Living on the floor

First it was hard for me to take off my shoes every time I entered a Japanese house or private space. Now I’ve become so used to it that when I’m back in Spain I tend to take off my shoes even in the cases I’m not supposed to.

My subconscious tells me that it is not good to walk into a house with my dirty shoes. Even if the shoes are not really dirty, the fact that the shoes have been “outside” makes them “dirty”, or “not-pure” enough to touch the floor of an interior place.

I’ve found that living on the floor has its advantages. I love that it makes even tiny houses look wider when you are inside. By forcing you to be on the floor you tend to have less furniture. If I really need furniture I try to buy “low” ones (low chairs, low tables etc), so I have good access to them even when I’m sitting on the floor. It also makes everything look like much less cluttered than when we fill our rooms with “high” bookshelfs/beds/kitchen-tables like we do in western houses.

Take off your shoes, sit on the floor next to a window filled with sunlight, read a book while drinking a tea.

 

tatami

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Urban Mini Temple

When strolling around the streets of Japanese cities one of the things that I enjoy the most is bumping into small Buddhist temples or Shintoist mini shrines. Sometimes they are so well integrated into the architecture of the buildings that you might not even notice them when passing by.

mini temple

mini temple

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Eggplants and Cucumbers in Obon

A couple of weeks ago, from the 13th to the 15th of August, Obon お盆 was celebrated around Japan. Matsuris took place all around the country to honor the spirits of the people’s ancestors.

One of the traditions during Obon consists on introducing wood sticks into eggplants and cucumbers like shown on the pictures below. Cucumbers represent horses and eggplants represent cows. Legend has it that the spirits of one’s ancestors travel to our world riding on cows and horses. In the following pictures that I took in a coffee shop in Kichijoji there’s no incense, but usually there should be. The smoke of the incense marks the way from our world to the spirits world so they don’t get lost when coming and going back.

obon

obon

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Incense Fireworks – Senko Hanabi

A typical scene seen in parks and beaches around Japan during Summer is this:

Incense Fireworks

Senko hanabi 線香花火 is difficult to translate but it would be something like “fireworks of incense sticks”. In reality the fireworks don’t have incense but they are very similar to incense sticks in shape and size, thus the name. Senko hanabi are sticks with a small amount of powder which doesn’t blow up and lights up with fire of diverse colours during some seconds. To play with senko hanabi is fun and not dangerous at all.

People say that lighting up a senko hanabi and seeing its light go away instantly in the darkness will make you feel closer to the ephemera of things (Mono no aware 物の哀れ) and will help you being more sensitive to the transience of our lives.

Senko Hanabi

Senko Hanabi

Senko Hanabi

Senko Hanabi

Senko Hanabi

Senko Hanabi

Senko Hanabi

Related posts:

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The Shrine That Cures Hemorrhoids

Kunigami is a Shintoist shrine that is specialized in blessing its visitors to cure them or protecting them from hemorrhoids. In the shrine there is a big egg-like rock in a fountain and a statue of a hen. This symbolizes a hen laying a magical rock egg that will cure hemorrhoids. According to the ritual you need to squat and put your butt towards the egg.

Hemorrhoids temple

Hemorrhoids temple

Hemorrhoids temple

Hemorrhoids temple

Hemorrhoids temple

If you want to visit the “hemorrhoids temple” you can find it here on Google Maps.

Source: Itmedia

More about hemorrhoids and its kanji character in Japanese

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Tanabata – Night Of Stars and Wishes

Tanabata (七夕: seven, night), the star festival, was celebrated in Japan yesterday, July 7th. The festival is also celebrated in China where it’s known as Qi xi. It honors the meeting of the gods Orihime and Hikoboshi which are represented by the stars Vega and Altair.

Legend has it that the Milky Way separates Orihime and Hikoboshi, who love each other but can’t be together because of our galaxy. The Milky Way only lets them meet once a year: the seventh day of the seventh lunar month.

Tanabata, night of stars and wishes
Orihime and Hiroboshi separated by the Milky Way. They can only see each other in the night of Tanabata.

How Tanabata is celebrated varies depending on the part of Japan. The common factor of all these celebrations consists on hanging small papers with wishes written as poems (tanzaku 短冊) and ornaments as seen in the following photos. The traditional thing is to hang them in bamboo canes, but when not available any place is good enough.

Tanabata, night of stars and wishes

Tanabata, night of stars and wishes

Tanabata, night of stars and wishes
Does this dragon that grants wishes sound familiar?

