2006/01/28

CHINESE NEW YEAR - HAWAIIAN STYLE

This post is dedicated to all my Chinese friends - both new and old - around the world.

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January 29th, 2006 (on the 425-year-young Gregorian calendar) marks the Chinese New Year. Chinese people everywhere - along with their friends - will celebrate this occassion in a big way with many customs. Hawaii, with its large population of people of Chinese ancestry is no exception. About 4.7% or 60,000 people in Hawaii are Chinese, not including people of mixed ethnicity including Chinese, which, if included, account for neary 1/3 of the population. Hawaii is a true melting pot of cultures. As the Fijians say "one salt water".

The first Chinese contract laborers arrived in Hawaii from Kwantung Provence in 1852. They worked for the plantations at a wage of $3 per month. Mark Twain, who visited the islands, wrote of Chinese labor in the Sacramento Daily Union newspaper on September 26, 1866 - an interesting historical read.

Another intriguing, if obscure, contribution to American culture by a Hawaiian Chinese man is that involving the famous detective series "Charlie Chan". Movies about this detective were very popular from the early 1930's to the late 1940's. Ironically (and sadly), due to the racist hiring practices in Hollywood at the time, the movies starred caucasians made up to look Chinese (sort of!). Yet, in testimony to the popularity of the character in the USA, the part was played alternatively by some of the best actors of the era - Boris Karloff, Leo G Caroll, and Cesar Romero to name three. What I find most fascinating however, is that the character of Charlie Chan was not entirely fiction, but was based on a real dectective: Honolulu Police Department Detective Chang Apana, who joined the force in 1898. Energetic and fearless, Apana was renown for remarkable achievements as a detective. He retired in 1932 after serving 34 years. Chang Apana died in 1933, and is buried at the Manoa Chinese Cemetery in Honolulu.

On the island of Maui, Pandabonium's home for some 28 years, it was Chinese contract labor that built the system of tunnels that brought water from the wet north-eastern coast line to the arid lands of central Maui to make the large sugar plantations there possible. Starting in 1876, they used dynamite and pickaxes to tunnel through the solid lava rock and create a water system that is still in use today.

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Wo Hing Temple


If you visit Maui, stop in at the Wo Hing Temple in Lahaina. Built in 1912 by a local chapter of Chee Kung Tong, a Chinese fraternal society, the building is now a museum dedicated to the history of Chinese immigants to Maui. It displays many interesting artifacts and even has a theater which shows movies of Hawaii taken by the famous inventor Thomas Edison between the years of 1898 to 1903.

The largest Chinese population in Hawaii today is to be found in Honolulu on the island of Oahu, and thus the biggest public celebration is held on Honolulu's Hotel Street - the heart of "Chinatown".

Click on the title of this post to visit the official Chinatown Hawaii website. It has a lot of interesting articles about Chinatown and the history of Chinese people in Hawaii.

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Hawaii Lion Dance Association


I have only touched upon a few points in the very rich heritage of Chinese people in Hawaii. It is worth doing more research on your own to learn more of the contributions by the Chinese perople who make up an important part of the beautiful cultural rainbow that is Hawaii.

Whatever your family backgound or location on our planet, I wish you all a very happy and healthy "Year of the Fire Dog".

2006/01/22

Water Purification

You may conclude from the title that this post is about people purifying water. It isn't. It is really about water purifying people.

Today was the annual Daikan Misogi ceremony at Kashima Jingu shrine. Misogi means spiritual purification. This ritual is not a raucus mob scene as one typically encounters at Shinto festivals throughout the year (some of which I have described in previous posts on this blog). None the less, participation is definitely not for the faint of heart, for it involves dressing in nothing but a loin cloth for the men, or a white cotton yukata (robe) for women, and walking into chest high spring water in the middle of January, and staying there for several minutes to chant and pray. It is purposefully scheduled for what is supposed to be the coldest time of the year in Japanese tradition, about January 20 to February 4th. (Daikan = most cold).

Misogi rituals have their roots in old days when people would take a dip in a nearby river or pond before entering a Shinto shrine. It has come down as a part of modern shrine etiquette in the form of stopping at the fountain (usually found at the entrance of a shrine) in order to pour water over each hand and one's mouth to cleanse the body and mind before entering. Misogi rituals are said to bring good luck and wash away bad. Today, the participants would certainly earn their good luck.

