Thursday, February 21, 2013

Setsubun Kagura - Japanese Storm God vs Giant Serpent

Setsubun is a Japanese Spring Ritual where Japanese drive away bad luck and evil. At a small shrine in Matsuyama, Shikoku they perform a sacred dance known as kagura which depicts an old legend of Susanoo no Mikoto the Japanese god of Storms fighting a giant evil serpent Yamata no Orochi.

Susanoo no Mikoto is the Japanese god of storms and is known as the Impetus Male for his erratic behavior. He caused great distress on the Heavenly Plains by causing his sister, Amaterasu Omikami, the sun goddess to flee into a cave thus plunging all into darkness. The other gods were able to get Amaterasu out of the cave and bring sunlight back. The gods decided to exile the troublesome Susanoo to the underworld of the dead Yomi.

On his way to Yomi, Susanoo encountered two earthy deities who were in distress. A great 8-headed serpent known as Yamata no Orochi devoured their daughters and he was returning to consume their last one. Susanoo decided to save their daughter. In the kagura version of the battle, a spectacular battle took place. In the ancient texts of the Nihonshoki and Kojiki, Susanoo played it more cleverly by brewing sake and getting Orochi drunk before chopping him into pieces.

While Susanoo was hacking his enemy up, he came across a sword in Orochi's tail. He sent the sword up to the Heavenly Plain. In later years after the Age of the Gods, the first Emperor Jimmu received the sword which aided him in his conquest of the central part of Japan. The sword became one of the three sacred treasures of the Imperial House.

The Setsubun Kagura takes place at Izumo Taisha shrine (named after the famous one in Shimane prefecture) in Matsuyama on Shikoku Island. Performances start around 10 and occur every 2 hours until 6. Only 2 heads of Orochi make an appearance due to the limited space.

Susanoo no Mikoto vs Yamata no Orochi

Susanoo no Mikoto is the Japanese god of storms

Yamata no Orochi - great 8-headed serpent and devourer of daughters

Susanoo no Mikoto is erratic character - sometimes villainous sometimes heroic


Orochi looking at a delicious Miko Shrine Maiden

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Japanese Devils Beat People for Good Luck on Setsubun

Setsubun is a Japanese Spring Ritual where on the 3rd of February Japanese drive bad luck in the form of devils from their homes. At many temples and shrines throughout Japan, Setsubun activities take place. At Ishite-ji Temple in Matsuyama city on the island of Shikoku they have an interesting twist on the typical Setsubun activity of driving away devils.

Usually on Setsubun devils known as Oni are driven away by beans thrown at them. Japanese say at the same time "Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!" which means "devils out, good luck in!" At Ishite-ji Temple, the devils actually bring the good luck to people in the shape of bamboo staffs that they use to beat people lightly in a rhythmic cadence.

The staff they use is a variation of a keisaku stick which is used in meditation sessions of Zen Buddhism. Keisaku is a "warning stick" wielded by a Zen priest known as a Jikijitsu who is in charge of the zazen meditation sessions at Zen Temples. If a student is falling asleep the Jikijisu will administer a beating on the student's back. The keisaku's bark is actually worse than its bite as it sounds much lounder than it actually feels. In fact, students will often request a "beating" to keep themselves awake and to relieve muscle cramps. Another name for the keisaku stick is called kyosaku which means "encouragement stick."

The "beatings" administered by the Setsubun devils at Ishite-ji Temple are anything but painful and are for the purpose of giving the "beaten" good luck. So instead of driving the devils away like they do at many other Setsubun events, people actually run to the devils and let them beat them for the good luck aspect of Setsubun.

Japanese Devil administers a beating on a youth for good luck on Setsubun

Ishite-ji Temple is one of the temples on the Shikoku Pilgrimage Route

Mame Maki - people throw beans to gathered crowds

Friday, February 8, 2013

Wakakusayama Yaki - Japanese Mountain Fire Festival

Wakakusayama Yaki is an annual Japanese fire festival in winter where they burn the dead grass on Mt. Wakakusa. The origins of the festival are unclear. The most popular explanation is that the fire festival came out of a territorial dispute between two local temples. Others say the fire was more practical in driving off wild animals and insects.

Whatever the origin, it's a sight to see. Before the fire, they set off 200 fireworks. They also have a live show which being Japan is always entertaining and amusing.


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About Me

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Tokyo, Japan
Vagabond traveler currently hold up in Tokyo. I've done a far bit of traveling and had a few interesting adventures along the way. This blog is a chronicle of adventures past and present and those yet to come. I’ve been to about 30 countries though some no bigger than a kitchen table. I’ve run with the bulls of Pamplona, hiked the Inca Trail, got mugged in Mexico City, floated down the Nile in an old boat, climbed the Great Pyramid of Egypt, got ripped at Oktoberfest, and rode the notorious Tokyo Yamanote Halloween Party Train.