Tuesday, November 18, 2008

AMIDA-ZON

MIGAWARI AMIDA

"Miracle Working" Stone Near TenGooz Place of Practice

More than 400 years ago, during Japan's so-called Warring States Period (Sengoku Jidai) , a wooden fortress known as Hanamuro-Jo, stood a few hundred meters from where the TenGooz now practice . No one is certain exactly how many years this fortification stood, as there are no extant records bearing this information, however, there is documentation of Hanamuro-Jo still having still existed in 1569, as battles raged for control of this region. Even if it did actually survive the fighting of those years, it still would not have lasted long into the Edo Period (1600-1867) , during which a unified Japan was consolidated under the Tokugawa Family. This is because the One Domain-One Castle Law (Ikkoku Ichijo Rei , 一国一城令) of 1615, permitted only one fortification to survive in each HAN (domain) . The castle selected to be given a lease on life in this area was the Turtle Castle (Kijo , 亀城 ) of the Tsuchiya Clan, in Tsuchiura (Tsukuba was NOT as many believe, part of the Mito Domain) , while any other fortifications that still existed had to be completely dismantled.
No matter when or how Hanamuro-Jo met its fate, one thing is for sure — it has disappeared with hardly a trace. The hill upon which it once stood is covered by woods, with only a corroded, barely legible, old sign left to remind the rare person to wander by of what was once there.

A bit to the West however, past the traffic light near the Hanamasa Grocery Store, lies a grassy knoll, where memories of Hanamuro Castle are kept alive. On top of this little green island of a mound sits a small shrine which houses a large unengraved, stone slab, along with many smaller stones and pebbles. Offerings of sake, rice-cakes ,etc., and numerous strands of SENBA TSURU (one thousand cranes) can always be found placed in front of or inside the wooden structure, as worshipers come to beseech and give thanks to the MIGAWARI AMIDA (the Scapegoat Amida) , who has resided on this little hill since the days of Hanamuro-Jo.

Amida is the Buddha of Infinite Light, who rules the Pure Land, and is one of the most popular figures in Japanese Buddhism, and the central figure of the JODO and JODO SHIN Sects. His name is invoked by believers who seek his aid, or wish to enter his Western Paradise.
Migawari (身替り) can be directly translated as a surrogate, or taking the place of or standing in for another. I have translated this as SCAPEGOAT, since the devotees of this deity which resides near the ruins of Hanamuro Castle, believe that their pain, injuries, or other forms of suffering are transferred away from them and taken on by the stone on the hill, just as the sins of the ancient Israelites were cast away into a goat.
There are many stories extolling the powers of the stone. The most dramatic I have heard were years ago from old Mr. Ohtsu, a descendant of the family which kept the Hanamuro Castle as Vassals of Lord Oda. He recounted how he had accidentally fallen into a fire he had going (the same fires which still foul our Tsukuba air) and miraculously emerged completely unscathed. He later noticed that the stone slab had turned completely black. In disbelief, he went to call his family and neighbors. Everyone was amazed. The newspapers were called and some ran the story.
Mr. Ohtsu's wife tells of a similar experience. She knocked over a kerosene stove. To her great relief, no fire broke out. Chills went down her spine when she later found that the stone had once again turned black. Her husband actually took some pictures of the blackened stone and you can see what looks clearly like a hand print in them . A few hours later, they say, the black faded away.
The Migawari Amida is also renowned throughout the prefecture for helping get rid of ODEKI, which are tumors or pusy fistules. These days it is also believed to be efficacious for traffic safety. Devotees take a pebble from the shrine and keep it for one year before returning it.

There is an interesting legend related to the origin of this allegedly MIRACLE WORKING STONE. In the days when Hanamuro-Jo still stood, one the Lords of the Castle, Ohstu Nagato no Kami, was burning up with a high fever. His vassals were in a panic, and prayed fervently for the intersession of the Gods and Buddhas. Delirious, the Lord had a dream. A voice called to him. "I am the God which protects your family. I will take on all that ails you. Tomorrow, go to the well where the horses are washed on the drilling ground". When he revealed his dream to his retainers the next day, they rushed to the well.
When they peered down into it, they saw something glittering brightly below. They pulled out the stone, and enshrined it on the hill.

Behind the shrine is an old tree, a descendant of a tree which stood by the shrine before the Tokugawa Period. This tree is considered an Important Natural Heritage by Ibaraki Prefecture.

The TenGooz will be in the studio this coming weekend.

Avi Landau

Friday, November 07, 2008

Clear Skies!

There are dramatic and historic moments which have come to define each generation.
I remember my grandparents asking their contemporaries- Where were you when you first heard the news of Pearl Harbour? My parents would ask friends- where were you when Kennedy was shot?
It is common to ask- Where were you when the World Trade Center was hit? While most Americans probably learned of Obama`s victory at home, as it was late at night in the US, those of us in Japan yesterday first heard the dramatic news sometime in the afternoon (because of the time difference).
Thus, we can ask each other- Where were you when Obama won? Well, let me tell you where I was.
I was teaching a Tsukuba City sponsored class called Singing The Songs of The 1960`s. We study (and sing) the lyrics of the great protest songs- anti-vietnam war songs, songs of the civil rights and labor movements etc…

Yesterday, we had just finshed a rousing version of If I had a Hammer( its a hammer of justice, its a bell of FREEDOM….) and were studying the lyrics to Dylans Blowin in the wind(how many roads must a man walk down before you can call him a man?) It was then I got a call on my cell phone . I knew it was from Rick with news about the election , so I took the call during class. I announced the results to my students.
There were tears in many eyes, and we were all moved by the success of decades of struggle (and the fight still goes on) to create a society as free as possible from hate and discrimination.

When I woke up this morning it was as if I were awakening fro an eight year long nightmare.

Lets hope that all the great expectations bring about actual changes!

Listen to The TenGooz - Clear Skies at

www.jamendo.com/en/album/1876

Friday, October 31, 2008

The TenGooz at Nalu Toy Box, whipping up the surf!

We love playing at the toy box. Not only because of the great staff and good acoustics, but also for its location, which is right on the beach! Even in September Thomas and Mio could get in a little surfing before our gig.
Last weekend, cold and windy afternoon weather kept us from even wetting our feet and to the north and south, hardly a soul could be seen all the way out too the horizon.
We were worried that no-one would show up for our show, put while returning from beach walk-philosophical discussion with Thomas, already cars were pulling up for the gig.
A voice called out- ARE YOU THE TENGOOZ? We then realized that we would not be playing just for the staff that night.

We started a sound check which somehow turned into a first set. We ended up playing 3 sets in all before packing it up, and though this was far from our best show, in some songs, especially TIME FLOW and SAUDADE there was some magic.

Tonight we will be at GUM BALL in Tsukuba for a Halloween gig. We had a couple of rehearsals this week and have added a new song - based on a Thomas riff (highly Levitical), and revived some of our old stuuf (OFURO).

Hope to see you there tonight!

Avi

Saturday, October 11, 2008

A Work BY THOMAS MAYERS

A Work BY THOMAS MAYERS

A WORK BY THOMAS MAYERS

Thomas Mayers Paintings at Saitoh Takashi Gallery

I'm prouder than ever to be a TenGoo.
From the very beginning, with physicist Ascelin Gordon(guitar), MD Kawakami Ryutaro(sax) and diplomat Tom Debor(bass), we were never your stereotypical type of rock band.
After rehearsals we would discuss art , philosophy, history, religion etc...

The present TenGooz line-up is no exception to this tradition. Right now multi-lingual sax player- agro-scientist extra-ordinnaire Michael Frei is in Germany picking up a prestigious award andour newest member, guitarist, artist, Thomas Mayers is having a solo showing of his latest works at the Takashi Saitoh Gallery in Ushiku.

Many of his newest creations build on photographs which he has recently shown at the same venue. These are ofreeds and other vegetation around Lake Ushiku which Thomas proceeded to alter, according to his vision, with his computer.

In the current exhibition, these reeds (plants which feature in various creation myths) can be found used as subtle foundations, seeds out of which burst surprising colors, textures and symbols.
Thomas has planted recognizable object(animals etc) in each work, which can be interpreted as referring to the natural world, history, art etc. Each work could be its own topic of serious dicussion.

You can see the exhibition until tomorrow at

www.saitoh-coffee.com

Thomas uses his artistic sense and experience to add tecture and color to the TenGooz music. You can hear him on our recording of Rain Falls... http://www.jamendo.com/en/track/157146
and we will soon release our new track- CHATTER - which has Thomas playing guitar like you have never heard before!

I am proud to be in the same band as Thomas and I hope you check out his works in color and in sound.

Avi Landau

Friday, October 10, 2008

Monday, September 15, 2008

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The TenGooz at the beach!

