Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Tanabata Festival (July 7)

Tanabata is one of Japan's five traditional festivals, the gosekku, celebrated on auspicious calendar days: 1/1, 3/3, 5/5, 7/7 and 9/9. Tanabata's date is 7/7 in the old moon calendar, but as 8/7 is closer to the old date, some Tanabata festivals are held in August rather than July.

As in other cultures, in Japan, too, seven is a lucky figure, so 7/7 makes Tanabata doubly auspicious. Tanabata aptly combines a romantic Chinese folk legend with the native Japanese custom of exorcising contamination.

[Tanabata in Kitano Tenmangu Shrine, Kyoto. Photo © Ad Blankestijn]

Two stars, the Weaver Star (Vega in the constellation Lyra) and the Cowherd Star (Altair in the constellation Aquila), who are lovers, can only meet once a year on the seventh night of the seventh lunar month. The Vega and Altair stars indeed stand wide apart in the clear summer sky with the whole Milky Way (in Japan seen as a river, the River of Heaven) between them.

Vega was imagined to be a girl working at a loom (and therefore associated with traditional skills for women as weaving and sewing) and the constellation Aquila in which Altair stands was seen as a boy leading two cows. Because their love led them to neglect their respective duties (the lone cows wandering forlorn over the Celestial Pasture), by order of the August Gods, the pair was only allowed to meet on seventh day of the seventh month, when magpies would form a bridge with their bodies and wings they could cross.

But only on clear days: in case of rain, the River of Heaven would rise and make passage impossible so that the lovers would have to wait another whole year...

"But (as Lafcadio Hearn remarks in his version of the legend) their love remains immortally young and eternally patient, and they are happy in their hope of being able to meet on the next seventh night of the next seventh month."

[Tanabata in Fukushima]

In Japan the Weaver Star was fused with the legend of the celestial weaving maiden Tanabatatsume, whose task was to make garments for the Heavenly Deities, working beside the Celestial River.

Her name became the Japanese name of the festival, which was already observed at the Heian court.

The cowherd became a deity, who after visiting the weaving maiden, would the next morning take all evil contamination with him. Therefore he also purifies the world below.

So we have a Chinese legend overlaid with a Japanese one, and a lucky date overlaid with a purification festival.

To further complicate matters, Tanabata also became associated with some of the practices involved in welcoming and seeing off the spirits of the ancestors, since it fell close to the time of the Buddhist Bon Festival.

But there is nothing complicated about today's Tanabata. Since the Edo period, this important festival is just a children's pastime, although a fun one.

A week or so before the festival, bamboo branches decorated with long narrow strips of colored paper and other small ornaments are displayed in front of homes, schools, Shinto shrines, and (increasingly) in shops.

The paper strips (tanzaku) are inscribed with wishes, often of a romantic nature. I once attended a wedding party around this time, where all guests wrote a wish for the newly wedded pair on such a strip and attach it to the bamboo twigs.

The cities of Sendai (on August 7) and Hiratsuka (July 7) are especially known for their elaborate Tanabata festivals.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Bach Cantatas (35): St John's Day (June 24)

The feast of the birth John the Baptist is celebrated on June 24 - in 2012 this doubles with Trinity III. John the Baptist was a messianic figure, a forerunner of Jesus and most Biblical scholars agree that he baptized Jesus in the River Jordan. The prediction of the coming of John was very much like the message of Advent.

Isaiah 40:1–5, "Prepare the Way"
Luke 1:57–80, The birth of John the Baptist and Prophecy of Zacharias


  • Ihr Menschen, rühmet Gottes Liebe, BWV 167, 24 June 1723

    Aria (tenor): Ihr Menschen, rühmet Gottes Liebe
    Recitativo (alto): Gelobet sei der Herr Gott Israel
    Aria (soprano, alto): Gottes Wort, das trüget nicht
    Recitativo (bass): Des Weibes Samen kam
    Chorale: Sei Lob und Preis mit Ehren

    ("You people. glorify God's love") Very compact cantata with memorable melodies. The cantata opens with a joyful, dancing aria for tenor and strings. The alto recitative compares the coming of John with the coming of Jesus. Next comes a densely textured duet for alto and soprano "God's word does not deceive," with oboe da caccia. After a bass recitative follows a surprise: a brilliant and joyous chorale “Nun lob, mein Seel, den Herren.” This is the kind of melody to hum along with! (****)
  • Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam, BWV 7, 24 June 1724

    Chorus: "Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam"
    Aria: "Merkt und hört, ihr Menschenkinder"
    Recitative: "Dies hat Gott klar mit Worten"
    Aria: "Des Vaters Stimme ließ sich hören"
    Recitative: "Als Jesus dort nach seinen Leiden"
    Aria: "Menschen, glaubt doch dieser Gnade"
    Chorale: "Das Aug allein das Wasser sieht" 

    ("Christ our Lord came to the Jordan") About the baptism of Jesus in the waters of the River Jordan, and the meaning of baptism in general. Water images permeate every movement of this cantata. In the solemn opening chorus - based on a Luther chorale - which resembles an Italian violin concerto, the tenors sing the cantus firmus. There is a feeling of ebb and flow in this wonderful movement. The bass aria is only accompanied by the continuo. The descending motif suggest the cleansing effect of baptism. A secco recitative leads to a tenor aria, accompanied by two dueting violins. The triple measure symbolizes the Trinity and in the up-flowing music we hear the dove of the Holy Spirit. The following recitative is given to the bass as Vox Christi and accompanied by strings. The alto aria is graced by two oboes d'amore and the strings. It is the liturgical core of the cantata, stressing that believers can only be saved by faith and baptism and that "human deeds and holiness" matter nothing at all. The closing chorale is a beautiful four-part harmonization. (****)
  • Freue dich, erlöste Schar, BWV 30, 24 June 1738

    Coro: "Freue dich, erlöste Schar" for choir, flauti traversi, oboes, strings, and continuo.
    Recitativo: "Wir haben Rast" for bass and continuo.
    Aria: "Gelobet sei Gott, gelobet sein Name" for bass, strings, and continuo.
    Recitativo: "Der Herold kömmt und meldt den König an" for altus and continuo.
    Aria: "Kommt, ihr angefochtnen Sünder" for altus, flauto traverso, strings, and continuo.
    Chorale: "Eine Stimme lässt sich hören" for choir and orchestral tutti colle parti.
    Recitativo: "So bist du denn, mein Heil, bedacht" for bass, oboes and continuo.
    Aria: "Ich will nun hassen" for bass, oboe d'amore, violino solo, strings, and continuo.
    Recitativo: "Und obwohl sonst der Unbestand" for soprano and continuo.
    Aria: "Eilt, ihr Stunden, kommt herbei" for soprano, violins, and continuo.
    Recitativo: "Geduld, der angenehme Tag" for tenor, and continuo.
    Coro: "Freude dich, geheilgte Schar" for choir, orchestral tutti, and continuo.

    ("Rejoice, redeemed throng") Based on a secular cantata (BWV 30a, Angenehmes Wiederau) composed the previous year. Thematically, this cantata is praise of God for keeping His promise. Starts with a joyful opening chorus with syncopated rhythm. A bass recitative leads into a brilliant aria for bass with strings. The highlight of the cantata is the gentle aria for alto with flute and strings, which is permeated with a feeling of grace. A choral setting ends the first part of the cantata. While the first part zoomed in on God's keeping His promise, the second part gives us the reaction of the individual believers ("I now will hate and leave behind everything, which is contrary to You, my God"). The second half starts with a bass recitative and an aria, which surprisingly is in the gallant style (this a late Bach). In contrast, the following soprano aria is in antique gigue style. The arpeggios in the accompaniment illustrate the hurrying of the hours which soon brings the believer to the pasture of Heaven. A repetition of the opening chorus concludes the cantata. (****)
Bach Cantata Index

    Sunday, June 24, 2012

    Bach Cantatas (36): Trinity III

    The church year from Trinity until Advent is simply counted in figures as Trinity I, Trinity II, etc. This is the third Sunday after Trinity.

    There are no major church feasts in this second part of the church year. Instead, issues of faith and doctrine are explored. On this Sunday, the theme of the tormented sinner, who can only be saved by Gods' grace, is explored.