Tanabata, night of stars and wishes

Tanabata, night of stars and wishes

Tanabata, night of stars and wishes

Tanabata, night of stars and wishes

Tanabata, night of stars and wishes

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Water Offerings in Meiji Jingu

In Meiji Jingu there’s always a lot of barrels donated as an offering by many distilleries around the country. The funny thing is that last weekend I also found water bottles as offerings. In addition to being a donation to the Shintoist shrine, they are useful so that the kami-gods bring good luck and good business to the water bottlers.

Water bottles in Meiji Jingu

Water bottles in Meiji Jingu

Water bottles in Meiji Jingu

Water bottles in Meiji Jingu
Alcoholic beverages offerings

Water bottles in Meiji Jingu
Other offerings

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Kameido Tenjin

We ended our walk around Kameido in the Shintoist shrine Kameido Tenjin 亀戸天神. As it is open 24 hours every day, it can be visited at night and you can take great pictures with night illumination and with almost no tourists/visitors spoiling the photo.

Kameido Tenjin

Kameido Tenjin

Kameido Tenjin
The first bridge right after the main torii is the bridge of the woman (Onnabashi 女橋: woman, bridge).

Kameido Tenjin
The second bridge, right before arriving to the shrine area is the bridge of the man (Otokobashi 男橋: man, bridge)

Kameido Tenjin

Kameido Tenjin

We visited it during the blossoming of the plum trees 梅 as you can see in the night photos, but the ideal moment to visit the shrine is during the blossoming of the wisterias (Fujizoku フジ属) in April and May, when the branches and flowers of the wisterias are beautifully reflected on the water of the ponds.

Wisterias are plants that have inhabited the Japanese archipelago for a really long time. They were already an inspiration to the Japanese people of ancient times, as they are mentioned in several poems in the Man’yōshū (5th century A.D.)

“When the wisterias blossom,
the wind turns them into waves.” Man’yōshū (5th century A.D.)

Legend has it that the wisterias in Kameido were planted at the beginning of the Edo era. The rest of the temple has been reconstructed several times but the wisterias are the original ones.

Kameido Tenjin

Kameido Tenjin

Kameido Tenjin
More or less the same spot as 100 years ago, the wisterias were already there but the bridges were made of wood.

Kameido Tenjin
Another photo from the beginning of the 20th century of one of the bridges of the shrine.

The beauty of the temple and its wisterias inspired many artists of the Edo era. This is an ukiyo-e of one of the bridges of Kameido Tenjin created by Hiroshige in the mid-19th century.

Kameido Tenjin

Kameido Tenjin
Comparison of the work of art of Hiroshige and a photo nowadays.

Kameido Tenjin
The Hokusai version of the Kameido Tenjin bridges.

Kameido Tenjin
Isometric view of the bridge of the woman and the bridge of the man under the snow.

Kameido Tenjin
Enjoying a day under the blossomed plum trees of Kameido Tenjin by Hiroshige.

These are not ukiyo-e, they are drawings also from the Edo era that show the atmosphere of Kameido Tenjin. You can also see the wisterias, the temple, the pond and the bridges.

Kameido Tenjin

Kameido Tenjin

Kameido Tenjin

The Kameido Tenjin bridges, the wisterias and the ukiyo-e reminded me of the Green Harmony by Monet.

Kameido Tenjin

“The temple bell stops.
But I still hear the sound coming out of the flowers” Matsuo Basho

You can get to the temple by walking 15 minutes to the northwest of Kameido station. In the official website of the shrine you can find the exact location.

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Toshikoshi Soba

One of the traditions of the Oomisoka (大晦日: last day of the year) is to eat toshikoshi soba (年越し蕎麦: year-passing soba). It is believed that eating soba noodles, which are very long, is good to have a long life. Morevover eating toshikoshi soba brings good luck and good health for the year that is beginning.

Happy New Year 2014! Shinnen Akemashite Omedetou! 新年あけましておめでとう!

Toshikoshi Soba

Toshikoshi Soba

New Year Soba

Other Japanese year-end and new year traditions:

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Fundoshi

Fundoshi (褌) is the most well-known Japanese traditional undergarment for men. With the arrival of Western underwear after World War II it felt out of use. Nowadays they are only used in traditional festivals (“matsuri”) and as traditional swimming suits.

fundoshi

fundoshi
Photo by Rocket news

fundoshi

The Japan Fundoshi Association has launched a Manga Fundoshi Kickstarter. The funding period ends at the end of this month so you still have some hours left to collaborate with the project and get your favorite manga fundoshi

fundoshi

In the website of the association you can find an explanation of how to put on a fundoshi step by step:

fundoshi

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