Names in this site follow the Japanese custom of family name first.

February 13, 2016

Daishichi Sake (1): Yukishibori Honjozo Namagenshu

Seasonal sakes are popular in Japan and one of the seasonal drinks from the Daishichi Sake Brewery for the first months of the year is Yukishibori Honjozo Namagenshu.

Daishichi Yukishibori Genshu

Yukishibori Honjozo Namagenshu is Daishichi’s version of shiboritate or "freshly pressed sake," also called shinshu, "new sake" (which Philip Harper has named half tongue-in-cheek “sake nouveau”). Shiboritate is indeed the new sake of the brewing year (the first bottles are usually released in December, the new brewing year starts always in October) which is sold immediately after pressing without aging the sake. So what you get is brash and green, but also very lively. In addition, shiboritate sake is often unpasteurized (nama) in order to leave the young aromas intact, and brought out as genshu, undiluted sake - in the case of usual sake, some pure water is added to the brew to bring the alcohol percentage down to 14% or 15%, but in the case of genshu you get the full treatment.

Daishichi's shiboritate "Yukishibori Honjozo Namagenshu" is indeed both unpasteurized and undiluted (alc. 18%). It is premium sake of the honjozo type. Typically, a limited amount of  brewer's alcohol is added to honjozo to make the taste lighter. But Daishichi wouldn't be Daishichi if it didn't pay extra care: Daishichi's brewer's alcohol is made from rice and not from sugar cane as is normally the case, with the idea that rice should be the one and only ingredient of sake.

Yukishibori has of course been made with the kimoto method (Daishichi is Japan's No. 1 Kimoto brewer), which means it is sake with a rich taste and with "body." Together with the youth of the shiboritate type of sake, that creates a unique combination: first you taste the fresh acidity of the newly pressed sake, and next the deep umami and richness typical of kimoto sake.

The name “Yukishibori” means “Pressed in the Snow,” and is meant to conjure up the image of a sake brewery in a snowy landscape in Northern Japan (the Tohoku region where Daishichi is located): while the sake is being pressed inside the brewery, outside the snow is falling heavy and thick.

Yukishibori Honjozo Namagenshu was first brought to market by Daishichi in 1992, the 240th anniversary of the brewery (which was founded in 1752). Normally, Kimoto sake is matured for a long time (and the fact that it is ideally suitable for maturation is one of its important characteristics, as we will see in this series), so it is interesting to find it here in the shape of such a fresh and young sake - which is also quite a technical feat.

Yukishibori is only sold in winter. The ideal serving temperature is 10 degrees C. Drink it on its own, as an aperitif, or pair it with fresh seafood, sashimi, seafood salads, or raw oysters, in general with foods which have a fresh taste but which also possess a powerful umami. This sake should at all times be kept in the refrigerator and the opened bottle should be consumed as soon as possible.

Kanpai!

(Yukishibori Honjozo Namagenshu is only available in Japan)
Disclosure: the blog author Ad Blankestijn works for the Daishichi Sake Brewery. He is also an accredited sake sommelier and sake instructor. 
Daishichi website - Daishichi Facebook Page 

February 8, 2016

Hyakunin Isshu (One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each), Poem 7 (Abe no Nakamaro)

Hyakunin Isshu, Poem 7

ama no hara
furisakemireba
Kasuga naru
Mikasa no yama ni
ideshi tsuki ka mo

天の原
ふりさけ見れば
春日なる
三笠の山に
出でし月かも

When I gaze into the distance
across the plain of heaven,
I see the same moon
that came out from behind
Mt Mikasa in Kasuga!

Abe no Nakamaro (698-770)

Wakakusayama seen from Nara Park
[Wakakusayama seen from Nara Park]

An expression of longing for the poet's native land.

Mt Mikasa is presently called Wakakusayama, it is the hill that looms above Todaiji and the Kasuga Shrine in Nara. It is part of Nara Park. The 342 m. high hill is covered with turf and is known for the turf burning conducted every year on January 15. "In Kasuga" refers to the general area of the Kasuga Shrine. Just as Mt Mikasa / Wakakusayama now dominates central Nara, so it was in the Nara period, when the present poet saw it as a symbol of his hometown and country.  

[Abe no Nakamaro at his farewell party in China
by Hokusai]

Abe no Nakamaro (698-770) was in 717 sent to study in China, with a Japanese embassy to the Tang court that also included Kibi no Makibi and the priest Genbo. He remained in the Chinese capital Changan where he took a Chinese name and accepted an official post, becoming a severe case of "going native" (although it must be admitted that there were only very few chances to return). He also established a literary reputation in Chinese and is said to have befriended such major Chinese poets as Li Bai and Wang Wei. In 753 he attempted to return to Japan with the embassy of Fujiwara no Kiyokawa, but was shipwrecked on the coast of Annam (showing how dangerous sea travel was at the time, the ships were often driven completely off course by typhoons). He then became governor-general of Vietnam (at that time under Chinese control) and finally died in Changan after 54 years of absence from home. We have only two poems by Abe no Nakamaro, but the present one is very famous and opens the "Travel" section in the Kokinshu.

[Abe no Nakamaro gazing at the moon 
by Toshioka Yoshitoshi]

In fact, the circumstances of composition of our poem have been documented, both in the Kokinshu and in the Tosa Diary by Ki no Tsurayuki (ca 935). That last document tells how Ki no Tsurayuki, by ship on his way back from Tosa (Kochi Pref.) to the capital Kyoto, saw the moon rise out of the sea, and not above the rim of the hills as in the capital. That fact reminded him of Abe no Nakamaro, who must have seen that same "moon rising from the sea" when he wrote his famous moon poem. At that time, as Ki no Tsurayuki tells, Abe no Nakamaro was about to board a ship back to Japan at the coast of China (placing this in the year 753, the year of Abe's failed attempt to return to Japan). Chinese officials gave him a farewell banquet in the evening (when an extraordinarily beautiful moon had risen) and they composed Chinese poems for each other. But Abe no Nakamaro was moved to write a poem in Japanese as well, as "in our country we have composed poems since the age of the gods." The Chinese were of course unable to understand it, but the poet explained the meaning in Chinese. After they had it thus interpreted for them, the Chinese were able to judge its feeling and appreciate it. "China and this country have different languages, but since the radiance of the moon is the same for both, men's feelings about it must surely be the same." (translation from Japanese Poetic Diaries by Earl Miner). 

By the way, as Mostow adds, envoys to China used to pray in Nara's Kasuga Shrine for a safe return. So Nakamaro compares the moon he sees in China to the particular moon that rose the night he prayed at the Kasuga Shrine before he left Japan - it is not a general comparison of Chinese and Japanese moons.

[Same poem included in Kokinshu 406]
References: Pictures of the Heart, The Hyakunin Isshu in Word and Image by Joshua S. Mostow (University of Hawai'i Press, 1996); Traditional Japanese Poetry, An Anthology, by Steven D. Carter (Stanford University Press, 1991); Hyakunin Isshu by Inoue Muneo, etc. (Shinchosha, 1990); Genshoku Hyakunin Isshu by Suzuki Hideo, etc. (Buneido, 1997); Ogura Hyakunin Isshu at Japanese Text Initiative (University of Virginia Library Etext Center); Hyakunin Isshu wo aruku by Shimaoka Shin (Kofusha Shuppan); Basho's Haiku (2 vols) by Toshiharu Oseko (Maruzen, 1990); The Ise Stories by Joshua S. Mostow and Royall Tyler (University of Hawai'i Press, 2010); Kokin Wakashu, The First Imperial Anthology of Japanese Poetry by Helen Craig McCullough (Staford University Press, 1985); Kokinshu, A Collection of Poems Ancient and Modern by Laurel Rasplica Rodd and Mary Catherine Henkenius (University of Tokyo Press, 1984); Kokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1994); Shinkokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1995); Taketori Monogatari-Ise Monogatari-Yamato Monogatari-Heichu Monogatari (Shogakkan, 1994).
Hyakunin Isshu Introduction - Poem 1 - Poem 2 - Poem 3 - Poem 4 - Poem 5 - Poem 6 - Poem 7 - Poem 8 - Poem 9 - Poem 10 - Poem 11 - Poem 12 - Poem 13 - Poem 14 - Poem 15 - Poem 16 - Poem 17 - Poem 18 - Poem 19 - Poem 20 -

January 29, 2016

The Japanese Seasons: February

The ancient name for February (Nigatsu) is Kisaragi, meaning "to wear more clothes due to the cold." As it also is the month of plum blossoms which are considered as a harbinger of spring, other names are Ume-zuki (Plum Month), Umemi-zuki (Plum Viewing Month) and Hatsuhana-zuki (First Blossom Month).

