Its original character is 气. Again, the original character of 气 is 乞, the form of moving clouds. 気 can be thought of as the basic unit of energy, be it air, atmosphere, weather, vapor, or breathing.
In ‘Explanation of Common Use Kanji,’ the last character dictionary of Dr. Shirakawa, for the first time in his dictionaries, we find his explanation commenting on the vital role of 米 ‘rice’ nurturing 気 spirit or energy. By the way, also Jacob Chang-Ui Kim from Korea gave a similar view in his English explanation of Kanji.
Food is what supplies living beings with energy. Without eating, one cannot live and there is no vitality. From ancient times on, rice is the basic food and basis of energy in East Asia.
The upper part of 気 can also be thought of as the rising steam from rice boiling, and it therefore may even be regarded as a pictograph. In Japanese, 気 came to be used in a lot of expressions describing human feelings and states of mind. In East Asia as a whole, it has become the basis of martial arts culture built on the importance of breathing techniques, as Chinese shadow boxing and Aikidō.
In ancient Greek philosophy, with ‘pneuma,’ there is a very similar notion. The Stoa, a classic school of thought that commends pantheism and a life style following the laws of nature, taught that ‘pneuma,’ the most fine matter like air, is the carrier of ‘logos,’ or world reason, extant everywhere in the universe. In this sense, 気 is (was) a common way of thinking in East and West.
The Shiribetsu River, which flows out of Mt. Fure-dake, runs through the foot of Mt. Yotei and Ran’etsu Town and pours into the Sea of Japan, is a Class-A river with a total length of 126 km and a watershed area of 1,640 sq km. As was certificated as the clearest river in Japan from 1999 to 2002 by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, the river boasts its crystal clear water.
A variety of water sport activities are done in this river. As one of the few fine spots for rafting, it is often featured in sport magazines. Some commercial rafting companies provide exciting rafting tours in spring.
The abundant water of this river provides excellent environment for various living organisms as well as agricultural water, power generation and domestic water for the people in the surrounding areas. The watershed area of this river is one of the finest agricultural zones in Hokkaido, where high quality potatoes, asparaguses, Yukihikari rice are harvested. The Shiribetsu River is the blessings of nature and irreplaceable asset of Hokkaido.
The Kensen Ritual is performed on September 9 to 10 every year at Kashima Shrine in the Yonekura area in Osaki City, the rice producing center of Miyagi Prefecture, where famous rice brands such as Sasanishiki and Hitomebore were born.
Kensen is a Shinto ritual of offering food to the god. It is performed before a shrine priest offers a prayer. As the oldest and most historic shrine in Osaki City, this ritual had been performed by the descendants of the vassals of the Osaki clan (a branch of the Ashikaga clan, who were descended from Seiwa Genji) until the end of World War II. Today it is performed by the hands of local people.
On the first day, the first rice ear of the season is offered to the god in appreciation for a rich harvest. Then, it is followed by other rites and ends with Naorai (banquet), in which holy sake wine and votive offerings are served to the participants. The finale of the festival is the parade of Mikoshi performed on the second day. This solemn ritual is prefecturally designated as an intangible folk cultural property (manners and customs).
Horan Enya is a grand ceremony in Bungo Takada, Oita Prefecture, held to celebrate the New Year. This event first began in the mid-Edo period, when this area belonged to Nagasaki Shimabara Han. At that time, rice was collected as tax and transported by boat to warehouses in Shimabara and Osaka. It is said that Horan Enya was started as a ceremony to pray for the safety of the boats carrying the rice.
The Katsura River, which flows through the city, is the center stage for the festival. The 'horai' boat is brilliantly decorated with 'tairyo' (big catch) flags, 'bankoku' (all nations) flags and small bamboo branches with five different colored papers attached to them. The boat is boarded by young men in 'shimekomi' outfits, as well as musicians, dancers and other participants, and leaves from the Konpira Shrine at the mouth of the river. The boat zigzags up the river, and heads for the Wakamiyahachiman Shrine further upstream.
