Upcoming Events

Hitachi’s Cultural Treasure and Sasara on Display

As part of the Kamine Shrine Ritual being performed on May 3rd, 4th, and 5th this year, Hitachi’s Cultural Treasure and Sasara will be displayed to the public.

The Kamine Shrine Ritual began in the year 1695, when Tokugawa Mitsukuni proclaimed Kamine Shrine the guardian shrine for the three villages of Miyata, Sukegawa, and Ose. The parishioners’ display of the Hitachi Cultural Treasure began in the period from 1716 to 1735, and it achieved its current form at the beginning of the Meiji era.

The Hitachi Cultural Treasure was declared a National Important Folk Asset in 1959, and became a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2009. It refers to the ever-changing floats and the puppet theatre conducted on top of the floats. This will be the first time since the UNESCO designation that all 4 floats will be on display at the same time. This opportunity only comes around once every 7 years, so please don’t miss it!

Sasara refers to the lion dancing that accompanies shrine festivals. Part of the dancing involves the lions sounding the drums at their chests in time with the music of flutes, the other part involves the lions shaking their heads and manes.

Dates: May 3rd, 4th, 5th

Location: Hitachi City, Miyata-cho, Daiouin-dori (aka Festival Road)

The floats will be navigating between the North, West, East, and Main blocks of the city, between 2:30 to 5:30 on the 3rd, between 10am to 5pm on the 4th, and between 11am and 1:30pm on the 5th (cancelled if raining).

The Sasara will be performed at different points throughout the city between 20 minute to 1 hour intervals, from 8:30am to 7:15pm on the 4th (starting and ending at Kamine Shrine).

Related events:

Hitachi Hometown Museum presents ‘Hitachi’s Prayer Votives’

70 different pieces from Hitachi’s shrines and temples will be on display. Until May 6th.

Original link (Japanese)

Disaster Info

Radiation Updates

This week we have:

Air            Drinking Water                 Fruits&Veggies                Milk

Mushrooms and Bamboo Shoots              Chicken&Eggs

As you can tell from the results above, be careful with mushrooms, bamboo shoots, and other outdoor forest-based products.

Upcoming Events

The Japan Foundation Collection: Japanese Ceramics Around the World

Period: April 21st to June 17th, 2012

After having travelled to 168 cities in 68 countries, this collection is being exhibited in Japan for the first time!

This exhibit was made possible by the loan of the Japan Foundation’s modern Japanese ceramic collection, which has travelled to 168 cities in 68 countries as part of the ‘Traditional Ceramic Exhibit’ and ‘Claywork Exhibit’ for over 10 years, and is being presented within Japan for the first time.

This exhibit is split into two parts, ‘tradition’ and ‘molds’. The ‘tradition’ part introduces the beauty of ceramic expression that has flowered under the influence of traditional methods, as seen in the works of artists designated as Preservers of Important Intangible Cultural Properties (Living National Treasures) such as Tomimoto Kenkichi, Hamada Shoji, and Shimizu Uichi, as well as others such as Kawai Kanjiro and Kitaojiro Sanjin.

The ‘molds’ part introduces the works of currently practicing artists who were responsible for the post-war molding trend in ceramics, such Yagi Kazuo, Kumakura Junkichi, Morino Taimei, and Miwa Ryusaku.

Hours of Operation: 9:30am to 5pm (last entry at 4:30pm, closed on Mondays)

Location: Ibaraki Ceramic Art Museum

Admission: Adults…700yen, High school/University…500yen, Junior high and under…250yen (free on Saturdays).


Related Events:

Art Seminar ‘The Shape of Modern Ceramics, in Connection with the Japan Foundation Collection; Looking at the New Movements within Kasama/Ibaraki’

Instructor: Kaneko Kenji (Museum Director)

Date: May 20th, 1:30pm

Location: 1st Floor Multi-purpose Hall (free)

Limit 150 people (tickets handed out starting 9:30am the same day, no advance reservation possible)

Tea Party

Date: June 3rd, 11am to 3:40pm

First 80 people (tickets sold the same day, contact for details)

Gallery Talk with the Curator

Date: May 12th, 1:30pm

Location: Ground floor Exhibition Hall

(Must pay regular admission to participate)

Original link (Japanese)

Upcoming Events

Sato Gallery Collection: The Beauty of Nature – The Sensations of the Four Seasons

A country blessed with water and lush greenery, as well as rich scenery enfolded with wildflowers that change with the seasons, has cultivated a unique Japanese perspective on nature and society as well as influenced its culture and traditions, as seen in the Japanese term kachofugetsu or ‘beauty of nature’. This theme of ‘beauty in nature’ is still a major theme in modern Japanese painting, and there are many paintings of birds and flowers and landscapes. The images of the flowers and greenery that are expressed through the eyes and hearts of the various artists are a symbol of the Japanese spirit.

