Saying “yes” to Noh: Oyama’s Takigi Noh Fire Festival

Noh, often associated with the masks worn by actors playing certain roles, is widely regarded as Japan's oldest surviving performance art, with 650 years of history. (There are, of course, many older arts, such as Kagura ritual dancing, but those were developed for the entertainment of the gods, not for entertaining humans.) The stories portrayed … Continue reading Saying “yes” to Noh: Oyama’s Takigi Noh Fire Festival

Odawara Castle: guarding the southwest approach to old Edo

In 1590 Japan was in turmoil. There had been civil wars raging intermittently for over a century as various warlords vied to take control and unify the country. Finally it had come down to three men: Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu. After Nobunaga's death in 1582, Hideyoshi was best positioned to prevail and … Continue reading Odawara Castle: guarding the southwest approach to old Edo

Shokokuji: The Mysteries of Zama’s Star Valley

Kannon, sometimes referred to as the Buddhist goddess of mercy, was introduced to Japan in the late sixth century, and many temples dedicated to Kannon can trace their origins back to the seventh or eighth centuries. Shokokuji, in Kanagawa's Zama city, is one such temple. It dates its origins to the Tenpyo Era (729-749) and … Continue reading Shokokuji: The Mysteries of Zama’s Star Valley

One impact of war, the desire for peace

August in Japan is always a time when television programming is replete with movies and documentaries about World War II.  It was on August 15, 1945 (JST), that the Japanese officially surrendered to the Allies, thus ending the Pacific War.  That fact, combined with the fact that August is traditionally a time when Japanese people … Continue reading One impact of war, the desire for peace

Sankeien – a classic garden and classic architecture

For centuries, Japanese gardens have been places to stroll, enjoying greenery and seasonal changes set off by a central pond.  We often think of such gardens as dating to the age of sophisticated samurai, who wrote poetry under a full moon or performed tea ceremony in little huts.  Yet many fine classic gardens were actually … Continue reading Sankeien – a classic garden and classic architecture

Historical Fujisawa – the often overlooked Tokaido Post Town

Fujisawa, about an hour by train from central Tokyo, has a long history as a traveller's way station, including during the 250 years that the Tokaido was the major coastal road for travellers between Kyoto and Edo (now Tokyo).  Even before the Tokugawa shogunate, Fujisawa was popular with travelers bound for Enoshima and Oyama, popular … Continue reading Historical Fujisawa – the often overlooked Tokaido Post Town

Commemorating Japan’s Post-war Constitution

Every year between April 29 and May 5 Japan celebrates "Golden Week", four public holidays over a period of seven days. This year, 2019, thanks to the abdication of Emperor Emeritus Akihito and the ascension to the throne of Emperor Naruhito, the government declared additional holidays, giving people in Japan a 10-day "Platinum Week": April … Continue reading Commemorating Japan’s Post-war Constitution

Somen: Slippery summer noodles worthy of slurping

Japanese love their noodles!  From steaming bowls of ramen or udon, to mounds of yakisoba fresh off the griddle and dripping with tangy sauce, to bamboo trays of buckwheat soba noodles for dipping into a salty soy sauce-based soup, noodles are a dietary staple here.  Not as common or well-known is somen--long, thin, wheat-based noodles, … Continue reading Somen: Slippery summer noodles worthy of slurping

Kanamara Matsuri: A unique celebration of the pink of spring

Japan is host to a variety of annual festivals, often seasonally driven, and often associated with Shinto shrines. These festivals usually involve music, dancing, fair food and portable shrines that are paraded through the local neighborhood. One of the more unusual of these annual festivals takes place on the first Sunday of April (in 2017: … Continue reading Kanamara Matsuri: A unique celebration of the pink of spring