Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Chronicler Emerges

For the first time with this blog, I've put away the research and pulled out more creative elements.  I used to sketch a lot when I was younger, but lately have been too busy to properly devote the time that was needed for it.  For a while now, I've been thinking about starting it up again and with some encouragement am starting to put some time into it again.

I've also been thinking that the blog is a little too plain for a while now and had thought up some ideas on how to make things nicer and more appealing.  The problem was my ideas would require me to draw them to make it happen.  Put it all together and this is the start of it.

This is the logo for the blog that I've started.  My two main artistic ideas I've been kicking around for a while now are a new blog header and a logo of some sort.  I had wanted to create a nomadic chronicler based in a  historical Japan setting to match with the blog and think it has turned out pretty well so far.  The character is a combination of different historical traits to make it realistic, which I'll explain a bit for you here.

The main concept is a combination of a Japanese Buddhist monk with the famous historical person of Ninomiya Sontoku.  Ninomiya Sontoku (二宮 尊徳) is a famous person in Japan who lived from 1787-1856 during the Edo Era.  While his is a great story of a self-made man in Japan's past, unfortunately while looking for information about him the sources couldn't even past the low standards for source material in this blog.  So I won't be able to include it now.  Hopefully in the future I will find a suitable source or acquire a book that has the story and be able to write about it here.

For now, I'll just provide some basic background.  He was born from a poor background and lost both of his parents at a young age.  He then lived with an uncle and worked for him.  He was basically completely self-taught, studying when he wasn't working for his uncle.  He started by farming abandoned land and with the money was able to reacquire his family's land and grew rich, making him known for taking under-producing lands and make them profitable.  His fame and success spread further as the local daimyo (lord) entrusted a district, domain and even a whole province to him to oversee, which also resulted in financial success.  He was eventually given one of the Shogun's estates to oversee, an honor almost impossible due to his low beginnings.  Sontoku was famous for not only his great success in agriculture and economics through being self-taught, but also for his high ethical principals that was a major part of his overall philosophy.

So by now you might be wondering how this Ninomiya Sontoku would become one of the main sources for the logo.  You might be surprised then to find out there's a statue of him in schools all over Japan.  In fact, before World War II all elementary schools had a statue of Ninomiya Sontoku who was upheld as a model of ethics and hard-work important during that era.  However, many of the statues were taken late in the war to be melted down for armaments.  While these days, the statue isn't a compulsory statue on school grounds and doesn't have the same propaganda or meaning from the past, it is still a popular symbol of hard work and the importance of studying.  Here's how the statue looks all over the country.

This statue, similar to others all over Japan is at Hotokuninomiya-jinja near Odawara Castle where  Ninomiya Sontoku is deified and enshrined.  Odawara is the domain that he oversaw financial and economic matters. [1]

Maybe now the connection is becoming clearer.  Actually, I've seen this statute at many of the schools I've been to, but I never thought of the idea to use it for my drawing concept until I saw it in an advertisement.  The statue of Ninomiya Sontoku was used in a recent e-reader advertising campaign, with him holding the e-reader instead of a book.  It was a really well-done ad and for one of them, it showed his carrier full of books instead of firewood (suggesting the e-reader can hold many books much easier), which is what sparked the idea.  Unfortunately, all of my attempts to find the picture or the ad have met with failure, so I can't show it here but the connections should be easy enough to see from the statue.  While the character I made is obviously fictional, he's made up of traditional elements that could have been plausible to exist, that's if there ever would have been a nomadic chronicler in Japan's past (Bashō was a poet, so no he doesn't count.).  I'll go over the parts that have some historical, realistic basis now for you.

I've been talking about Ninomiya Sontoku for a bit now, so I figured I'll switch things up and talk about the Buddhist monk elements first.  During the Edo Era (which Ninomiya Sontoku lived in), travel was restricted between provinces.  One of the few exceptions that were commonly granted was for pilgrimages.  Pilgrimages have a long history in Japan and for a long time were the only form of recreational travel.  Besides Bashō, these pilgrimages are the thing I think of when referring to anything nomadic in Japan.

For this character, the clothing is what is influenced by Buddhist monks.  The robes are the traditional clothing for monks in Japan and the hat is worn by them while traveling.  This hat is not just used by monks though.  The hat is called a kasa (笠) and used to be worn by many people all throughout Japan.  It can still be seen in rural and tradtional parts of Japan besides the monks who still wear them.  This is because the kasa is the traditional umbrella of Japan.  In fact, the hat kasa translates as umbrella or shade and is the same name for umbrella in Japanese, albeit different kanji: kasa (傘).  For all of the clothing, this is how a Buddhist monk still looks like today and in the past.

As I'm sure you saw in the picture of Sontoku's statue, the items and posing were the main inspirations I drew for my drawing.  Holding a book while walking is the most iconic part of the statue and shows Sontoku's perseverance and dedication by always reading and studying, even while working.  To complete that part of the story from his childhood, he needs the maki katsugi (薪担ぎ), or firewood carrier.  Ninomiya Sontoku, like many other people in traditional Japan used this to carry firewood from place to place.  I replaced it with books like in the e-reader ad I saw to make it look more like he was carrying chronicles.  My other change was to make him writing instead of reading as he's a chronicler.  He's also using a pen, which is a modern object, but I wanted the chronicler to have some connection to the present as it's a blog.

This is now a finished draft for the logo and you might have noticed I've started putting it to use.  I still have some more plans for it in the future.  I will eventually get around to producing a shaded or colored version and plan on incorporating it into the blog header, which I already have an idea planned out for so be on the lookout for that as well.  I also want to use it to make a watermark for the pictures that I include on the blog.

I've been going back and forth about whether to do this or not, but finally decided that it was a good idea to do it for blog.  I'm sure that some people find the blog through an image search, grab the image and leave.  For a long time I felt alright with this, as I also often don't have a picture I need and need to grab one off the web to be able to finish the post the way I wanted to.  However, I at least always make sure to cite the pictures I take and include a link back to the post.  If people don't do this though, then they're really just grabbing someone else's work without giving them any benefit.  I would guess that I do more for the original poster than many people would do for pictures that they use from someone else.  While I think it shouldn't be up to content creators to need to defend their works and should be the responsibility of people grabbing the image to do so properly and with credit, I also think the content creators have a right to try and retain some benefit out of their work.

As such, the goal isn't to punish or stop people from doing it, as I think both are not only impossible to do, but wouldn't be worth the time or effort even if I could.  The goal is instead to try and gain some publicity even if the photos are used in an improper way.  I will keep them small and out of the way for each picture, but big enough that people can get some information to find my blog.  I also understand that people could just strip the watermark from the picture and then re-post it.  But again, if someone knows how to and is going to spend the time to do that, then there's nothing I can do to stop that person that would be worth my time.

This is not to say that I condone these types of things happening.  I think people should take the time to give credit for other's work and follow the requests for re-using it, especially if it is for financial or organizational gain.  I will continue doing the same things I've been doing for other images I use and I think the watermark will even help this.  I will not take ownership of anything I acquire from somewhere else and will not include the watermark on these images.  Hopefully, this will also make it easier to distinguish which pictures are mine or someone else's.  I also plan on writing some usage terms for this blog to make it easier and clearer for people wanting to use something from my blog.  If anyone has any complaints about this or something to add to the debate, let me know as I'm still not 100% decided on this myself.

Hopefully, this will be the last of my posts about the workings of the blog for a while and I can get back to creating some more content, which I'm sure everyone is waiting for and I'm looking forward to get back to as well.  Coming up are the interactive location map and the checklist I talked about in my previous post, and after that back to more travels with a tour of Tokyo's most famous temple, Senso-ji.


1. "Hotoku Ninomiya Jinja Shrine," A Guide to Kamakura,

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Back for More, Housekeeping and Future Plans

ただいま (I'm back.)  I'm sorry for the long delay in-between posts.  Things became incredibly busy the last few months and it's just starting to settle down now.  I hope to have some new entries for everyone soon.  You may have noticed something new for this blog.  There's now a tab and a page besides the bog itself.  It's been something I've been thinking of doing for a long time and finally got to working on it for the past month.  I have compiled a list / calendar for different festivals in Japan.  So if you're ever planning a trip to Japan and want to experience a Japanese festival, I have listed almost 500 festivals with a brief description included.  You can learn more on the festival calendar page.

