Thursday, January 27, 2011

さよなら Sayonara

Unfortunately, today is my last day in Japan. I am traveling to the West Coast of the United States, so this post marks the end in this chapter of DekoBoko. I am unsure what the ultimate fate of the blog will be at this time. I am sure to continue taking pictures, so perhaps I will continue to post from my new residence and from my future travels. I am sure that the posting will halt for a time as I settle into a new routine. If you are interested please check back in a few weeks and I will let you know what, if anything, will become of DekoBoko.

To those of you who have spent your precious time viewing my amateur attempts at photography, and tolerated my dry and pointless prose . . . I thank you!!!

I would especially like to thank everyone who has commented, including the regulars: Kat & Satoshi's from "Our Adventures in Japan" which is a really fun food journal of Japan, A. and Y. Ikeda from "Tochigi Daily Photo" (+2 other great blogs) which are stunning and informative photography journals (I will miss participating in Show-me-Japan), and last but not least Anzu from Ann & Natsu, who has a super cute furry family.



History of the DekoBoko Header to this point. . .

Out for a Walk

Kobe Harbor

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


The view from the Kobe Venus Bridge.

January Yatai Stuffs.

I previously mentioned that January in Japan is full of festivals, and usually festivals go hand-in-hand with Yatai. These are some of the highlights, roasted nuts of some sort - tasty but get stale very quickly - best enjoyed hot as you walk around the festival. Next are Daruma dolls (達磨), which are hollow and roundish dolls modeled after Bodhidharma; the founder of the Zen sect of Buddhism. The eyes of Daruma are often blank when sold, one eye is filled in upon setting a goal and then the other upon fulfilling it. In this way, the Daruma is a good luck charm as well as a reminder of a particular goal. Next, this tasty mollusk was simmered with dashi (soup stalk) in its shell on an open grill - enjoyed with warm Saki - yum! Finally is Kuri Manju which is a wonderful baked bun stuffed with chestnut paste.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

It's-a me, Mario!

"Here we go!!!" Mario is-a full of da-bouncy children.

クマ Bear

Graffiti in downtown Kobe, this fellow is a クマ (Kuma) or in Kanji 熊.

The Bear goes: ガオーー (Gaooo).

Previous Animals:

Monday, January 24, 2011

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Friday, January 21, 2011

Show Me Japan: 1.17.1995

The 24th floor of Kobe City Hall is a great place to get a bird's eye view of the entire city center, especially in the evening. Kobe City Hall is located on Flower Road, just south of JR Sannomiya Station and the observation floor is free to visit. Next to Kobe City Hall is Higashi Yuenchi Park, which features a permanent earthquake memorial monument dedicated to those who lost their lives in the Hanshin-Awaji earthquake. This photograph was taken on January 17, 2011, which marked the 16th anniversary of the quake, and the date is actually made of thousands of candles.

Photograph is my entry for this weeks Show-Me-Japan (Vol.1 Issue 10).

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Lighting Candles

Sannomiya earthquake memorial 1.17.2011.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Sannomiya 1.17.95 Memorial

Perhaps the largest of the earthquake memorials in Kobe is located in Sannomiya. Candles are placed in cut bamboo segments and organized to form a large 1.17.1995.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Nagata 1.17.95 Memorial

Monday, January 17, 2011, marks the 16th year since the 1995 earthquake that devastated Kobe. The quake struck at 5:46am and lasted for approximately 20 seconds, and when it was done Kobe was left in ruins and many lost their lives. Bells are sounded just before 5:46, issuing silence over the many earthquake memorial gathering spots throughout Kobe. Candles are set in honor of the lives lost and hardships some still face since that day 16 years ago.

Nagata, was one of the areas hardest hit by the quake and this is one of the memorials held in the area. The atmosphere of the events vary, some are somber and others more celebratory; some play music and sing songs, while others share stories or stand in silence. In the dark, windy, and bitter cold morning I am reminded how grand my humble but warm apartment - with its running water, electricity, and shelter - really is, and how difficult the uprooted lives of those who survived must have been.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Dondo-yaki Ash

The ashes from the Dondo-yaki bonfire are collected, and one-by-one folks come up to the pile and fill bags with the now cooled, dark-black charcoal. The ashes are placed around the outside of homes and businesses to ward off evil spirits. I have seen many little piles of ash all around Shin-Nagata; these mounds would be a rather odd sight if I had not seen their origin.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Dondo-yaki Ablaze

Dondo-yaki どんどやき

Yesterday I attended a Dondo-yaki, which is basically a special bonfire held as part of the Oshogatsu celebration. According to tradition, a Kami named Toshitokujin, the goddess with responsibility for auspicious directions and happenings for the coming year (and when appeased, insures prosperity and an abundant harvest) visits during Oshogatsu, and brings with her Shōgatsu-sama, an “Honorable New year”.

