Jidai Matsuri

The Jidai Matsuri ( 時代祭り, literally "The Festival of Historical Epochs"), celebrated in Kyoto on October 22 of each year. This festival represents a magnificent opportunity to experience over a thousand years of Japanese feudal history as direct spectators in a single day.

Jidai Matsuri, the Festival of Historical Epochs

Guest Author: Myriam

Jidai Matsuri

photo credits: travel-on.planet-muh.de

The origins

This festivity has its roots in the oldest history of Japan and recalls, through an impressive historical costume parade, the events and characters that have marked the life of the city since its foundation. It has been held since 794 by Emperor Kanmu (桓武天皇, Kanmu Tennō) until the transfer of the capital to Edo in 1868 by the decision of Emperor Mitsuhito.

Since its creation under the name of Heian Kyo (平安京, "capital of tranquillity and peace"), Kyoto has remained the capital of Japan almost uninterruptedly for over a thousand years. With the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate and the beginning of the Meiji Era, the entire imperial court was transferred to Edo, which became Tokyo (東京, literally "eastern capital").

In 1895 on the occasion of the 1100th anniversary of its foundation, the governments of the city and the prefecture of Kyoto established the Jidai Matsuri with the intention of restoring lustre to the ancient capital. Along with this, the aim was to honour the memory of the emperors Kanmu and Komei through the construction of the majestic Heian shrine.

A thousand years of history on the road

Jidai Matsuri

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Since then, on October 22 of each year, Jidai Matsuri brings back to life the splendour of feudal Japan. This allows residents and tourists to relive the life of the ancient capital for a few hours. Today, the main attraction of the festival is the Jidai Gyoretsu. It is a historical parade in which over two thousand participants take part, dressed in period costumes or in costumes meticulously reproduced by the craftsmen of Kyoto.

At the head of the parade are the mikoshi (portable sanctuaries) dedicated to the Kanmu and Komei emperors and the festival's honorary commissioners, on horse-drawn carriages in the style of the mid-19th century and from there the parade unfolds in reverse chronological order, from the Meiji Era to the Heian period, through about twenty thematic groups, which make it possible to rediscover, era after era, the characters who contributed to the history of the city, from simple peasants and soldiers to prestigious historical figures, such as the unifiers of the country Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu, or figures of religious or cultural importance, such as Murasaki Shikibu, author of the famous "Genji Monogatari". The figures are accompanied by the music of drums and flutes, which together with the over 12,000 historical artefacts used, allow spectators to immerse themselves completely in the atmosphere of past eras.

Jidai Matsuri

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The long procession leaves at 12.00 noon from Kyoto Gosho, the imperial palace. It then winds for hours through the streets of the city centre, touching the most evocative and significant places. We see it passing by Oike and the Okazaki district, finally reaching the Heian Sanctuary. Here the Festival ends with the ceremonies foreseen by the Shinto rite.


Nada no Kenka Matsuri

From October 14th to 15th of each year, in the Matubata Hachiman Shrine (松原八幡神社) in the city of Shirahama in Himeji, Hyogo Prefecture, the Nada no Kenka Matsuri (灘のけんか祭り) one of the biggest autumn festivals in Japan is held.

Nada no Kenka Matsuri, Fighting for blessings

Author: Sara

Nada no Kenka

photo credits: armidaleexpress.com.au

The term "kenka"(けんか) contained in the name of the Festival means "to fight", for this reason, in the current language, it is defined as "the Festival of the fight" in which the Kami (the gods) will bless the winner of the fight with a good harvest. Given the impetuousness with which it takes place, only high school boys and men up to the age of 45 can participate in the event according to Shinto tradition. In addition, participants must belong to 7 specific villages: Higashiyama (東山), Kiba (木場), Matsubara (松原), Yaka (八家), Mega (妻鹿), Usazaki (宇佐崎), Nakamura (中村).

