Saturday, April 11, 2009
The avenues and waterbanks of Chang`an, the great capital of Tang China (618-907) were often lined with willows (yanagi 柳, in Japanese), as these trees were believed to represent rejuvinative life forces and have the ability to repel evil and bad fortune. One reason for this is that their slender and elegant branches MOVE WITH THE BREEZE more actively than the branches of most other trees,thus connecting them with the bright and positive Yang (as oppossed to the dark and negative Ying). This notion was reinforced by the light color of the willows wood , its bearing leaves earlier than other trees in the spring, and the fact that it was believed to be an antidote for scorpion stings. For New Year`s, the residents of The Tang capital would hang a willow branch above their homes` entranceways to keep bad energies out. The wispy, misty green which seemed to float above the streets of the old capital in late March and early April as the willow`s leaves sprouted forth als!
o came to epitomize SPRING`S GREENERY, as exemplified by Su Tung-po`s poem-turned-adage - Naturally Willows Are Green (柳緑, in Chinese), and Flowers Are Red (花紅).
Since the Japanese Imperial Family and the aristocrats of the Nara and early Heian Period courts were enamoured with just about everything Tang, it is not surprising that the streets and watersides of the then new capital of the Yamato Realm, Heian-Kyo (today`s Kyoto), which took Chang`an as its model, were also lined with imported willows. In Japan, too, the wood of the willow was used to dispel bad energies and ALSO as an antenna to attract the Gods. This is best exemplified by the special chopsticks used during the New Years Holiday(yanagibashi 柳箸), which are made of the willows lightly hued wood and are narrowed at both ends (so that the gods can enjoy New Year`s dishes with you!).The Japanese, like the Tang Chinese, also decorated their homes with a willow branch, to attract the Toshigami-Sama- The God of the New Year.
The delicate green of the willows fresh leaves, were also thought to be the perfect match for the pink cherry blossoms which adorned the old capital in April. In the kokinshu anthology of ancient poems there is the tanka by Sosei （素性） which goes- MIWATASEBA YANAGI SAKURA O KOKIMAZETE MIYAKO ZO HARU NO NISHIKI NARIKERU- Looking out over the capital, the willows leaves and cherry blossoms blend to make a veritable spring brocade. The pairing of the two trees was also logical from a Ying Yang point of view, as the Yin blossoms are balanced out by the Yang of the willows.
As willows spread throughout the Japanese Archipelago (there are about 300 varieties including 15 in Ibaraki),they were not only utilzed as roadside trees, separating the stable part of the city from the fluid lanes of traffic, but can to be used to demarcate boundaries. Not only were they planted at the entrance ways to towns and villages, at the waterline along rivers and ponds (separating the terrestrial from the aquatic), around palace and castle moats( separating the common from the great) and at the gates to the old pleasure quarters (yu-kaku), but it was also believed that willows marked the boundary between the mortal world and the realm of spirits. Japanese Ghosts are said to often appear under weeping willows (no doubt because of the way they rustle and move in the breeze which can be extremely creepy at night!).
For me, it was surprising when I first learned that weeping willows have flowers (or more precisely catkins) which bloom in late March and early April. Willows are either male or female and the catkins of each sex are slightly different. If you get up close to a willow, usually to be found by ponds or rivers these days, have a look
Avi Landau 2009
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Tuesday, April 07, 2009
Look at the Etymology of the Word SAKURA For a Deeper Understanding of Japan$B!G(Js UNIQUE Celebration of Cherry Blossoms: O-HANAMI ($B$*2V8+(J)
If you are in Japan during early April, you will certainly hear a lot about, and most probably even be invited to, HANAMI, which is usually translated as CHERRY BLOSSOM VIEWING. , Unfortunately, this English description does absolutely no justice to the UNIQUE way in which the Japanese celebrate the full flowering of the sakura (cherry) trees. For while you might well have seen people enjoy the VIEWING of flowers or blossoms in other countries, or even watched Japanese people admiring OTHER popular flowers in Japan itself, nothing will have prepared you for the crowds, solemnity, excitement, ribaldry, and the INTENSITY OF GAZE, that you will find at so-called cherry blossom viewing parties, especially at Japan's famous HANAMI spots.
Most of this is done by revellers who are not just strolling casually by, but who have spread their sheets under the blooming trees and have brought sufficient food and drink. There is singing and maybe dancing, which more often than not is fuelled by alcohol. The blossom viewing itself is not only done from a distance, but also from way up close, as some of the small blossoms are examined and photographed carefully and individually. Hanami is NOT the mere viewing and enjoyment of beautiful flora. It can neither be said to be just a celebration of spring (though it is that as well). It is something moving and spiritual, with deep and ancient connections not only to Japanese history, as is often written about in English, but even more importantly, to folk beliefs (a point which is hardly touched upon in non-Japanese language sources).
I think that we can more fully UNDERSTAND and appreciate the experience of HANAMI, if we look at the etymology (origin) of the Japanese word SAKURA. I have found several Japanese language sources explaining that the SA of sakura derives from SA NO KAMI (田の神) or SAGAMI (田神), which is the traditional God of the Rice Fields. The KURA that makes up the rest of the word is from KURA, meaning seat, storehouse or vessel. In other words, SAKURA originally meant SEAT OF THE GOD OF THE RICE FIELDS. This is understandable, since the cherry trees, which in ancient times grew wild throughout Japan, bloom just before the farmers would begin the annual cycle of rice production. This synchronicity linked the blossoms and the onset of cultivation in the minds of the people.
