Tag Archive for spring

POTW Kyoto

This Photo of the Week is from the infamous Gion Kyoto. It is a huge tourist attraction, drawing in tens of millions of Japanese and foreign tourists annually. The highlight has been Kinkakuji or “Golden Pavilion”. However, I decided to show something that you can imagine yourself in… Gion and a rickshaw. You and your boyfriend / girlfriend / husband / wife / family / buddies can rent a kimono (each) and stroll around Kyoto as though you were a Gion resident a hundred years ago, take a rickshaw ride to see a blossoming plum tree, go to a restaurant or tea house, before returning to the kimono rental store, before having a night out on the town. See more Kyoto photos on my PhotoShelter portfolio.

POTW: 5Mar 2012 Sakura

This Photo of the Week is for Spring. In southern parts of Japan cherry blossoms, known in Japanese as ‘sakura’, will soon start blooming, and as the warmer temperature clime moves north blomming will reach central Japan early April, and be in Hokkaido at about the end of April early May. Of the many species of cherry blossoms in Japan, the particular ones Japanese most enjoy bloom for just one week. However, some springs are a bit windy which blows the petals away within a few days, and some springs are warm and so the blooming time can be almost two weeks. Whilst the flowers are in bloom, many community groups, groups of friends & families, and companies get together for picnic, barbeques, and to consume lots of Asahi beer. This kind of party is known in Japanese as ‘hanami’, translated as ‘flower viewing’.

The reason why cherry blossoms became so popular for parties is that they are a metaphor for a warrior’s life. It is short lived, beautiful, and ends suddenly. The tradition continues in modern times presumably because it is a convenient narrow-point in the calendar to identify the time for such parties. In spring there are other species of cherry blossoms that bloom for almost a whole month, and the much prettier plum flowers bloom for a month or so as well.

Cherry blossoms :: sakura

Thanks to +John Asano reminding me that it’s almost Cherry Blossom (sakura) season, which is usually the end of March early April and goes for about a week. In Japan friends, social groups, companies, and families all stake out a place under an arboretum of cherry blossoms and have barbeques and pretend it’s not uncomfortably cool. These barbeques / parties are known in Japanese as ‘hanami’, or ‘flower looking’. Because of the 11th March earthquake last year, most people thought it bad taste to have a party only a month after the disaster, so there were very few hanami parties in 2011, and so I bet they’ll make up for it this year. See more Japanese pictures at my PhotoShelter portfolio.

This year, I made up a gallery of pictures that have “sakura” as a keyword. I’ll admit that I was in that stage where I was repulsed from taking hanami party pictures, until last year when I couldn’t. So this year I’ll add more to the collection.


Cherry blossoms / Sakura – Images by Andrew Blyth

Naked Man Festival

The first photos from Nagoya’s Naked Man Festival. More will be available at my agent’s website and my own portfolio. This event was held as snow from the previous two days was still fresh and melting, so of course the participants need to be rolling drunk to do this, which means some fall over and scrap themselves on the ground. Also, a late afternoon cold wind whipped up so the ambulance crews arrived, perhaps to treat those suffering hypothermia.The Naked Man Festival (hadaka matsuri) is an annual event that began in the year 767ad, in the Nara Period. The event is held to removed bad luck and bestow good luck on the people. In the past, this event has attracted 180,000 spectators and 12,000 (naked) male participants.


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The event features a number of motifs, including teams based on township, giving gifts to the Kounomiya shrine, being drunk on sake, climbing bamboo poles, giving strips of cloth to spectators (mainly to women), and more. The gifts that are given to the shrine include a tuna, a barrel of sake, banners and long bamboo poles. For the first time visitor the bamboo poles seem to be the most important part. The teams carry all of these things, and stop along the way to throw their bamboo pole up, erecting it, and someone will climb it. It seems that each town’s bamboo poles are different. I guess that the more support from the town equates to a bigger and better bamboo pole. These poles are wrapped in cloth and lashed with rice-hemp rope. The event is held according the the lunar calendar at about the second weekend after the Lunar New Year (or 15th January, lunar calendar). More information can be found at Nagoya Info and the English Wikipedia site.

The annual Naked Man Festival is held just after the Lunar New Year.

The Naked Man Festival (hadaka matsuri) is an annual event that began in the year 767ad, in the Nara Period. The event is held to removed bad luck and bestow good luck on the people. In the past, this event has attracted 180,000 spectators and 12,000 (naked) male participants.

