May 19, 2022

Why huge Yokozuna Monument is here?

 

 You can find a huge stone monument at Tomioka Hachimangu Shrine in Koto Ward, Tokyo.

It weighs 20 tons with its height of 285 centimeters, width 288 and depth 51. ‘yokozuna rikishi hi’ is inscribed in the center of the monument in thick Japanese characters.

On the back of the stone are inscribed the ring names of successive Yokozunas, sumo grand champions.



 

Sumo has a very long history in Japan. In mythical era, two strongest men had a battle and Nominosukune won. Then he was enshrined as a god of sumo. In 9th to 12th century sumo ceremony was held as a ritual at the imperial court. From around 16th century warlords employed strong sumo wrestlers and enjoyed watching their bouts.

 

But there were other sumo wrestlers who were dismissed by their lords, or strong farmers, firemen, etc. They had sumo bouts at a crossroads or on unoccupied grounds surrounded by spectators. Even spectators could participate in the bout without prior reservations. Spectators sat or stood around the sumo ground and bet money on their favorite wrestlers. As there weren’t strict rules of wins and losses at that time, fighting occurred frequently as to the result of the match, causing injuries among wrestlers and spectators.

The then government warried about those troubles and repeatedly banned the sumo bouts.

 

After Tomioka Hachimangu Shrine burned down by fire in 1682, they planned to hold a fundraising sumo tournament at the venue to rebuild their shrine and asked permission from the Edo government. The petition was granted in 1684. Because lordless or jobless wrestlers must make a living, otherwise they might disturb social order. Or because if entertainment-hungry people would throng to see the sumo tournament, then the Shrine area would prosper and be developed, which was a reclaimed land with a sparce population but rather near to the center of Edo city across the Sumida River.

 

Officially licensed grand sumo tournaments were held four times a year, two in Edo, one in Kyoto and one in Osaka. In between 1684 and 1801, Tomioka Hachimangu Shrine held about 50 fund raising sumo tournaments before the venue was moved to Ryogoku Ekoin Temple.

It is said that, at this time, strict sumo rules were made such as the size of the ring, sumo wrestlers ranking list on one sheet of paper or winning techniques.



At that time the highest sumo rank was Oozeki. Yokozuna was rather an honorary rank although he must be strong enough.

First ‘yokozuna,’ a horizontal rope much like a sacred festoon in front of a Shinto shrine, was awarded to Tanikaze Kajinosuke, then to Onogawa Kisaburo.

The awarding ceremony was held at Tomioka Hachimangu Shrine.

In Edo period (-1867), twelve sumo wrestlers were awarded Yokozuna titles.

 

In Meiji period (1868-1912), Jinmaku Kyugoro, the last Yokozuna in Edo period,  planned to erect a monument to commemorate the great achievements of successive Yokozunas. After seven years of his effort, he could collect contribution from every field of life, and finally materialized his plan.

In 1900, a huge Yokozuna monument was erected in the back yard of the main building of Tomioka Hachimangu Shrine.

For the first time in sumo history, the number of generations were assigned to each Yokozuna.

 

Before deciding who was the first, second, third, or who really existed, or who was qualified as a Yokazuna, Jinmaku widely sought information about former Yokozunas.

 

The generation number is still inherited today. The latest Yokozuna, Terunofuji, is 73rd.

 

Please come and see the huge Yokozuna monument at Tomioka Hachimangu Shrine. There is also Ozeki Monument in the precinct nearby.

 

For more information, please refer to our blogs, Ceremony to join list of greatest sumo wrestlers at Tomioka Hachimangu Shrine, June 9, 2017 and ‘A History of Sumo’ Tour on June 24th, June 13, 2017

 

Note: Today Yokozuna is the highest sumo rank and Ozeki is the next.

 

By Hiroshi Nishitani

 

April 27, 2022

KEV’s first virtual tour

 

Higashi Nakano

We received the email from an Indonesian school teacher to ask us whether we conduct virtual tours for her students last December. Since her elementary school students have studied from home via video due to the prolonged pandemic, she hoped they could experience Japanese culture and views virtually.

 She found some people who visited Japan appreciating our KEV on the internet. That’s why she contacted us.

Actually, we had no experience of virtual tours, so we immediately discussed our possibility for them. We were also thinking about the need to interact with foreign people because we couldn’t welcome any inbound tourists for about 2 years since the spring of 2020. Eventually, we decided to launch our first virtual tour and organize the project team in our association at the end of last year.

 The 7 members who love novel things gathered around and had several meetings both in person and video-meeting to create our first virtual tour. We made the tour plan where we’d like to tell the students about Japanese seasonal events and introduce our popular destinations such as Tomioka-Hachimangu shrine and Sunamachi shopping street. Then, we suggested our plan to Indonesian teachers and discussed it by email and a zoom meeting. Some of our members went around to film those destinations. Also, locals and local government staff cooperated with us about our activities.

