Movies on Japan
The following are short MPEG movies of various aspects of life in and connected with Japan.
Movies of the real Japan
Japan is everywhere. From New York to Paris, Beijing to London, Los Angeles to Lagos. In this movie, see the number of Japanese companies with prominent neon advertisements in London's world famous entertainment area - Piccadilly Circus - the heart of London.
The Sanja Matsuri (i.e. Sanja Festival) is Tokyo's biggest, taking place in spring in the colorful downtown area of Asakusa.
The Sanja Matsuri is notable for the throngs of sightseers it attracts, for the enormous number and variety of floats, and for the fierce energy of the event.
Many of the floats are manned by local yakuza gang members, so the elaborate, often full-body, tattoos on display are, alone, worth venturing out for, though the festival has run in to trouble in recent years due to the mobsters riding and posing on the mikoshi portable shrines.
Day or night, but more night, there will be groups of boys and girls bopping on the streets of any Japanese city. Watching themselves in a plate glass window, they practice short bursts of dance moves to hip-hop on the ghettoblaster, and then retire and 'recover' before working themselves back up again to another short, energetic synchronized climax.
Watch this group reflected in a window of the Shinjuku ward office in the red light district of Kabukicho.
It is well known that when it comes to dining, the Japanese like it fresh. Sushi and sashimi are famous throughout the world as equisite examples of raw cuisine. Even if being cooked, ideally the Japanese chef wants the fish alive till the last possible moment. This restaurant on a backstreet of Shinjuku, Tokyo, goes as far as it can to assure potential customers of the freshness of its fish: a tank out the front where the very much alive fish can be viewed before going on it to feast on them.
While the boys are hip-hopping, watch what (some of) the girls are doing. This group of girls was performing a dance ritual outside the south exit of Shinjuku station to the shrieks of a boy with long dyed hair, in punk drag, while his nerd sidekick thrashed his acoustic guitar.
Be puzzled. Be happy!
Shinobazu Lotus Pond is on the western edge of Tokyo's Ueno Park. Lotuses are said to have been first planted here in the early 17th century.
The best time to view the pond is in summer when the lotuses are in bloom. However, the fact that a lotus blooms for only about four days makes this difficult. There are rowboats for hire in the adjoining area of the pond, making for optimum viewing whether blooming or not.
However, at almost any time of the year the lotus plants themselves are a sight to behold as their great leaves wave and ripple in the breeze.
While the lights of the city dance, horns honk, and the late night streets of loud, trashy Shinjuku are a tipsy riot, there is something inevitable and calming about road construction teams. Blazing in their own pool of brilliant white light, dressed identically in tough, drab pastel uniforms and yellow helmets, they always seem to be forming some kind of rough circle around something that draws their collective gaze downwards. There is no hurry or sense of panic. In the background beats the steady thrumming of various engines. Even the flashing lights flash with simple unshowy on-off regularity.
Here is a team of road construction workers caught on film on a street at night in west Shinjuku in late summer
Bunkyo ward, home to the main campus of Tokyo University, is one of Tokyo's more elegant areas distinguished not only by a large number of temples, but also by quaint coffee shops and numerous high-class restaurants.
The cityscaping of the ward makes for a green and pleasant feel to it, and here, built into the outside of an office block on the corner of Yushima 2 intersection, is a small pond featuring a variety of beautifully colored carp.
The carp is not only a decorative adjunct to the scenery, it is also held to be a symbol of virility and fighting spirit, swimming upstream, as it does, to mate.
As part of the warm-up preparations for Shizuoka's annual street performer's contest in early November - the Daidogei World Cup - (i.e. 'Street Performance World Cup') held in Sumpu Park and across the streets of Shizuoka, we came across this taiko group on Shichiken-cho dori in central Shizuoka.
The earth really does seem to move for some of the female drummers, bare-legged, white tabi-socks, legs akimbo and thighs gripping a big wooden drum. The drummers pound away with thick phallic drumsticks in a frenzied beat as the earth itself vibrates underfoot. They certainly looked to be enjoying themselves and so were we.
