Cloud 雲

House with "pen", Taiji  太地

Houses with "pen", as local people call it, may be one of the Western influences brought back by workers who went to places such as North/South America and Australia in the late 19c. Or did it come from the ship painting? No one is too sure about the origin of this unusual style - paint (penki) on traditional Japanese houses, but it is certainly well suited to the port area of this fishing town. There are painted Western style houses in Hokkaido eg Sapporo and Hakodate, but painted Japanese houses are not found outside Taiji. Some architects think this is a rare example worth being listed as the Important Traditional Group of Building like Yuasa town (blog, 12 & 26 /12/08).

Wooden boats of Kii-no-kuni, Taiji 太地

Ki-no-kuni is the original name of Wakayama that dates back to 7c. Ki was 木(forest, wood)because of its high rainfall and dense forests, but was later changed to 紀 and then kii 紀伊 (713) when two-character names were recommended for all regions. Kii is often associated with timber and mandarin (mikan), and today, Kii Peninsula where Wakayama is situated is still the most forested region and the largest producer of mandarin in Japan. An Edo entrepreneur Kinokuniya Bunzaemon (born in Yuasa, 1669-1734) is well-known for the lucrative trade of timber, mandarin and various other goods, for which boats made with kii timber were used.Wooden boats were also used for the peninsula's another major industry: fishing and whaling, especially around the southern coastal regions – Katsuura, Kushimoto, Koza and Taiji.

Taiji is known as the birthplace of the traditional coastal whaling in Japan (this blog, 12/12/08). When the organized and systematic hunt was established early 17c, boats assigned with specific functions were developed. The five kinds of boats used either 8 or 6 oars with 10-15 crews. About 460 crews worked at one operation, but there were others on stand-by boats, on watch at the hill-top observatory and those on-land who worked in the processing factory, workshops, kitchen. The saying “with one whale, seven villages would prosper” implies the large amount of foods and products but also the number of jobs whaling generated.

The timber used for these boats are sugi (cedar), hinoki (cypress) and kashi (oak). Each kind of boats was painted with distinct patterns and colours, as recorded in The History of Kumano-Taiji-ura Whaling, and replicated as model by the late boat carpenter, Murono Nishitaro (室野西太郎1903-1998).

Born in Taiji, Murono worked for Taiji Shipyard, where he built mainly tuna fishing boats but also the pearl-shell boats that took divers to Thursday Island, Australia. After retirement, Murono started making replicas of traditional whaling boats, drawing plans based on historic documents, paintings and his own experience in building various kinds of boats. His boats, 1/10 and 1/20 in size, are believed to be the most accurate representation of Taiji's traditional whaling boats, none of which remains today. Currently Taiji Town Council owns four boats to use at their summer festival (14 Aug). Two of them are wooden boats built for the Osaka Expo (1979). Two more boats are kept at the Whale Museum for display only (photo).

Traditional whaling boats of Taijhi

(勢子船) 18 boats (15 crews, 8 oars)
Chaser or Harpooner’s boat. 15 crews are Hazashi (Harpooner, 羽刺), Sashikako (head rower, 指水主), Kako (12, rower, 水主), Kashiki (1 cook, 炊夫). Speed and maneuverability were important for Seko-bune. Each boat was distinguished by distinct pattern: No. 1 (paulownia, phoenix), No. 2 (half chrysanthemum), No. 3 (pine, bamboo, plum trees), No. 4 (chrysanthemum), No. 5 (ivy). The other boats (below) are marked with numbers.

*Mosso-bune (持左右船) 4 boats (10crews, 6 oars): carry the whale harpooned by Seko-bune by tieing to a board attached in between the two boats. Two boats stay stand-by in case of accident

(網船) 9 boats (13 crews on No.1 and 2; 12 crews on others, 6 oars): place the net by communicating with Yamami (watcher, observatory on the hill)

*Taru-bune (樽船) 1 boat (8 crews, 6 oars): collect buoys (barrel, taru) that float away from nets. Crews were older fishers and young boys.

*Dogu-bune (also Naya-bune) (道具、納屋船) 1 boat (10 crews, 6 oars): travel in between store and boats carrying tools, food etc from

*Kae-bune (替船): spare boats for Seko-bune No. 1, 2 and 3


Suikinkutsu 水琴窟

Sui-kin-kutsu, written as 水sui (water) 琴kin (harp) 窟kutsu (cave) is an upside down water pot (40~60cm in depth) buried underground with a small hole at the top (3cm in diameter) through which water drips. It is devised so that water pools about 10cm at the bottom and leaving the rest harrow. Slow dripping water splashes in the water pool and rings, creating a harp-like sound, hence the name suikinkutsu. As the water drips randomly and in multiple drops, they resonate and create unique sound.