    1 Peter 5:6–11, "Cast thy burden upon the Lord"
    Luke 15:1–10, Parable of the Lost Sheep

    Cantata Studies:
    Bach Cantatas Website | Simon Crouch | Emmanuel Music | Julian Mincham | Wikipedia | Eduard van Hengel (in Dutch) | Bach Companion (Oxford U.P.) | Bach: The Learned Musician (Wolff) | Music in the Castle of Heaven (Gardiner)

    [Schlosskirche Weimar]

    • Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis, BWV 21, 17 June 1714, revised 1723

      Coro: Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis in meinem Herzen
      Aria (soprano): Seufzer, Tränen, Kummer, Not
      Recitativo (tenor): Wie hast du dich, mein Gott
      Aria (tenor): Bäche von gesalznen Zähren
      Coro: Was betrübst du dich

      Recitativo (Dialogus soprano, bass): Ach Jesu, meine Ruh
      Aria (soprano, bass): Komm, mein Jesu, und erquicke/Ja, ich komme und erquicke
      Coro: Sei nun wieder zufrieden, meine Seele
      Aria (tenor): Erfreue dich, Seele, erfreue dich, Herze
      Coro: Das Lamm, das erwürget ist

      "I had much affliction"
      Text: Salomon Franck, chorale by Georg Neumark

      Long cantata written in Weimar but later revised. Thematically it describes the pain felt by the lost sheep and its eventual reunification with God. The cantata introduces themes of pain and suffering and there is a mood of desolation that never quite lifts. The work was meant as a musical farewell to the critically ill Weimar prince Johann Ernst who had been Bach's pupil - Bach uses a Vivaldi melody in the first chorus that was a favorite of the prince. A sighing motif characterizes the music in the opening sinfonia with violin and oboe.

      The fugal opening chorus is followed by a beautiful soprano aria with sighing motifs and that in its turn by the tenor aria "Streams of salty tears" where the flood of tears is suggested by the swelling music. A hopeless feeling of loneliness speaks from this aria, but a chorus that introduces a spark of hope concludes the first part.

      The uplifting second part starts with a dialogue between the soul and Jesus that introduces the material from the gospel reading - a favorite didactic device of Lutheran theology. It has a tripartite rhythm and a cute melody almost like Mozart's "La ci darem la mano." By trusting in the grace of God, the mood transforms into joy and praise.

      This is anchored by a great chorus, "Be at peace again, my soul", where the soloists weave their voices around the main melody. After a sprightly tenor aria follows the concluding chorus, now a forceful one with trumpets and drums (it must have been studied by Handel as there are echoes of it in The Messiah). This long work is often regarded as one of Bach's best cantatas.

      Rating: A+
      Video: Bach-Stiftung

    • Ach Herr, mich armen Sünder, BWV 135, 25 June 1724

      Coro: Ach Herr, mich armen Sünder
      Recitativo (tenor): Ach heile mich, du Arzt der Seelen
      Aria (tenor): Tröste mir, Jesu, meine Gemüte
      Recitativo (alto): Ich bin von Seufzen müde
      Aria (bass): Weicht, all ihr Übeltäter
      Chorale: Ehr sei ins Himmels Throne

      "Ah Lord, me a poor sinner"
      Text: Chorale "Ach Herr, mich armen Sünder" by Cyriakus Schneegass

      About the joy of a repenting sinner, which links to the gospel reading for this Sunday. Starts with an impressive harmonization of Hassler's hymn "Herzlich tut mich verlangen," the melody sung slowly by the basses to symbolize the "humbling" under the hand of God. This establishes a feeling of desolation right at the beginning. In the first recitative by tenor the tears running down the faces of sinners are illustrated by demi-semiquaver runs. The easy-going tenor aria "Comfort Jesus my spirit" with two oboes chasing each other offers some relief from the tension. The second aria is for bass and it is a rousing, militaristic affair that would have fit in an opera by Handel. The final choral is a more conventional harmonization than the opening of the cantata.

      Rating: A
      Video: Bach-Stiftung

    Bach Cantata Index

    Friday, June 22, 2012

    Basho’s Journey: Bleached bones on the Narrow Road (Book Review)

    Basho is by far the most popular Japanese author. Strangely enough, there still is no annotated scholarly translation of his complete work. The Narrow Road has been translated tens of times, and a few hundred of his most popular haiku exist in countless versions (there is even a whole book dedicated to different versions of the famous frog haiku), but too much remains neglected.

    This is not fair: why, for example, a complete Shakepeare translation in Japanese and only popular anthologies of Basho in English? It is all the more strange as Basho's work is not particularly extensive and easily fits into two volumes in Japanese.

    As much as the Narrow Road has received the attention of translators (not always in a positive way, it has been mangled badly by some "translators" who didn't know Japanese), so little attention has been paid to Basho's other prose.

    Along comes David Landis Barnhill's Basho's Journey: The Literary Prose of Matsuo Basho (State University of New York Press, 2005). Still not a complete translation of Basho's prose (no letters, for example), but thanks to the high level of the translation and the sensitivity of the translator to Basho's nuances the best we have now.

    Barnhill has translated Basho’s five travelogues (Journey of Bleached Bones in a Field, Kashima Journal, Knapsack Notebook, Sarashima Journal and Narrow Road to the Deep North) as well as his only literary diary, the Saga Diary. In addition, there is selection of more than 80 haibun, short poetic prose sketches that often contain a haiku.

    In fact, these haibun often relate the circumstances under which a certain haiku was written. Although Basho can sometimes shift the truth a bit for literary effect as he did in the Narrow Road, in principle these pieces are not fiction. One could see the longer travelogues as a series of haibun strung together.

    This all goes back to the East-Asian theory and practice of poetry where the lyrical poem (including the haiku) is seen as a sincere response to a situation in which the poet finds himself. This situation can be social, political, or even just a beautiful landscape, but is always grounded in the biography of the author.

    This is contrary to modern Western poetical theories, of which there is of course a whole variety, but what they have in common is the separation of poem and poet. In one theory, the poem is a conscious artifact that stands on itself.

    Basho’s haibun demonstrate that East-Asian poets themselves (the same tradition exists in China and Korea) saw this differently - and we should take that into consideration when we read their work.

    Another point is that much of Basho’s hokku and haibun had a social function, that is they were written as memorials or farewell gifts – in other words, they functioned as occasional poetry.

    Haruo Shirane in Traces of Dreams: Landscape, Cultural Memory, and the Poetry of Basho has admirably called our attention to the fact that this is also the case for the hokku, which as opening of a renga session, often were meant to praise the host of the occasion, or the genus loci of the place.

    So far my own ruminations, now back to the book.

    Barnhill offers the most comprehensive collection of Basho's prose available and the texts have been beautifully translated into English. Therefore they supplant older translations, such as the renderings by Nobuyuki Yuasa in Penguin Books.

    There is only one exception: in the case of the Narrow Road I still prefer Hiroaki Sato's Basho's Narrow Road, with its full apparatus of notes.

    In the introduction, Barnhill has an interesting discussion of Basho's nature view and the influence of his haibun on American contemporary nature writing and environmental thought.

    To conclude, we are grateful that Barnhill has made these important pieces available in excellent and accessible translations, but that scholarly translation of the Complete Works of Basho still remains a dream...

    Wednesday, June 20, 2012

    Basho Museum, Iga-Ueno (Museums)

    The Basho Memorial Museum in Iga-Ueno was built in 1959 as a tribute to the haiku master by the town where he was born in 1644 and where he returned several times in later life, both for family visits and to have haikai sessions with local poets. For the haiku enthusiast, it is a small, but fine museum.

    [Basho Museum, Iga-Ueno]

    In the exhibition room are displays of haiku and haiga, the first in beautiful calligraphies by Basho himself or later followers. Copies of early editions of Basho's printed works are also on display. If one does not read Japanese, only the haiga may be of interest. In fact, to fully enjoy this museum, one must be able to read the haiku, even if only in the modern transcriptions provided on the labels. The museum provides an excellent bilingual pamphlet introducing the many other sites associated with Basho in this atmospheric old town.
    Address: 117-13 Maru-no-uchi Ueno-shi, Mie pref. Tel. 0595-21-2219
    Admission: 10:00-17:00; Cl. Monday, year-end and New Year period.
    Access: 5 min. walk from Iga-Ueno-shi Station on the Kintetsu Line, or the bus center in the Sangyo Kaikan.