This is just the first step.  I have some big changes planned for this blog coming up soon, which will be a complete upgrade from the original.  I plan on adding some useful new content, like the festival calendar, in addition to the usual entries.  This will be done, as well as fixing up various things with the blog and improving the overall look.  I'll let you in on some of the planned upgrades now.

One of my other big additions will be an interactive map of my blog.  I'm going to plot each blog entry I write that has a location on a Google Map and link back to that entry.  This should provide people a better idea of where it is I'm writing about.  Or you could navigate through much of my blog just by using the map or reading up on places you want to learn more about.  My other addition is a list of big things I want to learn, do and see while in Japan, which I'll cross out and link to the entry once I finish them.  It hopefully gives you an idea of things I'm looking forward to and currently working at.

These are some of the biggest changes that I have planned for updating in the next few weeks.  I'll be working on a lot of other things that can use some work on my blog as well.  Here's where you can help make the blog a better experience for you and everyone else as well.  If you have any ideas or suggestions, whether they be new ideas or an improvement over the old let me know.  If there's something you're hoping to see or learn more about you can ask me that too as a comment here or as a message to me.  Hope you enjoy the next form of this blog as I get back to writing more of my journeys and learning along the way.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Indonesia Festival

July 9th, 2011:

This is the first of the international festivals in Yoyogi Park that we went to this year (2011).  I had briefly mentioned about these festivals in my Yoyogi Park post, which is where the festivals are held.  This weekend, on the side of Yoyogi Park with the National Gymnasium, the park fills with the tents of Indonesian food, drinks, goods and culture.  For this weekend, the area looks more like a market in Indonesia than any place in Tokyo.  The sights, sounds and especially the smells that reach far away compel everyone that comes in contact with it to dive right in.

A map of Indonesia and its neighbors in Southeast Asia. [1]

Indonesia is the world's largest archipelagic country with over 17,500 islands, of which 6,000 are inhabited.  It is the 4th (China, India, and the U.S. are 1, 2 and 3 respectively) most populous country with an estimated 248 million people and the world's largest Muslim population.  Indonesia was first colonized by the Dutch in the early 17th century and would remain under their control until Japan colonized it from 1942-1945.  After the war, Indonesia declared independence, but would have to fight the Netherlands for this independence and need UN intervention for mediation to be finally granted independence in 1949.  This would be followed by years of authoritarian rule, that has only recently, since 1999 seen a democratization of the country. [2]

Indonesia is also notable for its volcanic activity, with the most volcanoes of any country in the world.  It currently has 76 that are at least historically active.  The country also has a large amount of natural resources, which was the source of other countries wanting to colonize it, as well as an important part of its current economy.  Throughout its history, Indonesia's agriculture was the most important aspect of its economy, but in recent years, industry has become the largest part of its economy and very recently, the service sector provides the most jobs in the country.  Its capital is the city of Jakarta with over 9 million people, but Indonesia is more well known for its diversity as many different groups of people make up the many islands that make up Indonesia. [3] This and its history of colonization has created a wide variety of cultural influences that still can be seen today.

Each of the international festivals are set up in the same way.  This area of the park gets filled by tents, with the ones on the outside making a border and the ones on the inside forming rows.  Some of these tents sell goods from that place, mainly clothing and typical souvenirs, but also food products that are common from the country.  Other tents are set up for the different groups and organizations that are of or working with that country, but are here in Japan.  This area of the park also has a stage / bandshell where the country's music and cultural performances are on display.  So each festival looks like a market from that country transported to Yoyogi Koen for the weekend and also looks like a cultural and information fair.  The best parts of these festivals by far is the huge amount of that country's food and drink specialties for sale.

Some of the food stalls at the Indonesia Festival competing for customers with fancy banners and delicious food.

Many of that country's food restaurants in Tokyo come to the festival to sell their specialties and advertise their restaurant through the selling of their food at the festival.  Most of the festival is filled with a bazaar for a feast with the sights and smells of great food from that country tricks everyone passing by with the amount, variety and how delicious it all looks to go and buy everything if it were even possible.  We didn't even know about the festival and weren't planning on going, but once we saw it, we had to take a look (and get some things to eat and drink of course).  This is also why we did less at this festival than at some others we knew and prepared for.

We got some sticks of Satay Ayam, or the national dish of Indonesia, comprising of chicken covered with peanut oil.  

Also had to try some mango beer.  It's made by mixing half beer with half mango juice.  It was tasty, especially in the heat and humidity of summer in Tokyo.  Does it get to count as healthy now too?

Our first of the Yoyogi Park International Festivals this year was a great surprise, as we just happened to be walking by while the Indonesia Festival was happening.  After having just a small taste of this festival due to our unpreparedness, we made sure to look up when the other festivals were happening so we could go and fully enjoy them.  I'd fully recommend if you're coming to Tokyo for a while during the summer-early fall that it would be worth seeing which place's festival is at Yoyogi Park and stopping by.


1. "Maps of Southeast Asia," Maps of Thailand,

2. CIA, "East & Southeast Asia: Indonesia," The World Factbook,

3. Ibid.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Summer in Japan

Summer in Japan is one of the most exciting times to be here.  It is also one of the most difficult.  The summer season has the largest variety of activities to do; for it is when many of the festivals occur and the mountains and beaches open for the season.  It can be one of the most difficult times due to the weather.  For 3-4 months, the weather reaches tropical rainforest like levels, being over 100 degrees and 100% humidity every day.  While almost everywhere has lots of air conditioning, outside can be unpleasant.  I think the excitement of the season and all of the activities available make it a very worthwhile time to be in Japan.

Summer in Japan starts in late June, as soon as the rains of the Rainy Season end and it gets really hot out.  Although in recent years, this has been changing as the rainy season doesn't rain as much as it used to and things get hotter sooner.  The end of the summer season is in early September, when the beach and mountains close and kids return to school, but in terms of climate, the heat of summer can last more than a month longer than this.  This makes for at least the weather of summer to last from late-June to early to mid-October.

Summer is the time to go to the mountains and beaches as they open for the season.  This usually occurs from the beginning of July to the end of August for the mountains and the beginning of July to Obon (August 15th) for the beaches, because of the jellyfish that come after this.  The beaches and smaller mountains are really open all year, but most Japanese don't go out of season.  The larger mountains really are closed though in the off-season, specifically Mt. Fuji where the huts that cater to climbers of the mountain are closed and the rest of the year is also very dangerous to attempt climbing for any amateurs.  If you are planning to climb Mt. Fuji, you should plan your trip for the summer months, specifically during the open season.

Japan has a wide variety of other interesting things that are associated with summer.  The most obvious one being semi (蝉).  Semi are cicadas and one of the biggest things associated with summer here in Japan.  Which if you have ever been here in summer, is really obvious to see why.  The whole summer of Japan is filled with the screeching of cicada.  In the beginning, I wasn't ready for how loud they were and sometimes thought areas were filled with loud birds, until I realized (or remember again now) that this is the cicadas' work.  In areas with lots of trees, they can be especially deafening.  I also think they're a bit larger here than back home.

