir.  Since Hirohito’s son was succeeding him as the ‘living entity of God’, there was to be a special Shinto ritual.  In Shinto beliefs, hemp symbolizes purity, and the new emperor was bound by tradition to wear hemp garments, which had become unavailable over the course of his father’s long rule.

When a new Emperor ascends the throne in Japan, specific symbolic rituals and ceremonies usher in the passing into the new era.   Even the years in modern times are measured by the Emperor’s years of reign, indeed history is divided into eras of rulers.  As hemp is a symbol of purity in the Shinto tradition, the Emperor wears hemp robes for many of the ceremonies.  The principal ceremony is called “Great rice offering” and while the details are a secret, there must be a roll of hemp waiting at the foot of the royal futon at the end of the day.

Since the last occurrence (pre W. W. II, Emperor Hirohito), hemp had been criminalized.  A group of Shinto farmers in Tokushima-ken had thought ahead, planted a symbolic yet illegal crop, and presented the emperor with his new clothes made of pure local hemp (Gruett 1994, Bennet 1997). They are still producing this hemp crop for the exclusive use of the imperial family.

In the village of Koyadaira-mura and Yamakawa-cho town, the country people spun and wove the cloth into the sacred fabric called “aratae” (fine cloth) 13 meters long and 34 centimeters wide.   The villagers presented it to the Imperial family so the ritual could go on (Bennet 1997).  These farmers were rewarded for their efforts and continue to cultivate pure hemp exclusively for the Imperial family on their semi-tropical island between the “Seto-kai” (Inland sea) and the Pacific Ocean.

Household accessories such as washcloths and curtains continue to be sold, but are made from Chinese and Korean hemp.  More recently, new hemp products from Western hemp manufacturers are taking off … Some Japanese realize this is an indirect trade.

“The struggle to liberate and revive hemp is therefore a struggle to renew Japanese culture and liberate the country from the occupation policies and colonial subjugation of the United States.  Speaking spiritually, I believe this struggle is every bit as important as the movement in Okinawa today for the removal of the American bases.  We are talking about physical and spiritual independence.” (Yamada 1995)

The national government also continues to maintain its own seed reserves.  Since 1946, when Cannabis hemp was in short supply due to the war, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Medicinal Plant Garden has maintained a seed stock and bred varieties of asa for research at a large secure complex in suburban Tokyo.  Given the Japanese knack for detail and research, it is certainly a valuable cache of information and genetics.  The director, Torao Shimizu, maintains that the plants are just to teach people what hemp looks like so they can dispose of it should it be found it growing in their area (Lazarus 1994).  While the original intent seems to have been for medicinal use of Cannabis, this motive has been lost under a cloud of paranoia, though the use of seeds for medicine is common information.  “The seeds are used as bird seed and can also be used as a medicine (asashijingan), as a mild laxative” (Kojien 1991, Wein 1997).

Posted in Folklore, Social values | 1 Comment

Emperor and Yasukuni

On a day when self-declared nationalist, prime minister Shinzo Abe, has again made a political statement by sending an offering to Yasukuni, it’s worth remembering the attitude of Emperor Hirohito.  As revealed in a document in 2006, because of the enshrinement of war criminals there he made a decision never to worship at the shine again.  (The article below comes from The Telegraph, July 21, 2006.)

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Why Hirohito snubbed the Yasukuni Shrine  By Colin Joyce in Tokyo  (21 Jul 2006)

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/1524492/Why-Hirohito-snubbed-the-Yasukuni-Shrine.html?fb

The late Emperor Hirohito stopped paying respects to Japan’s war dead at the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo because he objected to the enshrinement there of war criminals.

(Photo courtesy The Telegraph)

Yesterday’s disclosure, contained in a recently discovered memo, is a devastating blow to nationalists who believe Yasukuni is the only proper place for Japanese to honour countrymen killed in wars since the mid-19th century.

The document, written by one of Hirohito’s closest aides, shows that he shared concerns that the shrine was sullied by the inclusion of the 14 Class A war criminals deemed most responsible for leading Japan into the Second World War.

The men, including the wartime prime minister Hideki Tojo, were either executed by the Americans after the war or died in prison. They were enrolled at Yasukuni in a secret Shinto ceremony in 1978.”After that enshrinement I never worshipped there again. That was my conscience,” Hirohito is quoted as saying in the document from 1988, the year before his death.