 We really enjoyed exchanging opinions actively with members and interacting with the friendly teachers.

 And, finally we conducted our virtual tour on March 11th!  The students, ranging from first graders to sixth graders, were very adorable. We all enjoyed the tour with several questions like “I like sushi.”, “I like Japanese tea.”, “I want to eat Tai-yaki. (a fish-shaped pancake)” and so on. They were really cute!

Nakano speaks to students. Other members watching their images


Through this experience, we realized that we could talk with each other and make foreign friends in spite of the pandemic. Thank you for your suggestion for the virtual tour. Some day after the pandemic, we will welcome you in person in Japan!


Project menbers


 

March 2, 2022

Cherry blossoms in Japan: the most fleeting and exciting season

When it comes to spring, cherry blossoms are the first thing that comes to mind for Japanese people. Although the national flower of Japan has not been officially designated, cherry blossoms are recognized as the national flower of Japan. They are depicted on the back of Japanese 1000 yen bills, 100 yen coins, and manholes in Tokyo. Cherry blossoms are also made into tea, sweets and used for dyeing.

There are more than 600 species of cherry trees in Japan. Of these, 10 are known as wild species that originally exist naturally in Japan. The other species are those that have grown through natural hybridization or cultivation. It is quite easy to crossbreed cherry trees naturally, isn’t it?

The most common type of cherry tree is the Someiyoshino, which accounts for 80% of all cherry trees in Japan. It is thought to be a hybrid of the wild species Edohigan-zakura and Oshima-zakura. It was first sold under the name Yoshino-zakura by a tree planter in Somei- mura village (present-day Toshima Ward) at the end of the Edo period (1603-1868). Since it is different from the famous Yoshino cherry tree in Nara, it was named Someiyoshino after the village in 1900. Because Someiyoshino is a clone grown by grafting from a single tree, it produces flowers of almost the same size and color all at the same time under the same environment. Another feature of this plant is that the flowers are large and bloom before the leaves come out, so they cover the branches and the whole area with their color, which is very impressive. According to one study, the original tree is still in existence in Ueno Park.

Every year, I wonder when they will be in full bloom since I make plans to go flower viewing around that time. The Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) declares the blooming of cherry flowers after observing the blossoms of Someiyoshino in each area except for a few ones. In the case of Tokyo, the standard Someiyoshino tree for the observation is located at the Yasukuni Shrine. It takes about 7 days from flowering to full bloom and 7 days to fall. The best time to see them is about only one week to ten days, depending on the climate of the year. If there are bad days with strong wind and rain, the flowers will fall in a flash. This is why there are often fierce battles to get a spot for Hanami (cherry blossom viewing) here and there. However, in recent years, due to the coronavirus pandemic, most of the parks have banned banquets.

Although cherry blossoms are very popular for the Japanese now, introduced plum blossoms used to be more popular than cherry blossoms. During the Nara period (710-794), Chinese culture had a strong influence in Japan, and plum blossoms from China were much admired.

This is evident from the fact that there were more poems about plum blossoms than about cherry blossoms in the Man'yoshu, the oldest existing collection of poems from the Nara period. The earliest record of cherry blossom viewing was at a poetry party held by Emperor Saga in 812 (the Heian period), which led to the planting of cherry trees at the residences of aristocrats. In the Edo period, the 8th Shogun, Tokugawa Yoshimune, had many mountain cherry trees planted along the banks of the Sumidagawa River and at Asukayama in Oji. Some Ukiyoe woodblock prints from the Edo period depict the prototype of today's hanami (cherry blossom viewing), and hanami lunch boxes are in a cookbook from the Edo period. It must have been a major leisure activity in those days as well.

After the end of the Edo period, in the Meiji era (1868-1912), many of the former domains of feudal lords were remodeled as public facilities and parks, and many Someiyoshino cherry trees were planted there. They were also donated to other countries including Washington DC in the U.S. and have been appreciated overseas.

@Oyokogawa

In the city center, Ueno Park, Chidorigafuchi near the Imperial Palace, the Meguro River, Asukayama Park, and Sumida Park, etc. are popular places for cherry blossom viewing. However, there are many good places also in Koto city. The photo shows the Oyokogawa River from Ishijimabashi Bridge last year (near Monzennakacho sta., Tozai line). Before the pandemic, cherry blossom festivals were held in several places.

Regardless of the coronavirus pandemic, the cherry blossoms will bloom beautifully this year, too. I hope to enjoy the viewing quietly in Koto city again.


