Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Ringo or Taiko?

(This is Philippe's take on taiko. Thank you Philippe!)

I must start this post with a confession. After reading the article concerning the practice of okoshi daiko, I thought: “So what!? They’re playing ONE drum! I can play FOUR or FIVE at the same time!!!” What is so special about this particular drum that makes it able to single handedly satisfy one’s appetite for rhythm?

The Japanese word taiko translates to ‘big drum’. Its presence can be traced back all the way back to the Kojiki: “Amë‐nö‐ uzume‐nö‐mikötö bound up her sleeves… …and overturning a bucket before the heavenly rock‐cave door, stamped resoundingly upon it” (Kojiki I xvii) Historically though, it is unclear whether the drum’s origins stem from Japan or from the influence of neighboring cultures. “
Taiko can be found in archaeological sites from as early as the Joumon Period (10,000 B.C.E. – 300 B.C.E). Excavated earthenware drums and clay figures that depict drummers suggest that drums were used on ceremonial and religious occasions in ancient Japan” (Izumi). In fact, the most ancient representation of taiko, a clay statue of a person with drum hung from his shoulder, was found in Gunma Prefecture. And, there are those who claim that the drum came from India via China and Korea along with the influence of Buddhism. Indeed, some Buddhist sutras and murals feature depictions of instruments resembling taiko. What is known is that there are many reasons the taiko was played throughout Japan’s history. We have seen how it was used as a means of protest through the practice of okoshi daiko, but it has also featured in ceremonies like the Buddhist summer festival Obon where “people danced, circling around a yagura (wooden platform) where a singer, a drummer, and a fue (bamboo flute) player provided background music for dancers” (Izumi). The drum was also used in warfare to intimidate enemies and rally soldiers and, in other instances, to delineate villages whose borders were established by the audability of the sound produced by the taiko. “In some Buddhist traditions, its rumbling sound represented the voice of Buddha and in Shinto shrines it accompanied prayers to heaven” (www.shumeitaiko.org/history). During the ceremony of Mikotonori, for example, “the sound of drumming bridges the divide between the human and the divine” (www.shumeitaiko.org/shumei-taiko).

There are two principal categories of taiko based on their construction method: (please note that daiko is the suffix form of taiko) The byou-uchi daiko or, simply, byou-daiko is built by attaching the drumhead along the edge of the drum shell with nails while the tsukushime daiko or shime-daiko features heads that are stretched over metal hoops which are then tensioned with the help of rope. The taiko also come in various shapes and sizes. The most common byou-daiko is the nagado-daiko (long-bodied daiko). It is long and wine-barrel shaped and produces a very deep sound. Odaiko or ‘big fat drum’ refers to larger drums that are typically played by two drummers on either sides of it. Furi tsuzumi, is a type of very small taiko which some of you may recognize. It is attached to a stick, which is rolled between your hands to make two beads, attached by strings to the drum’s sides, strike the heads and produce the sound.

The idea of taiko ensembles is relatively modern. The first kumi-daiko, as they are called, was formed shortly after WWII by (yes!!!) a Japanese jazz drummer named Daihachi Oguchi. Since then, the trend has grown significantly to international appeal with groups having sprouted in Europe and North America and professional troupes like Kodo enjoying a busy touring schedule around the world.

It is interesting to note that the symbol tomoe is commonly depicted on taiko. This symbol signifies the meeting of heaven and earth. The shapes resembling commas or magatama beads are understood to be the same as the shape of the soul and, within the tomoe design, designate heaven, earth and humanity. I end with a quote from the group Shumei Taiko’s website “the Shumei Taiko Ensemble continues to unite people of all beliefs, nations, and languages in a grand vision of love and harmony. The Ensemble began in a moment of kanno doko, in which the sound of drums accompanied prayers to heaven. Its music can be understood as a form of prayer, a prayer for world peace and friendship among all people of the earth.” (www.shumeitaiko.org/shumei-taiko)

~guest blogger, Philippe Melanson

Rocks Rock.

(This cool post is by Alex. Thank you very much Alex!)

If you find this sharp, pointy stone attractive, then chances are you do not have a healthy sense of humanity. For your sake, I hope you find it repulsive. While this rock may seem appealing, this appeal is really just an effect of the stone’s façade. In accordance with the fine Japanese practice of rock gardening, described as shibusa, (meaning quiet & refined taste), stones such as the one pictured above are less refined than those that are naturally smoother, or at least are not this shape. (**please note. This specific rock was not actually used to infer a poor sense of humanity, but it’s the closest rock I could find that looks like the diagram of a bad rock in the book Magic Trees and Stones: Secrets of Japanese Gardening. As I am not a cultivated Japanese Gardener, I may be misleading you completely. If so, I apologize). This is not to say that all stones with points and protrusions are inauspicious—in fact it can be quite the opposite. Protrusions are not all bad—though distinguishing between the bad and the good is a technique reserved for experienced gardeners. Protrusions can act as an indication of the direction in which the stone’s spirit moves, and this can serve to be very helpful when attempting to achieve proper balance between different stones. The trick is to choose those stones that have just the right amount of protrusions, while effectively reading what the stone is saying. A stone’s spirit direction can be sensed by careful observation, paying attention to its contours and composure. It is important to recognize the spirit direction to hear what the stone is saying and, and then to be arrange multiple stones so that they relationships with one another. Just as the balance of the push and pull between the ki of the calligrapher and the word is crucial for establishing and maintaining balance, so too is the ki dynamic of stones. The arrangement of stones needs to correspond to their calling and responding to one another. For example, one stone may be winking at another stone, and this calling needs to be made in the direction that the receiving stone is running. Alternatively, stones may have their backs turned to each other, like lovers in a brief quarrel. The essential element here is to create a connection between the stones, so that together they will speak in unity and evoke a sense of harmony for the garden viewer. When this harmony is achieved, one should get the same sense of power and balance that is similar to the experience of written calligraphy or the rhythm of music.

Harmony of the qi in the rocks enhances the energy flow and adds to the natural component that is inherent to the garden. As even the slightest error in rock positioning can devastate the balance, it is the role of the garden arranger to partake in effective communication with the rock. It is not only the shape of the rock or stone that contributes to its value, but also its cultivation of moss. As moss takes a long time to grow, its presence is an indication of age, and thus mossy rocks are revered. The subtle refinement of a moss-covered stone is described as shibusa, and is understood to be of ultimate beauty.

