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Emperor Sujin and Andonyama Kofun

  • Posted by:
  • November 30, 2015

Emperor Sujin was the founder of the Yamato Dynasty in the central part of Kinki region, including present day Nara. His tomb, the Sujin-tenno-ryo Andonyama kofun in Tenri, Nara, is one of Japan’s most visited ancient tombs.


Emperor Sujin  (148 BC-29 BC), also known as Hatsukunishirasu Sumeramikoto and Mimakiiribikoinie no Sumeramikoto, was the tenth emperor of Japan.  He was responsible for establishing the Ise Shrine, or the Saikū (a village about 10 kilometers northwest of Ise Shrine) associated with it to enshrine Amaterasu. Ise Shrine, part of the Imperial Regalia, is said to be the home of the Sacred Mirror, one of the objects bestowed by Amaterasu. The chief priest or priestess of Ise shrine must be from the Japanese imperial family and is responsible for watching over the shrine.

Illustration of Emperor Sujin.

Emperor Sujin is also credited for initiating the worship of the kami Ōmononushi, in the Japanese  Shinto tradition in Mount Miwa. During the reign of Emperor Sujin, a terrible plague affected Japan. One of the descendants of Ōmononushi, Ōtataneko, petitioned the kami. Emperor Sujin had a dream where Ōmononushi appeared to him and revealed he was responsible for the plague, and that it would not end until an appropriate priesthood was set up in Mount Miwa. The Emperor created the priesthood and the plague stopped.
Andonyama_001Emperor Sujin was the first to perform a census and establish and regularize a system of taxation in Japan. During his twelfth year of rule, he ordered a census of the populace “with grades of seniority, and the order of forced labour.” The taxes he required from the people were in the form of mandatory labor called yuhazu no mitsugi or “bow-end tax” for men and tanasue no mitsugi or “finger-end tax” for women. Peace and prosperity marked the reign of Emperor Sujin and he is known for the title Hatsu kuni shirasu sumeramikoto , “The Emperor, the august founder of the country.”

Andonyama kofun. | VanishingDuck

Emperor Sujin’s grand gravesite, Andonyama kofun, reflects the considerable power he had at the time of his reign. Major renovations were conducted by Yanagimoto Clan for irrigation use during the end of the Edo period, resulting in some changes from its original appearance. The rows of the pine trees and the surrounding moat still filled with water continue to be majestic and tranquil. There is a hiking trail around the kofun and the views are fantastic, all a breathtaking tribute to the accomplishments of a great man.

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Kaiseki: A Set Menu to Tickle Your Tastebuds

  • Posted by:
  • November 26, 2015

The Japanese take careful measures in almost everything they make — in clothes, cars, fine timepieces, electronics, and of course, in food.

kaiseki1Kaiseki (懐石) or kaiseki-ryōri, is a traditional Japanese multi-course dinner. The term can also refer to the many skills and techniques involved in the preparation of the meal. There are essentially two types of kaiseki: a set menu of select foods served on an individual tray, or a simple meal that a host serves his guests at a chanoyu  (Japanese tea ceremony) gathering before a ceremonial tea.

A casual kaiseki of Fuyoen. | 663highland

The kanji characters of the word kaiseki literally mean “bosom-pocket stone,” said to be coined by Sen no Rikyū (1522 – 1591), or Rikyū, who is thought to have influenced the Japanese chanoyu, “Way of Tea.”  Kaiseki is the frugal meal served in the austere style of chanoyu that came about from the practice of Zen monks warding off hunger by putting warm stones in the front fold of their robes by their stomach.

kaiseki2The more modern form of kaiseki is considered more traditional Japanese haute cuisine that uses mainly four traditions in food preparation: imperial court cuisine, derived from the 9th century during the Heian period; Buddhist cuisine of temples, from the 12th century during the Kamakura period; samurai cuisine of warrior households), from the 14th century during the Muromachi period; and the tea ceremony cuisine, from the 15th century during  the Higashiyama period of the Muromachi period.