@Minamisuna Sanchome Park
@Sendaiborikawa Park

February 11, 2022

Oyatoi Gaikokujin(お雇い外国人)and Koto-Ku

Have you ever heard the words of Oyatoi Gaikokujin?
It is translated into English, “Hired Foreigners” mostly hired by Meiji Government. After 260 year of Edo period, Meiji Government has been established after the Meiji Restoration, the government has decided to make use of Foreigners to modernize Japan during 1868 -1898. 6177 from UK, 2764 from US, 913 from Germany, 619 from France, and 45 from Italy. (These numbers are slightly different upon the sources.) They were welcome as the teachers, engineers/technicians, for the purpose of teach and transfer their skills to young talented Japanese. Here are some of well-known “Hired Foreigners”;
His name was James Curtis Hepburn, American, Princeton graduate, and medical doctor of Pennsylvania Univ., who has developed the techniques of Japanese translation “Hepburn Romanization, (Hebon-siki Ro-maJI)” as well as established Meiji-Gakuin University, where developed many talented people.
Earnest Francisco Fenollosa, American Art historian, philosopher, Harvard grads, has given enormous contribution to Japanese arts, as well as the establishment of Tokyo University of Arts.
The third person is Patrick Lafcadio Hearn, one of most famous introducers of Japan, from Irish-Greek family, taught at Tokyo University and Waseda University, later, wrote and published many books featuring Japan and Japanese history, as represented by “Kaidan”, Georges Ferdinand Bigot, French painter, cartoonist, came to Japan, 1882, in parallel to teach at Military Academy, published large volume of cartoons and sketches of Japan and Japanese people’ life.
Thus, Oyatoi Gaikokujin have assisted Meiji government in building the new Japan to be competitive to western foreign countries.

 

Now, let’s move to the main topic, Koto-ku and Hired Foreigners. Josiah Conder, (1852-1910) English Architect, who became the professor of Tokyo University at age 24, later designed Rokumeikan, Mitsubishi Red-Brick buildings in Marunouchi. At the same time, he has trained up quite a large number of architects, such as famous Kingo Tatsuno, designer of Tokyo Station.
1891, Fukagawa-Shinbokuen (Fukagawa Residence of Iwasaki family), has opened by Iwasaki family, for the purpose of guest house for foreign VIPS, as well as employees’ treats/comfort, and Josiah has been asked to design the Western building, the Annex of Fukagawa Residence.

Photo 1.

 
Photo 2.
Photo 3.


To our regret, this building has burned down at the great Kanto Earthquake 1923. This was the one of records related to Koto-Ku as well as the Hired Foreigners. Please imagine the building with Cast iron terrace, Islamic style dome, and Dutch style gable decorations. And if you have time, why not do your fact-findings about “Hired Foreigners” in your area!

 

Acknowledgements

Photo 1: Original building designed by J. Conder. Under the permission from National Diet Library, Source: Journal of architecture and building science (Z16-80) Vol.403 (1920)

Photo 2: Iwasaki family Fukagawa Residence. Reprinted from https://haikaichang.com/spot-kiyosumigarden01_0044#toc1 Under the permission from Seika Do Art Museum.

Photo 3; Journal of architecture and building science (Z16-80) Vol.402 (May 25, 1920) Referred from WP Common.

//end
Y.T

January 29, 2022

Explore the Onagi-gawa River

Koto-ku is a canal city. Man-made canals are running vertically and horizontally.
Penetrating almost straight in the central part from east to west is the Onagi-gawa River.
It's nearly 5-kilometer-long connecting Kyu-Nakagawa in the east and the Sumida-gawa in the west.
More than 400 years ago, Tokugawa Ieyasu came into Edo (now Tokyo) and focused on salt as strategic provisions produced in Gyotoku (now Ichikawa), then ordered Onagigawa Shiro to excavate the canal, so accordingly it was named Onagi-gawa River.

This man-made canal was an important water transport that contributed highly to the development of not only Edo city but also Fukagawa area until the railway network was opened to traffic. Besides salt, rice as land tax paid from the Tohoku District, various vegetables produced in the suburbs were transported via Onagi-gawa. Further, even visitors to Naritasan (Shinshoji Temple) were included. Then centering on Onagi-gawa canal, other canals such as Tate-kawa, Oyoko-gawa, Yoko-jikken-gawa, Sendai-Horikawa, etc. were developed one after another.

Even in the Meiji era, various materials necessary for developing many industries were transported to Fukagawa area via this canal.
Now Onagigawa is registered on Cultural Property List of Koto City.

Stroll the riverside extending straight from east and west, and you’ll be sure to discover some places of interest of your own. Take, the Onagi-gawa Clover Bridge, for example.
It's famous for the location site of TV dramas. Four-leaf clover in shape, the bridge is one of the sightseeing spots not to be missed. Located in a junction between Onagi-gawa and Yoko-jikken-gawa. Rather accessible.       By KT

December 26, 2021

Visit to Tategu Joiner’s Workshop

 

We visited a Tategu joiner’s workshop located at a five-minute walk from Kiyosumi-Shirakawa Station in Koto city.

