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

August 28, 2013

Ozu Yasujiro - Museums and Shooting Locations

Is it possible to visit any places in Japan associated with the famous director Ozu Yasujiro, such as museums or shooting locations?

Let's start with the museums. I have found the following two:
  • There is a small museum in Matsusaka, a historical town in Mie Prefecture, called Ozu Yasujiro Museum "Seishunkan". Ozu was born in downtown Tokyo, but in 1913, at age ten, he was sent to live in his father's hometown Matsusaka. He would stay there until 1924. The museum stands on the spot of the house where Ozu lived, but the house itself has been destroyed by a fire in the 1950s. The museum has been built to resemble on the outside the Kaguraza movie theater (also defunct) that Ozu used to visit in Matsusaka, and inside visitors find a living room, movie room, and commemorative hall. There are videos introducing the director, as well as panels with photos of his work. Note that the small museum is only open on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday. 
  • Onomichi Motion Picture Museum. Onomichi, a nostalgic port town on the Inland Sea, located in the Eastern part of Hiroshima Prefecture, was and is a favorite shooting location - not only for Ozu who used it in his Tokyo Story. The small Onomichi Picture Museum displays materials and photos connected with film projects that were shot in Onomichi. There is also a tiny theater where visitors can see movies that were filmed in Onomichi. The museum is closed on Tuesdays.


Unfortunately, that seems to be about all. Ozu lived in Kamakura, but there is nothing to visit there except his grave. That grave is in the Engakuji Zen temple in North-Kamakura (the temple sits immediately next to North-Kamakura Station). It is crowned by a large stone inscribed with the word "MU," "Nothingness." It is rather difficult to find in the extensive temple grounds, but this website by Kurt Easterwood may be of help.

When in Kamakura, you may also visit the Kamakura Museum of Literature, which - besides being a beautiful spot, a 1936 Western-style villa with an immense lawn - occasionally may have some materials on view about Ozu.

Another film-related place in Kamakura is the Kawakita Film Museum, which organizes exhibitions and film screenings - Kawakita Nagamasa and his wife Kashiko were founders of the Art Theater Guild (ATG, set up in 1961), which imported foreign art films and also supported independent Japanese directors, as the Nouvelle Vague directors Oshima, Yoshida and Shinoda. The museum stands on the location of their Kamakura residence. This is however not connected to Ozu - the ATG was backed financially by Toho, and not by Shochiku.

The Shochiku studios where Ozu worked (first in Kamata, later in Ofuna) have unfortunately been demolished. It is a pity Shochiku has done nothing for Ozu.

While we are talking about film in general, let me also point to the National Film Center in Tokyo, which organizes screenings and also has a gallery where films stills and posters are shown. See the website for the program. There is also a library.

And then the second point: shooting locations of films by Ozu. There is unfortunately no list of these, and, in fact, most of Ozu's films are made in the studio, on sets recreating the inside of houses and offices. And when we look at the locations Ozu used, we have to conclude that many of these have disappeared or changed beyond recognition. That is for example true for his Tokyo locations - such as the sparsely populated Western suburbs of Tokyo in I was Born, But... 

There are two locations that come to mind which are still extant, but then in a generalized way: Onomichi (used in Tokyo Story) and North-Kamakura, used in Late Spring. Onomichi is a beautiful spot, with steep lanes and old temples, looking out over the Inland Sea and an old-fashioned harbor. Just walking around here will allow visitors to imbue the atmosphere of the shots in Tokyo Story. The same is true of Kamakura: away from the main thoroughfares, in the quiet residential areas, there are still long bamboo fences and quiet lanes as shown in Late Spring and other Ozu films.
[Post written in answer to a question from a reader of this blog]

August 15, 2013

Basho’s haiku in Toyama (Haiku Stones): Ariso no Umi

It is on the the last leg of his Narrow Road travels that Basho enters Toyama from Niigata.

Fresh rice plants in Hokuriku.
[Fresh rice plants. Photo Ad Blankestijn]

fragrance of rice
wading into it
on my right the Rough Sea

wase no ka ya | wakeiru migi wa | Ariso Umi

This is the only haiku Basho wrote in Toyama. Ariso no Umi, the Rough Sea, is is an utamakura ('pillow word') for the area around Fukishi harbor near the present city of Takaoka (home to the great Zuiryuji Temple). From here one has the famous view of the Tateyama mountains over Toyama Bay: a long row of white peaks above, the waves of the sea below, and only a haze in between.

