T(ea) as in Tuesday…

I should have written this a couple of days ago, but the presentation was taking it`s toll on me…

On Tuesday we were allowed to share one great experience and werIMG_1118e served tea and sweets in the traditional tea ceremony! Anyone knowing me, will be aware of how great a thing this was for me, as I love tea and the philosophy behind it and consider it part of my lifestyle…

At Kōgakkan memorial hall we were given a lecture before actually enjoying the ceremony in one of the two traditional tea-rooms (one private, one rather big for IMG_1096lessons and groups) within the great hall. Out lecturer, of the famous Urasenke tradition, gave us an introduction about the origins of tea and how it actually found it`s way to Japan and also the rituals framing the tea ceremony, that if held in full should take some four hours…

It is hard to describe the emotions one encounters during a tea ceremony, beeing served as a welcome guest with kindness and humbleness to anyone who themselves haven`t yet had the chance to enjoy the experience, as it takes one back in times, bringing IMG_1105awareness of the moment and the inner self and surely the sweets and the matcha are a delicious treat…

The ceremony is extremely ritualized and the mastering of the art takes decades, as there is a special ritual for everything from holding a cup or tray, to the handing over of the cup, the preparation of the water and of course the whipping of the matcha powder into a foamy cream-ilke consistency – a skill that actually takes quite some strength of the wrist and forearm, a thing we learnt first-hand, since we ourselves prepared the second cup for the person sitting opposite of us in the tea-IMG_1121room…one great day indeed…

Blessed be!

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The old man and the see…

I have to deeply apologize for not writing last night, but the day of the final presentation draws closer and preparations had to be done.

Although cold and windy, it was another great day here in Ise and a perfect day at the sea… We were shown around the port where the salt production used to take place up until a giant earthquake in 1498 destroyed the entire salt production area, forcing the survivors to find a different income – ship building.

IMG_1015As usual I will leave the historical facts to my comrades and concentrate on only a small frame of our trip. Before we were allowed to go on a trip with a cute little boat, that had been prepared especially for us by the owners and runner of a small marine museum (if my memory doesn`t deceive me… in any case very kind and friendly weathered elderly men, just the kind one would expect on a stormy day at the sea out on their boat, braving the elements…), we were toured around the waterfront.

A small little Shrine caught my special attention – again – because of some very special trees living there – MikIMG_1024e-Jinja 御食神社. This Shrine is appendant to Geku in dedication to Minato-no-Miketsukami 水戸御饗都神 who is seen as the guardian deity of the area by the residents and affectionately called by the name of Tatsugami-san (辰神さん, literally something like Mr. Dragon-Deity). He is also responsible for the preparation of the seafood sacrificed at Ise Jingu.

Although very small did this Shrine in particular diffuse an aura of enchantment and the trees IMG_1006were given special care – one seemingly very old tree was even filled with concrete in order to help stabilize it since it is bending hard and the weight of it`s branches was pulling it down.

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Right after the Torii I felt my heart thump at sight of a special tree hidden in the shrubbery, reminding me strongly of the stories about various deities and mystical creatures inhabiting trees and rock formations, since there was a small Torii hidden within the hollow of the tree itself…marvelous!!!

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This will have to do for this post – another Blogpost awaits me and time is ticking – presentation day is near…

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Blessed be!


Kyôto…

IMG_0914After having spent a semester abroad in Kyôto, leaving me with so many memories, some good, but also many bad ones, I started today`s trip with mixed feelings. The city somehow felt familiar to me, but in many ways changed and straIMG_0901nge… Being there for only one day, I felt more of a tourist, than I would have liked to, but especially at Tôji it felt like seeing an old friend, that I had long since missed without even realizing it…

Having Kasuga-Taisha`s Komainu (狛犬・胡麻犬) still in mind, I found myself thinking about them – where they came from and the meaning of their various shapes – all through the day and so I found it even more interesting that Yasuka-Jinja had so many of them before the Torii as well as even within the Shrinebuildings themselves. If I understood the priest guiding us correctly most of the Komainu around the Shrine were actually donated by people as gifts of gratitude towards the shrine.

