Weekly castle picture from Japanese Castle Explorer no1

The first thing I’d like to do is to say a big thank you to the Gaijin life blog for the opportunity for me to do what I love doing, and that is talking about Japanese Castles.
Who am I? I’m Daniel O’Grady of the Japanese Castle Explorer website
I’m an Aussie and have been living here in Japan since 2001.

Well, the cherry blossoms are blooming all over Japan right now, and I was lucky enough to get myself to Kurume Castle just the other day. The city of Kurume is located in Fukuoka Prefecture on the island of Kyushu and interestingly, it is also the home of Brigestone tire company.

Little remains of Kurume Castle today, just sections of its stonework and moat. No matter its current state, the castle ruins look stunning with its flowers of Spring, under the blue sky.

Japanese traditional lacquer 1000$ iPhone cases

Have you ever heard of  Urushi?

Urushi is the traditional art of lacquering wood or almost anything. As for most Japanese art forms, we have to look for their origin in China. However, excavations in the Saitama prefecture (hihihi where I live) prove that there has been a lacquer culture in Japan since the early Jomon period 10000 – 250 B.C.. Lacquer was not only applied as a decoration, but also as a protection for wood and leather.  Some of the famous Dogu statues of the late Jomon period can be considered as the first art objects with lacquer decoration. In this same period there even existed an imperial lacquer department Koan 392 – 291 B.C.. The lacquer colour scheme used at that time was restricted to black and red. The evolution during the Yayoi period 250 B.C. – 250 was not very important. Worth mentioning are the fine kogai and armour with lacquer coatings. The only colours used are still black and red. The introduction of a new colour, namely gold lacquer kin urushi, took place in the Kofun period 250 – 552. After that period and the introduction of Buddhism in Japan new technique were introduce and the art when on!


Now Today in the moderne world of big metropolis and stylish technology we can have those

These 1000 U.S. dollars or 99,800Jp yen  iPhone cases are distributed by the Japanese mobile giant Softbank

They are traditionally lacquered by a company or branch of softbank called: Japan Texture. these 5 spledid cases where created under the supervision of a historian, since they are representing 5 famous Japanese samurai’s.

The cases are named after and designed to honor famed Japanese warriors like Date Masamune, Uesugi Kenshin and Naoe Kanetsugu just to name a few. Each one is decorate in elements that personify these legendary heroes, with gold dust highlights adding plenty of sparkle.

The famous Kyoto based lacquer ware manufacturer Zohiko was part of the collaboration to create these exquisite expensive iPhone cases.

Nobunaga Oda   織田 信長

Date Masamune 伊達 政宗

Kensin Uesugi 上杉 謙信

Naoe kanetsugu 直江兼続

Sanada Yukimura 真田 幸村

(if you click on the name if each samurai you will have a Wikipedia page that will open so you can learn more about these great samurai’s)

If 1000$ is not really in your budget and your still kindly will to get a lacquered case for you superb iPhone, Softbank offers an other series of cases in the 39,800 Yen ($407) range. Here are those models. Unfortunately for you (if you have big pockets) these are all limited editions only 50 of each model will be sold be sure to grab one quick.

Ever wonder about Japan’s crown jewels

I was recently reading a book about Japan history and I found some really nice information about the Imperial jewels.

It did motivate me to share it with you so after a bit more research I came up with this:

No visit to any capital  in the world is complete without seeing the country’s crown jewels. A famous example would be the Tower of London and its wonderful treasures! Kept safe behind tick glass casings, they intrigue and fascinate visitors who admire those golden treasures that make up a nation’s objects of royalty.

But out of all those majestic nations that have preserve the kingship lineage or that still preserve some kind of historical ties to royalty, one exception prevail Japan! There were never a visit in Japan that could have brought you to even think  about seeing the relics of the emperor of Japan. You could still see from a far distance, the place holding those wonderful object  but you will never even set a foot in the vicinity of the building.

Don’t be worry if I sound harsh, not even the emperor him self has seeing those object at lest not since the 12th century. Object that should be presented to him on is enthronement lay unseen and undistributed for 1000s of years, wrapped in many layers of cloths to be then stored in boxes.

Even if those items have not seeing the light for so long they have  played an incredibly important role in Japan. They are symbols of the power of the emperor of Japan; the mirror, the jewels and the famous sword.

Maybe one day we will have the chance to finally see them back as a wonderful token of Japanese history.

Found this wonderful picture of the Tokyo Imperial palace

Hoped you liked this funny historical fact about the Imperial Jewels of Japan

Manga Cafe’s 漫画喫茶 and Internet Cafe’s ネットカフェ

Manga Cafe’s 漫画喫茶 and Internet Cafe’s ネットカフェ

Internet and Manga cafe’s are everywhere in Japan.

They are now part of the modern Japanese culture. The internet cafe’s are the newest version of the original manga cafe. Manga Cafe’s or in Japanese mangakissa 漫画喫茶 made their debut in post world war 2. Back then, most people could not afford to buy manga’s or for the most fortunate ones the space restriction that many Japanese home have made it difficult to store those comic book.

