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Newsletter: Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition

Delivered on February 15, 2017
Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition [Issue 76] February 15, 2017

Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition [Issue 76]
February 15, 2017
Japanese Traditional Culture Promotion & Development Organization


1. Seasonal Creature:
A messenger sent by a Japanese Buddhist goddess, Benzaiten: Snake

2. News from JTCO:
New article released!

Matsusaka Momen: Matsusaka Cotton

:: 1. Seasonal Creature

The woman carried on. "No matter how you look, I will not forget what
we've had. Please show me who you are." "If you say so." Then he
appeared from a grotto as a big snake crawling out. Its body was
coiling itself looked more than 150 centimetres, and probably 4 or 5
metres if it all stretched.
The Tale of Heike, chapter eight, No.3 "Omaki (The Reel of Thread)"

Because of the snakes' traits such as "move fast even though they have
no feet", "survive without any food for a long time" as well as being
a "molting animal", snakes have been worshipped all over the world as
they were considered not only mysterious, vital but also strongly
regenerative since ancient times.

In Japan, snakes have been deified as a god of good harvest because of
their predation on vermin like mice. They also have been worshipped as
a god for good weather who bring rain and thunder, and more, as snakes
have their body covered with scales that reflect light as well as
their mirror-like never closing eyes, they were considered a god of
sun too.

Among the imaginary creatures in many folklores, "Yamata no Orochi"
and the god snake "Omono nushi" are well-known big snakes which are
described in "Kojiki (Japan's oldest historical record composed in
8c)" or "the Nihon Shoki (Japan's second oldest book of classical
Japanese history composed in 8c)". They are both worshipped as a god
of water and a god of thunder. In the folklore, Yamata no orochi is
slayed by "Susano no Mikoto" because it had abducted young women from
villages. In this folklore, there is some interpretation that goes
like this:

Yamata no Orochi is also regarded as an incarnation of flood. Young
women were sacrificed to quell floods. In other word, Yamata no Orochi
is a metaphor of flooding in rivers and slaying it implies controlling
the flood. There are in fact many tales in which young people were
used as human sacrifices all over Japan. People might want to express
their wish of not having flood in "Yamata no Orochi" story.

In the quote of "The Tale of the Heike" in the opening paragraph, it
depicts the origin of a samurai called "Ogatano Saburo Koreyoshi". One
of his ancestors was apparently born from a woman and a big snake
which is worshipped in a shrine in the Takachiho area (region over
Miyazaki prefecture and Kumamoto prefecture, Southern Japan). He used
this divine story to collect and raise morale among his army when he
was appointed to attack the Heike family.

In these ways, snakes have been taken in people's lives as a scary
existence but it is also a guardian god bringing good luck. White
snakes of Iwakuni (the most eastern city in Yamaguchi prefecture, West
Japan) are designated as a National Natural monument. These white
snakes are just snakes with albinism. It could easily be preyed on
because of their standing out white body and it is difficult to keep
their blood in the wildlife. However, we can often still see them as a
result of the faith and protection made by people who live in that

Various shrines in Japan worship snakes as a god or a messenger of god.
Goddess Benzaiten who leads snakes originated as the Indian River
Hindu Goddess, Saraswati. After it was brought into Japan, it was
taken into Buddhism and Shintoism as well as syncretized a god called
Ugajin (an original Japan god with the head of an old man and the body
of a snake). This is the reason that a sculpture of Benzaiten is
having a snake on top of her head or with body of a snake in the
precincts of a Shinto shrine.

As they molt a couple of times in their growing process, they became a
symbol of regeneration and prosperity. In Japan, the sloughed skin of
snake is sometimes enshrined in a family alter or kept in a wallet to
get better luck with money. Is there any customs related to snakes in
your country?

Translation by: Hitomi Kochi, reviewed by Chan Yee Ting

:: 2. News from JTCO:

New Article Released!

1) Matsusaka Momen: Matsusaka Cotton

Matsusaka momen (cotton) is woven with indigo-dyed thread that is rich
in earthy scent, and has a wide variety of striped design patterns. In
the Edo Period (17-19c), with its sumptuary laws that restricted
luxurious fashion items, this cotton was highly appreciated as the
most fashionable kimono fabric available to the Edo citizens, who took
their pride in their "iki".

Translation by: Misa Imanaka, reviewed by Marina Izumi

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