Another interesting aspect about Japan's summers is the popularity of horror at this time.  While in many places, the popular time for scary things is around Halloween, for Japan it's summer.  It is a long running belief in Japan that being scared is cooling.  So in Japan, it is popular for scary things and to be scared during the summer.  In the past, this was done by hanging Ukiyo-e prints of monsters, ghosts or other scary subjects.  The subject matter of these prints are often of Kaidan (怪談).  Kaidan, or Kwaidan are the traditional ghost stories and scary folktales of historic Japan.  Most of them refer to traditional tales that have been passed down for generations and incorporate the geographic, historic and political elements of the region that they come from. [1]

These tales or Kaidan became very popular during the Edo Era, when a game called Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai (百物語怪談会), or "Gathering of One Hundred Supernatural Tales" became popular. [2]  The game was played in the nights of summer, where 100 candles would be lit in a circle.  Players would then tell a ghost story and after telling it would extinguish one of the candles.  The extinguishing of the candles were thought to draw spiritual energy, until the last candle extinguished would cause an apparition to appear. [3]  As the popularity spread, books comprising of these Kaidan were put together to help players of the game to be able to remember more of them for the game.  Authors of these books also searched among the remote places of Japan for new tales, recording many of these local tales for the first time.  The Kaidan that were linked to important historical events were also depicted in the Noh and Bunraku plays of this time, making them classics and well known throughout Japan.  These tales became known to the west, first through the writings of Lafcadio Hearn in his book, Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things written in 1904. [4]  Lafcadio Hearn is famous for being one of the earliest writers of Japan and Japanese culture for western audiences.  Coming to Japan in 1890 for a newspaper assignment, he would stay in Japan for the rest of his life writing and teaching English in Japan until his death in 1904.  His most famous work being his first work of Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan which he describes his first experiences in Japan in. [5]  These stories becoming well-known, also became the subject matter of the Ukiyo-e prints covering scary subject matter.

Kuniyoshi Utagawa's Mitsukuni Defying the Skeleton Spectre Invoked by Princess Takiyasha. [6] 

Yoshitoshi Tsukioka, Ōya Tarō Mitsukuni.  From the same story as the Ukiyo-e above. [7]    

Katsushika Hokusai's The Ghost of Oiwa, from "One Hundred Stories." [8]

Katsushika Hokusai's Kohada Koheiji, from "One Hundred Stories." [9]

Now, most of Japan's horror films are released during the summer, filling this role.

The biggest and most exciting part about summer are the festivals.  Many of Japan's biggest and most famous festivals are held in the summer.  For example, 2 of Japan's 'Three Great Festivals' are held in the summer and all 3 of the 'Three Great Festivals of Tohoku' are held in the summer, these even being the same week of the first week of August.  Both the 'Three Great Festivals' and the 'Three Great Festivals of Tohoku' are Top 3, which I talked about in my last post about Tanabata.  These are: Gion Matsuri in Kyoto, Tenjin Matsuri in Osaka and the Nebuta Matsuri in Aomori, the Kanto Matsuri in Akita and the Tanabata Matsuri in Tanabata.  Besides these big ones, many areas hold their festivals in the summer.  So even while you could find a festival in Japan on almost every day of the year already, the summer become even more packed and you often have to choose between a few options every weekend (and on the weekdays as well).  For example, I really like the international food and culture festivals that happen just about every weekend in the summer to early fall at Yoyogi Park.  Another hugely popular summer past-time are the many firework festivals held all over Japan.

Besides the other festivals, the local firework festivals are a special time in summer when people bring popular food and drinks, many people donning traditional yukata and head to the river banks or spot of the fireworks to picnic, party and watch the fireworks.  These fireworks have been a popular activity since their introduction from China in the 16th century.  The Japanese also have their own firework invention, the Warimono which are also used in the festivals.  The Warimono are the fireworks that explode into the huge circles of sparks, made to represent different flowers.  These flowers include the chrysanthemum, wisteria, plum blossoms, cherry blossoms and others. [10]  These firework shows put almost all of ours back in the U.S. to shame.  The shows here are like the climax of normal firework shows, if they lasted for an hour instead.  Some of the most famous ones are the fireworks on the banks of the Sumigawa River in Tokyo and Nagaoka Festival on the banks of the Shinano River in Niigata.

The fireworks at the Sumidagawa Hanabi Taikai, "Sumida River Firework Festival," in Tokyo on August 14th, 2010.

The Nagaoka Firework Festival is held the 2nd and 3rd of August every year.  This fireworks show is famous for its huge fireworks, as well as the number launched during the festival.  The biggest of these is called the Sanjakudama, which is a 300 kilogram shell and explodes to 600 meters in diameter. [11]

The Sanjakudama in action.  The fireworks below are the size of the usual large ones. [12] 

Summer also has the 2nd most important holiday for Japanese people of Obon.  Obon (お盆) is an important religious festival held on August 15th for the Japanese.  At this time, the ancestors' spirits are supposed to return to the family home.  People all over Japan often return to their family and ancestral home at this time to be with family and to participate in the traditions revolving around the preparations and rituals of this important festival.  The main traditions are the: Haka Maini, Bon Odori, Mukaebi, Okuribi and Shōrō Nagashi.  Haka Mmairi is the visiting of the graves of the ancestors, which are then cleaned up for the Bon Festival.  The main point of Obon is to properly welcome and send off the spirits of their ancestors that come back to the ancestral home at this time.  This is done by the other traditional practices. [13]

Mukaebi is the lighting of fires to guide and welcome the returning souls.  This welcome is further enhanced by the Bon Odori, or the Bon Dance.  The Bon Dance is a traditional folk dance in the town, where a Yagura, or a stage with lanterns in the town square is danced around in a circle to Hayashi music. [14]

The departure of the ancestral spirits is also important and rituals are also preformed for the sending off of these spirits.  This includes the Bon Odori again, but also has the Okuribi and the Shōrō Nagashi.  The Okuribi is the lighting of fires again, much like the Mukabi, but for the sending off of the spirits.  The Shōrō Nagashi is the sending of the spirits down the local river to the sea in paper boats.  These are called Tōrō, which are lanterns made by the people for their own ancestors with a candle inside and sent into the waters to the sea marking the end of Obon. [15]

Summer is an exciting time to be in Japan, with many of its greatest festivals on display during this time and all of the outdoor activities open to be explored.  The unpleasant weather is just a small price to pay to be able to experience everything Japan has to offer during the summer season.


1. Scott Foutz, "Kaidan: Traditional Japanese Ghost Tales and Japanese Horror Film," SaruDama,

2. Ibid.

3. Zack Davisson, "What is Hyakumonogatari?" 百物語怪談会 Hyaukumonogatari Kaidankai,

4. Scott Foutz, "Kaidan: Traditional Japanese Ghost Tales and Japanese Horror Film."

5. Lafcadio Hearn, Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan (Tokyo: Tuttle Publishing, 2009), viii.

6. "Death of Kuniyoshi," Toshidama Japanese Prints,

7. Library of Congress, "Yoshitoshi's One Hundred Ghosts," The Floating World of Ukiyo-e Shadows, Dreams, and Substance,

8. Library of Congress, ""Oiwa" (Oiwa-san)," The Floating World of Ukiyo-e Shadows, Dreams, and Substance,

9. Library of Congress, ""Kohada Koheiji"," The Floating World of Ukiyo-e Shadows, Dreams, and Substance,

10. Illustrated Festivals of Japan, 12th ed. (Japan: JTB Publishing, 2006), 174.

11. "Nagaoka Matsuri Dai Hanabi Taikai,",

12. Erdenee, "Nagaoka Fireworks Festival!!!," Japanese Used Car Dealer "EVERY" BLOG,

13. Illustrated Festivals of Japan, 170-172.

14. Ibid.

15. Ibid.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Tanabata: Festival of the Star Lovers

July 7th, 2011:

The main form of decorations displayed for Tanabata. [1]

Today is another Japanese holiday.  However, unlike the other ones I've talked about so far, this one is largely a Chinese adopted holiday.  Tanabata, or 'The Star Festival,' is the Chinese festival of Qixi and most of the traditions and customs performed in the Japanese Tanabata have Chinese origins.  Tanabata (七夕) is a holiday revolving around the mythological story of Orihime and Hikoboshi.  Tanabata is also the 4th Sekku, marking the beginning of the summer season on the lunar calendar.  More information about Sekku and other Sekku that I have written about can be found here.