But what exactly is a Maga or internet cafe?

Pretty easy! It’s a place where you can kick back and enjoy a good Manga ( japanese comic book) or surf the web.

Mostly like everything Japanese there is a bit more to it!  A lot of Japanese people go in those cafe only to relax and enjoy some good reading.  But there is a hole sub culture behind those cafe’s!

In Japanese it is mostly refered as netto kafe nanmin ネットカフェ難民 which literally mean Net cafe refugees.  In recent year in major cities like Tokyo, the price of living as sky rocketed, leaving many people with employment homeless. In august, 2007 the Health Ministry of Japan stated in a new conference that Around 5,400 people with no fixed address spend their nights at 24-hour Internet cafe’s across Japan, of whom 27 percent are in their 20s. Since then the government has being reluctant to release new numbers but the number of those refugee as most definitely sky rocketed!

Photo by Ryosuke Kawasaki

You must wonder why!? Why those homeless business man or woman would live there and not at the hotel or even a hostel?

Internet cafe’s are cheap usually 400yen an hour, plus the normally offer packages for long time periods. You can have a variety of different room types like: normal chairs, non-smoking seat, sofa, massage chair, party room, internet seat, pair seat, zashiki (a tatami), reclining seat and they even have some small futon rooms too. Then you have the other interesting aspect for those homeless business man the free stuff. In all manga and internet cafe’s you have a variety of free drinks and snakes all included in you basic prices. They also offer sheep convinces type food.

Photo by Ryosuke Kawasaki

You can also have access in your room or inside the cafe to movies,DVDs players, shower room, darts, magazines, PC class, music CDs, nail salon, pool table, newspapers, CATV/CS broadcast, table tennis, slot machine, tanning bed, mahjong and many more depending of the location.  All those services under 1400 or 1600yen a night which is way cheaper than a really crappy capsule hotel or anything in the cheap range.

The Geisha 芸者

The Geisha 芸者

Geisha are traditional entertainers in the field of Japanese arts and music. They mostly specialize in Japanese dance, singing, and a variety of instruments including hand drum, shoulder drum, shamisen or Japanese flute. They train throughout their lives, are very highly skilled, and some of the older geisha are even “living national treasures”, the highest status of artist in Japan. There is a really sad misconception about geisha being prostitute and it is seriously wrong to think about that. Of course in the Japanese culture prostitution always had a strong place but geisha were no part of that.

Geisha under the age of 20 or so are called maiko in southern Japan, and hangyoku in northern Japan. Contrary to popular misconception, girls only do five years of training if they begin in Kyoto at 15. In most other districts in Japan, girls who begin as hangyoku or maiko begin at 18, so only do two or three years, and if they are older than 20, they normally debut as ippon-san or geisha. Whether one debuts as a maiko or hangyoku, or as a geisha, it is rarely done without a year or so of training. After their years of preparation, new geisha debut either as hangyoku or as geisha depending on their age at the time they debut.

Geisha are called out to tea-houses or to events, functions and parties, to entertain. This kind of tradition of private entertainment was very common in the West too in previous centuries. Bach or Mozart would have been called out to play at the parties of lords and the nobility. In the West, this former tradition of private entertainment has largely evolved into large-scale public entertainment like ballet, or opera. In Japan, geisha also perform at large public events and annual dances, but the former tradition of small-scale private entertainment of customers having a private meal at a tea-house with friends or acquaintances and calling in geisha to entertain them as they eat and drink – has remained in Japan to the present-day. Geisha are very cultured independent businesswomen with their own customers, some of whom have been patrons for decades, and they often manage younger geisha too. Like any Western artist or musician or actress, they can and do fall in love and have relationships, but this is always entirely a private matter and never part of the job.

Is there any gaijin geisha!?

Yes there is one!

Here real name is Fiona Graham, she holds a PhD in Social Anthropology from the University of Oxford, and an M.B.A. from the same. Her first degrees was in psychology taken at Keio University, where she was the first Western woman to graduate. In 2007 as part of a social anthropology project she became the first gaijin geisha in the 400-year history of the geisha. For this she took the name Sayuki meaning transparent happiness. She work in Asakusa one of the oldest of Tokyo’s six remaining geisha districts. She has lived in a geisha house (okiya), and participating in banquets as a trainee for the past year. She has been training in several arts, and will specialize in yokobue (Japanese flute). Sayuki made her debut after a year of training which is normal timing in her district.Sayuki became a geisha initially with anthropological fieldwork in mind, but is currently planning to continue as an actively working geisha for some time. Sayuki has lectured at a number of universities around the world, and has published several books on Japanese culture. She is also an anthropological film director with credits on international broadcasters.

The history of Bushido 武士道

Bushido 武士道

For any martial art practitioner and Japanese history fans the word bushido is well-known, but for many people this word means nothing. What is bushido? In this post I will try to write and explain to you the meaning and the virtues associated to this term. Bushido could be simply referred as the feudal code of the Japanese knights, but in my opinion and for many historian it would be over simplifying things.