There is little doubt about the authenticity of the memo, found among the notebooks of Tomohiko Tomita, the former head of the Imperial Household Agency. Mr Tomita, who died in 2002, was a confidant of the emperor.

The Showa Emperor, known in the West as Hirohito

Hirohito did not visit Yasukuni after 1978 and his son, Emperor Akihito, has never visited since he succeeded. Until now the reason for this has been a matter of debate but nationalists must face the fact that their views clash with those of Hirohito, whom they revere.

Hirohito had particularly objected to the enshrinement of the wartime foreign minister Yosuke Matsuoka and Toshio Shiratori, the former ambassador to Rome who was instrumental in allying Japan to Nazi Germany and fascist Italy.  Experts say Hirohito rarely criticised individuals yet the memo quotes him saying: “They even enshrined Matsuoka and Shiratori.”

Japanese emperors are not simply heads of state but central figures in the Shinto religion. Hirohito’s views will strengthen the argument for the inclusion of the criminals at Yasukuni to be reversed.

“There will be no solution unless Class A war criminals are worshipped separately or if another memorial facility, which has no links to a particular religion, is built,” said Taku Yamasaki, from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

Posted in Nationalism, Yasukuni | Leave a comment

Cannabis

Japan has some of the harshest punishments for cannabis use in the world.  One might presume this stems from the country’s dedication to hard work and efficiency, but it’s rather the legacy of the US occupation after WW2.  In fact, historically the country has been very favourable to growing cannabis, and 160 kilometers north of Tokyo is a dedicated museum to the subject run by Takayasu Junichi.

The Japan Times carries a lengthy interview with the museum head today, in which its use in Shinto is touched upon.  It’s a topic that Green Shinto has covered previously in a posting entitled High on Hemp.  Hemp and mariujana, incidentally, come from two different types of the cannabis plant.  (The following is an extract; for the full Japan Times article, please see here.)

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Cannabis: the fiber of Japan  BY JON MITCHELL (Japan Times)

Priestess with a head band made of hemp

“Most Japanese people see cannabis as a subculture of Japan but they’re wrong,” Takayasu says. “Cannabis has been at the very heart of Japanese culture for thousands of years.”

According to Takayasu, the earliest evidence of cannabis in Japan dates back to the Jomon Period (10,000-200 B.C.), with pottery relics recovered in Fukui Prefecture containing seeds and scraps of woven cannabis fibers. “Cannabis was the most important substance for prehistoric people in Japan,” he says. “They wore clothes made from its fibers and they used it for bow strings and fishing lines.”

It is likely that the variety of cannabis from which these Jomon Period fibers originated was cannabis sativa. Tall-growing and valued for its strong stems, it is from sativa strains that today’s specially bred industrial hemp is derived.

In the following centuries, cannabis continued to play a key role in Japan — particularly in Shintoism, the country’s indigenous religion. Cannabis was revered for its cleansing abilities so priests used to wave bundles of its leaves to bless believers and exorcise evil spirits. This significance survives today with the thick ceremonial ropes woven from cannabis fibers that are displayed at shrines. Shinto priests are also known to decorate their wands with strips of the gold-colored rind of cannabis stalks.

Cannabis was also important in the lives of ordinary people. According to early 20th-century historian George Foot Moore, Japanese travelers historically used to present small offerings of cannabis leaves at roadside shrines to ensure safe journeys. He also noted how, during the summer Bon festival, families burned bundles of cannabis in their doorways to welcome back the spirits of the dead.

At Obon people used to burn bunches of cannabis to call back the dead

Until the mid-20th century, cannabis was cultivated all over Japan, particularly in Tohoku and Hokkaido, and it frequently cropped up in literature. As well as references to cannabis plants in ninja training, they also feature in the “Manyoshu” — Japan’s oldest collection of poems — and the Edo Period (1603-1868) book of woodblock prints, “Wakoku Hyakujo.” In haiku poetry, too, key words describing the stages of cannabis cultivation denoted the season when the poem is set.

“Cannabis farming used to be a year-round cycle,” Takayasu says. “The seeds were planted in spring then harvested in the summer. Following this, the stalks were dried then soaked and turned into fiber. Throughout the winter, these were then woven into cloth and made into clothes ready to wear for the next planting season.”

With cannabis playing such an important material and spiritual role in the lives of Japanese people, one obvious question arises: Did people smoke it?

Takayasu, along with other Japanese cannabis experts, isn’t sure. Although historical records make no mention of the practice, some historians have speculated that cannabis may have been the drug of choice for commoners. Whereas rice — and the sake brewed from it — was monopolized by the upper classes, cannabis was grown widely and was freely available.