October 14: The Eve "Yoi-Miya" (宵宮)

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At 11:00 am everything is ready for the "Neri-dashi" parade (練りだし). The 7 Yatai (small sacred floats) from the 7 villages go to the Matubata Hachiman Shrine to receive the divine blessing, "Miya-Iri" (宮入). Here the Yatai compete in the first competition called "Neri-Awase" (練り合わせ), competing against each other. A sort of "preparation" because the real "fight" will take place the next day and will be even more difficult. At this point, the "Shishimai" takes place: a dragon dance in front of the elementary school of Shirahama.

October 15: Hon-Miya the heavy Yatai clash

Nada no Kenka

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The main event of the Festival starts at 5:00 am. The lion of the village of Matsubara (松原の獅子) celebrates the dragon dance at the Sanctuary to worship the gods. Afterwards, the ceremony moves to the ocean where the participants of the villages eliminate their impurities of the spirit by bathing in cold water (Osogi 禊). At this point, the Miya-Iri (opening ceremony) at the Matubata Hachiman Shrine is started with the blessing of the gods. At last, the thinking confrontation begins: the first are the 3 Mikoshi (the least expensive portable sanctuaries of the Yatai) of the village in charge of hosting the festival (every year the place changes alternating between the 7 villages).

The first Mikoshi (一の丸) is very heavy and is carried by men over 36 years old. The second (二の丸) is a bit lighter and is carried by men between 26 and 35 years old. The third Mikoshi (三の丸) is very light and is worn by men under 25 years old.

They fight each other twice (神輿合わせ, mikoshi-awase): first in front of the main building of the Sanctuary, then in the battlefield at the foot of Mount O-Tabi-Yama (御旅山). At the end of this clash, it is the Yatai's turn on the battlefield (Neri-awase 練り合わせ).

Nada no Kenka

photo credits: kabegami.image.coocan.jp

The excited cries of spectators and participants make the event particularly lively and full of passion. At the end of the battle, the 3 Mikoshi and 7 Yatai are taken to the top of the mountain where prayers are said. the Nada no Kenka Matsuri ends with the descent from the mountain which will take place in the same order in which the villages have climbed.


Nagano Firefly Festival

With the advent of COVID-19, many events have been cancelled all over the world, but the firefly festival in Japan doesn't stop and this year the luminous insects dance by themselves.

The solitary dance of fireflies in 2020

Authore: Erika | Source: Japan Times

It is a magical moment when in Tatsuno, in the Nagano prefecture, the sun sets and thousands of fireflies begin to dance and shine, creating a unique spectacle. Usually, this event brings crowds of visitors to the city, however, due to the coronavirus pandemic, this year the spectators are not allowed to attend this event.

In fact, in this wacky 2020, the dance of incandescent insects takes place without spectators because the event has been cancelled. Nevertheless, although many fans were disappointed, an unusually serene and unique atmosphere was created. In fact, the insects do not stop and continue to shine, turning off and on, dancing in the night air. A natural spectacle that lasts only 10 days at the beginning of summer that marks the last chapter of a firefly's life.

Katsunori Funaki says that "The glow is the courting behaviour of fireflies. They glow is used to communicate between the male and female. During the short period of 10 days, they find a mate and lay eggs for the following year".

festival delle lucciole

In short, the firefly festival is a real date not to be missed. In fact, more than 30,000 perform this magic during those 10 days in Tatsuno, in the centre of Nagano prefecture. Mayor Yasuo Takei says "Historical evidence says that a huge number of fireflies were seen along the Tenryu River between the late 19th and early 20th century. These small creatures were almost extinct in the area due to the strong production of silk industries that created pollution.

However, after the Second World War, the city has worked hard to recreate and restore the suitable environment to protect the fireflies that now attract thousands of visitors during the annual summer festival. "When we have a lot of fireflies, we get a spectacular landscape full of lights, with both stars and fireflies shining reflected in the water," said Takei. A unique event and landscape.

festival delle lucciole

Precisely because of the strong importance that this festival has, the city has created a park with ditches to bring fresh water from the river, with waterfalls and an aquatic house rich in oxygen for insects.