We are back with an ocean-like roar!
Last night we did up one of the coolest venues in The Kanto Area-Nalu`s Toy Box a surfers hangout with an international crowd.
Emiko Sakai, a percussionist who has joined us before ( remember the Kasama Festival ) drove out to the beach to be with us and really let it rip!
Of course, Last nights kick-ass show would not have been possible without the talent and great efforts of guitarist Thomas Mayers who has been learning our songs ( and helping us make new ones ) at an astonishing pace.

Anyway, we were all really CONNECTED last night and Michael and I were very satisfied. Even Hase G was in good spirits! And that says something!

We were happy to have lots of friends ( and family! ) come out for the show!

We will be back at Nalu Toy Box on October 25!


stay GROUNDED IN GROOVE

Avi Landau

THE TENGOOZ @ NALU TOY BOX

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Saturday, September 06, 2008

DISTRESS CALL BOX

SHOOING STARLINGS IN TSUKUBA

A Tengu runs with Tsukuba`s Bird Chasers

The sun is going down leaving a slowly shifting pastel palette in its wake. And though along with their more prosaic colleagues, they have arrived at work at Tsukuba`s city office in the early morning, for these 2 dedicated civil servant`s the working day has in fact JUST BEGUN.
They are Tsukuba`s indefatiguable BIRD-CHASERS, who can be seen, shadowy figures in the twilight, wherever the STARLINGS happen to be nesting (usually somewhere around Tsukuba Center) . As the large flocks of birds start arriving, further darkening the already darkened skies, our heroes are there waiting.
The flocks, interweave and mingle, and then alight and test out the safety of potential places to spend the night. This sets the men into action. They rush towards the trees which the birds have come down to and then proceed to do their job - which is to SHOO THE BIRDS AWAY. To do this, they have for the past few years been using a contraption first developed and tested in Nagaoka City, Niigata Prefecture, which emits a vey loud and terrifying sound-an amplified versionof the starlings very own DISTRESS CALL. Vigorous hand-clapping has also been used to good effect.

Recently, a new weapon has been added to the BIRD-CHASERS arsenal. Years of trial and error experimentation have shown that the plastic umbrella bags used for covering WET UMBRELLAS before entering the department store can create a highly disturbing sound. This is done by vigorously rubbing two ends of the bag together, in the manner of washing socks or underwear by hand. The effect of noise produced by this action on the human ear is not unlike that elicited by a hand slowly scrathing a chalkboard.
With the distress call, clapping and bag rubbing, the birds soon clear out of the trees they have settled in(plenty of people hurry to get away from the racket as well)and fly away- to NEARBY TREES! Undaunted and showing true Japanese Spirit, the bird-chasers dash off in pursuit. The same pattern is repeated again and again.
Trying to get an interview proved to be a tiring experience (and good excercize!) . I ran with one man, and then another. Constantly on the move, never giving up the chase until complete darkness has set in.
It's a never-ending battle and these guys are fighting it for us. The pavement around the plaza has been so dropping -free recently that you could walk on it bare-foot. Thanks.
You can find them again tonight, tomorrow or the next day in the elevated plaza between Seibu and the Okura Hotel. Be there at dusk. Ask the flocks come in you will hear the blaring distress calls. If you have the energy, you can help clapping, or even better-bring your own umbrella bag.

The TenGooz had a good practice the other night in preparation for their beach-side, surf competition gig.
We start at 8pm on Sept. 13 at Nalu Toy Box


We hope you`ll be there.

Avi Landau

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

KANAME ISHI

GOD OF KASHIMA RESTRAINING CATFISH

TOKYO BURNING AND MT TSUKUBA 1923

Ready for THE BIG ONE?

There used to be a cannon, located in the plaza in front of Tokyo's Imperial Palace, which since 1871 had been used to announce the arrival of 12 noon. On September 1, 1923 the usual DON (bang!) never sounded. A little more than a minute before midday, a tremendous earthquake, whose epicenter was in Sagami Bay, hit Tokyo with terrific force.
Tokyo University's seismograph, the only one in the vicinity to have survived the first violent spasm, recorded nearly 2000 more shock waves over the next 3-day period. Over that time, much of the Shita-Machi area of Tokyo had burned down, leaving more than 200,000 dead. Though Tsukuba lay beyond the reach of what came to be called The Great Kanto Earthquake (Kanto Daishinsai) many native Tsukubans and Ibarakians have heard from their grandparents how at that time the sky glowed red to the south at night, and was darkened in the day by drifting smoke .
Tokyo burning and Mt. Tsukuba since 1923, September First has been a day to commemorate that tragedy and also to remind all those residing in this disaster prone land of the need to be ready for any possible scenario. Thus, this day is both shinsai kinenbi (震災記念日, Great Kanto Earthquake Memorial Day), with its annual service at Yokoame Park in Sumida Ward (where the greatest number of victims perished), and Disaster Prevention Day (bosai no hi, 防災の日), on which you might see firemen leading schoolchildren in evacuation drills (though you are more likely to see this on Sept 2nd as the 1st is the first day back to school!), and plenty of safety tips offered on TV. You might want to take a look at Tsukuba City's advice for earthquakes. It is both informative and amusing. We are instructed to hide under a desk, secure an exit and turn off the gas and electricity among other things, all at the same time! We are also rightly warned not to listen to rumors, which is an important lesson learned from 1923 when rumors of Koreans poisoning the wells led to the slaughter of large numbers of Koreans by rioting mobs, and the subsequent suppression of Socialists (who were said to be egging on the Koreans!)

I don't mean in any way to make light of this subject. Though it's been a long time since 1923, the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995, which had Kobe burning helplessly for days, and more recently the Earthquake in Niigata Prefecture (a few years back) which has left people living in shelters TO THIS DAY, show us that there is still a long way to go in terms of preparedness and prevention of death and destruction. I don't want to seem pessimistic, but the BIG ONE WILL COME SOMEDAY. Sometimes it's as if you can FEEL the pressure building up on the tectonic plates. It probably would be a very good idea to read up on how to prepare.
As you know, earthquakes are not the only threat. In fact, this area has had much worse luck with flooding over the years. That is one reason why, to the astonishment of many foreigners, most Japanese don't complain about the concreting over of ALL THE RIVERBANKS. For centuries they have been living in fear of unpredictable rivers and flooding. For them, concrete means progress and security (and it seems to have worked this year!). Tsukuba City also offers some tips on dealing with typhoons, floods and fires.
Before the disciplines of geology and seismology were introduced to Japan, there was a very CURIOUS understanding of the cause of earthquakes, which has a STRONG CONNECTION to Ibaraki Prefecture.
The trembling of the earth was believed to be caused by the slashing about of a giant subterranean CATFISH (namazu). In order to keep this very dangerous fish restrained, the God of Kashima (Kashima Myojin) pressed down on its head with a heavy stone called the KANAME ISHI (要石), which can be found to this day within the precincts of Ibaraki's most important shrine, Kashima Jingu. This protective stone became especially popular after a terrible earthquake hit Edo in 1855. That disaster struck in the 10th month, during which it is believed that ALL THE 8,000,000 Gods of Japan leave their own shrines and go to Izumo (Shimane Prefecture). It thus became a firm conviction among most Edo-ites that the earthquake had occurred because the God of Kashima had been away and unable to keep the giant catfish under control. The people beseeched the God to be more vigilant after that and the catfish and kaname ishi became popular subjects of devotion.
God of Kashima Subduing Catfish
The stone, which now protrudes slightly out of the ground, is still considered by believers to keep Kanto safe from earthquakes.

The TenGooz are too busy getting ready for their BIG BEACHSIDE GIG next week
to prepare for disasters. We will have to think about crowd control considering the fenzy we are planning whip up with
our set!

Avi Landau

Saturday, August 30, 2008

CICADA CASING NUKEGARA

CICADA SHELLS

CICADA

Catch a buzz-Tsukuba`s cicadas

Newcomers to Tsukuba are usually taken aback by the intense and inescapable chirping of cicadas (semi) in late summer. Though some find it thrilling and ALIVE, for many, the pulsating whir these insects whip up can be mind-numbing, or at the other extreme nerve-wracking. For many Japanese, however, who can often differentiate the particular sounds created by the most common varieties, the cicada is a cherished symbol of summer, which not only indicates the season, but also, depending on which type is singing or at what volume, the time of day. Also, along with the cherry blossom, these creatures, who spend but a few above-ground days LIVING THEIR LIVES AT FULL THROTTLE before quickly falling away, represent that most quintessential Japanese concept, MUJO (無常), the passing nature of all things.

Japan's greatest poets have used these fast-living, short (above-ground)-lived summer icons to evoke the season, as well as sadness or loneliness. A poem that most Japanese know by heart is the haiku by Basho which goes: 閑かさや岩にしみ入る蝉の声 (shizukasa ya iwa ni shimi iru semi no koe), which I translate as "In the stillness, the cry of cicadas permeates the stones". Besides this classic, there are dozens of other well-known poems which use the cicada or the empty shells of molted nymphs (out of which cicadas emerge) as key words. The empty shells are especially powerful symbols of transformation and rebirth.