The signboard of the workshop

What is Tategu? Tategu is architectural fittings such as sliding doors and partition screens, which is an essential part of traditional Japanese wooden houses. It requires a lot of fine work and connections of wooden parts are made mortise and tenons without using nails.

Mr. Tomokuni talking about a screen with Kumiko patterns

 

Mr. Tomokuni, the Tategu joiner we met there, is designated as a prominent craftsman (great craftsman in the present world) by the Japanese government. One of his important works is sliding doors at the Pine Teahouse (Matsu no Ochaya)” in Hamarikyu Gardens, a national special scenic spot and a special historic site.

At the workshop, Mr. Tomokuni talked about Tategu including its materials, tools, techniques etc. His talk was very interesting and fun. We felt his pride as a craftsman and his warm personality at the same time from his talk. He said that Tategu joiners’ names are not written on most of their works, but excellent techniques are used invisibly and should be kept even under the situation of decreasing demands for traditional wooden fittings.

Various planes
 Mr.Tomokuni instructs a member of KEV trying to plane a board

 The craftsman’s hands

We experienced to make a Kumiko coaster by fabricating fine and thin pieces of wood already prepared by Mr. Tomokuni. Kumiko is a technique of fine woodworking to decorate sliding doors or screens. The geometric pattern formed on the coaster is called “Masu tsunagi”, or “linked square measuring boxes”, which means a pray for prosperity. According to Mr. Tomokuni, there are more than 200 traditional patterns with auspicious meanings for Kumiko and many of them came from patterns used on Japanese clothes.

A beautiful example of Kumiko woodworking
 fine wooden pieces for the coaster  the coaster with “linked square measuring boxes” pattern

Some examples of Kumiko patterns


We learned a lot about Tategu from this visit and took the coaster home carefully.

 

Are you interested in the world of fine woodworks? KEV is happy to arrange a tour to the workshop including an experience of making a Kumiko coaster.        
By Nobuko

 

 

November 11, 2021

Tips for tasting 'sake' and 'shochu' in autumn

It's November. Season for sake and shochu! Well, of course you can enjoy those Japanese traditional alcoholic beverages all year round, but autumn is actually one of the best seasons to taste them.

Sake is a kind of rice wine, made from fermented rice. To pair with Japanese dish such as sushi, sake is a must. In autumn, newly brewed sake made from the year's rice harvest is released. They are called sinshu,新酒, meaning new sake, and you can expect fresh aroma and refreshing, clean taste.

If you prefer more matured type of sake, try Hiya-Oroshi, ひやおろし, wich is available in autumn. Because Hiya-Oroshi is matured during summer and released without a second pasteurization, it typically features richer flavour and milder taste.

That means Hiya-Oroshi is also suited for heated sake. Japanese sake is one of a few alcoholic beverages that can be served chilled or heated. Aroma or taste of sake changes according to temperature, so it is fun to find out the perfect temperature for each sake.

Other than sushi, some of Japanese typical home cuisines in autumn to pair with sake include grilled saury with salt, rightly roasted bonito, or Japanese style stew called oden. Oden is a dish made of various ingredients such as fish cakes, radish and boiled egg simmered in soy sauce flavored broth. Hot oden and heated sake are a perfect match for cold winter.

Don't forget Shochu

Also, don't forget the other traditional alcoholic beverage called Shochu, 焼酎. November 1st is the Authentic Shochu Day!

Shochu is a distilled alcoholic beverage like vodka or tequila. They are made from sweet potato, rice, buckwheat or other crops, mainly in Kyushu, the western part of Japan.

Shochu is classified into two categories: Authentic Shochu, or 'Honkaku Shochu', which is made in the traditional style, and 'Ko-rui Shochu', which is made in a more modern style.

Honkaku Shochu is suited for drinking straight, with some ice cubes and / or water. Many people in Kyushu like to drink Shochu with hot water. My favourite combination is Honkaku Shochu, hot water and Japanese traditional plum pickles called 'umeboshi'.

As for Ko-rui Shochu, try a popular cocktail called 'Chuhai' or 'Sour'. It is made of Shochu, soda, fresh fruits like lemon and grapefruits. If you would like more Japanese style experience, umeboshi sour is also a good choice.

At the moment in Japan, COVID-19 restrictions are eased and now we can eat and drink in bars and restaurants again. At KEV, we are planning to offer our sake (and maybe Shochu?) tasting tour when it's no longer a pandemic. Hope we will be able to see you soon over some sake!
by Seiko

pictures of sake taken at 'Rokuden' in Monzen-nakacho, Koto-ku, Tokyo