Saturday, June 28, 2008

Ancient Tree at Yahashira Shrine,Makabe

Conch Blower

Sword Drawing


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
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
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

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Make the summer solstice($B2F;j(Jgeshi) meaningful

Though the vernal and autumnal equinoxes have been designated national holidays in Japan(it is around these days that it is custumary to visit and clean the family graves),the winter and especially the summer solstices usually go by without any notice. Those with this year's Japanese calender might notice the characters 夏至(geshi,The summer solstice)on the square marking June 21st, and that is about it.This contrasts sharply with the countries of Europe(especially the northern ones), which host a variety of festivals and ceremonies marking the day with the longest daylight hours of the year. This situation seems curious indeed for a country and a nation which pays such close attention to the flow of the seasons and the progression of natural phenomena.
One reason for this might be that the GESHI falls smack in the middle of the rainy season(梅雨,tsuyu),and is marred almost every year by gloomy ,overcast weather. In fact, though there is almost a five hour difference in the length of daytime between the GESHI and the 冬至(touji,winter solstice) in the Tsukuba area,the sun SHINES unobscured for many more hours on average on the shortest day of the year!
There is now a way,however, to make your summer solstice MEANINGFUL, and certainly more fun than it has ever been for you in Japan before. For several years a movement has been growing which promotes the turning the summer solstice into CANDLE NIGHT. As a way to promote energy conservation and environmental awareness, people around the world are asked to refrain from using electricity between 8 and 10pm.There are many ways life can be enjoyed with The Tokoyo Electic Power Company.You should try it!
For more information and plenty of ideas check out :
Of course you should conserve energy EVERY DAY ! This festive way of living without electricity for a view hours is a good place to start, especially for giving awareness to kids.
Have a happy 夏至.Enjoy the daylight! IT ONLY GETS SHORTER FROM TOMORROW!

Talking about no electricity,I remember being in one of Tsukuba University`s
buidings,six floors,with lights,refrigerators and computers usually on in every room.
That day there was an electricity check and suddenly all the
juice was turned off. The effect of all the white noise, being abruptly removed was rivetting.
it was like entering another makes you think
about how our eardrums and bodies in general are continually subject to immersion in electrical
environments,whatever that might be.

Avi Landau

Tsukuba`s Distinctive Summer Smell

It might hit you while you are out for a stroll or riding in a car with the window rolled down. It might come upon you during the day or even more so at night. It is a thick, damp and sultry smell — for the Japanese it often suggests the erotic– it is the musky perfume of chestnut blossoms (kuri no hana), and in Tsukuba in June there is no avoiding it. This is because Ibaraki Prefecture is the number one chestnut producer in Japan.It seems as if almost every undeveloped lot, if it is not planted with turf grass, has a chestnut grove on it! One reason for this preponderance is that farmers who want to keep their land cultivated for tax purposes (agricultural land is taxed at a different rate) find that kuri batake (chestnut groves) require less maintenance than other potential crops.
The chestnut flowers themselves are just as strange as their smell. They look like feathery, white, pipe-cleaners, which will eventually turn brown and wither before the chestnuts ripen in autumn. Ibaraki's kuri (栗) are large and extremely tasty. They are eaten in many ways, but most commonly as chestnut rice (kuri gohan).
By the way, chestnut cultivation does not have a very long history in this area as it was always too cold to grow them. My neighbor, who now has a couple of hundred trees, told me that in his grandparent's day, they would go to mountainous areas in winter to gather the fallen leaves of mountain kuri (yamaguri)which were to be used as fertilizer or for heating. While doing this they would sometimes rake up a chestnut which had been buried away by crows.However, any attempt to introduce the chestnut vairieties cultivated in warmer parts of Japan ended in failure due to frost.
With plenty of perseverence farmers were able to breed the hardy mountain chestnut, which was resistant to this prefecture's colder climate, eventually making it possible for Ibaraki to become the number one producer of kuri.
Now you will know what it is when it hits your nose. It's the kuri no hana. And in the future, whenever you catch a whiff of its distinctive scent, one thought will pop into your head — SUMMER IN TSUKUBA.

The TenGooz are practicing and recording. Thomas and I will be in studio to work on CHATTER. The scent of chestnut in the air will surely give us inspiration!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

No Miss Guitars at East of Eden

Lots of MUSIC

June 7th was a great day for the TenGooz!We celebrated Michael`s birthday with a big barbcue party and then went on to do a gig at Hot Stuff in Tsukuba.All in all it was an extremely festive day.
Thomas Mayers played his first real TenGooz gig with us and he certainly passed his trial by fire with flying colors, sometimes eliciting spontanious squeals and shouts from the female members
of the audience with his CRAZED guitar playing.

Wednesday was practice.We have alot of work to do return to the level we used to be at. We have to expand our set list (I know you all rememberur 50 song no intermission marathons of the past ) and work on our dynamics (changes of volume) .