There is a charming etiological myth explaining the semi's incessant crying which is related to the great Buddhist priest Kukai (Kobo Daishi 774-835). It is the story of Hime Haru Zemi, a princess who falls in love with the brilliant monk and wants to be by his side. Since it was impossible for them to stay together, he fashioned an image of himself out of a tree trunk. As he departed, she climbed to the top of this wood carving, clinging to it and straining to see him, crying all the while. She has been clinging to the tree trunks and crying every summer since.

Fascination with semi starts early and strikes deep roots. Japanese children love catching insects. A daytime stroll in any of Tsukuba's parks or along any of its pedestrian paths during summer vacation will give evidence to that fact. Armed with nets and green insect cages they excitedly search for beetles, dragonflies, or cicadas. Today I watched a security guard leave his post to help some kids snare some semi which were just out of reach.

Because cicada symbolism has become so natural for the Japanese, fans of Japanese film and animation should take special note, as often summer is evoked by inserting cicada sound effects into the sound-track. I have heard that when these films are dubbed into other languages, these sounds are cut, as they have no meaning for foreign viewers and can be misconstrued as static or white noise. Off hand I can name the film Ijintachi to no Natsu (a summer ghost story) or the recent Semi Shigure as examples of films which effectively employ the sound effect.

Today I asked some friends if they could tell the difference between the different cicada calls. All of them said that they could and enthusiastically talked of what cicadas meant to them. These are the types which I found out are most familiar:

MIN MIN ZEMI that go MIN MIN in the daytime and like to cling high up in the trees;

HIGURASHI ZEMI that go KANA KANA KANA, evoking a sad feeling in the early morning or evening;

ABURA ZEMI that go JI JI JI JI in the daytime;

TSUKUTSUKU BOSHI that go TSUKUTSUKUBOSHI, especially in temple trees;

and

NI NI ZEMI that go chi CHI chi CHI on the trunks of cherry trees in the daytime.

If like me , these explanation do nothing to help you identify the different types of cicadas ,you can probably make more progress if you check this site.

There is no avoiding the cries of the cicadas, but if you want to have a full SEMI experience, why don't you start from Doho Park and walk down to Tsukuba University using the pedestrian path.

The Tengooz will be making a buzz of their own at a beach concert on September 13th. You can catch us and your favorite surfers at the annual surfing competition.

Avi Landau

Friday, August 22, 2008

Tsukuba`s Changing SOUNDSCAPES and GROUNDSCAPES

Summers are noisy in Tsukuba. One evening last month (July) the cacophony around Tsukuba Center actually had me scared. I stepped out of the Okura Hotel's lobby and out onto the road. In front of me stood the soon to be completed Joyo Bank building. The cicadas (semi) were chirping and droning, making me feel that I had ringing in the ears. From up and towards the south appeared a black swarm, and then another and another. These were flocks of Grey Starlings (mukudori) coming to roost for the night around the Center. I was mesmerized by their interweaving which created visual effects more fascinating than any kaleidoscope or lava lamp.

As the starlings started to settled into the trees, the noise more than doubled its volume and you could feel the soundwaves vibrating against your body. Then, suddenly, another sound rose up above the rest of the din. It was extremely loud and could only be described as NIGHTMARISH. l imagined some huge beast being tortured.

What this was was the man from the city office trying to scare away the flocks of starlings. He was doing this by blasting the recorded sound of the starlings distress call. It was certainly distressing! The man doing it told me that it would take at least five evenings of doing this to get the birds to move somewhere else.

The reasons that the people at the Center would want to have the birds move are easy to understand.

Besides the horrible racket the birds make, their droppings are prodigious and the ground along the pedestrian square area between the hotel and Nova Hall and then stretching towards the library was becoming pasty and difficult to maneuver.

Anyway, this week I've still been able to enjoy watching the interweaving flocks. The birds have moved, but NOT VERY FAR! Now they are roosting in front of the Mitsui Building and behind the Lexus dealership. I'm sure that soon someone will call the city office to have the starlings chased away again. One more thing the boys at city hall might do is order the kind of tree-butchering which you have probably noticed (and cringed at) in Japan, which leaves only a miserable trunk. This is also an effective way of getting the starlings to roost somewhere else!

Why do the starlings like to roost in the center of the city? I guess it makes them feel safe. They must also prefer to be in trees neatly lined up in a row.

The cicadas and starlings will be keeping things noisy for a few more weeks. If you too would like to hear the buzz and watch the starlings interweave come to the bridge between Right-On and Days Town, at dusk.

Avi Landau

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Tsuna Bon in Tsukuba

After 5pm the sun's cruel and deadening grip began to ease up, and Tsukuba's old neighborhoods started to come to life. By day, most adults had sought out the comforts of some air-conditioned refuge, while those with no such luxury sufficed with a shady place and a fan to laze away the day watching High School Baseball or the Olympics. It was even hard to spot any kids outside enjoying summer vacation. It seems that, they too, much prefer to be indoors with their beloved video games which have overwhelmingly supplanted hunting for insects and playing in the fields as the number one summer fun.
The evening of August 13th is always filled with excitement in these traditional enclaves. It is the first day of Bon, the three day period in which the souls of departed ancestors return to their hometowns to be with their descendants. Children and grandchildren have arrived. Preparations have been made. The house cleaned, the Buddhist altar (butsudan) set up with the proper decorations and offerings (these can conveniently be purchased at the special O-Bon corners in the supermarkets) and special lanterns and votive strips of paper placed at the front gate or entranceway to the house.
On this evening, the spirits of ancestors will come home, and their living descendants go to the cemetery to greet them and guide them home. This evening I saw Tsukuba's small graveyards teeming with color and activity as families brought flowers, water and incense, as well as a lantern with which to guide the spirits back to their homes. Many neighborhoods can be seen with streets fully lined with such lanterns so no spirits will lose their way. Homes in which someone has recently passed away usually put out a much larger lantern suspended high on a pole since this will be the first time that that particular soul makes the journey back. These families celebrating a first Bon, might even light a traditional Bon Greeting Fire (迎え火, mukaebi), which have have been almost completely replaced by lanterns, for guiding and welcoming returning ancestral spirits.
When the families arrive home, the spirits are symbolically purified with water and salt, and greeted with 長い道を御苦労さまでした (nagai michi o gokuro sama deshita), you must be tired after your long journey! Then tea is drunk and incense burned.
In Ibaraki, especially around Lake Kasumigaura, there are many villages which continue to keep alive a very interesting custom, which is especially fun for the kids. The spirits of ancestors don't have to walk from the graveyard. They are transported IN STYLE, on the backs of large dragons or snakes of straw, carried by the village children from the cemetery to EACH HOUSE IN THE VILLAGE where the appropriate ancestors are dropped off with much merriment.
Fortunately, there are also a few neighborhoods in Tsukuba which still keep the same custom, called Bon Tsuna (盆綱), or Tsuna Bon (綱盆). I joined two separate such events (in different parts of Tsukuba) this evening, and I would like to tell you about them.
Before the war, Bon Tsuna had been practiced in numerous hamlets in what is now Tsukuba City. It is now found in only a handful. Today I went around with the the straw dragon of Kami-Sasagi, near Tsukuba Hospital and the Space Center, and also that of Kurihara, farther north, near Tsukuba's heliport.
In both of these magnificent hamlets, the children make the straw dragons on the morning of the 13th, with the help of some adults. At the end of the day, this year's dragons are burned. In Sasagi, the dragon was more elaborately made, and well… more dragon-like, while its Kurihara counterpart seemed to be a thick pole made of straw.
The kids of Kurihara, however, certainly, showed lots of enthusiasm and stamina. They carried the heavy pole to more than 30 houses. They ran up to each house with a cry: "The spirits have arrived!" Then they proceeded to toss the dragon into the air about ten times before going on to the next house. In Sasaki, the same went on without the tossing and chanting.
Besides these straw dragons, both in Tsukuba and in some other area of Japan it is customary to decorate the Buddhist altar with a horse and an ox, made from a cucumber and an eggplant, respectively. These are also meant to represent rides for the spirits, and they are often cast off onto rivers or into the sea at the end of the festival. These decorations are fun for kids and utilize IN SEASON vegetables. A friend of mine in his 80s, Yoshida-san, told me something that I had never heard or read anywhere before. He said that the cucumber horse was meant for the arriving spirits, because horses are fast, the ox is for the departure, because it is slower, allowing for some last lingering moments with mortal loved-ones.

We were asked to do a big gig on the beach this weekend,but unfortunately we have no guitarist as Thomas is Holidaying in the UK.
Maybe we can play the same place(Nalu Toy Box) after he gets back.

