Japan’s Secret Christians

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マリア観音 – Maria Kannon

In 1637 an uprising comprised of mainly Japanese peasant Catholics was brutally crushed by the Tokugawa Shogunate, with almost 37,000 rebels and supporters beheaded and buried in the ruins of their castle stronghold.

The shogunate, accusing Portugeuse settlers, implemented the Sakoku (鎖国 – Locked country) policy, limiting foreign influence and forbidding Japanese citizens from leaving. Catholic missionaries and priest were expelled and converts either killed or tortured.

This started the sect of the Kakure Kirishitan (隠れキリシタン – hidden Christian). Worshiping in secret rooms they adapted prayers learnt from memory to sound like Buddhist chants and idols of the Virgin Mary and crucifixes were built in Buddhist styles. Eucharist was performed with rice and Sake.

17th Century crucifix

Over time the original meanings of the prayers were lost and the Kakure Kirishitans beliefs became more ancestor worship based, with Christian martyrs taking the place of actual blood relations.

When religious sanctions were lifted in the mid 19th century many of the Kakure returned to the Catholic church. Only a handful remained.

In 1991, anthropologist Christal Whelan traveled the Goto Islands, southern Japan to speak with the few surviving Kakure Kirishitans. A preview of her documentary Otaiya; Japan’s Hidden Christians can be seen on Youtube.

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Yōkai; Rokurokubi

轆轤首 – Rokurokubi (potter wheel neck)

Rokurokubi are normal women by day, but at night they gain the ability to stretch their necks to ridiculous proportions.

It is said that rokurokubi live undetected during daylight and may even take mortal husbands trying to keep their demonic forms secret. They are tricksters by nature, however, and their compulsion to frighten and spy on human beings is hard to resist. Some rokurokubi thus resort to revealing themselves only to drunks, the sleeping, or the blind in order to satisfy these urges.

Other stories say that the rokurokubis were humans who had broken Buddhist law. They feast on the blood, favoring that of those who had also broken religious doctrine.

Tsukimi

During the Heian period (平安時代 794-1185), moon viewing parties came into fashion. The eighth month of the lunar calender (Gregorian September) the moon was thought to be at its brightest. Aristocrats would gather to recite poetry and make offerings to the moon in order to secure a good harvest.

Japanese mythology claims a mochi  (rice cake) making rabbit lives in the moon instead of the western man in the moon.

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The traditional way to throw a Tsukimi party is to decorate your house with pampas grass and eat Tsukimi dango (white rice dumplings).

Other tsukimi time foods are  Tsukimi udon/soba; noodles served in a broth with a raw cracked egg and in Kyushu they serve eggs on yakisoba and many fast food restaurants have tsukimi menu items such as Mcdonald’s “tsukimi burger”.

2012’s Tsukimi day is September 30th.

Obon お盆

Obon during the late Edo period.

Obon (お盆) is a Japanese Buddhist custom to honour ones dead ancestors. It has been celebrated in Japan or over 500 hundred years; in recent years the traditional Buddhist Confucian customs have evolved into a family reunion holiday during which people travel back to their hometowns to visit relatives and clean the graves of passed family members.

Renowned  his ability to mind read and converse with ghosts and gods.

The customs supposedly originate from the story of Maha Maudgalyayana, an important disciple of the Buddha, who used his supernatural powers to look upon his deceased mother. He discovered she had fallen into the Realm of Hungry Ghosts and was suffering. He asked the Buddha how he could release his mother from this realm. Buddha instructed him to make offerings to the many Buddhist monks who had just completed their summer retreat, on the fifteenth day of the seventh month. The disciple did this and saw his mother’s release. He also began to see the true nature of her past unselfishness and the many sacrifices that she had made for him.

After she had moved up from the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts (what a name!) he was so happy he danced for joy This birthed a new custom know as Bon Odori.