Orihime (織姫) and Hikoboshi (彦星), or Zhinü and Niulang in the Chinese legend are the stars Vega and Altair respectively.  Orihime was the daughter of Tentei (天帝), or the king of heaven.  Orihime skillfully weaved clothes for her father, but was so busy with weaving that she could not find time to find love, so that she became depressed.  Tentei seeing this, arranged a marriage for her with Hikoboshi who lived across the River of Heaven.  The River of Heaven is Amanogawa (天の川), which in Japanese is actually the Milky Way.  Both of them were in love and very happy, but Orihime had neglected her weaving so Tentei again separated them on opposite sides of the Amanogawa.  Tentei now only allows them to meet on the 7th night of the 7th month. [2]

This is only if Orihime does her best in her weaving.  On that night, a boatman (actually the moon) comes to her side to ferry her across to Hikoboshi for the night.  However, if Tentei is not happy about her weaving for that year he can make it rain, which makes the river flooded and the boatman can not cross the river to ferry her across.  In this case, Magpies still might make a bridge across the Milky Way for her to cross. [3]

It's a bit different than the Chinese tale of Qixi, but it's easy to see the similarities in the two stories and what was drawn from the Qixi tale to make the Tanabata story.  In this story, Orihime and Hikoboshi are Zhinü and Niulang.  In this story, Niulang is first an orphan living with his brother and his brother's wife, but the sister-in-law doesn't like him.  So eventually, they split the property and Niulang is given an old ox and a poor shelter.  When Niulang had brought the ox to a new area, he saw 9 fairy sisters descend from the clouds and bathe in the river there.  When Niulang stared at the most beautiful of them, the ox told him that she was Zhinü and if he got her color cloth she would marry him.  Niulang then took her cloth and Zhinü wasn't able to leave with the other sisters as she had lost her cloth.  Niulang then appears before Zhinü and asks her to marry him, which she does and they have 2 children and live happily for 2 years, her as a weaver and him as a farmer.  When the God of Heaven discovers that Zhinü has married a mortal, he becomes furious and orders the Goddess of Heaven and soldiers to bring Zhinü back to heaven on the 7th day of the 7th month of the lunar calendar.  Niulang with the help of the ox, takes his children in a basket and gives chase to them up into heaven.  Right before catching them, the Goddess of Heaven takes out her golden hairpin and waves it in the sky, creating a sky river separating the two.  Being separated, the 2 separated lovers cry, moving the magpies who came to form a bridge over the river.  The Goddess of Heaven was powerless to stop this, so every year on the 7th day of the 7th month of the lunar calendar they are allowed to meet. [4]  So today is the one day that the stars, or Orihime and Hikoboshi can meet.

This is a depiction of Tanabata, with Orihime and Hikoboshi separated by the River of Heaven, the Milky Way.  If you're wondering why they're penguins, it's because this is the Christmas Illuminations in front of JR's (Japan Railways) headquarters in Shinjuku and the penguin is JR's mascot.  Why Tanabata was the subject of a Christmas display, I couldn't begin to tell you. 

Well, not exactly one day.  The 7th day of the 7th month of the lunar calendar was the one day they were allowed to meet.  The problem is, Japan switched to the Gregorian Calendar in 1873 and the two aren't exactly comparable.  So, Tanabata is celebrated on July 7th in some places, as they kept the same date.  While other places celebrate it one month later on August 7th, which more closely matches the actual time on the lunar calendar.  This confusion happens for a variety of holidays and festivals in Japan, where it's either the same day, one month later or held on both days, but differing in date depending on the area like Tanabata.

The main tradition of this holiday are the decorations of the holiday and the wishes that get made.  People take a bamboo branch and decorate it with strips of colored paper as well as wish strips.  These wish strips are actually called Tanzaku (短冊), which are long strips of paper where originally Tanka poems were written on them, but for Tanabata, people write wishes on them and hang them with the other decorations on the bamboo in hopes of it coming true.  These prayer strips are related to the Tanabata story.  The original Chinese festival Qixi is also called 'The Festival to Plead for Skills.'  This also can be seen in the popular version of the Tanabata story where Orihime must weave her best, otherwise Tentei might make it rain and prevent the boatman from coming to unite them.  In the ancient Japanese traditions, people wished for an increase in their skills along with Orihime to increase her skill in weaving so she can see Hikoboshi. [5]  People also make wishes for good weather, because it's believed they won't be able to meet if it's bad weather and Tanabata won't be held for that year. [6]  In present day Tanabata, people can wish for anything and often wish for their hopes and dreams for the future. [7]

So far, I have not really celebrated this holiday short of seeing some of the decorations hung about during this time.  What I really want to do for this holiday in the future is see Sendai's Tanabata.  Sendai is the capital city of Miyagi Prefecture in the Tohoku Region (the northern part of Honshu), which has Japan's most famous Tanabata festival.  It's held from August 6th-8th (they chose one month later to more closely match the lunar calendar) and is the biggest Tanabata festival and one of the Top 3 Tohoku Festivals.

Top 3 is a commonly used marking for the best things of Japan, since the first one Sankei (三景), or 'Top 3 Views' was created by the scholar Hayashi Razan in 1643.  While the original was made more than 350 years ago, over time new categories have been made and previous ones revised, so there is a mixture of old and new sources for these lists.  They represent the best of Japan in that category for the Japanese.  Some of the more famous ones are: Top 3 Views, Gardens and Festivals, but these include all sorts of things like: Top 3 Night Views, Castles, Onsens and even things like Top 3 Disappointing Places.  Sendai Tanabata is one of the Top 3 Tohoku Festivals, which is a separate category from Top 3 Festivals as the Tohoku Region has a lot of grand festivals.  In more recent years, this idea has been expanded to 100 Famous Japanese Mountains (日本百名山) by Kyūya Fukada, who as a mountaineer and not satisfied with previous mountain lists has written his own.  The book has become famous by the endorsement of the Crown Prince Naruhito, and as a result has become the official list even though it wasn't the author's intention. [8]  This 100 Famous list has also been copied for 100 Famous Castles of Japan recently.  This idea has developed into all sorts of different lists that often become the checklist for people that travel in Japan want to complete.

Tanabata decorations in Sendai. [9]

The Sendai Tanabata is particularly famous because of its many large decorations throughout the city.  Each decoration costs around a few hundred thousand yen to a few million.  These decorations are made by the vendors of Sendai and many start work on the paper decoration months before the festival. [10]  The festival of Tanabata in the shopping districts of Sendai become a sky filled with colorful paper decorations and bamboo.

These decorations are hung on real bamboo, where the people of the shopping districts go into the mountains and cut down the bamboo that grows there more than ten meters long and deliver it to the shopping districts.  This is done on August 4th, and the stores assemble their decorations to hang on the bamboo, 5 decorations to each bamboo pole.  This is then hung up at 8:00 AM on August 6th.  These are also more than just decorations.  The stores of the shopping districts compete against each other and that evening, gold, silver and copper medal winner of that shopping street receive a plate at the base of their decoration. [11]

These decorations comprise of 7 different decorations, all having important symbolism for Tanabata and different prayers asked for during Tanabata.  These 7 decorations are: paper kimonos, 1,000 origami cranes, Tanzaku, paper nets, paper trash bags, paper purses and paper streamers.  The meaning of each is as followed: The paper kimono are hung at the top of the bamboo pole and in the past were the prayers for good sewing skills. [12]  The 1,000 origami cranes are a traditional Japanese action for making a wish come true.  For Sendai's Tanabata, they are also a wish for long life and also done for the older members of each family.  This also has a connection to the focus of gaining skills for the holiday, as young girls teach each other how to fold the origami cranes.  The Tanzaku I have already mentioned, but they also symbolize the gaining of skills through the handwriting lessons and studying skills gained from copying the poems from masters in the past onto these Tanzaku.  The net is traditional for Sendai as a wish for a good catch of the fisherman in Sendai.  The trash bags are created from the left-over paper of the other decorations and put inside of a paper trash bag symbolizing the importance of saving and using resources wisely.  The purse serves as a warning against wasting money, but also as a wish for wealth.  The streamers represent the string that Orihime used to weave and make up the most of the decorations. [13]  These 7 decorations are what makes up the many decorations that fill the shopping districts of Sendai during this time and make Tanabata here a must see.

