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Category Archive: Japan Context

Weird Wonders Only in Japan!

  • Posted by:
  • May 18, 2017

Japan is an amazing place to visit. The country is known as a leading nation in many breakthrough advances in scientific research, particularly in the fields of engineering and natural sciences. Japanese electronics and automotive manufacturing industries account for a large share of the global market.  Also, Japan as a nation has received the highest number of Nobel prizes in Science in all of Asia and is ranked 8th in the world.  It’s no wonder that there are so many amazing things to discover about the Japanese culture and way of life.

Check out some of the amazingly weird things found only in Japan:

Vending machines everywhere

It’s puzzling how such an array of vending machines exists in Japan. It seems like you can purchase almost anything from them. The usual items would be hot meals, cold and hot drinks, and train tickets.

Vending machines. | inefekt69

But there are some practical and eco-friendly vending machines that offer charges on electric cars and a good selection of ebooks. It approaches the realm of the bizarre to see vending machines for the unthinkable, such as live lobsters!

Hatsune Miku craze

The concerts of Hatsune Miku (初音ミク) are very popular—thousands of fans flock to the spectacle of her shows and rave over her singing prowess. Her appearance is unique yet appealing, with her long bubblegum blue locks of hair and schoolgirl/spy attire. But it’s not just all this that makes her extraordinary. Hatsune Miku is a singing synthesizer “app” developed by Crypton Future Media, using Yamaha Corporation’s Vocaloid 2 synthesizing technology!

Hatsune Miku. | Nao Kitano

The squat toilet

squat toilet is a type of toilet used in a squat position when defecating, rather than sitting. It is commonly made of porcelain and can even be just a hole in the ground. It is essentially positioned much lower on the ground to make it easier for the user to squat.  The technique is proven to have many health benefits and is apparently the best way to go!

Squat toilet. | Matt Perreault

The fugu experience

Fugu or pufferfish has the poison tetrodotoxin, a potent neurotoxin with no known antidote, and it can be lethal. Eating pufferfish, or fugu (河豚 ) in Japanese, may just be one of the thrills when going on a daring adventure in Japan!

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Unravelling the Takenouchi Documents

  • Posted by:
  • May 15, 2017

Japanese people follow predominantly the Shinto and Buddism religions. Shinto is the ethnic religion of Japan, focusing on traditional ritual practices and multiple gods. Buddhism on the other hand, was introduced to Japan by five Chinese monks from Gandhara (an ancient kingdom extending to the Swat valley and Potohar plateau regions of Pakistan and the Jalalabad district of north eastern Afghanistan).

Jesus. | Waiting For The Word

The monks traveled to Japan during the Kofun period (250 to 538) and spread Buddhism around the country. A small percentage of the Japanese population are members of other religious sects or movements.

Mahikari, or shinshūkyō,nis one such Japanese new religious movement founded in 1963 by Yoshikazu Okada. Many of Okada’s ideas were taken from the Takenouchi Documents.  The Takenouchi Documents are the works of cosmo archeologist Wado Kosaka, who gained fame by attempting to contact aliens on live television. The documents were found in 1936 and destroyed during World War II, but reproductions are on display at the Jesus Museum.

According to the Takenouchi Documents, it was not Jesus Christ who was crucified at Golgotha, but his younger brother Isukiri. It is said that upon being captured by the Romans, Jesus escaped by switching places with his brother.

Tomb of Christ, Shingō. | thor hestnes

Jesus took with him a lock of the Virgin Mary’s hair and one of his brother’s ears and fled to Japan. He then settled down in the village of Shingō, located in Sannohe District of south-central Aomori Prefecture in the Tōhoku region of Japan.

Jesus is said to have had three children with a local woman before passing away of natural causes at the age of 106. It is believed that many of the village’s current inhabitants are descendants of Jesus.

The Tomb of Jesus Christ rests on top of a hill and is an actual burial mound with a large cross on top of it. Beside it is another, almost identical mound where the ear of Isukiri and the Virgin Mary’s lock of hair are buried. The story may seem so outlandish, but many believers point to signs that indicate that the story is true such as the variations in customs, in speech, and in the eye color of many of the villagers at Shingō as evidence of the Anglo-Christian influence of Jesus in the area. Believe it, or not.

Graves at Shingō.

