Sunday, January 8, 2012

Japanese Dragonfly 日本の蜻蛉

Food for a fish, or
Colorful feast for the eye
Vibrant dragonfly

Youthful happiness
Conjured forth by the spell
Of a summer day

A Moment Not Photographed

      Walking past the Western exterior wall of Kumamoto Castle I passed through an expansive park.  I was making my way from the main gate to a Samurai Villa.  Just a short walk, but one I knew I had to take even though my stomach was reminding me that I hadn't been eating much the last week.  Fortunately, as a Typhoon moved through Hiroshima, it left stark blue skies and a mild summer day in Kyushu.  The grass was green, the clouds white, and my heart full of adventure.
      The park was a rectangle framed in with a trees on three sides, and a moat on the other.  The long stone Castle wall provided a medieval backdrop that made the green of the grass limitless.  Families dotted the park with picnics.  Blankets, onigiri, fans, baseball, all accoutrements of a relaxing day at the park and each complimented the laughing and giggling of children playing 'Darumasan'  It was a scene and a day many movie has tried to recreate.  It was beautiful.

     Also enjoying the sunshine were the Dragonflies, countless Dragonflies.  The park was full of Tonbo,
Black and purple Dragonflies danced about the park in numbers I had never before seen.  I tried to capture them as they flew but my endeavor was fruitless.  (Though I do have some nice photographs of the grass if you would like to see them.)

     I wondered, as I passed through the park, knowing the Japanese as I did; what significance do these abundant Tonbo have in Japanese Culture.  So today I will do my best to answer the question.

A Close Encounter

      As I chronicle my latest trip through Japan, I am trying to move in a chronological order, from Osaka as I moved my way South to Kagoshima and back.  This post seemingly jumps to Kumamoto from Osaka, but I promise it has its roots in Osaka.

      While touring in Nishinomiya, I visited the Kitayama Botanical Gardens of Nishinomiya, City.  among the gardens I found this Tonbo, alighting on a grass stalk.  It was kind enough to let me get a closeup. 

The Significance of the Dragonfly in Japanese Culture

     I've always loved the tradition and mythos of Japanese Culture.  Everything has a story, a significance, some 'Specifically Japanese' mythology.  I think its rather cool, even if it does muddle the true history of the place.

Dragonfly and the Emperor

     Legend has it that the first emperor Jimmu Tenno climbed a mountain in Nara Prefecture and said, "The shape of my country is like two Akitsu mating."  At the time Dragonflies, Tonbo, were referred to as  Akitsu.  In ancient times, Japan was called Akitsushima, or Dragonfly Island(s).  The Nihon Shoki (Chronicles of Japan, 720ad) also mentions the 21st Emperor Yuryaku Tenno being bitten by a horsefly which was subsequently eaten by a passing dragonfly.  The Emperor then named the plain, Akitsu-no (dragonfly plain.)  These stories of the emperors are said to be how Japan was named Akitsushima. (1)

Popular Culture

     I found it interesting that when looking up dragonfly in Wikipedia, Japan is the only culture with it own  section on dragonflies. (2)  Wikipedia describes the seasonal importance of the dragonfly as it relates to summer and early fall.  Most notably this seasonal reference as well as the fleeting grace of the dragonfly lend itself as a common theme in haiku.  (Oh, Yeah!)  (2)

     Dragonflies often represent strength, happiness and courage in Japanese culture (3).  The character Tonbo from Kiki's Delivery Service not only embodied these ideas but also gave Japanese audiences a reference point to their own culture in a movie that took place outside of Japan. (2)

     The dragonfly also represents a good rice crop, or bountiful harvest among traditional farming and Japanese lore.  The dragonfly along with the spider were recognized as insects that preyed on the other insects that ate the rice crops. (1/3)

The Pool of Zen Wrap Up

     As usual I like to tie my topics in to the Pool of Zen and the significance of the post.  Surely, when you think of a dragonfly you think not only of the insect.  Merely thinking of them transports me to another time and place.  Whether its a fourth of July chasing giant dragon flies at Eklutna Lake, in Alaska as a boy, walking amid a firestorm of them at Kumamoto Castle, or slowly leaning in to get a snapshot of one at the Botanical Gardens...  It is a warmer, sunnier day that I find myself wrapped in.  It is the same day my mind takes me to where I find myself rubbing a soft puppy tummy sprawled out on the lawn.  This light snow covering, the freezing temperatures, and the hum of heater, cannot diminish the warm press of sun from my memory.  Many thanks to the dragon fly for calling me back to sunny days.