Besides the incredible decorations, Sendai's Tanabata has a long history.  By the Edo Era, when rule of this area was by the Date Clan, Tanabata was called Tanabata-san by the people and Masamune Date had written poems about Tanabata and how it was already a long held tradition in Sendai.  This was still during the old lunar calendar, so Tanabata at that time was held on July 7th and decorations were thrown into the river on July 8th.  This would change during the rule of the 7th Date lord, Shigemura Date by being moved up one day.  At that time, people decorated bamboo and celebrated the 2 stars meeting much like today.  They also prayed for writing and sewing skills, as well as a good harvest by making straw horses as a symbol of the gods of their own horses of their rice paddies.  Tanabata at this time was also used as a preparation for the Bon festival, an important religious festival in August by washing various things and bathing in the same local river they threw the Tanabata decorations in, in an event called Nanukabi or Nanukabon.  The traditional Tanabata festival in Sendai declined from a combination of the Meiji Era and the period of modernization at this time, the switch to the Gregorian Calendar in 1873 and the recession after the first world war. [14]

So the modern Sendai Tanabata is a bit removed from its historic and traditional roots.  It was brought back by a group of Sendai merchants in 1927 to combat the general mood caused by the recession and to show off the business spirit of Sendai, which brought a lot of excitement and happiness for the return of the festival.  This was further promoted in the following year by the Sendai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, along with the Sendai Sponsorship Committee to hold a Tanabata decoration contest at the Tohoku Industrial Exposition.  This was held from August 6th-8th, which has remained the dates of the festival to this day.  Eleven towns in the city of Sendai participated in decorating the town, which drew huge crowds marking the full return of Tanabata in Sendai. [15]

In the latter years of World War II, Sendai's Tanabata festival again became very subdued due to the hardships from the war.  After the war in 1946, the street of Ichibancho, which went through the destroyed town of Sendai set up 52 bamboo decorations; again bringing back the Tanabata festival.  In 1947, Emperor Hirohito came to Sendai and 5,000 bamboo pole decorations were hung along the route he would take.  Ever since, the main shopping districts have continued to work hard for the Tanabata festival in Sendai.  The decorations also reflect this in the Kusudama.  The Kusudama is the ball on the top of the decorations that you can see in the picture above.  It was originally a decoration consoling the spirits of the dead, but in 1946 a new design was made by Kengoro Mori in order to encourage the Japanese people during Japan's reconstruction period.  It is based on the Dahlia flower and incorporates a variety of origami and colorful papers.  In recent years, Sendai's Tanabata has even expanded further due to its popularity, to more than just decorations, but parades and fireworks as well. [16]  It's too bad I can't use the wish strip early to get there.  I'll have to figure out another way to do it and be able to experience one of Japan's greatest festivals in Sendai's Tanabata.


1. Hiro, "Information for Tanabata or Star Festival in Kyoto," Kyoto Machiya Blog,

2. Shane Sakata, "Tanabata - Festival of Star Crossed Lovers," The Nihon Sun, July 2nd, 2009,, (accessed February 28th, 2012).

3. Steve Renshaw and Saori Ihara, "Orihime, Kengyuu, and Tanabat Adapting Chinese Lore to Native Beliefs and Purposes," Astronomy in Japan,

4. "QiXi Story - The Chinese Valentine's Day," Paviavio,

5. Steve Renshaw and Saori Ihara, "Orihime, Kengyuu, and Tanabat Adapting Chinese Lore to Native Beliefs and Purposes."

6. Shizuko Mishima, "Japanese Tanabata Festival," Japan Travel,

7. Steve Renshaw and Saori Ihara, "Orihime, Kengyuu, and Tanabat Adapting Chinese Lore to Native Beliefs and Purposes."

8. Wes Lang, "Hyakumeizan (日本百名山)," Hiking in Japan,

9. Kikuo, "Tanabata (Star Festival)," Kikuo's Website,

10. Sendai Tanabata Festival Support Association, "Features of Sendai Tanabata Festival," Sendai Tanabata Festival August 6 - 8,

11. Ibid.

12. Ibid.

13. Ibid.

14. Sendai Tanabata Festival Support Association, "History of Sendai Tanabata Festival," Sendai Tanabata Festival August 6 - 8,

15. Ibid.

16. Ibid.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Crows in Japan: Menace or Guide of the Gods?

Crow in Yoyogi Park.  This one is smaller than a lot of them here; I couldn't find the larger ones when I went to take pictures.

One of the most noticeable differences for me while living in Japan has been the crows.  Unlike back at home, crows here reach monstrous size, some getting more than twice as big as the ones in the U.S.  They look and feel like they should be ravens, in the vein of Poe's nightmares, than actual crows.  Their large size backing up their having no fear of humans and becoming aggressive and obnoxious throughout Japan.  At first I thought due to their large size and not knowing crows were native to Japan that they might be some scourge accidentally brought along by the black ships of Admiral Perry or another foreign ship after the former forced open Japan.  The crows growing large and fearless as a non-native species, lacking any predators to keep them in check.  The embodiment of the menace of the past, forever unable to remove this final remembrance. The word crow also being カラス (karasu) in katakana also gave me this motion, as katakana is often used for words introduced to Japan from outside countries.  After seeing crows in 16th century art and other places long before the possibility of foreign introduction, I was dispelled of this idea.  This time, I want to learn more about crows in Japan, their history and what their cultural impact has been and is today.

First off, the crows in Japan are of a completely different species than the ones in the U.S.  There are actually 2 species of crow in Japan, the Jungle Crow and the Carrion Crow.  The Jungle Crow normally live in the cities and areas above 1000 meters, while the Carrion Crow often lives in the rural areas of Japan.  Another way to tell the difference is by their calling.  The Jungle Crow has a clearer call and bobs its head and tail while calling.  The Carrion Crow has a harsher call and only bobs its head. [1]

At this point, crows are a bit of a problem, especially in the cities.  The biggest problem is they dig through the garbage left out for collection for food and leave a mess everywhere.  After the crows find one of these garbage supplies, they will often congregate around these areas and become very aggressive towards anything that enters the area including people.  Japan has tried to fix this problem by covering the garbage with nets before it's picked up.  So all over the city, telephone poles and railings are covered in blue nets that people keep folded up until garbage day when they are taken out to cover the garbage.

Here's a picture of one of the nets used for covering garbage in Tokyo. 

Another problem, specifically in Kagoshima are the crows' nests are being made on top of transformers, actually leading to blackouts within the city.  Kagoshima is the capital city of Kagoshima Prefecture, the southern-most prefecture on the island of Kyūshū.  Kyūshū is one of the 4 main islands of Japan all the way to the southwest.  In Kagoshima, the Kyūshū Electric Power company has had to make crow patrols to remove nests from on top of transformers starting in 2005.  These patrols have removed over 600 nests from 2005-2008, but blackouts still occur including a couple of major incidents in 2007 when a wire used for nesting short circuited power lines and blacked out the central port district.  Another 610 homes and businesses lost power for 48 minutes when a crow stuck its beak in a high-voltage line. [2]  These crows have even been making decoy nests within the city in an attempt to defend their real nests from the patrols.  In Tokyo, crows from 2006-2008 had almost 1,400 cases of cutting fiber optic wires to use in their nesting.  [3]  The increase in problems seems to come from a large increase in the crow population recently due to an increase in garbage, as Japan has adopted more of a wasteful western lifestyle. [4]

Crows however do perform at least one useful action in that they hunt and eat mice.  For a city the size and density of Tokyo, it's amazing how rarely one sees any mice or rats in the city.  The crows have made the rodent problem almost non-existent.

While the problems might be more recent, crows have a long history and cultural tradition in Japan, which I will explain a few of these here.

There are actually 2 castles in Japan with the nickname "Crow Castle."  These are Okayama Castle and Matsumoto Castle.  As you might have guessed, these castles have black exteriors, due to black painted wood placed over the plaster walls.

Okayama Castle, or the 'Crow Castle.' [5]

Okayama Castle (岡山城) was built in 1597 by Hideie Ukita in present day Okayama Prefecture.  Okayama Prefecture is in between Hiroshima and Hyōgo Prefectures.  However, he would only hold onto the castle for three years as Hideie sided with Toyotomi's side at the Battle of Sekigahara. Their loss in the battle to Tokugawa's forces saw Hideie on the wrong side and he would be captured and exiled to the prison island of Hachijōjima, where he was stuck the rest of his life.  The castle would survive until World War II, when it was destroyed by allied bombing.  A reconstruction of the castle was competed in 1966.