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Beppu’s Bloody Hell Pond

  • Posted by:
  • May 11, 2017

Japan is an island nation rich in natural hot springs, or onsen. Thousands of onsens all over the country serve as public bathing areas for anyone wanting to experience a must-try aspect of Japanese culture.

Chinoike Jigoku. | Elvin

Beppu city in Ōita Prefecture is strategically nestled between the sea and mountains, making it a popular spot for its hot springs.

It has eight geothermal hot spots (Earth’s internal heat), also known as the Eight Hells of Beppu.

The Iyo-no-Kuni Topography (now known as  Ehime Prefecture), written sometime in the early 8th century, tells us that the deities Sukunabikona and Ōkuninushi  once visited Iyo-no-Kuni. Sukunabikona was weak from illness and fainted. Concerned, Ōkuninushi placed a long pipe at the bottom of the sea that stretched all the way from Dōgo Onsen in the city of Matsuyama to Beppu, to supply the therapeutic thermal waters for him to bathe. This eventually revived him and made him well again.

During the Kamakura period, Ōtomo Yoriyasu established a sanatorium in the area to cure samurais who were wounded in the war against the Mongolian Army. Since the Meiji period, Beppu onsen has been known for its many healing benefits.

Bloody Hell Pond. | Hiroshi TOKUSA

One particular onsen in Beppu stands out for its unique appearance, the Chinoike Jigoku or Bloody Hell Pond.  Its waters are a scorching 78 degrees Celsius, more suitable for cooking rather than bathing. Its boiling waters are rich in iron oxide, giving the pool its characteristic blood red color.

Since 700 C.E., the Chinoike Jigoku has been notoriously mentioned for its striking appearance which according to Buddhist beliefs, resembles an entry to hell. It is also said that Bloody Hell Pond was used to torture people by boiling them to death.

Today, it is a popular site for visitors to the area. Several types of skin products are sold that are made from the mud of Chinoike Jigoku.

Beppu onsen. | かがみ~

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More Incredible Japanese Bridges

  • Posted by:
  • May 8, 2017

The ancient Romans are considered the greatest bridge builders of antiquity. They built arch bridges and aqueducts that could withstand the harshest of conditions, with some still standing today. One such example is the Alcántara Bridge on the river Targus, in Spain. Over time, bridges became even more important in connecting lands separated by water. Even more remarkable are bridges that are not even manmade but formed naturally. Today, many bridges are more than just a means to get to another end, but rather wondrous architectural structures that leave us in awe on how far we’ve gone.

Japan has its own share of magnificent bridges throughout history. Here are a few:

On-bashi Bridge in Hiroshima, Chugoku, is a natural bridge that formed from a massive limestone rock that originally dammed a river. Over time, the limestone eroded and a hole formed the On-bashi Bridge about 2 million years ago. It measures about 90 meters long and 19 meters wide, with a height of 40 meters (as tall as a 10 story building). It is designated a natural monument of Japan.

 

On-bashi Bridge. | gertrud

The Ryōgoku Bridge in Tokyo was built in 1659. It is in the junction of the Sumida and the Kanda Rivers. Its name means Two Provinces, coming from joining Edo in Musashi Province (Tokyo Metropolis today) and Shimōsa Province (modern day Chiba Prefecture). The neighborhood at the east end of the bridge is Ryōgoku, where its name was derived from.

Ryogoku Bridge and the Great Riverbank

 

Meganebashi or Spectacles Bridge in Nagasaki was built in 1634 by the Japanese monk Mokusu of Kofukuji Temple.

Meganebashi. | Ben Furiel

It is considered the oldest stone arch bridge in Japan and is designated as an Important Cultural Property.

It is called Spectacles Bridge because of its two arches and the reflection they make in the water that looks like spectacles.

 

 

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Fun Filled Summer in Japan!

  • Posted by:
  • May 4, 2017

Summer in Japan is steaming hot with fun and excitement. The summer months are filled with festivals (matsuri) and it’s not difficult to get caught up in the revelry.  Cities and towns all across the country have some form of summer festival to look forward to. The streets come alive with extravagant floats, fireworks, food stalls, and music. There’s never a dull moment in a Japanese summer!

Jidai Matsuri. | KCP Flickr

 

Some of the highlights of the Japanese summer include:

Gion Matsuri, Kyoto

Gion Matsuri is the most popular summer festival. The festival is held at Yakasa-Jinja Shrine in Kyoto for most of the month of July. Festivities called Yoiyama are held in the evenings July 14–16, right before the main event on the 17th, when a spectacular procession of floats wind through the streets amid countless revelers.