Shogoin Setsubun Mamemaki
[Setsubun in Shogoin Temple, Kyoto]

The most important festival in February is Setsubun, on either February 3 or 4, although this is not a public holiday. The word "Setsubun" literally means "seasonal division" and used to refer to the day prior to the first day of spring (risshun), summer (rikka)  autumn (risshu) and winter (ritto) in the lunar calendar. Today, however, it is only employed to refer to the festival held on the day prior to risshun, because this day is the most important one as it marks a new start. In that respect, it is comparable to New Year's Eve - as a kind of "Spring's Eve."

Setsubun Tsuinashiki Demon dance in Nagata Shrine, Kobe

Rituals on Setsubun have to do with chasing out evil influences as a sort of spiritual or ritual house cleaning (or better "soul cleaning") before the start of spring. They are:
  • Tsuina or oni-yarai. Originally held on New Year's Eve and introduced from Tang-China, this is an exorcism rite. Participants carry bows and clubs made from peach wood and symbolically chase away figures wearing demon masks.
  • Mame-maki. Bean-scattering ceremony. The scattering of roasted soy beans to expel evil spirits began in the 15-16th centuries and in popular folklore became linked with the above Tsuina ceremony. Participants shout "Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!" ("Out with the demons and in with good luck"). The bean scattering is done by a toshi otoko, a male family member born in the same Zodiac year (nowadays, happily, toshi onna also can take part). Afterwards one should eat the same number of beans as one's age to spend the year free from problems. 
  • Yaikagashi. Smelly heads of sardines are stuck on thorny holly branches and hung over doorways to drive out the demons.
On this day, many shrines and temples hold Setsubun events (some are listed here). Often famous persons from TV, show business or sports (sumo) will take part, and in Kyoto there are even bean-throwing maiko!

The typical food for Setsubun are ehomaki, "Lucky Direction Sushi Rolls," thick uncut sushi rolls in which any combination of ingredients goes.

Ehomaki 
[Ehomaki]

As stated above, Setsubun is the day before Risshun (February 4 or 5), literally (and rather ironically as this is the coldest time of the year) "the Beginning of Spring (Spring Rises)," the time when the increase in life-giving sunlight becomes noticeable. Traditionally, on this day amulets or lucky couplets (daikichi, good luck) would be hung at the door to avert evil. The period of about a month from risshun is called soshun, "early spring."

February is also the month of various winter festivals. The most famous (and modern) one is probably Sapporo's Snow Festival (Sapporo Yukimatsuri, Feb. 1 to 5), when giant snow sculptures are created in the city's Odori Park. More traditional is the Kamakura Festival in Yokote, a city in Akita Pref., when in several spots in the city igloo-like snow houses (kamakura) are built where children play house (Feb. 15-17). The kamakura feature altars dedicated to the Deity of Water (Suijin-sama) and in the evening rice cakes (mochi) are grilled over charcoals braziers and amazake (a sweet rice drink, not sake!) is served.

Although not Setsubun, there is a national holiday in February and that is National Founding Day (Kenkoku kinen no hi) on February 11. This holiday was first designed in the early Meiji period, in 1872 to be precise, when it was called kigensetsu. It was seen as the date that the (entirely mythical) emperor Jimmu ascended the throne in Kashihara in 660 BCE, after traveling from southern Kyushu to Nara. After WWII this holiday was discontinued, but it was brought back in the mid-sixties under the guise of "national founding day," and meant to serve as an appeal to people to respect their country and to cooperate to make it a better place to live.

A rather tricky day in February is Valentine's Day (as elsewhere February 14), which is being lustily exploited by the Japan Chocolate and Cocoa Association and its members. Although Japan is not a Christian nation and couldn't care less about a saint called Valentine, it has become a "Day of Chocolates" on which women give a box of chocolates to their boyfriend as an expression of love. OLs and other female office staff may also give chocolates to their bosses or other male colleagues, but these are called giri-choko or "obligatory chocolates" and are far removed from any idea of tenderness. Commercial exploitation in Japan has even gone so far that March 14 has been set up as "White Day" on which men have to return the sweet gift.

A more serious matter is that mid-February is also the time of the Entrance Examination Season (Juken shizun), as the new school year starts on April 1. In Japan, it is necessary to do an examination in order to go to a high school (after three years of middle school) or university / college. (In the case of private schools, there are always entrance examinations, starting with kindergarten!). But the heaviest and most stressful entrance examinations are those for prestigious universities, such as Tokyo University or Kyoto University, or among private establishments, Keio, Waseda and Doshisha. It is important for students to join a top-ranking university, as that will make it possible four years later to get a good job with a prestigious company or ministry. So this is a nervous time for hopeful students and you can often see them with their mothers in the Tenmangu Shrines, earnestly praying for some divine assistance from the God of Learning, or writing their wishes on wooden votive tablets.

The food of the season is called nabemono, one pot dishes cooked at the table and served directly out of the cooking pot - the diners can pick the ingredients they want directly from the pot. Further ingredients can also be successively added. It is either eaten with the broth (usually in case of strongly flavored stock) or with a dipping sauce (lightly flavored stock). It is a dish that warms both body and heart - it is after all the most sociable way to eat with family and friends.

Ume in Kyoto Gyoen 
[Ume in Kyoto Gyoen]

The flower of the season is in the first place the ume or plum blossom (early February through mid-March). Before sakura (cherry blossoms) became popular in medieval times, the ume ruled supreme in Japan's flowery firmament, as it did and still does in China, from where it was brought to Japan in the 7th c. The ume is in fact not really a plum (the official name is prunus mume), but a tree (and fruit) between plum and apricot, so it seems reasonable to use the Japanese word "ume." The ume is the flower of the perfect Confucian gentleman, the junzi (kunshi in Japanese): that it braves the cold to put out its flowers signifies its strength and endurance, while its subtle aroma stands for its virtue that unobtrusively transforms society. The ume trees can grow very old, sometimes even a few centuries, making them with their gnarled trunks a symbol of longevity and happiness.

The ume also has various practical uses: as pickled plums (umeboshi, one of my favorite delicacies) or as umeshu, a liqueur made from ume and either shochu or sake (often called wrongly "plum wine"). Finally, as the ume was the favorite flower of Sugawara no Michizane, a ninth c. statesman, scholar and Sinologist, who was deified after he died in exile, you will find it prominently in the many Tenmangu shrines dedicated to him all over Japan. 

Fallen camellias (tsubaki) in Honenin, Kyoto 
[Fallen camellias (tsubaki) in Honenin, Kyoto]

The other important flower of February is the camellia or tsubaki, adding a touch of color to gardens in the heart of winter. The Japanese camellia has red, five-petaled flowers. Indigenous to Japan, it has been cultivated for centuries. It is also a useful plant for in traditional times oil obtained from tsubaki seeds was used as hair oil, both for the top-knots of men as for the high coiffure of women. The camellia was also treasured for its hard wood. The notion that samurai hated tsubaki as the flower drops off whole, like a human head falling, is not based on any fact. In reality, both samurai and courtiers loved to grow rare and ornamental varieties of tsubaki. The flowers were also popular as chabana, flowers in the tea room.

