Some words about Japanese culture

Monday, September 25, 2006

The moon

They say that the moon makes people crazy in Western and makes Japanese romantic.

The moon has been a major motif in waka, hakiku, essays and stories. Also it has played an important role in the beauty of Japan, together with the snow and flowers.

Anyway, what attracts people so much? The main attraction is its light. The slight light makes the night the hazy world, quite unlike the lightness in the day and the darkness at night. Japanese prefer to the unclear world and slight difference, made by the dim light. They feel comfortable with them. Originally, watching the moon was for longing for the long life. The continuous wax and wane meant the eternity cycle of life and death, related to the Buddhism.

The moon has also had a big influence on gardens. A balcony to the pond in Katsura Imperial Villa, built more than 400 years ago, is for savoring the moon. The frame was made of wood and the floor was made of bamboo. There is a pond in front of the balcony and people in those days enjoy the reflected moon on the pond, sitting the bamboo floor. Ginkakuji Temple, made more than 600 years ago, has a object made of sand. It looks like a truncated cone. When the night has come, the flat on the top shines like a moon, reflected by the light of the moon. They say that the sand object contains something of quartz to shine better.

In this way the moon greatly related to the beauty in Japan. September or October are best to see the moon because of the mild climate still at night and the clear sky. One of Japanese saying is Tsukimi-zake and it means drinking while watching the moon in autumn. Beer is best during summer, but now hot sake is best in autumn and winter.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Popular shrines best 10

Japan has about 120,000 shrines and many kinds of gods. They grant prayers different wishes. The only god is not enough for many kinds of wishes. The world of gods are division system, too. A shrine supports one of gods. Of all shrines, ten of the most popular shrines are the following.

1. Inari shrine(伏見神社): 19,800
worshipping a god of the food and agriculture
2. Hachiman shrine(八幡神社): 14,800
worshipping a god of protecting the country
3. Tenjin shrine(天神神社): 10,300
worshipping a god of learning
4. Suwa shrine(諏訪神社): 5,700
worshipping a god of agriculture
5. Shin-myo shrine(神明神社): 5,400
worshipping a god of sun and ancestor, the god of gods like Zeus of Greek myth
6. Kumano shrine(熊野神社): 3,300
worshipping a god of mountains, waterfalls and the sea
7. Kasuga shrine(春日神社): 3,100
worshipping a god of protecting the country
8. Yasaka shrine(八坂神社): 2,900
worshipping a god of avoiding the plague
9. Hakusan shrine(白山神社): 2,700
worshipping a god of agriculture and the world of dead people
10. Sumiyoshi shrine(住吉神社): 2,100
worshipping a god of the sea

Note) Incredibly, some leading companies like Toyota, Hitachi and Toshiba have their own god.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

A reflection

TV, desk and refrigerator. Industrial products are designed by many lines. The straight line is a prime example of the efficiency and uniformity in modern age.

Trees, flowers, grasses and cloud in the sky. The natural world are filled with lots of curves . Curved line is a product of the randomness.

But there is a exception and there is a straight line even in the natural world. This is surfaces in a pond or lake. The irresistible force of physical law makes the surface flat.

Many Japanese gardens have ponds. Three purposes to make a pond: 1. to play pleasure boating in a pond. 2. to walk around a pond and to enjoy the change of scenery. 3. to make the scenery around let in the surface of a pond. The clear water can reflect the scenery around like a mirror, and it roughly connects the world above the surface with the one below the surface.

The same holds true of the windows of the department store at night. Inside the window are displayed the autumn-winter cutting-edge fashion; on the surface are reflected the real scenery of the red or blue neon-glittering. In the window are crossing the ideal and the real, and the glass connects the ideal with the real.

The scenery can get the diversity at the boundary.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Old and new

Japanese love the old and also the new. Kyoto still has many old temples and houses and is getting more popular with many visitors all over the world, even with Japanese. On the other hand, lots of skyscraper apartments and office buildings are still now under construction.

They love the freshness of the new and the tasteful of the old.

