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Intricacies and Uses of Kumihimo Braids

  • Posted by:
  • February 27, 2015

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Kumihimo is a traditional Japanese form of braiding. Kumi himo can be translated as “gathering of threads.” The earliest form of kumihimo is believed to date back to the Nara Period  (710 to 794 CE) when braids were used to secure clothing as well as in some religious ceremonies. The Heian Period (794 to1185 CE) saw braids becoming more elaborate and complex with the growing interest in the Buddhist religion. Braids were still used for clothing but more importantly in decorating temples with most of the braiding done by monks.

Kumihimo cords.

Other uses for kumihimo braids increased with the rise of the Samurai Warrior class during the Kamakura Period (1185 to1333 CE)  through the Muromachi Period (1336 to1573 CE) when samurai armor was made of lacquered iron plates joined together with kumihimo. A single samurai suit of armor required as much as 250 to 300 meters of kumihimo braids. In addition to holding the armor together, kumihimo braids were also used in harnessing horses and binding swords. Kumihimo braids were produced in a wide array of widths and sophisticated designs.

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KCP Winter 2015 students watch a kumihimo craftsman at work in Asakusa. | KCP Flickr

During the Azuchi–Monoyama  (1568 to1603 CE), kumihimo was used  when wearing a kimono. With the introduction of the wide obi sash, a braid  called obijime was needed to hold it in place and is still used up until today. The Edo Period (1603 to1868 CE) saw the development of most of the widely known traditional patterns with the earliest known published patterns dating back to this period.

You can learn the craft of kumihimo, and even create your own designs to make unique and wonderful bracelets, necklaces, and other pieces.

Check out these videos on kumihimo:

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Kumihimo workshop with Midori Suzuki Sensei by KotaDerkater

 

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Kumihimo Braid, An Easy Tutorial by RubberStampRosie

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KCP Winter 2015 Students Go on an Exciting Excursion to Asakusa

  • Posted by:
  • February 25, 2015

This mid-February, the Winter 2015 students had fun visiting the sights in Asakusa district in Taitō, Tokyo. Asakusa is known for Sensō-ji Temple, a Buddhist temple dedicated to the bodhitsattva Kannon, and for Nakamise-dōri, one of the oldest shopping streets in Japan. The shops along Nakamise-dōri sell a range of items—traditional Japanese wooden dolls, hair accessories, post cards, and other ideal souvenirs to remind you of your adventures in Japan. And if you get hungry, you can always munch on delicious Japanese street food. The famous street has all the signs of old world Japan: strolling down it is a great way to experience the Japanese culture and way of life.

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 KCP students beside food stalls in Asakusa. | KCP Flickr

The National Diet is Japan’s bicameral legislature: the House of Representatives (lower house) and the House of Councillors (upper house). Japan’s first modern legislature convened for the first time in 1189, established by the Meiji Constitution.  It took its current form in 1947. The National Diet is responsible for passing laws and selecting the Prime Minister.  The National Diet Building is where both houses meet.

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KCP students in front of the National Diet Building. | KCP Flickr

During the trip, KCP students had the opportunity to observe the fine techniques of a Kumihimo craftsman. Kumihimo, a traditional Japanese braiding craft, can be translated as “gathering of threads.” The intricate braids with their patterns and colors make beautiful jewelry pieces that can be worn or given as gifts to family and friends.

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KCP students watch as a craftsman creates kumihimo pieces. | KCP Flickr

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Akō vendetta : Revenge of the 47 Ronin

  • Posted by:
  • February 23, 2015

The bushidō, “the way of the warrior,” was the samurai’s code of conduct. It exemplified a warrior’s moral values in mastery of martial arts, frugality, loyalty, and honor unto death. A rōnin was a samurai with no lord or master. A samurai could lose his master from death or even from falling out of his master’s favor. The story of the Akō vendetta, or the Revenge of the 47 Ronin, during the Genroku Akō incident is a perfect example of a samurai living up to their code of honor.