Some scientific studies also suggest high levels of psychoactive tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in cannabis plants in Japan. According to one survey published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in 1973, cannabis plants from Tochigi and Hokkaido clocked THC levels of 3.9 percent and 3.4 percent, respectively. As a comparison, the University of Mississippi’s Marijuana Potency Monitoring Project revealed that average THC levels in marijuana seized by U.S. police in the 1970s were only around 1.5 percent.

Nor are Japanese people averse to taking advantage of the medicinal benefits of cannabis. Long an ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine, cannabis-based cures were available from Japanese drug stores to treat insomnia and relieve pain in the early 20th century.

However, the 1940s — in particular, World War II — marked a major turning point in the story of Japanese cannabis production.

One of the few licensed farms allowed today in Tochigi, Tohoku (photo by Takaysu Junicihi)

At first, the decade started well for farmers. “During World War II, there was a saying among the military that without cannabis, the war couldn’t be waged,” Takayasu says. “Cannabis was classified as a war material, used by the navy for ropes and the air force for parachute cords. Here in Tochigi Prefecture, for example, half of the cannabis crop was set aside for the military.”

Following the country’s defeat in 1945, however, the U.S. authorities occupying Japan brought with them American attitudes toward cannabis. Washington had effectively outlawed cannabis in the United States in 1937 and now it moved to ban it in Japan. In July 1948, with the nation still under U.S. occupation, it passed the Cannabis Control Act — the law that remains the basis of anti-cannabis policy in Japan today.

There are a number of different theories as to why the U.S. outlawed cannabis in Japan. Some believe it was based upon a genuine desire to protect Japanese people from the evils of narcotics, while others point out that the U.S. allowed the sale of over-the-counter amphetamines to continue until 1951. Several cannabis experts argue that the ban was instigated by U.S. petrochemical interests in a bid to shut down the Japanese cannabis fiber industry, opening the market to man-made materials such as polyester and nylon.

Takayasu locates the cannabis ban within the wider context of U.S. attempts to reduce the power of the Japanese military.  “In the same way that U.S. authorities discouraged kendo and judo, the 1948 Cannabis Control Act was a way to undermine militarism in Japan,” he says. “The wartime cannabis industry had been so dominated by the military that the Cannabis Control Act was designed to strip away its power.”

Whatever the motivation, the U.S. decision to prohibit cannabis created panic among Japanese farmers. In an effort to calm their fears, Emperor Hirohito visited Tochigi Prefecture in the months prior to the ban to reassure farmers they would be able to continue to grow in defiance of the new law — a surprisingly subversive statement.

For several years, the Emperor’s reassurances proved true and cannabis cultivation continued unabated. In 1950, for example, there were approximately 25,000 cannabis farms nationwide. In the following decades, however, this number plummeted. Takayasu attributes this to a slump in demand caused by the popularity of artificial fibers and the costs of the new licenses cannabis farmers were required to possess under the 1948 act.

Nowadays, Takayasu said, there are fewer than 60 licensed cannabis farms in Japan — all of which are required to grow strains of cannabis containing minimal levels of THC.

Posted in General, Social values | 3 Comments

Word power (kotodama)

Recently I had occasion to re-read David Morley’s Pictures from the Water Trade (1985), one of many books to describe a foreigner’s coming to terms with living in Japan.  It won praise at the time of its publication, and even though much of the book has dated, there are striking scenes that linger in the mind.

Priest reading out a prayer in the archaic language of the 'norito'

What distinguishes the novel from lesser works is the author’s interpretation of Japanese culture through the peculiarities of the language.  It’s thought that the sound of words in Shinto can have a power over and beyond their meaning, and this is known as kotodama (word spirit). It’s essentially a belief in magic, in that the sounds themselves are said to produce an effect in the real world.  It is why the wording of Norito prayers is thought to be of such importance.

In the passage below, Morley notes the ritualistic use of language in Japanese everyday life. Though it’s not explicit as such, I think there’s a link here with kotodama and the religious use of language in Shinto.  What’s of particular interest is the connection Morley makes with Japan’s propensity to natural disasters, for it’s been often said that Shinto was shaped by the geographical conditions of the country.  Appeasing  deities in order to prevent cataclysm was a strong motivating factor for early kami worship.