Firefly festivals have been held since the end of June in many parts of Japan, and this ritual of luminous courtship is highly celebrated throughout the country.

"Fireflies are creatures that grow for over a year and fly for only 10 days to leave the next generation before they die," said the festival organizer. "We want to take care of them so that they leave their eggs for next year and we will see fireflies dance wonderfully once again.


Introduction to Japanese poetry

Italy, France, England, America and many other countries in the world offer a vast poetic production, but what is Japanese poetry like? Here we are on this fascinating literary journey to discover something more about the Land of the Rising Sun!

Poesia giapponese

photo credits: grangerprints.printstoreonline.com

Introduction to Japanese poetry

Author: Sara | Inspiration: Tokyo Weekender

Japanese Poetry: Kanishi

photo credits: wikimedia.org

Curiously, most of the literary works of Japanese poetry were born during the Tang Dynasty, from the encounter of Japanese poets with Chinese ones. And so, under Chinese influence, Kanshi 漢詩 became the most popular form of poetry during the early Heian period among Japanese aristocrats and became increasingly popular in the modern period, especially among academics and intellectuals. The themes were free, while the forms were more rigid: the classical ones counted about 5 or 7 syllables in 4 or 8 lines, following the rules of Lushi 律詩 (rhyme on even lines with a regulated tone) and jueju 絕句 (rhyme in even lines and composed only of quatrains) based mainly on the tone of Mandarin Chinese.
The major exponents of this style are certainly Kukai, Sugawara no Michizane, Maresuke Nogi and Natsume Soseki.

Waka

Poesia giapponese

photo credits: https://matcha-jp.com/jp/289

Unlike Kanshi, Waka 和歌 was classical poetry written in Japanese with two very precise forms: Choka, 長歌, or long poems with no length restrictions. The structure is simple and consists of 2 lines of 5 or 7 syllabic sounds (which determine the accent) that ends with 3 lines of 5, 7 and again 7 syllabic sounds. Tanka, 短歌, instead has a similar structure, but they are shorter poems, often consisting of only five groups of words respectively of 5, 7, 5, 7 and, finally, 7 syllabic sounds. Waka does not follow the rhyming rules and is still very popular in modern Japan, even if now the Tanka form is preferred: the more incisive brevity reflects as always the essentiality of deep culture. The poet par excellence is certainly Machi Tawara.

Haiku

Poesia giapponese

photo credits: wikimedia.org

What is the Japanese poetic composition that we consider among the most famous? Without a shadow of a doubt, it's the Haiku, 俳句. Loved by all, it is usually composed of 3 verses and 17 total syllabic sounds, schematically 5/7/5. Haiku experienced its development in the Edo period when many poets relied on this genre to describe nature and human events directly related to it. In fact, these small "compositions of the soul" express the beauty of every single instant, representing "the moment" and giving the reader that sense of "enlightenment" thanks to the images that the words evoke. The most famous and beloved poets are undoubtedly Basho, Yosa Buson, Kobayashi Issa, and Masaoka Shiki.

Our journey into Japanese poetry ends here, for now. This is a very short overview that has allowed us to enter the world of literature of our beloved Japan. What is your favourite form of poetry among the above? Mine is easy to guess: I particularly love Haiku. Here is one of my favourites by Matsuo Basho:

Let's take
the marshy path
to get to the clouds.

Continue to follow us to discover other little pearls of this oriental world and I recommend that you continue on the path you have taken: happiness is always in front of you!


Shinrin-yoku, forest bathing

The Shinrin-yoku so loved by the Japanese is what we call "forest bathing" and can be healing and regenerating. This practice, whose major exponent is Dr. Qing Li of the Nippon Medical School in Tokyo, is also becoming very famous here in the West. But let's see in detail what it is.

