The Diving Pool Teenage girl Aya falls in love with Jun, who lives at the Light House, Aya’s parents’ orphanage. Every day after school, she watches him as he trains for a diving competition. Aya dreams of getting closer to Jun, but is unaware that he knows her darkest secret…
Pregnancy Diary An unnamed woman meticulously records her sister’s pregnancy in a diary. She is happily fulfilling all her sister’s cravings for food, especially that for grapefruit jam, freshly boiled. But maybe, there is something sinister behind the ostentatious caretaking…
Dormitory A young woman sets up her housing in her old university dormitory, which is slowly but inexplicably falling apart. With her husband overseas, she feels bored and finds herself taking care of the dormitory’s elderly manager. He believes that his life and the dormitory’s deterioration are linked, but what is really hiding within its walls?
I enjoyed reading the stories, and Yoko Ogawa is a master of words and vivid imagery. All three stories seem pleasant enough at first glance, but underneath the glossy surface lurks a darkness that only waits for a single moment of inattention…
Yoko Ogawa was born in 1962, studied at Waseda university, and became a medical university secretary. After her marriage, she quit her job and, unbeknownst to her husband, began writing. She won the Kaien Literary Prize for her debut novel n 1988, and has since written more than 50 works, both fiction and nonfiction. She has also won many prestigious literary prizes, among them the Japanese Akutagawa, Yomiuri, and Tanizaki Prize, as well as international awards.
Look behind the scenes of human nature with this book – get it from amazon.
Tomorrow, the Aoi Matsuri is taking place, the first of Kyoto’s three big festivals. For the first time in 4 years, a parade will leave the Imperial Palace, visit Shimogamo shrine, and then go on to its final destination, Kamigamo shrine. Of the 500 or so people taking part in the parade, the Saio-dai, who rides in a special palanquin, is the heart of the Aoi Matsuri. These days, she is chosen from among the best families in Kyoto, but in ancient times, she was a daughter of the reigning Emperor.
The practice of sending an Imperial Princess as priestess to Ise shrine started – according to the ancient Nihongi, whose accuracy is doubtful – around the year 92 BCE. The Nihongi states that at that time
“The gods Amaterasu and Ōkunidama were formerly both worshipped in the Emperor’s Palace Hall. But the Emperor Sūjin was frightened of having so much divine power concentrated in one place. Accordingly, he entrusted the worship of Amaterasu to the Princess Toyosuku-iri, bidding her carry it out in the village of Kasanui in Yamato.”
Subsequently, Amaterasu expressed a desire to be moved to Ise.
Becoming a so-called Saigu at Ise shrine was more involved than a mere appointment, at which time the Saigu was around 12 years old. The preparations and purifications took three years, during which the maiden lived at Nonomiya shrine outside of Kyoto in today’s Arashiyama. Only when she was properly prepared, was she allowed to return to the Palace for one last time. There, she received the “Comb of Parting” from her Imperial father, whom she would never see again. This is because her office lasted until
the Emperor died or resigned
the Saigu died or became disabled
either one of her parents died
or ceased to be a virgin (or worse, became pregnant).
Once Buddhism was introduced from China in the 8th century, it quickly took hold at the Imperial Court. However, Ise shrine was the centre of Japan’s Shintoism, and in order not to offend the old gods, a number of interesting speech taboos were imposed upon the Saigu and everybody else in her retinue. For example, Buddha was called “The Centre”, priests “hair-long”, and temples became “tile-covered places”. Other words with changed meaning revolved around death (recovery), tombs (earthen heaps), illness (taking a rest), and blood (sweat).
The tradition of sending a Saigu to Ise shrine ended in 1342, however, even today, Imperial Princesses take an important role in the worship of Amaterasu at special ceremonies.
The Saio or Saiin – the Imperial Princess serving at the Kamo shrines – was modelled after the Saigu of Ise. It is said that during the Kusho War between the Saga and Heisei Emperors, the former prayed to the gods of Kamo. He promised to send a daughter to the shrines if he would win the war. Subsequently, the first Saio was sent to Kamo in 818, and the practice continued until 1204.
In Kyoto, Aoi Matsuri is the largest festival connected to the Saio of the Kamo shrines. However, in October, the Saigu Gyoretsu Procession at Nonomiya shrine re-enacts the sending of a Saigu to Ise shrine, as she travels through the famous bamboo forest and purifies herself in the river.
Both festivals are unique to Kyoto and provide a fascinating glimpse into times long past. Definitely worth watching!
