Formally Representative

On Sunday, we had the first formal meeting of the Representative Assembly for Foreign Residents. The program was simple, but all of it was important, and all of it got done.

First, we all received our formal notices of appointment from the deputy mayor of Kawasaki. This was when we officially became representatives, with a term of office lasting until the end of March 2012. The deputy mayor then made a short speech welcoming us to the assembly and encouraging us to contribute to the city. He said that, when Kawasaki was founded in 1924, it had only 50,000 residents. It now has 1.41 million, is the eighth largest city in Japan, and is the fastest growing. Considering that the name means nothing more than motorbikes to most people outside the country, that’s pretty impressive. He also said that direct flights between Haneda and London will start this summer, which will be helpful for us; Haneda is right next to Kawasaki, unlike Narita, which is on the far side of Tokyo.

Second, we had to choose a chair and deputy chair. Ms Elok was elected as the chair, the first female chair that the Assembly has had in its fourteen-year history. (It’s had seven male chairs.) She’s from Indonesia, and was the deputy chair of the last assembly. Mr Opango was elected as the deputy chair; he’s from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and was the deputy chair a few assemblies ago.

The election went smoothly, although the election for chair was fiercely contested, in the sense that the two candidates were neck-and-neck with twenty two of twenty six votes counted.

Finally, we confirmed the schedule for this year.

We finished an hour early. Apparently the elections have taken a lot longer in the past, with people arguing about the voting methods, so I think time was allowed for that. However, the secretariat seem to have learned from those experiences, because the voting system they proposed was simple but reasonable. People could nominate themselves or others; those nominated by others could then withdraw. If there was only one candidate, which didn’t happen, there would be a show of hands to confirm it, and if that didn’t reach half of the representatives nominations would be reopened. With multiple candidates, there was a secret ballot; if the candidate with most votes did not have a majority, the top two candidates would enter a run-off election. However, while there were ballots for both posts, there was no need for a run-off, so it took less than an hour.

The next meeting, in May, is for deciding what we are going to investigate over the next couple of years. Obviously, the details will develop over time, but we have to set the broad topics first. I suspect that the next meeting will not finish early.

I’m looking forward to it.

Kiyoharai Shiki

Last Sunday, the evening before we moved in to the new flat, I asked the priest of the local shrine (Shirahata Hachiman Daijin) to come to perform a purification ritual for us. The Japanese name is “Kiyoharai Shiki”, which means, roughly “Cleansing Purification Ritual”. People who read Tamao will remember that Akiko and Shiraishi did quite a lot of these at people’s houses, but when I wrote that I’d never actually seen one done. It’s rather a relief to discover that I didn’t get anything seriously wrong. They were doing a rather more abbreviated ceremony than we had performed, but, on the other hand, they also charged rather less, so obviously that’s just their shrine’s custom. The priest did drive over in his vestments, just like Akiko and Shiraishi.

He arrived about twenty minutes before the ceremony was due to start, to set up the portable altar. I took a photograph before the ceremony started.

The altar is formed from two tables, with the sanpo stands on the upper shelf, and the ohnusa on the lower

The purification altar

The altar was set up in our living room (you couldn’t do it now…), facing south. In the middle of the top shelf are two o-fuda, shrine tablets. The one in front is for Shirahata Hachiman, the kami of the shrine, while the one behind is for Kojin, a kami responsible for fire, and keeping it under control. To either side of the o-fuda are two sanpo, the trays on which things are typically offered to the kami. The one to the right has the offerings on; the tall jars contain sake, while the small round one in front of them contains water. The rice and salt plates aren’t really visible in the picture. The one on the left has a small plate of rice, a small plate of salt, and a small bowl of sake, with a sakaki leaf. These are purification tools for the ceremony. On the lower shelf, there is a large sakaki branch with shide (strips of white paper folded into lightning shapes) on it. This is another purification tool. At the extreme left of the top shelf is a box, which contains small sakaki branches with shide on, called tamagushi. These were also used later in the ceremony.

Yuriko’s parents were here on Sunday, so we all gathered in front of the altar, lined up with me in the middle, since I am the head of the household being purified. We had to kneel on the floor, with no cushions, and that got a bit uncomfortable towards the end, particularly when Mayuki decided to climb onto my knees.

The ceremony started, as always, with purification. First, the priest knelt in front of the altar and recited the purification prayer. He then took the large sakaki branch from the lower shelf and waved it over the altar and the tamagushi to purify them. That is normal. Next, however, he purified the whole flat, and we went with him. He started in the entrance hall, purifying the threshold (with the door open), and then he did every room, including the toilet, specially purifying the shelf installed in the Japanese room for the kamidana. The last room to be purified was the kitchen, and that was part of the ceremony, because he mentioned doing it last. Then, we all knelt back in front of the altar, and we were purified.

After purification, it was time to invite the kami to descend into the o-fuda and be present at the ceremony. The priest knelt in front of the altar again, and said the norito to call the kami. He said it very quietly, far too quietly to be heard, and then performed the keihitsu, a long “o” sound, during which the kami are supposed to take up residence in the o-fuda.

Once the kami were present, the offerings were formally presented. Sometimes this actually involves putting them in front of the altar, but it is quite common, as in this case, to simply take the lids off the jars.

The next stage was the norito, the formal prayer. The priest knelt in front of the altar again, and then recited it. First, the kami are invoked by name. There were several, including kami with traditional connections to the home, as well as Shirahata Hachiman and Kojin. Most of the norito was recited in a strong voice, but there was one phrase of two or three words near the beginning that the priest recited very quietly. The content of the norito was a request for safety and prosperity for the new home.