Shinrin-yoku, the forest bathing loved by the Japanese

Author: Erika | Source: Tokyo Weekender

Shinrin-yoku

One of the world's biggest health trends at the top of the charts, the Shinrin-yoku has become internationally renowned. However, its diffusion dates back to the late 1980s in Japan. In fact, Forest Bathing has for years been considered a true practice of preventive medicine in the land of the Rising Sun. In support of this, there are numbers of researches conducted around the world that have shown how to spend regular periods of time immersed in the quiet of the woods helps to strengthen the immune defences and prevent diseases But what exactly is this about?

What is Shinrin-yoku, Forest Bathing?

Literally, Shinrin-yoku (森林浴) combines the kanji of "forest" and "bath", and is commonly translated as "bath in the forest". Promoted some forty years ago by the Japanese government, Shinrin-yoku consists of walking in the woods and applying special breathing techniques. However, forest bathing activities are not limited to breathing. In fact, whether you stay active or simply decide to take some time to relax in the forest area, this also brings you back to this practice.

First used in 1982, this term was promoted by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries to encourage healthy lifestyles and protect the nation's beautiful natural ambients. Since 1986, the Forsetale Agency together with the Green Civilization Society has indicated more than 100 areas throughout Japan where this concept of bathing is possible. Even today, there are various techniques to keep healthy, but forest bathing is one of those concepts that goes well with Japanese ideology.

In the early 2000s, several universities and research centres conducted experiments to find out how effective this practice was. The various studies were unanimously positive. In fact, it has been shown how spending time between trees reduces stress, improves mood, lowers pulse rate and blood pressure. But not only that, it also increases concentration and creativity as well as strengthening our immune system. 

Perhaps sensitivity, and in particular deeply spiritual and historical respect for the natural world, has made this practice thrive in this nation.

Shinrin-yoku

Forest Bathing becomes international

Following the strong success achieved in Japan (about 5 million people practice Shinrin-yoku in the country alone), forest bathing has also become very popular internationally. Today, in fact, it has many followers also in the West, the Duchess of Cambridge herself is a fan, as reported by The Guardian. In this regard, in England, many institutions are promoting this practice as a way to relieve daily stress.

One of the leading figures on the subject, Quing Li, president of the Society of Forest Medicine in Japan and author of the book Shinrin-Yoku: The Art and Science of Forest Bathing, commented:

"Shirin-yoku is for all intents and purposes a preventive medicine. People spend most of their lives indoors. In the case of the Japanese it is 80% of the time, and in the case of the Americans it is as much as 90%. But man is made to live outdoors. We are designed to be connected to the world of nature".

You have to try the Shinrin-yoku

Forest bathing is an easy and inexpensive activity. In fact, it can be done at any time, whatever the weather conditions and does not require special equipment or physical fitness. You can build your experience to measure and according to your needs.

In Japan, the Forest Therapy Society is a non-profit organization that identifies areas with forests and pedestrian roads that have been scientifically evaluated. Here you will find a certified "forest bathing effect". Currently, 62 areas have been certified in Japan, each of which offers "forest therapy roads" with wide access paths suitable for quiet walks, some of which are also wheelchair accessible.

In Italy, we find several destinations equipped for forest bathing, first and foremost Trentino Alto Adige. In fact, on the Renon plateau and in Fai Della Paganella, we find nature guides specialized in "balance excursions" and a "Parco del Respiro". It is precisely this region, in the last few years, has put a lot of emphasis on full immersion experiences in nature, including forest bathing.

But that's not all, also in Piedmont within the Zegna Oasis, we find three paths dedicated to forest bathing, which are unique in Europe.


Focus on: Nambu ironware

If we think of typical Japanese furniture, we immediately think of an iron teapot, also known as Nambu ironware.

The Nambu ironware and its history

Author: Erika | Source: Tokyo Weekender

Nambu Tekki, or Nambu ironware, is a specific method typical of the city of Morioka in Iwate Prefecture. Created in the middle of the Edo period, this art is named Nambu after the feudal domain of the same name. Modern techniques also use the molten metal produced near Morioka, in Sendai or the present-day town of Oshu.