One of the primary traditions linked to Dondo-yaki is the burning of New Year’s decorations such as kadomatsu and shimenawa, and objects such as Omomori, and Kakizome. The town or village gathers at some central place and burns all these sacred symbols for the greeting of the New Year, and by burning them it is believed that they are sent off to the Kami as gifts.

I intoduced Kadomatsu and shimenawa in yesterdays post, Omamori お守り are charms dedicated to particular Shintō and Buddhist deities. Kakizome 書き初 or “first writing,” is a term for the first calligraphy (Shodō) written at the beginning of a year. As the burning paper and ash flies high, it is believed that the person who created the calligraphy will be able to rise above their limitations and write even better in the coming year. I did my kakizome last wednesday so I hope my Shodō improves this year - I certainly smelled of smoke all day.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

姫路神社 Himeji Shrine

I am discovering that Oshogatsu is basically a month long celebration, not just a one day event as the New Year is commonly celebrated in the States. Another Oshogatsu tradition are the decorations pictured here in front of the Himeji Jinja, called kadomatstu. A kadomatsu 門松, literally “gate pine,” is placed in pairs in front of homes, temples, and or business in late December, with the intention of welcoming ancestral spirits or kami and acting as temporary housing for them.

Also pictured here is a Shimenawa 標縄, "enclosing rope," which are lengths of sacred ropes made of rice straw, used for purification in Shintō. At New Years these are often replaced, being hung across the tops of gates or entryways to ward off evil. Often shimenawa are decorated with shide 紙垂, paper folded in a zigzag, or tassels (such as these); which also symbolize purification.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Show Me Japan: Akashi-jō

Because Himeji castle is currently under restoration, and is consequently not very picturesque, I visited Akashi castle (jō) as an alternate. I am glad that I did, this is a quite and relatively empty area in the evening, with a atmosphere rich in history. However, if you visit in the winter as I did, bundle up as it is quite cold.

This castle was constructed by Ogasawara Tadazane in one year, which was a relatively short amount of time for such a project. The speedy progress of construction was aided by a law issued in 1615 that limited one castle per clan. Meaning that Akashi castle is partially constructed from materials, and in some cases whole sections, of previous castles in the area. Akashi castle was built on order from the Tokugawa shogunate, for its strategic value in watching over the western lords.

Pictured is the Tatsumi Turret (巽櫓) with the constellation of Orion "the hunter" poised above it. In Japanese the phrase Yowatashi Boshi, or passing the night stars, is applied to prominent star groups which appear in the East at sunset and set with the dawning sun. Orion is certainly one of the most noticeable Yowatashi Boshi; most especially the three belt stars or Mitsu Boshi.

Photograph is my entry for this weeks Show-Me-Japan (Vol.1 Issue 9).

Thursday, January 13, 2011


Himeji shrine for the remembrance of the patriots from the Western District, Hyogo Prefecture near the Shiromi stand park and Himeji Castle. The lanterns are setup for oshogatsu, The Japanese New Year celebration, and must have looked stunning at nightfall.

Unfortunately, Himeji Castle is under restoration until 2014 and is totally covered in scaffolding.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Dezome-shiki One Last Time

One last shot from the Kobe Dezome-shiki, some of the uniformed superiors oversee the last of the final demonstration. These taller towers of water are actually emanating from the fire-fighting ships in the port waters.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Fireman's Parade Display

The final event for the Dezome-shiki in Kobe was a demonstration by all of the different brigades. They aimed their fire hoses and water cannons, including those on the fire-fighting ships in the port, up into the air and showered icy bay water into impressively tall and graceful arches.

Monday, January 10, 2011


Dezome-shiki, the Fireman's Parade (or the New Year's parade of fire brigades as it is also called) is an annual event held throughout major cites in Japan. Perhaps the largest and most famous of these is in Tokyo, which showcases the acrobatic prowess of fire fighters atop tall wooden ladders. Kobe has a Dezome-shiki of its own and while I didn't witness any acrobatics of the type famous in Tokyo, this event was no less spectacular as a demonstration of the ability and expertise of Kobe's firefighters. The event (which took place at Meriken park) featured may booths, vehicles and vessels, and personnel from all over the area. The event centered around a training scenario that involved all manner of firefighting, rescue, and disaster skills. Pictured is a rescue helicopter performing some low altitude maneuvers, later two rescuers would repel from the helicopter and secure a rescue dummy for airlift evacuation.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Merry Umbrella Project