There's a few explanations behind the nickname for Okayama Castle.  The simplest explanation is the black exterior of the castle is why Okayama Castle has been given the nickname of U-jō (烏城) 'Crow Castle.'  There are more explanations for its nickname that delve further into the history and reasoning for this nickname.  The first being a local legend that Hideie Ukita felt challenged by the attention given to Himeji's 'White Egret Castle,' so he painted his castle black in opposition. [6]  Himeji Castle is the most famous of Japan's castles, and widely considered to be its most beautiful with its extensive white walls and keep.  Being only 40 kilometers to the east of Okayama Castle helped add to this rivalry. [7]

This rivalry is further explained in other explanations for the nickname.  Hideie Ukita was adopted by Hideyoshi Toyotomi after his father's death and joined his side in the upcoming conflict.  Himeji Castle, also called 'White Heron Castle,' was owned by Terumasa Ikeda, the son-in-law of Ieysau Tokugawa.  Ieyasu Tokugawa was the winning general at the Battle of Sekigahara that would mark the end of Toyotomi Clan power.  The opposition in colors of the two castles, white and black, and the nicknames of the two, egret and heron compared to crow became a symbol of this rivalry for the three years both men were in control of their respective castles. [8]

While its nickname today is 'Crow Castle', Okayama Castle used to be called Kin U-jō (金烏城), or 'Gold Crow Castle.'  This is because the roof tiles for the castle used to all be gilded. [9]  Today only the Shachihoko, or the half tiger, half carp rooftop guardian decorations retain the former glory of the castle, as they were added in 1996 for the 400th anniversary celebration of the castle. [10]

Matsumoto Castle.  Also the 'Crow Castle.' [11]

Matsumoto Castle's (松本城) main keep was built in 1593-1594 by Yasunaga Ishikawa in Matsumoto City, Nagano Prefecture.  The castle today is famous for being the oldest surviving castle in Japan, even though it was controlled by many different clans during its existence.  It's one of 4 castles to be designated as a national treasure in Japan.  This castle also has the nickname of 'Crow Castle,' Karasu-jō (烏城).  This is due not only to its black exterior, but also its roof looks like spread wings.

The crow also makes up a part of one of the mythological creatures found in Japanese Shintoism and Buddhism, the Crow Tengu.

A statue of a Crow Tengu at Hansōbō Shrine in Kamakura.

Crow Tengu (烏天狗) are one of the main types of Tengu, a group of mythical creatures found in Japanese traditional lore and religions, that are similar in some ways to goblins in the western tradition.  Tengu are the patrons of the martial arts and famed for their skills in sword fighting, weapon smithing and being skilled warriors. [12]  Tengu protect the Dharma, or Buddhist law against transgressors of the Dharma.  This is most often seen in their hatred of arrogant and vain priests and samurai, which the tengu play tricks on, and punish priests that use their knowledge and authority to gain fame or position.  In fact, these vain and arrogant priests are thought to become Tengu after their deaths. [13]  Tengu have a variety of supernatural powers that they use to play these tricks on people including:  shape-shifting to human or animal forms, speaking without moving their mouths, moving instantly from place to place and being able to invade people's dreams. [14]

Tengu (天狗) literally means heavenly dog.  天 is heaven and 狗 is dog.  Their name is derived from the the Chinese mountain god Tiangou (天狗), but Tengu are also related to the Buddhist god Garuda, or Karura in Japanese. [15]  Garuda is a Hindu deity, but has been adopted into Buddhism as a protector deity.  Garuda in Japan is a large, fire breathing, half man, half eagle with golden feathers and magic gems as a crown. [16]  There are actually two types of Tengu: the Crow Tengu which I already mentioned and the Yamabushi Tengu (山伏天狗).  Yamabushi are mountain monks or mountain ascetic hermits and practice a mixture of Buddhist and Shinto practices on the sacred mountains of Japan.  The Yamabushi Tengu look like these Yamabushi and wear the same priestly clothes as them, but with a long nose and most have a magical fan made of feathers that can be used to create strong winds and wings (although all Yamabushi Tengu can fly, even those without wings).  These Tengu are the newer form of Tengu, and are the symbol of the fallen priests that angered the Tengu by their vanity and arrogance.  These are the leaders of the Tengu who often live in groups up in the mountains. [17]

A statue of a Yamabushi Tengu at Hansōbō Shrine in Kamakura.

The Crow Tengu is the first and ancient form of the Tengu.  The Crow Tengu were originally evil and had the body of a man, but the wings, face and beak of a crow.  These Crow Tengu would kidnap people, start fires and rip apart people that damaged their homes of the forest.  They also might abduct people and release them later, leaving them in a state of dementia.  However, now the Crow Tengu are more like the Tengu of today and often serve as messengers for the Yamabushi Tengu. [18]

In Kamakura, at Kenchō-ji, there is a shrine dedicated to the Tengu called Hansōbō Shrine.  Hansōbō Shrine is the protecting shrine of Kenchō-ji, with Hansōbō being the protecting diety of Kenchō-ji.  The deity was originally located in Hōkō-ji in Shizuoka, but was brought here by the Zen Master Ozora Kandō in 1890. [19]  In front of the shrine are many statues of the Tengu who would have accompanied this protective deity here.  The shrine is at the top of the mountain behind the temple and after climbing many steps, the first sights of the shrine are many Tengu statues surrounding the area leading up to the shrine.

The fierce Crow Tengu standing guard at the top of the mountain behind Kenchō-ji.    

Here is a large statue of a Crow Tengu flanking the steps to the shrine along with the Yamabushi Tengu I showed earlier.

I also picked up an omamori (御守), or amulet from this shrine that's a Crow Tengu.  It's for protection of the possessor of the amulet, but I picked it up because I liked the way it looks.  Now it hangs on my bag.

The Crow Tengu Omamori.

A crow even plays an important part in The Kojiki, Japan's oldest record, telling the Shinto creation story and the legends of the early emperors.  There is more detail about The Kojiki here.  This was no ordinary crow though, and was instead the mythological "great crow" sent from heaven, Yatagarasu.

Yatagarasu (八咫烏) has come to be understood as the translation of a crow eight feet (literal feet or spans, not the American measurement) long.  The crow was sent from heaven by Takiginokami, or the "Great High Integrating Deity," also known as Takamimusubinokami, or the "High August Producing Wondrous Deity." *[20]  This god is one of the 17 heavenly deities and one of the first 3 gods created at the beginning of heaven and earth in the Shinto creation story. [21]  Yatagarasu has been sent down to guide the 1st emperor, Jimmu on his journey from his origins in present day Kyūshū to the Yamato plains (present day Nara Prefecture) where he was destined to rule over. [22]  Emperor Jimmu has links to the gods himself.

Jimmu has links to the gods in The Kojiki through Amaterasuohomikami, or the "Heaven Shining Great August Deity."  Amaterasu is the sun goddess in Shinto lore.  The descending of Emperor Jimmu from the Sun Goddess is as followed in The Kojiki.