Nambu

Rust-resistant, durable and well-insulated, these objects provide uniform heat circulation. In fact, the outside of the kettles has an irregular texture called ploughing or hail. This is often used in Nambu ironware dishes and kettles are the representative product. However, the various models change from artisan to artisan because each artist is free to create his or her own model at will.

The History of Nambu ironware

Nambu ironware products sink their history into the production of tableware for the Tea Ceremony during the homonymous domination in the middle of the 17th century. Thanks to the abundance of iron resources, Morioka was a perfect area for the foundry industry.
In fact, in 1659, a feudal lord who wanted to promote the tea ceremony ordered Nizaemon Koizumi to move to Kyoto. It was here, in the area around the castle in Nambu, that the kettles began to be made.

The Koizumi family

Craftsmen par excellence during the Nambu domain, this family launched for the first time the pots used for the tea ceremony. The tea casting technique and control were passed down from father to son. Not only traditional products, but this family was also the focus of innovations for the time. In fact, the famous Nambu Iron Kettle was invented by the third generation of the Koizumi family. The Taisho Emperor himself, who reigned from 1912 to 1926, visited the Tohoku region for this family. In fact, in 1908, on the occasion of the visit, the eighth generation of the Koizumi showed the emperor the production process of these iron tools. This event was so famous that all the national newspapers of the time talked about it. In fact, even today, all the pieces produced in the Morioka and Mizusawa areas in Iwate are still called "Nambu Ironware".

Nambu Ironware

More than just tea

Although the products related to the tea ceremony are the most famous among the Nambu ironware, there are many other items related to the home that can be purchased. In fact, Western kitchen cooks know that one of the best investments you can make is a cast iron frying pan.
However, other Nambu ironware items that are worth buying are the furin (the Japanese windchimes), incense holders, small decorations but also chopsticks holders.

Nambu

Have you ever bought any of these items or would you like to take some? Let us know in the comments or on our Facebook page!


Photo Gallery: Kyoto without tourists

The pandemic is slowly passing and the tourism industry in Japan, as well as in Italy, has suffered a severe blow. We are not yet entirely allowed to resume travelling, but it is at these times that we have to find the beauty of things. We also refer to the possibility of being able to discover landscapes and corners of cities that we could not see before, often also because of tourists. As a highly desirable destination for tourists, Kyoto has developed a love-hate relationship with visitors. With 8.31 million tourists from overseas, the ancient capital is definitely one of the most popular cities in Japan. 

Kyoto without tourists, a leap into the past

Author: Erika | Source: The Japan times

However, tourism is always a bit of a double-edged sword. While it prunes a lot of revenue to the visited countries, it also leads to overcrowded cities. In tourist places like Kyoto, it is really rare to be able to enjoy the landscapes without visitors. Nevertheless, due to COVID-19 and the closing of world borders, the number of visitors has dropped dramatically, leaving many of these places undisturbed. Through these photos, taken by the reporters of The Japan Times at the end of April, we can see a deserted city and admire its monuments in all their splendour.

Kinkakuji

One of the most famous sites and destination of many tourists is certainly the Kinkakuji, also known as the Temple of the Golden Pavilion. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994, this landmark has more than 5 million visitors a year. The current pavilion dates back to 1955 after the original was burned by a novice monk. However, the complex dates back to the 14th century. - Photos by Oscar Boyd

Kyoto

Fushimi Inari, a destination that every year attracts about 2.7 million visitors, a landmark known for its senbon torii (1000 torii, even if in reality they are 10 thousand in total), was like this. Those who have been there are aware that to be able to take such a picture under normal conditions you have to go there very early in the morning and wait several minutes to get the perfect shot of the empty tunnel. The photographer Gabriele Bortolotti took this picture at noon, in a deserted sanctuary at the end of April.

