Saturday, July 31, 2010

Nagata Jinja Matsuri

More summer matsuri goodness, July 17th was the Nagata-jinja summer festival near my apartment in Nagata, Kōbe. This festival had a much different flavor then either Gion or Ikutamasan, it was much smaller and was mostly a neighborhood affair. Though it had many of the same foods and yatai - they were prepared and sold by smaller local businesses, organizations, or families. The events were also quite different, the grounds of the shrine were aglow from lanterns decorated by local school children, traditional dancing was held in and around a large stage and a Chinowa (a large ring made of thatch) was erected on the pathway leading to a shrine - people step through the ring as an act of purification from misdeeds (tsumi), impurities (kegare), or bad luck.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Big Fan, Only In Japan

It's hot and muggy in the urban streets of Japan this time of year, but there is a small ray of hand-powered hope for the weary traveler. These are uchiwa (handheld fans) a free way to cool down, handed-out by many companies across Japan to heat-opressed pedestrians in exchange for some mobile advertising space – free uchiwa are typically emblazoned with the logo of the company that is giving them out. It’s also possible to pick up free commemorative uchiwa at certain events, you might notice a yamaboko float on the center fan that also has a advertisement on the reverse side.

Thursday, July 29, 2010


A garden path at the backside of Kukunitama-jinja with lanterns alight for the Natsu Matsuri leading toward some of the smaller shrines and a stage area set up for karaoke and libations, a great way to enjoy the cooler evenings and the festive atmosphere; however I personally stick to private karaoke booths with friends. For some Japanese karaoke is a serious hobby, and it is not uncommon to practice alone in booths to prepare for work or social related events that might include karaoke, though I have been told that this behavior is on the decline and karaoke is being taken less seriously then it once was. Karaoke is still quite common and popular here none-the-less, how about where you live?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Mikoshi At Ikutamasan Natsu Matsuri

Some final images from the Ikutamasan Natsu Matsuri; as the mikoshi, gold house like objects on the sholders of these fellows, entered the shrine grounds they were greeted and blessed by a priest at the main gates and then paraded into the large flat open grounds in front of the Hoden. Each group from around the city entered the grounds, after carrying the mikoshi and or large Taiko and their small troops of players all over town for the last 8 hours, and literally ran with them at full gail to all corners of the shrine grounds to perform ritual bows, chants, and clapping. Quite a site, these fellows must have slept really well that night with all that running, walking, lifting, drinking, eating, and mary making; after-all I sure did and I was only a spectator.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Ikutamasan いくたまさん Natsu Matsuri

It is festival season and Gion is far from the only festival in the Kansai area, actually July 11 was the first matsuri I attended this month and it was also the first large summer festival I had ever attended. Located at the Kukunitama-jinja, also called Ikutamasan by the locals, in Tennoji-ku Ōsaka; this was the Natsu (summer) matsuri and it spilled out from the large shrine grounds to the crowded market streets well beyond its gates. The spirit of this festival was less formal and more electric then Gion in Kyōto, in general Ōsaka has a different feel then other areas of Japan I have visited - friendly, open, and more direct while simultaneously being slightly gritty and curt. The festival began in the morning as shrines from all over the Tennoji area brought forth their mikoshi with parades of Taiko (太鼓) "drum" players and dancers. The many parades could be heard throughout the city and as I walked down one of the major streets I encountered celebrations and precessions of various sizes about every 3-4 blocks. In the early evening all the parades turned toward Kukunitama-jinja where they were pushed through the crowds toward the Hoden (main shrine).

Monday, July 26, 2010

Matsuri Yatai 屋台

Yatai, literally shop stand, are small, mobile food stalls typically selling ramen or other hot food. The stall is set up in the early evening on pedestrian walkways and removed late at night or in the early morning hours before commuters begin to fill the streets. Yatai are a popular standard at matsuri, even convenience stores and restaurants will get into the act, setting up small yatai in front of their places of business. Really what would any celebration be without food? So her are some of my favorites from yoiyama clockwise from the left: cheese chikuwa (chikuwa is a Japanese tube-like food made from fish and egg white, the cheese version has melted cheese in the center), nikumaki onigiri (a rice ball with kimchi or other filling wrapped in marinated sliced meat then baked - Oh yea!), fresh shrimp chips, tamago sembe (egg atop a rice cracker with sauce and other crunchy cracker bits), green tea beer, yakiniku (grilled meat), and finally Hiroshima okonomiyaki (like a savory pancake or crepe made from flour, grated yam, dashi, and eggs topped with cabbage, meat, yakisoba, sauce, and optional items such as squid, octopus, and cheese).