I’m currently reading a biography of Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543 – 1616), the excellent strategist who united the nation (after quite some preparatory work by Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi) and who became the first shogun of the Edo period. His family effectively ruled Japan for more than 250 peaceful years.
At this point, I don’t want to go into details – I haven’t finished the book yet – but here are what is generally known as the “Maxims of Ieyasu”, which I found insightful and inspiring.
Man’s life is like going a long journey under a heavy burden: one must not hurry.
If you regard discomfort as a normal condition, you are not likely to be troubled by want.
When ambition arises in your mind, consider the days of your adversity.
Patience is the foundation of security and long life: consider anger as an enemy.
He who only knows victory and doesn’t know defeat will fare badly.
Blame yourself: don’t blame others.
The insufficient is better than the superfluous.
Especially the fourth maxim about patience is something Ieyasu practiced extensively. There is the famous saying about a bird and what measures to take if it doesn’t sing. Oda Nobunaga would kill it. Toyotomi Hideyoshi would force it to sing. Tokugawa Ieyasu would wait until it sings on its own accord.
On Wednesday, when I talked about the absence of wardrobes in traditional Japanese homes, I also mentioned in passing that Japanese clothes are folded in a special way, so they can be stored lying flat in a tansu. Here is a quick video that shows you how to properly fold a kimono or summer yukata:
What she doesn’t show is that at the end, the thus folded kimono is wrapped into paper before it is put away. It adds an extra layer of protection from dust and critters, and often, these paper wrappings are very pretty in themselves.
In the north of Kyoto lies Daitoku-ji, the “Temple of Great Virtue”. It is not one single temple, but rather a sprawling complex of 22 subtemples located on 27 hectares of land. Daitoku-ji belongs to the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism, and in fact it is the headquarters of its own branch of Buddhism.
It was founded around 1315 by the monk Daito Kokushi with imperial support as a small monastery. Like many buildings in Kyoto, the temple was destroyed during the Onin Wars of the 15th century but was rebuilt later. Therefore, the main buildings of Daitoku-ji – altogether National Treasures – date back only to the 15th century.
The main buildings of the temple are the vermilion Sanmon Gate, the Buddha and Dharma Halls, the Abbot’s Quarters, as well as a Bathhouse and a Sutra Library. In front of the Sanmon Gate lies the Chokushimon (Imperial Messenger Gate) that was moved here from the Imperial Palace.
These buildings, although they are not usually accessible, can all be viewed from the main path that leads through the temple and is lined with large pine trees. Smaller paths lead to the gates of the different subtemples that are all more or less independent and were added to the complex over time, often founded by noble families.
Daitoku-ji saw a boost in prominence in the late 16th century when Hideyoshi donated land and money and had the remains of Oda Nobunaga and his closest family buried in the specially founded subtemple Soken-in. I’ve posted about Soken-in before, to my mind it’s not the most exciting of all the temples of the complex.
Daitoku-ji is also connected to tea master Sen-no-Rikyu, who had the vermillion Sanmon Gate renovated. A popular story has it that he placed an image of himself in the second floor of this gate, which enraged Hideyoshi so much that he ordered him to commit seppuku.
To this day, the whole temple complex is a living monastery, where monks learn, teach, and practice Buddhism. Therefore, many of the subtemples are generally not accessible to the public, except for short viewings during select times.
One of the most important subtemples is Shinju-an, which was founded in 1491 in memory of Ikkyu Sojun, who was essential for the rebuilding of Daitoku-ji. He was a rather eccentric priest, and Shinju-an treasures his memory with fusuma paintings by contemporary artists. It is also the place where the fathers of modern Noh, Kan-ami and Ze-ami, are buried.
The subtemple Daisen-in is one of the most important Zen temples of all Kyoto. It has fusuma paintings by Zen monk Soami, but the important thing to see is the dry landscape garden that stems from the Muromachi era. It depicts the Chinese idea of paradise, and its pebbly waters flow all around the main hall.
Juko-in is the family temple for Sen-no-Rikyu and his descendants, and thus plays an important role in Kyoto’s tea world. All the heads of the three main family branches of tea ceremony are buried here. Juko-in is also famous for its16th-century fusuma paintings by Kano Eitoku.
Most of the subtemples of Daitoku-ji hold important treasures of Japanese history, may it be their buildings themselves, their fusuma paintings, or Buddhist statues or other relics. While they may seem all alike to the casual observer, it is worth looking at the little details that make all the difference.
As mentioned, the subtemples are only accessible at select times. On most days, 2-4 subtemples are open to the public. Daisen-in, Zuiho-in, Koto-in, and Ryogen-in are open throughout the year, many others for short periods in spring and autumn or during special occasions. This makes Daitoku-ji one of the quieter places to visit in Kyoto and fun to explore.