Here is a clip from a dance to 'Aka-Tonbo' (Red Dragonfly) to wrap up the post.  In the dance, the girls are chasing dragonflies and eventually become dragonflies themselves.  I didn't record the whole dance, as I've discovered it I spend too much time filming or photographing, I miss out on the event...



1) Nipponia, The Dragonfly Isles; Konishi Masayasu, No.29 June 15, 2004
2); Dragonfly

-The first photograph is of the Western most wall of Kumamoto Castle.  Beyond the moat (on the left) is the park I referenced in the narrative.  I think you can see people having a picnic if you zoom in.  What a great day, and more on Kumamoto in the future.
All photo's, original works, and comments are my personal property. Please be respectful of the effort I've taken. Your comments are welcome, be polite: No throwing pebbles in my pool of zen.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Asahi Brewery, Nishinomiya; 朝日の酒造場、西宮

A spark of gold flows
Radiant crossing grass and fog
Pooling in the dew

Asahi Breweries

     As part of my tours with the Spokane-Nishinomiya Sister City Society 50th Anniversary trip, I visited the Asahi Brewery in in Nishinomiya City.  As was usually the case when our group went to various locations, we were treated like VIP's.  In fact, the Brewery was closed several days each week to conserve electricity.  (Implemented following the Fukashima Reactor crisis.)  On the day of our tour the brewery was closed.  They not only opened the brewery for us, but had a number of employees on hand to show us around, prepare us food, and of course... serve us beer!

Asahi Beer

      Asahi Beer was founded in 1889.  It is the leading soft drink and beer company in Japan, though I believe it is the second largest exporter of beer from Japan. (I think Sapporo is #1?).  The beer we have all come to associate with Asahi, 'Asahi Super Dry' was first produced in 1987.  Which is surprising that the madly popular Super Dry Lager was introduced in the late 80's.
     Asahi Beer has 19 breweries; 9 located in Japan, 5 in China, 3 in Europe and one in Vancouver BC.  I believe that the Chinese breweries are Tsing Tao (~Ching Tao) breweries purchased by Asahi.  All the Asahi Beer consumed in America comes from BC...  (which I think is funny... But hey, I guess it still has the 'IMPORTED' stamp on it...)

      Asahi Breweries were very proud of their tradition of conservation and recycling.  In a video I will post when I have better band-width you will see an employee wearing a blue uniform.  The uniform is made of 100% recycled materials from their factories.  I thought the production lines and mechanized efficiency was really cool to watch.  The amount of product sent out was really impressive.


     Lunch was prepared for us at no charge in their on site cafeteria and bar.  Several people were on hand to make sure that our beer glasses did not go dry.  We had a few speeches from the Mayor of Nishinomiya as well as from Spokane and were introduced to the Factories General Manager.  It was quite the production!  However, the best part by FAR was the demonstration on how to pour the perfect beer.

-And for your enjoyment... The video....
              -If the video is sideways... I'm sorry!


I find haiku for these types of posts to be particularly difficult...  Do I try to custom make one about a factory?  Have one that is completely off topic?  Ah, the pressure of Zen.


     -The Asahi Brewery Tour Guidebook
     -Wikipedia (of course!)
     -Factory Tours of Japan. (Go for a tour next time you're in Nishinomiya)

All photo's, original works, and comments are my personal property. Please be respectful of the effort I've taken. Your comments are welcome, be polite: No throwing pebbles in my pool of zen.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Of Teeth and Fairies, 歯と妖精のため