The origin of suikinkutsu is said to be do-sui-mon created by Kobori Enshu, a tea ceremony master in early Edo (1608). His style is now recognized as Enshu School of Tea. Enshu originally created do-sui-mon to improve drainage of a washbasin (tsukubai). Tsukubai is often placed at a side entrance to a garden study or a house for guests to wash their hands before entering. Enshu devised do-sui-mon to avoid water pooling at the foot of the basin and getting the guests’ feet wet. The system was found to create a pleasant sound, which intrigued his master Furuta Oribe who commended“(the sound is) nothing like I have ever heard”.

The washbasin tsukubai literally means "to crawl" as we would need to bend low to reach for the water. Tsukubai may also be placed in other Japanese-style gardens or at a side/back entrance to the house (general name cho-zu-bachi, hand washing basin). Suikinkutsu can also be found in such locations. Being underground, suikinkutsu can be easily lost, buried and forgotten, but in recent years many have been uncovered in yards of private houses, temples and Noh theatres.

The sound of suikinkutsu is subtle and intriguing as the “harp” itself is invisible and ringing is unexpected - the act of washing hands is also “playing the harp” but it is unknown to the “player”. Such is a Japanese asobi-gokoro – a playful and witty mind that is good at finding suble fascinations and taking seemingly trivia serious. Suikinkutsu is an example of Japan’s traditional soundscape where people’s everyday life blends with nature in a subtle understated way - also showing wabi, sabi, Japanese traditional aesthetics.

Researchers have claimed that the suikinkutsu sound is effective for physical and mental relaxation and many suikinkutsu have been installed at hospitals and nursing homes. Ko-chu-kin , suikinkutsu for indoor use, have also been created for private home. The subtleness of the sound also sharpens consciousness of surrounding noise. “Since we have installed Suikinkutsu, the traffic noise seems so much louder and disturbing”, commented a Tokyo resident on his new Suikinkutsu in the yard. In recent years, many schools, kindergartens and communities have taken up installation of Suikinkutsu as an educational project to raise awareness about surrounding noise, water (eg water saving, rainwater usage) and also to celebrate this traditional culture. Installation is an ideal project that brings a community together and creates a cultural symbol that is environmentally informing and aesthetically appealing.

The Australia’s first suikinkutsu is in Kodama Forest, Blue Tier, Tasmania thanks to the generous support from Mr Kubo from Kyoto collaborating with group of Japanese students and Friens of the Blue Tier. It is certainly the only Suikinkutsu situated in a natural forest, but we are so pround that the suikinkutsu is literally and spiritually priceless. It was made with people's passion, good-will and friendship without any funding (www.bluetier.org/harp, www.ecco.org.au, Japanese articles http://www.bunkanken.com/journal/article.php?id=238, http://www.bunkanken.com/journal/article.php?id=288). Australia’s second suikinkutsu is soon to be installed in a busy parkland of the Brisbane CBD, Queensland, again with a help from Mr Kubo collaborating with a local architect Will Marcus (Argo, www.argo.com.au). We want to call it a Sound Garden, where people can create their own quiet listening place and a peaceful space no matter how busy the surroundings might be.

The completion of Suikinkutsu is celebrated in a hatsu-ne-shiki, the First Sound Ceremony, when the first bowl of water is poured to play the harp for the first time. First Sound Ceremony at Kodama Forest (5 November, 05) was held and the first water was poured by Mr Kubo, ecco representative Okubo Hideki and Friends of the Blue Tier Steve Cameron who donated the land. The local indigenous elder Gloria Andrews opened the ceremony expressing her honour to witness this event and seeing "a new culture adding another layer to this land". A musical improvisation by Chordwainers “Meditation of Kodama” took all those present to a deep meditative space. In the following year, a poetry reading by suikinkutsu "Windscape of Kodama" was held as part of the Tasmania Living Writers' Week".

As done in Kodama Forest, the first quiet listening is often followed by musical improvisation. Experimenting with different instruments, which of course needs to be soft, would be enjoyable. The first sound, I think, should be also to honour the land, which is going to live with the Suikinkutsu for years to come. It is quite fun to imagine that under different weather, season and climate, subtle variations to the sound can be played by different elements - moisture, wind, light, moss, insects, frogs and other creatures.


Komorebi 木漏れ日

The light filtering through leaves looks and feels gentle. The soft light komorebi, like the sunlight coming through the clouds, has particular kind of beauty that are moving. Same is true with ocean waves, creeks, breeze or candle lights.What is common is the subtle movements that comfort and relax us, and komorebi, is particularly beautiful because they have subtle movements caused by breeze. If it is too windy or too still, the light won't be as beautiful. Physicist Musha explains this applies to some music that universally enjoyed beyond cultural, social, religious, language differences like Mozart. "There is a commonality in our judgment of good and bad, which is why some artistic works survive. The standard, I believe, exists in biological phenomenon.” This universality is the 1/f fluctuation or pink noise, that contains subtle irregularity within the regularity, like heart beats. Subtle irregularity apparently is comforting for humans, which can be found in every part of the natural world.


