Unsun Karuta is a card game, based on the western deck of playing cards, that was first brought to Japan by a Portuguese sailor.
During the Tenshou Era (1573 ~1591), the very first copy of western-style playing cards was made in Japan. These cards, made in Mitsuike, Oomuta City, Fukuoka, came to be known as Tenshou Karuta. In the Edo period, they were developed further and Unsui Karuta was born.
While Tenshou Karuta had 48 cards, Unsun Karuta has 75 cards and more complicated rules. The name, Unsun, is said to have derived from the Portuguese words for the number one – “un” and the best – “sun”.
As Unsun Karuta gained popularity, the gambling potential of the game became so popular that, in the middle of the Edo period, it was banned. Unsun Karuta was believed to have entirely disappeared until it was discovered that the people of the Hitoyoshi region in Kumamoto had been enjoying the game all along.
Dousai Karuta is a kind of karuta, a card game, which became popular in Kyoto-Osaka area during Edo era.
In Edo era when Hanafuda, a card game played for money was outlawed, people began using karuta cards instead of Hanafuda cards so they could continue gambling. The karuta card was based on Ogura Hyakunin Isshu (One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each), the famous Japanese anthology of waka, and this form of gambling with karuta cards known as “Mubeyama” became widespread. Dousai karuta was based on the Mubeyama, but its gambling aspect was more emphasized.
In Karuta game, there are two kinds of cards; yomifuda or reading cards, and torifuda or grabbing cards. When the words in the yomifuda are read, players have to find the corresponding torifuda before anyone else does. In Dosai karuta, a proverb is written on each yomifuda card and a torifuda card has its matching picture.
Most of the proverbs ridiculed someone who never learned by experience. One of the cards read “Do learn a lesson this time, Dousaibou” which the karuta game was named after.
Dosai karuta appeared to be initially created for children’s educational purposes, however, it became prevalent as a gambling game for adults.
Dousai karuta is a much valued karuta game that tells us today about the life and culture of common people during Edo era.
Hideaki Tokita, born in 1979, Tokyo, is a rising star in the world of “netsuke”. There are said to be less than a hundred netsuke artists left in Japan.
Netsuke, which became popular during Edo period, is a small accessory which serves as a toggle on a crafted box called “inrou”, or money pouch both of which hang from obi sash. Today, there are more netsuke collectors abroad than in Japan. Mr. Hideaki was exposed to netsuke for the first time while studying in New Zeeland which also led him to start learning jade sculpture
He met with Mr. Mick, a sculptor, who later became his teacher. Under Mr. Mick’s guidance, Mr. Tokita started carving and soon attracted attention and praise from world leading netsuke collectors. In 2007, he received a Newcomer Award from Japan Ivory Sculpture Association.
“Time spent observing is the same as time spent learning. Even for a piece of leaf, if you make an effort to learn something, you will be rewarded”.
His work, born from his ethos in which he pushes himself to the edge in order to sharpen and polish his artistic intuition, releases a powerful presence which is unique in the world.
As the result of repeated consolidations of towns and villages, Higashiomi City in Shiga Prefecture now hosts many historic sites and boasts affluent traditional culture. The Mogami Odori dance handed down for over 300 years in the towns of Shirinashi and Omori is one of such traditional folk performances.
The origin of the Mogami Odori dance is not clear, but it is composed of several elements of the dances performed from the Middle Ages through the near modern periods in the Japanese history. It is a precious folk performing art in that those complex elements have been handed down in this dance without being simplified. It is prefecturally designated as an intangible folk cultural property.
The name “Mogami” derives from the Mogami clan, a powerful daimyo, who had ruled Dewa province (present-day Akita and Yamagata Prefectures). In 1622, however, its territory with over 500,000 koku was confiscated from the clan by the Tokugawa Shogunate because of the struggle for the status of the domain lord. The Mogami clan was then transferred to a part of Omi province (present-day Omori Town) with only 10,000 koku (later reduced to 5,000). The successive heads of the clan resided in the residence called Omori Jinya.
According to a historical record, the Mogami Odori dance was first performed in 1695 to celebrate the promotion of the Mogami clan, which became “koke,” a noble ranking below a daimyo in the Edo period. Today, the dance is handed down by the local conservation society and performed at shrine festivals held in both towns. It has also been regularly performed in Yamagata Prefecture, the birthplace of the Mogami clan, since 2005.