If a gift is presented from a spectator on the way to the shrine, one of the young men rowing the boat jumps determinedly into the chilly waters of the river to receive it. This is followed by a round of grateful applause from the people on the Horai boat.
Around the river is 'Showa Town', a shopping center recreated in Showa period style. Many rare, and nostalgic items can be found at the stores here, making it a great place for a stroll.
Aizu lacquerware is a traditional handicraft of Aizuwakamatsu City, Fukushima Prefecture. In 1590 (Tensho 17), Gamo Ujisato, a feudal lord of Aizu, invited specialist craftsmen and painters to initiate a lacquerware industry for the region.
Aizu lacquerware really took off after this, with the area becoming the main production center for the growth of urushi lacquer and decoration. In the Edo period, Aizu laquerware was the most prosperous lacquer business in Japan and was exported to China and as far afield as the Netherlands.
By the late Edo period, the area had suffered damage following the Boshin war but later revived to become one of Japan's chief centers of lacquerware production from the mid-Meiji period.
Aizu lacquerware involves several different techniques: 'tetsabu-nuri' (iron-rust coating with rust-brown lacquer); 'kinmushikui-nuri' (gold 'worm-eaten' coating using a process where the wet surface of the vessel is sprinkled with rice chaff); and 'kijiro-nuri' (a lacquer coating that reveals the natural grain of the wooden core vessel).
Aizu lacquerware features all kinds of lucky designs favored by the Japanese. As a traditional craft, Aizu lacquerware has survived for over 400 years.
The Uchinari Rice Terraces are ricefields with a stair-like formation in the Uchinari district, Hamawaki, located south of Beppu in Oita Prefecture.
In 1999, the Uchinari Rice Terraces were selected as among the top 100 Rice Terrace of Japan by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
The terraces consist of 1000 fields and the area is some 42 hectares wide, making it the fifth widest of the top 100 rice terraced areas in Japan. The terraces are also the largest and most beautiful in Kyushu.
The Uchinari district has a long history and is first recorded during the Kamakura period. Even today, rice cultivation continues in areas such as Seba, Taromaru and Kajiwara. These places use spring water that has its source at Sekijo Temple.
There are no fallow rice fields here, and they are managed by the whole settlement. The Uchinari Rice Terraces are sustained by various efforts such as participatory agricultural events, the chance to own a rice terrace, and distribution of the rice harvested here.
Senmaida are the rice paddies that rise up in terraces on mountains, near hilly places or on sloping sea-shore sites.
On terraced rice paddies, it is difficult to use mechanized farming methods because of the shape of the land. Ancient farmers had to carefully consider where they were going to position the paddy fields.
Water presents a problem, too. Water can easily run off the slopes, so it is difficult to save. Because the senmaida are located on high land, so the temperature of the water stays cool. High hillside areas also suffer from frequent droughts and are easily damaged in cold weather. In short, senmaida are less productive than lowland rice paddies.
But through ingenuity and hard work, Japanese farmers have silently made senmaida become fields of rice ears growing heavily on slopes. The paddies rising up the hills make for exquisite patterns, too.
Fushimi Inari Taisha is the headquarters of all the Inari shrines dedicated to the Inari deity. It is located in Fushimi-ku, Kyoto.
In 711, the Tai clan, a powerful family living in Fushimi, made a dedication to the Inari deity on an area of flat ground on Mitsuga Peak in Mt Inari; this is the origin of the Fushimi Inari shrine.
In the middle of the Heian period, when people visited it regularly, they were given the 'deity's cedar'. There remains a document saying that Taira Kiyomori came out into the field of the Hogen and Heiji Disturbance with a stick of cedar in the sleeve of his armor.
The Fushimi Inari shrine was almost destroyed in the Onin war in 1468. Although Japan was in social chaos for many years after the war, reconstruction of the shrine began in 1492, and a totally new shrine had been completed by 1499.