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Gion Matsuri Yoiyama Tapestry

Some final images from Yoiyama, the image on the left is a rather large tapestry that has Koi painted on it - two fish are added for every year the matusri has been held; and since the matsuri (in its present form) has been ongoing with few exceptions for around 480 years that is a lot of fish. Speaking of fish, the last image is a traditional game of scooping goldfish and the middle image is of an enthusiastic fellow portraying an Oni (鬼) or a creature from Japanese folklore, variously translated as demon, devil, ogre or troll.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Spirit of Yoiyama

As dusk falls the major streets of central Kyōto, and some side streets, are closed to traffic and are lined with food stalls stuffed with diverse and tasty eats, plenty of libations, and fair-type games and entertainment abound. Also, during the yoiyama evenings leading up to the parade, some private houses in the old kimono merchant district open their entryways to the public, exhibiting valuable family heirlooms. Many folks are dressed in kimono and yukata and the air is a buzz with voices, traditional Gion matsuri tunes, and laughter - the atmosphere is truly joyous. The yamaboko floats are lit and displayed, and for a fee some of the Hoko floats can be toured. Now I had mentioned that the crowds were manageable, that is not to suggest that it was not a sea of humanity - it was very crowded. However, the open streets allowed for greater mobility for the masses that the closed streets during the actual parade would grant. I was told that local Kyōto residents don't go to the matsuri, instead opting to watch it on TV to avoid the crowds, leaving foreigners and Japanese from outside the area to brave the masses. I don't know if that is true, but I have experienced similar situations where I was raised, so I believe it is possible - and funny in an ironic sort of way.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Gion Yama At Yoiyama

These are examples of the 23 of the smaller Yama, of the yamaboko floats used in the Gion matsuri, which carry life-size figures of famous people and other important or sacred objects. Yoiyama is the last, and most exciting, of the three nights leading to the parade on the 17th of July. A friend suggested that if I wanted to escape the heat, sun, and extreme crowds of the parade, but was still interested in experiencing the spirit, eats, and sites of Gion matsuri, then this night would be a great compromise. I did not attend the parade on the 17th so I cannot speak to what I might have missed, but the Yoiyama festival was a great match for my temperament and was cooler (but a little wet) and the crowds were handleable. For the truly dedicated both Yoiyama and the parade are an option, however, to get a good view of the parade means being in position early in the morning, after a long night of celebration - which is just not my style.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Gion Matsuri Yoiyama 祇園祭 宵山

The evening of July 16 was Yoiyama, the night prior to the parade of yamaboko floats for Gion matsuri. This festival originated as part of a purification ritual to appease deities that were believed to be responsible for fires, floods and earthquakes - especially in the hot and wet summer months. In 869, Kyōto was suffering for a serious plague which was attributed to the rampaging deity Gozu Tennō. Emperor Seiwa ordered sixty-six stylized and decorated halberds, one for each province in old Japan, to be erected along with the portable shrines (mikoshi) from Yasaka shrine to appease the angry deity. In 970, it was decreed an annual event and has become more elaborate and eventually evolved into the Gion matsuri parade. Of the yamaboko floats, there are 9 of the larger Hoko (halberd) floats which represent the 66 spears used in the original purification ritual, these are the completed versions of what I visited just six day prior - truly impressive.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Kabutomushi カブトムシ

I thought that I was done with the insects for awhile, however the Japanese do love them and what can I say, I caught the bug (sorry). I was out for my nightly run and I nearly trampled this fellow, I did not expect to actually see one outside of a pet store. I finished my run and he was still around so I grabbed my camera and went back to the park for his close-up. Rypoxylus dichotomus, the Japanese rhinoceros beetle, are among the largest of beetles and the male beetles (like this one) use their horns in mating battles against other males. "Mushi" is Japanese for bug, and "Kabuto" is Japanese for helmet. So, literally this is a helmet-bug.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Gion Lantern Parade #2

Final images from the lantern parade, more festival pictures coming soon. Parades are a difficult subject, so I am shooting more images than I would otherwise. Generally I try to make an economy of how many images i expose, however, when I am not confident of the outcome I shoot more - just to be safe - but I have more to sift through.