Tides and Sunrises
Passing moments here and gone
Voices on the wind

The way to have come
For following these stars
So perilous indeed

 Something of the Lion's Teeth

     During my last trip I had a bit of a struggle trying to stay interested as I passed through the temple after temple.  I actually had to tell myself, "You will go into that temple and look at it."  This after marching for miles every day was far more difficult that you can imagine.  My routes seemed to take me past countless temples dotted along my path whatever my destination might be.  Shinto and Buddhist Temples have fantastic and detailed ornamentation, buildings, and gardens.  I felt guilty for not having the desire to stop in and see them.  There are just so many of them!  Like many things, after a while... they all started to look the same.  But drag myself into them I did, and photograph the heck out of them I did!
     These Lions stand guard outside Hirota Jinja (see previous post here).  I learned a little something about these lions while I was at Amagasaki Jinja.  I had met a Nisou (尼僧) or priestess at a dinner and she invited me to have a tour of the temple.
     While I was there we walked between the Lions together and we talked about their significance as symbols of the Jin (Yin) and Yang.  She mentioned to me that the lion with his mouth open had a special power.
     If you place your hand inside the lions mouth it will close on you if you are a liar.
     Not above a challenge I placed my fingers inside the mouth of the hungry beast...  Fortunatley mere moments later I was able to withdraw my hand, all fingers accounted for.

The lie detector

A little on the tooth Fairy

     So the other day I was visiting Spokane's Japanese Cultural Center.  Yes, Spokane is an odd place for a Japanese Cultural Center...  But not only do we have one... We have a nice one!  It just happens to be one of my daughter's favorite places to visit and play.
     While we were there my daughters started talking to a Japanese college student of about 20.  The students find my daughters quite intriguing and enjoy their antics.
     Regardless....  Both of my daughters are losing teeth like they just walked out of bar-room brawl.  So a discussion about the Tooth Fairy was imminent.  Not only was it imminent... it was bound for cross cultural disaster.
     Recipe for disaster

              Little Girls with limited explanation skills + Older Girl with limited Vocabulary + Tooth Fairy
                                                   = Total Failure of Communication

     I entered the conversation as the Exchange student was repeating, "You have fairy in teeth?"  And my daughters were jumping up and down repeating, 'Tooth Fairy Tooth Fairy!"
      I was amused....

The Japanese don't have a tooth fairy?

     So after clearing the air on Tooth Fairies and explaining that my Daughters don't actually believe in fairies living in their teeth, (No, they believe one visits them at night and drops off money... much more reasonable...)  I learned a little about Japanese Traditions.
      I love that feeling when find out there is still more to discover!  So apparently the Japanese will take the teeth that have fallen out of the top row and throw them under the house.  The teeth that fall out from the lower jaw will be thrown up onto the roof of the house.

家の上  うちのうえ      uchi no ue       Above the house
家の下  うちのした  uchi no shita    Below the house

      As you throw your teeth above the house you encourage the lower teeth to grow up.
      As you throw your teeth below the house you encourage the upper teeth to grow down.

     (Too bad for the kid in the high rise apartment building, ne?)

     So I thought those were a couple interesting bits of information surrounding teeth I hadn't known before.  I thought it was a little bit obscure but maybe you had already heard of it?

     Maybe you know some more quirky Japanese traditions?

All photo's, original works, and comments are my personal property. Please be respectful of the effort I've taken. Your comments are welcome, be polite: No throwing pebbles in my pool of zen.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Hakushika Memorial Sake Museum

The taste, on your lips
Can it be forgotten,
Or remembered

Ah... SAKE...

The well and pump at Hakushika
Hakushika Brewery is nestled on the outskirts of Nishinomiya city.  It has stood in its present location since the Tatsuuma Family took over brewing in 1662.  The well water in the area is well known and used to be shipped on carts to other sake breweries in the area.  There were 5 traditional sake villages in the Osaka area.  These areas still produce about 1/3 of Japan's sake production.  Nishinomiya makes up 1/2 of the area's sake volume.

The stone tracks for the carts to keep the wheels from causing ruts in the roads.
Nishinomiya was well known for its pure and tasty 'Miyamizu' water, perfect for sake brewing.  Equally important is the climate allowing for cold dry winters and perfect summers for the large grained rice grown specifically for sake. 