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Bon Odori is different from region to region. Typically the dancers, dressed in light-weight summer kimonos known as yukata, line up in a circle around a wooden scaffold band stand. Large drums or taiko beat out the rhythm and the dancers proceed around and perform set dances. Each region has its own songs and moves. Tokyo has Tokyo Ondo, Hokkaido, Soran Bushi and Gifu has Gujo odori.

The moves are also influenced by the history of a region. One of the most famous dances is the Tanko Bushi from the Miike Mine area in Kyushu. Its moves depict mining life, digging, cart pushing, lantern hanging, etc.

Bon Odori has moved away from its religious roots and is now seen as a summer dance that is performed at most summer festivals. Current pop songs are also adapted to have an odori  of their own.

Another Obon tradition involves making horses and cows out of cucumbers and aubergine. These are left on family altars, they are meant to be vehicles for spirits to get around. Also lanterns called bonchochin are placed beside the altar to help guide the spirits home.

After Obon the animals and lanterns are either floated in the ocean or rivers or burnt to ensure a safe journey back to the world of the spirits.

Obon is celebrated at 3 different times in differing parts of Japan. When the lunar calendar was replaced during the Meiji Restoration, regions reacted differently. The “official” Obon week is around August 15th. Although it is not a public holiday, leave is generally given and it is one of the busiest travel times in Japan with many places increasing prices.

Today’s 日本語

ABC! easy as 123! NOPE!

Japanese has a very specific way of counting and everything from paper to people to trees have their own way of being counted.

Here are a few,

People take the suffix ~ nin (人)

一人 hitori  二人 futari  三人 san nin  四人 yo-nin  五人 go-nin

animals and insects are ~hiki (匹)

一匹 ippiki  二匹 nihiki 三匹 sanbiki  四匹 yonhiki  五匹 gohiki

Birds and rabbits* use ~wa (一羽)

一羽 ichiwa 二羽 niwa 三羽 sanwa  四羽 yonwa 五羽 go wa

bound objects like books, magazines and gimps take ~ satsu (冊)

一冊 issastu 二冊 nisatsu 三冊 sansatsu 四冊 yonsatsu 五冊 gosatsu

flat objects such as paper, tickets, bills and empty plates use ~mai (枚)

一枚 ichimai 二枚  nimai  三枚 sanmai 四枚 yonmai 五枚 gomai

Plates of food take ~sara (皿)

一皿 hitosara  二皿 futasara 三皿 sansara 四皿 yonsara 五皿 gosara

electronic devices like phones, rice cookers and vehicles take ~dai (台)

一台  ichidai  二台  nidai 三台  sandai 四台  yondai 五台  godai

long things are hon (本) (the kanji means origin………….rude)

一本 ippon  二本  nihon 三本 sanbon  四本 yohon 五本 gohon

 

* the reason that rabbits take the bird counter instead of the animal one is that back back in time religious laws banned eating meat from land animals, but fish and birds were OK. Rabbits, with their long ears could be “mistaken for birds”

Tanabata

七夕 Tanabata, the evening of the seventh.

Throughout July and August, the separated lovers Orihime and Hikoboshi can reunite.

Orihime, the daughter of Emperor Tentei, was a skilled weaver and made lovely clothes for her father. On day as she sat alongside the the river of heaven (he milky way), sadness hadn’t had time to fall in love. Tentei, believed to be the ruler of the heavens arranged a marriage for her with Hikoboshi who lived across the river. The couple were happy but, Orihime was neglected her weaving (sixth century mythical princesses couldn’t have it all), angering Tentei so much that he decided to separate the couple putting them back on opposite sides of the river (he really loved clothes).

Tentei decreed that the couple would only be allowed to see each other on one night each year – on the seventh day of the seventh month. On that evening a boatman (the moon) comes to ferry Orihime over the river to her beloved Hikoboshi. But if Orihime has not given her best to her weaving Tentei may make it rain causing the river to flood so the boatman cannot make the trip (seriously Tentei was like obsessed with his wardrobe). In this case the kasasagi (a group of magpies) may still fly to the milky way to make a bridge for Orihime to cross (cuz fuck patriarchy).