    Tuesday, June 19, 2012

    Mukai Junkichi: Painter of Minka (Museums)

    Traditional Japanese houses, or minka, are something I am very fond of. My dream is to live in one in the future! For now, I have to do with open-air museums, and that is not so bad, as there are beautiful traditional houses in parks like the Japan Open-Air Folk-house Museum in Kawasaki, the Shikoku Minka Museum or the Hida Folk Village in Takayama.

    [Japan Open-Air Folk-house Museum. Photo © Ad Blankestijn]

    Another option for minka lovers who have to still there longing somehow is to look at minka paintings. Here oil painter Mukai Junkichi (1901-1995) comes in. His work is shown in his former studio, which is now an Annex of the Setagaya Museum of Art. The only subject Mukai was interested in during the major part of his career were the traditional thatched-roof farmhouses of Japan.

    Before the war, Mukai Junkichi had experimented with a variety of styles and also made a visit to Europe where he copied famous paintings in the Louvre. But he came into his own when after the war he realized that Japan’s folk-houses were a fast disappearing breed, as a result of economic development. Mukai felt sad at the loss of these beautiful structures, and traveled to all parts of the country to catch them on his canvasses.

    He painted them standing lonely in the fields, with a background of magnificent snowy mountains, or huddled together in a small hamlet. The changing seasons figure prominently in all his works. Above all, Mukai depicted his thatched-roof houses with realism and vividness. In an age of abstract painting and experimentation, Mukai’s style is very traditional. What makes his paintings interesting are the folk-houses dominating them. They are in fact like living persons, all with their own character.

    Since 1933 Mukai Junkichi lived in the area of Tsurumaki in the Setagaya ward, which until about 30 years ago managed to keep its rural character. Mukai’s own traditional house stood on an elevation among the fields.

    When you come now, you will find a residential area where the houses have been squashed so closely together that even a blade of grass will not fit between them. The small garden of the Mukai residence with its oak and zelkova is the only spot of nature in the wide surroundings.

    [Hida Folk Village. Photo © Ad Blankestijn]

    Unfortunately, the original house was destroyed by fire in 1961 (taking with it many drawings, documents, photos and the like) and the house with studio you find now was put up again in 1962. Inside, however, it succeeds in keeping a pleasant folk-art atmosphere. The house was already turned into a museum in 1993, when Mukai was still alive.

    The small museum organizes about four exhibitions a year, showing of course the folk house paintings, but also drawings, sketches and photos. You will also find the easels on which Mukai worked, including the small one he carried with him on his travels, now with the paint dried up.

    The museum forms an elegant and engaging environment, an temporary escape from the city just as the paintings themselves. Today you will find the real folk-houses only in museums or specially preserved areas, but their spirit lives on in the paintings of Mukai Junkichi.
    Tel. 03-5450-9581
    Hrs: 10:00-18:00; CL Mon (next day if NH), NY.
    Access: 10-min. on foot from W exit of Komazawa Daigaku Station on the Tokyu Denentoshi Line (the route is clearly indicated, also in English); 18-min. walk from Shoin Jinja Station on the Tokyu Setagaya Line; bus 5 from Shibuya Station (bound for Tsurumaki Eigyosho) to Komazawa Chugakko bus stop, then 5-min. on foot. Here is a map.

    Hyogo Prefectural Museum of History (Museums)

    Hyogo’s history museum stands fittingly in Himeji, on a plot of land behind the soaring walls of the castle and close to the Museum of Modern Art. It was designed by Tange Kenzo. On the first floor are two large rooms for the permanent exhibition. The first one is dedicated to the “Primitive Ages” (some interesting items are the bronze mirrors found in the Akura-Takatsu burial mound dating from the 3rd c.), the second one to the “Ancient Ages”, the “Medieval Ages” (about the spread of Buddhism and with models of important temples in Hyogo) and the “Early Modern Ages.” On the second floor is also a gallery dedicated to the “The Modern Age.” Here is also a large room for temporary exhibitions.

    [Himeji Castle]

    Galleries Four and Five are again for the permanent exhibition and these are perhaps the most interesting part of the museum, as they have displays about Himeji Castle and other castles in Japan. Himeji is one of the only twelve castle keeps (or donjons) that survive in their original state. Others are, for example, Inuyama (built in 1537), Matsumoto (1596), Hikone (1606), Matsue (1611) and Kochi (1745). Himeji castle itself dates from 1609. There is also a model of the now destroyed Edo Castle, which used to be the largest in the country. Most castles were destroyed in a wave of anti-feudal feelings after the start of the Meiji period, and the resulting open spaces were often used for building the new prefectural offices. After seeing all the models, from one of the northern windows of the museum you can get a view of Himeji Castle, majestically rising up like a white heron taking off in flight.
    68 Honmachi, Himeji-shi, Hyogo-ken 670-0012
    10:00 - 17:00; CL Mon (next day if NH), NY
    5 min by Shinki bus (no. 3, 4, 5 or 64) from N side of Himeji St to Bijutsukan-mae bus stop, then walk a few min; or 20 min on foot from Himeji St

    Kokoen Garden, Himeji (Gardens)

    Kokoen, 'The Garden of Love for Antiquity' is not very antique itself as it was only built in 1992. It is, however, a pleasant group of gardens (in fact there are nine), laid out on the spot where once the Nishi-Oyashiki (the West Mansion) of Himeji Castle stood. The gardens are enclosed in white washed walls and one enters each one via a gate, whereby the fiction of visiting an old mansion is created.

    The largest and most interesting among the nine gardens is the first one, the Oyashiki no Niwa or Garden of the Lord's House. This is a 9,200 sq. m. large pond garden with a natural spring, located against the background of the trees growing on Himeyama, the hill on which Himeji castle stands. In the southern part of the carp filled pond is a large waterfall and the rushing sound of water (also heard when one enters over a long roofed corridor) is one of the major pleasures of this garden. A restaurant and guest house in traditional style, sitting at the edge of the pond, recreate the fiction of the lord's mansion. There are crooked pine trees, bright red azaleas and a stone bridge, this all against the distant view of the castle.

    The Nae no Niwa (Garden of Seedlings) is less interesting, having as the name indicates seedlings in wooden plant beds. Cha no Niwa, a small tea garden with tea house, does not create a spark either, also because the tea house is hermetically closed and can not even be approached. Better again are the Nagare no Niwa, a flat landscape garden intended to recall the countryside; the Natsuki no Niwa or Garden of Summer Trees; the Matsu no Niwa or Garden of Pine Trees (that also contains many large rocks) and the Hana no Niwa, the Garden of Flowers.

    These are again surpassed by the traditional Tsukiyama Chisen no Niwa or Garden with Hill and Pond (also fitted out with arched bridge and tortoise shaped rock) and the Take no Niwa, a garden containing fifteen varieties of bamboo.

    These gardens lie right in the middle of Himeji, but only occasionally, near the outer edges, can the traffic be heard or other buildings be seen. The idea of having differently colored, tiled mud walls enclosing the gardens makes wandering around something of an adventure, as you do not know what will be behind the next wall.

    Address: (Himeji Castle Nishi-Oyashiki-ato Garden) Tel. 0792-89-4120 Access: 15-min. walk from Himeji Station; 5-min. walk from Himeji Castle. Admission: 8:00-17:00 (July-August: till 18:00).

    Basho Museum, Tokyo (Museums)

    In 1680, the haiku poet Basho moved from Nihonbashi - right in the bustling center of Edo - to a small country house in Fukagawa. Here he started new haikai activities. Away from the city with its endless rounds of linked verse (renga) sessions where he acted as referee (which brought a reasonable income), now he was free to concentrate on his art and bring it to new heights. Most famous haiku date from this period.

    The same holds true for the poetical name that finally stuck with him: he named himself Basho after the plantain (some call it a banana plant) that disciples had planted in the garden of the cottage. The Koto City Basho Museum was built on what is believed to have been a place very close to Basho's hut.

    [Basho Museum, Tokyo]

    The original hut did not survive (in fact, there were three different 'Basho huts,' because fire once took its toll and another time Basho himself moved out on the faraway journey to northern Japan); the area was included in a samurai estate. When in 1917, after a tsunami hit a stone frog was found here that people believed to have been in Basho's possession (I do not know why, except the fact that he wrote a famous frog haiku! The frog stone can be seen in the museum), it was decided that this must have been the location of Basho's hut. Now a small Inari shrine occupies the spot just south of the museum. Opposite the shrine is a small rooftop park with a statue of Basho.