Kaiseki  at KAI Tsugaru. | 663highland

The basic structure of kaiseki cuisine includes “One Soup and Three Dishes” (1 soup dish, 1 main dish, 2 side dishes) referred to as a setto, “set”). More modern versions include tastes of rich dishes elaborately prepared by well-trained chefs. Kaiseki cuisine makes a point of incorporating seasonal ingredients with the main components of the dishes: vegetables, fish, and various grains and beans. Seasoning is kept to a minimum to highlight the natural flavors of the main ingredient; rather than overpowering it, elevating the inherent flavors.

Kaiseki are usually small artistically arranged dishes that come in sequence:


Sakizuke – appetizer
Hassun – seasonal sushi and several smaller side dishes
Mukōzuke – a sliced dish of seasonal sashimi
Takiawase – vegetables served with meat, fish, or tofu
Futamono – a “lidded dish” such as soup
Yakimono – flamed grilled food
Su-zakana – pickled vegetables to clean the palate

Hassun. | 663highland

Hiyashi-bachi – chilled, lightly cooked vegetable, served only during summer
Naka-choko – another palate cleanser such as light acidic soup
Shiizakana – a substantial dish such as hot pot
Gohan – rice
Kō no mono – seasonal pickled vegetables
Tome-wan -miso-based or vegetable soup served with rice
Mizumono  – a seasonal dessert

The dishes arrive at the table to showcase the brilliant techniques and diversity of the cuisine. It takes extensive effort and skill to master the art of preparing a kaiseki meal.

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Distinctive Kumano Brushes

  • Posted by:
  • November 23, 2015

Kumano brushes are known for their quality and are recognized by Japan as a traditional industrial art. The craftsmanship put into the creation of fine handmade Kumano brushes is revered worldwide.


Kumano (熊野町), or Kumano-chō, is a town in Aki District, Hiroshima Prefecture, in Japan. The quiet town of Kumano is adjacent to Kure, Hiroshima, and Higashihiroshima, and is considered one of the commuter towns (towns whose residents work elsewhere) of those cities. Kumano-chō is considered the capital of brushes, as it is responsible for the production of 80% of the brushes made in Japan for writing, painting, and cosmetics.

Kumano brushes. | GetHiroshima.com

Kumano’s brush making industry can be traced back to a time when farmers used to buy brushes and ink from the town of Nara and sell them to locals for extra income when rice harvesting was not in season. The Hiroshima  local government encouraged this practice among residents until the people of Kumano began making their own brushes. When Japanese calligraphy became part of the school curriculum, a sudden increase in demand for writing brushes brought further stability to the industry in Kumano.


Kumano-fude” (Kumano-brush) are handmade. Materials used are usually natural: hairs of sheep, itachi wolf, raccoon, or horse. The making of Kumano-fude involves a tedious process involving 70 steps to make just a single brush. It is said that it usually takes 10 years to master the craft of being able to handle animal hairs in the exact way to make the perfect brush. The tips of the hand-made  Kumano brushes are naturally uneven. This produces just the right touch when the brush comes into contact with paper or, in the case of cosmetic brushes, the face. This creates a finish that matches no other. Kumano cosmetic brushes are famous among make-up artists.

Brush Dance. | GetHiroshima.com

There are traditional events held in Kumano that date back to 1926 such as the Fudematsuri (Brush Pen Festival), usually held during the Autumn Equinox in September. The Calligraphic Works and Art Competition and exhibition is a nationwide event whose goal is to support children’s expression and develop a rich appreciation for the art of calligraphy. This event showcases the use of Kumano brushes.  The Brush Pen Studio (FUDE no SATO KOBO) which opened in 1994, also  proudly exhibits the rich history and local culture of Kumano and the brush making industry. There is also “The Brush Pen Day” held during the Spring Equinox which seeks to revive the brush pen culture of Japan.