Monday, July 19, 2010 Guest Post

DekoBoko will be featured at, they invited me to do a guest post on their blog so please check it out. OneTravel is an established online travel site with many years of experience. They provide easy booking of flights and accommodation at discounted prices in a convenient one-stop shopping experience. Lets face it, we all like cheeper airline tickets.

Gion Lantern Parade #1

The lantern parade, held on July 10, was a formal ceremony used to welcome the mikoshi portable shrines that are going to be used as part of the Gion matsuri. Shinto followers believe that mikoshi serve as the vehicle of a divine spirit(s) at the time of a parade of deities. This colorful parade was held at sundown, so it was fairly dark and I was not situated very close to the precession because I came across it by chance. It arrived without much fanfare, traffic was not stopped just mildly diverted or halted as the parade made its way down one side of a major thuro-fare. It was a very nice surprise but it did not leave me with much chance to think about exposure and the colors, though vivid in person, were muddy due to the low light so I switched to B&W, this one is a little grainy from the high ISO that was used but it gives it a newspaper feel.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Building The Yamaboko

With the deluge of cherry blossoms behind us and the hot - heavy air of summer settled over Japan, it is now time for the the collection of summer festivals to begin. Perhaps one of the most famous festivals is the Gion Matsuri held every July, without fail from the year 1533, in Kyōto. Although the festival itself officially runs all month it is crowned by a grand parade on July 17. A centerpiece of the parade are the floats, which are divided into two groups, Hoko and Yama, and are collectively called Yamaboko. All the floats are decorated with elaborate tapestries and will also carry many traditional musicians and artists through the city. These images are from July 10, the assembly of the Yamaboko had just begun. No nails are used in the construction, only rope and wood, when complete the Yama (the larger of the floats) will weight about 12,000 kg and will measure 25 m from ground to tip.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Geta 下駄

Located in the garden of the Kyōto house that I mentioned in the previous post. The light was not fantastic so I turned to the black and white mode on my camera, however I was attracted to how the late afternoon sun struck the geta situated just outside of a sliding glass door leading to a rock garden in the center of the house. The glass in the entire house was original, the leaded variety, warped due to time and environment. Usually reflections are a nuisance, I don't generally take photographs through glass if I can help it, but I like how the distorted glass actually added to the overall atmosphere of the image - the blur and streaks at the top.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Chadōgu 茶道具

Chadōgu, or tea tools used in the formal Japanese tea ceremony, specifically the Furo 風炉. Furo are portable braziers used in the tea room to heat the hot water kettle (kama) to make the tea. They are commonly made of ceramic or metal - this one is ceramic. Photograph was taken in a Kyōto house that has been turned into a kimono retailer.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Does Graffiti Bug Ya?

No they are not real bugs as this weeks theme would suggest. However, these works are insect inspired - I especially like the caterpillar-esque image at the top. While they lack the detail of their living inspirational counterparts, some might still find these depictions creepy in their own right.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Terpnosia Vacua

A sure sign that the dog-days of summer are approaching, this is the discarded exoskeleton of a Cicada, Terpnosia Vacua. Immature Cicada nymphs live underground where they suck sap from the roots of trees and shrubs. When they approach maturity, they dig to the surface (hence the clawlike front feet) and molt into winged adults, leaving the exoskeleton behind. In Japan, the cidaca is associated with the summer season and the songs of the cicada are often used in film and television to indicate summer scenes. It is also a pastime for children to collect both cicadas and the shells left behind when molting. Bug collecting in general is popular with little tikes, I often see them dragging their parents through train stations equipped with plastic collection boxes, nets, and other tools for weekend hunts. For the city dwellers the pet shops offer beetles and some other native insects for sale as pets.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Tombo とんぼ

I took a picture of a damselfly among sakura blossoms back in March, when they were not a common site. Now many dragonflies and damselflies are darting around areas with still-open water. In Japan dragonflies are symbols of courage, strength, and happiness, and they often appear in art and literature, especially haiku. The Japanese love for dragonflies is reflected by the fact that there are traditional names for almost all of the 200 species of dragonflies found in and around Japan. Japanese children catch large dragonflies as a game, using a hair like thread with a small pebble tied to each end, which they throw into the air. The dragonfly mistakes the pebbles for prey, gets tangled in the hair, and is dragged to the ground by the weight.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Bee's Knees