Avi Landau

Monday, August 11, 2008

August-time of Rememberance(O-Bon and YOKAREN)

The vegetation is closing in all around you, while the shrill droning of cicadas and other insects pounds in your head. The heat-waves radiating off the ground and buildings make it seem as if the air itself were a living, throbbing organism. August is when nature in Japan is most pulsatingly alive. It is also the time when special consideration is given to the Dead. Since ancient times (records date from the 6th century) the 13th day of the 7th lunar month (our August) has been a time to light fires(lanterns these days) for the O-Bon Festival (the origin of the expression bonfire?). These were used to guide and welcome back the spirits of departed ancestors who are believed to return to their native homes for three days. These visiting souls are consoled with sutra chanting, offered food, drink and incense, and entertained by the community with Bon-Odori dancing (which is never TOO interesting so as to make sure that no spirits would want to overstay their welcome!). On the!
evening of the 16th, a fire is lit again as a send off, often accompanied by offerings which are cast onto a river or into the sea. It is interesting that though the dates of most Japanese traditional events have been changed due to the introduction of the Western calendar (see my article: Lunar or Solar?), most Japanese outside of Tokyo still keep the O-Bon celebration in August, now the 8th month (this could possibly be because farmers would have been too busy in July).

In addition to the festival for the Returning Spirits of the Dead (O-Bon), there are three more days in August connected with remembrance, all of them related to the war that ended sixty three summers ago. Each national or cultural group with its own identity utilizes whatever tools it has at its disposal to embed its own particular view of history into its members. In Japan, the powers that be have naturally used this country's comprehensive education system, the mass media, and public holidays and monuments to effectively shape the way most people remember the war and think about themselves and others. What has become stressed in Japan is that THIS country and its citizens suffered UNIQUELY during the war. August 6th and 9th are reserved for ceremonies commemorating the horrors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (respectively). August 15th, which by strange coincidence is also the peak day of O-Bon, is the day which marks the end of the war (anoth!
er reason to have O-Bon in August) and is most famously commemorated at Yasukuni Shrine, where throngs of visitors come to pay their respects to all soldiers who died in service of the emperor.

For at least half a century, after WWII, people who grew up in the English speaking(and many other countries of the) world would instantly think of Pearl Harbor and kamikaze pilots if JAPAN were mentioned in a word association game. That is because some countries (especially the US) use the story of their successful fight against tyranny in Japan as a way of building an effective national identity. Americans are taught of the treacherous sneak attack on sleeping Americans in Hawaii (wait, didn't George Washington use sneak tactics to defeat the British) and the fanatically determined foe who had no regard for human life (kamikaze pilots) which justified the dropping of the atomic bombs, which also saved countless US lives (wait, wouldn't that mean that Vietnam,fiercelt attacked without provocation, would have been perfectly justified in nuking the US, and anyway how can the incineration of 100,000 civilians and the fatal irradiation of that many more ever be !
JUSTIFIED).

Like many, I grew up hearing and reading about the war. For Americans, the story of the heroic struggle against dictatorship and the eventual bringing of democracy to Japan(through its total destruction) was a point of national pride and an important part of the national consciousness. For me it is not surprising that George W. Bush,whose father fought in the Pacific,would want to carry out a similar GOOD FIGHT(in his opinion) in the Middle East, as he was raised in a generation even more full of the MYTH of the BENEVOLENT, democracy bringing effects of American military force.

Growing up in the 70`s,before ever imagining that I would one day live in Japan, I learned of all the great battles major figures and intrigues of the war.

Arrived in Japan to study at university first exposed me to the fact that different countries or groups talk about the same story in very different ways. While I knew all the major battles and many details of what the Japanese often call The Pacific War, people my age seemed to know almost nothing at all. And since the topic hardly ever arose (except with my 85 year old friend Toshiko who lost her husband in the war), I too started to forget about it, or certainly not dwell on it.

For that reason it took me a few years to realize that Tsuchiura City and Ami Town near Arakawa-Oki Station played a major role in Japan's Imperial history. While what is now Tsukuba City was mostly forested and very sparsely populated (because of a lack of water resources) Tsuchiura and Ami thrived as Kasumigaura was used for training the Imperial Navy's pilots. With huge bases (which still exist in a much diminished form having been broken up for industrial use) and thousands of soldiers, sailors, pilots and technicians. Business boomed.

Admiral Yamamoto Isoroku, the reluctant planner of the Pearl Harbor attack lived in Ami at what is now part of Ibaraki University (I found out about this because I was teaching there). The pilots who participated in the monumentally successful attack trained on Lake Kasumigaura. Tsuchiura`s Sakura Machi entertainment areas' restaurants were used to celebrate. For a while,Thing were real good.

Unfortunately for the Japanese armed forces the US soldiers turned out to be the REAL fanatical fighters. Remember, Japan`s great triumph and entrance into the BIG BOYS club of Imperialism was its defeat of Imperial Russia at Port Arthur in the Russo-Japanese War of 1905. After suffering early, stinging defeats, the Czar decided that it just wasn't worth fighting anymore and to let the Japanese have what they wanted. I guess the Japanese commanders thought the same would happen with the US after heavy early losses. They could never that imagine boys from Kansas, Ohio, Vermont, etc., would leave their comfortable lives and come out to the jungles of the South Pacific and fight to the death.

By 1945, Japan was in a desperate situation. Losing battles everywhere, and more importantly, running out of equipment and resources.Japanese cities was completely exposed to American bombers who used weapons intended to cause the most possible destruction and death. In October 1945, the Special Attack Units(tokkotai) were put into action. These were the Kamikaze pilots, boys trained for a few months and then put on a plane loaded with explosives and enough gasoline to get to their targets.

These programs were first initiated in Ami on the shores of Lake Kasumigaura at a school called YOKAREN(予科練). There is still weapons school on the site which belongs to the Japanese Self Defense Forces and on its grounds is a museum commemorating the boys who died flying missions,especially suicide attacks.

Anyone who is interested can visit the YOKAREN memorial museum. It is free of charge and open everyday until 4:30. The soldiers at the gate (women, each time I've been there), are friendly and security is easy-going. Only one person in your group has to write his or her name (no id check). The weapon school campus is sprawling and not a soul can be seen, making it a very peaceful place. You walk to the museum from the gate and pass by some old pre-war buildings and a large display of armoured vehicles which lines the path.

Inside the memorial museum are the photos, belongings and last wills and testaments of more than 1000 boys, mostly between 15 and 20 years of age, who gave their young lives trying to stop an attack on their country and protect what they were taught they had to: the Emperor.It seems most were country boys,probably from poor families,many of them local.

No matter what you think about the Special Attack Forces, you will probably have to FORCE back the tears when reading the letters these boys wrote to their parents.These show a surprising variety of content.

As there is no English here, if you cannot read Japanese well, you should bring along someone to translate.

Most Japanese people do not know about this museum, and naturally most foreign residents don't either. Most people do know that Ami is the site of Japan`s first ToysRus outlet(things do change). To get to the YOKAREN, drive past the big toy store and the army base until you get to the lake. Look for the entrance to the RIKUJO JI EITAI BUKI GAKKO(陸上自衛隊武器学校)

During this season of remembrance, if you have the time, maybe you should head to the shores of Lake Kasumigaura, think about the past, war, and WHAT IT'S ALL ABOUT. There are numerous places in ibaraki which have had great national impact, but this place flight school played a role on the stage of world history and left its mark on our language and culture. it is about a 20 minute drive from Tsukuba Station.

http://www.town.ami.ibaraki.jp/kankou/yokaren/yokaren.htm

By the way, the Hotel Edo-Ya near Mt Tsukuba Shrine used to host the last parties for the Kamikaze Pilots.

They still hold an annual reunion for those who survived.

Avi Landau

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Kanashibari

Kanashibari has always been one of our most popular songs, certainly of our most memorable numbers. Often, people who had caught our act just us, and years ago, still remember it.
Let me tell you a little about the songs history.

The entire piece generated out of a bass line which was a favorite of Tom Debor, Xenophonia`s bass player. Ascelin Gordon came up with the reggae guitar to go over it. It was up to me to come up with the melody and the lyrics. A few times we had worked on it in the living room at
The Ice Palace, and the melody for the A-pattern was pretty much set. The original theme, however, was about nuclear waste or pollution and I even might have improvised once about alien invasions.

While the song was in the process of being written, I had a very traumatic and exhausting Kanashibari experience. For non-japanese,this expression might need explanation, and I think
the lyrics of the song preety much explain what it is.

On a sultry summer night, as I slept, it seemed as if a face, human yet not of the flesh, zipped right up to mine,pressing right up against me. I felt as if I were paralyzed by an electric ray-gun, my whole body tingled like a foot that has fallen asleep. when I inhaled, it seemed as if a hurled
upwards and crashed into the ceiling and then crashed to the floor as I exhaled.
This probably went on for a few seconds, but it felt like the proverbial eternity. For a few days after that my whole body felt Charley Horse.

When I told Tom about my experience he sympathized and said that he often had had similar ATTACKS himself. Obviously, this phenomenon is not uncommon in Japan as there is a set expression for it, which is commonly known.