Slow Life Wakayama 6 Plans and flowers 草と花

Sazanka (山茶花camellia sasanqua) is one of the few flowers that adorn winter gardens. Like tsubaki (椿camellia japonica) that bloom early spring, sazanka is a popular ornamental tree often used for hedges and screens. The two characters of 茶花 (tea, flower) has a "crown" that represents plants eg 草 葉 茎 芽. The symbol木 as in 椿 represents a tree as in cherry桜, cedar 杉, cypress檜 and camphor樟.

The 7th day of the new year is nanakusa (七草), a Seven Plant Day when seven kinds of herbs are cooked with rice porridge for a healthy beginning of the year (and to rest the body after New Year’s overindulgence if you have!). Seri (Japanese parsley), Nazuna (Shepherd’s purse), Gogyo (Gnaphalium affin), Hakobera (Sterallia), Hotokenoza (Lapsana apogonoides), Suzuna (Turnip), Suzushiro (daikon radish) are the traditional Seven, but those who are not so traditionally minded would use whatever the left-over vegetables to make up the variety. The Pillow book includes a description of people picking herbs for nanakusa on the 6th day of the New Year: 七日の若菜を人の六日にもて騒ぎ The Pillow Book).

While these seven herbs are the Spring Seven Plants (Haru no Nanakusa) for eating, the Autumn Seven Plans (aki no Nanakusa) are for viewing and appreciation: Hagi (bush clover), Obana (Silvergrass) , Kuzu (Kudzu), Ominaeshi (Patrinia scabiosifolia), Fujibakama (throughwort), Kikyo (balloon flower), Nadeshiko (Dianthus) are the autumn wild flowers found in the fields. They are gentle small flowers that are suited for the autumn when colours and sounds of the natural environment are subsiding. Hana (花flower) generally and particularly in spring refers to cherry blossoms but hana-no (花野flower field) refers to a field of wild flowers in Autumn. Hana as in many other languages represents beauty and the essence of aesthetics. Basho (1644-1694) wrote in Oino Kobumi: 見る処花にあらずといふ事なし。おもふ所月にあらずといふ事なし。像花にあらざる時は夷狄にひとし。心花にあらざる時は鳥獣に類す. Everything we see, everything we imagine, like flowers and moon, everthing around us is beautiful. Seeing such beauty, Basho suggests, is an essential inspiration for haiku, which I believe also resonates with those who respect and care for the environment.


Slow Life Wakayama 5 New Year's Ride to 岩出

“What makes a difference between a developed city and a backward city is not the quality of expressways, highways or flyovers but that of pedestrian streets, bicycle tracks, public parks, water fronts and bus ways for mass transit” (Enrique Penalosa, a former mayor of Bogota, Colombia). Bogota, Colombia turned around to be a people-friendly city from the situation “95% of road is taken up by car, while 80% of entire population relies on public transports”. Creative use of public space seems a vital key for a city to be “sustainable” and a bike-friendly city would be rewarded with extra benefits of health, fun and a renewed sense of community.

Organised by the Wakayama Cycling Association, almost 100 cyclists set out en mass to make a New Year’s visit (hatsumode) to local temples and shrines. At Hatsumode, people pray for a safe and healthy year ahead, and for this trip in particular, the road safety. Young and old cyclists on various types of bikes participated in this 40km round trip with a highlight of a blessing given to all cyclists and their bikes at the Negoro Temple in Iwade. This was a family-friendly fun trip but also was a clear action against climate change, keeping in mind the coming Copenhagen Conference and the post-Kyoto climate strategies. A mass ride for climate change is planned for the 31 May in Wakayama City in collaboration with the Denmark Embassy, which will be an important opportunity to raise public awareness. These rides are certainly “critical mass” events, even though they are not so claimed.

A Critical Mass movement was initiated on 25 September in San Francisco to raise public awareness about the importance of bike use. CM ride is now held in over 300 cities, normally on the late afternoon of the last Friday of the month but also on days such as 22 April (Earth Day), 22 September (Car Free Day) or Ride-to-Work Day.

Bike ride gives us a sense of freedom, fun, independence as well as health. Mass ride, in particular, is empowering as you will claim the road in a safe way. Mass ride may not always have political intent but are certainly eye-catching and lot of fun. Bicycle also implies sharing – being aware of, care for and communicating with others, including other riders, pedestrians and motorists.