Amaterasu is born of the washing of Izanagi's left eye. [23]  Izanagi along with his younger sister Izanami are the creator gods in Shinto lore.  They give birth to the lands and many of the gods of Japan.  This washing is to purify Izanagi from the filth of his journey to Hades to see Izanami, who at this point has died.  This washing process created many other gods, but the only other one important to the lineage of Jimmu is Amaterasu's brother Takahayasusanowonomikoto, or the "Brave Swift Impetuous Male Augustness" born of the washing of Izanagi's nose. [24]  Both are given lands to rule over, Amaterasu to rule the Plains of High Heaven and the Brave Swift Impetuous Male Augustness to rule the sea.  However, the Brave Swift Impetuous Male Augustness won't rule his domain and instead cries causing a host of calamities over the land.  When confronted about it by Izanagi, he says he wants to be with his mother (Izanami) in Hades instead.  Angered by this, Izanagi banishes him to Taga in Afumi (present day Omi near Lake Biwa).  The Brave Swift Impetuous Male Augustness instead goes up into Amaterasu's lands of heaven.  His leaving causes the mountains, rivers and the land itself to quake, alerting Amaterasu of his bad intentions so she arms herself. [25]

When confronted, the Brave Swift Impetuous Male Augustness suggests they swear and produce children on his having good intentions for coming to the Lands of Heaven.  Amaterasu has 5 children born to her from this; her children are born of the Brave Swift Impetuous Male Augustness's breath when he begs her of her curved jewels, which he washes in the True Pool Well of Heaven, crunches them and blows away.  (His children are created from the mist of Amaterasu's breath when she begs him of his ten grasp saber, breaking it into 3 fragments, washing them in the True Pool Well of Heaven, crunching them and blows it away.  The reasoning is the children made of items must be that item's original possessor's children.)  The first of these, created from the curved jewels in the left bunch of her hair is Masakaakatsukachihayabiamenooshihominomikoto, or "Truly Conqueror I Conquer Conquering Swift Heavenly Great Great Ears. [26]

Truly Conqueror I Conquer Conquering Swift Heavenly Great Great Ears marries Yorodzuhatatoyoakidzushihimenomikoto, or "Myriad Looms Luxuriant Dragonfly Island Princess" and has 2 children.  He was supposed to descend from heaven himself to rule over the lands of Japan, but the long delay in pacifying that land led to him having children before this was completed.  So instead, his 2nd child, the grandson of Amaterasu, Amenigishikuninigishiamatsuhidakahikohononiniginomikoto,  or "Heaven Plenty Earth Plenty Heaven's Sun Height Prince Rice ear Ruddy Plenty" is commanded to descend from heaven to rule over Toyoashiharanomidzuhonokuni, or "Reed Plain Land of Fresh Rice ears," also known as "Central Land of Reed Plains," 'Yamato' or Japan.  He is given the three sacred regalia: the jewels, mirror and sword upon his descension from heaven.  (There is also more information about the sacred regalia in my post with more information about The Kojiki, here.) [27]

Heaven Plenty Earth Plenty Heaven's Sun Height Prince Rice ear Ruddy Plenty meets Kamuatatsuhime, also known as Konohanasakuyahime, or the "Divine Princess of Ata" and "Princess Blossoming Brillantly Like the Flowers of the Trees" respectively.  He asks her father, Ohoyamatsuminokami, or the "Deity Great Mountain Possessor," to marry her and the Deity Great Mountain Possessor gives both of his daughters to him, her and her older sister, Ihanagahime, or "Princess Long as the Rocks."  Heaven Plenty Earth Plenty Heaven's Sun Height Prince Rice ear Ruddy Plenty marries Princess Blossoming Brillantly Like the Flowers of the Trees, but sends Princess Long as the Rocks back because of her ugliness, which shames the Deity Great Mountain Possessor.  The Deity Great Mountain Possessor then tells him if he married both, his offspring would have lived forever, but his rejection of Princess Long as the Rocks means their lives will be short.  His children with her are Hoderinomikoto "Fire Shine," Hosuserinomikoto "Fire Climax" and Howorinomikoto "Fire Subside."  Fire Subside also has the name of Soratsuhidaka, or "Sky's Sun Height" when he's the heir apparent and Amatsuhidakahikohohodeminomikoto, or "Heaven's Sun Height Prince Great Rice ears Lord Ears" when he is the reigning soverign. [28]

While Fire Subside was only the 3rd born, he would overtake the power of his oldest brother and become the reigning soverign.  He loses the luck of his older brother Fire Shrine, who then demands that it be returned to him.  He is given advice to go to the palace of Onowatatsuminokami, or the "Deity Great Ocean Possessor," in order to get it back. [29]  He follows this advice and meets with the Deity Great Ocean Possessor who gives him his daughter, Toyotamabime, or the "Luxuriant Jewel Princess."  He lived there for three years before thinking about before, and the Deity Great Ocean Possessor hearing his problem, finds the hook of luck and gives advice on how to return it and what to do afterwards to harass his brother, Fire Shine.  He follows the Deity Great Ocean Possessor's advice and it causes his oldest brother, Fire Shine to become ever-poorer until he attacks Fire Subside.  Fire Subside then uses the tide flowing jewel given to him by the Deity Great Ocean Possessor to drown him.  Fire Shine shows his grief and Fire Subside then saves him according to the Deity Great Ocean Possessor's advice with the tide ebbing jewel.  Fire Shine after this serves Fire Subside, who then becomes the heir apparent. [30]

Fire Subside and the Luxuriant Jewel Princess have Amatsuhidakahikoonagisatakeugayafukiahezunomikoto, or "Heaven's Sun Height Prince Wave limit Brave Comorant Thatch Meeting Incompletely.  Who then marries Tamayoribime, or the "Jewel Good Princess," the younger sister of his mother, the Luxuriant Jewel Princess and also his nurse as a baby.  They have 4 children: Itsusenomikoto, "Five Reaches" (reaches of a river), Inahinomikoto, "Boiled Rice," Mikenunomikoto, the "August Food Master" and Wakamikenunomikoto, the "Young August Food Master."  He is also of the names Toyomikenunomikoto, or the "Luxuriant August Food Master" and Kamuyamatoiharebikonomikoto, or the "Divine Yamato Ihare Prince." [31]  This last child would become Emperor Jimmu.

Even though the Divine Yamato Ihare Prince was only the 4th born, he would become the first emperor, Jimmu due to this: Boiled Rice, the 2nd child would go to the sea plane that was his deceased mother's land (his mother, the Jewel Good Princess being the daughter of the Deity Great Ocean Possessor).  The August Food Master, the 3rd born goes to the eternal land, which might refer to some heavenly paradise or Hades, but might also refer to China or Korea. [32]  This leaves the eldest, Five Reaches and the Divine Yamoto Ihare Prince, who decide to go east to better rule the empire from (remembering at this time they are still living in present day Kyūshū). [33]

Heading east from Kyūshū towards the lands of Yamato, they arrive in a land somewhat past the Namihaya Crossing, or Naniha at the mouth of the river Yodo at present day Osaka, where the Prince of Nagasune of Tomi at the place of Tatedzu, or currently Tadetsu of Kusaka attacks them.  Perhaps this name is Takatsu derived from Taketsu.  Two Kusakas also existed, one in Kahachi and one in Idzumi Provinces. [34]

During the battle, the eldest brother, Five Reaches is shot through the hand by an arrow from the Prince of Tomi, which Five Reaches thinks is due to facing the sun during the battle; the descendants of the Sun Goddess shouldn't face the sun while in battle.  So they slip away to the south around present day Kii Peninsula in hopes of heading west, and with the sun to Yamato, which will allow them to be victorious in battle.  However, while traveling in this way, Five Reaches dies from this wound at the mouth of the River Wo in the land of Ki (present day Kii) leaving the Divine Yamato Ihare Prince to carry on the empire. [35]

This description of the lineage of Jimmu from the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu down to him as described in The Kojiki is important for the legitimacy of the emperor in Japan and his past stature in Japan as a god.  The three sacred regalia also become important in proving the legitimacy of the emperor as from the gods.  The Kojiki was pushed as an historical record and the Emperors were gods.  This was done especially after the Meiji Restoration, when the emperors retook power in Japan.  The history of The Kojiki and emperors being gods was especially pushed during the rise of Imperial Japan in the early 20th century and during World War II.  This view was obviously abandoned after World War II, when Emperor Hirohito had to give up his claim of divinity and The Kojiki was stopped being taught as historic fact.  This is to the point where I think students today would not know much about The Kojiki or what is contained within it.