We decided to make this unusual reggae song into something about Kanashibari.

I remember righting the lyrics and the chorus melody as I walked all the way to Tsuchiura(over 2 hours) and I especially remember crossing over the bridge at the Sakuragawa River. Our first recording was done at The Ice Palace in my Tatami room. Ryutaro Kawakami laid down the crazed sax solo in what I remember as one take.

We later recorded the song again as The TenGooz, during the Inertia recording sessions. Tanaka changed the feeling of the song with his slide guitar.

We have been keeping the song alive in concert and most recently Michael Frei on sax and Thomas Mayers on guitar have performed it and the rapt faces in the audience as well as post gig comments show that the song is still a favorite.

www.jamendo.com/en/album/873
or
www.jamendo.com/en/album/2425

Avi Landau

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Joso boys bring back SOIL OF KOSHIEN after disappointing early exit

It's a summer ritual here that I immediately took to. Watching the Koshien (甲子園) High School Baseball Tournament which takes place in Osaka. In my hometown New York, I had always closely followed The Boys of Summer, and by that I mean Major League Baseball. Since my first summer in Japan, however, more than watching the professionals, I have joined the millions of Japanese who with beer or barley tea in one hand and a hand-held fan in the other, spend the dog days of August cheering on the Bozu of Summer (bozu, 坊主, is a term used to refer to a young boy), the high school baseball players who have made it into the Koshien Finals. There are 49 teams (representing each prefecture, with 2 teams from both Tokyo and Hokkaido) in all who battle it out in single elimination. If you are not a baseball fan, now is probably the time to become one, because no matter what, if you turn on the TV during the next couple of weeks that is about all you are going to see. In fact, I have a game on in front of me right now, and it's so exciting that I can hardly type!

Koshien is a perfect way to show hometown spirit, and many of your friends who live in Tsukuba now are probably rooting for their home prefecture team. Native Ibarakians and others who have grown to love the Land of Hitachi (Hitachi no Kuni) have always had a lot to cheer about since this prefecture has often fielded very strong teams. The most famous of these is Joso High School which is located just near Tsukuba City. Once again (for the 3rd straight year) their manager Yukio Kiuchi, who is now 77 years old, has taken them to Osaka for the finals after an incredible extra-inning win in Mito on July 27th. This is a very impressive feat considering the hundreds of schools in the prefecture. Maybe attribute this success to what has been dubbed KIUCHI MAGIC.

Oh my God! This game that I'm watching! The Tokushima team has just come from behind to win! Incredible! Pandemonium! Unbridled joy! Tears (looks more like sobbing) of defeat! Slouching, bent over players. Dirty, sweaty uniforms. Wait! This is the part I love best. The winning team belting out their school song, singing with their bodies and souls making it known to the world that they are making an effort!!they go into their victory sprint. And now , the losing team is scooping up some soil from the infield, a memento of their fleeting moment on the Big Stage. Certainly the game will be replayed in their heads over and over again, probably for their whole lives, with thoughts of how it would have been if things had gone the other way.

Sorry for the digression. Let me get back to my main point. High School baseball fans in Ibaraki have been looking forward to watching Joso play and maybe even win the tournament and some people I know even went down to watch today's game. Unfortunately, things did not go as expected and our local boys were blown away in their first game, by a Tokyo team (even more frustrating). Thus, Kiuchi's bozu, as with all losing teams, could be seen after the game, scooping up the Sacred Soil of Koshien.So much for Kiuchi Magic.But... Wait till next year!

Dont be surprised if you see more than the usual depressed sulking Ibarakians this week. They were hoping to see their team do better.

And of course there are other ways of looking at this High School baseball madness. I, myself often cringe when I hear about the boys` PURE SPIRIT. Like everyone else they are in it for the glory(and the girls?).

Another aspect to think about is the PROFESSIONALIZATION of the game in a similar way to what has happened in college sports in the US. Thus many teams, including Joso recruit players using certain incentives. Thus many students DO NOT get the High School education they should be getting, and will be stuck after graduation. So the coaches, adminstration etc.. come out ahead,but what happens to the boys?

Anyway, they sure WANT to play, and they do it well! Thats what makes it so much fun to watch.

For Koshien games just turn on your TV and flick through the channels.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Thomas Mayers on Enka guitar

Summer Break for TenGooz(with recording!)

The Tengooz are still in studio, but might NOT be having any
August gig! Guitarist Thomas Mayers will be holidaying with his family
in Englands beautiful Lake District, and drummer A-Chan will be tied up with other business
for a few weeks. Sorry for that and thanks to all of you who have been giving us support.
We got alot of positive feedback from our last gig and we hope that we will be back soon with
more songs and new material. We also promise to get some changes done to the web-site which we have been neglecting.

Avi Landau
and the TenGooz

New-Fangled Watermelons

Japanese pomologists revolutionize the Watermelon!

After an amazing and exhausting museum experience, I felt like heading staight for home.
Trying to stay out of the heat, I slipped into the chic,new shopping mall called Tokyo Mid-Town.
Not interested particularly interested in designer goods,I was not even window shopping and at a brisk pace
and head lowered I was heading towards Roppongi station.My inertia was broken when I virtually bumped into a group of journalists
and photographers from the Japanese press.No, they were not out for an interview with The TenGooz, in fact Im still not sure what they were there for.
When I looked up,my eyes focused on something they had never seen before- pyramid-shaped and cube-shaped watermelons, on display at an exclusive fruit shop.
By exclusive I mean high priced. These novelty melons were selling for 200 bucks each! In Japan sending a gift of fruit
is common in mid-summer. These presents, which do not necessarilly have to be fruit(drinks, meats or salad oil are popular, among others)are called O-Chugen,
and are sent to professors, teachers,bosses, in-laws, basically anyone who is in a position to help you out.

These watermelons are not mere curiosities but reflect the hard work and ingenuity of Japanese researchers struggling to deal with watermelon industry related problems.
The two greatest ostacles these researchers have been struggling to overcome have been wasted shipping space due to the fruits round or oval shapes(up to 25 percent of a container can be wasted)
and of course, run-away(or should I say roll-away) melons which have lead to injury and even fatalities over the fruits long history.
San Fransisco is one town which will likely take a liking to these shapes, as that hilly city has been plagued by rolling melon related accidents.

Too bad there is no Nobel Prize in pomology!

Avi Landau

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Fudo-Sama

Sweeping the Fudo-Hall

Face to Face with Fudo-Sama!

It was the 27th, and July is an odd numbered month (the 7th), so I knew where I could find Mrs. Okamino. I built up the determination to step out of my house and into the throbbing heat. With notebook and pen in hand and a squint on my face, I slowly walked around the corner and headed towards the Sakura City Office. About a hundred meters later, I came to an old wooden structure covered with an out-of-place red tin roof. When I saw that the doors and shutters were open and the cushions were airing out in the sun I felt reassured. And, just like clockwork, there she was, broom in hand, vigorously sweeping the grounds of this old neighborhood meeting hall where women regularly gather gather to pray for health, fertility, and easy delivery.
Tsukuba has been changing rapidly with plenty of new buildings and a large influx of out-of-towners. Stiil, with all the dramatic changes, the city can be seen as being a collection of villages which retain their own identities. The community spirit can most easily be recognized by outside observers in the village Matsuri (festivals). If you look more carefully, however, you will find other signs of what life was like before this area was turned into The Science City.
One interesting feature of the village (shuraku or buraku) is the meeting hall (shukaijo). Now many of these have been rebuilt as what look like prefabricated sheds. However, you can still find several meeting halls that are used for KO (講)which are traditional wooden structures which could be mistaken for a small shrine or temple. Ko are prayer or study meetings which became popular in this region in the Edo Period (1600-1868). There are a confusing variety of ko, and I have described the most popular one, The Ko of the 19th (ju ku ya ko,十九夜講) in an Alien Times article.
Mrs. Okamino was concentrating deeply on her sweeping and did not notice my approach. I almost felt bad that I was going to disturb her, but I was determined to talk to her about that night's Fudo-Ko and to get some pictures of the inside of the Fudo Hall, especially of the fearsome statue of Fudo-Myoo,whom the women respectfully refer to as Fudo-Sama,which I had only ever had a peek at through the grating of at the front of the hall.
For many generations, a Fudo-Ko (women's prayer meeting in front of the image of Fudo Myoo) has been held at this worship hall in Higashioka. It had always been held once a month, on the 27th, but now with it getting harder and harder to get the neighborhood women together (only eight regularly gather now), the frequency has been reduced to one meeting every other month.
The women take turns being toban, the person in charge of preparing food and tea, and they get together at about 8 pm, chanting the Dainichi Kyo Sutra which they all know by heart. This is done before an impressive wooden image of Fudo Myoo (不働明王), one of the 5 Deva Kings to have been introduced to Japan in the 9th century by the great Buddhist priest Kukai in the 9th century. For some reason, Fudo, the Unmoveable One, became the most popular of these frightening figures, and a cult of Fudo spread throughout the islands, with special success in the Kanto Area, where he was worshiped by both warriors and peasants alike.The most famous place known for its worship of Fudo is Narita-San Temple(Shinsho-Ji),one of the most visited in all of Japan This popularity is interesting because in India and China it is RARE to find an image of Fudo alone (one that is not part of the group of all five myoo). I have not yey been able to determine just why this particular figure was !
so attractive for the Japanese.
The Fudo image at the Higashioka worship hall is impressive indeed with his sword and rope and halo of flames. What a contrast to the serene Niorin Kannon image worshipped at the Ju ku ya ko(19th night Ko). This difference in countenance,however, does not indicate a difference in objective, as the Fudo Myoo uses his fiercely determined expression to bring people to an understanding of Buddhism. He is believed to bring good health and easy delivery,prevent disaster and even bring monetary success.
Certainly, sitting in the old hall, smelling of ancient tatami mats, with Fudo glaring down as the rhythmic chanting pounds in their ears, could not help but make worshipers reflect on their ways and consider taking the correct, middle path .
Of the dozen or so Ko regularly practiced in this area before WW2, only about 4 are still actively being kept alive. Just acroos the Hanamuro River in Saiki, there is another very interesting Fudo Hall which I will discuss in a future posting.
There is no listing of these events online or in any printed form. The best way to get information about a Ko near you is to speak to the older people in your neighborhood. They will be very glad to hear that you are interested.