When Hitomi starts working in Mr. Nakano’s store, he tells her right away that they do not sell antiques, but rummage. It is a quiet store and every so often Mr. Nakano goes out with young Takeo to buy now old merchandise. Between old ashtrays, life-size advertisements cutouts, odd ball customers and old vases, affection slowly grows between Hitomi and Takeo. As both have been burnt by love before, their relationship is an awkward to-and-fro, with moments of intimacy and periods of rejection. And all between that, we hear of the women in Mr. Nakano’s life; about his current lover, but also about his ever present sister Masayo and the love of her life.
The Nakano Thrift Store is the thread that weaves through a number of episodes in the lives of the protagonistst, all of them centered on love in one way or the other. However, the decision of Mr. Nakano to open a real antiques shop in a more upscale neighborhood tears apart the fragile web between the characters, and leaves a sense of loss in its wake.
Hiromi Kawakami was born in Tokyo in 1958 and started her career as a writer with science fiction stories, directly after graduating from college. She has since received numerous Japanese literary awards, including the Akutagawa Prize, the Tanizaki Prize, and the Yomiuri Prize.
This lovely book of people that are still trying to find their own path in society is available from amazon.
Sorry for not writing on Sunday, I went all the way to the other, western, end of town and back – on the bicycle… We were having some great sunny days lately, and it’s warm and pleasant all around, the perfect spring weather. Rainy days are still cold and nights, too, but Pumpkin now sleeps on top of the duvet during the night, so it’s warm enough for him at least.
Anyway, while I was out and about, I was looking for signs of cherry blossoms. It’s a bit too early, yet there are blooming trees here and there. This one caught my eye, for example:
I took several photos from the street, when the lady of the house appeared and invited me inside! She said that this so-called benishidare zakura – weeping cherry – is a very early bloomer every year, and I could see how proud she was of it. And rightfully so!
Somehow, I fell into a Japanese music hole on YouTube the last couple of days… and here I emerge with the Yoshida Brothers.
The brothers from Hokkaido began to play Japanese shamisen from a very young age, and started performing when they were around 20 years old. Their music mixes elements of Tsugaru-jamisen (a very rapid but still traditional style of playing) and western influences. Their first album sold 100,000 copies, and they have performed even internationally. This is one of their latest uploads to their YouTube channel, a dedicatory performance for the Buddha (sound isn’t perfect):
Daigo-ji lies a bit off the beaten tracks in Fushimi, but for those who like everything super-sized, this is the perfect place to go in Kyoto: On the precincts of 300 hectares (mostly forest of Mt. Daigo) 80 different species of birds can be found, 1000 cherry trees, and more than 100,000 artefacts are kept in the temple’s museum. Many of its 80+ buildings are designated as National Treasures, and the 5-story pagoda is the oldest building in Kyoto. I went a day after it snowed in Kyoto, which makes for especially beautiful photos. The road to Kami-Daigo was still closed, but I probably wouldn’t have attempted it anyway, it’s too long a hike…
This temple dates back to 874 when the monk Shobo (posthumously named Rigen Daishi) built a small hermitage close to a well on Mt. Daigo. This part of the temple near the mountain top is nowadays known as Kami Daigo, and three successive emperors donated buildings there. Emperor Daigo moved here after his retirement, and after his death (when he was named after the temple in which he had lived for many years), the pagoda was completed at the foot of the mountain (Shimo Daigo) in 951 in his honour.
Unfortunately, the 15th-century Onin War destroyed most of the buildings of Daigo-ji. However, since the temple’s head priests managed to maintain good relationships to whomever was in power at the time, the temple was rebuilt several times and continued to grow through the centuries. When Hideyoshi came to power, Daigo-ji received his special patronage. He restored the Sanboin (originally from 1115) and had 700 cherry trees planted.
In the Edo period, Shugendo yamabushi began practising at Daigo-ji, and to this day, part of their training and worshipping consists of long, meditative walks around the temples’ precincts. The temple’s prosperity declined during the anti-Buddhism movement of the Meiji period. However, dedicated head priests could preserve the precincts and the numerous temple treasures until today.
As mentioned above, the vast precincts of Daigo-ji can roughly be divided into three parts. The Sanboin-Reihokan area lies directly behind the Somon main gate of the temple. The Sanboin on the left side is the former residence of Daigo-ji’s head priests. Just inside the gate is an enormous cherry tree called “Taiko Shidarezakura” that is 160 years old. The Sanboin itself was founded in 1115, but the current building dates back to 1598, when it was reconstructed and enlarged for Hideyoshi’s famous hanami party. The beautiful Karamon gate with golden imperial chrysanthemums and Hideyoshi’s own paulownia crest on black lacquer is a National Treasure.