Traditional Japanese architecture is mainly consisted of wood, bamboo and strew. Modern architecture is, in the contrary, made of reinforcing steel, concrete and glass. The former is getting tasteful as time goes by; but, the latter poor.

Trees are still alive even after they are cut down. The cut down trees are getting strong about twenty percents for two hundred or three. Any trees are not the same. Even the same species is different up to the region, and the east-side or north-side of the same mountain. The surfaces of cut trees are getting tasteful as time goes by and they are polished every day. The surfaces sometimes get scars and spots, but such faults turn the depth. But poor maintenance makes the trees quickly go bad and die. Trees, exposed to poor draft, much rain and wind, are quickly being damaged. It is just like human being.

The artificial material like concrete and reinforced steel are going bad as soon as they are made. CO2 in the air makes concrete change from alkaline into neutral and then the reinforcing steel, covered with concrete, are beginning to get rusty. Getting rusty brings the high pressure of concrete, and then the surface of concrete gets cracked. On the other hand, the rusting and reinforcing steels, the bone of the building, quickly make the building weak. It is just like brittle-bone disease. As time goes by, these materials get shabby because of the dead and equal material. The time-passing make them just go bad, not turn tasteful.

The fascination of wooden building is the profound brought by the combination of the process of time and the daily maintenance; the fascination of modern architecture is the cleanliness and uniformity supported by the high technology. The passing-time get the former get tasteful and the latter go bad.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Best autumn spots 12 in Kyoto

Many readers have voted for the best autumn spots in a monthly magazine, Gekkan Kyoto on Nov. 2003. The results are the following:

1. Eikan-do (near Nanzenji Temple)
2. Tofukuji
3. Shin-nyoji
4. Arashiyama
5. Takao (Jingo-ji Temple, Kozanji Temple)
6. Jissoin-monzeki
7. Jojakkouji Temple
8. Koto-in, Daitokuji Temple
9. Houkyo-in
10. Nanzenji Temple
11. Koumyoji Temple
12. Sanzenin Temple

Maple leaves usually turn to be red or yellow from the end of October to the middle of November.

Monday, September 18, 2006

About Shinto, Japanese domestic religion, part 3

What do Gods like?
Gods of Shinto love, first of all, the purity and don't like the dirtiness. So you need to wash your hand and mouth at Temizu-ya before you go to the main building in shrine. The deed comes from washing one's body in a river or the sea, and washing yourself means washing your "heart". They, in the contrary, don't like the blood because the blood has much to do with the death. So women working in shrine, Miko-san, is usually unmarried.

How does water play in Shinto?
Water plays a very important role in Shinto. Water, washing their body, takes away the wrong-doings from the sinners. In Shinto sinners are not accused. One reason is that yesterday is just yesterday, today is today and done is done. One expression in Japan, used when overlooking one's faults, is "letting the water carry the past away", meaning "forgetting the past and accepting one's apologies".

What is Shinto's teaching?
Shinto has neither holy scripture like the Bible and the Koran, nor teachings, commandment and excommunication. But it has a rule. It is to get on with each other and have no fight. This rule might be connected with the system in Japan. People in Japan mainly used to be very poor and cultivate crops, not hunt some animals, to live in those days. Without each other's corporation, they were able to live. This rule is still now alive, as the "Wa" mind, the sprit of harmony.

Most people, including me, think that they have no religion at all. But Shinto religion has much effect on their thoughts and deeds.

articles from Sep.12 to Sep. 16

About Shinto, Japanese domestic religion, part 2, Sep. 16
What's the difference between Shinto and Buddhism?

Roughly speaking, Shinto is a religion of worshiping the nature and ancestor. On the other hand, Gods of Buddhism can solve their personal trouble or annoyance, they think.

A shrine is a place to worship Gods of Shinto. People go there to thank Gods for the rich nature because Japanese in those days lived by cultivating fields and rice paddies, not by hunting and whether or not they were able to live was largely up to the weather condition.

Japanese also worship their ancestor as they brought lands into cultivation. Thanks to them, they can grow crops in the lands.