Kashiwa is a city north-east of Tokyo in neighboring Chiba prefecture. In it is located the physics campus of the University of Tokyo. This video was taken on campus and features several great V-formations of wild geese (gan in Japanese) flying through the autumn sky.
Wild geese are by no means as plentiful as they once were and are now a protected species.
The yamata no Orochi story is the best known of all Japanese myths in the Shimane area, and tells the story of the defeat of an 8-headed serpent by Lord Susano (commonly known as the brother of Amaterasu, the Sun Goddess). Following the killing Susano marries Kushinada Hime, a local princess.
In this performance, owing to the small stage area, only 4 serpents dance.
In Iwami Town, nestled in the mountains of Shimane prefecture, there is a summer dance that used to be performed all over the country in earlier times, but has now all but disappeared.
The dance was part of a religious ceremony that was held to rid the rice paddies of insects, a form of spiritual pest control that is no longer needed due to Japan's heavy use of chemical pesticides nowadays.
Starting at 10am, the dancers and musicians travel around the village stopping and performing their dance at numerous points. Dressed in summer yukata and with wide-brimmed hats decorated brightly, the dancers carry drums and are accompanied by other drummers, metal bells, and flute. The dancing ends at 6pm.
Travelling along with the dancers is a straw effigy of a samurai on horseback. He is the "scapegoat", and after the dancing he is placed in a fast-flowing river to wash away the "sins" of the villagers that were held to be responsible for the infestations of insects.
Roadworks in Japan are particularly festive-looking affairs blazing with lights and signs. It is interesting to see the technological progress of the tireless humanoid inventions that are used to replace the elderly men who have traditionally staffed such sites.
Unfortunately the vivid colors of the humanoid LED screen are lost in this movie, but the outline is still perfectly clear.
The Tokyo Design Festa is a twice-a-year event happening in May and December at Tokyo Big Sight in Koto ward. It attracts hundreds - well over 1000 - exhibitors from Japan and abroad, and tens of thousands of viewers.
Among the myriad forms of creative endeavor on display is musical performance. View one of the more vigorous examples from the Design Festa Vol.24, a three member Japanese funk rock band, totally take it away!
Historians believe that norito grew out of early Buddhist influence. Many of the norito in use today are taken from a tenth century book, the engi shiki, which collected together older norito and ritual procedures. Contemporarily written norito use these ancient ones as a model and use an archaic form of the Japanese language that reflects the Japanese belief in kotodama the idea that spiritual power resides in certain words.
Norito are therefore an offering to the kami as well as a report on the achievements and attitudes of the people in the local community, a list of the Osonae (things offered to the kami), and a request for the kami's assistance.
The Norito in the video is being uttered by a kannushi (Shinto priest) at the Omoto Kagura Matsuri in Kawahira, Shimane.
From a 5 yen coin tossed into the collection box in front of the shrine, or an orange left at a wayside shrine, to a full-blown 40 course banquet of foods, offerings, heihaku, are an integral part of any Shinto ceremony.
Nowadays most offerings are shinsen, food offerings, and of these, sake is the most common followed by rice, and salt. Ceremonial sake is known as omiki, and after the ceremony will be consumed by the participants in an act of communion with the kami (gods).
In this video clip from Omoto Kagura Matsuri in Oda village, Shimane, ten priests are loading the altar with more than 40 different kinds of shinsen, an unusually large quantity owing to it being a ceremony performed only every 7 years.
Since the beginnings of history,the sakaki tree, (Cleyera japonica), has been the most sacred tree in Japanese religions. The earliest myths recorded in the Kojiki and Nihongi gives prominence to it in many of the ancient stories.
Sakaki is a low-spreading, medium-sized evergreen tree of the tea family (Theaceae), which also includes tea and camellia. It grows in warm areas of Japan, Korea, and mainland China, and reaches a height of about ten meters.