Throughout the month-long celebration, around 30 events occur, including the Kencha Matsuri (tea ceremony festival) and the Hagasa Junko (flower umbrella procession), when umbrella floats and dancers parade in the streets. During the main festivities of Gion Matsuri, the streets are closed in the evenings and clusters of stalls appear to sell food, drinks, and various memorabilia.

Sendai Tanabata Matsuri, Tōhoku Region

Tanabata, or Evening of the Seventh, is also known as the Star Festival.  It originated from the Chinese Qixi Festival. It is celebrated on the 7th day of the 7th month of the year depending on either the solar or lunar calendar and the area in Japan.

Street food. | KCP Flickr

 It commemorates the meeting of the deities Orihime and Hikoboshi who, according to legend, were lovers separated by the Milky Way and were allowed to meet only once a year on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month of the lunisolar calendar.

Awa Dance Festival , Tokushima

The Awa Dance Festival (or Awa Odori), the largest dance festival in Japan, is celebrated August 12–15 in Tokushima, Tokushima Prefecture. Awa is the old feudal administration name for Tokushima Prefecture, and odori means dance. The festival attracts over a million tourists every year with its carefully choreographed dancers and musicians known as ren.

Traditional masks. | KCP Flickr

Participants adorn bon odori costumes and dance through the streets along with traditional taiko drums, shamisen lute, kane bell, and shinobue flute.

With summer in Japan bringing in the heat and excitement, there are a number of places that visitors can go to when in Japan. Don’t miss out on some of the spots to enjoy in the Tokyo region to relax and cool off away from the crowds.

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Japanese Monks Being Mummified While Alive!

  • Posted by:
  • May 1, 2017

Sokushinbutsu is the process of self-mummification that begins while the person is still alive. It was a practice observed by monks who were mostly members of the Shingon sect of the Japanese Vajrayāna (one of three routes to enlightenment, the other two being Hīnayāna and Mahāyāna) school of Buddhism.  It is believed that hundreds of monks attempted sokushinbutsu, but only 24 mummified remains have been discovered to date.

Shugendō is a mountain-dwelling version of Buddhism that rose from the amalgamation of Vajrayana, Shintoism, and Taoism during the 7th century that embraced the practice of severe self-discipline and abstention from all forms of indulgence for religious reasons. One of these practices was sokushinbutsu or sokushin jobutsu: it connotes mountain austerity to attain Buddha-nature in one’s body. The monks from the Three Mountains of Dewa region (Yudono, Haguro, and Gassan) perfected the sokushinbutsu practice. The area remains sacred in the Shugendō tradition to this day.

Self-mummified monk. | Screengrab from YouTube video by AllThings Creepy

It is believed that Kūkai (774–835), the Japanese Buddhist monk who founded the Shingon sect,  introduced sokushinbutsu to Japan as part of secret tantric practices he learned from China. Sokushinbutsu involves great self-discipline, since a monk undergoes the mummification process  that can take anywhere from eight to ten years. Monks would go on a strict diet called mokujikigyo, literally meaning, “eating a tree.” This special diet consists of whatever is predominantly found in the mountains, such as pine needles, seeds, nuts, and resin.

Kukai

For three years, the monks would observe mokujikigyo while taking part in a regimen involving rigorous physical activity. This controlled system stripped the monks of their body fat. For another three years they would continue to only eat bark and roots and begin drinking poisonous tea made from the sap of the urushi tree, usually used to make lacquer bowls. This caused vomiting; the body would rapidly lose fluids. Also, it would kill maggots that caused the body to decay after death. The final act of a dedicated monk would be to lock himself in a stone tomb in the lotus position.

The tomb had an air tube and a bell attached to it. The entombed monk would then ring the bell each day to signal that he was still alive. When the bell would cease to ring, the monk would die in a state of meditation chanting the nenbutsu (mantra about Buddha), and the air tube would be removed and the tomb sealed. The monk’s bodies would be naturally preserved with skin and teeth intact without decay and with no need for artificial preservation. Many Buddhist Sokushinbutsu mummies have been found in northern Japan who are centuries old and are revered and venerated by many followers. Sokushinbutsu was outlawed by the Japanese Government in the late 19th century.