As of last night, we were not sure if we would be able to go today. Yesterday it had alternately rained and snowed all day and last night snowed enough to cover us once again in few centemeters of that mysterious white stuff from the sky. Once again, Momo the Wonder Dog was brought into the laundry room for the night. She had gotten wet from the rain earlier in the day. A chore, and not the choice of her or us, but it was "not a fit night out for man nor beast", so in she came. This has been a record cold winter for Japan with temperatures averaging about 5 degrees Fahrenheit lower than usual. Kerosene use (the common fuel for home heating in Japan) doubled this January and prices are nearly 40% higher than a year ago. As we used to say in pidgin English back on Maui, "Lucky you live Hawaii, eh?" Well, at least I can still say, "Lucky I no live Ukraine." Small comfort, but I'll take what I can get.

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Our garage and house from across a field today.


The sky this morning was a bit cloudy, with a red sunrise but had signs of clearing, and by the time we left for the shrine in mid-morning, the sky was blue, and the roads were passable with some caution in the shaded areas where ice still lingered. I thought about the people who would actually be stepping into the water this morning. What must they have been thinking yesterday and last night as snowflakes drifted down on their homes?

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The Haiden or "hall of worship"


The Haiden is the hall of worship at a shrine. Behind it is the Honden or inner shrine where the diety dwells. Between the two is the Heiden, or hall of offerings which is only open to priests. Haiden Heiden Honden. Very confusing to a gaijin like me. Sounds like "hey there, hi there, ho there" from the Mickey Mouse Club song. I'm not poking fun at Shinto or Japanese language, rather at myself and how the mind works to connect new things to ones already in memory, however unrelated. But perhaps not a bad mnemonic to remember the words by.

As we entered the shrine grounds, it was evident that not much snow had made it past the huge trees to the ground. There was still snow on the roofs of the buildings, however. The participants and priests were in the Haiden, shown above, prior to making their way to the natural spring where the ceremony is held. As they chanted and a drum was beaten, visitors stopped in front to offer their loose change and a prayer.

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If you go out in the woods today you'd better not go alone...


Soon, the people who would be braving the cold waters were walking along the broad path that leads from the Haiden to 'mitarashi no ike' (purification pond) which is fed by a 'reisen' or spiritual spring. The pond is one of the seven mysteries of Kashima Jingu, because it is said that no matter who stands in the pond, short or tall, the water always comes up their chest level. I'll take their word for it.

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At the pond, a crowd is waiting. The two restaurants/shops have their wares on display as well as charcoal pits at which they heat 'ayu', a river fish similar to trout, and various flavors of dango, rice dumplings, a common snack throughout Japan, made a colorful green by yomogi (mugwort) or yellow by miso (fermented soy).

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Off to one side, the participants changed out of their warm street clothes into just enough white cotton cloth to cover their, um, basics. They assembled in a square immediately in front of the pond and began warm up exercises. I don't know what the temperature was, but you can judge by the clothing of the spectators. I would guess it was around 5C or about 40F. They were led through warm ups and chants which they followed in unison. Except for the ages of the men, one who accidentally stumbled upon this scene might think they were witnessing a fraternity hazing rather than a religious ceremony.

Finally, the group moved toward the steps of the pond and each person gave a sort of salute and a shout before placing a foot into the water. I would guess there were about sixty or more men and six or so women, with ages ranging from 20-something to well past retirement age.

The closest I have come to this experience was in my childhood in California. Our family had a swimming pool (unheated) and each spring, my father would offer a dollar to the first of us four kids to dive into the pool. I remember winning one year and as I recall, the temperature of the pool was 45 F (7.2 C). I am not ready to repeat that episode unless the stakes are substantially increased. I shudder, literally, to think what the temperature of the pond was today.

Once in the pond, they pulled sheets of paper from their headbands upon which were printed prayers which they chanted in unison. This went on for many minutes. Far too long even from my relatively warm perspective. Long enough for me to move around and find various locations from which to photograph the event, usually by holding the camera as high as I could, pushing the shutter button and hoping for the best.