    [Rooftop display near Basho Museum, Tokyo]

    The museum's exhibits include calligraphies of Basho's haiku (amongst others by Buson); portraits of the poet; and an example of the clothes he may have worn when traveling, as well as an ingenious small writing brush with ink pot for use on the road. In the garden stand a few haiku stones as well as a miniature copy of Basho's hut. To remain wholly in style, the museum also has plantains growing against its walls.
    Address: 1-6-3 Tokiwa, Koto-ku, Tokyo Tel. 03-3631-1448
    Access: 7 min. from Morishita Station on the Shinjuku Subway line; 25 min. from Monzen-nakamachi on the Tozai Subway line; 20 min. from Ryogoku Station on the JR Sobu line.
    Admission: 10:00-17:00; Cl. Monday, year-end and New Year period.
    Facilities: Counter selling pamphlets (all J); meeting rooms and library; garden; separate roof garden with Basho statue.

    Monday, June 18, 2012

    Irises in the rain (Horikiri Park, Tokyo)

    One year in June I wanted to see irises in bloom - Japan's famous shobu, sung about in poetry and depicted in paintings and ukiyo-e. I opted for Horikiri Shobuen in the northern part of Tokyo, in what proved to be an eyesore neighborhood, but when I finally reached the garden, I felt happy seeing irises in the rain...

    [Horikiri Park, Tokyo]

    My first acquaintance with the Horikiri Iris Garden was via the famous blockprint by Hiroshige, in his Hundred Views of Edo, where one large iris, seen from a low perspective, rises up against a wide sky and distant river. I knew reality would be different, but had not foreseen how much.

    It was my own fault: on a rainy day in late June, I went by way of Horikiri Station on the Tobu Line, which means you have to walk over a bleak dike, cross the Arakawa River over an interminably long bridge, walk again over an even bleaker dike, and then find your way through the small town of Horikiri.

    It was pouring and on the open bridge the wind teased my umbrella. It was pretty useless, anyway. On the opposite side of the river was a huge highway structure, several roads one above the other, rearing its ugly head on high concrete pillars. The distant thunder of rows upon rows of heavy trucks grumbled through the rain.

    After the river I passed a canal with murky water, in which the highway pillars rested. A bunch of flowers was attached to a post, usually a sign someone has died in a traffic accident. I surmised somebody had jumped into the murky canal as a way out of all misery. It were that kind of surroundings.

    The garden, when I finally found it, was a total contrast. It was beautiful. Of course one had to keep the gaze low to avert the surrounding high-rises and the above mentioned highway (standing between garden and river, in what in Hiroshige's print had been an open landscape). But with that small concession, one could enjoy the pleasures of the small garden. Now I was happy with the rain, especially when it changed into a light drizzle. The light drops stuck to the leaves and flowers and dropped into the pools in which the irises stood, adding to an atmosphere of watery softness.

    Irises were cultivated in this area at least since the 17th century and local cultivators strove the improve the flowers. Horikiri has a valuable name in irises. They are still cultivated one by one, by people who make it their vocation. Therefore all flowers have names, written on small boards put next to them. I saw hundreds and hundreds of names, all of a poetical bent, borrowed from literature or history. All these irises were works of love and that showed. I forgot the hideous highway structure and generally ugly surroundings, and just enjoyed the soft and poetical beauty of Horikiri's irises.

    There is even a haiku stone in the garden, with a poem by Matsuno Jitoku (1890-1975), a pupil of Takahama Kiyoshi, who seems to have been something of an "iris poet:"
    in sunshine
    the whiteness of irises
    bedazzles me

    tenjitsu ni | shobu no hana no | shiro mabushi

    Dazzling whiteness, sunshine... that is at least a problem I do not have with my irises in the rain.
    Address: 2-19-1 Horikiri, Katsushika-ku, Tokyo. Tel. 03-3697-5237
    Access: A 10-min. walk from Horikiri Shobuen Station on the Keisei Line.
    Hours: 9:00-16:30 (in June: 8:00-18:00). Cl. Monday, Tuesday, 4th Sunday of the month, Year-end and New Year period. NOTE: Open every day during June (iris season).

    Sunday, June 17, 2012

    Incline and Lake Biwa Canal Museum, Kyoto

    Kyoto is often seen as purely a historical city for tourists. Indeed, when you sit in a quiet Zen garden you tend to forget that it is also a hothouse of advanced research and industry.

    That was already so in the past. In the last 30 years of the 19th century, after the capital was transferred to Tokyo, the city was indeed in danger of becoming an oddity for tourists. But despite the loss of economic power and status, Kyoto's citizens fought back and realized a stunning number of modern "firsts." Kyoto became the first city to found a system of modern elementary schools, already in 1869, at the initiative of its citizens (the bangumi schools). In 1891, it realized the first hydroelectric power generation project (remember, the 90s of the 19th c. were still an age of gas lights and candles!) and in 1895 the first electric streetcar of Japan started to run in Kyoto. The first Japanese Nobel Prize was won in 1949 by Yugara Hideki, a physicist of Kyoto University.

    [The Biwa Lake Canal coming out of the last tunnel at Keage - Photo © Ad Blankestijn]

    The hydroelectric power project mentioned above is linked to the construction of a canal between Kyoto and Lake Biwa, seven kilometres to the east, to provide waterpower to modernise the city's textile industry, supply drinking water, provide water for fire fighting and irrigation, and, finally, make transport between Lake Biwa and Kyoto easier (mainly for the transport of rice from Shiga and Fukui Prefectures to Kyoto).

    Such a canal had already been the dream of leaders as Hideyoshi, but it would take modern technology to realize it in the Meiji-period, on the strong promotion by the then Governor of Kyoto Prefecture, Kitagaki Kunimichi. The canal starts from Lake Biwa and runs through Yamashina and Keage before reaching the eastern part of Kyoto. The most difficult part of the construction was building three tunnels through the mountains - the longest measures 2.4 kilometres. Engineer of this difficult project was the Tanabe Sakuro, a "young genius" who had just graduated in 1883. Starting in 1885, it took five years to complete the whole canal. A second, almost parallel canal purely for drinking water was added in 1912.

    [The boat cradle at the place where the boats were loaded unto it - Photo © Ad Blankestijn]

    One problem was how to bring the flat-bottomed wooden canal boats down the sharp drop of 36 meters at the pass of Keage (near the Westin Miyako Hotel), leading from central Kyoto to the suburb of Yamashina. Finally, an inclined slope with rails was laid out here, over which flat railroad cars moved onto which the boats were hoisted out of the water (and in it again at the other end). These "boat cradles" moved down the slope of half a kilometre in about 15 minutes - one up and one down at the same time, connected by a steel cable.

    [The Incline at Keage - Photo © Ad Blankestijn]

    Interestingly, these railway carts were moved by electric power - the other innovation introduced by Tanabe Sakuro was building a hydroelectric plant at Keage which could use the same steep drop of 36 metres to direct the canal water through steel pipes and have it drive the wheels of two turbines. Tanabe Sakuro traveled expressly to the United States to see the first hydroelectric power plant built there, in Aspen, Colorado. Later, the electricity generated by the Keage plant was used for Kyoto's first streetcars as well as for streetlamps.

    [The "boat cradle" on the Incline at Keage - Photo © Ad Blankestijn]

    It is - by the way - surprising that there was still the need for such a canal for shipping, considering the fact that the first railway line between Kyoto and Otsu had already been opened in 1880!

    I do not know when shipping through the canal stopped, but the incline is still there with a boat cradle and model of a flat bottomed boat - and what is more, the canal still brings drinking water to Kyoto and the power plant is also still in operation. It has been joined at Keage by a water purification plant.

    The Lake Biwa Canal Museum of Kyoto is a free facility set up to commemorate the canal, the Incline and hydroelectric power plant. You will find ample photo's and materials here on the large project, as well as a power generator.

    [Statue of Tanabe Sakuro at Keage - Photo © Ad Blankestijn]

    From the courtyard of the museum there is a good view of the Incline, which is now a popular cherry blossom viewing spot (as are parts along the canal in Yamashina). When you follow the incline east from the museum, you come to a small park graced by a statue of Tanabe Sakuro and a memorial to workers who lost there lives when building the canal.

    A branch of the canal goes east and north for irrigation purposes and passes through the grounds of Nanzenji temple via a redbrick aqueduct - a modern piece of architecture that blends remarkably well into the temple grounds and is now a popular landmark.