So is the Omote Shoin, the main drawing room of Sanboin. It is constructed in three parts, each one a bit higher than the previous; the lowest part can be used as a Noh stage when the mats are removed. From the Omoto Shoin, the whole garden can be seen, a masterpiece of Momoyama garden designs, created by Hideyoshi himself. The main hall of Sanboin with a Buddha statue and statues of Kobo Daishi and Rigen Daishi that lies a bit to the back is not usually open to the public.
Opposite the Sanboin lies the Reihokan, the temple’s museum. Opened in 1935, it is home to over 100,000 Buddhist statues, paintings, and other artefacts. Around 75500 National Treasures are collected here and trace the history and culture of Daigo-ji back to its beginnings. There are special exhibitions in spring and autumn.
On passing through the Niomon Gate (erected 1605; the Nio statues are from 1134), visitors enter the Garan or main temple area. Here lies Daigo-ji’s Kondo or main hall, with a statue of Yakushi Nyorai, the Buddha who heals illnesses. Both kondo and the pagoda nearby are National Treasures.
Opposite lies the famous Goju-no-to, a five-story pagoda that stands 38 meters tall. Built between 936 and 951, it has survived wars, earthquakes, and fires, and is now Kyoto’s oldest building. On the first floor are culturally significant wall paintings, but the building is not usually open to the public. Interestingly, the special construction of this pagoda makes it almost automatically earthquake-safe, and it inspired the similar construction of Tokyo’s Skytree.
Further uphill lies the Kannondo, which is the 11th temple of the Saikoku 33 Kannon pilgrimage. It enshrines a Juntei Kannon that is said to grant wishes to have children. Next to it is the Bentendo hall for Benten, the goddess of music. While this may not be the most culturally significant building of Daigo-ji, its beautiful colours mirrored in the pond easily make it the most photogenic one.
Beyond the Bentendo and its pond and garden lies the third part of Daigo-ji, called Kami-Daigo. It takes about one hour to reach it, but the views from the top of the mountain are certainly worth the hike. Furthermore, Kami-Daigo is the oldest part of the temple, and most of the buildings there are National Treasures or Important Cultural Properties. Among them is Daigo-sui, which marks the spot of Rigen Daishi’s original hermitage. The Kaisando from the Momoyama period (1606) is the largest building on Mt. Daigo. When it was first built in 911, it was dedicated to Rigen Daishi, and his statue there is from the Kamakura period.
The vast precincts of Daigo-ji make this temple a great place for hikers and people who like to explore on their own. Since Kami-Daigo takes a while to reach on foot, it does not see many visitors throughout the year, but the other areas at Shimo Daigo can get quite busy during hanami and the autumn colours.
Season of Shadows Osakabe has been assigned a temporary lead position in administration, but as his term is up, refuses to step down. But why? This is the question Futawatari from Personnel has to answer – and quickly. But Osakabe is avoiding him and keeps his cards close to his chest…
Cry of the Earth An anonymous tip alerts Shindo of Internal Affairs that Station Chief Sone is visiting the local red-light district. Since Shindo knows Sone personally, his first suspicion runs to slander. Or perhaps there is something even more sinister going on…
Black Lines Young officer Hirano disappears on her way to work. As this comes after extensive news coverage of a crime she solved, her superior officer Nanao is worried that the criminals may have retaliated…
Briefcase A parliamentary debate involving the Chief of Police is just a few days away when Political Liaison Officer Tsuge is warned that one of the questioners is out for revenge. In his quest to diffuse or at least prepare for the situation, he is ready to overstep all boundaries…
These four short stories deal with the inner workings of the Japanese police force in (fictional) Prefecture D. We meet a number of policemen from Yokoyama’s Six Four again, but other than that novel, this collection does not involve any traditional police sleuthing to solve criminal cases. Instead, we delve deeper into the depths of internal police affairs and get to see what some officers are ready to do just to get ahead.
Hideo Yokoyama worked as an investigative reporter for a regional newspaper in Gunma Prefecture before turning to a career as novelist. His books are meticulously researched and often depict office politics within the police force. He has received five Japanese literary prizes focused on crime and has written short story collections and eight novels, six of which have been made into films.
Although it may sound a bit weird, but these four stories of office politics are as gripping as any other crime novel. You can get the book from amazon.