Avi Landau

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Dazzling Works From The Red Center

Though in Tokyo there are no museums with permanent collections ranking with those at the likes of The Louvre,The Prado,The Met,The British Musuem or Taipei`s Palace Museum, it is still one of the best, or maybe even THE best place in the world for special museum shows and exhibitions. During any given week, a glance at the museum listings will show several must-see exhibits at dozens of interesting venues, catering to almost any taste or inclination.

The recent inauguration of the new National Art Center near Roppongi, has made things even more interesting for art lovers, and being that it is located near a Hibiya Line station it is easilly accessible to Tsukubans (even for those with only a few hours to spare).

I wanted to arrive at the museum early today,to have as much time as possible taking in the works of Australian Aboriginal Artist Emily Kame Kngwarreyey, who had been a ritual body painter and sand artist until she finally put brush to canvas in her late seventies. Living in the Red Center of Australia, a couple of hundred Kilometers from Alice Springs in a community ironically called Utopia,Emily must have spent nearly all her time in the remaining decade of life painting,as she created THOUSANDS of canvasses,many of them HUGE. She usually did this by spreading a canvas out on the sand, exposed to the elements, and in some of her works careful examination reveals bits of sand,vegetation and even an occassional DOG PAW PRINT!

Emily had no formal artistic trainig and virtually no knowledge of Western or Eastern artistic traditions. And Though eventually prices for her canvases soared way over the million dollar mark, she certainly was not painting for the money. This makes her,for me at least,an exciting example of pure artistic expression and an accessible channel for gaining incites into her peoples 40,000 year old culture.

The National Art Center`s building itself is quite interesting though I only looked at its facade briefly and then hurried into the exhibition gallery. If the floors were not wooden I would think that in was an airport terminal. with a spacious lobby with many restaurants and cafes. The galleries are entered through what look not unlike airport gates, and you actually have to pay for each exhibition separately at these gates. All the restaurants were crowded,making it seem that the hall was the center of the museum and not the inconspicuous galleries.I was surprised to see that there was even food to match an exhibiton. For the European Still-Life Painting show from the Kunsthistoriches Museum in Vienna, on eof the restaurants had an Austrian chef serving special Viennese lunches!

The design of the building is not surprising when on elearns that it was the creation of architect Kisho Kurokawa who also designed(among many other notable commissions) the Kuala Lumpur Airport Terminal! Of course when that was built it was the largest terminal in the world.And what a lonely place ,too,never having been able to compete with Singapore Airport as a regional hub and seeming almost empty in its hugeness, with staff going to and fro by bicycle.

Paying my 1,300 Yen entrance fee,I took a deep breath and entered another dimension-DREAMTIME. Emily`s works are abstract,appear simple and can be divided into several distinct phases. Nearly all the works on display ,however, were alike in that they were abolutely mesmerizing. I felt like I was at a Thai Restaurant.Thai food is delicious and it also physically affects your mouth, giving it a unique sensation. For the first time in my long museum-going life I felt the same sensation-IN MY EYES. More than any Da Vincis,Rembrandts or Picassos I felt LIFE in Emily`s canvases.

Of course we can try to interpret these works.Maybe they are maps containing wisdom related to gathering foods and medicines.Maybe they are reflections of subtle observations of the desert landscape.Maybe they are inner-visions which all humans can relate to. I could go on and on, but as my friend Rick said about this show, maybe it should just be FELT and not THOUGHT ABOUT.

Several times I reached the exit of the gallery, but each time I headed back to the start , staggering about, intoxicated ,trying to absorb as much of Emily`s energy as I could.

This incredible exhibition closes Monday evening. If possible-SEE IT.

www.nact.jp/

I hope the energies I absorbed can be utilzed efficaciously in upcoming tenGooz gigs and recording sessions.

Avi Landau

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Swallows(tsubame)

SWALLOWS NOT AS WELCOME AS THEY USED TO BE

In July they dart about, like little fighter planes, over the ripening paddy fields, gracefully grabbing up mosquitoes and other harmful bugs. They are working at a frenzied pace, as their young, numbering as many as seven, are getting bigger and bigger, and need more and more nourishment before they finally leave the nest and find food on their own.However, though they have a professional baseball team named after them and a shinkansen train, as well, swallows, or tsubame (燕), are not getting the respect they have grown used to.
These famed harbingers of spring arrive in the Kanto area in April, having flown great distances from southern China,and as far as Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea. In Japan, swallows have come to live closely with humans, mostly nesting in settled areas, including large cities. They make their mud and grass nests under the eaves of houses and shops and usually return to the SAME HOUSE every year, OFTEN ON THE SAME DATE! The annual return of the tsubame has been considered a happy occasion by their host families. Having your house or shop selected by the swallows for nesting has traditionally been considered highly auspicious and you can still find home-owners and shop-keepers putting out boxes or newspapers to catch the droppings and maybe even putting up a screen or wind-shield for additional protection. In older villages and towns and in the older sections of large cities, one nest or more under the eaves of an old building, with chicks poking their beaks out expectantly w!
aiting for their mothers return, as their father stands guard close by, is an endearing image of a Japan quickly disappearing.
Year by year, the swallows are finding themselves less and less welcome. The traditional belief in the luck that the swallows bring is being gradually replaced by the the modern worship of THE STERILE and clean, and by this I mean an intense dislike of bugs, large trees, animals or anything else that smacks of DIRTY.
These days, proud owners of little, plastic, half-million dollar houses, are most likely to have swallows nests quickly removed or more cruelly just closed off, separating parents from young.
Still, the old values come to the rescue sometimes. Here is a story about the swallows at Misao Ito's house in Kukizaki. Misao lives in a grand old neighborhood, just across the street from Mrs. Noguchi's (of the mask fame) thatched-roof manor house. Her family decided to knock down their old house and build a modern style home, one which did not seem appropriate for swallows nests.
When her family was looking into ways of removing the nest which had been constructed by their front door, the neighbors came to intervene. Don't destroy the nest, they warned. If you do that youre house might burn down!
They told Misao's family that having the nest would bring good fortune to the family and that if the number of chicks hatched was an odd number, they should celebrate by eating sekihan (red rice for festive occasions). The Ito`s followed their neighbors advice and in the end all parties were satisfied. The birds raised their young,the kids enjoyed watching the dramatic, private nature show on their front porch and the neighbors are at ease, because tradition was not broken. And most of all their is the anticipation of the same birds return next spring and the spring after that.
With more and more swallows returning from overseas to find themselves unwelcome, I think it's time to re-instill in everyone this old excitement which the swallow used to bring.
Besides their miraculous annual return, they are beautiful, graceful, hardworking parents, who eliminate plenty of mosquitoes (without poisons)!
Why shouldn't we welcome them!
You can find many nests with chicks in them under the walkway of the Art and Physical Education Department of Tsukuba University. Parent birds can be seen for the next few days scrambling for as many insects as they can catch. Watching them over the deep green, young rice plants is the best way to view them in Tsukuba.

Avi Landau

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Hollyhock

Mito Hollyhock Incorrectly Named!

In the summer months, you cannot help but notice clusters of tachi-aoi (hollyhock) growing wild on the sides of country roads or beside vegetable patches. You can't miss them because of their height. As tall as sunflowers but not as heavy looking, they are graceful yet imposing and come in red, white and pink blossoms which bloom up and down their long, lean stems.