The annual Naked Man Festival is held just after the Lunar New Year.

The Naked Man Festival (hadaka matsuri) is an annual event that began in the year 767ad, in the Nara Period. The event is held to removed bad luck and bestow good luck on the people. In the past, this event has attracted 180,000 spectators and 12,000 (naked) male participants.

 

More information from a blog post for the 2009 event:

The Naked Man Festival (Hadaka Matsuri) is an annual even held at Kounomiya, just outside of Nagoya City in central Japan. It’s held in the depths of winter and is a weekend-long event. The part that the public sees (and is shown in my portfolios) is held in the afternoon. The event date varies from year to year, according to the Chinese lunar calendar, but is held during the lunar New Year.

It began over 1,200 years ago, in the year 767, when Nara was the capital of Japan. At that time, there were plagues affecting the Japanese people, so Emperor Shotoku ordered special prayers to be said nation wide. The governor of Owari Province (now Aichi Prefecture) asked the shrine at Kounomiya to do something about this, and to remove the bad luck. So, the Naked Man Festival, held in the coldest time in winter was formulated.

How to get there:

From Nagoya Station, take the Meitetsu company Inuyama line limited-express train straight to Konomiya Station (actual spelling in Roman characters may vary). The trip should take about 12 minutes, for ¥350. Please check Hyperdia.Com for current schedules and ticket prices.


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Cherry blossom viewing parties are not on

Every year, the cherry blossom viewing parties, known in Japanese as ‘hanami’ (lit flower-seeing) are popular. Groups of friends, company staff-groups, university clubs, social clubs, and others gather under cherry trees to bar-be-que and drink beer and sake. It’s a nice time as the weather is more clement and the air lacks chill, and parks that are loaded with cherry trees are a really nice break from the bleak colours of winter.

However, winter of 2011 in Japan hasn’t ended on the best of notes. Cherry blossom viewing and associated revelry is a national obsession, but anyone having so much fun this year would surely feel a sense of guilt. People living and suffering in temporary shelters (mainly school gyms) have lost everything, including their hanami cliques, and their favourite groves of cherry trees. Furthermore, I’m sure no-one really wants to be seen having fun right now. So, the cherry blossom parties are out, and I’ve found it hard to find any one doing more than strolling past and smiling at the gentle pink hues.

Tado Horse Festival

Phew! What a day. I felt like I was in the army today, “hurry up and wait”, and a lot of standing. As I type this, I’m cooling off with a can of Suntory Premium beer. It was the sort of day that was the end of spring, but people’s wardrobes had not kept up. There was a guy who chose to wear a knitted beanie; I’m sure you could call it a ‘seasonal-wardrobe miscalculation’.

What:

The Tado horse festival is an annual religious event held at a Shinto Shrine. The basics are that a drunken horse is ridden up a drunken steep slope by a drunken rider. Seriously, they get the horse drunk, the rider is drunk, and they splash copious amounts of sake (Japanese rice wine-like alcohol) on the slope and obstacle. If the horse and rider make it over the slope, then that heralds a good rice harvest later in the year.


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Religious preparations:

Accurate information on this event is hard to gather, as each person can tell you a fragment of what they know of this event, and sometimes these fragments contradict what other people have said. But from what I think I can reliably gather is this. For a couple of weeks before the event, the riders are kept in a kind of religious quarantine. They are fed traditional food, partake in specialised religious ceremonies, and are taken care of before the event. Everything is provided for them, and everything they need is given to them. Even during the event, it appears their feet are not permitted to touch the ground and so the riders need to be carried either by horse or by human, otherwise they are permitted to stand on tatami mats or rocks.


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What happens:

The slope is rather steep, and has an added mound-obstacle at the top with a bamboo pole sticking out. At about midday the mound is ceremoniously broken making a small gap for horse and rider to attempt their climb over. The horse is raced down a long straight gaining momentum that should assist it to get up and over the mound. For each horse and rider, there is a dedicated team of mostly young (brave) men who stand in file either-side of the path to guide the horse to the break in the mound and help the horse and rider over. As you’re probably beginning to imagine, it is dangerous. Last year I saw a guy carried away on a stretcher with blood coming from his head. No blood this year, but there were several casualties taken away by ambulance. There was a dedicated doctor on site who did need to attend to a few people.