The focus of the rock in the rock garden is to listen to, understand and contemplate the rocks and stones as a means to cultivate deeper understanding, while showing respect for the rocks and their ki.

To learn about the variety of stone arrangements, their meanings and symbols, check out these books:

Reading Zen in the Rocks: The Japanese Dry Landscape Garden by François Berthier. ISBN 0226044114


Magic of Trees and Stones. Saiot & Wada. ISBN 3101916842K

OR if you just want to look at some really cool, old pictures of Japanese rock gardens & you get excited by looking at really old books, check out the Supplement to Landscape Gardening In Japan by Josiah Conder. ISBN 3103048044L.

These are all available or your convenience at our trusty McGill library.

~guest blogger, Alex Beveridge

The Kimono

(This post is by Carolyn. Carolyn, thank you very much!)

The kimono is the national costume of Japan. Literally it means “thing to wear” (ki-“wearing”, mono- “thing”). Kimonos are T-shaped, straight-lined robes which are wrapped around the body, the left side over the right (except when dressing the dead for burial) and generally fall at the ankle. They are secured by a wide belt tied at the back called an obi. They are generally worn with split-toe socks called tabi and traditional footwear (zori or geta).

Compared to western dress, the kimono is much more conservative. Rather that the focus being on the shape of the dress, the areas of fashion are the colors the patterns and the decorative details. The kimono has a large surface on which the artist can display his art. All garments of kimonoed genealogy have in common four elements: geometric use of standard fabric widths sewn together with minimal cutting; an open, overlapping front; an attached neckband sewn around the front opening; and sleeves consisting of a width of fabric attached to the selvages. The various parts of the kimono garment have changed over the years but the basic form of the kimono remains.

An adult kimono is made from a bolt, which is approximately 12.5 yards, of standard width cloth of approximately 14 inches. The ready-to-wear kimono is a relatively new phenomenon; traditional stores still display their wares as rows of fabric rolls. Two straight lengths of fabric make up the kimono body which are joined together up in the middle of the back and left open at the front from the shoulders down. Two half-width sections (okumi) are sewed in to each side. The okumi provides an amplitude of fabric where the gown is lapped, left over right, and held together by a sash (obi). The sleeves are attached to the sides of the body and are very wide. The size of the kimono depends on the individual, but the fabric is never cut to be made smaller, rather, the excess fabric is folded into the seams making the kimono fundamentally adjustable because the original bolt width is retained in the seams.

The kimono has its origins in China. From the time of the Han dynasty (approximately 200 B.C.- A.D. 200) the basic shape of Chinese clothing consisted of a front-wrapping robe with an attached collar and rectangular sleeves. It is believed that a Han-style kimonoid garment first made an appearance in Japan as early as the fourth century. During the seventh through tenth centuries, the reigns of the Sui and Tang dynasties provided the model of civilizations for the Far East and any culture aspiring to be recognized would have been drawn to adopt Chinese culture. An adoption of their aristocratic clothing is therefore expected.

~guest blogger, Carolyn Dandenault

Monday, March 30, 2009

Bashō and Haiku

(This post by Sam starts with my favourite haiku. Thank you Sam!)

行春や/ 鳥啼魚の / 目は泪

Yuku haru ya / tori naki uo no/ me wa namida

Spring departing—/ the birds cry out / and the eyes of the fish / are full of tears

--Matsuo Bashō


Haiku is a traditional Japanese form of poetry that derives from the linked verse form haiku no renga (Higgins 26), one specific definition states that it is “a record of a moment of emotion in which human nature is somehow linked to all nature” (Henderson in Higgins 26). Through its brevity of words and focus on natural experience, haiku evolved into the dominant poetic form for Japanese poets. Haiku poets aim to capture the clarity of an emotion in a small amount of syllables that can be understood by all audiences. Haiku practitioners use a kisetsu (seasonal lexicon) which refers specifically to the climates of Kyoto and Osaka—where the largest populations reside—but certainly speaks to all of Japan (Higgins 20). This poetic dialect has created a distinctive relationship between emotions, seasons and symbols, and in turn ties both reader and poet to the orbiting macro and microcosm.. In the twentieth century, many poets chose to break ties with traditional haiku by focusing on images rather than emotions, disregarding any reference to seasonal context.

One of the most significant founding-practitioners of haiku was Matsuo Bashō (1644-94), a committed Zen Buddhist. His poetry has been continually popular and influential for poets well into the twenty-first century and the cause of many celebrations. His school of thought emphasizes “kōgo kizuko (awakening to the high, returning to the low), fuga no makoto (truth of petic art), zōka zuijun (following the Creative), butzuga ichinyo (object and self as one), and fueki ryūkō (the unchanging and changing)” (Shirane 257), in order to “create poetry that was simultaneously orthodox and unorthodox, that was sanctioned even as it was transgressive”(257). Bashō’s religious conceptions were also emphasized in his works as he “incorporated orthodox Neo-Confucian thought…hoping to raise the status of haikai, [and] give it a spiritual and cosmological backbone]” (298). Today there are many English translations available of his works and is hailed as a foundation Japanese haiku poet.

Though it is indigenously Japanese, haiku has also pervaded Western concepts of poetry and was particularly influential on the American Imagism movement. Ezra Pound’s famous poem “In the Station of the Metro”: “The apparition of these faces in the crowd; / Petals on a wet, black bough” (Untermeyer ed. 106) does not conform to traditional Japanese haiku but was a driving force for its popularity in America. There are many Western misconceptions about haiku because of errors made in translations from Japanese to English. It is especially concerning for the belief that haiku must be written in three lines with seven, five, and seven syllables but in the Japanese form it may be written in one or two lines with a more concise sounding syllabic structure (Barnhill 5).

More translations of Bashō’s poetry:


~guest blogger, Samantha Schwartz

Can you pass the salt, please?

(This is Robert's post on salt. The title of this post really cracks me up. Thank you Robert!)

We use it to give taste to our food. We have many elaborate ways of distributing it on our Montreal streets in the wintertime in order to prevent us from slipping on the ice. We throw a pinch of it over our shoulder for good luck when we spill it. These are merely a few ways we use salt in our every day lives. Salt has been, for ages, one of the most essential elements to the human diet. In the Jewish religious tradition, the Lord tells Aaron that the sacred gifts given to the Lord are to be Aaron’s and his offspring as an everlasting “covenant of salt” before the Lord (Num 18:19 TANAKH). This valuable food preservative became symbolic of the permanence of the covenant people. In the Christian tradition, Jesus speaks to his disciples and tells them that “you are the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:14 RSV) (Deatrick 41), suggesting that the disciples are now the most important element of witness to the world. Homer called “salt” divine and Plato named it “a substance dear to the gods” (Casal 75). But why is salt used in the Japanese religious tradition and what significance does it have?