A friendly little pollinator I interrupted enjoying a newly blossomed and quite tightly coiled white hibiscus flower. Known as Apis cerana, or mitsubachi in Japanese, they are tiny honey bees that prefer to nest in small spaces (such as hollowed out tree trunks). Like the Western honey bee, they are sometimes domesticated and used in apiculture, mostly in wooden boxes with fixed frames. The mitsubachi are friendly fellows, it is the Japanese Giant Hornet that should be steered well clear of. Actually the mitsubachi have a unique defense against the hornet. Many bees will gather near the entrance of the nest to bait a trap, and as the hornet enters the nest (the hornet feeds on bee larva) a large mob of about five hundred bees surrounds it. Completely covered, the hornet is immobilized and the temperature of this ball-o-bees is so great the hornet dies from heat exhaustion.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


The theme this week is going to be insects, and as it is summer the insects are out to play, propagate, and do whatever insects do. At any given moment there are around 10,000,000,000,000,000,000 insects on earth - seriously, that's a real number. For every one of us, there are 1.5 billion bugs. This is an Argiope amoena or kogane-gumo in Japanese which, might as well mean big #@!!% spider (20-25mm). Bugs really do come super-sized in Japan. In North America, Argiope aurantia is commonly known as the "black and yellow garden spider" because of the similarity of the web stabilimenta, however I have yet to see any spider this large in the states. I choose a more benign photograph, one that does not show her full-fuzzy beauty, to spare the arachnophobes in the audience.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Marine Hall

Marine Hall is one of two wedding chapels located at the Meriken Park Oriental Hotel in Kōbe, the other is located on the astroturf clad roof of the hotel itself. Marine Hall rests alongside the base of the hotel near the water and rather than offering the more common architectural style of Japanese wedding chapels, which are often clad in over-the-top western kitsch suitable only on the sets of Fred Astaire films, the design is based on the form of a seashell. Built in 1995 and designed by the Takenaka Company, it opened just six months after the Hanshin Awaji earthquake. Nearby is the Kobe Maritime Museum and the Kobe Port Tower, which create a nice cluster of interesting architecture.

Friday, July 9, 2010


Happiness, for me, is instilled by being in the presence of books. Adding art, music, community and charm, might just turn the happiness into pure rapturous delight; and Keibunsha is just that! Stocked with unique books, stationery, art, handcrafts, clothing, music, and interesting zakka (雑貨) enclosed in a charming and nostalgic nook of a building that is illuminated by all fashion of lamps seemly powered by magic as much as electricity. Zakka, for those not familiar with the term, is a fashion and design phenomenon that is embodied by the phrase: seeing the savvy in the ordinary and mundane; which is a phrase that suits the whole store. Meandering through the three rooms with their dark wooden shelves full of all manner of treasures, or visiting the art gallery space at the back of the store is almost like being in another world. Keibunsha is located in Sakyo-ku, a residential area of Kyōto slightly outside from the center of town.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Tanabata 七夕祭り Matsuri

Separated by the milky way, two star crossed lovers are only able to meet once a year on the seventh day of the seventh month. Thus starts the legend of Hikoboshi (the star Alter) and Orihime (Vega) who is the daughter of Emperor Tentei, and is also a very skilled weaver.

The legend continues, as Orihime sat alongside the the river of heaven (the milky way) she was overcome with sadness due to the fact that she hadn't fallen in love, because she was so busy weaving. The emperor witness her woeful state and arranges a marriage between her and Hikoboshi who lived across the river. The couple was very much in love, however Orihime was neglecting her weaving. Tentei, angered by Orihime's neglect, separates the couple.

Tentei decreed that the couple would only be allowed to see each other on one night each year – on the seventh day of the seventh month. The Tanabata festival (also know as the star festival) celebrates the reuniting of these lovers with sprigs of bamboo, sometimes small and sometimes the size of a tree, decorated with origami and tanzuku (papers with wishes writen on them).