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I don't think carp bite...do they?


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It wasn't always easy getting a shot. The official photographers across the pond had a reserved area.


At last I found a relatively uncrowded spot and put my tripod on the moss covered roots of a great tree which spread over the pond. The lighting was rather dark, so the tripod, coupled with the timer, allowed me to take longer exposure.


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After coming out of the pond, they all very quickly donned their warm clothing and headed home or to one of the restaurants at the shrine for some hot green tea and perhaps Zenzai (warm, sweet azuki bean soup with rice cake) as we did. On the way out of Kashima Jingu, my eye was drawn to the Heiden (hey there!) roof where the sun was melting the snow and the resulting water vapor made it look like it was steaming hot. A beautiful cast iron lantern stood to one side. It turned out to have been made in the Bunsei years - 1818 to 1830 - of the Edo period, making it about 200 years younger than the buildings.

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Edo Period Lantern



Even though noon was approaching, the main gate (or mon) also still had some snow on its roof making it, I guess, a "snow mon". Sorry. I can't resist a bad pun.

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"Frosty the snow mon...."

2006/01/17

Taveuni's Lost Coast Discovered

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The Tui Tai


My thanks to Tige Young, owner and managing director of Tui Tai Aventure Cruises Fiji , for this guest post. This company, which started in 2002, operates a 140 foot vessel- the Tui Tai - out of Savusavu on the island of Vanua Levu and specializes in cruises around northeastern Fiji combined with a wide variety of activities including kayaking, white water rafting, snorkeling, scuba diving, and more. Their unique cruises and great staff have garnered them rave reviews by customers and travel magazines as well as awards including the AON Excellence in Tourism Award for “Best Adventure Product” two years running.

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The post that follows gives a rare look at the eastern coast line of Taveuni Island. From Lavena (starting point of my "Walk On the Wild Side" post in the May archives), south to Salialevu Estate, a distance of about 16 kilometers, the coast line is rugged and there are (happily) no roads. Vinaka vaka levu (thank you very much), Tige. - Pandabonium

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Taveuni's Lost Coast Discovered


One of Fiji's most hidden treasures, the scarcely seen windward coast of Taveuni was recently explored by Tui Tai Adventure Cruises. In local lore, the coastline is known as the "land of 100 waterfalls" and it appears that there are at least that many gushers flowing down the rugged island landscape into the sea.

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With exceptionally calm conditions, 4 explorers departed Tui Tai in its Naiad Zodaiac RIB. Maritino Tiko, Tige Young, Cari and Kalen Zantolas made the expedition and enjoyed the breathtaking scenery.

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Predominant weather makes this coast quite rough in terms of waves and wind, so it is generally inaccessible. There are no roads on this side of the island and a vast expanse of uninhabited coastline remains pristine.

During our exploration we were treated to some close ups to waterfalls that crashed very near the deap sea. The ocean water was a surreal color of jade and sapphire.

The beauty of the coastline makes it an attractive area to consider for future expeditions, however, the potential for rough weather remains a constant concern during any visit.

Enjoy the pictures!


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-Tige, Owner and Managing Director, Active Fiji / Tui Tai Adventure Cruises

For more information (and photos of Fiji) visit their website:

Tui Tai Aventure Cruises Fiji


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Dr. King's Birthday - January 15th

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"I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become reality. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word."

-Martin Luther King Jr
January 15, 1929 - April 4, 1968

2006/01/12

Booming Bouma!

Time to get off of the topic of Japan's COLD weather for a while and write another post about Fiji.

Taveuni Island in the northeastern Fiji Islands is home to Bouma National Heritage Park that comprises 15,000 hectares (57 square miles) of pristine rainforest. That represents 80% of the rain forest on the island. The largest preserve in Fiji, the land, forests and habitat are preserved and protected against logging or any other "development" which could lead to its untimely demise. We need a whole lot more of such places, but at least it is a start.

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Taveuni Island


The park was developed with the cooperation of four villages, conservation organizations and the governments of New Zealand and Fiji. I wrote about a four hour hike through a portion of this park - from Lavena village to Wainabu falls - in the post "Walk On the Wildside" back in May, 2005. In this post, I'll cover an easier hike to another waterfall. A lot of people do both in one day, but if you have time, there is plenty to enjoy and devoting a day to each allows one to be unhurried and to see that much more. If you enjoy camping, you can arrange to stay the night at Levena village.