    [The aqueduct in the grounds of Nanzenji - Photo © Ad Blankestijn]
    Museum Tel: 075-752-2530
    Museum Hrs: 9:00-17:00 (Dec-Feb: 16:30); CL Mon (next day if NH), NY
    Access (both to museum and incline): 5 min walk from Keage St on the Tozai subway line
    Materials: There are several interesting articles on the Lake Biwa Canal project on the web:

    Shinto cat (Photo Moment)

    The greying of Japan is also hitting temples and shrines. Where aged priests (or their wives) used to sit and chat with neighborhood visitors, now an empty window radically demonstrates the dramatic fall in the birthrate and resulting gap in the population.

    This shrine in Kyoto has found a solution to the lack of humans and enlisted the services of one of its many cats to sell amulets, a duty taken very seriously as you see...

    Bach Cantatas (35): Trinity II

    The church year from Trinity until Advent is simply counted in figures as Trinity I, Trinity II, etc. This is the second Sunday after Trinity.

    There are no major church feasts in this second part of the church year. Instead, issues of faith and doctrine are explored.

    This Sunday continues the previous Sunday’s injunction to give charitably to the hungry (BWV 75) by showing brotherly love manifested in action (BWV 76).

    1 John 3:13–18, "Whoever doesn't love, remains in Death" (of brotherly love)
    Luke 14:16–24, Parable of the great supper

    Cantata Studies:
    Bach Cantatas Website | Simon Crouch | Emmanuel Music | Julian Mincham | Wikipedia | Eduard van Hengel (in Dutch) | Bach Companion (Oxford U.P.) | Bach: The Learned Musician (Wolff) | Music in the Castle of Heaven (Gardiner)

    [The Invitation to the Great Banquet, Jan Luyken]

    • Die Himmel erzählen die Ehre Gottes, BWV 76, 6 June 1723

      Part I
      1. Coro: Die Himmel erzählen die Ehre Gottes
      2. Recitativo (tenor): So lässt sich Gott nicht unbezeuget!
      3. Aria (soprano): Hört, ihr Völker, Gottes Stimme
      4. Recitativo (bass): Wer aber hört, da sich der größte Haufen
      5. Aria (bass): Fahr hin, abgöttische Zunft!
      6. Recitativo (alto): Du hast uns, Herr, von allen Straßen
      7. Chorale: Es woll uns Gott genädig sein

      Part II
      8. Sinfonia
      9. Recitativo (bass): Gott segne noch die treue Schar
      10. Aria (tenor): Hasse nur, hasse mich recht
      11. Recitativo (alto): Ich fühle schon im Geist
      12. Aria (alto): Liebt, ihr Christen, in der Tat!
      13. Recitativo (tenor): So soll die Christenheit
      14. Chorale: Es danke, Gott, und lobe dich

      "The Heavens declare the Glory of God"
      Text: Anonymous (Chorale by Martin Luther)

      Long piece in two symmetrical parts, the second cantata Bach wrote in Leipzig with the apparent intention to impress the congregation and his employers. The cantata begins with a brilliant fugal chorus on words from Psalm 19 "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows His handiwork."

      In movements 2 (recitative) and 3 (a sweet aria for soprano) the text elaborates on the thought of the Universe praising God's creation. The soprano aria is a graceful movement in gavotte rhythm towards God's throne.

      In the following two movements, a recitative and aria by bass, it deplores those who did not follow the invitation of God, so that He had to invite people "from the streets." It is a forthright call to banish the tribe of idolaters. Part I closes with a haunting version of Martin Luther's chorale "Es woll uns Gott genädig sein," accompanied by a doleful trumpet.

      Part II starts with an intimate sinfonia, based on one of the trio sonatas for organ. The tenor aria illustrates the "masochistic" "Hate me, then, hate me with all your might, o hostile race!" by chromatic leaps and interrupting rests.

      The heavenly alto aria with oboe d'amore and viola da gamba is the musical highlight of the cantata. It reminds us of the uniting love that is a consequence of Christ's death and brings a feeling of peace and introspection. The third stanza of Luther's chorale closes the work.

      Rating: A+

    • Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh darein, BWV 2, 18 June 1724

      Coro: Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh darein
      Recitativo (tenor, continuo): Sie lehren eitel falsche List
      Aria (alto, violin solo): Tilg, o Gott, die Lehren
      Recitativo (bass, strings): Die Armen sind verstört
      Aria (tenor): Durchs Feuer wird das Silber rein
      Chorale: Das wollst du, Gott, bewahren rein

      "O God, look down from Heaven"
      Text: chorale by Martin Luther

      Cantata based on Martin Luther's chorale "Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh darein," which in turn was a paraphrase of Psalm 12. As is usual with chorale cantatas composed during Bach's second year in Leipzig, Bach uses the first and last strophe of the hymn for the outer movements, while the central strophes are paraphrased by an unidentified librettist to serve for recitatives and arias. The anonymous melody of the hymn (from the Erfurter Enchiridion, 1524) was also used by Bach for his organ prelude BWV 741.

      The theme of the text is the barrenness of life on earth without the word, trust and love of God in the midst of false prophets. With its lament on man's  turning away from God, the cantata was well matched to the gospel reading, the parable of the Great Supper.

      The cantata is scored for unusual forces: SATB, four trombones, two oboes, strings and continuo. There are six movements. In the choruses of the first and last movements (which use the original words of the 200 year old hymn) the style of the music is consciously "archaic", the instruments doubling the voices. Bach often used such archaic music when he had to treat a severe subject - Gardiner mentions "the grim vignette of isolated huddles of the faithful in a heathen world of persecution." There is an austere beauty in the first chorus, which takes the form of a dense chorale motet a la Pachelbel; the alto sings the melody of the chorale in long notes as a cantus firmus.

      The text of the tenor recitative bemoans the teaching of false doctrine in this life, fulminating against the idolatrous gang.

      The alto aria, too, is a condemnation of heresy ("Destroy, Oh God, the doctrines that pervert Thy Word") but it is surprisingly benign, considering the text, perhaps reflecting Bach's basically optimistic outlook (it is the only movement in the major mode in this cantata). With its up-to-date concertante style and violin obbligato playing lively figurations, the alto aria also stands in shrill contrast to what has gone before. According to Craig Smith (Emmanuel Music), "Clearly the chattering violin part is meant to represent the Rottengeistern and the Ketzerei." (the dissenting spirits and heretics)

      After an accompanied bass recitative ending in an arioso (in which God replies to the cries of the sinners), this is followed by a substantial da capo aria for tenor stressing the need to be patient in suffering ("Through fire, silver is purified") - a quiet and composed acceptance of circumstances, with fire as a poetic image for purification. Gardiner notes that the instrumental music suggests "liquid movement or the flow of molten metal", and reminds us of Bach's interest in coins and precious metals, and of contemporary alchemists in Dresden trying to turn base metal to gold, but making porcelain instead. The principal melody is one of those tunes that one never forgets.

      The final chorale has a dissonant harmonization to symbolize that (as Julian Mincham says) "the heretics and the godless around us, but not actually with us." Their separation from God’s truth is thus painted in tonal terms.

      Rating: B
      Video: Bach-Stiftung

    Bach Cantata Index

      Saturday, June 16, 2012

      Ema, votive plates (Japanese Customs)

      Ema are votive plates dedicated to shrines and temples. Usually, they consist of a flat piece of wood decorated with a picture. People buy them during shrine and temple visits, especially at the New Year, inscribe them with wishes for a prosperous year and hang them on special racks as petitions to the gods. Common images are the animals of the twelve-year oriental zodiac or something related to the legend of the shrine. In February, numerous students offer ema that plead for success in the school examinations. But you can also collect them as a memory to your visit and use the colorful plates to decorate your home.

      [Large ema in Kitano Tenmangu. Photo Ad Blankestijn]

      The colorful tablets have a long and rich history. The name "ema" means picture (e) of a horse (ma) - these votive pictures evolved as substitutes for the live horses traditionally donated by powerful parishioners to prestigious Shinto shrines. Although the custom is many centuries older (probably dating back to the Nara period, 8th c.), the earliest ema that can be reliably dated go back only to the end the 14th century.

      A century later, we find a vigorous folk art and two types of ema have evolved:
      • works of small size offered by ordinary people as an entreaty to a deity for help or in fulfillment of a vow; here, the picture is always related to the wish or problem in question, for example a nursing mother might donate a picture of a woman squirting milk from her full breasts; the ox symbolized success in business, tigers were believed to prevent cholera and dogs meant an easy birth; those pictures were painted by emashi (ema painters) and hawked at crossroads.