Salt is known to be a preserver from impurity. In the purification rituals of misogi (washing one’s body – similar to the Christian concept of baptism) salt is used in order to remove all “spiritual dirt” from the individual (Casal 75). Within Shinto purification rituals, salt is one of the three items that are offered to the kami (rice and water being the other two) as instruments that ward off evil spirits. Since evil spirits abide within impurity, the purity of the salt drives them away. For this reason, salt is scattered in a location in order to cleanse and purify the area. A good example of this can be seen when a child is born. The room where the mother gives birth is purified with salt (and water) and the mother may also purify herself with salt or a salt-water bath after the delivery. Birth being a source of impurity transgressing the border between the land of the living and the land of the dead it is necessary to purify both those involved (e.g. the mother) and the place of the transgression (e.g. the delivery room) (Norbeck 272-273). Similarly, at a funeral ceremony, two small mounds of salt (known as the shio-hana, salt-flowers) will be found on either side of the entrance of the house. Once the coffin is gone, the house will be purified of any spirits by scattering salt over the floors. Those who attend the funeral will usually sprinkle salt-water over the coffin at the graveside, and will themselves be sprinkled with salt before returning to their homes, all in the effort of exorcising the ghost which might have accompanied the person (Norbeck 275).

At weddings, salt has two significant meanings. When the bride leaves her family home, the small mounds of salt at the door are used because her departure is similar to that surrounding the death of a person. Because the bride leaves her family’s home and becomes fully integrated with her husband’s family, the bride is considered by her family as symbolically dead (Casal 79). Salt may also be used at the wedding ceremony itself, both as a purifying agent as well as provide the couple the “force of life” which is attributed to salt (ibid). You may also find these little salt mounds (salt-flowers) at the entrances to commercial establishments, like restaurants, stores, theatres, etc. There significance is again two-fold. They first act as a purifying agent that prevents evil or misfortune from entering the particular establishment, but they also act to invite good business and patrons (Casal 82).

Finally, when watching a sumo match, you might have been wondering why the participants scattered salt in the ring. The tradition originated centuries ago when two contending parties entered into a sort of duel in order to sort out their differences, the outcome of the duel being somewhat a divine ordeal that was to be abided by everyone. They used the salt, therefore, to purify the area of the duel and the contenders that would be at the mercy of the mystical powers of the divine (Casal 87).

Salt, in the tradition of Japanese religions, has a sacred quality to it that contributes to the purification of a place or person when borders have been transgressed. It is itself a pure substance that wards away evil and re-establishes order.

~guest blogger, Robert Camara

The Heartbeat of Japan

(Sunpreet gives us this cool post on taiko. Thanks Sunpreet!)

Pulsating through the villages of Japan, this thunderous beat resonates a sound so deep that it renders a spiritual experience to all those who listen. You may be reading this and thinking, okay, so the heartbeat of Japan is a drum? What’s special about that? Let me tell you, this drum is no ordinary musical instrument. It’s the instrument of life.

More formally known as the taiko, this Japanese drum is played during religious ceremonies and festivals. Traditionally, these drums were used to drive away evil spirits and awaken the vigor of warriors during war. In modern times, the taiko is not only used as a musical instrument; but also as means of physical activity. The rhythmic beat of this drum has inspired people to connect as a ‘global community’.

Taiko literally translates into “fat drum”. The taiko is a percussion instrument and is usually played with a drumstick called a bachi. The drum itself varies in different shapes and sizes. The largest drum is called the adaiko which is made from a single piece of wood. Other types of taiko drums include the o-daiko (big drum), uchiwa-daiko (fan drum) and the hira-daiko (flat drum). The trees that are used to make the taiko drums are over a hundred years old. Each drum is designed and tailored around a particular festival or purpose. For example, during a religious Shinto rite, the dou-daiko is usually played. The dou-daiko is known for being used during religious ceremonies since its large exterior was central in displaying its importance during the ceremony. It is also important to note that only priests were allowed to play the drum for the duration of the ceremony. It was thought that they were the ones able to channel the energies associated with the taiko and the gods.

The importance of the taiko drum can be revealed through Japanese History. Although the exact time of when it was introduced is not clear, it’s influences seem to stem from China and Korea. It is thought that this instrument was introduced to Japan during the Nara Period (710-794). In religion, the taiko found a place within both Shinto and Buddhism. It was believed that these drums were inhabited by a god and that it would bring prosperity to the villages. This central idea led to the framework of Japanese religions to be built around the drums. Hence, special ceremonies in both Shinto and Buddhism were celebrated with the beat of the taiko. In Buddhism, the taiko influenced “Bon dancing”; where the drum was its feature performance. Shinto was also heavily influenced by the ways of the taiko since shrines were accustomed to play the drum while praying to deities. Even chanting was rhythmically adapted to flow with the beat of the drum to enhance its strength. In terms of village festivals, the taiko drum was used as a tool to rouse the villagers and get them to participate in the festivities. The taiko was able to stimulate the crowd through its vibrating sound. Since these festivals were based on seasonal changes, the drum was designed to either play a sound to ensure a bountiful crop or to thank the deities of a good harvest.

The influence of the taiko in terms of the 21st century is reflective of the Japanese community. In terms of participating in a festival, the community helps to make it a success. These festivals are supposed to bring people together and provide a form of escapism from the daily routines of ordinary life. The taiko drum is an essential component in bringing the community together. A new concept of taiko drumming, called the “Taiko Ensemble” allowed for large numbers of people to participate. This new concept is flourishing in modern times since it creates a synergistic energy amongst the participants. Ensemble drumming was originated by Daihachi Oguchi, who formed the first taiko ensemble. This was introduced in Japan in 1951. Several other ensemble groups have emerged since then and have influenced the world of music. Since the ensemble recreates the sound of the drum through different motions and by interacting with one another; it is also a form of great physical endurance. The power necessary in order to play the drum while still producing an invigorating sound requires stamina. Thus, the physical activity involved in playing the drum has made it become not only a form of relaxation but also a type of recreation activity as well.

The sound of the taiko drum will always be penetrating through the hearts of the Japanese people. More importantly, however, is that its sound has the power to enrapture all of our souls since it’s the basis for human rhythm.