It is my interest in these very common and uncelebrated flowers that led me to the discovery of a bizarre state of affairs in the world of Japanese-English translation -- especially in regard to the names of certain plants.

Knowing the roadside flowers to be tachi-aoi (立葵) and confirming that the same flowers were called hollyhock in English, I tried to learn more about their history and cultural associations. At first I was surprised that the ancient Aoi Matsuri Festival (葵祭) was often referred to as the Hollyhock Festival in English guidebooks and other texts.

I also discovered that the J-League 2 soccer club representing the capital of Ibaraki was called The Mito Hollyhock. This name was chosen because the crest of the great Tokugawa Family which ruled the Mito Domain for centuries consisted of 3 futaba-aoi leaves. This crest has been made extremely famous by the classic TV series Mito Komon. The Wikipedia article on hollyhock also said that that flower was the symbol of the Mito Clan.

At first I was excited. These flowers that I alone seemed to be interested in appeared to have highly distinguished historical and cultural associations. I wanted to write about this. Luckily , I started to dig further.

I did this because I still had lingering doubts about the connection between aoi and tachi-aoi. I had been to the Aoi Matsuri and seen that the Aoi associated with that festival was a leaf. I had even taken one as a souvenir and kept it in my wallet. The seal of the Mito Clan also consisted of 3 leaves (representing the 3 branches of the Tokugawa Family).

The leaves on the Mito Crest and the aoi leaf in my wallet looked NOTHING like the leaves of the hollyhock (tachi-aoi).Photos in field guides also showed me that tachi-aoi was the roadside flower, but I could find no pictures of aoi in any bookstore flower guide.

To make a long story short, I became slightly obsessed with getting to the bottom of this mystery. At the library I was able to confirm that the scientific name of tachi-aoi(hollyhock) was Althaae rosea , and that the symbol of the Mito Tokugawa and of the Aoi Matsuri was a plant with NO COMMON ENGLISH NAME but known as Asarum caulescens among botanists and futaba-aoi among the Japanese (see photo. These two plants have NO CONNECTION other than being PLANTS and having the character aoi (葵)in their names.

Finally, I went to the Tsukuba Botanical Garden to consult with Dr. Tadamu Matsumoto. He was also astonished that the Mito Soccer team had been called Hollyhock, as there was no botanical connection between futaba-aoi (the highly esteemed leaves on Mito Komon's emblem) and the common roadside tachi-aoi (hollyhock).

There is obviously a big problem with translation when dealing with the names of plants which are not familiar to the translators. These types of errors occur not only in Wikipedia and blogs but also in respected journals, dictionaries and encyclopedias. I fell victim to such a mistaken translation when writing about the Boy's Day (Tango No Sekku) traditions in Japan (Tango no Sekku over the Ages).

In my article I mistakenly wrote that the Japanese put irises(the Japanese term is shobu 菖蒲) in their baths and on their rooves on that day. I had gotten this translation from very respectable source books. However, I later realized that the shobu used is NOT an iris(hana-shobu) at all but a completely unrelated plant called CALAMUS(related to taro) by botanists and which was believed by the ancient Chinese and Japanese to have the power to expel evil and bad luck.

For me hollyhocks are amazing flowers and are worthy of having a soccer team named after them. But I'm sure that the citizens of Mito will not be pleased to learn that their team is named after the TACHI-AOI and NOT the revered FUTABA-AOI.

It's like calling the Seibu Baseball club The Azarashi (sea lions) instead of The Lions. Why not? They are both mammals!

Avi Landau

Friday, July 04, 2008

Tanabata in old Edo

Make a wish upon two stars!-Tanabata

You might have noticed the colorful Tanabata (七夕) decorations, young bamboo stalks with slender branches adorned with colorful strips of paper, set up at supermarkets, community centers, city-offices, schools and kindergartens around town. If you look carefully, you will also notice a box filled with blank sheets of colored paper (tanzaku), and some pens or pencils which have been placed somewhere nearby. These are there so that anyone so inclined can write down their wish (or poem) and then tie it onto the tree. These days, it is mostly little kids who enjoy doing this, but you will still see plenty of hopeful teenagers and adults writing their prayers for family health, success in exams, protection from earthquakes, finding romance, etc. Since language is no problem in the Land of Wishes, you should pick up a colored sheet yourself and feel free to write in your native tongue.

As with most other Japanese traditions, the history of Tanabata is complex, and tracing its roots can be confusing. The way it has been celebrated has also transformed DRAMATICALLY over the centuries. Matters are made even worse when you find out that different cities celebrate the festival on different dates, a month apart.

Simply put, the 7th day of the 7th month on the lunar calendar is the day the the stars Vega and Altair are closest in the night sky, and the ancient Chinese developed a romantic story based on this celestial event. Separated for a year by the heavenly river (the Milky Way) two lovers, a cowherd and a weaver-girl get a chance to meet for only one night before being separated until the same time next year. It was on this night that the women weavers and other craftswomen of the ancient Chinese court made supplications to the two stars in the hope of improving their skills. It seems logical enough that wishing on two stars would be more efficacious than wishing on one.

In 8th century Japan, everything Chinese was the rage among the aristocracy, so naturally this star festival was adopted at the Japanese court in Nara. Members of the leisured class made offerings of colorful foods and enjoyed viewing the stars to the accompaniment of koto music. On the other hand, the reading of the characters 七夕 as tanabata, came from an indigenous story about a weaver girl Tanabatatsume (棚機津女), who sat by the riverside weaving beautiful fabrics for the gods. The Tanabata Festival today is a product of the coming together of these these two currents.

The custom of writing wishes or poems on colored paper originated in China. The paper colors used today are still those favored in ancient China: blue, yellow, white, black and red. However, the other traditional paper decoration designs on the bamboo trees aa well as the famous Tanabata decorations of Sendai are based on the story of Tanabatatsume.

Another completely different aspect of the Tanabata celebration in Japan was that it marked the beginning of preparations for the O-Bon Festival and on that day it was customary to wash hair, religious implements, animals etc. in anticipation of the return of ancestral spirits.

It also became customary in Japan for boys and girls to pray for better skill in calligraphy and poetry.Many older Tsukabans,as children,would wake up early Tanabata morn and gather the dew from the tar leaves in the garden. This water would be mixed to make ink for that days calligraghy on the tanzaku. The day after the festival, the tanzaku (strips of paper) were cast off into rivers or the sea. These customs remain almost only as fond memories in the minds of older generation.

In the Edo Period (1600-1868) Tanabata decorations experienced a GOLDEN AGE with townspeople trying to outdo each other in putting out the more outstanding decorations. This tradition lives on at the famous Tanabata festival in Sendai, where merchants line the shopping district with spectacular decorations.

A strange turning point in the history of Tanabata was surely the adoption of the western calendar by the Meiji Government after 1868. The seventh month is August according to the lunar calendar, but is July in the new calendar. These days the 7th day of the 7th month is NOT the time when Vega and Altair meet. This occurs in August. And more to this, the beginning of July is still the rainy season and stars can rarely be seen at all! Sounds ridiculous, but it is true. The festival is celebrated a month too early.

The great Sendai Festival, however sticks with the correct timing, as do the festivals in Yamaguchi City and Oita. For major NEW CALENDAR events (I mean in July) head for the Shonan Hiratsuka Tanabata Festival in Kanagawa.

There are many historical details which I have left out and you are probably glad for that. Just remember that if you spy a colorfully decorated tree, remember the story of the lovers. Maybe you will be inspired to jot down a poem, or a special wish.

Avi Landau

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Moss

Enjoy the Moss, prevent the Mold in Japan`s summer

Most of the days during Japan's month long rainy season (tsuyu), are overcast and damp, even when there is no actual precipitation. When it IS raining, it is as if your town or city has been transported into the shadowy depths of a thick, wet , forest. It can stay like that for days. For this reason, Japan is a veritable paradise for MOSS (koke苔), which thrives in such conditions. Taking a June stroll, umbrella in hand, within the precincts of some old shrine or temple is like an in-depth tour of the WORLD OF GREEN, with mosses of varying degrees of verdure growing on stones, tree trunks, or the ground, forming delightful combinations.

It is clear that the darkness of the rainy season and the deep warm shades of moss have had a huge impact on Japanese aesthetics. For example, compare the Buddhist temples or clothes from the brighter lands of India or Thailand, with those of Japan. There are often bright, bold or shimmery colors and surfaces, which are needed so as not to be washed out by the brightness of the sun. In shadowy Japan, different , darker ,colors, more natural and earthy ,came to be utilized and loved. Moss and moss green have been an important part of this sensibility. This can be seen most clearly in Japanese gardening and landscaping, the cultivation of miniature trees (bonsai) and in fabric design.