(Note that some Gods of Shinto are for making money, making them clever and heal their diseases. But some of them were made for commercial purpose, in Edo period, 400 years ago.)

Where do the Gods live?

Shrines has more trees than temples partly because the Gods of Shinto are thought to live in the big trees, big stones and mountains. The Gods like the evergreen trees, like sakaki tree, cedar and pine. That's because the green all year round means that the power of the Gods will last forever. The rich green in shrine also makes it more sacred.

About Shinto, Japanese domestic religion, part 1, Sep. 15
Japanese go to shrine to pray at New Year's Day, have a wedding ceremony at a church, hold a funeral at a temple, hold a Halloween party and dress a tree at the Christmas season. Most Japanese naturally do the different religious rite partly because they are happy to take in many kinds of foreign thoughts and custom. This tendency is quite connected with Shinto, Japanese traditional religion. Now, I will explain Shinto briefly.

Shinto is more peaceful and inclusive than Christianity, Judaism and Islam because Shinto have never done the religious war and have naturally coexisted with the Buddhism. Shinto has many kinds of Gods and people pray to each God, up to the situation. They thank God of sun in a sunny day, and God of rain in a rainy day to make the crop grow well. In an earthquake, they pray to God of earth. Shinto has accepted the diversity and coexistence.

About the purity, on Sep. 14
Japanese seem to be clean-loving.

For example, homemakers in Japan used to make every part of house clean, wiping out the floor, the sink, the bath and the toilette. People in temples or shrines sweep up in the precinct and clean the floor inside the building every day before opening. When I was an elementary school student, we used to clean every part of buildings in school, from the floor and the ground to the street in front of the school after lunch. Japanese traditional restaurants are the same as homemakers and monks, and they sprinkle water around the building and on the approach to the building, roji, to look clean and get it cool before opening. All the people except businesspersons tend to do the cleaning every day in Japan.

Three reasons why they love the cleaning. At first, some Gods of Shinto, Japanese native religion, love the purity and dislike the dirtiness because the dirtiness is strongly connected with the sin for Gods. Secondly, cleaning is regarded as one of the religious austerities in Zen school, which is one of Buddhism sects and came from China. The tea ceremony brought in Zen lessons in Muromachi era, about 500 years ago, and some lessons in Zen sect have been prevailing among the public through the tea ceremony. Thirdly, it connects with Japanese sense of beauties, less and smaller. The more sophisticated things are, the less and smaller they are. The tendency can be connected with the cleaning.

The three elements let Japanese love the purity.

About the eternity, on Sep. 13
Japanese think the eternity as variable things, not as the stability. They think that all the things in the world will change as time goes by.

For example, the first sentence of "the tale of Heike", one of the most famous classics story in Japan, is the following:

Gion Shouja no kane no koe
Syogyo mujo no hibiki ari...

Those means that all the things will change and have gone down eventually, as the same as one of the most important principle of the Buddhism.

Several seasons in Japan come in cycle: as spring comes, many flowers come out. As autumn comes, leaves fall down. And as the next spring....

The eternity is the endless cycle for Japanese.

About nature, on Sep. 12
Japanese have loved the surrounding nature partly because its change of seasons attract them very much.

Japan has much water and forests, and its looking changes throughout the years: the pink hue of cherry trees in spring, the verdant green of moss and forest in summer, the yellow and red of maple trees in autumn and the white of snow in winter.

They has made the most of beauty, first of all, unlike Chinese goodness and Western truth, perhaps because of the rich nature.

By the way, Japanese wooden house was designed to avoid the humidity and swelter in mid summer, and not to get them hurt the house. So the houses are very open and can get a good breeze, quite unlike reinforced concrete buildings now. The houses have many openings, divided by the pillars, on the outer walls and on the opening are set up a sliding door, called fusuma or akari-shoji. Just sliding the doors can get in a comfortable air.

The open house has another effect. You can see better the outside from the inside of the house because of the openness and the opening can link the inside to the outside. The big opening in a house partly drove people improve the garden.

The garden seemed to be originally designed to savour the beauties of the nature fully.