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Even though the two statues are almost identical in modern times, there are originally two different statues on each side, later usually only depicted in the difference of mouths either closed or open and one having a horn on it`s head. When the statues were adapted in Japan (unfortunately I can not yet tell you when exactly they found their way to Japan) they were both lions, following the example of the rest of buddhist Asia. Since they were used indoors IMG_0924they were carved out of wood, like the rest of the temples and shrines. Only when they were brought to the outer part of the buildings did they gradually change into the stone statues commonly know. During the Heian-Period the shape of the statues gradually changed into two different forms – the lion  (shishi 獅子), still in it`s original form resembling the maned animal, and the having it`s mouth closed and sometimes a single horn on it`s head, this being called Komainu or Koguryo (ancient Korean due to it`s introduction to Japan through Korea) dog.

The open mouth of the shishi marks the beginning, as it pronounces the first letter of the Sanskrit alphabet „a“, whilst the Komainu with it`s mouth closed pronounces the last letter „um“, thus representing the beginning and the end of all things and together they form the sacred sound „Aum ॐ“. Incorporating Taoism into the pictures the statues are said to be pairs of male and female, the male inhaling and thus representing life, whilst the female exhaling stands for death. Either way do the two fierce looking statues guard the shrines and temples they inhabit warding of evil spirits…

As usual I would like to report more of the day`s we spend here, but the trip has worn me out and I`m really tired, so I will go to bed and leave you with some pictures of Kiyomizudera to hopefully enjoy…

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Blessed be!


Nara…

Another exciting day is over and all of today`s impressions quarrel in my mind as I try to recollect my memories…

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Nara – although quite different to Ise and full of tourists, even on a rainy day like today – is a wonderful place to be, especially if one has an interest in history or deers, as they can be found all over the city, roaming around freely.

Having seen so much today, it is hard to focus IMG_0780on one particular thing, but since trees and Shintô seem to form a red line in my blog I will concentrate on Kasuga-Taisha, although I highly recommend to visit Kôfuku-Ji and the Kôfuku-Ji National Treasure Museum, as the ancient buddhist statues from Heian, Kamakura and even Nara-Period make one stand in awe in the face of the stunning beauty and skillfulness.

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Kasuga-Taisha lying at the foot of two holy mountains (Kasugayama and Mikasayama) was built around 768 and has been declared National Heritage. Thousands of stone lanterns guiding the way to the shrine and within the shrine another hundreds of bronze lanterns that are lit on certain festivals are only one of many things, that make Kasuga-Taisha very special.

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The left…

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…and the right Komainu at the main Torii of Kasuga-Taisha, guarding the shrine

The shrine complex is surrounded by Nara-Park, partly consisting of an ancient virgin forest, through which one wanders to reach the shrine further up on the mountain.

IMG_0856What made Kasuga-Taisha – besides the stunning view of the lanterns – was the aspect of nature, incorporated in the shrine itself and the area surrounding it, again making Shintôs deep connection with nature and the importance of it`s influence on spiritual and daily life seem overwhelmingly powerful. The impression is deepened even more so within the shrine itself.

IMG_0847Marked with a shimenawa as part of the kami-realm a huge cedar-tree, that is more than 1000 (!) years old, reaches it`s giant branches into the air. Besides it, their roots entangled, a smaller juniper-tree has been incorporated into the roof of the building, as not to harm it in the most respectful way…

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The cedar and the juniper are by far not the only old trees within the shrine – an ancient apple-tree near the cedar and a wisteria, proven to be more then 800 years on age turn Kasuga-Taisha literally into a place of living history, since one can only imagine what these ancient being have witnessed in the centuries passed…

Tomorrow we will be touring around Kyôto and I´m looking forward to see Kiyomizudera once again…

Blessed be!