Although February is so cold that all you want to do is take shelter with your legs under your kotatsu, its electric heating element going at full blast, your lower body snugly under the futon draped over the table frame, late February (around the 25th) finally is also the time the Haru Ichiban or "First of the Spring Heralding Winds" blows. This is a strong south wind which drives the temperature up, and although it is only temporary (the temperature soon drops again), it provides a welcome foretaste of the approach of spring...


January 26, 2016

Hyakunin Isshu (One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each), Poem 6 (Otomo no Yakamochi)

Hyakunin Isshu, Poem 6

kasasagi no
wataseru hashi ni
oku shimo no
shiroki wo mireba
yo zo fukenikeru

かささぎの
渡せる橋に
置く霜の
白きを見れば
夜ぞふけにける

When I see the whiteness
of the frost that lies
on Magpie's Bridge
then I know
night has deepened.

Otomo no Yakamochi (718-785)

Shinshinden, Gosho, Kyoto
[Shinshinden Palace, Gosho, Kyoto -
showing the "Magpie Bridge,"
the stairs leading up to the palace]

A fantasy on a cold winter night, while the poet waits in vain for his beloved in the palace.

Central to the poem is the phrase "kasasagi no wataseru hashi," "the bridge that magpies spread," of which two interpretations are possible. The first and most important one reads this in the light of the Tanabata legend of the Ox Herd and Weaver Maid, two constellations in the sky and also lovers, who could only meet once a year, on the seventh day of the seventh month, when magpies would form a bridge across the River of Heaven with their wings so that they could cross. This is such a famous legend that most critics since Teika have read the poem as referring to this beautiful legend. The whole poem should then be interpreted as composed when the poet gazed at the stars in the winter sky which was filled with frost, which he then associated with a frost-covered magpie bridge in the heavens. The silent assumption is, that, like the Ox Herd, he was hoping for a rendez-vous with his beloved, but that the night deepened without her coming.

In waka, magpies are often associated with "frost" (shimo) - the reason being the white spots on their black breasts and wingtips.

The legend of the Ox Herd and Weaver Maiden had already come from China in the Nara period and was very popular in Yakamochi's time - one section in the Manyoshu contains 128 tanka and 5 choka dedicated to the legend. The Tanabata festival was made popular by Yamanoue no Okura, who had studied in China and wrote many Tanabata poems after his return to Japan. In Japan, the story was merged with the legend about a celestial weaver maiden, Tanabatahime.

An interesting point is that the Eurasian magpie (Pica pica) was unknown in Japan until it was brought from Korea in the 16th c. In China, where the legend originated, magpies were common birds, so the Japanese learned the name without knowing the bird (they probably thought the "kasasagi" was a kind of "sagi," a heron). In China the folk story about the Ox Herd and Weaver Maiden already occurs in a book written in the 2nd century.

[The Cow Herd and the Weaver Maiden 
by Tsukioka Hitoshi]

The other interpretation is based on the modern, scholarly evidence that in the Heian-period, the "Magpie's Bridge" referred to bridges or stairs leading up to palace buildings. In that case, the poet is waiting for his beloved inside the palace grounds and sees actual frost on the actual bridge or staircase while she keeps him waiting. It is however the question, whether this naming of palace staircases already existed in the Nara period when the poem was written, so this interpretation is less certain than the previous one.

And of course, we don't have to make a choice: it is quite possible to read this simultaneously in both interpretations, for while gazing at the staircase leading up to the palace, the name "Magpie's Bridge" will have reminded the poet of that other pair of lovers, Ox Herd and Weaver Maiden, who also had such trouble meeting... 

Statue of Otomo no Yakamochi, Takaoka, Toyama Pref.
[Otomo no Yakamochi, statue in front of
Takaoka Station, Toyama Pref.]

Otomo no Yakamochi (718?-780) is famous as the compiler of the Manyoshu and the last major poet included, with the substantial number of 479 poems, making up 10% of the total Manyoshu volume as a sort of "poem diary." Yakamochi, the scion of an influential family, grew up as a fashionable young man in literary court circles and exchanged love poems with innumerable woman. At age 30 Yakamochi served as governor of Etchu (now Toyama Pref.) where he diverted himself with excursions to scenic spots and parties with other officials, catching everything in his unique poetry, known for its delicate depictions of nature. Unfortunately, after his return to the capital Nara in 751 he was so busy furthering his career and at the same time embroiled in political intrigue, that he wrote little or no poetry anymore. He is a member of the Thirty-six Poetry Immortals. As Donald Keene says in Seeds in the Heart, his poetry lacks the grandeur of Hitomaro, but his voice is distinctive. "Anticipating the Kokinshu, his poetry is often melancholy rather than tragic, exquisitely phrased rather than explosively intense." Yakamochi wrote in almost every mode, from highly personal lyrics to public poems composed to a command from the court.

To commemorate Otomo no Yakamochi's sojourn in Toyama, the city of Takaoka has set up a museum dedicated to Yakamochi and the Manyoshu, the Takaoka-shi Manyo Rekishikan. There is even a "Yakamochi Theater" where the poet's life is introduced by way of computerized life-sized dolls, as well as a garden with 70 plants and flowers mentioned in the Manyoshu. See here for more information. 

[Same poem included in Shinkokinshu 620]
References: Pictures of the Heart, The Hyakunin Isshu in Word and Image by Joshua S. Mostow (University of Hawai'i Press, 1996); Traditional Japanese Poetry, An Anthology, by Steven D. Carter (Stanford University Press, 1991); Hyakunin Isshu by Inoue Muneo, etc. (Shinchosha, 1990); Genshoku Hyakunin Isshu by Suzuki Hideo, etc. (Buneido, 1997); Ogura Hyakunin Isshu at Japanese Text Initiative (University of Virginia Library Etext Center); Hyakunin Isshu wo aruku by Shimaoka Shin (Kofusha Shuppan); Basho's Haiku (2 vols) by Toshiharu Oseko (Maruzen, 1990); The Ise Stories by Joshua S. Mostow and Royall Tyler (University of Hawai'i Press, 2010); Kokin Wakashu, The First Imperial Anthology of Japanese Poetry by Helen Craig McCullough (Staford University Press, 1985); Kokinshu, A Collection of Poems Ancient and Modern by Laurel Rasplica Rodd and Mary Catherine Henkenius (University of Tokyo Press, 1984); Kokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1994); Shinkokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1995); Taketori Monogatari-Ise Monogatari-Yamato Monogatari-Heichu Monogatari (Shogakkan, 1994). Seeds in the Heart, Japanese Literature from Earliest Times to the Late Sixteenth Century by Donald Keene (Henry Holt and Company, 1993).
Hyakunin Isshu Introduction - Poem 1 - Poem 2 - Poem 3 - Poem 4 - Poem 5 - Poem 6 - Poem 7 - Poem 8 - Poem 9 - Poem 10 - Poem 11 - Poem 12 - Poem 13 - Poem 14 - Poem 15 - Poem 16 - Poem 17 - Poem 18 - Poem 19 - Poem 20 -

January 22, 2016

Hyakunin Isshu (One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each), Poem 5 (Sarumaru Dayu)

Hyakunin Isshu, Poem 5

okuyama ni
momiji fumiwake
naku shika no
koe kiku toki zo
aki wa kanashiki

奥山に
紅葉ふみわけ
鳴く鹿の
声きく時ぞ
秋は悲しき

When I hear the voice
of the crying stag 
stepping through the autumn leaves
deep in the mountains -
then I really feel the sadness of autumn

Sarumaru Dayu (late 9th c.?)