Basho does not write about this scenery. He had a very tough day, crossing "forty-eight streams and countless rivers" as he writes in Oku no Hosomichi. That morning, August 27 (July 13 on our calendar) he had left Ichiburi. The streams he had to cross were the Kurobe River and its tributaries, all swollen by long rains. At such places he and Sora had to hire porters to carry them across. Next day he traveled on to Nako no Ura.

Hojozu Hachiman Shrine in Shin-Minato, Takaoka
[Hojozu Hachiman Shrine in Shin-Minato, Takaoka. Photo Ad Blankestijn]

Basho's haiku is a eulogy on the new country he is entering: the domain of Kaga. This was one of the most affluent parts of Japan and the daimyo family, the Maeda, had an income of over one million koku (or 5 million bushels) of rice. So it is fitting that Basho writes about the wase, the fresh young rice standing in endless fields, as far as the eye can see. The fragrance of the new rice greets him when he enters Kaga and while he wades through the rich fields, on his right side he sees the famous Nako no Ura, Bay of Nako and the Araiso, the Rough Sea. Thus he pays his respects to the genie of the country he is entering.
Stone: The haiku stone stands in the grounds of the Hojozu Hachiman Shrine in Shin-Minato. There is also a kahi, a tanka stone, by Otomo no Iemochi, a Manyoshi poet who lived for 4 years in this area and left many poems (from 746 CE). The shrine is pleasant, but Shin-Minato is rather ugly. Some say the kuhi should have been placed in Fushiki, on the other side of the bay.
Access: 25 min. by the Manyo Line of the Kaetsuno Tetsudo to Naka-Shin-minato, then a 15-min. walk.

August 11, 2013

Names of the months in Japan

Every first-year student of Japanese knows the names of the months: ichi-gatsu, ni-gatsu, san-gatsu etc... it could not be simpler, just the counters from one to twelve plus "month." It is also a bit boring. Happily, there is a more poetic way of naming the months in Japan - but less easy to remember:
1. Mutsuki 睦月 or "social month / month of affection" - the time that family and friends join to celebrate the New Year

2. Kisaragi 如月 or "put on more clothes against the cold" - the coldest season of the year

3. Yayoi 弥生 or "renewed growth" - as plants start growing in this season

4. Uzuki 卯月 or "month of the U-flowers (deutzia)" 
5. Satsuki 皐月 or "month of planting rice shoots"

6. Minazuki 水無月 or "the waterless month" - possibly corrupted for "full-water month"

7. Fuzuki (Fumizuki) 文月 or "the month in which the rice ears swell (month for writing poetry)

8. Hazuki 葉月 or "month of falling leaves"

9. Nagatsuki 長月 or "month of long nights" - famous for the beautiful autumn moon

10. Kannazuki 神無月 or "godless month" - as the gods from all over Japan are said to travel to the Izumo shrine and so are away from home

11. Shimotsuki 霜月 or "month of frost"

12. Shiwasu 師走 or "month of busy priests" - who run around all day for religious services as the year draws to an end.
These poetic names are never used for dates, but only in poetry, such as haiku, or on old-fashioned calendars.

August 8, 2013

Haiku in Manpukuji, Uji: Songs of tea pickers (Haiku stones)

leaving the Temple Gate
there is Japan!
songs of tea pickers

sanmon wo dereba | Nippon zo! | chatsumi uta

By Kikushani (1753-1826)

Manpukuji Temple in Uji, Kyoto, belongs to a Chinese Zen school that was brought to Japan by Ingen, who fled China for the Manchu invaders in the mid-17th c. The Obaku-sect temple was a true Chinese cultural enclave in Kyoto: the layout of the temple was Chinese: with small temples for typical Chinese deities as Mazu, there were Chinese-style Buddhist statues, the sutras were read in Chinese, the meals were Chinese "fucha" vegetarian meals... All first 13 abbots were also emigres from China, they wrote a particular kind of Chinese-style calligraphy and entertained guests with a "sencha" tea ceremony. The temple was a center of Chinese culture in Kyoto and often visited by Japanese literati.