Bushido in English could be translated as the way of the warrior, a stat of mind and conduct a warrior should follow. The first concept of bushido appeared around 712 AD, back then it was meer poetic writing about the ideal comportment of an educated warrior. It is only at the beginning of the Muromachi era (1336-1573) that the concept of bushido started to take form.

Back in 1371 two major clan were warring to gain control over Japan. This conflict is known as the Genpei war, opposing the Minamoto and Taira clans. Ultimately the Minamoto clan won and created the kamakura shogunate. But this event changed the face of war and warriors in Japan. This war helped produce a document called the Heike Monogatar 平家物語,  the story is episodic in nature and designed to be told in a series of nightly installments. It is primarily a samurai epic focusing on warrior culture an ideology that ultimately laid the groundwork for bushido.

Here is a passage if that tale:

The sound of the Gion Shōja bells echoes the impermanence of all things; the color of the sāla flowers reveals the truth that the prosperous must decline. The proud do not endure, they are like a dream on a spring night; the mighty fall at last, they are as dust before the wind.

祇園精舎の鐘の声、諸行無常の響きあり。娑羅双樹の花の色、盛者必衰の理をあらわす。
おごれる人も久しからず、唯春の夜の夢のごとし。たけき者も遂にはほろびぬ、偏に風の前の塵に同じ。

During  the Sengoku-period 戦国時代 (Warring States period from 15th century to the beginning of the 17th century), bushido was only directed towards the pursuit of military knowledge. A famous samurai by the name of Kato Kiyomasa stated :

If a man does not investigate into the matter of Bushido daily, it will be difficult for him to die a brave and manly death. Thus, it is essential to engrave this business of the warrior into one’s mind well. One should put forth great effort in matters of learning. One should read books concerning military matters, and direct his attention exclusively to the virtues of loyalty and filial piety….Having been born into the house of a warrior, one’s intentions should be to grasp the long and the short swords and to die.

In the 1600 to the mid-19th century Japan entered the Sakoku period under the control of the Tokugawa shogunate. During this time Japan was changing and the position of the samurai also changed. There were no real wars going on during  this period and the role and the code of the samurai had to change. The bushido literature of this time contains much thought relevant to a warrior class seeking more general application of martial principles and experience in peacetime, as well as reflection on the land’s long history of war.

Bushido expanded and formalized the earlier code of the samurai, and stressed frugality, loyalty, mastery of martial arts, and honor to the death. Under the bushido ideal, if a samurai failed to hold his honor he could regain it by performing seppuku (ritual suicide). Bushidō also includes compassion for those of lower station, and for the preservation of one’s name.Early bushidō literature further enforces the requirement to conduct oneself with calmness, fairness, justice, and propriety. The relationship between learning and the way of the warrior is clearly articulated, one being a natural partner to the other. Other parts of the bushidō philosophy cover methods of raising children, appearance, and grooming, but all this may be seen as part of one’s constant preparation for death, to die a good death with one’s honor intact, the ultimate aim in a life lived according to bushidō.

Bushidō, while exhibiting the influence of Dao through Zen Buddhism, is a philosophy in contradistinction to religious belief, with a deep commitment to propriety in this world for propriety’s sake.

To finish this post i will leave you with the 5 virtues of bushido, but just before let me clarify some thing about those virtues.

Many western web site or even book talk about bushido and it’s 7 virtues and they are a bit different of the ones I’m going to share with you. But from my long martial arts experience and many long discussion with Japanese expert on the subject I came to learn that those 7 virtues are not the real ones of bushido.

The 5 virtues are:

仁  jin Benevolence
義 gi Rectitude
礼  rei Respect
智  chi Wisdom
信  shin Honesty

One material proof of those virtues being really important in bushido, martial arts and Japanese society is the fact that every one of these virtues represent the 5 folds that you can find on the traditional trouser like pants called Hakama.

Japan performance in the Olympics

Japan performance in the Olympics

Tonight will be the last day of the Olympics. I must say I was lucky to be in Canada for the Olympics, It gave me the chance to follow the games live on Canadian TV. Now I have to go back home to Japan but It has being a wonderful experience to be back in Canada for something like the Olympics.

The closing ceremony will follow just after what will maybe be one of the most impressive hockey game in a long time. Canada will play against the USA for the goal medal.

For this Olympic I did follow the Japanese Olympic team and of course the Canadian one. I was really sad that Japan could only get 5 medals during these Olympics. Japan got 3 silver medals and 2 bronze medals. Every Japanese athletes gave their best and gave use a wonderful show!

Here is a resume the event where Japan won:

One silver in Speed Skating – Ladies’ Team Pursuit
Tabata Maki
Hozumi Masako
Kodaria Nao

One silver in Figure Skating – Ladies
Asada Mao

One silver in Speed Skating – Men’s 500 m
Nagashima Keiichiro

One bronze in Figure Skating – Men
Takahashi Daisuke

And one bronze in Speed Skating – Men’s 500 m
Kato Joji

I would like to congratulate all the athletes that gave their best in the Olympics.