A tanuki is a raccoon dog, an Asian animal that, although it looks like a raccoon, is actually a member of the dog and wolf family. They’re very popular in Japanese folklore, and were once believed to be sake-drinking, mischievious, shape-shifting tricksters with a big sexual appetite. The tanuki in this photo are at the Awashima-jinja, a shrine for unwanted dolls.



Over 90 percent of the tanuki statues that you see in Japan get “castrated”, or their scrotums get turned into something that makes it look like they’re sitting on a rock, so I was surprised to come across this statue that shows the tanuki’s traditional appearance.

Everything you ever wanted to know about tanuki can be found here at  Mark Schumacher’s excellent Buddhism & Shintoism in Japan A to Z Photo Dictionary.

There’s also a very nice post on Pink Tentacle about Shigaraki, the tanuki capital of Japan, with a description of the “Tanuki’s day off” when all the tanuki are given sleeping masks or put in poses as if they’re playing games or having picnics.

If you have never seen the infamous Japanese tanuki commercial, be sure to click here to see what may well be the most bizarre advertisement ever made.

Hina Doll Shops in Asakusabashi

Asakusabashi’s doll shops are one of those, not worth a special trip, but worth a visit if you’re in the area attractions. If you’re in Ryogoku or Akihabara and have a bit of extra energy, you might want to hop on the train for one stop or walk about 15 minutes to take them in.

These shops sell dolls for the Girl’s Day celebration of Hina Matsuri on March third, and Musha Ningyo for the Boy’s Day celebration on May 5.

Hina matsuri comes from a Chinese custom in which people believed that they were transferring their sins and misfortune to dolls, and then floated the dolls down rivers to get rid of them.
It came to Japan during the Heian period (794-1191), and was known as joushi no sekku to wish good health of the people.


The dolls were originally made of paper, but in the Edo period (1603-1867), people started making the dolls out of porcelain or other ceramics.The dolls are dressed as Heain courtiers.


This set of dolls was the most expensive in the shop and cost 2.7 million yen (about $US 25,000).


The kimonos of Heain period courtiers had as many as 16 layers!



Asakusabashi is on the JR Sobu Line or Asakusa subway line. The shops are near the East Exit of the JR station or exit A3 of the subway station. Just go out the exit and you’ll see them across the street.

Kobudo (Traditional Martial Arts) at the Meiji Shrine Culture Day Festival

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.




Here are some other photos of the festival:

Sunaburo Sand bath


Actually, being buried in hot sand is a lot more pleasant than it sounds. You wear a sleeping robe, and then the ladies shovel hot sand over you. It’s incredibly relaxing. This sunaburo is in Beppu, on the island of Kyushu.

Hari Kuyo Pin Festival

I’ve been sort of curious about the hari kuyo festival ever since I came to Japan. It’s a ceremony where people bring their old sewing needles and pins to a temple to show their appreciation for their service. It’s been around for centuries, and originally originated in China. This is the beginning of the New Year on the old Chinese Lunar Calendar, and was traditionally a time when people didn’t work, so they would go to the temple or shrine to dispose of their old pins from the last year.

The festival was very small and friendly, and the costumes were beautiful. Apparently the tradition is slowly dying out, but the organizers think it’s important to keep it going, not because they necessarily still believe that pins have a spirit, but to remind people to take care of and value the small, everyday objects around them.

The festival is held on Feb. 8 every year. See the contact information below for more information.


All the people who were touching the pins wore these masks.



At most temples, the pins are stuck into tofu (apparently because it’s soft so the pins will feel comfortable), but here, they were just thrown in this bin.


The president of a pin company praying.


These offerings were thrown into the air at various times during the ceremony.


Name: Hari-kuyo (Shojuin Temple)
Date: 2009.2.8(Sun)~2009.2.8(Sun)
Location: Shojuin Temple, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
Transportation: (1)Subway Marunouchi Line to Shinjuku-Gyoenmae Sta., and then walk 5 min. (2)Subway Marunouchi Line or Toei Shinjuku Line to Shinjuku-Sanchome Sta., and then walk 5 min.
Fee: Free

Waiting for the Train


A very mixed group of people waiting for the train at the small station where I used to live in Saitama.

Japan Subculture Research Center Blog


Visit a Japanese bookstore or browse through a weekly magazine, and you’ll find tons of endlessly fascinating information about Japan’s criminal underworld.  I’ve always thought it was a pity that there wasn’t more information about the latest gangster news, and so I was glad to come across the Japan Subculture Research Center blog last week.
Recent posts include “Hard Times for a Nine-fingered Man,” “Tokyo Set for a Turf War as Recession-hit Yakuza Gangsters Fight it Out,” “Human Trafficking in Japan.”
Check it out at: http://www.japansubculture.com/

Edible Dragon Sculpture


Every four years, Osaka is home to the International Festival Utage (Shokurankai in Japanese). It sounded pretty interesting – foods from around the world, cake making contests, and tons of free samples. Unfortunately, it was so crowded that you had to line up for about an hour to get anything to eat, and sometimes there were so many people it was hard to move. It’s also really expensive – 2000 yen per person. The only interesting thing in the whole exhibition was the edible sculptures. I think this one is made of sugar.  The exhibition is being held again this year in April, but I can’t say as I really recommend it: http://www.shokuhaku.gr.jp/en/index.html

Kids Mamemaki


Cute kids throwing beans at the Shimokitazawa Setsubun Festival. It’s held on two days, and I wish I’d gone on Saturday when they had an interesting looking Tengu parade.