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Newsletter: Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition

Delivered on April 20, 2017
Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition [Issue 78] April 20, 2017

Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition [Issue 78]
April 20, 2017
Japanese Traditional Culture Promotion & Development Organization


1. Seasonal Plant:
Rustling in Japan's original landscape: Ashi (Reed)

2. News from JTCO:
New article released!

1) Osaka Butsudan: Osaka Buddhist altar
2) Knohazaru: Konohazaru Dolls
3) Shibukusa-yaki: Shibukusa ware
4) Okawa Kumiko: Okawa Kumiko Wood

:: 1. Seasonal Plant

Here is a Tanka, complied by Ise, compiled in the episode of Koi
(romance) in volume 11 in Shin Kokin Wakashu.

"Naniwagata Mijikaki ashino Fushinomamo awade konoyowo Sugusiteyotoya"

Interpretation: Do not tell me that I have to live without seeing you
even for a very short time like the shortness that a reed's joint
which newly came into bud in Naniwa tideland.

In the first period of "Guyu" in 72 pentads in East Asia calendars, it
says that it is the time of reed sprouting. When the weather becomes
warm, the reed would sprout at the waterfront and start growing
towards the summer. Although reeds used to be widely used in Japanese
living such as "Misu (a curtain made by reed and bamboo, used among
nobles)", thatching roofs and papyrus boats, we rarely see any of
these apart from reed blinds today. However, it is still popular as
a seasonal item. People must be attracted by its irreplaceable
practicality and appearance.

Reed appears in many Japanese poems as an indispensable thing in the
scene of the waterfront. Furthermore, the reed was apparently involved
with the formation of national land.

Japan's old name was "Toyoashihara Mizuho no kuni". It originated from
the quote, "When the universe begins…" in "Kojiki (Japan's oldest
historical record(8c))". When heaven and earth were created, five gods
appeared. Two of the gods were called "Umashi ashikabi hikoji" and
"Ameno tokotachi". They were apparently born like a sprouting reed
bud and grew fast like reeds.

And then, these islands made by gods were called "the country that has
good crop of rice, like reed grows on the open meadows, for hundreds,
thousands or even endless years.

We can easily imagine that reed grew on every single waterfront in
Japan's land, which is and surrounded by four oceans and rich in water.

There is a good example that shows reed used to be a part of Japanese
life. A calligraphy called "Ashide" was created in the Heian period
(8c). It depicted the scenes of water flow, waves, birds and rocks on
top of reeds with some touches, being used to write letter in painting
style or decorate syllabaries artistically. Along with Kanji (adopted
Chinese characters), Hiragana (a Japanese syllabary) and Katakana
(Japanese syllabary mainly used for transcription of foreign language
words into Japanese), this "Ashide" started to be used as a style of
handwriting in traditional poems at the beginning. It was also used as
a part of the design on traditional crafts such as Japanese lacquer,
Maki-e (sprinkled picture) subsequently.

In one of the scenes from "Umegae" in volume 32 in "Tale of Genji",
the world's oldest long novel written in early 11c, Genji requested
a graceful young men to write a novel. He also asked them to use
"Ashide" and "Utae (paintings to depict the meaning of the poem)" in
their own styles. In the pictures of Ashide handed down today, we can
see grass or birds at a glance but if you look carefully, letters are
hidden in them. It seems that creating and appreciating of the ashide
paintings were elegant amusement for them. It is adorable that even
the wildly grown reed at the waterfront became an art piece in the
hands of the Heian nobles.

However, the reedy shore has been steadily narrowed in recent years
due to landfills. On the other hand, it has been re-evaluating from
the view of natural purification as well as biological diversity. It
is also studied for commercial use such as fertilizer, fuel and pulp.

The thatching in United Kingdom, Germany or other places in the world
are made from various plants, such as reed, straw, rushes or heather.
They look very similar, can you distinguish the reed-made thatching?

Translation by: Hitomi Kochi, reviewed by Chan Yee Ting

:: 2. News from JTCO:

New Article Released!

1) Osaka Butsudan: Osaka Buddhist altar

The Shitennouji Temple, Osaka, West Japan, was established in 593 by
Prince Shotoku Taishi, which is famous with a stone monument "Dainihon
bukkyo saisho" meaning the Buddhism arrived here for the first time in
For building the temple, Shotoku invited Baekje artisans. They made
the Kamimachi plateau as the famous Buddhist altar and article
production area later. Osaka is proud of its tradition for producing
altars and articles for 1400 years.

Translation by: Shione Furuta, reviewed by Eri Hara

2) Knohazaru: Konohazaru Dolls

The most popular among Konohazaru pottery dolls is the "Three Wise
Monkeys (Mizaru, Iwazaru, Kikazaru)" type that embodies the maxim "See
no evil, Speak no evil, Hear no evil" (saru or zaru, literally means
Besides this type, there are more than ten types of Konohazaru dolls,
such as Genshizaru, or primitive monkey dolls that represent wishes
for prosperity of descendants and Meshikuizaru, or rice-eating monkey
dolls that represent wishes for having enough food for a lifetime.
These Konohazaru dolls have been used as charms for warding off bad
diseases and misfortunes, prosperity of descendants and so on.

Translated by: Chieko Adachi, reviewed by Tomoko Yamamoto

3) Shibukusa-yaki: Shibukusa ware

"Shibukusa-yaki (Shibukusa ware)" is handmade, and hand painted
pottery and porcelain. The making of Shibukusa-yaki has continued
since the late Edo period (17-19c) in Hida Takayama (Gifu Prefecture,
central Japan).

Its production began in 1841. At the time, Hida Takayama was a region
under the Edo Shogunate's direct control called Tenryo. Hida Gundai,
or the local magistrate of Hida in Takayama Jinya, or Takayama
magistrate's office, TOYODA Fujinoshin aimed to develop a new local
industry by having purveyors produce ceramic ware at a
semi-governmental manufacturing site, present day "Shibukusa"
production site.

Translation by: Yoshiko Nagao

4) Okawa Kumiko: Okawa Kumiko Wood

Okawa prides itself as Japan's greatest producer of tategu -- space
dividing and partitioning furniture that is best represented by
Japanese sliding doors fusuma and shoji. About 460 years ago, Okawa
woodworkers started woodworking in the field of ship carpentry.
Through division of labour in the woodwork industry into more
specialized fields such as general carpentry and furniture making, the
tategu industry also came to be developed.

Translation by: Mavis Chng

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Development Organization (JTCO)- All Rights Reserved.

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