I have been practicing shodo (Japanese calligraphy) for the past 5 months with a very patient and skilled sensei at a community center in Sannomiya. One of the staff at the center requested that I write a banner for the Tanabata Matsuri 七夕祭り and I added some sumi-e to accompany it. Working with ink and brush is rather difficult and unforgiving, but I have seen some improvement over the past weeks.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Ōsaka Street Art

Street art from around central Ōsaka and appropriately the Gundam graffiti is from Nipponbashi. Speaking of Gundam the city of Shizuoka, 125 miles west of Tōkyō, has re-erected the statue that was in Odaiba last year - unveiling is on the 24th of July which is also Gundam’s 30th birthday. Shizuoka is the city where most of the Gundam plastic models are manufactured, and even though the location is in the middle of nowhere Bandai (who owns the rights to Gundam) and Shizuoka expect millions of tourists. Unfortunately I cannot justify the expensive trip just to see the statue, especially with little else to see or do in Shizuoka, which makes me a little sad - like the last graffiti.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Hall At Nagata Shrine

The Nagata shrine celebrated its 1800th birthday in 2001 and has a large famous camphor tree located in the Kusumiya Inari shrine on its grounds that is renowned for its divine favor in curing disease. The shrine also features an architectural style called Tsuina Shiki Shinji which became popular in the Muromachi Era. This is a truly peaceful place!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Nagata Jinja 長田神社

The weather here continues to be a either hot and humid, or rainy and humid, or possibly both at the same time; I suppose in this season if I waited for the weather to be nice enough to venture out of the apartment then I might never leave - and the apartment is way too small to seriously consider that. So I pack up my trusty hand towel (a regular accessory in Japan) and an umbrella and go out exploring, a recent venture brought me to these Ema located in Nagata shrine. Nagata Shrine is rather historical and not terribly far from the apartment. The rain had just stopped for a while and the sun broke through the heavy clouds to highlight this wooden offering. The less than ideal weather does offer the benefit of solitude, all the crowds and tourists generally don't venture far from the covered malls and train stations; which left the shrine still and silent.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Kōbe Night Cityscape

Cityscape as seen from the Kōbe port with two prominent communication towers, you might recognize one of them from an earlier post. I really like this view it reminds me of the film "Blade Runner" (which was in part visually based on the more densely concentrated Tōkyō cities of Shinjuku and Roppongi) but not quite so dystopian. Hope all you folks in the States have an enjoyable 4th of July.

Saturday, July 3, 2010


I currently live just down the street from this Super Robot スーパーロボット statue and felt that it was time to revisit it with a new photograph. The last time that I posted about Tetsujin 28-Go (literally Iron Man #28) I was not living in this area and had to make a special trip to see it, but now I pass it quite often. I enjoy seeing all of the tourists, mostly Japanese, coming to visit and take pictures. It attracts people of all ages and it is rare to pass it without seeing someone with a camera or a cell phone camera poised to immortalize the visit. The camera enthusiasts will bring along all their fancy gear (enormous lenses, tripods and bags full of gadgets), while the layperson in content with a picture of themselves or their friends in front of the statue - a kind of 'proof I was here' sort of photograph often taken with the people mimicking the statues posture and gesture. Photograph was taken at F8 for 5 seconds at ASA100 on a very overcast night and at the very end of the exposure I moved the camera ever-so-slightly from side to side to create a mild blur or illusion of movement - which kinda worked.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Sannomiya 三宮 At Night

Downtown Sannomiya near the JR train station on one of the many pedestrian walkways that crossover the busy street below and connects the various train stations and department stores. The nights in Sannomiya are often busy and crowded and this night was no exception. Just a few feet away two fellows had a small audience circled around them as they played an acoustic folk-rock set. It is common to see bands and individuals practicing their craft here and some are quite good - they usually don't accept or expect tips either (though I don't know if this is common throughout Japan). To get this shot I set the camera on the railing, as I was without a tripod, and had trouble keeping the camera still for this six second exposure as the hordes of folks pushed past me - and the walkway was also swaying a bit. The view is not fantastic but to me it seems a bit more interesting with the "time lapse effect" achieved by the longer exposure.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Mosaic & Kōbe Port

The view across the ocean port near downtown Kōbe is quite popular with tourists and locals alike. On this night, as it is on many summer nights, couples come to take in the 'romantic' view of the twinkling lights and the reflections cast upon the ocean; they sit hand-in-hand with legs gently swinging over the edge of the concrete harbor. Mosaic is the name of the shopping area the rests across the harbor and houses restaurants, bars, a movie theatre, a shopping market, an amusement arcade and a little amusement park. During the day the harbor also hosts buskers and street artists selling calligraphy, open air paintings and crafts. I have found some rather attractive works and wares here and I am sure the street performances are entertaining (if that is your kinda thing) as they do attract large groups of people. However, I have always found buskers a bit creepy and tend to stay clear of them if given the choice. I appreciate the nighttime atmosphere which is quite and still in comparison to the bustling and noise of the daylight hours.