Deer in the Kasuga Shrine, Nara
[Deer in the Kasuga Shrine, Nara]

The acute sadness of autumn when one hears the cry of deer deep in the mountains.

When the poet hears the stag crying for its mate, deep in the mountains in autumn, he really feels how sad autumn is, for he, too, is separated from his beloved. This situation (the deer crying for its mate as a symbol for the poet calling for his beloved) occurs often in poetry since the Manyoshu.

A straightforward poem, without any kakekotoba etc., but there are nevertheless some difficulties in interpretation. The first point is: who is stepping through the autumn leaves? Modern commentators of the poem take this to be the poet, and that also seems to be the meaning in the Shinsen Manyoshu (and Kokinshu) in which it is first collected, but the traditional interpretation (also of Teika) is that it is the deer - and that is the one I have followed in my translation.

The second point is: what type of autumn leaves? As Mostow remarks, in another edition of this poem, "momiji" is written with characters that mean "yellow leaves" rather than "scarlet leaves," so originally the yellow leaves of the bushclover may have been meant. But in the medieval and early modern period, it was believed to be set in late autumn and the momiji to refer to fallen maple leaves.

Finally, it should be remarked that the view that autumn is a season of sadness is a typical view of city dwellers. For peasants it is a season of harvest and gladness; one has to live at a remove from the agricultural cycle to be able to see autumn as a season of decay and so as a symbol of the transitoriness of human existence.


About the poet, Sarumaru Dayu (Dayu is an official title, "Senior Assistant Minister") nothing further is known and he is probably a fantasy figure, although counted as one of the Thirty-six Poetic Immortals. Some believe him to have been the son of Prince Yamashiro (who was the son of Prince Shotoku) but there is nothing to substantiate this. Significant is that the present poem is included in the Kokinshu as an anonymous poem. Also, no other poems have been ascribed to Sarumaru Dayu. From the headnote in the Kokinshu we know that this poem was written "at the poetry contest at Prince Koresada's house," which puts it in the late 9th c.

[Also included in: Kokinshu, Autumn Part A, 215]
See my post Hyakunin Isshu.
References: Pictures of the Heart, The Hyakunin Isshu in Word and Image by Joshua S. Mostow (University of Hawai'i Press, 1996); Traditional Japanese Poetry, An Anthology, by Steven D. Carter (Stanford University Press, 1991); Hyakunin Isshu by Inoue Muneo, etc. (Shinchosha, 1990); Genshoku Hyakunin Isshu by Suzuki Hideo, etc. (Buneido, 1997); Ogura Hyakunin Isshu at Japanese Text Initiative (University of Virginia Library Etext Center); Hyakunin Isshu wo aruku by Shimaoka Shin (Kofusha Shuppan); Basho's Haiku (2 vols) by Toshiharu Oseko (Maruzen, 1990); The Ise Stories by Joshua S. Mostow and Royall Tyler (University of Hawai'i Press, 2010); Kokin Wakashu, The First Imperial Anthology of Japanese Poetry by Helen Craig McCullough (Staford University Press, 1985); Kokinshu, A Collection of Poems Ancient and Modern by Laurel Rasplica Rodd and Mary Catherine Henkenius (University of Tokyo Press, 1984); Kokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1994); Shinkokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1995); Taketori Monogatari-Ise Monogatari-Yamato Monogatari-Heichu Monogatari (Shogakkan, 1994).

January 20, 2016

Matsuo Taisha, Kyoto's Sake Brewer's Shrine

Matsuo Taisha (also called Matsuonoo Taisha) is one of the oldest shrines of Kyoto. It now is in the first place the tutelary shrine of sake brewers, but that has not always been the case. It was established in 701 by the immigrant Hata clan. The shrine stands facing the Katsura River, with its back to a hill (Mt Matsuo) on which an iwakura can be found: a grouping of large sacred rocks. Such stones were believed to be places where the kami (deities) would take their abode. This was the original cult place and it is still intact; later, the shrine was built at the foot of the hill.

Matsuo Taisha, Kyoto
[Tsuridono Hall in front of the Main Hall,
from where prayers are offered]

The deities honored in Matsuo Taisha are Oyamakui no kami and his consort Nakatsushimahime no mikoto (a third deity, Tsukiyomi no mikoto, the kami of the moon and brother of the Sun Goddess, is housed in a separate shrine a short distance away). Oyamakui was a kami revered by immigrant clans such as the Hata. The Hata probably came to Japan from Korea in the 4th or 5th century. They settled in what is now the Kyoto area and are also connected with the Fushimi Inari Shrine and with Koryuji Temple. They were welcomed in Japan because they brought advanced technologies, such as sericulture, weaving and water control. In the mid-sixth c. the clan comprised more than 7,000 families.

Matsuo Taisha, Kyoto
[Kyokusui Garden, by Shigemori Mirei]

The Hata developed this area and later helped the court to establish the capital here in 794. Oyamakui has been called a mountain god, although that term may obscure his real identity: he is rather the deification of the pure and life-giving water that streams down from the mountain. That is evident from the Reiki no taki ("the Falls of the Holy Turtle"), a waterfall in the grounds behind the main hall, and also from the Kame no i ("Well of the Turtle"), a natural well also on the mountainside. The turtle is the messenger of the kami of Matsuo. After the foundation of Heiankyo, together with the kami of the Kamo Shrines, Matsuo-san was promoted to become one of the protectors of the capital.

Matsuo Taisha, Kyoto
[Shinyoko, with stacked sake barrels]

The link with sake is much more recent. It only comes from the Muromachi period (when sake brewing became an industry) and was connected again with water, in the form of the belief that sake of which the brewing water contained some water from the Turtle Well in the grounds of the shrine, would never turn sour (sourness due to hiochi bacteria was a big problem for early brewers). So Matsuo-san became a protector of the craft of sake brewing, something which is still his most important function today. Sake breweries often have a small Shinto altar (kamidana) dedicated to Matsuo-san in the brewery, near where the actual brewing takes place, and at certain important times such as the beginning of the brewing year, the brewers will worship there together. Every year new amulets from the shrine are received as well and brewers often visit the Matsuo Shrine for the Jo-u Festival in November, when prayers are said for successful brewing.

But the link of sake is not with the actual founding history of the shrine (the Hata brought several new technologies to Japan, but sake brewing was not among them) - this in contrast to the other major "sake shrine," the Miwa Shrine to the south of Nara (in Sakurai), which has a deeper connection with sake, in the sense that sake figures in its foundation legend, where it is presented as a gift to mankind from the gods.

Matsuo Taisha, Kyoto
[The torii gate. At the back the Romon gate.]

The Matsuo Shrine stands immediately next to Matsuo Station on the Hankyu Arashiyama Line (running between Katsura and Arashiyama), and the approach to the shrine is brief. The main hall dates from 1397 (with repairs in 1542). An "important cultural property," it has a roof of shingles from cypress bark and long overhanging eaves in the front and back (called ryonagare-zukuri). A stream, the Ichinoigawa ("First Well River") runs through the grounds and has beautiful Japanese rose bushes (yamabuki) from mid April to early May. Two of the wooden statues of male deities the shrine owns are now "national treasures," and one female deity has been declared an "important cultural property." These kami images date from the 9th c. and are among the earliest statues of Shinto gods. They are well worth seeing.