Nishiki's market, also known as "Kyoto's Kitchen" stretches for about 1.5km between Teramachi and Shinmachi districts in Kyoto. Among the increasingly popular souvenir shops, knife shops, the headquarters of traditional Japanese food suppliers and everything related to the kitchen, Oscar Boyd took this photo.

Kyoto

We move on to the wooden architectural tradition of Higashimaya. This area is very popular among people looking for a traditional Japan, without cement, glass and neon. This is how it looked under the eyes of Oscar Boyd at the end of April 2020.

Kyoto

Ginkakuji, the Silver Pavilion, built in the 15th century in the style of the Golden Pavilion, was not originally covered with the precious material. The complex has since become famous for its large Japanese garden which attracts around 5 million visitors every year. - Photos by Gabriele Bortolotti

Kyoto

The Yasaka Pagoda, one of the landmarks of the upper area of Higashimaya District, the last permanent structure of the 6th century Hokanji Temple looked like this at the end of April. - Photos by Oscar Boyd

Kyoto

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Kiyamizudera temple on the side of Mount Otowa, in the eastern part of Higashimaya district is one of the landmarks not to be missed by visitors to Kyoto. Founded in 780 and rebuilt after a fire in the 15th century, work on the Okunoin Hall was completed in March. The temple attracts about 5 million tourists every year and yet in this weird 2020, it was completely empty. - Photos by Oscar Boyd


Shikadamari, the deer gathering in Nara

One of Japan's most characteristic cities is Nara together with its deers and every year it is here that the Shikadamari takes place. But what exactly is this strange and unique phenomenon? What drives hundreds of deers to gather for an hour at this place in Nara Park every evening in summer?

Shikadamari, the phenomenon of the deer gathering in Nara

Author: Erika | Source: Soranews24.com

If you have ever been in the city of Nara, near the prefecture of Kyoto, probably one of the destinations you will have seen is Nara Park and its large deer population. The peculiarity of these deers is that they roam the city undisturbed, but not only that, they also ask for a lot of cookies! For this very reason, you may have had to run away from one of them while this curious deer was poking its nose into your bag.

Shikadamari Nara

However, if you've come to this city in the summer, you'll find these nice creatures much less noisy in the evening. In fact, after sunset, a very particular phenomenon called "shikadamari" happens. This Japanese term translates as "deer gathering point" and is an unofficial term coined especially for this wildlife event.

What is Shikadamari

After sunset on summer evenings, around 6:30 p.m., deers gather near Nara Park to stop in this particular place in front of the National Museum of Nara, right inside the park.
 Indeed, it is not unusual to find deers relaxing in the park, but it is rare to see a large number of these animals all gathered in the same spot. The most disconcerting thing is that they all gather in the same place, at the same time and for the same amount of time. From 6:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m., you can see the deers sitting in silence. However, after 7:00 p.m., they stand up and return to the different areas of the park.

Shikadamari Nara

According to a survey by the Nara Deer Preservation Foundation, the Park is home to about 1388 deer, and almost half the wildlife population participates in this gathering. What could that indicate?

Plausible explanations

Therefore, one of the plausible explanations for this phenomenon is that deers gather in this particular place to cool off. After all, with the hot temperatures of the Japanese summer, in this place we find a breath of fresh air instead.
 Despite everything, this very piece of land in front of the museum is one of the sunniest parts of the entire park during the day. Theoretically, therefore, the earth is very overheated, but perhaps it is this mix of warm earth and fresh air that attracts the deer to the shikadamari.

Shikadamari

In this regard, the Nara Deer Preservation Foundation says:

"We have reports of deer gathering in front of the Nara National Museum. We don't even know why they gather there. We're sorry we can't be of any help".

Shikadamari Shikadamari

With this answer, therefore, the Shikadamari phenomenon remains to all intents and purposes one of the mysteries of Japan. And do you have any particular idea why deer gather every night in summer at this very spot in the park? Let us know on on our Facebook page or in the comments below!