Genroku Bouze Dance, or Genroku Buddhist Monk Dance, is dedicated to the deity of Itsukushima-jinjya Shrine located in Minashiro Miyanokubi, Shintomi-cho, Yuyu-gun, Miyazaki Prefecture, and is performed annually on August 15th according to the lunar calendar. The dance is designated as an intangible folklore cultural asset by the town.
Genroku Bouze Dance has been passed down since Muromachi Period in four neighboring areas of the town; Miyanokubi, Hiraikura, Yadoko and Oku. During the rule of Takanabe Akizuki Clan, the dance was performed as part of the festival dedicated to the water god mainly at Hiokimizunuma-jinjya Shrine which was associated with the clan.
The dancers consist of more than five groups of three people, a monk, a man and a bride as well as singers, drums and clappers accompanying them.
The dance celebrates a rich harvest, and there is a storytelling element where a man and his bride are dancing together happily, a monk tries to cut in between them and get in the way. It contains the theme of human drama which became popular at the end of Edo Period.
Genroku Bouzu Dance is a folk art that has a long history passed on through the generations.
Mt. Yakurai is an independent mountain in Kami Town, Miyagi Prefecture. From its gentle and conical shape, it is called Kami Fuji. The mountain can be viewed from any part of the town and is loved by people as the symbol of the town. With an altitude of 553 meters, it is the 4th lowest mountain among the 100 Fine Mountains in the Tohoku region.
It was named so, because the statue of Yakushi Nyorai was placed at the top of the mountain when an epidemic prevailed during the Nara period (710-794). The mountain has two peaks; the North Peak and the South Peak. Of these, the North Peak is the summit. There are back shrines of Yakurai Shrine at the top of the both peaks.
The summit commands a wonderful panoramic view including the mountains of the Funagata Mountain Range such as Mt. Kurikoma and Mt. Funagata, the mountains from Mt. Kitaizumigatake to Mt. Izumigatake and the expanse of the Osaki Plain at the foot.
Pink flowers of dogtooth fawn lily (Erythronium japonicum), violet flowers, and plae yellow flowers of stachyurus (Stachyurus praecox) will add fine accents to the refreshing landscape.
Hakuji is porcelain created by applying transparent glaze to white paste, then firing it at high temperature. Hakuseiji, on the other hand, is created by glaze containing small amount of iron.
Hakuji originated at the end of the 6th century in China during the Northern Qi Dynasty. Later, in the Tang period, its popularity took off and demand surpassed that of Seiji. By the 10th century, its use became widespread among the populace as it was being improved with a more sophisticated style while maintaining a down-to-earth feel.
Japanese Hakuji evolved under the international influence of China and Korea. In Edo period, Imari-yaki, the first Hakuji in Japan, was introduced. However, Hakuji was mainly used as a white canvas to paint vivid colored motifs. It was not until after Maiji period that Hakuji as self-colored became more popular when Japanese ceramic artists who studied and loved Hakuji from Song period in China and Joseon Dynasty era in Korea further evolved the Hakuji technique.
It is extremely difficult to burn pottery to pure white because iron powder easily comes out even when using the best quality clay. This is why, even for Kakiemon pottery which is famous for its vivid vermilion color motif, Hakuji with no trace of iron powder is more rare and expensive than pieces with painting.
Betcha Festival held for three days from November 1 to 3 every year in Onomichi City, Hiroshima Prefecture is a bizarre festival. This festival is said to have its origin in an attempt to ward off the plague during the Edo Era (1603-1868). Three men wearing masks of Betcha (demon gods), respectively named Shoki, Soba and Beta, walked through the town with another man in a lion costume and drove the plague out of town, which became established as a festival in the later eras.
Today, the three demons and the lion run through the city, dancing to the beat of drums and bells. They chase the children on the streets and Shoki hit them on the head with a bamboo whisk, while Soba and Beta poke them on the body with sticks called “Iwaibo (celebration sticks).” The beaten children are said to be in sound health for the coming year. Toddlers are held by their parents and subjected to a “thrashing,” even though they are frightened.
As it is said that being hit by Betcha makes people bright and a person poked by Soba and Beta will be blessed with children, grown-ups also crowd around the demons. Be it blessing or not, it’s a hard time for the children in town.