      • large works executed on commission by professional artists usually displayed in a separate open gallery called "emado" in temples or shrines. Here, horses remained a favorite subject, but we also find scenes from famous legends and the exploits of warriors.
      You will find some good examples of gorgeous ema in the museum of Zenkoji temple. Kitano Tenmangu in Kyoto also has a large emado; another good place in Kyoto is the Konpira Ema Museum.

      Concrete rocks - Review of Tschumi's "Mirei Shigemori"

      The modern garden of the Tofukuji Hojo, with its characteristic checkerboard pattern of tiles in deep green moss, has always been one of my favorites and I am not alone in this, as it graces countless books about the Japanese garden. I knew that it had been designed by Shigemori Mirei, but I did not know anything else about the designer, who is also not mentioned in the Kodansha Encyclopedia of Japan.

      That gap in my knowledge has now been filled y a beautiful book, Mirei Shigemori, Modernizing the Japanese Garden by Christian Tschumi. Photography is by Markuz Wernli Saito and the book has been beautifully edited. Mr Tschumi is a landscape architect who studied in Japan and wrote his dissertation about Shigemori Mirei, so we could not have a better guide to this subject.

      [Checkerboard pattern in Hojo Garden of Tofukuji - Photo © Ad Blankestijn]

      Shigemori Mirei (1896-1975) was a scholar of Japanese traditional culture, trained in Japanese-style painting (nihonga), flower arranging and the tea ceremony. He became a garden designer after having studied all the traditional gardens of Japan, about which he wrote a massive series of books - he was the first to do so in the years before the war.

      Shigemori believed that in the Edo-period garden design had become mired in cliches, a mere copying of famous gardens of the past. In order for an art form to be alive, it has to be vibrantly contemporary, which meant that the "Zen garden" had to go avant-garde. Starting with the gardens of the Tofukuji Hojo in 1939, Shigemori Mirei became a garden designer - the war intervened, but in the last thirty years of his life he created an almost annually increasing number of gardens.

      Shigemori's massive rocks are standing boldly upright, he introduced new materials as colored sand and concrete and made use of modern shapes as wave forms. But there is always a philosophy behind his gardens. Sometimes this even harks back to old Japanese notions of stone groupings as iwakura, places where the kami, the deities, would take their abode when visiting this world. Shigemori's gardens have been compared to the "earth sculptures" by Isamu Noguchi, an artist he knew and with whom he cooperated on the Unesco project in Paris.

      All gardens have their own fundamental idea: in the garden of Kishiwada-jo Castle (1953) Shigemori built a military encampment as found in Chinese classics; Zuihoin (1961), a subtemple of Daitokuji that was the family temple of the Christian daimyo Otomo Sorin, features a hidden Christian cross in the form of a stone setting; in Sumiyoshi Jinja (1966), a Shinto shrine dedicated to a sea god, he created undulating wave forms of concrete; in Yurin no Niwa (1969), built for an association of kimono manufacturers, he used a noshi, a symbol of good luck that often was woven into kimono, as the central design element. And in the "Prehistoric Garden" of Matsuo Taisha (1975) he used a stone setting alluding to the iwakura that was the origin of this particular shrine.

      [Impressive stone setting in Tofukuji - Photo © Ad Blankestijn]

      Christian Tschumi's book discusses 10 gardens in detail, and also includes visiting information. It is perfect for a start - and if you want more you can of course turn to his dissertation! There is also an other option I found today when visiting Matsuo Taisha with Tschumi's book in hand - the shrine office was selling another recently published book, bilingual, called Shigemori Mirei, Creator of Spiritual Spaces, the first volume in a series of "Great Masters of the Gardens of Kyoto." It is significant that this series starst with Shigemori Mirei, also in Japan a reevaluation is underway.

      Finally this garden master who devised gardens as if making paintings, and insisted on creativity and originality (quite revolutionary in Japan, where it is still the case in traditional crafts that the pupil copies his teacher), is getting the appreciation he deserves. The book just mentioned, introduces several of Shigemori's Kyoto gardens and also includes a list of all his creations.
      Mirei Shigemori, Modernizing the Japanese Garden by Christian Tschumi; photography by Markuz Wernli Saito. Stone Bridge Press, 2005.

      Shigemori Mirei, Creator of Spiritual Spaces, Photographs by Mizobuchi Hiroshi. Kyoto Tsushinsha Press, 2007.

      Tuesday, June 12, 2012

      Don Quixote (Book Review, Classical Literature)

      The Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes (first published in 1605; part two in 1615) has undergone the sad fate of so many classical novels: everyone has heard about the book and more or less knows what it is about (it has after all given us expressions like "tilting at windmills" and "Quixotic"), so nobody reads it. On top of that, those who have read it did so when children, which means they only know this great book in a shortened, infantilized and badly translated version.

      Especially in the case of Don Quixote that is a shame. This is a first-rate masterwork and the first truly modern, psychological novel. Moreover, it is a story about a protagonist in the progress of losing his illusions and what is the history of modern literature other than a history of coping with "lost illusions?"

      Here are some crucial points why this is such a great book:
      • The Quixote is the classical reflexive parody: the adventures of a mad geriatric "hidalgo," a lover of chivalric literature, who sets forth to realize the purely literary ideal of the "wandering knight." Parody is everywhere, for part 2 of the novel parodies part 1 - here Don Quixote has become a famous man thanks to the publication of the first part of the novel about him! In Part 2, Cervantes also incorporates and reacts to criticism made of Part 1, and deals in a comical way with an apocryphal second part published by a rival author.
      • Don Quixote is very similar to today's otaku and fans of anime and manga, who like our mad hero are "passionate obsessives" engaging in "cosplay" or costumed role play - this is exactly what Don Quixote does when he dresses up like a knight without being one (he is just a member of the petty gentry), and rides around the countryside on his old nag, in full armor and with lance in hand. The only difference is that Don Quixote is not inspired by Sailor Moon, but by Amadis de Gaula and the Arthurian legends of the Round Table.
      • Obsession is something of all times, and can lead to real problems, as when Don Quixote in his delusion attacks others and commits crimes. He is punished by reality with such severe, repeated beatings that Nabokov characterized the novel as "an encyclopedia of cruelty."
      • On the other hand, we all to a certain degree need illusions - we can not live without dreams, just as Don Quixote dies when his illusions are broken. 
      • The Quixote is the start of the "self-conscious" genre in fiction, which continues with Fielding and Sterne in England and Diderot in France, and sees its greatest flourishing in the twentieth century with such authors as Queneau, Borges, Nabokov, Calvino, Pyncheon and Fowles. [The "self-conscious" genre is the opposite of the "illusion of reality" genre, where the author steps back and pretends that the story is a faithful imitation of reality.] 
      • In this genre, writers systematically show-off their artifice and reflexively engage their own procedures and techniques. It is an anti-illusionist art that makes us aware of the author and that finds its sources in the tradition itself. The artist does not imitate nature but other texts. Parody is therefore - as indicated above - an important device. In our novel, the most interesting moment in this respect comes at the end of Chapter Eight, when Cervantes suddenly claims to have run out of text just at the moment that Don Quixote is engaged in a fierce sword battle, leaving him frozen in time with his sword in the air (in Chapter Nine he "finds" the continuation of the story).
      • Cervantes was one of the first professional authors who tried to make a living from their writings. This meant a decrease in social class of authors but it was accompanied by a rise in invention and importance of the author (the higher classes only slavishly imitated older literature). By the way, Cervantes was a contemporary of Shakespeare - both died on almost the same day in 1616.
      • The world of The Quixote was a complex, multi-cultural world. Cervantes gives a realistic description of the Spain of around 1600: a well-ordered, modern state with a strong police force (as Don Quixote will notice) projecting its power to its colonies in South America but with a ruling house that was gradually weakening. As it was only a century after 1492, when the last Muslim state on Iberian soil had been conquered, there was also still a certain Muslim influence felt; and Spain also clashed with the "Moors" in the Mediterranean and North-Africa - Cervantes himself was captured by Algerian corsairs and spent five years in their captivity. In the novel, the story of Don Quixote is ironically attributed to an Arabic source. 
      • Finally, interesting is the multi-perspectivism in the novel: the writer speaks the truth but also engages multiple perspectives and opinions about that truth. In the novel, there even seem to be multiple perspectives within each individual, making them conflictive beings.
      Don Quixote was already translated into English in 1612 and became an international bestseller. There are more than 12 English translations. Which is the best one? When you read the novel on the internet, you have no choice for the only edition available is the one by John Ormsby from 1885. This is an honest translation, with no things left out or added, and it has become the basis for various 20th century reworkings. It is, however rather stiff, and all those "thous" and "dosts" get rather boring. (The same is true for the Jervas translation that went before it, in 1742, and which forms the basis for the Oxford Classics edition). Moreover, these "Puritan" translations don't manage to bring out the fun of the original. That problem has finally been addressed in our century, with translations in truly modern English by John Rutherford (in Penguin Classics) and Edit Grossman (Ecco/Harper Collins). I started with the Ormsby version (also because the Librivox audio recordings are based on that version), but soon switched to the Penguin Classic translation by Rutherford, which I found very stimulating.