There are several temples which are actually famous for their moss gardens, including Saiho-Ji and Gio-ji in Kyoto. Nearer to Tsukuba is Myoho-Ji in Kamakura. (Did you know that JR trains can be taken directly to Kamakura from Tsuchiura or Ushiku Stations during the summer?) These are nationally renowned Koke-dera (moss temples), but it is by no means necessary to leave our city to partake in the pleasures of moss viewing. As I mentioned above, the sacred grove of any shrine or the grounds of any temple will do, especially on rainy days.

Unfortunately, the same conditions which allow moss to thrive are favored by various types of mould and mildew and foreigners who come to live in Japan are driven to despair by their relentless proliferation. Walls, books, photos, are all common victims. Once I discovered that a pair of white sneakers I wanted to wear had turned black with mould! This is not just a nuisance, but a health hazard as well.

Of course, this is a problem for the Japanese, too, but since their ancestors have had to deal with the problem for millennia, there are plenty of bits of folk knowledge passed down from generation to generation which help to cope.

The most important point to remember is good ventilation. Make sure that the air in a particular room does not stagnate too long. Whenever the sun DOES shine you might want to let its rays do their work on anything you are worried might get mouldy. Remember: the light of day is the best disinfectant!

A more recently developed trick for dealing with mold was introduced to me by Harumi Takaya, who is always a great source of information about traditional life in Tsukuba. This is the use of baking soda. For example, baking soda mixed in with your laundry detergent at a ratio of 3 to 1 will prevent your laundry from getting moldy (if like most Japanese, you don't have a dryer). Putting a mixture of baking soda and water into a spray bottle and spritzing it on the walls etc... is also a good idea.

Don't let the darkness and the rain get you down! Go out and explore Japans endless SHADES OF GREEN! For the summer months THESE are the Emerald Isles!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Ancient Tree at Yahashira Shrine,Makabe

Conch Blower

Sword Drawing

Chinowa

Summer Rites at Kaba-San shrine

Historically the inhabitants of the Japanese Isles have been susceptible
to sickness and epidemic during the summer months. The rainy season of June
always brought the danger of flooding, and when the rains stop there are almost two months of relentless heat and humidity.
A perfect formula for the incubation and spread of dangerous bacteria.
In modern times the governmemt initiated programs of universal vaccination and innoculation which have made regular summer
pestilence a thing of the past.The Ministry of Construction has also been spending more than 100 years pouring concrete,
leaving almost no natural rivers,and thus greatly reducing the chance of flooding.
The ancient Japanese court had no recourse to modern medicine. It did however
concieve of a national plan to protect the nation from sickness and disaster.
This came to fruition with the implementation of 2 official
purification ceremonies or O-Harae. One in summer and one in Winter, with each
ceremony giving six months worth of protection. The ceremonies were held at shrines throught the realm and have continued for more than 1200 years.

A feature of the summer rite(nagoshi no harae)was the use of a magical ring
of woven reeds or straw. Those to be purified would pass throught the upright rings,usually 3 times.
The belief in the efficacy of these CHINOWA stemmed from a story in Japanese mythology in which the
mischivious yet heroic God Susanoo no Mikoto adviced a man who had helped him to
weave a ring of reeds in order to protect himself from an imminent epidemic.
The man survived and the powers of such rings established.You can see these rings worn by sumo wrestlers and I guess the sumo ring itself is
a CHINOWA.
Today I went to MT Kaba to observe this years CHINOWA KUGURI
ceremony. It began with conch blowing and then sword drawing.Both of which have
strong excorsistic powers in Japan. The worshippers then
passed through the ring 3 times before entering the main hall for further
purification by the priest. The ring itself was made of what looked like palm fronds, highly evocative of southern islands.

I will need all the extra power I can get as the TenGooz forge on with recording and rehearsals.
By the way,Kaba-San Shrine is said to have the skull of a Tengu as one of its relics. There were certainly plenty of Tengu masks.
I felt right at home.

Avi Landau

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Fighting For Tsukuba`s Remaining Wilds

An alternative title for this entry could be 'The Taka and Takahashi-san' (Ms. Takahashi and the Hawk). That is because these are the chief protagonists in what has turned out to be a long and sometimes dirty (on the part of developers) struggle to preserve central Tsukuba's last remaining tracts of wild land, the home to numerous plants and creatures, including the majestic and protected O-Taka (オオタカ) –the hawk.
Just north of the Sakura City Office, on both sides of the narrow road which runs by it from the Hanamuro intersection, there amazingly remain large areas of almost completely unused land, with brush so thick that in summer it is all but inaccessible, save for the few barely recognizable trails created by the small mammals which find shelter there. These are weasels, tanuki, rabbit and maybe even fox. The area resounds with the calls of pheasants (kiji), bush warbler (uguisu) and at night OWLS.
In the middle of this veritable jungle is Kayoko Takahashi's tastefully designed house/aromatherapy studio. In her dining room there is always a field scope set up on a tripod. These days at almost any time during the day, if you put your eye to the eye-piece you will be in for a thrill. It is fixed on a favorite spot of the female O-Taka who you will almost surely see waiting for the return of her mate with food for their young. The actual nest sits a few trees away. This week the cry of the chicks is clearly audible.
My house is on the fringe of this same wilderness, and I can just make out Takahashi-san's roof amidst the trees, from my bedroom window. Just the other day I received a surprise visit from the male hawk. A shadow passed, and I guessed it was just another crow on my veranda. I turned for a look and my eyes almost popped out of my head when, through the curtain, I recognized the large raptor, munching on a freshly caught prey, just a few feet from my bed.
With the TX development project, this area was chosen as the location for the railroad's employee housing. It was ALL slated for clearing and development. Takahashi-san changed the course of events, however, by alertly informing officials about the annual presence of the breeding hawks and called for a re-evaluation of the project. Within a couple of days a bulldozer from the project's contractor UR 都市再生機構 (UR Toshi Saisei Kiko) arrived and started to push down all the trees which Takahashi-san had indicated!!!! Lucky for two things, though. First they missed the actual breeding nest and had knocked out only an old nest they had spotted, and second Takahashi-san witnessed and filmed the whole incident!!! An order from the prefectural government was obtained to temporarily halt construction.
What happens next is still up in the air, but as you might know, government sponsored projects are almost NEVER scrapped after being approved. It was not even possible to stop the filling in and destruction of Isahaya Bay in Nagasaki Prefecture even when eventually it was recognized by all parties that the huge project was ABSOLUTELY useless. But you never know, maybe things will work out differently in Tsukuba.
This Sunday, June 29th, there will be a meeting of scientists, scholars, activists, journalists and local residents. We will tour the area and then discuss the situation. Anyone interesting in these procedings
can contact me at avi@tora.email.ne.jp
Please come and join in the fight to keep Tsukuba GREEN and BEAUTIFUL.

TenGooz will be recording tomorrow. Hope to have something for your listening pleasure available REAL soon.

Avi Landau

Monday, June 23, 2008

Thar She Glows! Fireflies Making a Comeback?

Getting around Tsukuba on foot can sometimes pays off. Even at night when its raining! After being stood up for an appointment near the University, I headed for home in a slight drizzle which soon turned into a steady shower. I was going east, and the narrow rice-paddied valley along the banks of the Hanamuro river is almost completely shielded from any light, and it was like walking into a bygone age. I crossed the river and the croaking of the frogs turned from a hum into an almost deafening roar. I realized that the farmers must be making rice for THEIR OWN CONSUMPTION on this side of the valley and using LESS PESTICIDES. Thus the abundance of LIVING CREATURES. Turning southward along the field I was startled by a delicate streak of dancing light! I stopped in my tracks even though I was getting wetter by the minute. A spot of light and then more streaks here and there filled me with the thrill of discovering a species long thought extinct. There were wild fireflies (hot!
aru,蛍) here!

Older Japanese fondly remember the abundant fireflies, which before the widespread use of agricultural chemicals (especially those sprayed from helicopters by local governments), would delight them each rainy season. Catching fireflies in a jar was once one of the most popular and memorable childhood games of summer. Now children have to be taken to special parks or institutes which artificially breed the light-making insects. Fees are charged and large crowds make the setting highly commercialized.

There are two main types of fireflies in Japan. The larger type is the Genji-botaru and the smaller one the Heike-botaru (they are named after the two warring clans of the late Heian Period which in English we refer to as the Minamoto and the Taira).To tell the truth,Im not sure which types the ones I found are.

There are dozens of great poems inspired by the firefly with many going back to the Manyoshu, the great collection of poems compiled in the Nara and Early Heian Periods.

Of course, it is possible to see wild fireflies at a few places in Japan and even in Tsukuba City (on Mt Tsukuba for instance). It was exciting however to find that the little love sick bugs might be making a comeback with walking distance of Tsukuba Center.

If you'd like more details about where to go Hotaru viewing, contact me. I will try to get a map with details posted soon.

TenGooz fans remember a song we always used to do LIVE
called JIN JIN. In Okinawan language that means firefly and
that song always got the crowd going. we will have to revive that one for this summers gigs!

Avi Landau