NIPPON Kichi - 日本吉

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城下町 Jouka-machi Jouka-machi (Castle Town)

Jp En

Jouka-machi is a town developed and established around the residential castle of the local lord.
Jouka-machi is believed to have been established during the Sengoku period (from the middle to the end of 16th century).  It resulted from the policy of Oda Nobunaga, in which warriors were separated from farmers and established into a full-time warrior-army. Oda Nobunaga made the warriors live at the foot of his castle and he brought in commerce and industry to develop the town commercially.
In the basic structure of jouka-machi the main road leads to the foot of the castle. As people settled there and business developed, a town was born.
In many cases, such castle towns had various devices to protect the residents and the castle, such as the effective use of rivers and building gates, as well as houses built so close to each other that they effectively concealed the castle. The town itself became a gigantic fortress.    
The residential area was zoned according to the social status of the samurai warriors. The higher the status, the closer to the castle they lived. Other residents, as well as temples and shrines radiated out further from the castle as the town grew.

Even now, some towns preserve the feel and look of the old castle towns. Though modernized, some towns still keep the old names such as ban-chou, oote-machi and gofuku-machi that evoke olden times.    
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海中盆綱引き Kaicyuu-bon-tsunahiki The Bon Festival Sea Tug-of-War

Jp En

A tug of war is held in the sea during the Bon season in August every year in Hado Fishery Harbor in Chinzei-cho, Karatsu City, Saga Prefecture. It was originally performed in memory of the souls of warriors who lost their lives in battles when Toyotomi Hideyoshi stayed in this village to dispatch his troops to Korea.

The rope used for this unique festival is made by young men in the town on the day before the festival. It is 40 cm in diameter and 35 m in length. On the day of the festival, men in local fishermen’s traditional clothes called “Donza” dive into the sea at the signal of a drum and hold each end of the huge rope floating in the sea. Then the men play at a tug of war, dynamically splashing water and valiantly shouting encouragement.

It used to be held on July 15 on the lunar calendar but now it is held at high tide on August 15.
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もののふ(MONONOFU) mononofu Mononofu

Jp En

Mononofu is an old term for a samurai warrior. It is also a brand name created by a man who loves history.  The Mononofu brand expresses the uninhibited and innovative spirit of  the Sengoku period or the Warring State period.
Hideki Tanaka, the creator of the brand, boldly joins two seemingly contrary elements: the promotion of modern art and the reproduction of traditional craftwork. Mr. Tanaka, who first saw a collection of unusual kabuto helmets for warriors at the National Museum, was struck by their appearance and this sparked the idea of incorporating their design into a new indie T-shirt business.
Since each of Monofuku’s T-shirts is an expression of the unique creativity and aesthetic sense of its artist, Mr. Tanaka sees parallels in the creation process of both his T-shirts and the kabuto helmets.  He believes that, if the samurai warriors were alive today, they would embrace modern designs and materials in their expressions of beauty.
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丸岡城 Maruoka-jyo Maruoka Castle

Jp En

Maruoka Castle, located in Maruoka town, Fukui pref, is the oldest standing castle with a remaining donjon. The castle, built with an old style stone wall that uses natural found stones, is rather small but has a simple beauty that remains unchanged to this day. The castle was built in 1576 by the order of Katsuie Shibata who was awarded the Echizen territory, now a part of Fukui pref., by Nobunaga Oda, who ruled a vast area of Japan in the Sengoku Period. The castle was built originally in Toyohara town, however, for more convenient road access, it was moved to Maruoka by Katsuie’s nephew, Katsutoyo.  The castle employs a unique architectural method. It is three stories high with two layers of roof and there is a watch tower with handrails going around the donjon on the top story. The castle was roofed with Shakudani stone, a local stone, and has thick lattices and black wooden walls, which are unmistakable characteristics of the early style of castle making. The castle has lived through many war-torn periods of deadly strife and carnage. The castle is also known as Kasumiga Joh, Mist Castle, owing to a legend that, at a time of battle, a giant serpent appeared and blew mist over the castle and concealed it from attackers. In 1934, it was designated as a National Treasure. It was destroyed by an earthquake, then later reconstructed and was designated an Important National Property.
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武家造 Buke-zukuri Buke-zukuri