Matsuo Taisha, Kyoto
[Iwakura no niwa, garden with huge rocks like the iwakura on top of Mt Matsuo, by Shigemori Mirei]

The shrine gardens have been beautifully laid out by one of the most famous 20th c. garden architects and garden historians of Japan, Shigemori Mirei (1896-1975). The first garden lies in front of the small shrine museum housing the kami statues and is called Kyokusui no niwa (Garden of the Winding Stream - in Heian japan such streams were used to float down sake cups and compose poetry) - it features the big upright rocks Shigemori Mirei became famous for, as well as his modern use of concrete; the second garden, Iwakura no niwa ("Garden of the Sacred Rocks"), lies next to the shrine museum and imitates the iwakura on top of Mt Matsuo, the original cult place of the shrine; the third garden (Horai no niwa or "Paradise Garden") lies to the right between the large torii and the Romon gate, behind a restaurant. It is a pond garden with standing stones, perhaps a bit less typical of Shigemori Mirei's work because of the large pond, but nonetheless beautiful; it was finished by the son of the garden architect, as Shigemori Mirei unfortunately died in the period he was working on this garden.

Matsuo Taisha 
[The Turtle Well]

The three gardens plus the shrine museum, the waterfall Reiki no taki and the Turtle Well can all be seen together for a small fee. There is another fee to climb Mt Matsuo to view the iwakura. Thanks to its sake connection, the shrine also has a a small sake museum which in recent years has been nicely refurbished. There are old tools, cups and other implements, old labels and advertisements, etc. Entry here is free. It is to the left of the Romon, in the same building as a Mori tsukemono shop - interestingly, they have some pickles made with sakekasu (sake lees) which are only sold here.

The biggest festival of the shrine is the Shinkosai, which is held the first Sunday after April 20; it includes a mikoshi procession where one mikoshi will be boarded on a boat on the Katsura River (it will return three weeks later in a second festival called Kankosai). Other important festivals are Hatsumode (the first shrine visit at New Year), Setsubun on February 3 or 4, the Kerria (Japanese rose bush) Festival (April 10 to May 5), Oharae (Great Purification) on June 30, Ontasai (Rice Planting Festival) on the 3rd Sunday of July, Hassakusai (Harvest Festival) on the first Sunday of September, and the above-mentioned sake brewing prayers on the Jo-u day (old calendar) in November (thanksgiving for successful brewing is likewise held on the Chu-yu day in April).

Immediately next to Matsuo Station on the Hankyu Arashiyama Line. Or take bus 28 or 73 from Kyoto Station; bus 63 from Sanjo Keihan Station.
Read more about this and other Shinto shrines in: Shinto Shrines, A Guide to the Sacred Sites of Japan's Ancient Religion by Joseph Cali and John Dougill (University of Hawai'i Press).  
Japanese materials: Nihon no Kamigami, Jinja to Seichi edited by Tanikawa Kenichi (13 vols, Hyakusuisha). Shukan Jinja Kiko (50 vols, Gakken). Kyoto Yamashiro Jiin Jinja Daijiten (Heibonsha).

January 19, 2016

The Monkeys of Jigokudani

On of the best places to enjoy the sight of wild monkeys in Japan in this Year of the Monkey is Jigokudani Onsen in Nagano Prefecture.

Jigokudani Onsen, Nagano 

"Jigokudani" or "Hell's Valley" is in fact a name also given to other places in Japan with a lot of volcanic activity such as steam rising from between the cliffs - leading to good onsen (hot springs). Jigokudani in Yamanouchi is located 850 meters above sea level, in the mountains of northern Nagano, so there is a lot of snow here in winter. In fact, the area is buried in one meter of snow for a third of the year.

The troupe of about 200 "snow monkeys" you find living here despite the harsh conditions are Japanese macaques, who have adjusted to the cold and the snow. The place is unique as it is the only place in the world where wild monkeys bath in hot springs (but then, they are Japanese monkeys, so they just love hot baths!).

Jigokudani Onsen, Nagano

The bath, by the way, is man-made and the area is a park (Jigokudani Yaen Koen), but left undeveloped thanks to the fact that it is part of the Joshinetsu Kogen National Park. Another reason must be that it is relatively hard to reach, cars and buses have to remain at a far distance and a 30 min. trek through the snow is necessary. The park is open throughout the year.

Jigokudani Onsen, Nagano 

The above pictures are from a visit we made to Jigokudani in a previous Year of the Monkey. The monkeys are quite photogenic and they have a positively blissful look on their faces when they sit soaking in the warm water!

Jigokudani Onsen, Nagano

How to get here: Take the Nagano Dentetsu line from Nagano to Yudanaka Onsen (45 min.). From there, take a bus to the Kanbayashi Onsen bus stop (10-15 min, 1 to 2 buses per hour) and then hike for 30-40 min to the monkey park. Near the park is also the rustic Korakukan ryokan, where you can stay the night and take an onsen bath indoors yourself. There is a small fee for entrance to the park. 
[Live camera of the Monkey Park]

January 18, 2016

The Year of the Monkey

2016 is the Year of the Monkey (sarudoshi) in Japan, the ninth year in the cycle of 12 signs from the Japanese (and originally Chinese) zodiac.

Huge Ema for the Year of the Monkey in Matsuo Taisha, Kyoto
[Huge Ema for Year of the Monkey in Matsuo Taisha, Kyoto]

Monkeys are indigenous to Japan in the shape of the Japanese macaque (Macaca fuscata), a medium-sized wild monkey with a short tail, which gets about 60 cm tall. Wild monkeys are relatively common, a number of decades ago when they were counted they numbered 30,000. Wild monkeys are found in Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu, but not in Hokkaido which is too cold (the Shimokita Peninsula at the northern tip of Honshu, where about 100 monkeys live, is the northernmost habitat of any primate in the world). Japanese monkeys live in troops of 20 to 150 individuals organized in strict hierarchy.

The monkey plays an important role in Japanese folklore. Japanese myth makes mention of a monkey deity, Sarutahiko, and some shrines like the Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine in Otsu treat the monkey as a divine messenger. Until early modern times it was believed that keeping a monkey tied to a post in stables would keep disease away from the horses (going back to the Chinese belief that monkeys could in general drive illness away). Monkey shows (sarumawashi) were once a common street entertainment (happily, not anymore).

In contrast to China, where the monkey is regarded as an emblem of ugliness, lust and trickery, in Japan it is an animal of good standing. It is a fortunate birth year as Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-1598) was born in a monkey year: he is a singular case in traditional Japan of a man raising himself from a low-born station to the highest rank and power in the country (on top of that, he was said to be "monkey-faced"). But monkey years are considered unlucky for marriage, for "saru," "monkey," is a homonym with "saru," "to leave," suggesting divorce.

[Gibbon reaching for the moon's reflection 
by Ohara Koson]

Monkeys play a large role in Japanese fairy tales, such as the story of Momotaro or Little Peachling. The animal also figures in many proverbs: "Even a monkey falls sometimes from a tree" ("Anybody can make a mistake"), "To teach a monkey to climb a tree" ("To do something superfluous"), and "The monkey seizes the moon" (an example of delusion: long-armed monkeys made a chain hanging down from a branch in a tree, until the branch broke and they were drowned). "A dog and a monkey" points at the same unfriendly relations as our "a cat and a dog."

[Ukiyoe of Sun Wukong fighting a wind demon]

The most famous Chinese monkey is the monkey king Sun Wukong from the novel Journey to the West (Xiyouji). an extended account of the legendary pilgrimage of the Tang dynasty Buddhist monk Xuanzang who traveled via Central Asia to India to obtain sacred texts (sutras) and statues. In the fantasy novel, he has several supernatural protectors, the most important one being the monkey Sun Wukong, who is also his disciple.

Wild monkey in onsen bath in Jigokudani, Nagano
[Wild monkey in onsen bath, Jigokudani, Nagano]

The most famous Japanese wild monkeys live in the Jigokudani Monkey Park in Nagano Pref., called "Hell's Valley" after the boiling water that naturally bubbles up in this volcanic area. This results in a good onsen (hot springs), one inside the rustic hotel for humans, and one outside in the snow for the monkeys. Called "Snow Monkeys," the macaques descend from the steep cliffs and forest to sit in the warm waters of the onsen, looking almost human, and return to the forest in the evenings.