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There was an element of superstition in the use of language, which Boon had hitherto only noticed in dead languages such as Anglo-Saxon and Latin.  Relics of archaicism, of course, are to be found in all languages. Goodbye is archaic, and so is any liturgy; speech which has become fossilised, which has acquired its power or nourished a belief in its power as a result of unvarying repetition over many centuries: speech with talismanic properties.  It was Boon’s impression, however, that the function of language as prophylaxis and invocation characterised Japanese on a much grander scale.

When the emperor made his famous broadcast announcing the capitulation of the Japanese at the end of the war his speech was unintelligible to the majority of his people.  The special use of language evolved for the imperial family, of what might be termed imperial aimai [vagueness], was grounded in the belief that a form of speech so removed from the language of his common subjects as to be virtually impenetrable was a proper symbol of the emperor’s inaccessibility.  Sustained euphemism making up a distinct language, isolating the emperor from verbal contamination, supplied a clear example of the superstitious use of words.

The formulaic use of language, a supersititious belief in the power of words, a declared trust in intuitive feeling and distaste for the logic that ignores reality: what was then this ultimate reality which superstition sought to appease, which only feeling could discern and with which logic was allegedly unable to cope?  Boon decided that an answer to this question would have to allow for the unpredictability and violence of the natural conditions under which the inhabitants of the Japanese islands had always lived.

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Japan - a land of shifting tectonic plates, volcanoes, and earthquakes

 

 

 

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The Way of the Flute

Fue and Shinto by Graham Ranft

Australian Graham Ranft seeking harmony with self and nature through the fue (photo by Peter Hislop, Canberra 2013)

In this current digital/digitised age I wonder if the appeal of Shinto for Westerners is about a more natural spirituality and also as a way of reconnecting with that world we lose as we ‘grow up’ and dimly perceive a sense of loss as we get older.

I would suspect that many westerners who are surrounded by the tumultuous avalanche of ‘noise pollution’ – both visual and actual sound, and maybe being more sensitive to this – are looking for some escape or at very least ‘getting back to basics’.  In a kind of paradoxical way ‘tuning out’.

I use the word pollution quite deliberately as this has a Shinto meaning as I understand it that is separate from a ‘western’ meaning.

How does this relate to playing the Nōhkan fue [flute]?

The Nōhkan fue is a 7-holed transverse flute with equally sized and spaced finger holes with a deliberate bore narrowing/constriction between the utaguchi- blowing hole – and the nearest finger hole. It neither plays in tune or overblows like a normal flute.

In blowing Nōhkan – I am still very much a raw beginner – I am learning to recreate the spare and enigmatic ‘melodies’ of the Nōh play.

I see playing a fue as making sound with nothing more  that the breath as a way of connecting or reconnecting  with the natural.  Of course non-keyed flutes are much more difficult  to play well than modern instruments with keys and mechanisms to facilitate both technique and intonation. Each note has to be played with care with attention and deep hearing.

The Nōhkan fue, like the Shakuhachi, is a purpose-built instrument for the music they play.

“Noh-flute is sometimes called “Kami-oroshi no fue” (meaning a flute which calls gods down to the visible human world). It can be said that nōh-flute in Noh performance plays the role of building a bridge between the world of gods and spirits, and invites them to the human world for even a brief period. Noh-flute is also played to let invisible beings come back to their own world”…

– Kumiko Nonaka  http://www.fuu-chou-sha.jp/profile_e.html

The Nōh play fue music are comprised of short phrases of melody which are typically played either for introduction of characters or to heighten the emotion of that particular scene. There are of course some entire self-contained pieces e.g. Oshirabe, Koi no Netori, and others.

 

I am currently working on ‘Kakeri’. At first glance it is just a series of short phrases but in each phrase are nuances of tempo, timing and affect.  Through my Nōhkan teacher Mr Hiroto Watanabe sensei of Mejiro Music in Tokyo, I am beginning appreciate the depth of this apparent simplicity.  Every lesson he introduces more nuances into each phrase. The sound of the breath, the change in tone and phrasing and rhythm of the notes in each phrase, the space ‘ma’ between the phrases.

These are not pretty melodies as such, although there can be those in the short phrases, but also something more refined.  Just sound.

(If one wanted to play just pretty melodies then there are many beautiful folk tunes that are playable on the Shinobue e.g. Sakura Sakura.)

One might also say that this ‘natural’ fue is made of  dead wood. In breathing into them we are bringing a new ‘life’ out of them and I see that as consistent with what I understand of Shinto. And certainly in that, a sense of gratitude, to be able to play fue.  To play is to breathe and to some extent to be in harmony with the instrument and with oneself.