Michael, Thomas and I recieved some inspiration on Thursday night. We had been planning on recording, and I had thought everything was set for Thursday.I guess Takumi (our engineer) heard my Thursday as SAZDAY, which is easilly confused by Japanese with SADADAY or Saturday, and when we arrived we found out that we had arrived two days too early.

Everyday has its little miracles, however, and what looked like a wasted evening turned out to be an eye-opening musical encounter as we decided to head for East Of Eden, one of our old haunts. Though it was a weekday there was a gig on that night-a dou from Kyushu who call themselves No Miss Guitars. Their mastery of their instruments, interesting compostions and lyrics and passionate love for what they do simply riveted us, as well as the rest of the small audience. They really showed us that we need to get to work, especially on our dynamics.
I hope that that eye-opening show has a big impact on the next TenGooz LIVE

See you then and there

Avi Landau

Thursday, June 05, 2008

A trip to Sawara, and lots of TenGooz practice

Sawara,in Chiba Prefecture is always a great place to visit, with its old shops, willow lined river, sake breweries and Katori Grand Shrine.The first week in June is always extra-special as the irises are in bloom.
We drove to the aquatic plant park, a few kilometers from the old town and were disappointed to find that only a small portion of the flowers were blossoming. We could still enjoy watching a traditional, pole-propelled boat loaded with musicians, cranking out the Sawara-Bayashi,which is the towns festival music.
We have started some serious rehearsing and were together until 11pm last night getting ready for this Saturdays Gig. Thomas Mayers will be playing with us and he has been putting in extra effort learning all our old material.

Hope to see you there this weekend

Avi Landau

Irises in Sawara

Sawara-Bayashi Musicians

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The View From Behind

Putting oneself through physical and/or mental hardship as a way of achieving spiritual growth has long been associated with Buddhism in Japan.
That was why ,when I arrived at The National Museum in Ueno on a sweltering spring morning, I did not find it inappropriate to have to wait outside in the sun for 90 minutes to get in to see the current exhibition - The Treasures of Yakushi-Ji Temple.
Of course, upon first catching site of the impossibly long line, a winding python made up of thousands of senior citizens, I thought about heading for less crowded quarters.But I had had my heart strongly set on seeing this exhibition before it closed on June 8th, and anyway had certainly been made to wait even longer at this very museum many times before.It had almost always been worth it.

I imagined that most of the Buddhist art enthusiasts patiently waiting in line with me had already been to Nara and visited Yakushiji itself.I also came to the realization that if I had gotten on the shinkansen it would not take very much longer to reach the temple than it would to finally reach the entrance of the museum (though it would have been a BIT more expensive).
What the large crowds had been gathering for, every day for weeks already, was a look from behind. A look at the back sides of 3 great Buddhist images whose backs are usually covered by ornate, body length, gilded halos or auras.For this exhibition, these figures, most famously the bronze Bodhisatvas Nikko and Gakko, were separated from their back stand halos allowing their elegantly molded posteriors to be gazed upon by anyone with a ticket and tough enough to endure the lines.

In addition to this rare chance to PEEK BEHIND THE SCENES, the exhibition featured reasures which were never all displayed at once.

Each visitor seemed to be in heat enduced daze by the time they reached the over-airconditioned exhibition hall. Then things got difficult.
All the pent up energy and bridled excitement seemed to burst forth in my elderly fellow museum-goers and it took strength and cunning to jockey myself into a position in we I could see any of the works on display.

This might sound like a nightmare, or a Buddhist version of hell, but it was in fact fascinating and highly rewarding in many ways. For me observing the visitors and overhearing their comments was what probably sticks in my mind most. Since this was an exhibition of Buddhist works, and not just ART,it seemed to me that most of the visitors were trying their best to have a spiritual experience.their GAZE was special, like that reserved for cherry blossom viewing or funerals. A typical exclamation that I heard was among the crowds viewing the 3 meter tall Boddhisatvas was. They really DO make me feel calm. (yappari miru to iyashi ni naru).

In terms of the works on display themselves, I was more impressed (in terms of beauty) by the three small figures(39cm) of the Hachiman Triad. I prefer them because they are carved
from wood and I have always felt that the Japanese sculptors often showed great genius when working in wood.When such skillfully carved pieces are aged more that a thousand years, the effect is mysterious and mesmerizing.
It is also of interest to note how Shinto Gods were early adopted into Buddhism, with Hachiman having early on becoming a protector of the New, imported faith.
I can go ON and ON about each piece I saw. By why should you waste your time reading when you still have a few more days to see and experience for yourself.

I left the museum and its bookstore with a heavy bag and feet and a light head and wallet. I really did feel serene reviewing what I had just seen in the excellent catalogue of the show.

Dont let the lines deter you. I guess that in the west we only have the notion of growth through hardship-you know NO PAIN, NO GAIN.

The exhibition will be on until June 8
at the National Museum in Ueno

Avi Landau

Nikko and Gakko

A View From Behind