A short video showing the magnificence of a taiko drumming performance:

~guest blogger, Sunpreet Dhaliwal

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sake Objects

(As a follow-up to Garland's post on tea, below, here is Joshua's post on sake. Thanks Joshua!)

For centuries, sake has been the most important and popular intoxicant in Japanese society. It has played a significant role as the object of religious worship and traditional ceremonies. According to the Japan Sake Brewers Association, "In Japan, sake has always been a way of bringing our gods and people together" (
http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/ek20071016wh.html). The religious function of sake, therefore, can be seen as an intermediary between the real world and the spirit world. With such an important function to fulfill within the religious realm, many objects associated with the drinking of sake have also taken on a religious significance.

For example, the Omiwa Shrine in Nara Prefecture houses a deity of sake brewing. The sugi (Japanese cedar) leaves at the shrine were traditionally used to create a sugidama, which is a container made of tightly bound leaves used to store sake. Following the first batch of sake made at a brewery each year, it is placed in a sugidama, and hung out in front of the brewery. The sugi tree and its leaves are religiously significant for the Japanese as it is said that if sake is placed in the sugidama, it cannot go bad (http://www.esake.com/Knowledge/Newsletter/JT/JT2000/jt2000_20.html).

Also made from the sugi tree is the masu, a square box of 180 millilitres made from sugi wood which is traditionally used to drink sake from. During feudal times, the masu was used to measure rice but over time came to be used as a cup for sake. This new function arose because the strong cedar taste associated with the masu complemented the sugidama’s flavor. However in modern times, the masu has generally been replaced by the ochoko or simply a glass. In Japanese restaurants though, it is not uncommon to see a mix of the past and the present: a glass placed inside a masu, with both the glass and the masu filled to the top with sake as a sign of hospitality.

In addition to the religious and traditional significance of objects associated with sake, many are also works of art. This can be seen in the variability of artistically designed tokkuris (flasks) or ochokos (cups). Unlike in Western society where glasses and bottles associated with drinking alcohol have little artistic relevance, artistry in objects associated with sake is essential to one’s enjoyment of the sake. The tokkuri is a ceramic flask in which sake is typically served. It usually has a large body and a narrow neck, however, it may come in all shapes and sizes. The tokkuris are hand made by potters. Same goes for ochokos, which are small cups from which to drink sake. They usually broaden at the neck to allow the aroma of the sake to move upwards. It is believed that the nicer the tokkuri or ochoko is, the more enjoyment one will receive from drinking its contents(http://www.e-yakimono.net/html/cup-shapes.htm). Therefore, as a result of the importance placed on sake in Japanese culture, the objects associated with its brewing and drinking have also taken on a special significance.

~guest blogger, Joshua Kropveld

Tea in a Japanese Tea Ceremony

(This very helpful post on tea is by Garland--thank you Garland!)

The tea used during the Japanese tea ceremony was chosen as it reflects upon a much more considerable picture in the balance of the cosmos, along with the other utensils used during this vital ceremony. When considering tea, it is essential to examine the idea of the tea ceremony as a general practice in Japanese religion. It is argued that the tea ceremony originated from a religious practice of the Buddhist Zen sect, in which a certain service would gather and take tea in front of the image of the Buddha who had introduced Zen to China (Reitz 77).

Although tea has a meditative implication, it is argued by numerous scholars that it holds significance when examining the notion of purity. It was first asserted by the priest Murata Shuko in the 14th century that four values were central to the concept of the tea ritual: reverence, respect, purity, and tranquillity (Anderson 30). It is claimed that the tea used in the tea ritual has great consequence with regard to purification, as it has an association with physical and spiritual purity appropriate for those who approach sacred places (Anderson 30). It is further argued by scholar Kakuzo Okakura that the concept of tea represents purity and harmony, and the manner in which the person is able to worship the social order and hierarchy (Okakura 2005).

The tea bowl used in the duration of the Japanese tea ritual an important and celebrated utensil. When examining the magnitude of the tea ceremony, it is said that the bowl used in the Japanese tea ritual represents an important piece in the reunification of the cosmos (Anderson 488). The tea bowl, as most utensils in the ceremony, represent incorporation of the guest-host relationship as well. It is argued by scholar Dorinne Kondo that the tea bowl contains the most important element of the tea ceremony: a thick tea called the koicha, which the host drinks and shares with his or her guests (Kondo 291). This is said to be the “climax” of the tea ceremony, as this is the unification of the guest and host relationship. As the guest and the host share their first cup of tea, they are experiencing tranquillity together. It is emphasized by scholar Jennifer Anderson that in this moment, both guest and host have the opportunity experience a sense of “…wholeness, health and holiness” (Anderson 488). The symbols that connect the host and guest to their ancestors, to society and the cosmos are said to be concentrated in this cup of tea (Anderson 488).

After this important ritual has taken place, an examination begins in which the history of each tea implement is discussed, allowing the relationship for the guest and host to prosper (Kondo 291). Through this reunification of the guest and host, and the examination of purity in the Japanese tea ritual, the tea bowl is an important utensil because it is part of a large depiction of a reunification of the heavens.

~guest blogger, Garland Elysia Yardley

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Origami (2)

(This is Tara's take on origami, with pictures from Adam. Thank you Tara!)

Origami literally means folded paper. The root “oru” means folding and kami, as we already know can be translated as paper. Like other forms of kami we have encountered, paper is believed to be sacred. , Its origins are unknown; however the practice of origami can be traced back to China and Japan. This practice of paper folding is not unique to Asia however. History reveals how forms of paper folding were also present in Europe in the 1400’s. Similar to other such practices such as kirigami (paper cutting) and kumigami (paper assembly), origami is one of several types of paper manipulation that brings about the creation of new forms. Origami varies in shapes, forms and degree of complexity.The practice of origami has two distinct rules. The first is that only one sheet of square paper can be used, and this sheet of paper cannot be cut, torn or ripped in any way. Although the ancient Chinese practice of katashiro used special cut pieces of shrine paper in purification rituals. When trade between China and Japan increased during the Muromachi period, the practice of paper folding was adopted by the Japanese. A piece of paper is folded over and over to make various forms and shapes. For hundreds of years, the most complex of patterns topped at 20 steps of folding. Today highly skilled origami practitioners form shapes that can include over 100 steps.