The ‘International Garden and Greenery Exhibition’ held in Osaka in 1990 featuring the ‘Exhibition of Japanese Flower and Greenery Paintings’ from 50 of Japan’s representative painters such as Higashiyama Kai, Ogura Yuki, and Kayama Matazo attracted a lot of attention and discussion. This current exhibit, with the collaboration of the Sato Gallery Collection which owns the pieces from that exhibition, aims to introduce the world of the ‘beauty of nature’ that continues to enthrall us despite the passing of time, starting with the painters who formed the backbone of Japanese painting in the Showa era and progressing to the geniuses of the Heisei era whose future activities are highly anticipated.

Period: April 14th to May 27th, 2012

Location: Tenshin Memorial Art Museum, Ibaraki

Hours of Operation: 9:30am to 5pm (last entry at 4:30pm, closed on Mondays)

Admission: Adults…600yen, High school/University…400yen, Junior high and under…200yen. (junior high and under free on Saturdays)

Gallery Talk with the Curator:

May 13th, 1:30 to 2:30pm.

Original link (Japanese)

Upcoming Events

Kasama’s 31st Annual Himatsuri

The Himatsuri (written as ‘pottery-firing festival’) is one of the biggest yearly events in Ibaraki Prefecture, and is being held this year from April 29th to May 5th. Over 200 ceramic artists, potters, and local vendors will gather in the spacious and vividly green ‘Kasama Art Forest Park Event Area’ to entice visitors with their wildly individual booths in this festival of never-before-seen ceramics.

The booths have been specially designed by each vendor to attract customers through individuality, making it possible to enjoy both the store’s atmosphere as well as its products.

There are also food and drink booths being run by ceramic artists, and many of their interesting foods and beverages have become Himatsuri favorites. Seeing what they will come up with each year is one of the highlights of the festival.

In addition to the ceramic sales, there are also many interesting events such as the ‘Clay mask auction’ where participating artists compete in skill and individuality; the ‘Clay mask festival’ which displays masks made by local elementary children; and the ‘Kids’ land’ area where children can learn how to throw pottery from the artists themselves. All this and more!

Date: April 29th-May 5th, 9am-5pm

Location: Kasama Art Forest Park Event Area

A free shuttle bus will be operating between Tomobe Station’s North exit and the Himatsuri grounds during the event. Buses run once an hour on weekdays, twice an hour on weekends.

Original link (Japanese)

One Day in Ibaraki

Healing Green

Satoshi Numata is a calm, unassuming man with a very big dream. And as he talks about it, the idealism and hope that carry that dream become somewhat infectious, making it hard not to see this dream quickly and surely becoming a reality.

The dream started when he was very young, as he endured repeated hospitalizations for an ongoing medical condition. “When I would get well enough, my father would take me to a nearby park and let me enjoy the greenery”, he says. Just by being around the plants and animals he felt restored, and soon he came to the conclusion that when he grew up he must have a garden of his own.

But not just any garden, a herb garden. A garden where not only the sight and smell of the plants helped refresh and revive the visitors, but one where the very products of the garden could be used to heal and rejuvenate. Even as he entered the field of design in school he found a way to incorporate classes about foliage and botany, as a part of landscape design, and quickly started building up an encyclopedic knowledge about the properties and growing methods of various herbs. From the soothing qualities of blue mallow to the correct way to pick chamomile flowers, there seems to be no end to the interesting bits of information he has picked up along the way.

Finally, just last January, he put his knowledge to work. Using a plot of land only the size of a basketball court, less than one kilometer from his home in Kamisu, Ibaraki, he began growing lemongrass and mint, among others. Calling his garden operation ‘Midorism’, the plan was to make herbal tea from the fruits of his labor, and slowly grow the enterprise. ‘Midori’ means ‘green’ in Japanese, and combined with the English suffix –ism it gives the impression of a way of life or belief system, which is exactly what Mr. Numata was aiming for. In fact, due to the homophonic nature of the last part of the word, ‘sm’, it sounds like the Japanese pronunciation of the word ‘to live’ (sumu). So to some readers it appears to mean ‘living in green’, a happy coincidence that Mr. Numata does not discourage. Even the soil itself was specially cultivated; since no herbicides or pesticides are used and everything is completely organic, Mr. Numata wanted to provide the best possible growing environment without chemical help. Due to this he turned to cherry tree leaves. Apparently the leaves, once they break down into the soil, invite good microorganisms and insects to feed on them, helping to disperse their many nutrients into the earth and improving growing conditions.

