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13 February 2013

Learning Japanese heritage from a Canadian

I went to Kyoto last weekend holidays. The main purpose of the trip was to meet a foreign instructor of Japanese Sado. Do you know what Sado is? Sa means tea, Do means way, meaning "Way of tea." You can learn how to serve tea and sweets to guests and how to be served as guests.

Some people not only foreiners but even Japanese claim that it is too much of formality. I always thought that way. But my encounter with this Sado instructor changed my view.

His name is Randy-san. He manages a cafe in Kyoto. He is a Canadian man who has lived in Japan for more than 20 years. He first came to Japan to learn martial arts but later found out he had to be skillful for both martial arts and academic things. Then he chose Sado.

I joined his cafe's tea ceremony lesson for beginners. 6 students including me attended the lesson. His Japanese is excellent. He wore a very suitable kimono for tea ceremony. Only I wore kimono among 6 Japanese attendees. Actually my kimono was not suitable for tea ceremony.

 

He could explain every detail of Sado such as how to prepare and proceed.  

Then each student was instructed to perfom how to do each act of pouring hot water, mix with tea powder and then serve guests and how to be served. It is precisely ruled like social dances. No free form on your own. You have to memorize each act and perform that in public to be a good host and guest. That is kind of a hard thing to do. Interesting those things should be taught by a Japanese instructor but this time the other way around. I, Japanese was a student and Randy-san, Canadian was an instructor.

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He said "up, pull, cover" when I try to bring up hot water from the pot. I had to repeat that 3 times. Weird, just for bringing up, you have to know how to do each act. But that is the way of tea ceremony.

I asked him why we should follow so many rules just for tea ceremony.

He answered that we should not consider them rules rather these are manners. It is fun to have meals and drinks without manners in casual clothes relaxing at home. But you can also enjoy formal dinner at high class restaurant wearing formal clothes. Just like that. You can enjoy such formality.

He said significance of Sado is like significance of life.

Wow, it seems a foreinger, westerner had a better view on Japanese culture because he sees things objectively.

Maybe that is a dilenma we, Japanese including me have had for a long time. He just seemed to solve that instantly.

It is like how I learnt why Geisha girls put thick white make-ups on their faces by a Hollywood film "Memoirs of a Geisha." In the old days party rooms were so dark without strong lights that Geishas needed such make-ups to shine their faces to be recognized. Japanese films don't usually show indoor darkness of the old days. Without knowing darkness of that period, you can never learn how the old time people live and see the world. Hollywood did a better job in that sense.

Ironically Randy-san got me more interest in one of my country's heritage. Similar thing happened in sports field recently. Judo has been criticized for causing scandals such as harrassment and violent instruction to female athletes. International Judo organization denouced that scandal saying that violent instruction is against original philosophy established by a founder of Judo, Kano Jigoro.

We, Japanese are forgetting what we really are. We have to bring it back!

 

09 January 2013

Why not visit Nozawa Onsen Ski and natural hot spring village?

In the beginning of this year, I went to Nozawa Onsen village in Nagano Prefecture.

The below is last year's footage, February 2012.

It is famous ski resort but it is also famous for natural hot spring town. The word, Onsen means natural hot spring in Japanese.

Interestingly enough, the town is not only famous for Japanese skiers but Australians, New Zealanders and other foreigners. A ski resort famous for foreigners I knew was Niseko in Hokkaido. I visited there two years ago. Then I learnt Australians there became more interested in Nozawa Onsen. That was why I visited Nozawa last year and this year.

The place was better than expected. Snow quality was great. The courses were varied. I saw many Australians and other foreigners skiing and snowboarding. Not as many as number I saw in Niseko but I could meet some Aussies every time I got on a lift. I even could meet them attending ski school which only provided Japanese intruction. They told me they learnt it by body language. Wow!!