The story of  the Revenge of the 47 Ronin goes like this…

ronin3In 1701, there were two daimyo (powerful lords)—Asano Takumi-no-Kami Naganori, the young daimyo of a small fiefdom in western Honshū known as the Akō Domain,  and Lord Kamei of the Tsuwano Domain. Both were ordered to organize a reception for the Emperor’s envoys in Edo sankin kōtai service (a daimyo’s alternate-year residence in Edo) to the Shogun. The Edo official, Kira Kozuke-no-Suke Yoshinaka, was not satisfied with the offerings because they lacked the bribes that he wanted. Anticipating the disaster that could ensue, Kamei’s counselors offered Kira a large bribe without Kamei knowing. This prompted Kira to treat Kamei better but continued to insult Asano, who lost his patience, attacked Kira with a dagger, and wounded the official’s face. Asano was ordered to kill himself by committing seppuku (ritual suicide by disembowelment). All his lands were taken, his family was ruined, and his samurai retainers were to be made ronin after his death.

Print depicting the ronin, on their way back to Sengakuji after the attack on Kira.

Ōishi Yoshio, the head chamberlain of the Asano estate and the leader of the 47 ronin, moved the Asano family away and refused to let his master’s death go unavenged. Revenge was prohibited, but the 47 ronin swore a secret oath to eventually avenge Asano by killing Kira.

Ōishi_YoshioKira was heavily guarded at all times. To stave off any doubt from Kira that any loyal envoys of Asano plotted revenge, Ōishi moved to Kyoto and even divorced his wife of 20 years to keep her safe once they had killed Kira. Ōishi frequented geisha houses, acted like a drunk, and was thought to be a disgrace. The other ronin spread around Japan and became monks or tradesmen. All this was reposted to Kira who gradually let his guard down. It took two years for Ōishi to be totally convinced that Kira had completely let down his guard. On the 4th day of the 12th month of the 15th year of  Genroku (January 30, 1703), the 47 ronin sought to avenge their master. They followed the bushidō to the letter, allowing Kira to commit seppuku, but he stayed quiet and shaking in fear. Ōishi had to ask other ronin to pin Kira down as he cut his head off with a dagger.  The 47 ronin washed and offered Kira’s head on the tomb of their master and said prayers. Then they gave themselves up for sentencing.

 Ōishi Yoshio.

ronin1The death of Kira was no loss, for he was not well-liked. The 47 ronin were just following their code of honor, yet they also defied the shogunate’s authority. 46 ronin were sentenced to take their own lives by seppuku rather than being executed. They each performed the ritual that took their lives on the 4th day of the 2nd month in 16th year of Genroku (March  20, 1703).  The 47th ronin was Terasaka Kichiemon, who was deemed too young to commit seppuku. He was pardoned by the Shogun and lived to be 87 years old. All 47 ronin are now interred in front of the tomb of their master in the grounds of Sengaku-ji Temple, Tokyo.

47 Ronin graveyard at Sengaku-ji Temple.

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Discovering Shinjuku

  • Posted by:
  • February 19, 2015

Shinjuku (新宿区 ), literally meaning “New Lodge,”  is a district in Japan’s capital and bustling metropolis, Tokyo. The KCP campus is located there, and Shinjuku is conveniently the business, entertainment, and shopping center of Tokyo. There’s always something that catches the eye, whether it’s the bright store lights by the streets or the spectacular foliage in Shinjuku Park.

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 Shinjuku at night.

When Edo Castle underwent a major expansion in 1634, many temples and shrines were relocated to the western part of Shinjuku. Then, in 1698, one of Japan’s major highways during that time was built in the town of Naitō-Shinjuku district.  In 1920, Naitō-Shinjuku and parts of Kabukichō and Nishi-Shinjuku became present-day Tokyo. Naitō was the daimyo of the Naitō-Shinjuku area, whose mansion once stood in the public park now known as Shinjuku Gyoen.

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Shinjuku Gyoen during hanami.

A large portion of the Shinjuku area was spared from the devastation of the Great Kantō earthquake of 1923.  Many skyscrapers of Tokyo’s business district are located in west Shinjuku. World War II saw Shinjuku buckle with most of the buildings destroyed. The roads and railways that were spared formed the heart of rebuilding post-war Shinjuku.

Related posts:

Join KCP Fall 2012 student Emily Cole as she leads us around the KCP neighborhood through her photos. Enjoy a day with KCP students as they explore Shinjuku Imperial Garden (Shinjuku Gyoen), which is just a short distance from the KCP campus. They played games, chatted, and had a general good time surrounded by the beauty of the pastel colored sakura.

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The Miraculous Daikon

  • Posted by:
  • February 16, 2015

Traditional winter dishes in Japan usually include daikon. Daikon (大根) is a winter radish popular in Japanese cuisine. Its mild flavor makes it a versatile ingredient; it is usually characterized by its long and white root. The origins of daikon can be traced to the Mediterranean. It spreadquickly to the east and is now grown all across Asia and some parts of the world.