Street festivals with food stalls and traditional games are held all over Japan, the biggest being in Sendai (of earthquake fame). Streets and schools everywhere hang huge bamboo branches on which are hung wishes called, tanzaku. At midnight or the next day they are burnt or set off down a river. Every area has its own Tanabata customs.20120706-190046.jpg20120706-190156.jpg

Takahashi apprehended

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After 17 years the hunt for the Aum members has come to an end.
Katsuya Takahashi was arrested today in Ota ward south west Tokyo.
At 8:30 police were tipped of that a man fitting Takahashi’s description was staying at a manga cafe. He was arrested around 9:30 carrying a black bag containing several million yen in cash.
Just as his counterpart Kikuchi had done he calmly responded yes when asked if he was Takahashi.

Japanese creation myths

Japan’s creation myth is just as insane as any other. As the traditional religion of Japan is Shintoism there are thousands of gods and deities.

When the world was formless and all was chaos, there was nothing except a single germ. This germ mixed the mass until the heaviest part sank and the lighter part rose. The lighter part became heaven and the heavier, earth.
When the heaven (高天原 takamagahara, High Plain of Heaven) was formed 5 gods appeared. Instead of producing life or reproducing they went into hiding and were never heard of again. Some time later 2 more gods wondrously appeared only to go into hiding. After all that, 5 pairs of deities arrived, each consisting of a male and female deity. The last were the “most remarkable” Izanagi and Izanami.

 

This heavenly brother and sister are the main characters in our story.One day as Izanagi was walking along they looked down on the ocean and wondered what was beneath it. Izanagi thrust his staff into the waters and as he pulled it back up a “salty mass” (CREATION MYTHS! filthy) fell back into the sea. They began to harden and grow until they became the islands of Japan.

Izanagi THRUSTING his spear into the writhing sea…………

Izanagi built a palace which in the middle stood the Heavenly August Pillar. Each going in different directions creating plants and animals, Izanagi and Izanami circled the Pillar and When they met again they decided to marry and have children to inhabit the land. The first child Izanami bore was cast out in a reed boat to be the god of the fishermen.

Izanami gave birth to the God of the Land, God of Wind and Rain. While she was giving birth to the God of Fire, she was burnt to death. Izanagi killed the God of Fire and went searching for his beloved sister/wife. He found her in the Land of the Gloom, but as she had already eaten the fruit of the underworld the spirits would not allow her to return. Izanagi returned a second time to find his wife a mass of maggots, disgusted by her he ran. Enraged Izanami chased him wanting to kill him but, the faster Izanagi pushed a huge boulder over the mouth of the Land of dead, this created the permanent demarcation between life and death.

In the cleansing ritual Izanagi cleaned the Sun God, Amaterasu from his left eye, the Moon God, Tsukuyomi from his right eye and the God of Storms, Susanoo from his nose.

Amaterasu

The Japanese believe that Izanami rules the Land of Gloom and Death, while the Land of Living is ruled by Izanagi.

Later, Amaterasu, bore a Ninigi, sent to bring peace and rice to the islands. He was the grandfather of Jimmu, who became the first emperor of Japan and from who all the emperors claim descent from. Ninigi brought 3 heavenly artifacts; a mirror, a sword and a jewel. These are (secretly) housed around Japan. The sword is thought to be in Nagoya, the jewel at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo and the mirror at the Grand Shrine in Ise.
The Grand Shrine is off-limits to everyday folk. The thatched roofs are all that are visible.

Every 20 years a ceremony is held in which these buildings are torn down and rebuilt leaving new clothes for Amaterasu

the word emperor 天皇 tenno means Heavenly sovereign and an alternative (now obsolete) word is 帝/御門 mikado “Honourable Gate”. The origins of the imperial house are cloaked in mystery and it is said that no emperor has reigned that wasn’t a descendent of the last.