Learn more about Fudoki Kumano brushes in this video by Eyimabo Iyagoy:


Click image or here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ELffqZLdnXI

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Chankonabe: The Sumo Wrestler’s Meal

  • Posted by:
  • November 19, 2015

Sumo, considered Japan’s national sport, is centuries old and  thought to have entertained the Shinto gods. Sumo is a full body contact sport that involves two male wrestlers known as rikishi, who try to push each other outside a ring with the goal of getting any part of the other’s body to touch the ground aside from the soles of the feet. The ring, known as a dohyo, is elevated and is made of sand and clay. Wrestling bouts usually last a few seconds to several minutes. Many traditional ritualistic elements are still observed today in sumo matches.


Sumo wrestlers follow disciplined training. They live in a communal training complex also known as a “sumo training stable” (heya) where sumo discipline is followed in all aspects of their daily life, from how they dress to the food they eat.

Weight is an integral part of being a professional sumo wrestler. Sumo wrestling rules does not include weight restrictions or classes. A wrestler who weighs less can be matched with another wrestler who can be as much as double his weight. This poses a disadvantage for a wrestler in a sport where heft matters. Sumo wrestling is one of the sports that actually encourages weight gain for leverage. Sumo wrestlers are encouraged to eat hearty meals. The traditional sumo wrestlers’ feast is known as chakonabe.

Sumo ceremony.


Chankonabe (ちゃんこ鍋)  is a type of Japanese hot-pot stew or one-pot dish (nabemono) that is eaten in large amounts by sumo wrestlers as part of a weight-gain diet. The dish consists of chicken broth or dashi soup base with mirin or sake for flavor. There is no precise recipe for chankonabe. The ingredients of the dish are often seasonal and whatever is available in the kitchen. The bulk component of chankonabe is protein, which can be chicken with the skin on, fried fish balls, beef, tofu, and vegetables. The dish is actually reasonably healthy though protein rich. It’s just the gigantic portions that make the dish ideal for sumo wrestlers to gain weight. To make sure that the wrestlers really bulk up, rice and beer cap off their meals to add to the calorie count. The leftover broth can be used for udon or somen noodles.

Chankonabe. | ThisParticularGreg


Chankonabe is popular in many restaurants in Japan operated by retired sumo wrestlers who specialize in making the dish. Why not forget your diet for the day and enjoy some chankonabe? It’s a great way to experience the unique culture of Japan.

Chankonabe, in detail. | Lara604

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Utsuri: “Shadow of the Hamon”

  • Posted by:
  • November 16, 2015

Japanese swordsmithing is a labor intensive process of forging traditional Japanese bladed weapons often used by the samurai such as the katana (samurai’s sword), tantō (short blade), wakizashi (sideiinserted sword in between the length of a katana and tantō), ōdachi (a type of Japanese long sword), nodachi ( large sword), tachi (a type of sword that preceded the katana), and other such weapons.


Forging a katana sword takes many years of learning and practice and is truly an art.The steel used in creating a katana is called tamahagane or “jewel steel,” produced from ironsand (sand with heavy concentrations of iron). The smelting process of transforming ironsand to kera (steel bloom from ironsand) is both tedious and rigorous. Forging the blade can take weeks and is considered sacred, accompanied by Shinto religious rituals and traditional processes. It involves several other master craftsmen with their own specialties in swordmaking such as the smith, the smith’s apprentice, a polisher, a specialist for the edge, and a horimonoshi or engraver.

Traditional Japanese blades were forged according to different blade thickness, amounts of grind, varying profiles, and a dyeing technique known as utsuri or “shadow of the hamon.”  When a blade is placed under good lighting, a distinct shadow appears above the hamon or blade pattern resembling a swerving line running down the center of the sword. There are several type of patterns of utsuri that result from the hardening of steel which should have dense particles and deep color between the hamon and utsuri.

Tantō. | Sano Art properties

Utsuri is the natural appearance that occurs between the sensitive steel and tempering that can result in the proper hardening of steel. Bizen steel, often used for making Japanese swords, is known to be quite soft and prone to bend. Swords made from Bizen steel benefit from the use of the utsuri technique. This additional treatment in the steel produces hard (yet not too hard) parts of steel along the hamon as well as providing torsional rigidity and the beautiful visual magical effect on the steel’s appearance. The utsuri method produces a softer area in the blade’s surface which improves the flexibility of the swords, making them more difficult to break when used.