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The event today drew a crowd of approximately 100,000 people. The Tado Horse Festival often attracts crowds of about 80,000 to 90,000 people over the Tuesday and Wednesday of the Golden Week holiday at the start of May.

 

Issues:

Animal rights groups do campaign against this event, as horses can get injured (and possibly later put down), and the horses are made drunk for this event. However, this event is far, far older than the notion of animal rights. The owners of the horses attend the event, and the horses are probably re-used and needed for the second day of the event. There are apparently other similar events in Japan which reportedly have as a compromise lowered the mound to make it easier and less risky for horses. Furthermore, why should animal rights groups call for the cancellation of a centuries all event? To demand an end to such a cultural event in any Asian country, by those influenced by Western values would seem a little culturally-imperialistic. Moral relativists would be saddened to see a cultural event cancelled to please a few people, but would rather let the Japanese decide for themselves what is appropriate for their culture. There are opposing views of this event, and they all have valid arguments, as you can see. So, what’s my position really? I cannot pass judgement.


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How to get there:

From Nagoya Station, take the Kintetsu Express train to Kuwana Station (about 30 minutes) with a ¥440 ticket. On the same platform you get off at, is a connection to the Yoro Tetsu train company. There will be a little table there selling tickets (specifiy “return”) for about ¥310. From that Kuwana platform to the Tado station, it will take about approximately 13 minutes. Just follow the crowd for a 10 to 15 minute walk up the gentle slope through the town and along the river. Ticket prices may be updated without notice. Check Hyperdia.Com for train times and prices.


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Photos:

These images are available at both Asia Photo Connection (aka Henry Westheim), and my portfolio at PhotoShelter > Tado Horse Festival.

Cherry blossoms at Hase Temple

As mentioned in the the previous post, it’s Cherry blossom season. Cherry blossoms are known as ‘sakura’ in Japanese, and ‘hanami’ is to do ‘Cherry blossom viewing’. What I’ve been wanting to do for a long time was to visit a very historical temple and do my own hanami, there. Temples and shrines in Japan typically have lots of cherry blossom trees, which make some of them a tourist-magnet in cherry blossom viewing season.

Cherry blossoms blooming at Hase temple.

Cherry blossoms blooming at Hase temple.

I organised a friend (Paul), a car (Porte), and a sunny day (Tuesday). Unfortunately it took an hour longer to get to Hase town from my place, and so we missed the best of the early morning light. They say, “only mad dogs and Englishmen go out into the midday sun”, which is good because I’m an Englishmen, so I have licence. What remains in the photo collection at Asia Photo Connection are the pick of photos that can work with the midday sun.

A rare view inside of the Main Hall of Hase Temple during a service

A rare view inside of the Main Hall of Hase Temple during a service

Cherry blossom season

It’s that season again. Every year the cherry blossoms (known in Japanese as ‘sakura’) bloom for about just one short week. For over 400 years, since the edo era, the cherry blossom season has been a time for fun and frivolity, where Japanese can relax. Today, it’s an excuse for co-workers get out of the office and have beers, for the retired to meet their friends and have sake, and for families to have a bar-be-que.

A banner annoucing the Japanese cherry blossom festival

A banner annoucing the Japanese cherry blossom festival

For over a thousand years, the cherry blossom has been a symbol of spring, and the start of a something new. The new school year begins in the first week of April, shortly after the cherry blossom season. Companies have their new recruits begin work in April, staff that are to be transferred begin in their new offices also in April. Many companies use the cherry blossom image, and cherry blossom petal as a symbol of their spring advertising campaigns. Electronic stores can use fake plastic cherry blossom trees as a part of their displays.

The week of blooming begins amid much anticipation. The cherry blossom blooms are triggered by warm weather. For about 50 years the Japanese Meteorological Agency (JMA) have attempted to forecast when the trees would bloom. Japanese travel companies have come to rely on these forecasts and their accuracy, and complained when the JMA were not accurate enough. Consequently, 2009 was the final year in which JMA made cherry blossom forecasts, in an attempt to avoid such criticisms.

Close up of Japanese cherry blossoms (sakura) in the spring

Close up of Japanese cherry blossoms (sakura) in the spring

The final part of the emotional experience that Japanese have with the cherry blossoms in the week of blooming is when the spring winds blow the dried petals in a small gentle-pink flurry. This has been seen in movies like “The Last Samurai”. The Japanese samurai viewed cherry blossoms as a metaphor of their own lives: short lived.

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