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In Japanese cuisine, daikon is used often in the many pickling variations of traditional Japanese cuisine such as bettarazuke and takuan-zuke. Grated daikon is also used in making the popular Japanese condiment ponzu, a soy sauce and citrus juice blend. Japanese hot pots such as oden are especially popular during winter, and a delicious bowl of warm broth wouldn’t be complete without slices of daikon. The drying process is a common way of preserving food in Japan. Shredded and dried daikon called kiriboshi-daikon, and daikon sprouts kaiware-daikon make a beautiful garnish. Daikon leaves don’t go to waste, either. They can be fried or pickled and are delectable either way.

Daikon. | Franco Folini

daikon1Aside from being a favorite ingredient in many Japanese dishes, daikon also has numerous health benefits.

Helps prevent cancer – daikon contains antioxidants that fight off free radical damage known to cause cancer. Research studies indicate that daikon juice prevent the proliferationsfc of harmful chemicals and carcinogens in the body.

Kiriboshi-daikon.

Rich in vitamin C – vitamin C is an essential antioxidant that strengthens the body’s immune system. 100 grams of daikon are said to supply the body with 34% of the daily value our bodies need. Daikon leaves have a higher concentration of vitamin C levels than daikon roots.

Migraine relief – migraines are caused by constricting blood vessels in the brain. Daikon helps dilate the blood vessels and can be taken as a preventative measure or even at the first sign of a migraine.

14680773562_9ea2148113_zHelps in organ functions – daikon is an effective diuretic. It also helps cleanse the blood and gets rid of toxins through the liver, kidneys, digestive tract, and sweat glands.

Anti-inflammatory – high levels of vitamin C and B found in daikon aid in preventing chronic inflammation that lead to arthritis and heart disease.

Pickled daikon and carrot coins. | iris

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Romantic Places to Visit in Japan on Valentine’s Day

  • Posted by:
  • February 12, 2015

Valentine’s Day in Japan5435235983_73fccbeed4_z is observed mostly by women who give presents to men, usually chocolates. But not all presents given on Valentine’s Day involve romance.  Giri-choko (義理チョコ, courtesy chocolate) are chocolates given to men who are either friends, colleagues, or bosses, and these symbolize friendship or gratitude, while honmei-choko (本命チョコ, chocolates of love) are given to men of romantic interest. A month later, on White Day”men who received either the giri-choko or the honmei-choko on Valentine’s Day are expected to return the favor to the women. Though this unique Japanese tradition is still much observed, more and more Japanese couples are starting to do something romantic on Valentine’s Day.

Giri-choko. | ORAZ Studio

Here are some ideas for having a romantic Valentine’s Day with your special someone when in Japan.

Take your special someone on a stroll in a Japanese garden.

There’s no better way to get to know someone than by talking with them. Japan has some of the most beautiful gardens for the perfect backdrop in wooing your date.  Some gardens you can visit are:

Imperial Palace East Gardens—a convenient 5- to 10-minute walk from Tokyo Station, the gardens are the location of the former Edo Castle and are now part of the present Imperial Palace. The foundation of the former castle tower still stands, along with its impressive moats. The gardens are well maintained and exemplify the immaculate landscaping techniques the Japanese are known for.

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Shinjuku Gyoen—only a 10-minute walk from east Shinjuku Station, the park has wide lawns with ponds and trees that make any stroll romantic. There is a French garden as well a Japanese landscaped garden. Shinjuku Gyoen is also a popular spot for cherry blossom viewing each spring.

Shinjuku Gyoen.

Get a romantic bird’s-eye view from Tokyo Skytree.

With a height of 634 meters (2080 feet), the Skytree is currently the tallest structure in Japan. The lower deck, 350 meters high, is the Tembo Deck. Large windows and a 360° panoramic view allow visitors to see Tokyo in all its glory. Visitors who want to view the city from even higher up can take elevators to the Tembo Gallery.

Take a romantic day trip from Tokyo.

If you are staying in the busy metropolis of Tokyo, taking a relaxing day trip outside the city can be a welcome way to rejuvenate, spend some quality time with your special someone, and see other beautiful parts of Japan. Some places well within a day’s reach include:

1654333849_56bb074d3f_zHakone—less than 100 kilometers from Tokyo, it is known for having some of the best hot spring resorts with great views of Mt. Fuji.