Every lesson I start with “Oshirabe” which is a piece played at beginning of a Nōh play before the actual performance and it is as much to check ones ‘condition’  as to warm up the bamboo fue.  To center and collect oneself.

Rokurobyoe Fujita, master of the Fujita style of Nōhkan said in a DVD – reflecting on his thoughts about blowing Nōhkan: -

“Nohkan does not have do re mi – not because it is old but because it is special. I really want to make sound with my existence – is that a dream or is it not”?

I was very much interested with this idea  “I want to make sound with my existence”.

How to achieve that I am yet to find. In many ways playing a fue is about self-discovery…a journey with  spiritual overtones and gratitude for this opportunity at this age to learn a little about this old and enigmatic little fue and its music.  I will never play fue in a nōh play, but that is not the point.  It’s the journey – not the destination.

“Nōhkan becomes the player and the player becomes Nōhkan”..
– Rokurobyoe Fujita.

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Graham can be contacted direct at the following email address: grahamranft67@gmail.com

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A musician adds to the atmosphere of the Gion Matsuri in Kyoto

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French connection

From Paris comes news of a major development in Shinto terms.  Masatsugu Okutani has written in to notify us of the Sanctuaire Yabuhara, through which he is offering services as a licensed priest.  It is an outreach of the Yabuhara Jinja in Nagano prefecture.

Masatsugu OKUTANI performs a ritual at the National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilsations

Masatsugu Okutani works for a Japanese company in Paris and is responsible for French, Italian, Spanish and Swiss markets.  He has two French subordinates and a British boss.  It’s an unusually rich international environment for a Shinto priest.

The Sanctuaire Yabuhara has a website and Facebook page.  At the moment, there is no Jinja or hokora (small shrine), but the priest sets up a temporary shrine (himorogi) for each ritual or celebration.

Activities in Europe are updated on the Facebook page, and the parent shrine of Yabuhara Jinja in Nagano will also be adding information from Japan.

Further information can be found in French and Japanese at the following pages:

Facebook    https://www.facebook.com/#!/sanctuaireyabuhara
Web site   http://www.yabuhara-jinja.org/

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At a lecture in Paris to introduce Shinto

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Gratitude

The mahogany torii of the Brasil Daijingu outside Sao Paolo

 

In Brazil, I once talked to the elderly priest at the Brasil Daijingu, named Tamotsu Sato.  He’d gone to Brazil on May 22, 1934, and only been back briefly to Japan after the war to get his license to be a priest.  He told me he disliked the Japan-first orientation of Shinto there, and much preferred the international orientation in Brazil.  ‘Gratitude’ lies at the heart of Shinto, he told me, ‘Gratitude for life.’  It’s a universal value after all, endorsed by modern psychology.

Gratitude is written into Japanese cultural life, and the constant expression of thankfulness is one of the most endearing traits of the country.  For those who have the time, I thoroughly recommend reading friend Christal Whelan’s award-winning essay on the subject.  “As gratitude affirms not only the complex web of human relations, but also those with the environment, it is as relevant to ancient Yamato as to postmodern Japan,” she concludes.  “My own debt to Japan for having taught me this precious lesson in gratitude is something that I will never be able to fully repay.  But at least I can begin by acknowledging the debt.”

In an article on the web, psychologist David Mezzapelle, author of Contagious Optimism, shares 10 tips for living more optimistically.  Significantly, No. 1 is Being Grateful.   http://www.shape.com/lifestyle/mind-and-body/10-habits-happy-people

“It all starts with counting our blessings. If you are not grateful for the good things in your life, you will never be satisfied. Take inventory of the good around you. But don’t neglect what’s not great, either: You also need to be grateful for the hardships, the obstacles, the failures. Why? Because these are the points of wisdom in your life. They give you strength, they teach you how to persevere, and they form your resilience. Being thankful for every step makes life’s hardships surmountable. All of this is the foundation of optimism; being psyched about the good and the bad, and knowing that they all point to a bright future.”

It turns out that there is an organisation dedicated to grateful living, and though inspired by a Christian monk, it is committed to values of universalism and environmentalism.  Here is the mission statement: “A Network for Grateful Living provides education and support for the practice of grateful living as a global ethic, inspired by the teachings of Br. David Steindl-Rast and colleagues.  Gratefulness – the full response to a given moment and all it contains – is a universal practice that fosters personal transformation, cross-cultural understanding, interfaith dialogue, intergenerational respect, nonviolent conflict resolution, and ecological sustainability.”