Gate of Manpukji, Uji, Kyoto
[The gate of Manpukiji. Photo Ad Blankestijn]

When the haiku poetess Kikushani has visited Manpukuji and steps out of the Sanmon, the temple gate, she has the feeling that she has made a trip to China and only now returned to Japan.

What makes her so sure she is back in Japan? The songs of the tea pickers she hears - Uji was the oldest and most famous tea producing area in Japan.
The haiku stone stands in the grounds of Obakusan Manpukuji Temple in Uji, Kyoto, 5 min walk from Obaku St. and 20 min walk from Uji St. 
Kikushani (1753-1826) became a poetess and a nun after losing her husband when she was only in her mid-twenties. The haiku dates from 1788.

August 5, 2013

Shochu mimai: Well-wishing in the hot weather

The hot and humid summer in Japan tends to wear people out. It is therefore custom to inquire after the health of friends and acquaintances during the greatest heat, which lasts somewhere from July 20 to the first week of August. Since the Taisho period, this is done by sending a special postcard which is called shochu mimai ("asking after a person’s health in the hot weather”).

[Shochu mimai cards]

The postcards are usually decorated with seasonal images and those issued by the post office have lottery numbers printed at the bottom, just like the cards used at New Year. If you miss sending your cards before August 8, don’t worry: just change the greeting in Japanese to zansho mimai, to ask after your friend’s health in the “lingering heat."

August 2, 2013

Issa’s haiku in Nagano: In Jizo’s lap (Haiku Stones)

The haiku-poet Kobayashi Issa was born in Kashiwabara, in the northern part of Nagano Prefecture, and after a life as wandering poet, he lived there again during his last years. As a devout Pure Land Buddhist Issa often visited Zenkoji, and he wrote numerous poems in which the temple figures. The City of Nagano has honored him by putting up scores of stones with his haiku along the streets in the vicinity of Zenkoji Temple. Below is a selection from the haiku I found on those stones.

Jizo statue in Zenkoji, Nagano
[Jizo statue in the grounds of Zenkoji. Photo Ad Blankestijn]
ricecakes -
also in Jizo's lap
the spring wind

botamochi ya | Jizo no hiza mo | haru no kaze
The "ricecakes" in my translation are in fact "botamochi," literally "peony cakes," a term for rice cakes covered with bean jam and made during the vernal equinox. The same cakes are called ohagi (after the bushclover that blooms in September) when made during the autumnal equinox (see my post about ohagi in Japanese Food Dictionary). Jizo is a popular Bodhisattva, helper of all humans but especially children. He also guides those who have died through the Underworld.

Street leading to Zenkoji Temple, Nagano, in winter.
[Street leading to Zenkoji Temple in winter. Photo Ad Blankestijn]
in the autumn wind
escaping on foot
the firefly

akikaze ni | aruitenigeru | hotaru kana
A single firefly (hotaru) has survived into autumn, but when the cold wind blows it tries to get away - on foot, as it has already lost the power to fly. This haiku is a good example of Issa's minute attention to small creatures as insects.

Haiku Stone along the road in Nagano City
[Haiku stone along the road in Nagano. Photo Ad Blankestijn]
my outstretched legs
clouds like mountains

nagedashita | ashi no saki ni | kumo no mine
This haiku is simplicity itself. The picture shows the haiku stone by the roadside.

Gate of Zenkoji, Nagano
[Gate of Zenkoji. Photo Ad Blankestijn]
how beautiful
the Milky Way
seen through a hole in the shoji

utsukushi ya | shoji no ana no | Ama no Kawa
The Milky Way is in Japan called Heaven's River. It seems all the more impressive when glimpsed through a tiny hole. A shoji is a wooden frame covered with translucent rice paper. Shoji could serve as doors, windows, or partitioning screens. That there is a hole in the paper, points at a poor house - usually such holes would be quickly repaired. But Issa enjoys the hole in the paper screen, for now he can see the Milky Way through it.

Main Hall of Zenkoji Temple, Nagano
[Main Hall of Zenkoji. Photo Ad Blankestijn]
even sparrows
bring their children

suzumera mo | oyakotsure nite | Zenkoji
As in the haiku on the firefly, Issa is a keen observer of nature. But there is more: the Amida Trinity of Zenkoji promises to save all sentient beings and that includes sparrows as well.