From the Matei airport, it is a 30 minute bus or taxi ride to the visitor center at Tavoro. This is the first entrance to Bouma park. Another is at Lavena village at the end of the road. There is an entrance fee of F$5.00 per person without a guide or F$15.00 with. That works out to about US$2.92 and US$8.75 respectively. To reserve a guide call the visitor center at (679) 8880 390.

The Tavoro visitor center has picnic tables and toilets. On my last visit, in 2004, my taxi driver surprised me and my guests by bringing an Indian dish that his wife had prepared and we combined that with the fruits I had brought and had a great lunch.

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Path lined by ferns, crotons and ti plants


The paths and foot bridges are well maintained. After signing in, you'll head up a wide grass path along the Bouma river. Only ten minutes of walking you bring you to the lowest of three waterfalls. I have visisted here three times and never made it beyond the first waterfall. The first time was due to my falling down on the wood bridge, which was quite wet and slippery, landing on my backside, and pretty much ending my hiking for the day. I should have worn hiking boots instead of tennis shoes. The second and third ocassions were due to time restraints (my bad for always combining the Lavena hike with these falls). But if you have a couple of hours, cross the wooden foot bridge - carefully - and follow the trail that leads above these falls to two more sets.

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Bouma River


The lowest of the three Tavoro falls has a large pool at its base that is great for swimming. This fall and pool were featured in the movie "Return to the Blue Lagoon". As I said in the "Walk on the Wild Side" post, not a great movie, but very much worth watching if you are interested in Fiji or the South Seas in general. The scenery is stunning. On the other hand, why watch a movie if you can experience it first hand? You can hike and climb around the left side of the pool to a cave behind the falls from which you can jump into the water, or just wade in from the edge of the pool. The water is cool, but not cold. I have safely dived under the falls. The sound of the "booming" water fall can be both exciting and soothing at the same time - soothing at a distance, and exciting as you swim close or dive under them.

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Falls On An Average Day


Ferns, palms, ti plants, crotons, red ginger and other tropical plants and flowers surround the pool. A large tree next to the bridge has river stones lodged in its thick wrinkled bark to a height of perhaps 2 meters - an unnerving indication of what the river can do when a really big storm fills it, but most days, even in the rain, you'll be able to enjoy a swim with no worries.

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Rainy Day With Falls "Booming"


Although the area is called a "park", it is not public land. It is private property owned by the villages of Vanua Bouma: Waitabu, Vidawa, Korovou and Lavena. So when you go, please keep in mind you are a guest of these wonderful folks. People there are conservative in social matters, so bring your swim suit by all means and enjoy the water, but when not in the water, please put on a shirt, and while hiking please wear shorts or a wrap around "sulu".

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Taveuni Children. The person who took this photo for me was a blonde Canadian woman and I remember the kids running up to her and asking "Are you from the BBC?"


Next time I visit Taveuni I plan to take the all day guided tour of the park, called the Vidawa Forest Walk. For F$60 per person (F$40 for children ages 12 to 17 years), you get transport from your accommodation (my house?) to Bouma and then a guided tour - on foot of course - through the heart of Bouma National Heritage Park with all its birds, trees, flowers, butterflies, old hill forts and other archaeological remains. Entrance fees, a knowledgable guide, a big lunch and afternoon tea (Fiji is a member of the British Commonwealth, you know) are included. The hike ends at Bouma Falls (Tavoro) where you can cool off in the pool. I am really looking forward to that. It is bound to be another unforgetable Fiji experience.

Your Own South Seas Paradise

2006/01/08

The Tropics It Ain't

The old kerosene heater was being cantancorous. It would come on with a lot of heat, the fan blowing lots of warm air and starting to heat the room, then a few minutes later it would shut down and start making a beeping noise to indicate the air was afoul with CO. Silly thing. It was built to shut down if the room needed air, which is a good thing, but this was clearly a malfunction. We tried vacuuming the dust off the back, then taking it apart and cleaning the inside. No luck. It helped only marginally. The darned thing refused to run for more than five minutes before quiting. It got to be very annoying and I threatened to take it out on the Kitaura bridge and let it go for a midnight swim.