Monkey Carving in Toshogu Shrine, Nikko
["See no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil" monkey carving in Toshogu Shrine, Nikko]

The most famous representation of monkeys in Japan is the carving on the Nikko shrine: one covers his eyes with his hands, another his ears and the third one his mouth. With a pun on "saru," they represent mizaru "seeing-not", kikazaru "hearing not" and iwazaru "speaking-not." Such monkeys are also often found as stone statues by the roadside and they are associated with the Koshin cult and the God of the Road. They continue teaching us the moral lesson of "seeing no evil, hearing no evil and speaking no evil."

[Written with information from Japan, An Illustrated Encyclopedia (Kodansha) and We Japanese (an old publication of the Fujiya Hotel)]

January 13, 2016

Hyakunin Isshu (One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each), Poem 4 (Yamabe no Akahito)

Hyakunin Isshu, Poem 4

Tago no ura ni
uchi-idete mireba
shirotae no
Fuji no takane ni
yuki wa furitsutsu

田子の浦に
打ち出でてみれば
白妙の
富士の高嶺に
雪はふりつつ

As I come out
on the seashore of Tago and look,
I see the snow constantly falling
on the lofty peak of Fuji
white as mulberry cloth

Yamabe no Akahito (fl 724-736)

Mt Fuji
[Mt Fuji]

This poem gives a picture postcard view of the snowy peak of Mt Fuji.

Tago no ura is a coastal area near the mouth of the river Fujikawa in Suruga (Shizuoka Pref.). The coast here offers a beautiful view of Mt Fuji. 

[Tago no ura photographed by Adolfo Farsari (1841 - 1898)]

Shirotae is a pillow word meaning pure whiteness (lit. white cloth made out of a kind of paper mulberry) - we already came across it in Poem No 2.

In the 20th c. this poem was often criticized as not being realistic. After all, it is impossible to see snow falling on Mt Fuji from far away Tago Bay (and anyway, when snow falls on a mountain it is covered by such heavy clouds, that you can't even see the mountain). The intention of the poet is of course just to emphasize the snowy whiteness of Fuji's peak.

[Yamabe no Akahito by Utagawa Kuniyoshi]

The poet is Yamabe no Akahito (early 8th c.), who lived somewhat later than the previous poet, Kakinomoto no Hitomaro, and is also regarded as one of the Thirty-six Poetic Immortals. He is considered as one of the most important poets of the Manyoshu ("The Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves," which was compiled ca 759), which contains 37 tanka and 12 choka by him. A court official, he was one of the last "poets laureate" who composed poetry commemorating events in the imperial house and excursions of the sovereign. All his surviving poems were written during the reign of Emperor Shomu (701-756; r 724-749). He evidently made several long journeys, as he composed poems on various famous sites, as in the present case on Mt Fuji. He is therefore considered as the great nature poet of the Manyoshu.

[Also included in: Shinkokinshu, Winter 675]
References: Pictures of the Heart, The Hyakunin Isshu in Word and Image by Joshua S. Mostow (University of Hawai'i Press, 1996); Traditional Japanese Poetry, An Anthology, by Steven D. Carter (Stanford University Press, 1991); Hyakunin Isshu by Inoue Muneo, etc. (Shinchosha, 1990); Genshoku Hyakunin Isshu by Suzuki Hideo, etc. (Buneido, 1997); Ogura Hyakunin Isshu at Japanese Text Initiative (University of Virginia Library Etext Center); Hyakunin Isshu wo aruku by Shimaoka Shin (Kofusha Shuppan); Basho's Haiku (2 vols) by Toshiharu Oseko (Maruzen, 1990); The Ise Stories by Joshua S. Mostow and Royall Tyler (University of Hawai'i Press, 2010); Kokin Wakashu, The First Imperial Anthology of Japanese Poetry by Helen Craig McCullough (Staford University Press, 1985); Kokinshu, A Collection of Poems Ancient and Modern by Laurel Rasplica Rodd and Mary Catherine Henkenius (University of Tokyo Press, 1984); Kokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1994); Shinkokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1995); Taketori Monogatari-Ise Monogatari-Yamato Monogatari-Heichu Monogatari (Shogakkan, 1994).
Hyakunin Isshu Introduction - Poem 1 - Poem 2 - Poem 3 - Poem 4 - Poem 5 - Poem 6 - Poem 7 - Poem 8 - Poem 9 - Poem 10 - Poem 11 - Poem 12 - Poem 13 - Poem 14 - Poem 15 - Poem 16 - Poem 17 - Poem 18 - Poem 19 - Poem 20 -

January 10, 2016

Hyakunin Isshu (One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each), Poem 3 (Kakinomoto no Hitomaro)

Hyakunin Isshu, Poem 3

ashibiki no
yamadori no wo no
shidari-wo no
naga-nagashi yo wo
hitori kamo nemu

あしびきの
山鳥の尾の
しだり尾の
ながながし夜を
ひとりかもねむ

Must I sleep alone
through the long night,
long like the dragging tail
of the copper pheasant
in the foot-wearying mountains?

Kakinomoto no Hitomaro (fl ca 685-705)

Kakinomoto Jinja in Akashi (Hyogo Pref.)
[Kakinomoto Shrine in Akashi (Hyogo Pref.)]

Love poem set on an autumn night. The poet, unable to meet his beloved and having to sleep alone, complains of the length of the night. 

Ashibiki is a pillow word for mountain. The meaning is not clear; it may mean something like "with abundant trees," but as it is most commonly written with characters meaning "foot pulling," it is often translated as "foot wearying" in English. Paraphrases in modern Japanese usually omit it.

[Japanese copper pheasant]

As the long-tailed copper pheasant (yamadori, Syrmaticus soemmerringii) was believed to sleep apart from its mate, in a separate ravine, the bird with its long tail is not only symbolic for the long night, but also for the loneliness of the poet, separated from his beloved. 

Note the repetition of no and wo to suggest the length of the night. 

Besides employing a makura-kotoba, the poem is also a good example of the use of a jo-kotoba or preface: the entire first three lines are a preface for the adjective naga-nagashi, "long."

[Kakinomoto no Hitomaro
by Utagawa Kuniyoshi]

The poet, Kakinomoto no Hitomaro (660?-720?; fl ca 685-705) was a court poet serving Emperor Tenmu (r. 672-686), Empress Jito (r. 686-697) and Emperor Monmu (r 697-707). As the most representative Manyoshu poet, he has been worshiped in Japan as the "saint of poetry." He was also counted as one of the Thirty-six Poetic Immortals. It is fitting that Teika puts him near the beginning of his anthology. Among the poems ascribed to Kakinomoto, about 18 choka and 60 tanka are considered as genuine. Hitomaru's art is both natural and complex. Many of his poems were of a public nature, praising the imperial house, but he also wrote work of a more personal type, such as an elegy on the death of his wife. With Saigyo and Basho, Kakinomoto has been called one of the three most esteemed poets in Japanese history. He is honored in the Kakinomoto Jinja in Akashi, where poetry steles are scattered around the grounds, also with the present work.