With the first emperor now having been decided, tracing all the way back to his roots of the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu; I can now describe why Yatagarasu was sent down to the Divine Yamato Ihare Prince from heaven.  He continues along the peninsula in the plan of turning back to go west to Yamato, when he arrives at the land of Kumanu (present day Kumano in Wakayama and Mie Prefectures).  The name meaning 'Bear Moor.'  At this place, either a large bear or a large savage tribe came out of the mountain there and went back in, which causes the Divine Yamato Ihare Prince and his army to faint and lie there. [36]

The Divine Yamato Ihare Prince is only saved by the cross-sword delivered to him by the person, Takakurazhi as instructed in a dream by Amaterasu, the Great High Integrating Deity and Takemikadzuchinowonokami, or the "Brave Awful Possessing Male Deity." [37]  In the dream, Takakurazhi is shown Amaterasu and the Great High Integrating Deity commanding the Brave Awful Possessing Male Deity to pacify the Central Land of Reed Plains (or Yamato or Japan) for the Divine Yamato Ihare Prince (The Brave Awful Possessing Male Deity was also the deity that pacified the lands that was needed to be done before the descending of  Heaven Plenty Earth Plenty Heaven's Sun Height Prince Rice ear Ruddy Plenty from heaven to earth to begin the ruling of Japan.). [38]  The Brave Awful Possessing Male Deity won't go, but instead sends this sword down that will do it and instructs Takakurazhi where it will be and to give it to the Divine Yamato Ihare Prince, which he does upon waking. [39]

Upon being presented the sword, the Divine Yamato Ihare Prince awakes and receives the sword.  This causes his enemies in Kumano to be instantly cut down and breaks the spell over his army as well. [40]  

The Divine Yamato Ihare Prince is now given Yatagarasu in this manner as told in The Kojiki"Then His Augustness the Great-High-Integrating-Deity again commanded and taught, saying: 'August son of the "'Heavenly Deity ! make no progress hence into the interior.  "'The savage Deities are very numerous.  I will now send "'from Heaven a crow eight feet [long].  So that crow eight "'feet [long] shall guide thee.  Thou must make thy progress "'following after it as it goes.'" [41] 
These lands the Divine Yamato Ihare Prince has entered into on his journey to Yamato being dangerous, has been given the cross-sword to defeat these enemies and the 'Great Crow' Yatagarasu to guide him through these dangerous lands from the Gods.  By following Yatagarasu, he finally is able to arrive in Yamato and become Emperor Jimmu, starting the line of emperors in Japan.

Yatagarasu has become a powerful and often used symbol within Japan.  The appearance of Yatagarasu as a symbol has changed from the description here enough that it might be difficult to recognize it for what it is.

Yatagarasu on a lantern flanking the entrance to the Main Hall of Kumano Shrine in Shinjuku, Tokyo.

Kumano Shrine is next to Central Park in Shinjuku, Tokyo.  All Kumano Shrines are enshrining the 3 Kumano Mountains:  Hongū, Hayatama, and Nachi.  The head shrines of Kumano are the shrine complexes at these mountains in the Kumano mountain region.  This is the same place as I have mentioned about in The Kojiki, where Emperor Jimmu and his army faint due to the deity found in the mountain of Kumano.  This is also the place where he is saved by the deliverance of the cross sword used to conquer the deities found in this land and also given Yatagarasu to guide him on his journey to Yamato.  This is not lost on the shrine, who chose Yatagarasu to be the image on the lanterns flanking the entrance of the Main Hall.  If you didn't notice, this crow has 3 legs.  This version of Yatagarasu is used widely in shrines throughout Japan and most famously as...


...that's right, Japan's National Soccer Team's logo.  You can notice it has 2 legs to stand on and a third one to trap the ball.  With so many places using this 3 legged crow as the symbol of Yatagarasu, the biggest question is, "Why the 3rd leg?".

In The Kojiki, there is no mention of 3 legs for Yatagarasu, only that it is a crow eight feet long.  If we look towards the mythologies of Japan's neighbors we can find the answer.  China for a long time had a 3 legged crow in its mythologies.  In the early period of Japan's history, Chinese culture heavily influenced Japanese culture, and this 3 legged crow also seems to have been adopted into the Japanese lore.  In Chinese lore, this 3 legged crow is Sanzuniao and is red and associated with the sun. [43]  Perhaps this connection with the sun of the 3 legged crow and Emperor Jimmu  with the sun goddess might have been appealing, but this is just conjecture on my part.  Sanzuniao is considered to first develop in Shang China, and to the southern part of China around 5000-3000 BC.  This bird was the soul of the sun.  In Chu China, another myth of the sun developed with crows that might have mixed with the Shang traditions. [44]  

In this mythology, Xihe was the Chinese sun goddess and wife of Emperor Jun, who had 10 'child-suns,' which she would bathe one each day and then let the 3 legged crow child-sun fly into the sky for its turn to be the sun.  In 2170 BC according to the myth, all 10 went into the sky on the same day causing the earth to scorch and droughts to occur.  Emperor Yao asks Di Jun, the father of the child-suns to have them only go one at a time.  They wouldn't listen, so Di Jun sends for the archer Houyi to shoot them down and kill them, so he kills all but one who was traveling in the Underworld at the time.  So this last remaining child-sun became the sun that is today.  This last 3 legged crow child-sun still residing in the sun today. [45]

This story was believed in many parts of southern China, until the Zhou Dynasty when the Zhou conquered the Shang and the Zhou's belief of only one sun became the standard myth.  The 3 legged crow Sanzuniao still remained in the mythologies. [46]  This, along with many other cultural ideas were absorbed into Japanese culture during its early history and most likely explains why Yatagarasu has become a 3 legged crow even though there is no mention of it in The Kojiki.

Crows have long stood as a symbol of power in Japanese mythology, but these days they tend to be seen more as a powerful nuisance.  While their huge numbers and more aggressive nature has been just that lately in Japan, these things have been caused by a human problem in too much waste being made.  The Crow Tengu play tricks on evil-doers in spiritual roles, maybe the crows are copying them in the environmental.


1. Rowan Hooper, "Animal Tracker Carrion Crow," The Japan Times Online, July 22nd, 2004,, (accessed February 9th, 2012).

2. Martin Fackler, "Japan Fights Crowds of Crows,", May 7th, 2008,, (accessed February 9th, 2012).

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid.

5. "Okayama Castle," Japanese Lifestyle,

6. "The Castles," Celga, Inc.,

7. "Okayama Castle," Asian History,

8. Ibid.

9. Ilya Genkin, "Okayama Castle, Okayama, Honshu, Japan," Ilya Genkin,

10. Ibid.

11. "Matsumoto Castle," Destination360,

12. Mark Schumacher, "Tengu The Slayer of Vanity,",

13. Ibid.

14. Ibid.

15. Ibid.

16. Mark Schumacher, "Karura 迦楼羅, Karura-Ō 迦楼羅王 (Skt. = Garuda)
Bird of Life, Celestial Eagle, Half Bird Half Man,",

17. Mark Schumacher, "Tengu The Slayer of Vanity."

18. Ibid.

19. "A Brief Guide to Kencho-ji Temple," Kamakura, Kanagawa: Kencho-ji, 2011.

* I'm aware that the next group of citations are not in the proper format.  The reason for this is in case anyone reading this ever did happen to want to read Basil Hall Chamberlain's translation of The Kojiki, what I've written here might be useful in helping to understand what is happening.  The translation is still difficult to follow especially with the long names of the numerous gods found within The Kojiki.  I have written the page numbers in the citations in the order of where the information I am writing about can be found.

20. The Kojiki Records of Ancient Matters, trans. Basil Hall Chamberlain, 2nd ed. (North Clarendon VT: Tuttle Publishing, 2005), 164-165, 115.

21. Ibid., 17-20.

22. Ibid., 165, 157, 134.

23. Ibid., 50.

24. Ibid.

25. Ibid., 51-55.

26. Ibid., 56-58 (Decision 59).

27. Ibid., 127-130.

28. Ibid., 138, 32, 138-144.

29. Ibid., 143-145, 32.

30. Ibid., 147-150.

31. Ibid., 155.

32. Ibid., 156.

33. Ibid., 157.

34. Ibid., 157-160.

35. Ibid., 160-161.

36. Ibid., 162.

37. Ibid., 162-163, 38.

38. Ibid., 163, 119-127.

39. Ibid., 163-164.

40. Ibid., 163.

41. Ibid., 164-165.

42. "Japan National Football Team," Wikipedia.

43. Aileen Kawagoe, "The Legend of Yatagarasu, the Three-Legged Crow and its Possible Origins," Heritage of Japan,

44. Ibid.

45. Ibid.

46. Ibid.