Air chute of tomb. | Screengrab from YouTube video by AllThings Creepy

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The Astonishing Ōyu Stone Circles

  • Posted by:
  • April 27, 2017

Every country has its own historical treasures that leave us agape with wonder. These historical sites were built by ancient civilizations in every part of the world.  Some historic marvels include the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu, also known as Lost City of the Incas, in Peru. It lies on top of a mountain that’s only accessible by train or a four-day trek. Then there’s the historical archaeological city of Petra, in Jordan. The ancient city, possibly established as early as 312 BC, is also known as Rose City, because of the color of the stone used to carve it. It is famous for its rock-cut architecture and water conduit system.  Another example is Stonehenge, in Wiltshire, England.  It is a ring of standing stones that are set within earthworks (artificial changes in land level), right in the middle of the densest complex of the Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments in England, including several hundred burial mounds.

Ancient monuments and cities gives us a glimpse of how the history, culture, and traditions of a nation and its people somehow evolved. These ancient structures are a fascinating means to answer some of the questions we may have about the past. Japan has its own story to tell about its rich history.

Manza. | katsuuu 44

The Sannai-Maruyama is located southwest of Aomori City. These historical ruins can be traced to the Jōmon period (about 12,000 BCE),  a time when the country was inhabited by a nomadic culture that later evolved into a degree of sedentism and cultural complexity.

Another amazing archaeological site in Japan is the Ōyu Stone Circles (大湯環状列石 ), or Ōyu Kanjyō Resseki, located in the city of Kazuno, Akita Prefecture in the Tōhoku region of Japan. It also dates back to the late Jōmon period.

Ōyu Stone Circles. |Chris Lewis

The Ōyu Stone Circles, discovered in 1931, are two large stone circles on an artificially flattened plain on the left bank of the Ōyu River. The bigger stone circle is called the Manza circle. It has a diameter of 46 meters: the largest found in Japan. The slightly smaller stone circle is named the Nonakado circle. It is 42 meters in diameter and is located a few meters away from the Manza.

Each stone circle is made from river stones that seem to have been brought from another river about 7 kilometers away. Each circle contains a smaller cluster of stone including standing and elongated stones that form a sundial pointing towards the sunset on the summer solstice. The arrangement of the stones allows the calculation of the winter solstice, the vernal equinox  (the moment in which the plane of Earth’s equator passes through the center of the Sun), and  the sun’s movement. The Manza and the Nonakado circles and other remains were designated a Special National Historic Site of Japan in 1956 by the Japanese government and were submitted for inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage List as one of the Jōmon Archaeological Sites in Hokkaidō.

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Japanese Superstition and Pets in Japan

  • Posted by:
  • April 24, 2017

Dogs and cats are wonderful, faithful, and loyal companions. As the saying goes, “pets and dogs repay the love you give them ten-fold.” The unconditional love we receive from our canine or feline companions is irreplaceable. Pets are considered valued members of the family all around the world, including Japan.

Japanese superstitions are deeply rooted in the history and culture of Japan. Its roots can be traced all the way back to Japan’s ancient pagan beliefs, the regard for certain natural things as  kami (spirits or phenomena that are worshiped in the religion of Shinto), and the animist culture. An offshoot of this is that many Japanese superstitions involve belief about animals and depictions of animals bringing about good or bad fortune. This concept makes cats and dogs even more important in the Japanese culture.

Hachikō. | KCP Flickr

Take, for example, the timeless tale of friendship and loyalty of the dog Hachikō. In 1924, Hachikō became the pet of a man named Hidesaburo Oeno, a professor of agriculture at the Tokyo University. Hachikō was an Akita with golden brown fur and cream markings on his face. He would regularly greet Hidesaburo at the Shibuya Station. When the professor suddenly passed away, Hachikō was given away, but he escaped and each day he would be at the station at 4 pm waiting for his old friend for the remainder of his life.

Animals used to be predominantly thought of as indispensable help in working farm lands but over the years many Japanese have considered them as part of the family. Dogs and cats are capable of giving so much unconditional love, and will always be faithful companions in the best and worst of times.

Japanese kami. | thaths

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Sessue Hayakawa: The First Japanese Hollywood Heartthrob

  • Posted by:
  • April 17, 2017

When you think of silent films, Charlie Chaplin, Rudolph Valentino, and Gloria Swanson might come to mind. But did you know that there was also a debonair Japanese silent film actor who made women swoon at the mere sight of him?