Poem Stone in Kakinomoto Shrine, Akashi.
[Poem stone with the Hyakunin Isshu poem
by Kakinomoto no Hitomaro in the
Kakinomoto Shrine in Akashi]

[Also included in: Suiishu 778]
References: Pictures of the Heart, The Hyakunin Isshu in Word and Image by Joshua S. Mostow (University of Hawai'i Press, 1996); Traditional Japanese Poetry, An Anthology, by Steven D. Carter (Stanford University Press, 1991); Hyakunin Isshu by Inoue Muneo, etc. (Shinchosha, 1990); Genshoku Hyakunin Isshu by Suzuki Hideo, etc. (Buneido, 1997); Ogura Hyakunin Isshu at Japanese Text Initiative (University of Virginia Library Etext Center); Hyakunin Isshu wo aruku by Shimaoka Shin (Kofusha Shuppan); Basho's Haiku (2 vols) by Toshiharu Oseko (Maruzen, 1990); The Ise Stories by Joshua S. Mostow and Royall Tyler (University of Hawai'i Press, 2010); Kokin Wakashu, The First Imperial Anthology of Japanese Poetry by Helen Craig McCullough (Staford University Press, 1985); Kokinshu, A Collection of Poems Ancient and Modern by Laurel Rasplica Rodd and Mary Catherine Henkenius (University of Tokyo Press, 1984); Kokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1994); Shinkokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1995); Taketori Monogatari-Ise Monogatari-Yamato Monogatari-Heichu Monogatari (Shogakkan, 1994).
Hyakunin Isshu Introduction - Poem 1 - Poem 2 - Poem 3 - Poem 4 - Poem 5 - Poem 6 - Poem 7 - Poem 8 - Poem 9 - Poem 10 - Poem 11 - Poem 12 - Poem 13 - Poem 14 - Poem 15 - Poem 16 - Poem 17 - Poem 18 - Poem 19 - Poem 20 -

January 9, 2016

Sake from Toyama Prefecture (Sake Regions)

Toyama Prefecture boasts magnificent nature in the heart of Japan. It is in the first place well-known for the Tateyama mountain range and the Kurobe Gorge and Dam. Takaoka, a town of iron smiths, also boasts Zenryuji, a great Zen temple of National Treasure class. In Gokayama one finds a World Heritage site with impressive folk houses. Tonami is famous for its tulips. Toyama's foods are masu-sushi (trout sushi), buri (yellowtail), kamaboko (fish paste) and hotaruika (small firefly squid) - all caught in the Bay of Toyama.

Toyama Prefecture abounds in excellent water as snow from the Tateyama mountain range of the northern Alps melts and flows into the region.

Toyama is also well-known as a rice harvesting area. Of old the sakamai (special rice for sake) of Toyama is "Gohyakumangoku," of which production is the highest after Niigata and Fukui; much of it is sold to breweries outside Toyama. A new variant of sakamai is “Oyama Nishiki,” a cross between "Omachi" and "Miyama Nishiki." Breweries in Toyama use a high percentage of special sake rice, including also “Yamada Nishiki” from Hyogo.

Sake from Toyama is dry, elegant and smooth, close in style to Niigata. Not surprisingly, master brewers are often from the Echigo guild.

There 19 active sake breweries in Toyama (2015), the smallest number in Hokuriku, but two of those breweries are among the country's 50 largest.

Some of the major breweries are:
  • Masuizumi (Masuda Shuzoten, Toyama). Est. 1893. "Well Full of Long Life." This sake brewery stands in Iwase, a historic port town that flourished in the Kitamae sea trade. It was one of the first - already in the mid-1960s - to focus on ginjo sake in which it is still a leading player. Makes ginjos with fine fragrance and full flavor. Toji from Noto brewers guild, who make rich and soft sake. Innovative brewery undertakes various experiments, such as aging sake in wine casks from Burgundy.
  • Sanshoraku (Sanshoraku Shuzo, Nanto). Est. 1880. Small brewery in World Heritage Site Gokayama, lying under deep snow in winter. Production is limited, making Sanshoraku a rare apparition. Uses the Yamahai-method for making the yeast-starter. Individualistic, large-boned and umami-rich character, as befits sake from a mountain region. The name of the company goes back to a Chinese story, "The Three Laughers of Tiger Ravine" (Kokei sansho), about a hermit who vowed never to leave his ravine, but who when talking pleasantly with two poet-friends, unconsciously did step outside, after which all three gave a big laugh.
  • Tateyama (Tateyama Shuzo, Tonami). Est. 1830. Named after Toyama's dominant mountain range. Large brewery (operating in two locations) that produces soft and dry sakes with a good balance.
Toyama Sake Brewers Association
    When planning a brewery visit, check in advance whether the brewery accepts visitors and whether it is open on the day and time you plan to go, especially if a long trip is necessary to get there (see the brewery's website for tel. no or mail address). Note that brewery tours, if available, always have to be booked in advance. Many breweries, however, do not allow visitors in their production area, or only in certain seasons / for certain sizes of groups. In contrast, if a sake museum or brewery shop is present, this is usually open without reservation.
    Sake by Region:
    Hokkaido/Tohoku: Hokkaido - Aomori - Akita - Iwate - Miyagi - Yamagata - Fukushima
    Kanto area: Ibaraki - Tochigi - Gunma - Saitama - Chiba - Tokyo - Kanagawa
    Hokushinetsu: Yamanashi - Nagano - Niigata - Toyama - Ichikawa - Fukui
    Tokai area: Shizuoka - Aichi - Gifu - Mie
    Kansai area: Shiga - Kyoto - Osaka - Hyogo - Nara - Wakayama
    Chugoku area: Tottori - Shimane - Okayama - Hiroshima - Yamaguchi
    Shikoku: Tokushima - Kagawa - Ehime - Kochi
    Kyushu/Okinawa: Fukuoka - Saga - Nagasaki - Kumamoto - Oita - Miyazaki / Kagoshima / Okinawa
    Reference materials: Kikisakeshi Koshukai Tekisuto by Sake Service Institute (Tokyo, 2009); Nihonshu no kyokasho by Kimura Katsumi (Shinsei Shuppansha: Tokyo, 2010); Nihonshu no Tekisuto (2): Sanchi no Tokucho to Tsukuritetachi by Matsuzaki Haruo (Doyukan, 2005); The Book of Sake by Philip Harper (Kodansha International: Tokyo, New York, London, 2006); The Sake Companion by John Gauntner (Running Press: Philadelphia & London, 2000); The Sake Selection by Akiko Tomoda (Gap Japan: Tokyo, 2009).
    The blog author Ad Blankestijn works for the Daishichi Sake Brewery and is an accredited sake sommelier and sake instructor. He also hosts independent sake seminars to propagate knowledge about his favorite drink. The above text reflects his personal opinion.

    January 8, 2016

    Hyakunin Isshu (One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each), Poem 2 (Empress Jito)

    Hyakunin Isshu, Poem 2

    haru sugite
    natsu kinikerashi
    shirotae no
    koromo hosutefu
    ama no kaguyama

    春過ぎて
    夏来にけらし
    白妙の
    衣ほすてふ
    天の香具山

    Spring has gone away, and
    summer come, it seems, 
    for I hear they are drying 
    robes of white mulberry cloth
    on Heavenly Mount Kagu!

    Grave of Emperor Tenmu and Empress Jito, Asuka, Nara
    [Grave of Empress Jito and Emperor Tenmu
    in the Asuka area (Kashihara)]

    A poem expressing the freshness of early summer. 

    Shirotae means white robes made from the fibers of the paper mulberry, typically thin and airy clothes for summer. These have presumably been laid out to bleach against the green of Mt Kagu. Shirotae is also a pillow word (makurakotoba) for things that are very white, such as koromo, "garments." Many commentators take this however as a metaphor:
    - for rising mists, meaning that the mountain now can be clearly seen;
    - or on the contrary, for mists covering the mountain;
    - or for nanohana, white deutzia flowers covering the hillside.

    [Mt. Kagu seen from the south]

    "Heavenly" Mt Kagu is one of the "Three Mountains of Yamato" ("Yamato Sanzan," with Mt Unebi and Mt Miminashi). All three are in fact low hills - Mt Kagu is only 152 meters high - but as they rise directly out of the plain, they were important landmarks. All three hills figure prominently in the poetry of the time. They were also pivots of cosmic forces, for on the day of the winter solstice the sun would set right over Mt Unebi, and rise that same day over Mt Kagu, thereby symbolically linking these mountains to the imperial power. In addition, Mt Kagu was associated with the legend of the Sun Goddess, who once hid in a grotto (presumably located on the mountain) and withheld her light from the world, until she was enticed out of her cave. 