Sake Brewing was a tremendously labor intensive and complex process.  Following the technological advances during and after WWII the method and tools involved began to change rapidly.  Many, if not all of the old ways began to change as did the tools of the trade.  In 1982 Hakushika opened the Brewing Museum to preserve the old ways.  In the Kobe Earthquake, much of the old building housing the Sake brewery collapsed.  A room in the museum still stands as it did after the earthquake.
      -This was the coolest room in the buiding...  slightly recessed in the ground with a dirt floor...  a nice respite for those of us wearing suits for the day!

Kurabito (seasonal Sake workers) working in a Koshiki rice steamer.
 The sake brewing process is so incredibly complex... I am always amazed that people were ever able to come up with these complicated cooking / brewing processes... here's the simple break down...
(Don't look at me for an explanation... )

Rice ->Rice Polishing ->Rice Washing ->Rice Steaming ->Motojikomi (yeast mash prep) -> Fermenting ->Filtration ->Pasteurization ->shipping

    -I do know, that sake quality has much to do with the amount of polishing the rice undergoes (the more refined (polished) the higher quality.   Also, one must look to see if additional 'brewer's alcohol' has been added to the sake which detracts from the natural flavors etc.
The final product...  delicious!
An American's Eye View of Sake

Sake, like much of Japanese lore and culture, holds a mystique in America.  Not many American's (and I'm guessing this includes most Western Countries) have any real grasp on Sake and what its about.  I know that most of my experience with Sake has been of an awful variety best used in cooking.

There is an understanding with most people that Sake should be drunk warm, and even guzzled like a shot from the small glasses.  These misconceptions come from the obvious...  Most Sake served in the U.S. is JUNK.  Some of the Sake I've tasted from the shelves of the super-markets shouldn't even be cooked with,

Granted some Sake is meant to be served warm, the heat bringing out the texture and flavor of the drink, something suitable for a cold evening before bed.  But, most Sake should be served cold, (at or below room temperature.)  Most of all... Sake is a rice 'WINE' not a rice 'Jagermeister'... It really isn't meant to be thrown back in competition at a frat party.  (Though with big enough bottles... this could be a lot of fun!)  -to watch that is....

Sake should be smelled, and tasted, and felt... enjoyed for the layers of flavor that develop as it is slowly consumed.  It is much more like drinking a wine, something to be savored and experienced.

Many cheap boxed wines tout the $5 wine that tastes like an expensive bottle...  While I've drunk some great cheap red wines...  Don't expect much out of 5-15 dollar bottle of Sake...  For a great bottle of Sake, something you could sit with friends and revel in its taste... you may expect to spend $30-$70 dollars a bottle for that excellent taste.

I think of the cultural quirks that makes me laugh the most is the pronunciation of sake...
-come on people... its Sa-keh   NOT sa-kee....

I'll have more posts on Sake in the near future...  Sake and the Pool of Zen have a connection that stretches over the centuries binding Poetry and Sake through time immemorial.

Spilling on the tongue
Like a distant Lover's kiss
Spinning the room

All photo's, original works, and comments are my personal property. Please be respectful of the effort I've taken. Your comments are welcome, be polite: No throwing pebbles in my pool of zen.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Hirota Temple ; Nishinomiya 広田神社, 西宮市

Trusting in the wind
White wings across a blue sky
Jealous leaves rustle

Hirota Jinja

Hirota Temple was one of the first places I stopped at during my trip.  I was lucky to go as part of the Spokane-Nishinomiya Sister City Delegation and along with a tour of the temple, we watched a ceremony and then were able to talk with the head priest of the temple.

Hirota Temple was much like many of the temples of Japan; A large Torii gate, lions standing at the entrance, the purification fountain, bell, and offering / prayer vestibule.  It was different in that it instead of being a single building with a shrine the complex had two primary buildings.  Normally you walk through the Torii and up to the shrine itself.  Here you passed through and intermediate building before arriving at the shrine. 

This first one was usually missing at many of the shrines I've visited.  It was more similar to a viewing area where people could watch ceremonies that occurred in front of the main shrine.  While on my trip I learned that there are two types of Shinto Shrines in Japan, Government funded and family run temples.  This temple has the distinction of being a kanpei-taishia. 官幣大社 (1), Which basically means that it is one of the foremost shrines of the Japanese Government.  Probably having the funding to go along with it as well. 