The practice of origami in Japan can be traced back to the Heian period, where samurai warriors would give one another gifts decorated with folded pieces of paper called noshi.
Noshi are folded pieces of paper that hold a small strip of a sort of dried meat which was believed to be a symbol of good
luck. A form of origami can also be traced back to ancient Shinto marital practices. In Shinto weddings, folded paper butterflies were used to represent the bride and groom in a wedding ceremony (wiki).

A common form of origami is the paper crane, which today stands as a symbol of peace. This is attributed to a young girl named Sadako Sasaki. Sadako was 2 years old when the Atomic bomb hit Hiroshima. She was left with no visible scars or injuries, however 8 years after the fact, Sadako began to fall ill and developed leukemia, a result of the radiation emitted from the bomb. While in her hospital bed, Sadako began to fold paper cranes out of bits of paper, in hopes that they would help her recover from her illness. She continued folding cranes up until her death on October 25th 1955. After her death a campaign was erected and the Children’s Peace Monument was constructed called, the Tower of a Thousand Cranes, dedicated to Sadako and all the other children who lost their lives in Hiroshima. The site is filled with paper cranes brought by visitors as a symbol of peace.

Pieces of folded paper are used to construct gohei or shide, the folded paper which hangs from shimenawa, the straw ropes that have been described in previous blogs by Natasha and Robert. The paper is believed to draw good spirits to the site. Today Origami is used in a multitude of fashions ranging from mathematics, to therapy for physical and mental patients because it requires the use of both body and mind.

~guest blogger, Tara Viglione

Origami (1)

(I have two entries on origami in my inbox, so here they are as a one-two punch. This first one is by Rachel. Thank you Rachel!)

Origami—Paper Miniatures of the World

Around a thousand years ago, if you weren’t a member of the Japanese nobility, you would have almost certainly been too poor to afford paper for origami (or 折り紙 a compilation of the word oru, to fold and kami, or paper). A few hundred years after that, in the Muromachi period, paper had become cheap enough that it could be used by everyone, but your class would have been obvious based on which style you folded your paper in, as only the Samuri folded in the Ise manner, while farmers and peasants folded in the style of the Ogasawara school.(Engel, 23-24). It was only in the Tokugawa or Edo period (1603-1867) that class was no longer a factor in origami. In this period a variety of innovations were made in origami as well, such as the creation of the bird base (http://www.origami-instructions.com/origami-bird-base.html), which can be used (somewhat predictably) to form the orizuru, or paper crane (http://www.origami-instructions.com/origami-crane.html) and its clumsier but movable cousin, the flapping bird (http://www.origami-instructions.com/origami-flapping-bird.html) as well as a variety of patterns that aren’t related to birds at all. It is in this period as well that the oldest surviving origami book was written--Hiden Senbazuru Orikata or, How to Fold One Thousand Paper Cranes (http://www.origami.gr.jp/Archives/Model/Senbazuru/index-e.html) which included instructions for how to make the bird base, as well as instructions for paper cranes connected in a variety of manners ranging from the beautiful to the ridiculous. (Engel, 24) Although nowadays cutting the paper is viewed as a kind of heresy, at least in the western origami world, cutting the paper into a variety of interconnected squares is necessary to created all but the simplest design in this book. Although origami itself did not originate solely in Japan, nor exclusively in China, where the Japanese borrowed it from, origami originating from Japan in particular is a prime example of the art of miniaturization. Like a haiku seeks to conjure up an entire scene from its three lines, origami uses a small piece of paper to create a plant, animal or even a mountain. (Engel, 23) Although more recently many (particularly western) origami creators have sought to make exact representations of what they are representing, some of the most beautiful origami designs capture what they are seeking to represent in stylizations that reach to its essence.

Regardless of whether what is created is stylized or an attempt at a more technically correct representation, all origami creators must work from the single sheet of paper. Although the texture of the paper, or its colour or size may differ, all designs in origami are constrained to this one sheet of paper, and to some (relatively) simple folds. In Taoism, this square is seen as a sort of first form, as it were, (Engel) and it is then from this form that all others can begin to arise in the world of origami. Given the constraint that is contained in this single piece of paper, some origami artists liken the process of folding a plant or animal from a piece of paper to one of creation, starting with a sort of primordial nothingness, and gradually progressing from there to the final form. In this manner, then, origami becomes not only a miniaturization of what it seeks to represent, but a miniaturization of the creation of that thing as well.
~guest blogger, Rachel Katler

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Samurai Sword

(This post comes to us from Benjamin--thank you Benjy)

Swords have had special significance in Japanese culture dating as far back as the Kojiki. Chapter 19 of the Kojiki tells of a sword which Susa‐nö‐wo (brother of Ama‐terasu) finds in the middle tail of an eight headed and eight tailed dragon, after breaking his own sword while slaying the beast. The recovered sword, known as Kusa‐nagi, was given to Ama‐terasu by Susa‐nö‐wo, who later gave the sword (along with a sacred mirror and jewel) to her Grandson Ninigi, who handed them down to his great-grandson Jimmu Tenno (Ashkenazi 262). These three items, the Imperial Regalia of Japan, are the marks of divinity of Jimmu, the first emperor of Japan, and ground the divinity of Japan’s royal family and the Japanese culture as a whole.

The Samurai sword (katana) in particular, has taken on both historical and spiritual significance in Japanese traditions. The art of making Samurai swords is complex, and despite lack of scientific knowledge, is often considered to have attained perfection around 1,200 CE at the hands of the Bizen smiths (Museum of Fine Arts Bulletin 4/21). Though the craftsman would hardly be able to explain everything that was required, they had developed their art to a precise science. A brief documentary on the traditional making of the Samurai swords explains how only the purest iron-ore is used to make the steel known as tamahagane, and how scrutinizing the craftsman must be in choosing the pieces to use. Once the steel is prepared and the purest pieces chosen, it is formed into a block and the craftsmen begin to hammer it, and fold it over itself countless times, such that there results in more than 5,000 layers per centimetre of steel. Once the shaping is complete and another layer of harder steel is coated around the non-cutting edge of the sword, it is covered with a secret mixture of clay and charcoal, heated to 800 degrees, and rapidly cooled to harden. It is said that a single sword can take three men three months to produce.

It is in the precise moment of cooling and hardening that the sword is believed to attain to its spirit; “at the critical moment of hardening, when the smith plunged the glowing blade into the water, a part of his spirit was believed to enter the steel” (MFAB). It is believed that the state of mind of the craftsman at that moment is imbued in the sword, and therefore, various ceremonies and rituals surround the process in order to guarantee the sword’s spiritual strength and virtue.

