Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Sacred Tree

I visited Kinomiya Jinja (Shrine) when I went to Atami. There's a huge camphor tree over 2000 years old which is designated as a natural treasure. Camphor trees are often seen at shrines, probably because ancient Japanese believed there were gods in enormous trees, rocks, waterfalls and the like, and worshipped those places. There was a board explaining the origin of this tree. "About 150 years ago, there was a large dispute over fishing rights, and the village of Atami needed considerable money to make payments. Five huge camphor trees were cut down for this. When a man tried to chop down this tree, a grey-haired old man suddenly appeared and stood in the way with open arms. The ax split in half, and the old man disappeared. The villagers thought it must be a sacred tree, and gave up cutting it down..."
There's a saying that if you go around this tree once, you'll extend your life a year longer. My children ran around it 10 times!

In the animated movie "My Neighbor Totoro", a little girl goes through a hollow in a large camphor tree and finds the forest spirit Totoro. When you stand by huge trees, it really does feel divine.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Sweet Sweets

A box of wagashi, or Japanese confectionery that not only looks good, but also tastes good. Not overly sweet, but just right. Many Japanese feel western sweets have too much sugar in them, since we prefer moderate sweetness. I was quite shocked the first time I ate icing on a cake...I thought my teeth would dissolve. But I heard that people from abroad feels Japanese cakes have "no taste". Yep, every man to his taste.

Monday, February 20, 2006

New and Old (Classic Novels and Manga)

I went to a book store and bought some books for my daughter."Journey to the West"(3 volumes), a classical Chinese novel, and "Botchan" by Natsume Soseki.

My daughter is crazy about Dragon Ball manga. She also watches the animation (Dragon Ball Z) on cable TV everyday. Since the main character Son Goku is taken from Journey to the West, I thought it wouldn't hurt to know the original story. It's considered basic reading anyway.

Driving Out the Demons

3 February was Setsubunn, the last day before spring by the lunar calendar. On this day, it is our custom to throw roasted soy beans to drive out the oni (demons =evil spirits). First, we shout, "Oni wa soto! (Demons out!)" and throw the beans outside from doors and windows, then shout "Fuku wa uchi!(Good luck in!)" and scatter the beans in each and every room. Then you're supposed to eat the same amount of beans as your age...but children always eat more!
They do this event in day-cares and nursery schools. It's very funny to see terrified small children running away from the demons (teachers dressed up with mask). Some boys may be brave enough to fight them off with beans...Holly leaves and the head of sardine are hang up above the entrance to scare away the demons (like garlic for Draculas?).
Spring is finally here. Well, first, we need to clean up the scattered beans.