Dyad guardians at the crossroads 村を守る夫婦

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Male and female straw effigies stand guard at the entrance to a rural hamlet (Towada City, Aomori prefecture)

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Lift a stone, prove your strength 力石

An older form of entertainment that is now unseen in Japan, was the lifting of heavy stones during a festival. Put simply a test of strength. The rocks come in various sizes, but generally they are all called chikara ishi 力石, literally “strength stones.” I had hear from one older man that the test of strength in his village was to lift the stone up on the shoulders and roll it around the neck three times. But we can imagine that some tests involved carrying or throwing the stone a certain distance as well. This was a popular sport in older times, but now it is often difficult to locate the stones that were used. Even the locals have forgotten and sometimes put the stones to other uses. But if you look carefully sometimes you can still find them at Shinto shrines.

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Truck Art デコトラ

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The truck is king of the road in Japan. And there is a special breed of truck that is both distinctively fearsome, yet elegant: kind of like Las Vegas on wheels. These trucks are called decotora, which is a melded abbreviation of the words “decorated” and “truck”.  Decotora can be seen all throughout Japan though it is said that the original decotora was driven by a trucker from Aomori prefecture. Continue reading

Tanabata 仙台の七夕

According to legend, on the night of the seventh day of the seven month (July) the two stars, Altair (牽牛星 Kengyūsei) and Vega (織女星 Shokujosei) are allowed to cross the Milky Way (天の川 Amanogawa, literally the “river of heaven”). From this once a year cosmological occurrence an annual event has emerged known as Tanabata 七夕 (“night of the seventh”). The Tanabata ritual festival consists mainly of decorating lengths of bamboo with colorful paper decorations on which wishes are written. In doing so, it is hoped that the wishes will come true. Tanabata has come to be associated with Obon お盆 (the summer festival when the spirits of the dead return to the land of the living) because it acts as a purification ritual (禊ぎ misogi) in preparation for greeting the returning spirits of dead ancestors during Obon. The making of decorations and the subsequent celebrating of Tanabata is widespread, although the festival held in Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture is particularly famous drawing large numbers of tourists from all over Japan.