This is a small selection of 100 umbrellas printed with children's faces from around the world, from a public art project dubbed Merry Umbrella, at the earthquake memorial at Meriken park in Kobe. Larger projects than this one were held in Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Okinawa in hopes of spreading messages of peace. The project is the work of Koji Mizutani, who also took the pictures of the children featured on the umbrellas from Mianyang, China, in the wake of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, as well as in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, after the 2004 Sumatra earthquake, and in Kobe in the aftermath of the 1995 Hanshin Earthquake.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Lantern at Minatogawa Jinja

Looking at the bottom of one of the lanterns at the Minatogawa jinja. This one is located at one of the shops that sells ema and other omamori お守り, Japanese amulets dedicated to particular Shinto deities. The word mamori means protection, with omamori meaning honorable protector.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Show Me Japan: Minatogawa

A row of vermilion-colored torii on the grounds of Minatogawa jinja, act as an entrance point - which also marks the sacred area of the shrine from the outer world - to this small but enchanting shrine. Alight only by the lanterns hanging from the celling giving the interior a luminous vermilion hue.

Photograph is my entry for this weeks Show-Me-Japan (Vol.1 Issue 8).

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Minatogawa Shrine 湊川神社

Early evening inside the main hall, Honden, of the Minatogawa jinja. A private ceremony, possibly for shogatsu, is being held for these four apparently important gentlemen. Two priests, including the head priest, and two maidens are in attendance and many rites and dances are preformed. In this image the maiden at the center of the Hoden is captured mid-twirl while preforming one such dance.

Minatogawa, in Kobe, is a Shinto shrine located near the city center. It is dedicated to Kusunoki Masashige, a general who fought for Emperor Go-Daigo during a period in Japanese history filled with political upheaval. He obeyed a strategically absurd command from Go-Daigo to meet a superior force at Minatogawa. The decision meant certain death for Kusunoki Masashige, his brother, and hundreds of his men. He committed ritual suicide (seppuku) and was said to utter these famous last words, "I wish I had seven lives to give for my country" - securing him as a symbol of loyalty to the emperor.

These same words would be drilled into every student’s head over the next half century, and ultimately Shichisei Hokoku became an often used expression during WWII, especially by kamikaze pilots.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Mister Donut x Rilakkuma

Rilakkuma, a combination of the Japanese pronunciation of relax and the Japanese word for bear, is a popular icon in Japan and is now invading the Mister Donut. These cute fellows come in 3 flavors (strawberry, chocolate, and caramel) and its brains, if you will, are cream. . . whipped feather light, and flavored ever so gently to complement the shell. The outer chewy layer is complimented by a light and airy center making for a wonderful texture overall. This subtle, well for a donut anyway, and unbearably good treat is a feat of Japanese gastronomic engineering.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Monday, January 3, 2011


Mochi (餅) is a cake made of glutinous rice pounded into a paste-like consistency and molded into a small flat bottomed sphere. In Japan it is traditionally made in a ceremony called a mochitsuki. While eaten year-round, mochi is also a traditional food for shogatsu; often added to a simple but delicious vegetable soup called (o)Zōni. I had the chance to visit a traditional Japanese home in the Kobe mountains, where we had a mochitsuki with rice that was prepared on a kamado - pictured. A kamado is a traditional Japanese wood or charcoal fired earthen vessel used as a stove or oven.

Sunday, January 2, 2011


The Japanese New Year celebration, shogatsu, takes place from January 1-3. During shogatsu it is a tradition to visit a shrine or temple, and this first visit of the new year is known as hatsumoude, where visitors ask for safety, health, and good fortune. Many well-known temples and shrines are extremely crowded, as was Kobe's Ikuta shrine - pictured here.

Saturday, January 1, 2011


Happy New Year! Japanese New Year's food is called osechi-ryori, which is traditionally served in jubako, lacquer boxes, such as this. Each dish and ingredient in osechi has a meaning, such as good health, harvest, happiness, and or long life. It's a Japanese tradition to eat osechi-ryori throughout the New Year's holidays which last until January 3rd. Traditionally, people finish cooking osechi dishes by New Year's Eve so that they have food for a couple days, and to provide a break for the long suffering and overworked house wife (or husband, but that would be very modern). Nowadays, people can also buy ready-made osechi dishes, or order them at department stores, grocery stores, or convenience stores. Hope your new years celebration was a good one, and the coming year provides joy, education, and growth.