    The author is Empress Jito (645-703), the daughter of Emperor Tenji, and the wife of Emperor Tenmu, who was Tenji's younger half brother; after Tenmu's death, she gained control of state affairs and, following the death of the crown prince, formally ascended the throne as reigning empress in 690, one of the very few women to occupy the chrysanthemum throne. During her reign she was responsible for enacting Japan's first set of administrative and penal laws, the so-called Asuka Kiyomihara Code. After eleven years, she gave up the throne in favor of her grandson (Emperor Monmu). She was the first Japanese monarch to be cremated in Buddhist fashion after her death; with her husband, Emperor Tenmu, she had been involved in building the Yakushiji Temple. She moved the court to Fujiwara no Miya, which was located immediately northwest of Mt Kagu (the then capital Fujiwara-kyo encompassed all Three Mountains of Yamato) - so in the present poem she is writing about a scene before her eyes.

    The first poem in the Hyakunin Isshu was by an Emperor and set in autumn; this second poem by imperial hand is set in early summer, thus demonstrating that the seasons are progressing in good order, something which in Sino-Japanese philosophy points at virtuous rule.

    [Also included in: Manyoshu I:28; Shinkokunshu 175]
    References: Pictures of the Heart, The Hyakunin Isshu in Word and Image by Joshua S. Mostow (University of Hawai'i Press, 1996); Traditional Japanese Poetry, An Anthology, by Steven D. Carter (Stanford University Press, 1991); Hyakunin Isshu by Inoue Muneo, etc. (Shinchosha, 1990); Genshoku Hyakunin Isshu by Suzuki Hideo, etc. (Buneido, 1997); Ogura Hyakunin Isshu at Japanese Text Initiative (University of Virginia Library Etext Center); Hyakunin Isshu wo aruku by Shimaoka Shin (Kofusha Shuppan); Basho's Haiku (2 vols) by Toshiharu Oseko (Maruzen, 1990); The Ise Stories by Joshua S. Mostow and Royall Tyler (University of Hawai'i Press, 2010); Kokin Wakashu, The First Imperial Anthology of Japanese Poetry by Helen Craig McCullough (Staford University Press, 1985); Kokinshu, A Collection of Poems Ancient and Modern by Laurel Rasplica Rodd and Mary Catherine Henkenius (University of Tokyo Press, 1984); Kokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1994); Shinkokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1995); Taketori Monogatari-Ise Monogatari-Yamato Monogatari-Heichu Monogatari (Shogakkan, 1994).
    Hyakunin Isshu Introduction - Poem 1 - Poem 2 - Poem 3 - Poem 4 - Poem 5 - Poem 6 - Poem 7 - Poem 8 - Poem 9 - Poem 10 - Poem 11 - Poem 12 - Poem 13 - Poem 14 - Poem 15 - Poem 16 - Poem 17 - Poem 18 - Poem 19 - Poem 20 -

    January 6, 2016

    Hyakunin Isshu (One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each), Poem 1 (Emperor Tenji)

    Hyakunin Isshu, Poem 1

    aki no ta no
    kariho no iho no
    toma wo arami
    waga koromode wa
    tsuyu ni nuretsutsu

    秋の田の
    かりほの庵の
    苫をあらみ
    わが衣手は
    露にぬれつつ

    Because of the rough thatch
    of the hut, the temporary hut,
    in the autumn fields,
    the sleeves of my robe
    are always getting wet with dew.

    Rice Harvest in Autumn
    [Rice harvesting in autumn]

    A tranquil pastoral scene in late autumn. 

    Kariho no iho: kariho is a contraction of kari-iho, "temporary hut." As the hut is mentioned doubly, some commentators (possibly also Fujiwara Teika, the compiler of the Hyakunin Isshu) consider kariho as a pivot word (kakekotoba) with the double meaning of "reaped ears of grain." A "temporary hut" was a makeshift structure in which farmers at night kept watch over the fields during the harvest season, to prevent humans or animals from stealing the rice.

    The "dew" in the last line may imply tears (of loneliness or lost love) as well.

    Teika ascribes the poem to Emperor Tenji (626-672; name also spelled Tenchi), the son of Emperor Jomei. As crown prince, called Naka no Oe, he broke the power of the Soga clan with the help of Fujiwara no Kamatari, and was also responsible for the Taika Reforms, reorganizing the government on the Chinese model. For many years he continued to rule as regent, even after the death of his mother Empress Saimei, and only was formally enthroned in 668. As Emperor he moved the capital to Omi (now Otsu in Shiga Pref.) and promulgated the Omi Code of Laws. Omi served for five years as the capital.

    The ascription of the present poem to Emperor Tenji is however dubious: a similar poem in fact appears in the Manyoshu where it is anonymous. It was first ascribed to Emperor Tenji in the Gosenshu anthology from the mid-tenth century, probably based on a tradition or document outside Manyoshu.


    But Teika clearly believed that Emperor Tenji was the author and he must have put the present poem consciously in first position in his anthology: after all, Emperor Tenji was revered as the progenitor of the imperial line and this poem could be interpreted as an expression of the "model" emperor's compassion for the lot of the common peasants.

    The poem however says little about the harshness of work in the fields but rather focuses in aristocratic fashion on the beautiful "yugen" aspect of lonely tranquility in late autumn. As such, it has always been much admired.

    There are three places associated with Emperor Tenji in Kyoto and Otsu: in Miidera ("Temple of the Three Wells" or, written differently, "Temple of the August Well") in Otsu one finds a well, the Akai, which was supposedly used to supply the water for bathing three newly born imperial infants, the later emperors Tenji, Tenmu and Jito (of course, this is pure legend as they were born in a palace in Asuka, far removed from Otsu); in Yamashina, close to Misasagi Station, one finds the imperial tomb of Emperor Tenji; and in Otsu stands the Omi Jingu, a shrine of state Shinto built in the Meiji-period to honor Emperor Tenji.

    [Also included in: Gosenshu 301]
    References: Pictures of the Heart, The Hyakunin Isshu in Word and Image by Joshua S. Mostow (University of Hawai'i Press, 1996); Traditional Japanese Poetry, An Anthology, by Steven D. Carter (Stanford University Press, 1991); Hyakunin Isshu by Inoue Muneo, etc. (Shinchosha, 1990); Genshoku Hyakunin Isshu by Suzuki Hideo, etc. (Buneido, 1997); Ogura Hyakunin Isshu at Japanese Text Initiative (University of Virginia Library Etext Center); Hyakunin Isshu wo aruku by Shimaoka Shin (Kofusha Shuppan); Basho's Haiku (2 vols) by Toshiharu Oseko (Maruzen, 1990); The Ise Stories by Joshua S. Mostow and Royall Tyler (University of Hawai'i Press, 2010); Kokin Wakashu, The First Imperial Anthology of Japanese Poetry by Helen Craig McCullough (Staford University Press, 1985); Kokinshu, A Collection of Poems Ancient and Modern by Laurel Rasplica Rodd and Mary Catherine Henkenius (University of Tokyo Press, 1984); Kokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1994); Shinkokin Wakashu (Shogakkan, 1995); Taketori Monogatari-Ise Monogatari-Yamato Monogatari-Heichu Monogatari (Shogakkan, 1994).
    Hyakunin Isshu Introduction - Poem 1 - Poem 2 - Poem 3 - Poem 4 - Poem 5 - Poem 6 - Poem 7 - Poem 8 - Poem 9 - Poem 10 - Poem 11 - Poem 12 - Poem 13 - Poem 14 - Poem 15 - Poem 16 - Poem 17 - Poem 18 - Poem 19 - Poem 20 -