Let`s go to the mall…today

We had a fairly short day of lectures today, since we will be going on a weekend-trip to Kyôto and Nara tomorrow, but nevertheless were they very informative IMG_0723and highly academic. Since I unfortunately didn`t understand enough of the lectures to IMG_0760actually tell you much about the content, I will leave this to my fellow bloggers instead (the level of the Japanese in the lectures obviously was very high, as even Japanese native speakers sometimes have a hard time, following the lectures of two of our today`s senseis…).

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Only one of many (5 or 6) rows filled with manga and comics…

Quite spontaneously I decided to go to the mall today with one of my friends… it again made me realize, how different Ise is from big towns like Kyôto as it took us almost an hour to get there by train and bus, and neither the nice lady at the bus stop, nor the bus driver (!) knew where the bus to the mall would stop…

After we finally got there we had another look around in the book store – bookstores in Japan will definitely make Comic-fans` hearts thump, as there are whole huge sections dedicated to comics and manga of various topics and target groups.

Also in the mall there was a little booth selling Taiyaki – little baked waffelcakes IMG_0765filled with Anko (bean-paste), custard or chocolate, or all kinds of different fillings, but today`s were special, since they were croissant-Taiyakis crisply baked and slightly caramelized –  delicious… Of course my feet literally dragged me to the only Starbucks in Ise also inside the mall and I was happy to again taste my Matcha Frappuccino…

Blessed be!


Tofu and the Moon…

It has been another very interesting but also exhausting day here in Ise and only by going through all the pictures I took today, do the memories come back to me and take on shape in my mind. Again there is so much, that I could talk about, but I will – as usual – pick out one or two moments, that were very dear to me…

As we followed the road of economies today – in a quite literal wayIMG_0646 as it happens – we got the once in a lifetime chance to see a grinder working on some very impressive knives in his little shop in Kawasaki-District 河崎地区, telling us about his own sensei and how the metal works together in the process of sharpening the knives into razorlike blades – and after seeing how they would cut through newspapers and cloth towels I would`t want to get near them, no matter how beautiful the damascene pattern shone in the dim light of the homely workplace…

IMG_0674I do wish I could say a little more about the Kabuki-scene of the Edo-Period in Ise, that seems to have flourished quite the bit in the steady steam of pilgrims wandering to the Ise-Jingu and frequently stopping by at the various shops, that mingled around the Shrine-areas, but by the time we reached the Ise Furuichi Sandoukaido Museum 伊勢古市参道街道資料館, I was more than tired and my head almost bursting with all the impressions of today`s tour. But since Kabuki has always appealed to me, I will surely look into the matter again and maybe even post on this, as soon as I find the time to…

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An Ume-Tree right in front of our separated room

Even more so after today`s pensum was I more than happy to go for dinner with the whole group including some of the wonderful people enabling us to take part in the Ise-Program. We went to a place called Tôfuya とうふや– a restaurant specialised in Tofu-related dishes, and even though they have meat and the traditional dashi-stock, made with drief fish on their menu, it was no problem for them to serve to my fellow vegetarian Mayo-Sensei and myseslf some delicious tofu-meals, that I had never tried or tasted before!

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Tofu Dengaku, Plain Tofu, Soymilk, Carrot-Tofu, Peanut-Tofu

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Escpecially the carrot-Tofu and the peanut-Tofu deserve special attention here, as they truely were my absolute favourites!!! I don`t think I have ever had that much tofu in one sitting, but it was too delicious to not taste as much as possible, including some of the tofu and icecream of my neighbour at the table, who doesn`t like tofu at all^^

I regarded it as some special gift to me, that I was greeted by the bright moonlight shining through some rather old-looking trees on our way out of the restaurant towards the taxis, that had been ordered especially for us.

But enough for now, it is getting late, I need some rest…

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Blessed be!