Instead of polluting the lake, we bought a new heater. I'll work on the old one and get it working properly, but meanwhile we won't have to do without heat. Well, we have more that one heater, but if we want to occupy more than one room at a time we need two or more. I wanted a different kind anyway. Most of the keosene room heaters here use an electric fan to distribute the heat. They are simple in a way, but also have computer chips to tell you how much fuel is left, warn you of too much CO in the air, and regulate the temperature. But you know what? I have a brain that can do all that for free. Besides, the fan causes them to burn a lot more kerosene than is really necessary and dry out the air which leads to dry skin, dry nasal passages, etc. It is perhaps typical of Japanese technological development - take an old technology and bring to an ultra-modern high tech state, when what is needed is a total replacement. In this case, well insulated homes with central, vented, heating systems. (Americans, don't gloat. You use several times the energy per capita than Japan or Europe. You need a lot of engineering help yourself).

These heaters also use electricity which adds a bit to that bill while burning extra keorsene. It has also occurred to me that when there is a really big storm someday, and the heater is most needed, it might also be the time when electricity was not available. Call me a survivalist nut case, but the last time I want to lose my heater is during a blizzard or other emergency. It could never happen in Kashima? Yeah, right. I hope you know how to rub two sticks together.

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Your Basic "Bb" Radiant Heater


I did some research and bought your "basic, B-flat" (as they say in the music biz), radiant heater. No electrical grid needed. You light the wick with a battery powered spark, or a match, and it does its thing. A relfector projects the heat into the room. Not only does it save electricity, but it sips fuel while spreading a wonderful heat throughout the room. It does heat the air of course, but doesn't dry it out too much. Besides, you can put a pot of water on the top and add humidity to the air if you like. Very "retro", I know.

I will admit the old one (of more modern design with a fan) does heat up a room more quickly, but other than that I have not been impressed with it at all.

This purchase was timed perfectly, for as we slept that night it snowed here in Kashima "City" for the first time in eleven months - and unlike the last time, it actually stuck on the ground.

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In case you are wondering, the lesson has not been lost on me that in Hawaii or Fiji none of this stuff would matter one whit! ;^)


When Momo summoned breakfast yesterday morning, I was amazed to slide open the front door and see a thin dusting of snow over everything. It brought to mind that great scene in the movie "Dr. Zhivago" when the music swells and they break the ice to open the rail car door to a panorama of ice and snow. OK, so we're not in the Urals or Siberia.

Anyway, I was also delighted and taken back to a day in my childhood in southern California in the late 1950's, when it snowed one of the only two times in more than half a century. Flashback to my black standard poodle "Peppi" playing in the snow, neighbors bringing sleds (why did they own sleds?) and even skis to play on the slope of our 1/2 acre lot. Snow men and snow forts and snow ball fights. To those reading this from colder climes, you may think I'm going overboard, but to people in places like California, Hawaii, Fiji, or Malaysia, well, I know you'll understand.

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Rising Sun


It was cold, but at the same time it was a treat, and a beautiful one at that. As for Momo, it simply did not compute. She ate breakfast, took a look around without so much as setting a single paw in the snow (though she did take a bite), and then returned to bed until it had melted.

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Out The Kitchen (back) Door


It was K's first day back at work teaching English in Mito City. I was grateful that this was the day she takes the train rather than drive the whole way. She would only have to drive two kilometers to the station.

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It was also "burnable rubbish" day, so I followed my routine of taking it down to the collection bin across from the temple. Due to holidays they had skipped a couple of days so it was two trips and, since the road was icy, I walked rather than rode the bike. I grabbed the camera and took a few pics while I was at it. After all, how often will I get the chance to photograph snow? Not often - I hope!

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Front Gate

2006/01/07

What Is This Stuff?

By MOMO The Wonder Dog

I awoke this morning and wandered outside to inquire of my servants when breakfast would be served, and to inform them that my water dish had frozen once again.

To my astonishment, the view from my porch was different in a very strange way. The air was still freezing cold and a white powdery substance was on everything - the ground, bushes, walls roofs. Luckily, my house is under an awning so was not affected by whatever it is.

