Kawasaki Halloween Parade 2008

The Kawasaki Halloween Parade is held on the last Sunday of October every year near Kawasaki Station. There are other big Halloween celebrations in places like Harajuku, but the Kawasaki version is more for adults. They have DJs and dancing, and there aren’t so many kids. It’s definitely worth checking out.


This guy made a lot of kids cry. He was dressed up as Anpanman, a bizarre Japanese superhero, whose name means “Bread With Sweet Bean Paste Man.” He fights against Baikinman (Germ Man) and is, according to Wikipedia, the most popular fictional character in Japan for children under 12. This subversive costume maker is depicting him with bites taken out of his head, which is what upsets the kids so much.

Links:

Official website: http://lacittadella.co.jp/halloween/ (Japanese only)
Video of the event: http://celestialkitsune.wordpress.com/2008/10/25/kawasaki-halloween-festival-2008/

Hamarikyu Performer

A traditional Japanese street performer at the Hamarikyu Gardens in Tokyo.

Shirakawa-go

The first time I saw pictures of Shirakawa-go, I thought it was about the most beautiful place I’d ever seen. I wished I’d been born a hundred years ago and half a world away so I could have lived there back when it was untouched by the modern world.

The old gassho-zukuri houses are some of the most aesthetically appealing dwellings I’ve ever laid eyes on, and it’s now listed as a World Heritage Site. I think a lot of non-Japanese who visit there probably spend at least a second or two thinking about how it might be cool to live in one of those houses. Pretty much everyone agrees it’s a shame there are so few of them left, and I remember reading in my Lonely Planet that “construction of the giant Miboro dam in the ‘60s submerged many of the villages…”  I always thought that this was the main reason why there are so few gassho-zukuri left today.

This summer, on my most recent visit to Shirakawa-go, however, I found out that I didn’t know the whole story. In the visitor center of Gassho no Sato Folk Village in Shirakawa-go, there is an amazing video and collection of newspaper articles about why nearly everyone left.
Below is a
photo of the article, and a somewhat re-written version of the story of one family in one village who made the decision to leave. Of course when you visit these villages, you realize that the people who lived in them really had a tough life, but this article really struck home with me somehow.

Mura o Deta Hitobito – The People Who Left Their Village The picture of the woman with her baby was taken by a doctor named Umino, who visited the village of Kazura in 1942. Four months later, on December 10th, the baby, Mutsuko, died due during a year of particularly heavy snows. She was only six months old.
Mutsuko, who had just begun to crawl, was severely burned one day when she tried to drink from a pot of boiling water. Usually when there was an accident or someone became suddenly sick, people would go to the nearby village of Ecchu-kazura and gather other people to help them make the arduous trek to fetch a doctor to their viallage.
The nearest doctors were in Shirakawa-mura or Akao in Toyama prefecture, but if the doctor was busy, he might not be able to come and they would have to search elsewhere. The journey was a difficult one, and took the better part of a day. During the summer months, a car could be used to go part way, but in winter, the trip was so dangerous that seven or eight young men had to go down through the heavy snow facing a constant danger of avalanches. During these times, even women and they elderly would try to clear the snow, doing anything they could to make it easier for the doctor to walk, and in the worst case scenario, the sick or injured person would have to be carried to Shirakawa-go.
When Mutsuko was burned, only two men were available in the village, and they went to Akao to buy burn medicine, asking for a doctor to come to the village. No one was available, and they were forced to continue on to a village that was ten kilometers past Akao. They were refused there too, and were just given medicine for burns.
Night had fallen, and the men were forced to make the perilous return journey in the dark, with nothing but two persimmons for sustenance. They ran all night to take the medicine back the Kazura.
The men were apparently used to running in the mountains while hunting bear and boar, but were exhausted by the run through the snow. At dawn, they got back to Kazura and everyone was with Mutsuko. They tried giving the medicine to her, but it was too late.
The sad story became even more terrible, because a death certificate was necessary for a proper burial, but all the doctors in Shirakawa refused to go to Kazura because of the snow. The family had no choice but to dig a hole to bury her, and call the doctor after the snow melted in the spring. In the spring, the doctor from Shirakawa-mura could not come, and then died suddenly. They then asked doctor Umino, who had came to the village to give medical checkups the year before, but by the time he came to the village and examined the body, nine months had passed.
It was incidents such as this one that were the final straws in persuading people to leave their villages and abandon the gassho-zukuri homes.

The Karma-cutting Shrine

Kama Hachiman Jinja is what is known as an engiri (karma cutting) shrine. If a person thinks that they have an undesirable karmic connection with a person, he or she sometimes go to an engiri shrine to sever their connection with the individual. This shrine in Osaka has thousands of kama (sickles) that people stick in a huge old tree to escape from people they don’t want in their lives anymore.
It is said that in ages past, there was a sacred tree on the spot, and that the Nobushige Sanada (1567–1615) visited there to pray for success in a battle. He stuck a kama into the tree, invoking the god Hachiman and afterwards went on to win a great victory.
The shrine is believed to cure headaches, asthma, haemeroids, and other sicknesses. People also go there for exorcisms, to get rid of evil spirits, to improve bad luck, and to break relationships with people they don’t want in their lives anymore.

This is an ema (votive plaque) from the shrine:

It says “Keep K.T., M.O. and N.K. away from my daughter. Please sever this evil relationship.”

For more ema and information about this temple see:
http://www.quirkyjapan.or.tv/kansai-kamahachiman.html

Samurai Reenactors

Every year on November third, thousands of martial artists gather on the grounds of the Meiji Shrine in Tokyo to give demonstrations of their techniques. There’s karate, aikido, kyudo, and jujutsu, but also some very unusual arts such as yabusame (horseback archery), and nawa-jutsu (rope fighting). The day culminates with a demonstration of samurai firearms called hinawaju.
If you like photography, you’re sure to get some great shots of martial artists in action.

Shinjuku’s Heaven Artists

This is the “Shinjuku Geijutsu Tengoku” (Shinjuku Artistic Heaven), a great festival held every year in October. There were a lot of interesting acts, but for me, the one that stood out was Noemi and Eugene. They were a stilt walking samurai couple searching for the address Shinjuku Sanchome. Beyond the amazing costumes, I’ve never seen performers that seemed to be having so much fun doing their act. They did all kinds of tricks on their stilts, somersalting, hand-walking, and racing around seemingly awkwardly, but always somehow managing not to trample anyone.

Here’s a video of their performance: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DD04wQglYYI

The festival is held on the second Sunday in October in various locations around Shinjuku. Most of the performers are on Shinjuku Dori, the street with Studio Alta on it. The event has a website (Japanese only) at: http://homepage2.nifty.com/shinjuku-pr/.

Takoyaki Vendor

Unfortunately translated as “octopus balls,” takoyaki is octopus cooked in batter on a griddle. It’s a popular festival food.

Thatched-roof farmhouse

Gassho-zukuri farmhouse in the village of Shirakawa-go. The area has been designated a world heritage site because of the dozens of well-preserved farmhouses.