Various other elements of the process, including the clay covering applied before the firing (which gives certain parts of the blade a non-mirrored finish) and certain decorations and inscriptions along the blade are also designed to give each sword its unique character. The finished product is one which symbolizes the spirit of both the craftsman, and the samurai who uses it; it is said that the sword is the soul of the samurai (MFAB).

Museum of Fine Arts Bulletin Vol. 4 No. 21:

~guest blogger, Benjamin Sherer

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Our starting point for class today...

The Japanese Death Poem (Jisei)

(Megan gives us this timely post on jisei. Thank you Megan!)

Death poems are poems composed moments before an individual confronts death and hence are “farewell” poems “to life” (Hoffmann, 27). They are said to represent a divergence from the emphasis on “politeness” in Japanese culture and rather represent a shift towards one’s “spiritual legacy” (Hoffmann, 27-28). Death poems portray no concern for the division of property or for a proper and correct salutation; rather they vividly express the sentiments of an individual standing face-to-face with death. The poem itself is normally written in the tanka or haiku style and often mentions the season of the author’s death.

The tradition of writing a death poem became widespread in Japan during the Meiji period. However, the first death poem is seemingly found in the Kojiki when the figure Yamato Takeru-no-Mikoto recognizes he is fatally ill and sings a death song before dying (Hoffman, 44). The practice was often employed by warriors, poets and Zen monks--even the Japanese author Yukio Mishima wrote a death poem before committing ritualized seppuku.

A glance into the death poetry of Zen monks proves both interesting and at times humorous. There is a debate among monks whether the composition of a death poem is actually appropriate. Death poetry is sometimes considered a source for egotism, a way to impress and a “mere formalism” (Hoffmann, 76). This very tension finds its way into actual death poems.

Consider the monk Toko’s death poem which clearly states:

“Death poems / are mere delusion-- / death is death.” (Hoffmann, 78)

Yet, given the tradition, many monks continue to write death poems. Monks’ death poems are often pervaded by a “lack of regret” and tend to “underscore the meaninglessness of life and death” (Long, 39). A monk’s death poem should not express a lust for salvation as this would exemplify attachment. Instead, the poem should express indifference to death.

Consider the poem of Kogetsu Sogan:

Katsu! / Katsu! / Katsu! / Katsu!” (Hoffmann,106)

The word “katsu” is loosely defined as the “sharp cry used by the Zen teacher and pupil at the moment of enlightenment” and its use here highlights Kogetsu Sogan’s wisdom and emphasis on a correct perception of reality in his final moments. (Hoffmann, 106) In fact, the word katsu appears commonly throughout the death poems of monks.

Nevertheless, it is important that death poems are free of the restraints and emerge without a desire to impress or inspire. This unrestrained expression may sometimes lack words. Consider the death poem written by Shisui who upon approaching death, “grasped his brush, painted a circle, cast the brush aside and died”. (Hoffmann, 295) This symbol is known as the enso which is prominent in Zen Buddhism and indicates the emptiness of all things.

In this way, death poems provide us insight into the Japanese perception of death and the afterlife.

Consider the death poem of the haiku poet Saimaro:

“I’ll cross the ridge / up to the yonder side: / journey into spring.” (Hoffmann, 275)

Indeed, in this poem there is reference to crossing over mountains or a “ridge” to reach the world of the dead. (Hoffmann, 275) This seems increasingly familiar in light of our study of the Ainu perception of death wherein the world of the dead is located on the other side of the mountains.

A death poem is a touchstone for understanding religion and death in a Japanese context. It can elucidate the insight of a monk, highlight one’s anticipation of the afterlife or some cases depict one’s nostalgia. Some poems express detachment while others express a desire to “linger in this world for a bit longer” and yet accept that “death must come as part of the natural course of things” (Long, 39). What remains important is that death poems provide us a key to understanding the many notions and religious conceptions surrounding death within the Japanese religious imagination.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite death poems written by the poet Moriya Sen’an:

“Bury me when I die / Beneath a wine barrel / in a tavern. / With luck / The cask will leak.” (Hoffmann, 81)

For more death poems check out:


For an interesting commentary on Japanese Death poetry check out:


And if you are feeling particularly inspired check out this book by Yoel Hoffmann! Hoffmann, Yoel. Japanese Death Poems: Written by Zen Monks and Haiku Poets on the Verge of Death. Rutland: Tuttle Company Inc, 1986.

~guest blogger, Megan Rusciano

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Shishi (Stone Lion)

(This post comes to us from Kathryn--thanks Kathryn!)

Upon entering a Japanese Buddhist temple or Shinto shrine, you might notice two intimidating characters sitting silently just outside the doors. Known in the West as stone lions, Japanese shishi guard the entrance to the temple or shrine. Shishi are fierce looking creatures, with flowing manes and barrel chests and they adopt a powerful stance as they await approaching visitors. The mythology surrounding the creature underscores their strong, steadfast nature. It is believed that “shishi throw each cub over a cliff to test its vitality and toughness” (Ashkenazi 119). Should these cubs survive, they prove their robust resilience and strength. What more could you ask for in a guardian? Shishi are representations of lions, and yet it seems curious that an animal not indigenous to Japan would be chosen as the guardian of Japanese religious sites. However, shishi were imported to Japan from China, via Korea. This explains the various names by which the mythical creature is known. Shishi are also known as kara-shishi or “Chinese Lion” and koma-inu or “Korean dog” (Schumacher).

Throughout different historical periods, the guardian tradition varies slightly: sometimes two lions are placed together, but sometimes a lion is paired with a lion dog. The lion dog is almost identical to the lion but can be identified by the horn on its head. Tradition shows that a male lion is always paired with a female lion. In addition, one of the lions (usually male) has an open mouth while the other (usually female) has a closed mouth. The open and closed mouth relates to the ‘A’ and ‘Un’ sounds which begin and finish the Japanese alphabet and thus “the combination of the two symbolically encompasses the universe” (Kyoto National Museum). This harks back to the phenomenon of miniaturization and the effects of microcosm on macrocosm. The cosmos is symbolically located within the two guardian lions. Together, they represent the entire universe; they complement one another and signify balance. Another possible explanation for the open/closed mouth is that the open-mouthed lion scares away evil spirits and the closed-mouthed lion invites and shelters good spirits (Schumacher). It is interesting to note that the male lion is associated with activity and the female lion is associated with passivity and warmth as a sanctuary for good spirits. The female lion is also often accompanied by her cubs (Ashkenazi 207).