I saw them outside the ski areas. That is public bath houses. There are 13 community bath houses in the village. It is open early in the morning until late at night. All of them were managed by localies and free of charge for anybody including tourists. The hot water comes from volcano line underneath the village. It smells sulfur and some of them were really hot. I could not imagine foreigners enjoying that. But I saw them quite frequently. 

I spoke with localies. They told me they actually made sales to Australians flying there. However, they never change their village to resort style. They keep the way they have been from the past. You can't find any big hotels and leisure facilities over there. Just small local hotels, bath houses, temples, shrines, small shops, restaurants and bars. No big places except ski slopes. Very much like Japanese traditional village.

Localies seems to be proud of keeping their originality and personality. When I bathed in a community bath, one local man scolded a young boy saying "wash your penis before you get into the bath tub."  That means keep the bath clean and respect the manners.

It is a very mystique place. Real winter wonderland!

25 October 2012

Visited Miyako wearing Kimono

Last weekend I went to Kyoto city which was called Miyako in famous Hollywood Geisha film "Memoirs of a Geisha."

I visited there a few times in the past. But this time was kind of new experience because I wore kimono all the time during my trip.

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Do you know what kimono literaly means in Japanese? It means "thing to wear." Yes, that simply means "cloth." In the old days everyone wore it in everyday life. Now people wear it occasionally only for special events such as New Year's day, coming of age or wedding ceremony. Most of us do not wear it casually. Even in Kyoto, you could rarely see people in kimono.

That should be considered very dissapointing, isn't it. That is why I decided to wear in Kyoto. Not just for special event. I did it all the time during the trip including the time I am staying at hotel and using transportation such as bus and subway. I impressed not only foreign tourists but Japanese there.

In Kyoto I visited the Geisha towns, Budhist temples and shrines. I could enjoy viewing those places in a very different way because of kimono. Kimono restrains you and makes you walk difficult. Not just kimono, I wore Japanese tradtional socks, called Tabi and sandals, called Zori. Those things disturbed me as well.

But that is why I had different experience from the past trips. I experienced how people viewed the places when the places was first established. I could share experience with people in the old eras.

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Japanese lifestyle has dratiscally changed since Japan opened door to the West. We seemed lost our identity by that. Wearing kimono can revive our lost identity and traditional feeling.

See the photo of the below. That is traditional way of enjoying meals and sake. I did it on balcony of riverside restaurant. I enjoyed nice view as well as tasty sake and delicous Kyoto cuisine.  

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Kimono and Kyoto are what we should be proud of.

23:08 Posted in Culture, Society, Travel | Permalink | Comments (0) | Tags: kimono, kyoto

03 March 2011

Japan's repression to the small island residents by constructing nuke plants

Last weekend I visited most weird beach in the world. That is in Kaminoseki town, Yamaguchi prefecture.

It is said to be the construction site for newly built nuclear power plant that is scheduled to start operation in 2018.

See this video.

 

This is what it was like. The beach is watched by construction workers and security guards but people set up tents and held music concerts like enjoying party. Although annoucement that says "This is construction area. Please leave here immediately" was made every hour, they never moved. I joined them. They are activists who protest ongoing construction of nuclear power plant in Kaminoseki.

If the plant is constructed there, people living on nearby island called Iwai-shima should have very harsh life. Not just fear of radioactive leaking but the sea being polluted by warm water released from the plant, which kills fish they hunt for living.

They occupy the beach to show objection to the construction. They also sail to the sea where construction ships are anchored. Using fishery ships and kayaks, they try to stop the construction of the plant.

Nuclear plant is out of date power generation. The cost efficiency is lowering and renewable energey has become more common around the world.

Nuke plants have now become like US military bases in Japan. Both do not function as people expect to do. However myth that these things are very functional is still common.

A few weeks ago I joined the protest march to the U.S. embassy in Tokyo to show objection to construction of U.S. marine helipads in Takae, Okinawa. Two people were arrested by the police near the embassy.