The quotes below come from the organisation’s Facebook page

Just to be is a blessing; just to live is holy.  – Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

O Great Spirit, I awake to another sun, grateful for gifts bestowed, granted one by one.   – Twylah Nitsch

All good things are wild, and free. – Henry David Thoreau

Gratitude places you in the energy field of plenitude. Perceiving life in a consciousness of gratitude is literally stepping into another dimension of living. Suddenly the seeming ordinariness of your days takes on a divine sparkle. - Michael Beckwith

It is a wholesome and necessary thing for us to turn again to the earth and in the contemplation of her beauties to know of wonder and humility.  – Rachel Carson

That’s what I consider true generosity. You give your all, and yet you always feel as if it costs you nothing. – Simone de Beauvoir

"To the illumined mind the whole world burns and sparkles with light."

Gratefulness is that fullness of life for which we are all thirsting.  – David Steindl-Rast

To the dull mind all nature is leaden. To the illumined mind the whole world burns and sparkles with light. - Ralph Waldo Emerson

A hundred times a day I remind myself that my inner and outer life depend on the labors of other people, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the full measure I have received and am still receiving.  – Albert Einstein

If you light a lamp for someone, it will brighten your own path. – The Buddha

So much has been given to me; I have no time to ponder over that which has been denied. – Helen Keller

Gratitude is something of which none of us can give too much. For on the smiles, the thanks we give, our little gestures of appreciation, our neighbors build their philosophy of life.  – A.J. Cronin

The world is holy. We are holy. All life is holy. Daily prayers are delivered on the lips of breaking waves, the whisperings of grasses, the shimmering of leaves.  – Terry Tempest Williams

Earth’s crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God. – Elizabeth Barrett Browning

“If the day and the night are such that you greet them with joy, and life emits a fragrance like flowers and sweet-scented herbs — that is your success.”  – Henry Thoreau

For me, every hour is grace. And I feel gratitude in my heart each time I can meet someone and look at his or her smile.  – Elie Wiesel

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them. – John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

Ironically, gratitude’s most powerful mysteries are often revealed when we are struggling in the midst of personal turmoil. – Sarah Ban Breathnach

Bless those who challenge us for they remind us of doors we have closed and doors we have yet to open. – Native American Prayer

Gratitude as a discipline involves a conscious choice. I can choose to be grateful even when my emotions and feelings are still steeped in hurt and resentment. It is amazing how many occasions present themselves in which I can choose gratitude instead of a complaint. – Henri Nouwen

 

Posted in Japanese culture, Social values | 1 Comment

An Izumo study

A close-up study of Izumo's rice-rope, largest of its type in the world

 

An interesting review by Green Shinto friend Aike Rots has appeared of a dissertation that focusses on Izumo Taisha and its role in the development of modern Shinto.  The shrine remains a significant institution, though as the review below makes clear its role might have been all the greater but for the emphasis given to Ise by the Meiji imperialists.

What follows is an abridged and slightly modified version of the review.  Those wishing to read the full review can do so at this link: http://dissertationreviews.org/archives/8209

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Aike Rots   –  A review of Gods Without Names: The Genesis of Modern Shinto in Nineteenth Century Japan, by Yijiang Zhong.

Until fairly recently, scholarly works on Shinto were few and far between. It was not until the 1990s that a generation of critical historians started taking kami worship seriously as a field of study. Drawing on the groundbreaking work of the Japanese historian Kuroda Toshio, scholars such as John Breen, Alan Grapard, Fabio Rambelli, Mark Teeuwen and Sarah Thal have challenged the dominant “emic” paradigm, which states that Shinto is the ancient, indigenous worship tradition of Japan.

A model of how the fabulously tall original Izumo shrine may have looked

Instead, they have studied local traditions of kami worship in relation to the Buddhist and Confucian institutions and ideologies with which they were historically intertwined, and shown that “Shinto” is an abstract concept that has been subject to various transformations in the course of its history. As their works make clear, the configuration of Shinto as an independent, “indigenous” ritual tradition in the early modern period was closely related to the development of the modern nation-state, and as such deeply political.

In line with this scholarly development, several studies have been published that trace the history of one particular shrine (or shrine-temple complex).  Examples include Alan Grapard, The Protocol of the Gods: A Study of the Kasuga Cult in Japanese History; Max Moerman, Localizing Paradise: Kumano Pilgrimage and the Religious Landscape of Premodern Japan; Sarah Thal, Rearranging the Landscape of the Gods: The Politics of a Pilgrimage Site in Japan, 1573-1912.

