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Newsletter: Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition

Delivered on September 30, 2019
Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition [Issue 106] September 30, 2019

Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition [Issue 106]
September 30, 2019
Japanese Traditional Culture Promotion & Development Organization


1. Seasonal custom:
An object that the god of paddy field enters into: Kakasi (Scarecrow)

:: 1. Seasonal custom

Here is a Waka, Japanese traditional poem in "New Hyakunin Isshu
(classical Japanese anthology), No.15, written by Genbin Sozu.
"Yamadamoru Sozuno mikoso Kanashikere Aki hatenureba Touhitomo nashi"
Interpretation: How sad to be in a position of a scarecrow which
protects paddy fields in mountains that autumn has once passed, no one
comes to see it. It is just like the situation in which I'm in, living
on my own in a mountain after my retirement.

Because Japan is a country stretched out from South to North as well
as West to East, the rice season varies starting from the warmest
prefecture, Okinawa in early July and it gradually moves through on
lands towards up North. When it reaches Tohoku region and Hokaido
prefecture in October, the rice harvest season is finally coming to the
end. Surrounded by lush rice plants and then undulating golden ears of
rice, scarecrows have been protecting rice from birds and beasts.
However, we now often see them in many places which are left alone in
the empty fields after completing their jobs.

Scarecrows have commonly played a role to protect crops from harmful
birds and beasts all over the world. Although most of them have a human
figure, it was not the case in Japan. It was originally called "Kagashi
(let smell)" as Japanese used burned objects such as hair, fish heads
and beast's heads. They were impaled on skewers to stick in the fields
and the smell could drive harmful beasts away.

A god called "Kuebiko" is depicted in Kojiki (the Japanese oldest extant
chronicle in 8c) who cannot walk. Despite not visiting anywhere, the
god has comprehensive knowledge and awareness of the whole world. It
is said that the god is actually a scarecrow. There are many styles
of scarecrow today but the reason why most of Japanese ones can't walk
due to having one leg is possibly because of this record in Kojiki.

And also, "Kuebiko" means "A man whose body is falling apart". It is
thought to indicate a worn out scarecrow after being beaten by the
weather for a long time. It stands still and endures rains and winds
to watch over crops growing in a whole season. A scarecrow was believed
to be a sacred object the god lands down on to enter in order to fight
off harmful birds and beasts which was thought to be sent by evil
spirits at that time.

The Kyogen (traditional Japanese comic theater) program called "Uri
nusubito (a gourd thief)" is a story about a man who tries to steal
gourds. He goes in a gourd field and smashes silently standing scarecrow
with rocks and then steals gourds successfully. He gets a taste for it,
comes back next day to do it again. However, this time, the scarecrow
is actually the farmer dressing up so that the thief is punished badly.
In other folktales, there are stories in which people pretend to be a
scarecrow to fight off thieves. We can see that scarecrows must have
been relied on by people to protect from not only harmful birds and
beasts but also thieves.

Scarecrows which have watched over crops through spring to autumn are
pulled up from paddy fields on October 10 on the old lunar calendar
during the events called "Kakashi Age" or "Some no Toshitori". They
are worn a traditional straw hat, put a bloom and rake on their hands
and are also being offered offerings such as mochi (rice cake) and
Daikon (mooli). It is an important memorial event to pray for the god
flying back to heaven or mountains after completing their duties in
the body of the scarecrow.

The Waka in the opening paragraph was sung by a high-ranked monk called
Genpin (8c). He had modest life with his belief. He prayed for the
emperor's recovery from his illness and was loved by ordinary people
on top of emperors and retired emperors. Even with his a high standard
of morality, it seems like he couldn't help but compare his situation
of living in a mountain on his own after retirement, with scarecrows
left alone in paddy fields and feel sympathy for them. However, as it
was mentioned in the earlier paragraph, scarecrows are not abandoned
forever. He should know that he has always been loved by many people
in generations still today.

Translation by: Hitomi Kochi, reviewed by Chan Yee Ting

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Development Organization (JTCO)- All Rights Reserved.

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