Japan Town & Country: Exploring Japan's Urban & Rural Environments
Find features on the environment and culture of Japanese towns & the Japanese countryside including Japanese tea, bamboo, ceramics and traditional pottery kilns, Shinto mountain ascetics and the Shichifukujin - Japan's Seven Lucky Gods.
Japanese Tea. Enter a Japanese-style room (washitsu) in a Japanese inn (minshuku or ryokan) and one feature invariably present is a container with a tea service and an electric hot pot providing water at the correct temperature for making Japanese Green Tea.
This beverage is so indispensable in Japan that it can be considered the nectar of life. It is served at the end of every Japanese meal and is available free in many situations where people eat or wait.
Japanese tea is available now in dry leaf form, in powdered form, in bottles, jars, cans, and in the ubiquitous PET bottles it can be found in every convenience store in the land.
From the Indian sub-continent to Japan, tea is derived from the leaves of just one tree, a kind of camellia (Camellia sinensis). Like other camellias, it is an evergreen, with glossy green leaves throughout the year and bright, showy flowers that drop suddenly when over.
Bamboo. Bamboo is the largest of all grasses, a fact that surprises many people, and bamboo comes packed with strengths, mostly derived from the fact that rather than being solid it is a hollow tube with transverse nodes, making it strong, light, and flexible.
Furthermore bamboo is rapid growing, thus making a rapidly replenished resource; now that really is user friendly. To say that bamboos grow quickly is actually something of an under-statement, they are actually some of the fastest growing plants of all with some reaching skywards at an astonishing rate of a metre a day.
The items made from bamboo are phenomenally diverse: just listing all of them would fill the space for this article, but as a quick taster consider: ribs for fans and umbrellas; chopsticks; paper; take tombo; massaging foot rests (when cut in half and placed cut side down, round side up); trays (turned up the other way to serve sweets or for a rolled up oshibori); containers and dippers.
Nosaka Pottery. Pottery is one of the ancient arts of Japan, and thankfully families still continue the traditions, with the Nosaka family of Hagi renowned amongst them.
Hagi-yaki itself was designated as a traditional industrial art object by the government in January 2002, and on 26 March 2002, the head of the Nosaka family, gracious Nosaka Kouki (born 1947) was elevated to the rank of 'prefectural intangible cultural asset' (Yamaguchi-ken Shitei Mukei-Bunkazai Hojisha), one step below being a national treasure.
His son, Nosaka Kazusa (born 1966), long-trained in the same art and business is himself an accomplished Hagi-yaki producer, but when asked how their work differs, he said wryly: 'it differs in the number of zeros at the end of the price'.
Hagi-yaki is recognized by its simplicity of form and its translucent white glaze, often over a body colour of pinkish-orange.
Shichifukujin (Japan's Seven Lucky Gods)
Shichifukujin. If you come across a statue of a group of seven figures, mostly chubby-cheeked and elderly, one carrying a fish, another a stringed musical instrument, one with an enormously enlarged bald head, then you have stumbled across a very different kind of icon.
These figures represent the seven deities of good fortune, sometimes called the Seven Lucky Gods, and they are often shown travelling in their treasure ship or Takarabune.
In Japan, visits to shrines or temples focus around purification and presenting offerings, such as coins or emato the deities in return for the granting of prayers or wishes. The Seven Lucky Gods provide a different avenue for the pursuit of one's goals.
Today, the seven, an international and eclectic group of deities from India, China and Japan, usually include: Ebisu, Daikoku, Bishamonten, Fukurokuju, Jurojin, Benzaiten, and Hotei.
Shinto Mountain Ascetics
Shinto Mountain Ascetics. While locals stand around in multi-layered winter clothes and insulated boots the ascetics stand in thin cotton kimono and straw sandals.
They stand almost barefoot and chant sutras before engraved standing stone tablets while the audience shiver. A great pot of water boils over an open fire, they plunge their hands into it unperturbed and sprinkle consecrated boiling water with sacred o-nusa wands tipped with huge sprays of bamboo leaves.
In another corner of the shrine grounds an area almost as large as a sumo ring has been prepared. For hours, wood has been burning here, the glowing coals have been raked back and forth distributing charcoal and heat evenly. Eventually the priests bless the fire, slip out of their straw sandals and walk back and forth across the hot coals.
It seems that they are as impervious to the burning heat as they are to the biting cold. Donning their sandals once more, and appearing as unflappable as ever, they mount the stage and cast mikan (oranges), mochi (pounded rice cakes), and amulets to the assembled crowds.