Also see my other post, "Pulled by an Ox,"  on haiku stones with poems by Issa.
Note: A great resource on Issa, containing more than 7300 translations of his haiku, is Haiku of Kobayashi Issa by David G. Lanoue.

August 1, 2013

Osaka and Conveyor Belt Sushi (Kaiten-sushi)

Osaka often seems to be playing second fiddle to Big Brother Tokyo, but it actually is a city of many firsts. Pocket calculators were invented here in 1964, the first automatic ticket gates appeared in Osaka earlier than elsewhere in 1967, vacuum packed foods as curry were introduced in this food-conscious city in 1968, and the famous cup noodles made their first appearance in 1971 - before going on to conquer the world. And of course we should not forget "conveyor belt sushi" (Kaiten-sushi), which greeted the rising sun in 1958. The first revolving sushi restaurant in the world, called Mawaru Genroku Sushi, opened its doors in April 1958 in Fuse, in what is now Higashi-Osaka.

Fuse is just a few minutes by Nara-bound Kintetsu train from Tsuruhashi on the Osaka loop line and the sushi restaurant sits almost in front of the station (on the block of shops to the right when you stand in front of the south exit of Fuse station). This is an old downtown neighborhood with impressive classical shopping arcades and shops and other establishments that are pleasantly old-fashioned.

[Mawaru Genroku Sushi in Fuse, Osaka]

In a Kaiten-sushi restaurant the plates with the sushi are placed on a rotating belt that winds around the counter where the cooks work, and moves past every seat. Customers pick their selections from a steady stream of fresh sushi snaking by in front of their eyes. A great invention from the city of Kuidaore, "eating until you drop down," and symbolic for the Osaka mentality of "value for money."

As the Daily Yomiuri writes:
Operator Yoshiaki Shiraishi equipped a sushi restaurant counter with a revolving belt after seeing a conveyer belt at a beer factory and thinking that it could reduce the work of waitstaff. At the time, a bowl of ramen noodles cost about 40 yen, and one plate of four sushi pieces was priced at 50 yen.

Sushi-go-rounds, as they are sometimes called, became known across the nation after one opened near the 1970 Osaka Expo venue.
Mr Shiraishi did his invention due to staffing problems. And indeed, besides the sushi chef(s) behind the counter, there is often only one waiter or waitress who seats you and handles the cash register and besides that, at most takes care of special drink orders as beer. The rest is available at your table: from soy sauce to wasabi and chopsticks. Interestingly, there is even a hot water faucet, so that customers can make their own tea.

[Kaiten sushi - note the white hot water faucets for making tea]

The belt moves at 8 cm per second, clockwise, and is constantly replenished. In some shops, it is also possible to ask the chef for special types of sushi that are on the menu on the wall, but not on the conveyor. The belt also carries things as deserts. In Genroku Sushi a second belt has been built on top of the first one, carrying such things as cups, ash trays, paper napkins and other accessories. Besides offering traditional fish (tuna, salmon etc.) and shellfish, Genroku Sushi goes along with the times in providing sushi with raw meat, calbee, chicken, and sausages - and mayonnaise as a flavoring. The Japanese names of the plates are indicated with little flags, but there is also an English picture menu.

In Kaiten Sushi restaurants the bill is calculated based on the number and type of color-coded plates the customer has amassed and is never an unpleasant surprise. There are even sushi shops where every plate is priced at a fixed price, say 130 yen. Kaiten Sushi made sushi, until then a luxury food, available to ordinary people. Sushi shops became family restaurants. When I visited Genroku Sushi, in the early evening of an ordinary weekday, the other visitors were mainly locals who would eat a few plates and then go back home again. By the way, considering that conveyer belt sushi was originally started to reduce staff, a surprisingly large number of staff was on duty, to seat the customers, count the plates, and keep everything running smoothly. The chefs were also working at high speed to keep up with the pace of consumption.

There are about 3000 Kaiten Sushi shops in Japan and the industry is still going strong. Many belong to chains as Akindo Sushiro, Atom Boy, Genki Sushi, Kappa Sushi, etc. Of the original inventor chain, Mawaru Genroku Sushi, there are still 11 shops in the Kansai.