Antique Japanese swords. | Samuraiantiqueworld

In modern day Japan, Shimpei Kawachi’s father spent 40 years mastering the utsuri technique. Half a lifetime spent learning the method that would have been gone, faded into history, had it not been for the younger Kawachi’s determination to keep the art form alive. Shimpei Kawachi himself represents the 16th generation of a famous Japanese sword artisan family, and it is his family’s continuing mission to keep utsuri alive through regular organized exhibitions.

Kawachi says:

“My father was working really hard and now he is the only person in Japan able to create this very special pattern.  My goal is to protect the technique and protect the artwork and spread it around the world through an artistic point of view.”

With Kawachi and his four brothers, they continue to keep the utsuri technique alive.

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A Never-ending Feast with Wanko Soba

  • Posted by:
  • November 12, 2015

Wanko Soba (わんこそば) is a popular variation on Japanese soba noodles originating from Morioka and Hanamaki in Iwate Prefecture, Japan. What makes Wanko Soba interesting is the way it is served: in small individual servings, one at a time, with your own personal server.


The word Wanko can be traced from Iwate Prefecture’s regional dialect which means “bowl”—specifically, a traditional small wooden Japanese soup bowl.

There are several stories and theories as to how Wanko Soba came about (although some dispute them since the term “wanko” only appeared after World War II).

Wanko soba. | shrk

One such story goes like this:

wanko2There was once a landowner who was celebrating a festival in his land. Over 100 villagers and other guests had to be fed soba, as was the custom. As it turned out, there were so many people while the pots the soba noodles were to be prepared in were very small. The quick solution was to spread the soba noodles around in smaller portions to ensure that there would be enough to go around for everyone.

Wanko. | Justin Doub

According to another story:

One day, Nanbu Toshinao (1576–1632), a Japanese daimyo who ruled the Morioka Domain, stopped by a house in Hanamaki requesting a meal. His retainers prepared for him a local variety of soba noodles in a small soup bowl. Nanbu Toshinao thought that the food he was served was delicious and asked for more. This was said to have been the beginning of the Japanese tradition of hosts continuing to serve small individual portions of soba until the guests were satisfied.

Are you brave enough for a Wanko Soba challenge? Hanamaki and Morioka cities in Iwate offer annual Wanko Soba competitions when eating contests are also held. Check out this video by Iwate Tourism Association:


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More of Japan’s Major Deities

  • Posted by:
  • November 9, 2015

The Emperor of Japan is considered the direct descendant of Amaterasu, the goddess of the sun. Many Japanese myths are based on ancient texts such as the Kojiki and the Nihon Shoki. Japan has several gods or spirits, “kami” in Japanese. Japanese mythology embodies Shinto and Buddhist traditions and local folk religion that are deeply ingrained in the culture of the Japanese people.

Fox_goddessHere are more of the major deities in the Japanese religion:

Inari Ōkami – the goddess of fertility. She is considered to be the Japanese kami of foxes, of rice, tea, and sake, of general prosperity and worldly success, and of agriculture and industry. The initial worship of Inari Ōkami can be traced to the founding of the shrine at Inari Mountain in 711 CE, but some scholars believe it goes as far back as the 5th century.  Inari Ōkami is also the patron of swordsmiths and merchants. She is a popular figure in both Buddhist and Shinto beliefs.

Depiction of an apparition of Inari Ōkami.

Kobayashi_Izanami_and_izanagiIzanagi  –  “male-who-invites.” According to the Kojiki and the Nihon Shoki, Izanagi is a deity born of the seven divine generations in Japanese mythology and Shinto. He is known as the forefather of the gods. He is the very first male and the god of creation and life. He and his wife Izanami gave birth to the islands of Japan and several other kamis. Izanami died in childbirth and Izanagi failed to take her from the underworld. He is said to have fathered Amaterasu (goddess of the sun), Susanoo (god of storms), and Tsukuyomi (god of the moon).