Bike-friendly or bike-active cities include Melbourne, Amsterdam, Lyon, Copenhagen, Portland, San Francisco. These cities would have made a considerable investment in infrastructure (designated lane, smooth surface, clear signage, light, lockable parking areas), cyclist education (road rules, speed limit, light, helmet, bells, clothes), access to other public transportation (trains, bus, ferry), workplace and public facilities (change/shower facility, locker rooms). These investments will certainly have rewards and benefits beyond expectation – environment, social, cultural and economic. It is certainly one ingredient for a creative and attractive city where residents’ happiness can be shared by visitors.


Straw 藁

This straw bale house is one of the most sustainable houses I know, equipped with the solar power, rainwater tank, composting toilet and surrounded with highly productive fruits and vegetable gardens. It is a home of Beris Hansberry, an active environmentalist, which she built on top of the hill of Lottah, Blue Tier, Tasmania. The house has a warm welcoming air as the thick bale blocks, although solid and strong, do not divide in and outside space – letting and demanding you to be part of the surrounding environment. Such is an ultimate 5-star living, which also requires a hardwork and commitment.

Straws (wara, 藁) generally refers to rice plants has been used in Japan in various parts of live eg flooring (tatami), footwear (wara-ji), roofing (wara-buki). The tatami flooring is becoming less suitable to today’s houses that have less air flow compared to the traditional wooden houses. Although it adapts well to both cold and hot weather, tatami is susceptible to high humidity and without sufficient airflow, it will be damaged with mold and house mites. In Japan, straw bale houses have been built by those interested in low-impact buildings and eco-villages, but its potential may be stronger as a bio-fuel.

Japan currently produces 9,062,000t of rice a year from 1,706,000ha rice fields. The rice straw are used for cattle feed and compost, but largely discarded or burnt, which is causing a major hazard in many regions. Researchers expect that 1t of straw would produce 150 liter of ethanol and with a maximum yield of 200liter/day, it can be sold for around ¥90/liter. As well as the abundant rice straws, fermentation technique can be adopted from the traditional food production eg sake, miso, shoyu. The rice plant is used for the 5-yen coin (issued in 1949) that includes design symbolic to agriculture, fishery and forestry. Those ‘primary industries’ has been on a serious decline affected by low-cost imports, ageing population and general lifestyle changes. Use of rice straw for more environmentally sustainable way of living - rice as a Slow Food, straw as Slow Building, and straw bio-ethanol as renewable energy, provides a good example of the change possible within the industry.

Sunrise 初日の出

Watching the first sunrise is how people in Japan celebrate the beginning of the new year – praying for a healthy happy year and making wishes and resolutions. Many look for the best viewing spot for this Hatsuhi-node, which is as important as the visits to shrines and temples. The first ray of sunlight through the clear winter sky certainly gives hope for a good year ahead.

The new year's sun reflecting on Mt Fuji feels doubly lucky, which I get to do every year from the back hill of my parents’ house in Yokohama. Mt Fuji, Japan’s highest mountain (3,776m) is one of the “Three sacred mountains” along with Mt Tateyama and Mt Hakusan. Its deity is a female god of fire 木花開耶姫 (konohana-sakuya-bime), but the mountain was off-limit to women till 1800. Fuji is a dormant volcano and its last major activity was recorded in 1707. Japan's oldest anthology of poems Manyo-shu (7-8c) has a description of an eruption "...snow falling to settle the burning fire, and the burning fire melt the falling snow..." The name Fuji may have originated from the word fuji (immortal or eternity) used in the Tale of Taketori (10c), which describes a medicine of eternity being burnt at the summit of the highest mountain closest to the heaven. Fuji has inspired numerous artists and writers, including the famed Hokusai: 36 views of Fuji (c. 1830), which depicted everyday life of people with Fuji as a focal point. Many place names include Fuji, and “a Fuji view” increases value for real estate, hotels and tourist locations today.

Like Uluru in Australia and Tongariro in New Zealand, Fuji clearly is a cultural icon adored and respected by many. Over 200,000 climbers visit the mountain, many of them to receive the sunlight coming onto the mountain (御来光, goraiko, coming of the sacred light. Not on new year, as the season is limited to July-August). The mountain's environmental care in early days, however, was poor and lead to serious environmental degradation. Many reported their disappointment of finding rubbish on arrival to the summit at the dawn. This, however, is changing with efforts by many organisations, volunteers and government schemes, and Fuji is now on the tentative nomination list for the World Heritage (Cultural Heritage).Visitor responsibility has not been well implemented in Japan yet, but it is the essence of so-called “eco tourism”, and with the rising environmental awareness, the tourist and operator behaviour need to improve.

On the New Year’s night, dreaming of Fuji is believed to be the luckiest, followed by a dream of hawk or an eggplant. Its origin is uncertain but view of Fuji in the clear sky always feels lucky. I hope this view of Fuji too will bring you all a happy dream tonight and every night for the rest of the year.