For the farmers, who believed that after the rice harvest in autumn the God Of the Rice Fields would retreat to the mountains only to return once again in spring, the blossoms of the cherry trees were a physical manifestation of the God. When full bloom was reached the farmers would entertain the God with feasting, singing, dancing, revelry, and drinking (even in contemporary Shinto, the Gods are often entertained by music and dances and offered food and drink. Lewd dancing is also an accepted way of enertaining the Gods, as the Sun Goddess herself, Amaterasu, was drawn out of hiding by such entertainment- see The Kojiki). Being that the blossoms were believed to be divine , the energies emitted by the blossoms at the full-bloom point were also considered to be an elixir.
The farmers would also DIVINE (predict) the result of the next harvest by carefully and closely examining the sakura blossoms` petals. This is STILL done in some areas. When the blossoms had fallen completely it was a signal for the farmers that it was time to get to work.
In these ancient practices we can find all the components of contemporary HANAMI: the (sometimes raucous) partying under the blossoming trees, the careful examination of the blossoms, and the sense of reverence. We can now also understand why, in a culture which has been so strongly connected by the agricultural cycle, the SAKURA trees would have a special place among all other flowers and trees.
English language sources often suggest that because certain Japanese Emperors, especially the Emperor Saga, held elaborate and memorable HANAMI events that such a custom eventually became established among the people. Well, the Japanese folk certainly do have a tendency to try and emulate the culture of the aristocracy and the ruling class. However, this explanation fails to explain why the Emperors would have held these huge hanami gatherings. For me it seems natural me that the Emperors of Japan, who are also the HEAD PRIESTS OF THE NATION whose role it is to pray for abundant harvests, were merely doing what Japanese rice farmers had done since time immemorial- they entertained the god which was manifest in the cherry blossom. i think in the case of HANAMI it was the Emperors taking on the customs of the common folk.
Some foreign language sources also attribute Chinese origins to HANAMI.It is often explained how in the Nara Period, when Japan was indiscriminantly adapting any aspect of Chinese culture, the Imperial Palace highlighted plum (ume) tree, the most prestigious blossoms of the Chinese Court. The oldest collection of Japanese poems (The Manyoshu), also had many more poems about plum blossoms than sakura. This was of course was due to Chinese influence. However, one point that is never mentioned in regard to this is that though the Chinese appreciate the beauty of nature, they never celebrated any of their favorite flowers the way the Japanese did the sakura. And though due to their prestige in China, plum blossoms were highly regarded as a ornament for the palace and a subject of poetry, they were never treated with the Hanami rituals.
These same sources explain how, later in the Heian Period, when the Japanese were more confident to assert their own roots, the sakura became the most respected tree at The Court because many cherry trees bloomed in the mountains around the new capital at Heian-Kyo (kyoto). I think that what really happened was, that for a period, when Chinese influence was at its strongest, in the Nara Period at the Heijo-kyo capital, the Japanese elite considered the sakura, which had always been and still was the tree closest to hearts of the people, was considered provincial and unsophisticated. Later, when the capital was moved and the Japanese began to gain more confidence in their own traditions, the sakura was returned to its place of prestige even at the Palace and in the poetry books.
I do not mean to assert here that The Japanese today are conscious the spiritual roots of Hanami which I have descibed above. I do believe though, that all the ancient forms, and an unspecified sense of spiritual significance have been passed down through the centuries and live on today.
It is also important to note that in Japan today, the cherry blossoms still signify new beginnings — the new school year, fiscal year, etc. — just as for the majority of the population throughout Japanese history, the cherry blossoms signaled the start of the work year, the work of producing rice.
Ueno Park- April 5, 2009
If you have a chance to do Hanami while you are in Japan- DO NOT HESITATE- it is a UNIQUE JAPANESE EXPERIENCE!
Take it all in!
For another article related to this season see-
Wednesday, April 01, 2009
Let me tell you a little bit about how it came to fruition.
Sometime last summer, a few weeks before our first beachside gig of the season, we toyed with the idea of creating a SURFING SONG for the occassion.
The next time we got together for practice Hase G (Nodoka Hasegawa)presented us with the song`s bass-line, in its entirety, almost exactly as we recorded it.
He said that he was inspired by U2 , of all things, and in fact, for a long while, we referred to this number as the U2 song. As usual with the TenGooz, when we find something that clicks, very quickly Michael (sax) thomas (guitars), A-Chan (drums) and I (vocals and lyricist)came up with what we eventually laid down at the studio.
The two points which took time to work out were the middle section, which ultimately became the fruit of one of michaels inspirations, and then the lyrics,, which somehow, veered away from being about ocean sports, and took up the topic of the 2008 presidential election (though referred to ambiguously).
In recording, it was Thomas` guitars which really give the some its special feeling and drive. The background vocals he laid down are also very tasty and he did them, improvised, in one take.
Here are the lyrics-
You dropped in out of nowhere, and went on to save the day
I dont know what I would have done if you hadnt come this way
Radiant and full of life you helped make right from wrong
I cant tell what the future brings, but Im sure glad that you came along
Because it was high time that we got back to reality
Dropped the fantasy and myths and face actuallities
You helped fullfill a yearning brought out the dormant songs
You can hear them in the distance- with each minute they`re growing strong
You burst in just in time and helped us to find our way
Like DEUS EX MACHINA in those old Greek plays
Of course we cant let out of sight that all good things must pass
I cant tell what the future brings but let`s enjoy this thing while it lasts
And though you had to head back north I`ll still often think of you
And how you helped to set things straight and turn the old to new
I hope that you dont mind if im waxing lyrical
But your comming this way`s nothing short of a miracle