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.
There is a custom in Japan in which people purchase or receive a hamaya (evil-repelling arrow) on a visit to a shrine for the first time (hatsumode) in the new year (oshogatsu). The arrow is a good luck charm for good fortune in the coming year. Sometimes the arrow comes in a set with a hamayayumi (evil-repelling bow).
The origins of the hamaya come from a ritual called 'jarai', a customary ceremony that took place at new year in the imperial courts to exhibit people's abilities with bow and arrow. The target used during this ritual was called 'hama', hence the names 'hamaya' ('the arrow that hits the target') and 'hamayumi' ('bow used for the target').
Originally, jarai only took place in imperial courts, but during the mid-Heian period, the word 'hama' ('ha' means 'destroy' and 'ma' means 'evil') changed its meaning. The ritual then became a custom at new year in which common people gave a toy bow and arrow to any family with a male child.
Other customs that developed include setting up a hamaya on a ridge in the direction of the 'demon gate' when building a new house, and sending hamaya and hamayumi to relatives and friends on the 'hatsu sekku' (first annual festival) of a newborn baby.
Kanenokuma ruin is a 'funbo-iseki' (tomb ruin) located in Hakata-ku, Fukuoka-shi, Fukuoka Prefecture. It is sited on a 30m-high hill. So far, 348 'kamekanbo' (burials in large jars), 119 'dokobo' (burials directly into the ground) and 'mokanbo' (burials in wooden coffins), as well as 2 'sekikanbo' (burials in stone coffins) have been found here.
A huge amount of kamekanbo were children, indicating that this was the preferred form of burial for children. Many bodies reveal the custom of tooth extraction. Across 400 years, from about 200BC to 200AC, the Yayoi people used this burial site as a public graveyard. It can also be seen that it was a graveyard specifically for common Yayoi people, because no riches such as mirrors were found with the bodies, showing that no people of power were buried here.
Today, Kanenokuma ruin is an historic park. Many of the coffins, including dokobo and kamekanbo, are exhibited in a specially constructed building over the site and in the same condition where excavation has taken place. In 1972, Kanenokuma ruin was designated as an historic site of Japan.
At one point along the Tozawa road in Yamagata Prefecture, a foreign and exotic mood and space suddenly appear then spread over the green mountains. This is the Kouraikan. The Kouraikan is a complex of buildings filled with an exotic mood, which was built to introduce Korean culture and history to Japan, as well as deepen mutual understandings between the people who visit.
The Kouraikan was opened in 1997 as a symbol of friendship between Korea and Tsutsumigawa-shi and to get in touch with the ancient culture of the Korean Peninsula. All kinds of buildings and shops can be found within the Kouraikan, including a product hall that exhibits and sells traditional articles of everyday use. There are also handicrafts on display, a food culture hall introducing Korean food, an ethnic culture hall introducing Korean customs and arts, as well as a Korean garden filled with Korean flowers, such as the 'mukuge' and the 'klein'. Another area is the Norimadan, where the townspeople gather for amusement. All of these facilities help create a real Korean atmosphere.
The Kouraikan exquisitely replicates aspects of Korean history and culture, and shows the fondness and harmonious relationship that Korea and Japan have, at the same time giving visitors a feeling of compassion and excitement.
The Hojo Ya festival is an especially famous Shinto festival held in Fukuoka City. Hojo Ya is a religious ritual involving the freeing of all captive animals, and the banning of any taking of life during the festive period.
Although a Shinto festival, the practise of avoiding killing animals is Buddhist, but was absorbed into Shintoism. The festival is held in many temples and shrines all over the country in spring or autumn, along with the harvest thanksgiving rituals.
The enormous Hojo Ya at Hakozakigu in Fukuoka Prefecture is counted among the three largest festivals of Hakata City. During the festival period, more than 700 stalls line the 1km approach to the shrine gates, while many interesting events take place within the precincts of the shrine.
Each year sees more than a million visitors, and services are held for deceased pets, or other living creatures that were reluctantly killed during the festival period. The Hojo Ya is a gigantic event that rouses the enthusiasm of all of Fukuoka in autumn.