Izanami-no-Mikoto –  “she who invites.” She is the first female, and the goddess of both creation and death. She is the sister as well as the wife of Izanagi.  A marital spat between herself and Izanagi is said to have been the cause of the cycle of life and death for all living beings.

Depiction of Izanagi and Izanami.

– “dragon god.” He is the tutelary deity of the sea. Ryūjin was the father of the goddess Otohime who married the hunter prince Hoori. Emperor Jimmu, the first emperor of Japan, was the grandson of Otohime and Hoori. The Japanese imperial dynasty’s ancestors can be traced to Ryūjin.

Tenjin –  “ god of scholarship.” His name before he became a deity was Sugawara no Michizane (845 – 903). He was a scholar, poet, and politician during the Heian Period.  He was elevated to a deity after dying in exile; subsequent disasters ensued in Heian-kyō (now called Kyoto) whose causes are attributed to his angry spirit.

Depiction of Tenjin.


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Precision Japanese Timepieces

  • Posted by:
  • November 5, 2015

When it comes to timepieces, the Swiss mostly come to mind. But in the last few decades, the Japanese have gained distinction of their own in creating some of the world’s finest watches. Japanese watches are known for their high functionality, efficient designs, and affordable price tag.

The watchmaking industry today recognizes the Swiss and the Japanese as the two renowned watchmaking powers. Recently, the Swiss have been keen on mergers and acquisitions, contributing to the further growth of some of the watchmaking powerhouses. On the other hand, Japanese watch companies  remain confident in their place in the market structure.  According to Katsuaki Noji, president of Citizen Trading Co.:

“The strength of the Swiss industry is in their mechanical movements, not in quartz, though they provide those too. Our power for developing new technology for quartz movements is bigger and much stronger than theirs. So we don’t feel any concern in that area.”

Japan’s 3 big watch companies:

watch3Seiko – the oldest and probably the most popular among Japanese watch brands. The company was founded in 1881 by Kintarō Hattori when he opened a watch and jewelry shop in the Ginza area of Tokyo called “K. Hattori.”  Seiko in Japanese means “exquisite” or “success.” Seiko first produced watches in 1924, and in 1969 the brand came out with the Astron, the world’s first quartz watch (uses an electronic oscillator or circuit regulated by a quartz crystal to keep time). By the 1970s, Seiko had risen in popularity to rival Swiss made watches.

Seiko’s niche in the market is the use of kinetic movements, or automatic quartz movements. It was first introduced in 1986, eliminating the need for the use of watch batteries.

Seiko Gyro Marvel Automatic. | Dnalor 01


Citizen – originally founded as Shokosha Watch Research Institute in 1918. The trade name originated from a pocket watch called Citizen in 1924 and is today one of the world’s largest producers of watches.

Citizen’s niche in the market is its Eco-Drive technology (watches use a battery recharged by a solar panel hidden under the watch face), or solar-powered timepieces. This was first introduced in 1995.

Citizen CITIZEN JY8034-58E. | Jasmin.Doglod

watch1Orient – the company dates back to 1901 when Shogoro Yoshida first opened his Yoshida Watch Shop, selling imported pocket watches in Ueno, Taito, Tokyo. In 1912, Yoshida expanded his business and began making his own wristwatch cases. Today, Orient is a subsidiary of Seiko Epson Corporation. Orient is known for manufacturing luxury mechanical watches as well as producing exceptional quartz, solar, and radio-controlled watches.

CFHAA004W Orient Watch. | Tigerplish

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Major Deities of Japan

  • Posted by:
  • November 2, 2015

Many divinities native to Japanese beliefs and religious traditions are from the Shinto religion, while some are from Buddhism or Taoism. These deities are integrated into Japanese mythology and folklore. Japanese deities are an important aspect in the culture and history of Japan and its people.

Here are just a few of the major deities in Japanese mythology:


Depiction of Amaterasu emerging from a cave.