However, things did not initially go as planned. As we all know, the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake occurred in March of last year, and though Kamisu was relatively far from the earthquake itself, its proximity to the coast meant it was not exempt from the subsequent tsunami. When it came the tsunami inundated large parts of the town, including Mr. Numata’s garden, which, for botany enthusiasts, is a very serious problem. Salted ground is very difficult to grow most plants in, including temperamental greenery like herbs, and the ocean had just filled his field with it while simultaneously washing out all the plants that had been growing.

Mr. Numata was undaunted. After some quick internet searches he happened upon information regarding the ice plant; not only would it grow in salted soil, it would remove the salt from the surrounding soil in a roughly 60cm radius. Armed with this knowledge, Mr. Numata went back to his garden and began planting ice plants. As soon as they began to get a little larger, he planted mint and other herbs within the 60cm radius and found that they survived, though others planted outside it died. Through the constant placement and re-placement of the ice plants his garden was soon salt-free and already on its way to producing the herbs he had planned.

Since then he has been working the land all by himself, while still working at his full-time design job, and turning the cultivated herbs into tea. Currently he has 4 different varieties, with different intended effects. Though I have not tried the others, I can vouch for the effectiveness of the Study Blend; a mix of lavender, mint, and lemongrass, this full-bodied and soothing tea helps to calm the nerves and improve concentration, and is a very welcome companion to a good book or study session.

That said, the dream does not stop here. He plans to acquire more land, and slowly increase the operation to multiple hands, but not just to increase the quantity and variety of herbs. Starting this summer he is quitting his design job to work on the garden full time, so that he can began the other phases of his plan. To him, an herb garden provide healing and relaxation in many more ways than just producing tea.

To start with, he plans on rolling out gardening classes on each of the plants he cultivates, allowing students to begin their own gardens with the knowledge needed to succeed. In addition, he will offer cultivation trials for those with no access to or interest in growing their own garden. Mainly aimed at families or groups of friends, he envisions people building bonds while enjoying the soothing nature of gardening work; there would be an opportunity to share in each step along the way, from planting right through to harvest, so that people of all ages could feel the rewards of working with nature.

Finally, he also hopes to bring in counselors and provide a consultation service. His primary concern, and one that seems to underpin each part of his multi-step plan, is the growth of incidence and intensity of depression and other mental illnesses in Japan. Providing a pleasant garden to relax is one strategy, reconnecting with yourself, others, and nature itself through gardening is another; but the crowning aspect is an understanding ear and a knowledgeable advisor. Counselors will not only be able to listen to and advise visitors, but also suggest teas or other herbal remedies that can be used to treat symptoms and improve overall well-being.

Mr. Numata speaks charismatically of how he hopes that herb gardens and gardening will spread throughout Japan, and help to combat the effects of stress and other difficulties. In fact, he is willing to take the chance to make it happen in his own community, though he is not without concern that he might not be able to sustain himself on it. But, as he says, you only get one shot at life, might as well go for your dreams while you can. Just listening to him talk about his dream is enough to inspire me to work harder on my own, so I can only hope he continues to see more and more success from now on.

Official website (Japanese)

See it on Youtube!

Upcoming Events

Hanazono’s Sasara

Date: May 5th

Location: Hanazono Shrine

A traditional lion-dancing ceremony, accompanied by flutes and taiko drums, held at Hanazono Shrine on May 5th. This is an elegantly rustic and historically faithful performance acted out by boys between the ages of 8 and 13 as either the two-horned ‘parent’ lion or the one-horned ‘doe’ lion.

It is believed that the origins of this tradition come from offerings made by the father and son team of Minamoto no Yoriyoshi and Minamoto no Yoshiie as prayers for success in battle during the Zenkunen and Kousannen wars in the Heian period. The lion heads currently in use are said to have been made at the end of the Edo period.

CIR Diary

CIR Diary – Sakura

Now that cherry blossom season is fully upon us it finally feels like spring in Mito (or is it because it feels like spring that cherry blossom season is upon us?;). With the parks and roadways bathed in the soft light emanating from the pink snow-coated black boughs it becomes easy to forget that just last week we were overwhelmed by wind and rain and cold. The ground is already peppered with the fallen petals, preparing for the gloriously tragic sakura showers that will herald the end of the single week that these beautiful blossoms are visible. It’s easy to see why the Japanese like to use the cherry blossom as a metaphor for transience and impermanence, such as when comparing them to the life of a warrior, but in a modern world where very little retains a solid structure for very long it somehow holds more meaning.

Without getting into a long discussion of the consumeristic aspects of sakura culture in Japan, it is interesting to see how the cherry blossom as a symbol experiences the same death and rebirth as its namesake with every year. This year, I’m sure, they will be used as a metaphor for the earthquake recovery, but next year, who knows? At any rate, for me they currently serve as a joyful reminder that I have survived the long, cold (literally and figuratively) winter.