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After breakfast, I sat on my patio, unsure of what to do. Is it safe to walk on? My house is well insulated, I have a door flap, and my bed is heated to just above my body temperature. My servants had put a blanket over the house as well to keep out drafts. [This is not recommended if the blanket could become wet, but the awning prevents that]. As you might imagine, I was reluctant to venture outside. Good thing I have my winter coat on.

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My warm island refuge in a sea of cold white "stuff".


Pandabonium came out to walk the burnable rubbish to the local collection site down by the temple. He seemed to be amazed as well, but had no trouble walking around on the stuff, so maybe it was OK.



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Fianlly, I stepped off my porch to get a closer look.


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It appears to have fallen from the sky, and as I stood there, a few flakes of it still floated down from time to time.


I tasted it. No flavor and wet like water, but very cold, and it stuck to my chin. K assured me that this rarely happens in Kashima City, and almost never stays on the ground for very long. But this has been a record cold winter and other parts of Japan have seen a lot of this stuff.

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I don't like it. I don't even want to go for a walk in it.


I have decided to go back to bed and sleep a while. The sun is peeking through the clouds and warming things a bit. Maybe when I wake up again this white stuff will be gone. Until then, please do not disturb me.

Momo

2006/01/02

2006 Has Arrived - Ready Or Not

It was a quiet night in our house on New Years Eve, sort of. We ate the traditional meal of soba (buckwheat noodles) for dinner. The mochi rice was ready for 2006 too. Ironically, the Japanese New Years tradition of pounding steamed mochi rice with wooden mallets in a stone bowl is still carried on in Hawaii - a practice I have participated in many times on Maui at a friend's house or at the temple - but is rarely seen in Japan. Kitchen electronic mochi machines or simply pre-made store bought mochi cakes are the norm in 21st Century Japan.

Later in the evening, feeling the need for some music to mark the occasion, Pandabonium broke out his baritone horn. I downloaded some free sheet music on my laptop, and sat at the kitchen table to play "Auld Lang Syne". My fingerings for the baritone are not well practiced, so it took me several times through to play it correctly in one go. What a treat for the neighbors!

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Pandabonium On Baritone


Too bad it wasn't "euphonium" - it would sound so much more catchy to say 'Pandabonium on Euphonium'. The principal difference by the way is that a baritone uses cylindrical tubing that gives it a bright sound, whereas a euphonium has conical tubing and a more mellow sound. I wasn't keeping anyone up in any case. I retired long before midnight, and besides, the evidence at the Tsubake shrine just down the street showed there was some celebration going on there into the wee hours. In the morning there were large logs in the shrine's fire pit, still hot, chairs set around the pit and several large sake bottles lined up in a row - empty. On one corner of the shrine building, the Japanese Hinamaru flag was on display as well. I imagine some of the older neighbors had a night out drinking sake and singing songs around the fire.

Thus our little village rang in the new year.

In the morning, K and I went to Kashima Jingu, the large Shinto Shrine in town. It was packed with visitors who came to pray for love, money, health, and who knows what else in 2006. The usual stalls lined the entrance selling food, toys, and Daruma dolls, in a sort of odd, yet typically Japanese mix of the spiritual with the commercial. In the west, we eschew having commerce on the same site where worship takes place, yet do them both anyway. If I say "Christmas" some people think of religion and others think of shopping, or perhaps both. Somehow having them in separate venues makes westerners more comfortable. In Japan they are more integrated.

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Daruma Dolls - $2.50 to over $400


Anyway, "Daruma" is the Japanese translation of the Sanskrit word "Dharma", which in English means the teachings of the Buddha. The dolls are based on the legends surrounding the father of Zen Buddhism, an Indian sage, who lived in the 5th or 6th century, and is called Bodhidharma. He brought "Zen" to China, where it was known as Chan Buddhism. Later it came to Japan where it is got the name Zen. Bodhidharma is said to have sat in meditation for many years resulting in his arms and legs atrophying and falling away. He is also said to have cut off his eyelids to prevent himself from dozing off. This why the Daruma doll has no arms or legs or pupils. The doll is for good luck in perservering to attain one's goals.