Sessue Hayakawa (1889–1973), also known as Hayakawa Sesshū, was one of the biggest stars in Hollywood during the silent film era of the 1910s and 1920s. He is considered the first actor of Asian descent to find stardom as one of Hollywood’s leading men. Sessue Hayakawa not only conquered the hearts of women in the United States but in Europe as well. His broodingly handsome good looks were perfect to play the role of the sexually dominant villain, a role in which he was typecasted.

Sessue (pronounced Sesshū) Hayakawa was born Kintarō Hayakawa to a family of means in the village of Nanaura, now part of Chikura Town in the city of Minamibosō in Chiba Prefecture, Japan.  He was the second eldest son of the prominent provincial governor.

Sessue Hayakawa

From an early age, Sessue was expected to become an officer in the navy, but while a student at the Naval Academy in Etajima, he swam to the bottom of a lagoon on a dare and ruptured his eardrum. The injury caused him to fail the navy physical. This brought his father shame and embarrassment and caused a wedge in their relationship. Young Hayakawa attempted seppuku by stabbing himself more than 30 times in his abdomen in a shed in their property. The family dog’s barking alerted Hayakawa’s parents to the scene and his father used an axe to break down the shed’s door, saving his life. After he recovered, he was sent to study political economics at the University of Chicago to become a banker.

Hayakawa decided to quit his studies at the university and return to Japan after his second year. He first traveled to Los Angeles and waited for a transpacific steamship. During his stay in L.A., he discovered the Japanese Theatre in Little Tokyo and fell in love with acting and performing in plays.  Here Hayakawa met the influential film producer Thomas H. Ince and the Japanese actress, Tsuru Aoki. Ince cast both Aoki and Hayakawa in his Japan-themed films, and in 1914 the two young actors married and became one of Hollywood’s golden couples.

Cecil B. DeMille’s blockbuster film, The Cheat, made Hayakawa an international star. The 1915 film was a huge success most likely because it touched on interracial intimacy. During those years, Hayakawa was as well-known and popular as Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks, although today his name is largely unknown to the public.

Though many of his films are lost, most of his later works such as The Bridge on the River Kwai, The Geisha Boy, The Swiss Family Robinson, Tokyo Joe and Three Came Home are available on DVD. For his contribution to the motion picture industry, Sessue Hayakawa was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

The Cheat 1915 movie poster

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Sengakuji: The Final Resting Place of the 47 Rōnin

  • Posted by:
  • April 13, 2017

The story of the 47 Rōnin is a perfect example of honoring the bushidō, the way of the warrior code. It is a code of conduct that exemplifies a warrior’s moral values in mastery of martial arts, frugality, loyalty, and honor unto death. The tale of the 47 Rōnin, also historically known as “The Ako Vendetta,” and in fiction as the Chushingura, is an example of the Bushido honor code associated not just with samurai, but also with the Japanese national identity.

Gravestones of the 47 Rōnin. | David Marcos Moreno

A rōnin was a samurai with no lord or master.  A samurai could lose his master in death or even from falling out of his master’s favor. As the story goes, a feudal lord from the 18th century, Asano Naganori was forced to commit seppuku (ritual suicide) after he attacked a high-ranking master of ceremonies, Kira Yoshinaka.  Naganori’s death left the samurai under his patronage without a master, and left them honour-bound to take revenge.

Sengakuji Temple. | sophietica

The 47 Rōnin warriors disappeared for over a year and according to legend, they became drunkards as part of a plan. In December of 1703, the 47 Rōnin banded together to launch a surprise attack on Yoshinaka’s castle. They successfully killed Yoshinaka, finally avenging their master. True to their code, they turned themselves in to the authorities, who sentenced them to commit seppuku. One of the 47  Rōnin, Terasaka Kichiemon, was deemed too young to commit seppuku. He was pardoned by the Shogun and lived to be 87 years old.

All 47 Rōnin are now interred in front of the tomb of their master in the grounds of Sengaku-ji Temple, Tokyo. Sengakuji  (泉岳寺) is a small temple located in Shinagawa Station. Each year on the 14th of December, a festival is held to honor the 47 Rōnin’s revenge. Thousands of visitors flock to the tiny graveyard to pay tribute to the exemplary faithfulness and courage of the 47 brave souls.

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