In the same vein, the forget-me-nots I planted last fall somehow survived along with me, despite being out on my balcony for the entire winter and going through the typhoon in October. From almost invisible seeds they sprung up into friendly little blue and purple faces peering curiously from the ends of long wobbly stalks, reminding me somewhat of baby giraffes. In my delight at their success (despite my almost total lack of assistance) I was inspired to finally splurge and attempt to build the balcony garden of my dreams.

First off, I invested in seeds, figured out what soils and fertilizers the instructions required, went back to get planters and trowels and gloves (oh my!), and finally summed up my courage and went to purchase the soil. I say courage because I have no vehicle, and I needed to psyche myself up to push home the big bags of dirt on the back of my bike.

The people who sold me the soil were a little askance at my lack of automated transportation, but were very kind and took the time to tie the two 25kg bags of mixed soil and compost to the back wheel of my bicycle with plastic cord. After that I was on my own. I hadn’t even gone 100m before the pain in my arms and shoulders started, and it soon became clear by the growing difficulty in maintaining a straight trajectory that despite the shopkeepers’ best efforts the bags were starting to slide over to the side I was walking beside. With frequent pauses to stretch my aching limbs and try to hip-check the bags back onto the center of the back wheel support I had made it halfway home when it looked like I was in serious trouble.

Fortunately, I happened to be passing a construction site where the guys were done for the day, and one of them called out to me and offered his assistance. Grateful for the help I attempted to not get in the way as he called over a couple other men to help him try different ways of stabilizing the bags. After attempting to increase the balance area with a manga book, attempting to shift the weight, and reinforcing the crumbling cardboard box, he eventually settled on tearing off and re-tying the cord. Within 5 minutes they were done and seemed to wave off my effusive thanks with little concern, so I was back on track.

The bags were as steady as stone now, so all I had to contend with was the growing weakness in my muscles and the stoplights along the way. By the time I was in sight of my apartment building I was already internally rejoicing when the unthinkable happened: taking a corner too sharply I watched in horror as the whole bike flipped over despite my frantic attempts to hold it up, leaving me standing by the side of the road with an overturned bike as comic relief for the passing traffic.

Once again I was rescued by a kind-hearted stranger (while I don’t depend on it, I do whole-heartedly appreciate it). He nicely refrained from laughing at my ridiculous predicament and through our combined machinations we managed to get the heavily overloaded bicycle righted and pushed the last 20m to my parking lot, upon which he also disappeared with a quick wave at my thanks. After spending 8 long months being completely ignored by the surrounding community, it was nice to know that people could see me and were kind enough to help.

You know the rest of the story; hauling and planting and watering. It’s been nearly two weeks since the first set of seeds went in and I’m still waiting for anything to sprout. It seems ironic that now that I am actively watering and checking on the seeds every day they refuse to sprout, when the forget-me-nots appear to have managed just fine without any intervention. But I suppose I should be patient; just because they haven’t sprouted yet doesn’t mean they won’t. For the sake of all the kind strangers who took the time to help a random white girl carry home nearly her own weight in dirt on the back of her bike, I sincerely hope they do. I hope my plants will be like sakura, proof for us all that trials and difficulties can be overcome with the help of those around you, and that persevering has its rewards.

Upcoming Events

‘Koso’ Traditional Chinese Instrumental Performance

Tokugawa Museum Concert Series

The Chinese Koto (Guzheng) is called a ‘Koso’ in Japanese, and was supposedly invented over 2200 years ago during the Spring-Fall warring states period.

At its origin it was called a Soso and had 12 strings, which became 13 strings after the Song Dynasty, 15 after the Ming, and 16 after the Qing; the current 21 string form dates from roughly 30 years ago.

Lately versions with tone-changing pedals and 25 or 26 strings have also been made. In recent years harp-playing techniques have been applied so that it is now possible to play many different types of music beyond simply the classics.

Date: May 13th, 2012, curtain up at 2pm (entry from 1 :30pm)

Location: Tokugawa Museum event room

1-1215-1 Mikawa, Mito; Tel: 029-241-2721

Access: Take Ibaraki Kotsu bus #3 or line 37 from bus stop #4 at the north exit of Mito Station (20min), get off at Mikawa 2chome, 5min on foot.

Performer: Inner Mongolia-born Wuliana

Pieces: Bride of the Fields…Mongolian folk song, Wuliana’s arrangement

Flowers…Okinawan folk song, by Kina Shokichi

Suzhou Night Music…by Fukube Ryoichi

And more

Tickets are 1500yen each (for high school age and up), sold at the door

To order in advance (first 50 people) send a postcard or fax containing the concert name, your address, name, phone number, and the number of people to:

Takaki Kou

Nicchu Ongaku Koryu Jimukyoku

2826-9 Senba-cho

Mito 310-0851

Tel/Fax: 029-243-5880