One day to remember…

I must admit, that I do get the impression, that in writing about the rather small and mundane things of our stay here in Ise, isn`t quite enough or not giving out enough information about Ise and the great program we`re allowed to take part in…but I do feel like there are other blogs written within this program by so many great and intelligent people, who have a lot more to say about Ise`s history or cultural importance than me so that mostly everything of importance somehow has already been said and I would rather not try to ring the same chord as already has been done…

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The group, senseis and volunteers at Kura-de-Pasta

Therefor I do further concentrate on my own personal impressions, awarding me with „glimpses of unfamiliar Japan“ and forever leaving their permanent mark within me. I probably feel even more so, as I have been thinking about today`s post all throughout the day, and even though we have learnt so much and spoke to so many wonderful teachers and guides, the oneIMG_0553 thing that clung to my thoughts and would`t loosen it`s grip on me was the smell of the Ume-Trees in the air, the song of the crows at Tsukiyomi-no-miya and the kindness and generosity of the people we met…

I had been hoping to see the Ume in bloom, as soon as I heard of the proIMG_0538gram and my taking part in it, and so I was thrilled to actually really see two of them in different colours today and to finally experience the perfume they are famous for myself.

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Sudden winds would greet us on our tour, kamikaze – divine winds (and an epithet for Ise) – for sure, as we were standing before the torii to Tsukiyomi-no-miya, side-shrine of Geku dedicated to Amaterasus brother, Tsukiyomi-no-mikoto 月夜見尊, the god of the night and the moon….

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It might sound repetitious, but the crows in the trees inside the shrine and one gigantic camphor tree – some 300 or 400 years old going by the priest I could ask – besides the Haraedo 祓所, the place for the performance of purification rituals, were once again testimony to the ancient powers of nature and the longing for harmony and purity in oneness with the world around us captured in Shintô faith….IMG_0568IMG_0566

Blessed be!


Meoto-Iwa on a cold Girl`s Day

Apparently it was Girl`s Day today – Hinamatsuri 雛祭り. It is celebrated on every 3rd of March with the displaying of dolls representing court attendants, emperor and empress in a certain way. It is said to be a very old custom based on the belief in the power of dolls enclosing evil spirits within themselves in order to protect their masters from them… I don’t`actually want to know more about iIMG_0479t, as I always found dolls rather creepy and evil spirits inside them don`t seem very helpful in changing  my mind on that…

Tsukiyomi-no-mikoto - god of the moon

Tsukiyomi-no-mikoto – god of the moon

The most pleasant part of today clearly was the visiting of the Meoto-Iwa 雛祭り though, the „married couple rocks“ , in Futami Bay of Ise, that I had been so looking forward to see. The two great rocks beyond the southeastern shore of Ise represent Izanagi and Izanami and therefor also the marriage between husband and wife (since there is no same-gendered marriage in Japan yet, it probably only refers to the marriage of men and women, although Shintô belief isn`t overtly opposed to same-sex relationships as far as I know..).

Joined by a giantIMG_0517 Shimenawa (標縄・注連縄・七五三縄, literally „enclosing rope“), a rice straw rope used to separate the common world from the spiritual, indicating kami-presence in certain areas or objects, such as trees or rocks, the two tall rocks rise from the sea just before Futami Okitama Jinja (二見興玉神社) on the rocky shore of the rather rough sea.  On the „male“ rock there is a small torii considered to be gate to the holy rock „Okitama Shinseki“ of „Sarutahiko no ôkami“ 猿田毘古大神, 猿田彦大神), leader of the earthly kami, symbol of the Shinto practice of purification by washing „Misogii“ 禊, strength and guidance and also the god greeting Ninigi-no-Mikoto, grandson to Amaterasu, after his descent from the land of the Kami. IMG_0515

Covered with several frog statues the shrine itself also makes a great attraction. Apparently the shrine considers the frog to be a familiar of Sarutahiko no ôkami and also does the Japanese word frog – namely kaeru 蛙 – have the same pronunciation as the word for returning/coming back (帰る), which is why worshippers praying for a safe return of loved ones or also the „return“ of money to their home, donate frog statues and cover the shrine with frogs…

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The Japanese language truly creates possibilities beyond belief……

Blessed be!


So much to learn, so little time…

We heard so many great lectures today and it took me quite a while to figure out, what to write about in today`s post, but here we go… (It was fairly easy in the end, since it was rather obvious and what else should I write about): yomi no kuni 黄泉国, the underworld and residence of the dead….