Although incredibly intimidating, these lions or lion dogs are entrusted with the responsibility of protecting temples, shrines and tombs. The image of the shishi has even been tattooed on pregnant women in order to help with childbirth (Schumacher). Evidently, shishi are charged with the duty of protecting borders; they appear in places where borders are being transgressed. It is especially interesting that these lion-like figures should appear at every encounter with the world of the dead. Temples, tombs and childbirth all present a situation of interaction between this world and another. Their very presence is indicative of the importance of maintaining borders. Shishi invoke a sense of security; they create a safe space, a balance and the general feeling that everything is in its place.

~guest blogger, Kathryn Blain

Monday, March 16, 2009

RICE: A Passageway to the Deities.

(This post is by Kelly. Kelly, thank you so much!)

It is difficult to learn about the culture of Japan without somehow hearing the powerful four-letter word: RICE. Rice acts as a powerful agent of purity within Japanese culture, a focal point of religious symbolism and social hierarchy throughout the island nation. As we have seen so far this semester, rice is often found in the form of deities. The Japanese were taught to value the significance of rice through a variety of influences, religion being one of the strongest forces. As we have seen in the Kojiki Tales, religion influenced strongly through the use of myths. In one specific myth of the Kojiki, Amaterasu, the mother of grain, sends her grandson the ‘first’ Emperor Jinmu to rule Earth. Upon his descent, Amaterasu gives Jinmu some original grains of rice that she grew herself in Heaven (Ohnuki-Tierney, p. 228). On Earth, Emperor Jinmu turned areas of vast wilderness into great lands of rice using the grains given to him by Amaterasu. This story is of great significance in Japan, for it illustrates the generative power held by Amaterasu, establishing a unique relationship between rice of this world and deities of the spiritual realm. As a result, the view has followed that humans must rejuvenate themselves and their communities by harnessing the power and energy of the deities (Knecht, p. 11). Thus, individuals can harness this power either by receiving purity from the deities through ritual or by internalizing the divine, becoming one with the deities through consumption.

Currently, rice is considered to be a staple of Japanese food. However, what many are unaware of is that this current understanding of rice in Japanese culture is not entirely accurate of its use historically. According to King, in the later half of the Taisho period, rice was in scarce supply, and it was used as a means of persuasion, promising workers rice three meals a day if they were to move to the city (p. 11). Nonetheless, although rice has been popular since the ancient Yayoi period, historically it was reserved for the deities and the upper class and not until recently did it become something for all to enjoy.

As a symbol of energy and life, rice has become a central pillar of commensality within Japanese culture, acting as a link between humans and deities. In celebration of this, rice comes in a number of different forms, namely as mochi (pounded rice) and as sake (rice wine) (Knecht, p. 7). Mochi comes in many different varieties but it is most famously associated with Japanese New Year celebrations where special mochi rice is pounded into cakes and adorned with paper flowers. These mochi cakes are believed to be material embodiments of the diety, they are often prepared as offerings for the New Year diety and later enjoyed by the family (Knecht, p. 8). Rice, in all its forms is paramount in bonding the people of Japan to the higher powers because it establishes a connection between the world of the living and the world of the dead, allowing people to share with the spirits in the intimacy of eating.

Now that we’ve covered some of the symbolism of rice in Japanese religion, check out this links to see rice in action!

A video of the Japanese making mochi:

~guest blogger, Kelly Quinn

Komainu: Guardians of the Shrine

(This post comes from Maïda. Those of you in the Esoteric Buddhism class should check out paragraph two. Thank you Maïda!)

Komainu are lion statues found at most shrines and many temples, though some shrines will have a different animal, such as shrines to Inari which have a stone fox as their guardian. These statues are placed in pairs at the entrance of temples or shrines, often beside torii or at the top of stairs. They are generally made of stone, though they can be made of other materials such as bronze, wood, iron, or ceramics.

pairs of statues are male and female, with the male presented with an open mouth and the female with a closed mouth (Ashkenazi, 207), which is common in the depiction of a variety of mystical animals (Joly, 9) – this is said to be because they are speaking the Sanskrit primordial sound “a-um” (Prideaux), a combination of sounds which were said to be the first sound which began the universe (“a”) and the last sound which will conclude it (“m”). This combination was later written “A-U-M” which is a syllable with many layers of meaning (symbolizing various triads and trinities) and a syllable at the core of many Hindu mantras. The duality of male and female, as well as “a” and “m,” also indicate “Chinese ideas of complementarity and opposition between yang (male) and yin (female) universal principles”(Ashkenazi, 209).

Lions are a powerful creature in Japanese religious iconography: they are often presented with bodhisattvas, particularly with Monju Bosatsu, the bodhisattva of wisdom (who is often identified with Tenjin the kami of scholarship). He is “Often pictured as a young infant carrying in his left hand a scroll and in his right an upright naked sword, with which one can defeat the passions that interfere with studies. He rides a shishi lion, a symbol of majesty and rule and the icon of protectiveness toward the young. The shishi, like Monju, loves and protects its young but also tests them severely” (Ashkenazi, 217). Lions are said to be kind but powerful protectors, particularly of the young, and their fierce protectiveness is thought to be the reason for their presence as temple protectors (Ashkenazi 209).

There are no lions native to Japan, China, or Korea, which is taken to explain both the strange naming of the koma-inu (lit. “Korean dog”) and their depiction, which often more resembles a dog than a lion (Ashkenazi, 209). The depiction of lions actually originates in India, and were imported by the Chinese where their portrayal seems to have been influenced by the dogs which were the pride of the Chinese Imperial family (Joly, 161). The subsequent Japanese interpretation was even less familiar with the original and eventually called “dogs” – “Korean dogs” because of their transmission through Korea (Ashkenazi, 209).

Komainu can be confused with “karashishi” or “karajishi” (“Chinese lion”). The statues in front of temples are most consistently referred to as “komainu” (Moran, 140). Lion figures are thought to have been brought into Japan from China, most likely in two distinct migrations: the komainu from China’s Tang dynasty (7th to 10th century) and those properly referred to as kara jishi from Song China during the Kamakura period (Encyclopaedia of Shinto).

The lions are significant parts of the temple grounds ; there is an incident recorded in the records of the Asuka Shrine in 1628 of someone being executed for stealing a koma-inu (Earhart, 1966).