When a person starts a new project, he/she draws a pupil on one eye of the doll. When the goal is reached, the other pupil is filled in to signify the achievement.

We stood in a crowd of people at the water fountain at the main gate to the shrine, waiting our turn to "cleanse" ourselves before entering the gate. Long handled ladles are provided for this purpose. One takes the ladle and pours water over the left hand, then with left hand pours a ladleful over the right hand. After that, water is poured into the left hand and brought to the mouth to cleanse it as well. It is helpful to carry a "mini-towel" in your pocket to dry off with.

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Inside, we made our way to the Honden (main building) to offer a prayer (more commonly to make a wish). It was crowded and an extra large collection box stretched across the entire entrance so that if you didn't get up to the front of the lines, you could throw coins into it and make your prayer. K then went to purchase a fortune paper, called Omikuji - literally "written oracle", while I went up the steps of the museum across from the Hondo to take a picture of the crowd. As she then went to buy an arrow - a symbol to frighten off evil during the year, I took some more pictures.

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A Family Tying Omikuji


When one gets an Omikuji it will have information for your future not unlike an astrological reading. Of course it can have good news and/or bad. If you don't like it, you can tie it to a tree at the shrine hope your luck will change for the better, perhaps coming back on another day to buy a new one. If it is good, you can tie the one you got last year to a tree and keep the new one. There are lots of visitors and to keep them from damaging trees, the shrines now days put up "trees" of string for people to use instead.

Another popular thing at shrines, especially at New Years, are called Ema. No, not Emma Peel of the 1960's series "The Avengers", but Ema as in the Japanese word for horse picture. Horses 'are important in Shinto as the gods ride horses. This is natural enough as Japans heros have historically been warriors on horseback. It was common in very ancient times for warriors to give living horses to shrines as gifts. The shrines had no use for them, as they were battle horses which could not be ridden easily not put to work as draught animals, so it was really kind of a bother for the priests.

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Ema


Emperor Suinin, eleventh Emperor of Japan who ruled over 2000 years ago, declared that except for very special circumstances, such as the winning of a major battle, no live horses were to be presented to shrines. Instead a wooden tablet with a picture of a horse on it was to be substituted. Now days, regardless of what is pictured on the tablets, they are called "ema". Often they have a Chinese zodiac symbol on them, this year a dog, as 2006 is a year of the dog. One buys the ema from the shrine, writes a wish on it, and hangs it on a board at the shrine. People wish/pray for everything from petty selfish wishes to the sublime, such as world peace.

Leaving the crowded area around the Honden, we walked down the main path to a large pen where deer are housed. Deer are also special animals in Japanese folklore, being seen as messengers to the gods. Kashima actually means deer island. At Kasuga Shrine in Nara Prefecture, a white deer is said to have arrived from Kashima Shrine as its divine messenger. It has become a symbol of the city of Nara.

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Kashima Means Deer Island


I've always felt a bit sorry for the deer in the pen, but this day it was looking pretty good, and with all the visitors they were getting their fill of sliced carrots. Next to this pen is a sign regarding a Buddhist temple which once rested on the shrine grounds and which was visited by Shinran Shonin in the 13th century. An intersting tale involving a mystery Pandabonium encountered and a discovery by the Moody Minstrel that solved it, but it will have to be the subject of another post.

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K On The Cedar Lined Path


Kashima Jingu is a big place, with over 160 acres of land and 800 different kinds of trees. We continued down the long path to the spring and carp pond (mitarahinoike). There is a purification ceremony here on January 22nd, during which people get into the cold water. Vendors were heating rice dumplings and ayu (a small river fish similar to trout) over charcoal. There is also a small restaurant by the pond and we enjoyed some hot ocha (green tea), a deep fried manju (cake with bean filling), and zenzai - sweet azuki beans with three shiratama - small rice flour dumplings. The old fashioned kerosene heater in the restaurant warmed us after the long walk in the cold air.

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Restaurant By The Spring

We made our way back to the car, stopping to pick up some dried apricots and dried tofu to snack on at home. People were still streaming into the shrine as we departed. We welcomed the new year, and hope it will be good to us in return.

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New Year Crowds


Once again, let me say "Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu!" "Happy New Year" to all. 2006 is here, whether we're ready for it or not!