Here we see the primary shrine where offerings and 'prayers' are made.  This courtyard also serves as the location for the ceremonies at the temple.   Hirota Jinja was founded in the 3rd century by Empress Jingu.  Ameterasu, the sun Goddess, is enshrined here at Hirota giving the temple a very high stature. 

While we were there we watched a series of three ceremonies involving two priestesses accompanied by music.  In the first (pictured) one priestess carries a dove (bronze) while another sports this bow, eventually shooting and killing the bird.  The second the women moved in opposition to each other one holding a large dagger (tanto sized) and the other a straight sword common in China.  The third dance the woman held a folding fan (sensu) in one hand while holding bells in their other hands.  There was really not much explanation to the ceremony, but it was interesting to watch none the less. 

Especially in the final act, while the women held the fan and bells they moved in an especially flowing manner.  Their stark white Kimono and their movement really projected an image of cranes flying.  It was really interesting.  

In talking with a Priestess from Amagasaki Jinja I learned that the 'dance' (ceremony) was normally done  by men, and that it was very unusual that women participated.  The first sequence with the bow and quarry was obviously geared towards prosperity and possibly the others were on the same line. 

For a little more information on the shrine, check out this website, It has a section discussing the origin of the name of the city Nishinomiya, as well as a discussion on the famous Azaleas, some of which were purportedly planted 150 years ago. 

Hirota Shrine was a place of a tremendous amount of history.  It was a popular pilgramage of nobles and had imperial favor throughout its long history.

The shrine had a very small minature pagoda at the location that was not available for public viewing. While photo's of the shrine were restricted, However, I was allowed to take a picture in front of it with the head priest.  Out of respect the the shrine I've only included a portion of the pagoda (shrine) here to give you an idea of what I'm discussing.  The head priest explained that the pagoda was known to have healing and restorative powers.  Inside (not pictured) was a baseball sized glass sphere with a spiral fracture in it. The sphere had been a gift from the Empress 1200 years ago.  It was referred to a Sword Cut Stone.  Legend had it that the sphere had been struck with a Katana causing the spiral fracture. 

The artistry on the pagoda was phenominal.  The detail was incredible, as was the lacquer finish and gold leaf. 


I learned something new about the lions this trip.... We'll revisit that on another date... Something I had never heard of before....  A little bit of superstition.....

All photo's, original works, and comments are my personal property. Please be respectful of the effort I've taken. Your comments are welcome, be polite: No throwing pebbles in my pool of zen.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Japan 2011 - Southern Expedition

Tides and Sunrises

Passing moments here and gone

Voices on the wind

The Heart of the Matter

So I have recently returned from an incursion into Japan. This was certainly my most ambitious adventure to date. This was my 5'th trip to Japan. While most of my trips have only been 1 week this one was two. The first week I joined the Spokane-Nishinomiya Sister City Society and Spokane Mayor's delegation for many events and dinners. The second week I explored much of Kyushu. Even though I didn't see everything I set out to I achieved all of my primary goals. All at great expense to my feet!

There were times where I had only myself to rely on to navigate my way. Conversely, there were times when I relied on the guidance of others to show me the best places and locales. It was an amazing trip and I can't wait to put up some posts and relive some of the good memories.

The Nuts and Bolts

So here are some of the raw statistics and basic information on the trip;

Hours spent on airplanes - 24

Total days 'boots on the ground' in Japan - 14 days

Nights spent in Japanese Houses - 7

Nights spent in decent Business Hotels - 5

-Nights spent in absolute dive hotels - 1 (The New-Ogaki in Shin-Yamaguchi)

Photographs Taken - 2,859

Photo's of just food - 72

Videos taken - 34

Camera Used - Sony NEX-3 14.2 Megapixel

-I love this camera! Though I'm still fairly novice as far as all the functions go.

Total Memory used - 18 Gigs

Cities Visited - 15

-Osaka, Nishinomiya, Kishiwada, Hiroshima, Kure, Iwakuni, Miyajima, Yamaguchi, Kurume, Tosu, Tachiarai, Nagasaki, Kumamoto, Chiran, Kagoshima,

-Around Tosu things start getting a little fuzzy as to where I was and what cities I was actually in and when..... I may have also hit Aira and Akune... I forget all the stops during my road trip with JCexplorer.