It is sacred in both the Buddhist and Shinto religions, and can be found everywhere from kamidana (home altars), tombstones, jizo altars, to shrines and temples. Several ritual implements are made from sakaki, but it is as an offering to the kami and the buddhas that it is most commonly used.
In this video clip three village elders are placing sakaki branches on the altar as the last step in the ceremony thanking the local mountain god for having visited.
Nusa or Onusa to give them their honorific name, are purification wands used in Shinto ceremonies and rituals.
Purification, and its converse - pollution - , are probably the most important concepts for an understanding of Shinto, and any Shinto ceremony or ritual will involve several forms of purification. Onusa, sometimes called gohei, are waved over people, spaces, and things, to purify them.
On a visit to any major shrine you are likely to see priests or Miko (shrine maidens) performing Oharae on visitors who have purchased a simple purification ceremony.
Onusa come in all shapes and sizes, and consist of paper streamers, shide, attached to a staff of unpainted wood or sakaki, the sacred tree of Shinto. In the video, an unusually large and ornate Onusa is being handed to the senior priest by a junior priest at Omoto Kagura Matsuri in Oda village, Shimane. This ceremony only takes place every 7 years, and honors a local god.
It is February 11, 2007, National Foundation Day. National Foundation Day, or Kenkoku Kinenbi, has its roots in Kigensetsu, or Empire Day', founded by the Meiji Emperor in 1873 to help cement the imperial foundations of recently modernized Japan's new Western-style nation-state following the abolishment of the traditional Shogunate. Although done away after World War II, Kigensetsu was subsequently revived in 1966 as National Foundation Day.
National Foundation Day's associations with its imperialist, Shinto-inspired precursor means that it is not the massive celebration that Kigensetsu used to be; but, predictably, the Japanese right wing comes out in full force on this day.
Watch a faction of the Japanese right wing deliver a no-holds-barred harangue to the crowds around Tokyo's Shinjuku station on National Foundation Day. The vociferousness of the delivery and its almost abusive tone cast a pall of unease over the entire area, the policemen in the nearby police box flashing noticeably reassuring smiles to unnerved passers by.
Note the imperial Japanese flags with a distinctly swastika-like emblem emblazoned on them, not to mention the 1930s fascist cut of the uniforms.
Konomiya Shrine's Hadaka Matsuri or Naked Festival first took place in 767 in an attempt to ward off a plague epidemic. A shin-otoko ("god-man") is first chosen from a group of applicants and prepares himself for 3 days kept in a small hall at the shrine. On the 13th day of the first month of the lunar calendar a large group of men dressed only in loincloths gather to touch the shin-otoko, who was traditionally naked, to pass off evil and bad-luck on to the shin-otoko.
Everyday life in Japan is saturated with ceremony and ritual, so it should be no surprise that buying a new car often involves a ritual too: getting the car blessed by the priest, either Buddhist or Shinto.
Shinto is the ancient folk religion of Japan and as such is almost purely ritualistic as opposed to doctrinal. The rituals are intimately connected with the necessities of life and center around the idea of purification.
Buying a new car - however modern an act that may be - also falls under the spell of Shinto, and having it blessed no doubt harks back to similar ceremonies performed for more ancient forms of transport. Parallels could be drawn with the dedication of a ship that still happens in Western countries, if without the overt religious overtones.
Watch here two new cars undergoing a blessing ceremony by a Shinto priest in the grounds of Tomioka Hachimangu Shrine in Koto ward, Tokyo.
Fukagawa Fudo, in the Fukagawa district of Tokyo's Koto ward, is more properly known as Narita-san Fukagawa Fudo-Do. It is a temple of an esoteric branch of the Shingon sect of Buddhism founded in the 18th century.
Its major rituals center around fire, the most important being goma, or the burning of cedar sticks.
One of the most visited spots in Fukagawa Fudo's spacious grounds is the censer in the middle of the courtyard, under a shelter that constantly emits smoke. Visitors to the temple stop to rub the smoke on afflicted parts of their bodies, or simply apply it for good health and fortune.
Watch a video of worshipers at Fukagawa Fudo rub smoke over themselves from the censer.