Chichibu City—in Saitama Prefecture, you can visit fields of breathtaking shibazakura (moss phlox) in Hitsujiyama Park. Chichibu Shrine is also a popular landmark in the area.

Flowers in Chichibu. | Christopher Liang

Takasaki City—only a 50-minute bullet train ride from Tokyo, the city is known for being the leading producer of daruma dolls, lucky charm dolls in Japan. While in Takasaki City, don’t miss seeing the Shorinzan Daruma Temple and the Byakue Dai-Kannon statue.

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Sentō: Japanese Communal Bath House

  • Posted by:
  • February 9, 2015

Japan consists of almost 7,000 islands. Over 70% of the country is mountainous; there are over 200 volcanoes in the Japanese jurisdiction. As a volcanically active nation, Japan has many bathing facilities and literally thousands of hot spring resorts scattered all over the country.

Sentō796px-Kiyonaga_bathhouse_women-2 (銭湯) is a Japanese communal bath house that charges a fee for entrance and use of the facilities.  Though over the years there has been a rapid decline in the need for sentō because modern Japanese residences now have their own baths, many Japanese still find that going to a public bath house is an important social ritual: a longstanding Japanese custom that “physical proximity brings emotional intimacy.” A sentō varies from an onsen, which uses hot water from a natural hot spring. At an onsen, the bathing facility has at least one bath filled with natural hot spring water.

Woodcut print by Kiyonaga of a Japanese communal bath house. 

800px-Modern_sento_at_TakayamaThe origins of the Japanese bathing culture and the sentō in general can be traced back to Buddhist temples in India. The practice then spread to China and finally to Japan during the Nara period (710–784).  The Nara period and the Kamakura period (1185–1333) were known for their religious bathing rituals because of the predominant religious influence. Baths were commonly found at temples during these periods and were called yūya (hot water shop). The baths were steam baths commonly used by priests and the sick.  Members of the upper class and wealthy merchants soon included baths in their residences. By the end of the Edo period (1603–1867), the Tokugawa shogunate segregated baths by gender to uphold public moral standards.

Modern sentō at Takayama. | sanmai

Tradition is important in Japan, and bathing in an onsen or sentō is a big part of the Japanese culture. The Japanese experience would not be complete without treating yourself to a relaxing dip in a hot spring or a warm bath to create a stronger kinship among friends or, as it is loosely termed, skinship.

 

Related post:

Check out LaQua resort, a natural spring, a hidden gem right in the middle of the bustling city of Tokyo.

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Han System: The Japanese Warrior Estate

  • Posted by:
  • February 5, 2015

427px-Sengoku_period_battleJapanese warriors like the samurai, ronin, and ninja are portrayed in the modern world as being cunning, skillful, and adept in their fighting prowess with some of the more popular weaponry we know as katana, shuriken, and tanto. These great warriors were essential in Japan’s feudal era. The country was in so much chaos that strong leaders and strict reforms were needed to bring the whole country together during the Tokugawa bafuku.

A han (藩) was the estate of a warrior during the Edo period and early Meiji period.  Preceding the Tokugawa bafuku was the Sengoku period, during which a feudal system arose that was based on the agricultural yield or annual income of a particular han. In 1690, the richest han was recorded to be the Kaga Domain with a little over 1 million koku (Japanese unit of volume, equal to approximately 278.3 liters).

Japanese painting depicting a battle during the Sengoku period.

Under the imperial government’s scheme, ownership of land was consolidated into estates regulated by religious institutions and civil nobility. This heightened the need for samurai warriors who grew in number throughout the 11th and 12th centuries, giving the military class power and importance among Japanese society. The title daimyo were given to military lords who exercised territorial and proprietary control over private estates.

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Though the hans were under the authority of the central government, the Tokugawa, they still operated autonomously and were responsible for their own defenses and transportation. Essentially, they should have been economically self-sufficient. The Tokugawa shogunate were in control of a third of the country’s hans. However, others were still against the local government. An alliance between the hans that opposed the Tokugawa eventually overthrew military rule and a new central government was established under the emperor in 1868. This led to the abolition of the han system on August 29, 1871.

Japanese farmers planting rice. | NYPL

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Popular Contemporary Japanese Literature Authors

  • Posted by:
  • February 2, 2015

Chinese literature significantly influenced early Japanese literature. Over time, Japanese literature came into its own as Japanese writers developed their own identities and started writing about Japan. When Japan opened its ports to Western trading after the sakoku years, both Western and Eastern literature greatly influenced Japanese literature until today.