Yijiang Zhong’s PhD dissertation, Gods Without Names, is the first book-length English-language study of Izumo Taisha and its mythology…  Gods Without Names is more than just another historical account of an individual shrine, however. It is also an illuminating study of the development of kokugaku and related currents of thought in the Edo period, and it demonstrates how these different ideological stances were co-constitutive for the establishment of Shinto as the national imperial cult in the Meiji period.

Zhong’s dissertation consists of five chapters.  In the first chapter, he describes how in the second half of the seventeenth century Izumo Taisha was transformed from a place of worship deeply intertwined with Buddhism into a self-consciously “Shinto” institution.  In other words, Izumo Taisha was one of the first shrines in the country that was dissociated from Buddhism both institutionally and theologically.

Okuninushi statue in front of Izumo Taisha

In the course of the Edo period, Ōkuninushi gradually gained popularity as “the Shinto god of creation, protection and fortune” (p. 78).  In the second chapter, Zhong discusses this development, the main cause of which was a dramatic change in shrine funding.  As much of the shrine’s land was confiscated in the late sixteenth century, it had to look for alternative sources of income.  These came from the popular proselytisation activities of Izumo priests throughout the country.  During this period, the notion that in the tenth month of the year all Japanese kami come together in Izumo for their annual meeting spread throughout the country, greatly contributing to Izumo’s popular appeal.

Meanwhile, the power of Ōkuninushi as the god of Creation was asserted.  Moreover, he and his son Kotoshironushi were identified with two highly popular deities of good fortune, Daikoku (Mahākāla) and Ebisu.  It was during the Edo period, then, that Izumo Taisha gained nationwide popularity as one of the main shrines associated with divine protection and good fortune (including love as well as success in business).

In Chapter 3 Zhong proceeds to discuss the impact of Nativist (kokugaku) ideology on the development of Izumo Taisha in the late Edo period, and examines various ways in which the powerful deity Ōkuninushi was appropriated by kokugaku scholars. …  In particular, Ōkuninushi was of great importance for Hirata, who placed him in the centre of his Shinto pantheon. As Zhong makes clear, Hirata’s ideology thus “provided Izumo priests a directly empowering Shinto discourse to represent Ōkuninushi and the god’s priest as the anchor of Japan”.

However, Ōkuninushi was not the only powerful deity believed to be intimately intertwined with the nation as a whole.  In the nineteenth century, the Ise-based cult of Amaterasu – who, significantly, was seen as the ancestral deity of Japan’s imperial family – also took on nationwide importance, and was appropriated for ideological purposes.

Okuninushi and the White Hare of Inaba that he rescued

In Chapter 4, Zhong examines the tensions that emerged between Ise- and Izumo-related ideologues in the mid-nineteenth century, against the background of the confrontation with foreign powers in this period (and, more in particular, the perceived threat of Christianity).  He discusses the attempts by Aizawa Seishisai (1782-1863) and Ōkuni Takamasa (1792-1871) to reconstruct Shinto as a “modern” ideology capable of competing with Christianity, and shows how their works influenced early-Meiji reconfigurations of “Shinto,” “religion” and the state.

Finally, in Chapter 5, Zhong describes how in the early Meiji period the tensions between the Ise and Izumo factions gradually escalated, until they finally culminated in the “enshrinement debate” (saijin ronsō) of 1880-1881.  Although the Izumo priests wanted Ōkuninushi to be on top of the national pantheon alongside Amaterasu, their proposals were rejected by the powerful Ise priests.  As a consequence of Izumo’s defeat, Ise and its goddess became a core aspect of the imperial cult later known as “State Shinto,” whereas the worship traditions of Izumo were incorporated into a newly established private religious institution.

In this period “Shrine Shinto” was configured as a “non-religious” public ritual cult, centered around the emperor and the Sun Goddess.  Shrines were redefined as public ritual places rather than private religious institutions – with the exception of the twelve “Sect Shinto” (kyōha shintō) institutions that came to be legally and politically defined as “religions.”  Thus, “Ōkuninushi remained the ‘Great Pillar of the Land’ but that status was transformed to private religious belief, against the public and political status of the Sun Goddess”).