      Jizo among hydrangea's - Yatadera Temple, Nara

      Yatadera stands high on a wooded hillside outside the town of Yamato Koriyama, the castle town and governmental center of Nara in the Edo-period (before that, Kofukuji Temple served as both religious and worldly authority in the area). Some of that bygone splendor can still be faintly seen in a beautiful park, Sotobori Ryokuchi, (the Outer Moat of the castle), while also the main shopping street of Koriyama sports a nice old-time atmosphere. One of the traditional town houses, the Hakamotokan is open to visitors. The Yanagisawa clan that ruled here for most of the Edo period seems to have been quite cultured - there were for example contacts with painter Ike no Taiga. Literally colorful is also the fact that in the 18th century Koriyama became a center of goldfish and ornamental carp farming, a position it still holds today. The castle grounds themselves are famous for their cherry blossoms.

      [Jizo statue on the path to Yatadera]

      Yatadera temple, offically known as Kongosenji, sits about half an hour (3.5 kilometres) outside Koriyama, on - how could it be otherwise - the Yata Hills. In fact, it stands just north of Ikaruga, the area famous for Horyuji and other ancient temples, on a path that links Ikaruga with Ryosenji in the north and passes several old temples.

      In the hydrangea season there are special, direct buses available between Koriyama and the temple. The parking lot where the buses drop of their passengers, is still some way from the temple but the locals make the trek pleasant by setting up stalls selling snacks and products from their vegetable gardens. After that, a broad staircase leads among verdant trees up to the temple proper.

      [Staircase leading to Yatadera]

      Yatadera claims to have been founded in 679, after Emperor Tenmu (who is closely connected with Yakushiji temple, elsewhere in Nara) fled here during the Jinshin Disturbance and had prayers said for victory in battle on the mountain. Founding priest was Chitsu, a man who had studied in China and would become the second transmitter of the Hosso School of the Chinese priest Xuanzang in Japan.

      Reputedly, the original Yatadera was a large temple, with seven halls and 48 residences for priests. An Eleven-headed Kannon and Kishoten served as its main statues. The temple afterwards fell in ruins and was founded anew in the period 810-823 by the holy priest Manmai and this time a Jizo became the main sculpture.

      Jizo is a Bodhisattva entrusted with the task of saving us, helpless human beings, in the endlessly long period until the advent of the next Buddha, Miroku. In Japan, the cult of Jizo was as popular as that of Kannon, especially among the common people.

      [Main Hall of Yatadera]

      Jizo was already worshipped in the Nara period (8th c.), but the earliest extant image of him can be found in Koryuji temple in Kyoto, dating from the early 9th c. The "Yata Jizo" holds a gem in his left hand and displays the "mudra for bestowing fearlessness" with his right hand, in contrast to the usual Jizo statues which carry a monk's staff in the right hand. Unfortunately, the altar section of the temple is closed off and the Jizo resides in a closed cabinet, so it is not possible for visitors to see this important statue.

      Luckily, there are many stone statues and reliefs of Jizo outside the temple, along the path, and among the hydrangea's. Interestingly, one of these stone Jizo's is also in the above mentioned "Yata style."

      [Jizo statue on the path to Yatadera]

      There is a beautiful story how Jizo became the main object of devotion in Yatadera. Priest Manmai had been invited to the Underworld to give the Boddhisattva Precepts to its Lord, King Enma. Out of gratitude, Enma took him on a tour through hell, proudly showing off his Kingdom of Fear. There Manmai saw innumerable human beings suffering in terrible fires, being cooked in boiling hot water, or pierced with stakes by hideously green devils. But Manmai also saw a priest going around, busy saving humans from the raging flames. That young priest was non other than the Jizo Bodhisattva in disguise.

      The Jizo spoke to Manmai and asked him to sculpt an image of him after returning to his temple, so that those still living in the human world might be saved by looking upon him. Manmai returned and dutifully started to execute the Jizo's wish. But the carving of the Jizo statue proved unexpectedly difficult... until Manmai received help from four old sages, who also brought him a large paulownia tree. These four sages were in fact an apparition of the Kasuga deities, from the well-known shrine in Nara... and thanks to their help finally a beatifully Jizo statue was carved.

      Jizo looks like a young, smart priest, and he has a friendly, soft smile, so it is no wonder that in the course of history countless generations of women fell in devotion before his feet.

      [Hydrangea's of Yatadera]

      Yatadera is known as "Hydrangea Temple," and not for nothing. There are about 10,000 hydrangea's (called "ajisai" in Japanese), in all 60 varieties. They line the path leading to the temple and stand clustered in a garden laid out on a slope to the left of the path. Hydrangea's are not native to Europe and were first described in the 18th c. by European travelers to China. Later, Von Siebold, the famous German doctor who worked on Deshima for the Dutch, would play a large role in introducing the flowers to Europe's gardens.

      The hydrangea (also called hortensia) with its soft shades of blue and purple is beautiful in its reticence. It is always subdued, best seen on an overcast day, under the shade of large trees, or even in a light drizzle. Although the flower heads are large, there is nothing ostentatious about them. They are full of quiet, subtle beauty.

      [Jizo statues and hydrangea's in Yatadera]

      As the temple mentions on its website, in a survey by the Nikkei Newspaper in 2005, Yatadera was selected as the second best spot to see hydrangea's in western Japan (No 1 was Kobe's Shinrin Botanical Garden, No 3 was Mimurotoji Temple in Uji).

      There are many small paths, up and down, leading through bushes and clusters with different kinds of flowers. Walking here is like being immersed in a green aquarium, floating as large goldfish among the colorful flowers and shady leaves.

      And finally visitors meet Jizo again, squinting from among the leaves, his face just as soft and modest as the hydrangea's...
      Yatadera (Kongosenji)
      Address: 3549 Yatacho, Koriyama City, Yamato-gun, Nara Prefecture
      Tel. 0743-53-1445
      Access: 20 min by bus from Koriyama Station on the Kintetsu line. Frequent buses in June (hydrangea season), also from Horyuji station on the JR line. The Hydrangea Garden is open from June 1 to July 10.

      Monday, June 11, 2012

      Kayama Yuzo (actor, singer)

      Kayama Yuzo (born 1937, 加山雄三) was the son of the likable Uehara Ken, Japan's biggest male star of the 1930s. So father so son: the handsome Kayama Yuzo achieved the same for the 1960s. He became symbolic of postwar Japanese affluence and confidence, most famously in his title role in the 17 "Young Guy" (Wakadaisho) movies he made for Toho.

      Kayama Yuzo was born in Yokohama and went to Keio University in Tokyo. After graduation, he joined the Toho studios, like his father before him. He debuted in 1960 in Otoko Tai Otoko ("Man against Man"), a sort of gangster movie with Mifune Toshiro. In 1961, he also started a career as singer-songwriter, and took part in the famous New Year's Eve NHK show Kohaku Uta Gassen. His most famous song, that also features in several of his films, was "Kimi to itsu made mo," ("For Ever With You") - the single sold more than 3 million copies.

      Kayama specialized in romantic comedies where he would often sing his own songs. But he was also asked for serious films, such as Kurasawa's Red Beard (Akahige, 1965) in which he played one of the major roles, that of the young doctor Yasumoto Noboru.  He also played in Kurosawa's earlier Sanjuro (1962) as Izaka Iori. Other important serious roles were that of Lord Asano in Inagaki's Chushingura (1962), that of the male protagonist Morita Koji in Naruse's Midareru (opposite Takamine Hideko) and Utsuki Hyoma in Okamoto's Sword of Doom (1966).