Cities I had planned on visiting but didn't - 2

-Sasebo, Miyazaki

Castles and Castle Ruins Visited - ~10

-Honestly, about 2/3 of the ruins I visited... I forget the names... a Little Help! :)

-Kishiwada, Osaka, Hiroshima, Iwakuni, Kumamoto, X-ruins (tosu), Y ruins (Y city), Z ruins (Z City), Chiran Castle, Kagoshima.

Number of Famous Dead Samurai I met - 6

-Seriously, I met Ryoma Sakamoto, Miyamoto Musashi, Kato Kiyomasa, and a few other's I don't remember there names.

-Musashi apparently spent 4 years at Portland State University, while another samurai I met lived in San Diego... I knew Musashi made his way around Japan.... But I had no idea he was fluent in English and actually lived in the US! Amazing!

Shinkansen ridden - 5

-Thank God for the JR Railpass!

-Longest Shinkansen ride - 4+hours (Kagoshima -> Yamaguchi)

Trains ridden - A LOT!

Ferry's ridden - 2

Temples visited - I have no idea...

Most interesting food eaten - Basashi (Raw horse)

-Delicious by the way! 1500 yen for 6 sashimi sized pieces.

Word of the Trip - Mamanaku ままなく

-It means shortly or soon. Just before announcing the upcoming stop on a train or bus... mamanaku ~ Hiroshima desu. I must have heard this a thousand times.

Blisters - 7

-All of which are now callouses...

Times I was actually truly 'lost' - 1

-Well when I mean 'lost' I had no idea where I was... Fortunately that day my travel companion Japanese Castle Explorer had a general idea of where we were... Of course just after saying, "I've got Kagoshiima down," it was quite apparent he had no idea where we were either!

Times someone tried to convert me to Christianity - 1

-This is a funny story and will definitely make the PoZ in the future.

Umbrellas lost - 1

Business cards handed out - ~70

Random Japanese I made friends with - 5

-Includes meetings on Trains, Buses, Baseball Games, Train Stations.

Crazy Australians who showed me around Kyushu - 1

-Thanks Japanese Castle Explorer!

-Oddly enough, we had more communication glitches speaking English than we had with the Japanese!

So that is pretty much the break down! I hope you check back soon to see the future posts I will be putting up!


All photo's, original works, and comments are my personal property. Please be respectful of the effort I've taken. Your comments are welcome, be polite: No throwing pebbles in my pool of zen.

All photo's, original works, and comments are my personal property. Please be respectful of the effort I've taken.Your comments are welcome, be polite: No throwing pebbles in my pool of zen.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Easing back into the Pool

Across the floor
The puzzle pieces scatter
How many lost

A falling raindrop
Provides the only focus
The world beyond

The bottle of Sake
That I am washing down
As clear as my mind

This floating life brings
Yet another wave I fear
My ship it rocks so

Well, I am trying to get back into the groove of some of my old hobbies and habits. I find that practicing Japanese, something that used to be such a huge part of my life, has become a chore and just plain difficult to do.

I am traveling back to Japan in September for two weeks. It will be my longest trip ever and maybe my most ambitious. I plan on staying in Kansai for a week, and then making a drive down to Kyushu. I want to visit Chiran and the old WWII Kamikaze air strip as well as the Satsuma Clan's stomping grounds.

Of course, I hope that this trip will revive the passion that I have for Japanese Culture and Language.

I wonder if it will look the same? Not that any of the Japan I know will have changed... But will it look the same to me? Will it grasp my imagination? Will it challenge me? Will Japan call me back again?

I wonder what awaits me... I wonder if I my soul will be ready for it?

The mind summons
The will and the drive move
The heart beats a pulse

Lookout Japan...

-This is a photo overlooking Kyoto, Japan. Taken in between fits of projectile vomiting.... Ah! The memories!!!

All photo's, original works, and comments are my personal property. Please be respectful of the effort I've taken.Your comments are welcome, be polite: No throwing pebbles in my pool of zen.
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