As said, Gods Without Names constitutes an important new contribution to the young field of Shinto studies. Drawing on a wide range of relevant primary sources, it sheds new light on the development of both kokugaku thought and Meiji-period “State Shinto.”  Moreover, it gives an informative account of the (early) modern history of Izumo Taisha and its main deity, Ōkuninushi.  Hence, I wholeheartedly recommend it to anybody interested in the history of Japanese religion, ideology, and mythology.

Aike P. Rots
Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages
University of Oslo

Lining up to pay respects beneath the giant shimenawa rope at Izumo

Posted in Book Reviews, Izumo | 1 Comment

More cherry blossom

A KYODO picture of the taki-zakura (waterfall cherry tree) of Miharu, Fukushima Prefecture

 

The Japan Times carries an article today about the wave of cherry blossom sweeping the nation…
http://www.japantimes.co.jp/life/2014/04/06/language/the-sakura-front-sweeps-across-japan/#.U0Mls47R5-8

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It is widely believed that the custom of viewing sakura began in the Imperial Court in Kyoto early in the Heian Period (794-1185). Before that, it seems that people were rather more partial to the blossoming ume (梅, plum) trees that had been brought from China and were a symbol of foreign culture. But when the practice of sending envoys to China was discontinued in 894, the court in Kyoto began to be more appreciative of local culture and things indigenous to Japan. With that, sakura trees gradually became more popular.

But why has this delicate fluffy light-pink flower been so popular for such a long time?

Generally, the transience of the blossoms, which last only a few days before falling, is said to strike a chord with the Japanese character. So, too, eating and drinking under the trees is associated with an ancient belief that the fallen hanabira (petals) that happen to land in sake cups promote good health.

Rather less romantically, department stores and shops are now often decorated with cherry blossoms — more likely plastic than real — and at this time of year will have a section devoted to sakura-related products. Among these are many foods and drinks only available at this time.

Perhaps the best known are sakura cha (桜茶, cherry blossom tea)— made by pouring a hot water over a salted cherry flower — and sakura mochi (桜餅, a sweet cake made of glutinous rice and sweet red beans that’s wrapped in a salted sakura leaf). In addition, special hanami bentō (花見弁当, boxed lunches for flower-viewing), menu courses, desserts and cocktails associated with sakura will be widely available.

But Japanese don’t have a monopoly on the appreciation of sakura. Even first -time visitors to Japan will be touched to see blossoms drifting down in what’s known as a hanafubuki (花吹雪, shower of falling cherry blossom petals) and a chance to experience yozakura (夜桜, cherry-blossom viewing by moonlight or by the light of paper lanterns) should remain long in the memory.

Although there are many renowned cherry-blossom viewing spots across the nation, before setting off to visit one be sure to check radio or TV reports so you can catch the trees at their best.

In Tokyo, one of the most famous venues is Shinjukugyoen National Garden with its 1,500 cherry trees of 75 species. Ueno Park, Tokyo’s largest park, is now holding a sakura matsuri (桜祭り sakura festival), while Sumida Park along the Sumida River has more than 400 trees lighting up at night.

For enthusiasts in Kyoto, the shidare-zakura (しだれ桜, weeping cherry blossoms) of Maruyama Park and Heian Jingu are a must. The best time for hanami in the former capital is from early to mid-April, with the famed yae-zakura (八重桜, double cherry blossoms) at Ninnaji Temple normally among the last to come into full bloom.

While the sight of hundreds or thousands of cherry trees in full bloom together is a wonderful experience, around Japan there are also many beautiful ippon-zakura (一本桜, solitary specimens) well worth visiting.

Among these, three in particular are normally singled out and called sandai-zakura (三大桜, best three cherry trees). The taki-zakura (滝桜, waterfall cherry tree) in Miharu, Fukushima Prefecture, is so called because the rose-pink blossoms on its mass of downward arching branches resemble a waterfall; while usuzumi-zakura (薄墨桜, light Chinese-ink color cherry tree) in Neo, Gifu Prefecture ,is believed to have been planted by an emperor 1,500 years ago and is famous for petals that gradually change from pale pink to the color of its name. Finally there is the jindai-zakura (神代桜, mythological age cherry tree) in the precincts of Jisoji Temple in Mukawa, Yamanashi Prefecture, which is believed to be 2,000 years old and Japan’s oldest sakura.

So wherever you go, whatever you do, be sure to enjoy the fleeting delight of the cherry blossom this season and hope the weather is kind, and hard rain and strong winds hold off to allow the trees to show their full splendor.

A weeping cherry in Kyoto's Takaragaike Park

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