~guest blogger, Maïda Vandendorpe

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Imperial Regalia: Sanshu no Jingi 三種の神器

(This post comes to us from Jessica. Check out the art below. Thank you Jessica!)

The Japanese “Three Imperial Regalia” are objects symbolic of the Japanese Imperial line’s descent from Amaterasu and the first emperor who came down from Heaven, thereby giving the emperor his justification. The three objects are thought to be housed separately in the three Imperial jingu or Shinto shrines, but they are kept out of the view of the public as they are arguably the most important objects of the Shinto tradition and are seen only by the Imperial family. These three shrines are “Ise Jingu in Mie prefecture, Atsuta Jingu in Nagoya, and Meiji Jingu in Tokyo.” (http://www.jref.com/glossary/sanshu_no_jingi.shtml). In the twentieth century, the term sanshu no jingi is comically used to refer to the three most important comforts of modern life as they apply “such as the refrigerator, washing machine and vacuum cleaner in the 1950's, or the color televsion, car and cooler (three "C's") in the 1970's” (http://www.jref.com/glossary/sanshu_no_jingi.shtml). The three sacred objects are considered symbolic of the Imperial line’s knowledge, courage, and mercy (http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?_r=1&res=9806E3D8103DEE32A25753C3A9659C946397D6CF). Without these three virtues, symbolized by the actual possession of the objects by each Imperial heir, the emperor is not considered worthy.

The "yasakani no magatama" is a necklace of jade beads which was given to Amaterasu by her father, Izanagi after she is born of his self-purification after his visit to Yomi. The term
magatama means “curved jewel or soul,” indicating that Izanagi gave to Amaterasu all of himself. Since the Imperial family is descendent from Amaterasu and the magatama beads are transmitted through the lineage, the Emperor holds in his possession the soul of Izanagi, the creator, giving him the right to rule. Eventually, the beads are also used by the gods in luring Amaterasu out of her hiding. “Amaterasu finally gave the sacred jewel together with the mirror and sword to her grandson Ningi no Mikoto, when she sent him down to earth. He again handed the three regalia to his grandson Jimmu, the first emperor of Japan” (http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2140.html).

Amaterasu, the Sun goddess, hid herself away from the world in a cave, depriving the world of its light because she was afraid of death at the hands of her brother, also a noble child of Izanagi, Susa-no-wo. In order to lure her out of her cave and to reintroduce her life-giving light to the world, the other gods pretended to have a celebration of sorts outside her cave. When she heard the noise outside, Amaterasu was curious and asked what was going on. The gods replied that they had found a goddess greater than herself and that celebrations were being prepared. In shock and curiosity, Amaterasu opened the door of her cave a crack and looked out, whereupon the other gods held up the "yata no kagami" mirror to her and showed her her own reflected image, drawing her out of the cave and tricking her so that she couldn’t re-enter; thus the mirror holds the promise of light in the world.

The "kusanagi no tsurugi" sword was discovered by Susa-no-wo in the tail of the eight-headed dragon he had slain. An old couple was frightened of the dragon who had eaten all but one of their daughters and was coming back for her. Susa-no-wo, on a mission of redemption after his terrible behavior toward his sister, Amaterasu, and his punishment by the other gods, tricks the dragon by getting each of its heads drunk and then slaying it in its slumber. Subsequently, Susa-no-wo finds in its tail a magnificent sword which he gifts to his sister and reconciles with her.






~guest blogger, Jessica Tatlow

Haniwa – Those mysterious sculptures

(This post is by Laura Nearing. Keep this one in mind for the next unit! Thanks so much Laura.)

The large tombs that characterized the Kofun period (C.E. 258-646), tumuli, were constructed for the elite. These tombs were covered with earth, forming burial mounds often in the shape of keyholes, and surrounded by moats. The tombs were furnished with extravagant burial goods, such as gold crowns and jewelry, bronze mirrors, glass objects, jade, and pottery. Perhaps the most striking tomb adornments, however, were the haniwa, sculptures placed outside the tombs. Haniwa figures surrounded the mound and the entrance to the tomb, and were positioned facing outward. Simple clay cylinders eventually evolved to more complex and even fanciful sculptures, including various human figures, animals, houses, and boats. Their exact meanings are unknown, but scholars believe that they acted as tomb guardians or provided some symbolic connection between life and afterlife – functioning not only as attendants to the departed, guardians of his tomb, and emblems of his status, but also as national symbols for a unified country.

Haniwa vary from 1 to 5 feet (30 to 150 cm) in height, the average being approximately 3 feet (90 cm) high. After smoothing and modeling the shapes, decorative details might be incised or combed with geometric patterns and painted with pigments of white, red, and blue. The features of the hollowed out eyes, noses and mouths gave the objects a mysterious charm. Haniwa were mass-produced during the 6th century, but after the arrival of Buddhism and the introduction to the practice of cremation, there was a decline in the building of tumuli and, thus, in the production of haniwa.

The makers of
haniwa had to travel to the tomb sites, and some may have rented local Sue kilns to do their work. They may also have built a kiln to produce haniwa for a single tomb, and then abandoned it. The work done upon the death of a noble had to be completed quickly. It is suggested that the simplicity of their design, which imbues the haniwa with a mysterious quietness as one stares into their hollow eyes, may have resulted to the necessary mass production of figurines which needed to be quickly created for the tomb.

There is a theory that the soul of the deceases would reside in the haniwa. There are haniwa that are equipped with weapons and armor, and these are also thought to be containers for souls. The armor and weapons would drive away evil spirits and protect the buried from calamity. Since the horse another animal shaped haniwa were normally neatly arranged into a line, it is believed that they were part of a sending-off ceremony.

Perhaps these
haniwa were similar to the idea of what we talked about in class for the Ainu. If haniwa were in fact part of a sending-off ceremony, perhaps they were similar to the idea of the Ainu sending-back ceremony. Here, the haniwa were in some way involved with the deceased and their move into the world of the dead, where the sending-back ceremony for the Ainu was to return the bear kami to the mountains - a seemingly much easier way to have a soul taken to where it now, rightly belonged. Perhaps this was because of the elites wealthier status. They could afford such extravagances and paid their way to a safe travel to the other world, rather than performing something similar to the much-involved sending-back ceremony of the Ainu. Of course the Ainu ceremony was for a kami, so perhaps I am completely off beat… but it was just a thought.
~guest blogger, Laura Nearing