Jp En

Buke-zukuri is an architectural style used for residences of the bushi, warrior class, during Kamakura period.
Buku-zukuri is considered a simplified version of Shinden-zukuri which was a residence for aristocrats during Heian period. In Shinden-zukuri, a main building called shinden was built facing the south garden. In the east and west of the sinden were sub-buildings called tainoya which were connected to the shinden by corridors called wataridono. Each taiya building had another corridor toward the south to connect to another building called tsuridono, which literally means a fishing building, that formed a bridge over the pond of the garden. Buku-zukuri had a similar but much simpler style using a roof structure covered with boards or planks and wooden board flooring. It is also believed that the buke-zukuri house had a kind of castle like facility to protect itself from the outside. However, no such example has ever been found so details are not known. Thus, buke-zukuri is not commonly accepted as an original style.
Shoin-zukuri in Muromachi period was believed to be based on buke-zukuri. Kinkaku-ji Temple built in the early Muromachi period showing fine harmonious blends of three different architectural styles: shinden-zukuri on the first floor, buke-zukuri on the second floor and Zen Butsuden-zukuri on the third floor. The temple shows the transition of the style to shoin-zukuri which is more evident in Ginkaku-ji temple that was built later.
It should be noted that Buke-zukuri is sometimes confused with buke-yashiki in Edo period, but it is a completely different style.
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キセル Kiseru Kiseru

Jp En

Kiseru is an old style Japanese smoking pipe. Kiseru were used for smoking flake tobacco, but some use for smoking a cigarettee or others for a half-cut cigarettee recently. The word kiseru comes from the Khmer word “ksher.”

Kiseru were invented in Japan in the 16th century, when the Portuguese came to Japan for the Nanban trade after the arrival of guns. The origin of kiseru making is not clear but it is said that Japanese craftsmen began to make kiseru by modeling after smoking pipes the Portuguese were using.

In the Edo period (1603-1868), when flake tobacco were extremely popular, kiseru were indispensable items for tobacco smokers. The kiseru was a kind of a status symbol and a fancy accessory. There were many kiseru in different sizes, length and shapes and of different materials. Tobacco smokers had their own favorite kiseru according to their finaccial positions. However, since extravagance was prohibited by the Tokugawa shogunate, only warriors, wealthy merchants, and prostitutes were allowed to use kiseru until the end of the Edo period.
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政宗公まつり Masamune-kou-matsuri The Date Masamune Festival

Jp En

The Date Masamune Festival is held on the second Sunday of September every year in Iwadeyama Town in Osaki City, Miyagi Prefecture. It started in 1964, when the statue of Date Masamune was moved from the Aoba Castle ruins site in Sendai to Iwadeyama Town, where Masamune spent his adolescent years.

On the eve of the festival, the parade of the Yosakoi Dance, the Masamune Drums, lanterns and the gorgeous Mikoshi goes through the town. The highlight of the main festival day on Sunday is the procession of the warriors of the Date clan. With horse soldiers blowing conch shell horns at the head of the procession, the present head of the Iwadeyama Date family making himself up as Date Masamune rides in a dignified manner, which is followed by the palanquin carrying Masamune’s mistress, the members of overseas delegation to Europe led by Hasekura Tsunenaga. It is a magnificent reenactment of the procession of the Date clan, which makes spectators slip into delusion of being transported back to the Warring States period.

When the festival draws near, there are a glut of applicants who yearn to act as a gallant warrior. It is the charming sight of autumn, in which everyone in the town participates and has fun.
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登米新緑薪能 Toyoma-shinryoku-takigi-nou Toyoma Shinryoku Takigi-Noh

Jp En

Toyoma Shinryoku Takigi-Noh is the Noh play put on outdoors with light supplied by bonfires. It is performed in the middle of June every year at Mori Butai, the Noh theater and museum, in Toyoma Town in Tome City, Miyagi Prefecture.

When the bonfires placed on the white sand ground around the stage are lit all at once at 5:00 in the evening, the Noh stage appears out of the darkness. For the following three hours, the elegant Noh plays on the stage together with the sound and smell of burning torches transport spectators somewhere ethereal.

During the Edo period, Noh was considered to be important as Shikigaku (music and dances performed at official occasions) of the warrior class. In the Sendai domain, too, it was given protection and encouragement by the successive domain lords including Date Masamune.

In the territory of the Toyoma-Date family, who followed the formalities of the Date clan, Noh was also extensively practiced and handed down by the warrior class. After the abolition of clans in the Meiji period (1868-1912), the warriors who handed down Noh plays became farmers, which resulted in Noh becoming widespread among townspeople and being inherited in Toyoma Town as Toyoma-Noh.

Toyoma-Noh has been handed down by Toyoma Yokyokukai (Toyoma Noh Chant Society) since 1908. Although they are amateur performers, they keep the tradition with extremely high level of performance that can be compared with professional Noh players. Toyoma-Noh was prefecturally designated as an intangible folk cultural property and it still enjoys wide popularity among people inside and outside the prefecture.
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