      But the role with which Kayama Yuzo became identified was that of Wakadaisho, the "Young Guy" (literally, young captain, the team leader of a sports team). Wakadaisho ran from 1961 to 1971 and was one of the four comedy series and money cows of Toho in the 1960s (the others were the Shacho and the Ekimae series with Morishige Hisaya, and the "Crazy" series with Ueki Hitoshi). All films are in color and CinemaScope and feature broadly filmed sports events (it was no coincident that the series started a few years before Japan played host to the Olympics).

      The series took its inspiration from a 1933 film by Shimizu Hiroshi, Daigaku no Wakadanna ("The Young Master of the University"). Kayama plays Tanuma Yuichi, the son of a traditional sukiyaki restaurant and at university the leader of a sports club - a different sports in each film. He lives with his father Kyutaro (a rather irascible person, played by Arishima Ichiro) and a cute and comic granny Riki (a great performance by Iida Choko). Tanuma's counterpart at the same university (Kyonan Daigaku) is the "Aodaisho," Ishiyama Shinjiro, played by Tanaka Kunie. "Aodaisho" in fact is the Japanese Rat Snake and in the film is a spoiled rich kid (looking unattractive and funny) with a yacht and a sports car, who uses his money power to compete with the Wakadaisho for girls. But that happens all in a good mood. The roles of the girl friends are usually played by Hoshi Yuriko, Sakai Wakako and Sakaguchi Ryoko. Kayama's father, Uehara Ken, would also have brief roles in various of the films.

      The films all follow the same pattern. The Wakadaisho happens to meet a nice young woman and they fall in love. The Aodaisho in some way or another obstructs the course of their courtship, while the fact that Tanuma is very popular with other women, causes the new face to have fits of jealousy. Then Tanuma wins first place in an important sports event as representative of Kyonan University, and the young lovers make up their differences.

      The sports featured are: swimming, boxing, marathon running, yacht racing, American football, skiing, soccer, judo, motor sport, fencing, skating, tennis and skydiving. All films have scenes where Kayama Yuzo sings and plays the guitar. Several films were made partly at locations outside Japan, such as Switzerland, New Zealand and Hawai'i.

      In the late sixties Kayama got too old to play a student, so in the 12th film ("The Wakadaisho of Rio", 1968) he is allowed to graduate, and from the next film on plays a salaryman. Instead of winning sports events, he now clinches deals for his company.

      Kayama has maintained his romantic appeal for nostalgic audiences in Japan and still often appears on the stage and on television.

      Sunday, June 10, 2012

      Many words for tea - Review of "A Chanoyu Vocabulary"

      The Way of Tea is going global and now a specialized tea dictionary has been published to help, and great are the mysteries it divulges. Did you know that the ashes in the brazier (used for boiling the tea water) must take twelve prescribed forms, neatly arranged, for example playfully depicting a mountain? Did you know that something as simple as the tea scoop, the elongated piece of bamboo used to scoop up powdered tea from the tea container and put it in the tea bowl, has fourteen named parts - just this simple instrument?

      Starting with aburahishaku ("oil ladle", a warning not to move as inelegantly as an oil vendor scooping up oil when using the ladle or hishaku to add water to the kettle) to zungiri (a tea or flower container with a flat top), and everything in between, this is the answer to all your tea ceremony questions.

      The book also helps with the appreciation of Japanese art, as private collectors often focused on tea art and collected chawan (teabowls), chatsubo (jars for leaf tea), mizusashi (vessels for fresh water), kama (tea kettles) and koro (incense burners). These art objects now can be found in great quantities in museums in Japan. The book also explains types of ceramics used for the tea ceremony, as Shigaraki ware and Bizen ware.

      In this single volume you can find out all about the abstruse differences between various types of tea containers as the cha-ire and the natsume, or the seasonal difference between the sunken hearth (ro) and the brazier (furo). And did you know that the shifuku, the cloth pouch for tea caddies, is often made from meibutsugire ("distinguished historical textiles")? If not, you now know where to find it!
      Chanoyu Vocabulary, Practical Terns for the Way of Tea, Tankosha 2007. 1642 terms translated by the Urasenke International Association from a Japanese tea encyclopedia issued by the same publisher, Jitsuyo Chado-Yogo Jiten.

      A poetic stroll in Gion: Water beneath the pillow (Kyoto Guide)

      When you say Kyoto, you say Gion, the traditional pleasure quarter at the foot of the Yasaka Shrine. Although Hanamikoji, the street south of Shijodori starting with the Ichiriki Teahouse, may be most the most famous part of Gion, there is also a nice section north of Shijodori, along the Shirakawa Canal. Here the protruding windows of the two-story houses have lattices on the ground floor and reed screens on the second floor. Bamboo slats called inuyarai keep dogs and people at a safe distance. When you walk through this area, in the daytime you may hear the shamisen being practised and at the beginning of the evening, around fice o'clock, geisha and maiko hurry to their appointments.

      [Poetry stone by Yoshii Isamu in Gion Shirakawa area]

      The poet, novelist and playwright Yoshii Isamu (1886-1960) was a Bohemian who spent his fortune in the geisha houses of Gion. His favorite teahouse was the artsy Daitomo, where writers used to gather. In WWII, the Daitomo was demolished in order to create a firebrake, but in 1955 on the site at the boards of the Shirakawa, a poetry stone was set up as a memorial. It is graced by the following tanka by Yoshii:
      que sera sera...
      my love is Gion
      where when I sleep
      below my pillow
      water flows 
      kanikaku ni | Gion wa koishi | neru toki mo | makura no shita ni | mizu no nagaruru

      "Kanikaku ni"means something like "in any case," or even "que sera sera." The water in the poem is of course the Shirakawa, which flowed under the windows of the Daitomo and now behind the poetry stone.

      Because the poem so aptly catches what Gion is all about, a festival is held here annually at November 8. At 11:00 geisha and maiko gather near the poetry stone to offer chrysanthemums and perform a tea ceremony. The festival, called Kanikakuni-sai after the first line of the poem, offers onlookers a good chance to take pictures of the geisha in their gorgeous kimono.

      But at other and more quiet times, too, this spot at the Shirakawa is a pleasure to visit. Come in the late morning, listen to the gurgling water, and notice how in the distance, in one of the closed houses, a shamisen starts twanging...

      It's raining, let's travel

      The rainy season seems to have started here in Western Japan). That is more or less on schedule: it normally starts around June 6 and ends around July 19 in the Kansai area (Tokyo is about the same, from June 8 to July 20). That seems an awful long period for rain, but it is not so bad: usually there are many sunny days as well, and there are even "dry" rainy seasons. And you can always escape to Hokkaido which is the only part of Japan that doesn't have a rainy season.
      The Japanese term for rainy season is bai-u or tsuyu. Bai-u (plum rain) refers to the plums that are just getting ripe around this time. A term used in haiku is "samidare," "the rains of the Fifth Month" (in the old calendar!).

      [Traditional umbrellas in Hokyoji, Kyoto]

      During the rainy season it slowly heats up towards the summer. After each rainy day the temperature edges up a bit. It is moist and sticky everywhere. Some things to be careful of are mildew in your house (open the windows to air it on sunny days) and spoiled food (keep everything refrigerated and carefully clean the area where you prepare your food). Some people get gloomy because of the overcast skies. Many foreign residents fly back to their home countries around this time.

      But that is not necessary. On the contrary, when you take some precautions such as carrying an umbrella and extra clothes on longer trips, it is the perfect time for travel. The weather is warm, so you can travel light - a T-shirt, shorts and sandals plus an umbrella are enough. Even on clear days, the sun doesn't have the unpleasant scorching hotness it develops in August. The green of Japan's temple gardens and countryside is at its deepest and most enticing. Sit on a temple veranda and watch the silent garden in the rain. There will be few other visitors to disturb you. The hortensias (ajisai, also called hydrangeas), my favorite flowers, bloom in soft blue nuances. Hakone has mountainsides full of hortensias and is great in the rain (although you won't see Mt Fuji) as are Nikko's deep forests; Kyoto's temple gardens are wonderful and mostly devoid of other visitors, Kamakura, too, is beautiful.
      I hear the sound of plums
      falling from the trees
      dark days in the Rainy Season

      ume no otsuru | oto no suru nari | satsuki-yami

      Chomu (1732-96)