Yomi no kuni is part of the ikai 異界 – the spiritual world or Otherworld in Shintô belief and regarded as the World of Darkness and the land of the dead and is described as early as in Kojiki and Nihonshoki (ancient Japanese chronicles). Based on these classics telling the story of world`s creation, Yomi no kuni is believed to be the land to which Izanami, the goddess of both creation and death retreated when she died after giving birth to the God of Fire and hence suffering from severe burnings.

Izanami`s male counterpart Izanagi misses her terribly and in an Orhpeus-and-Euridike-like manner travels to the underworld in order to retrieve his beloved. But just as with Orpheus curiosity kills the cat and his impatience drives him to go looking for her, when he was supposed to wait and not to take even the slightest glance at her. Finally finding her in the land of the dead, he sees her rotting corpse covered in maggots and flees from the terrible sight she bears. Thus awfully ashamed Izanami sends horrifying hags chasing after him, but he eventually escapes, sealing the underworld with a great boulder thus separating eternally the land of the dead from the land of the living…

Enraged Izanami promises to forever kill a thousand of Izanagi`s beloved people everyday, thus bringing death upon mankind… Finally bathing of the impurity of the Underworld Izanagi creates three gods, namely Amaterasu (Goddess of the Sun), Susanoo (God of the Wind and Sea), and Tsukuyomi-no-Mikoto (God of the Moon).

It is actually quite interesting how closely similar the story of Izanami`s trip to the underworld resembles the myth of Orpheus, a connection that our sensei spoke of today but I surely will read further into, as soon as I have the time to do so…

Again, so much to learn, so little time…

Blessed be!

P.S.: Springtime at Starbucks and my beloved Matcha Frappuccino – oh how I`ve missed you – do I have to say more?^^IMG_0429


A Saturday`s trip…

I should have posted this yesterday, but I decided to gather with the group after dinner for some talking and drinking instead (I found out Aloe-and-Grape-Juice isn`t as bad, as it sounds and I grew quite fond of it somehow…), so here I go with my post-Saturday post on a Sunday, that is entirely mine to fill it`s time with whatever pleases me^^

Even though I was actually quite scared to go on this trip yesterday as it was announced as a mingling with the townspeople and various activities including the making of fish cakes (kamaboko) and nightmares haunted me the night before, it ended up being a fun and interesting day, although I had a rough time with the fish cakes and the fish, that was afterwards served me as lunch… I actually won`t say much about the fish-stuff, as I`m trying not to think about it (^^), but concentrate more on the events of the rest of the day, all related to Saiku 斎宮 (or Itsukinomiya), once the dwelling place of the Saio 斎王, or Itsuki-no-himemiko, who was appointed by each Tennô in order to serve at Ise Jingu.

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At the  Itsukinomiya Hall for Historical Experience, connected to the Preservation Association of Saiko-ato Archeaological Site designated as National Historic Site, one gets to experience directly parts of everyday Heian life, such as the games they played back in the times, like a kind of memory game of finding the two matching parts of shells out of a circle of many or a board game (I can`t tell you more about the rules or the point of the game though, because I didn`t quite understand them yet myself).

Being aIMG_0376_2 big fan of Heian period (平安時代) and the way they incorporated aesthetics and a sense of beauty into their everyday lives I was very happy to be able to try on a kimono of the times myself, and although I would usually spare you the site of it, I found – since yôkai are my research topic after all and I don`t get to deal with this too much here in Ise – this yûrei-like picture deserved to be posIMG_0361ted^^

The jars with examples of the various smells and fragrant ingredients they would use back in Heian-Jidai made my day, as I could truly imagine the almost ethereal beauties sitting in the gardens writing scented letters, dressed in their beautiful robes and watIMG_0384ching the petals of sakura fall slowly onto the still waters of a pond nearby…

I am no great blogger after all and I, as usual, have more work to do, so I again end this rather short post and look over my grammar and Kanji in hope of improving my language skills as quickly as possible…

Blessed be!