Japanese writers embraced free verse and incorporated it in the traditional poetic repertoire through the introduction of European literature. This allowed Japanese artists a fresh approach in creating longer works and alternative themes. Many young Japanese writers were allowed a broader range of ideas and styles that they quickly embraced. Some of the more popular contemporary Japanese writers include:

Kenzaburō Ōe_Kenzaburō_Ōe (born January 31, 1935) – his writing is heavily influenced by American and French literature. He writes mostly about social, political, existential, social non-conforming, and philosophical issues. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1994. Some of his latest works available in English include the Kaifuku suru kazoku, 1995 – A Healing Family (trans. by Stephen Snyder, ill. by Yukari Oe),Chugaeri, 1999 – Somersault (trans. by Philip Gabriel)  and Torikae ko (Chenjiringu), 2000 – The Changeling (trans. by Deborah Boehm).

Kenzaburō Ōe. | Thesupermat

Haruki MurakamiHarukiMurakami (born January 12, 1949) – his works have gained critical acclaim and awards in Japan and internationally. His writings have been translated into 50 languages and have sold millions of copies. Haruki Murakami’s writing style usually makes use of the first-person narrative in the tradition of the Japanese style I-Novel (literary genre in Japanese literature used to describe a type of confessional literature where the events in the story correspond to events in the author’s life). Some of his more popular writings include The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (1994-1995), Kafka on the Shore (2002), and 1Q84 (2009–2010). Murakami has also translated a number of English novels into Japanese such as those from authors J.D. Salinger and Raymond Carver.

Haruki Murakami.| wakarimasita

bananaBanana Yoshimoto (born 24 July 1964) – an influence on her early works was American author Stephen King, particularly his non-horror stories. As she further developed her writing, she admired the works of Isaac Bashevis Singer and Truman Capote. Banana Yoshimoto says that the main themes of her writings are “the exhaustion of young Japanese in contemporary Japan” and “the way in which terrible experiences shape a person’s life.” The Lake, her latest work, was longlisted for the 2011 Man Asian Literary Prize (an annual literary award given to the best novel by an Asian writer, either written in English or translated into English).

Banana Yoshimoto. | screengrab from www.goodreads.com

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The Matsumae Clan

  • Posted by:
  • January 29, 2015

During the 17th, 18th, and most of the 19th century, Japan adopted a policy that isolated the whole country from the outside world. This long period of national isolation was called sakoku, literally meaning chained country.  During sakoku, no Japanese could leave the country on penalty of death, and very few foreign nationals were permitted to enter or trade with Japan. Japan traded strictly with only five entities from four gateways. The Matsumae clan from the Matsumae Domain, located in Hokkaido, was one of them.

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The Matsumae clan (松前氏) was originally known as the Kakizaki clan from Shimokita Peninsula and later changed to Matsumae. They were granted the area around Matsumae, Hokkaidō by Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1590. The clan governed the area, a march fief (militarised border region), from 1603 to 1868. The Matsumae clan was in charge of defending it from all possible invasions. In return, they were exempt from owing a rice tribute to the shogunate. Aside from defending the country, the clan had close contacts with the Ainu of Hokkaidō, which also granted them exclusive rights to trade with the Ainu communities.

Print depicting Matsumae daimyo. | Eliphalet Brown Jr.

Trade between the Matsumae clan and the Ainu did not always go so smoothly. This resulted in conflicts known throughout Japanese history, such as:

Shakushain’s Revolt – an Ainu revolt between 1669 and 1672. It initially began as a fight for resources that eventually developed into a last try by the Ainu to keep their political independence and regain control over the terms of their trade relations.

MatsumaeJoMenashi-Kunashir Rebellion – a battle in 1789 where 37 Ainu people were arrested and sentenced to death. The rebellion was provoked by the suspicion that poisoned saké was given to some Ainu people in a loyalty ceremony, compounded with other reasons regarding Japanese traders.

It was only fairly recently, during the Meiji Restoration in the late 19th century, that the Matsumae march was dissolved and Hokkaidō was formally annexed by Japan.

Matsumae Castle.

Today, Matsumae Clan Mansion is reconstructed in its former glory as an Edo period castle town and a theme park that transports you back in time where you can experience what life was like during the Edo Period and the grand days of the samurai. There are 14 buildings that include merchant and samurai houses, magistrate’s office, a guard station, and other such places typical of a flourishing town. There are also traditional Japanese samurai armors and clothing that you can try on.

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