Tuesday, November 18, 2008



"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