Sōgyō_HachimanAmaterasu-ōmikami – the goddess of the sun, she is believed to be the ancestress of the Imperial Household of Japan. Her name means “Great Goddess” or “Great Spirit Who Shines in the Heavens.” Her story can be traced all the way to the oldest known records of Japan’s history, in the Kojiki (680 AD) and the Nihon Shoki (720 AD). According to legend, Amaterasu birthed descendants to whom she bequeathed some of her magical items.  Among those were Ninigi, who received the sacred mirror; Yata-no- Kagami, the jewel; and Kusanagi-noTsurugi, the sword of Susanoo.  All three sacred items collectively became the Imperial Regalia of Japan.

Hachiman – the god of war and the divine protector of Japan and its people. He was originally an agricultural deity but later became the guardian of the Minamoto clan. Most samurai worshipped him and he is considered the tutelary god of warriors. His name means the “God of Eight Banners,” referring to the eight heavenly banners that signaled the birth of the divine Emperor Ōjin. His symbolic animal and messenger is the dove.

A scroll depicting kami Hachiman dressed as a Buddhist monk.

FujinFūjin –  the god of wind and one of the oldest Shinto gods. He is portrayed as a brown skinned wizard-like demon wearing  a leopard skin. He also carries a large bag of wind on his shoulders. The Kojiki (“An Account of Ancient Matters”) is the oldest extant chronicle in Japan describing that Fūjin was born of Izanami-no-Mikoto, the goddess of both creation and death.

Depiction of Fūjin.

UzumeAme-no-Uzume-no-mikoto  – the goddess of dawn, mirth, and revelry. She is the wife of the god Sarutahiko Ōkami. Uzume is popular for “the tale of the missing sun deity” in which she was able to draw out Amaterasu from hiding and restore light on earth. Ame-no-Uzume-no-mikoto is also known as “The Great Persuader” and The Heavenly Alarming Female.”

Sculpture of Uzume.

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Japanese Urban Legends and Haunted Places

  • Posted by:
  • October 29, 2015

Halloween is just around the corner. There are many places all around the world that have stories of the unexplained, and Japan is no exception. Here are some of Japan’s talked about haunted destinations and urban legends:

Shirokiya Department Store, Tokyo

Shirokiya_FireThe Shirokiya Department Store fire took place on December 16, 1932, killing 14 people and injuring 67.  Shirokiya Department Store was having their year-end Christmas theme sale and the store was festively decorated for the season. The fire began at about 9:15 am at the toy section a few minutes before the store was to open and spread rapidly on floors 4-8. The staircase filled with smoke like a chimney, cutting off a major escape route.  Many at the upper floors were forced to climb to the roof while others made makeshift ropes from clothing or curtains and climbed down to safety. Others were not as lucky and fell to their deaths or suffocated. A tragic end for the 14 people who perished during what supposedly should be the happiest time of the year.

Shiroyika fire.

During those times, women who wore traditional kimonos did not wear panties. According to urban legend, saleswomen in kimonos chose not to jump from the roof to safety nets because they were ashamed to be seen from below, and so perished in the fire. This led to the rise in popularity of Western-style panties, although there has been no proof that the legend is true.

Oiran Bushi, Yamanashi

Dhaunted1on’t be fooled by the lush and peaceful scenery of the quiet town of Oiran Bushi, located along Route 411 just outside Yamanashi City. The picturesque steep cliffs and flowing river hold a darker secret. There is a story among Japanese locals that a long time ago, 55 ladies of the night were killed right in Oiran Bushi and their restless souls still linger, ready to frighten any unsuspecting visitor who dares wander around Oiran Bushi.

By Route 411, Yamanashi. | 

Doryodo Ruins, Tokyo

haunted2Doryodo Ruins are ruins of an old temple right in the center of Otukayama Park in Hachioji. Like most stories of the unexplained, the legend of Doryodo Ruins is cloaked in mystery. As the story goes, there was an elderly woman who was brutally murdered in the area in 1963. Ten years after her senseless death, another murder took place. This time a young woman was found lifeless in the same area. It was rumored that a college professor had killed her. Years later, the temple ruins were further torn down, but the restless spirits still wander the grounds. It is said that at night, sounds of distant crying can be heard. Some witnesses have reported feeling intense sadness and a sense of being watched.

Otukayama Park.

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