After the norito (I think; it was a week ago, so I may have got a bit of the order switched), the priest picked up the sanpo with the rice, salt, and sake from the upper level of the altar, and we all went to purify the flat again. He purified the threshold, the kitchen (particularly the cooker), and the kamidana, scattering rice, salt, and sake at each point. The amounts he used were tiny; it may have been a single grain of rice. This form of purification is very traditional, but the need to clean up after purifying seems to have reduced the amounts involved.

Returning to the altar, we knelt again, and then offered the tamagushi. This is also a standard part of a Shinto ceremony. First, the priest offered his, and then it was my turn. You take the tamagushi in both hands, raise it upright, then rotate it so that you place it on the table with the bottom of the stem towards the kami. Then you bow twice, clap twice, and bow once. Yuriko did it after me, and her parents bowed and clapped with her. Mayuki bowed and clapped with everyone, but you’re only supposed to do it when someone is offering a tamagushi on your behalf, and at the beginning and end of some ceremonies, when you bow once, with the presiding priest.

The kami were then dismissed (don’t want them hanging around the house) with another keihitsu, and the ceremony was over. We are supposed to keep the wooden o-fuda on the kamidana for a year (but I’ll probably hang on to it; I tend not to return the ones associated with significant events), and the paper one for Kojin over the stove. It’s paper, and in a plastic bag, so that you can stick it on the wall without it becoming dirty from oil and grease. The tamagushi should also be kept on the kamidana until we feel that we are properly settled in the new flat, at which point we should return them to the shrine. I have no idea how long that will take, so it’s a good job the priest told us it was no problem if the sakaki dried out.

I don’t know whether it has anything to do with the ceremony, but things are going well in the new flat. Not only did we have three days of good weather for the move itself, but living here is working out as we’d hoped, at least so far.

Shinto Traditions Course — Kasuga

The Japanese academic year starts in April, and with it the Kokugakuin Open College courses also start again. Once again, they are offering a Shinto course, and once again I’m taking it. The number of people taking the course has increased every year, and this year there are over 180 students. The lecture room is about three-quarters full, and they make about 360,000 yen (about $4,000) for every 90 minute lecture. This may not be entirely unconnected with their decision to continue offering the course, although the fact that Professor Okada enjoys giving it is probably also an important factor.

Anyway, this year he chose Shinto traditions as his theme. “Traditions” is the way I have chosen to translate “shinkou”, which would more normally be translated as “cults” or “religions”. However, those have misleading overtones. Shinto encompasses the worship of many different kami, and there are some shrines to kami that are worshipped nowhere else. There are also shrines that are all connected to the same kami, and back to one or two major shrines. A few years ago, Professor Okada led a project to analyse the data for the shrines affiliated with the Organisation of Shinto Shrines, and look at the size and distribution of the various affiliations. For this course, he is planning to spend one lecture on each of the top ten affiliation groups. I’ve decided to call these affiliation groups “traditions”, because that seems to be the least misleading way to describe them.

In fact, he decided not to talk about the tenth largest tradition, that of “mountain kami”. This is because most of the shrines are very small, and they don’t tie back to a central shrine. There may not, in fact, be any unified tradition to talk about, as all the cults may be local. In any case, I suspect that it was also more work than he wanted to put into a single 90-minute lecture, even if it would earn the university $4000. So, instead, he chose to talk about the eleventh tradition, that of Kasuga. Since he is starting at the bottom, and working up to the biggest tradition (Hachiman), this week’s lecture was the one about Kasuga.

The Kasuga tradition is based at Kasuga Shrine in Nara. This shrine is closely connected to the Fujiwara family, who provided the wives of the Emperors for several centuries in the Heian period, and effectively ruled Japan for much of that time, and their patronage and that of Emperors born to Fujiwara mothers is why the shrine is so significant. The prefecture with the largest number of shrines in the Kasuga tradition is Nara, unsurprisingly, but the second highest number is found in Fukui, in southern Tohoku. I suspect that this is because an important branch of the Fujiwara had its headquarters in this area.

Most of the lecture was about the origins of the shrine. That wasn’t the original plan (it was point one of six), but it’s clearly something that interests Professor Okada, so he got a little involved in it. In addition, the origins of the shrine are intrinsically interesting.

In the Engishiki, the early tenth-century collection of court rituals that provides a lot of information on early Shinto, most shrines are referred to as “jinja”. There are a handful of exceptions; Izumo is “taisha”, and Ise, Kashima, and Katori are “jingu”. Kasuga is also an exception. It is referred to as “matsuru kami”, which means “worship the kami”. Why is this?

The kami enshrined at Kasuga are the clan kami of the Fujiwara. These are Amenokoyane, their ancestral kami, who is originally enshrined in Hiraoka shrine in Osaka, Takemikazuchi, enshrined in Kashima Shrine in Ibaraki, Futsunushi, enshrined in Katori Shrine in Chiba, and Himegami, originally thought to be the bride of Amenokoyane. The precise nature of the connection between the Fujiwara and the two shrines in the region just east of Tokyo (Kashima and Katori) is unclear; some stories say that the first Fujiwara, Kamatari, was born in the area. In any case, they greatly revered the kami of those shrines.

In 710, the capital of Japan was moved to Nara, called Heijokyo at the time. (They are celebrating the 1300th anniversary this year.) This moved the Fujiwara away from the shrines to their clan deities, and it is thought that Kasuga Shrine was initially established as a place from which to worship those shrines from afar. A map of the area around Nara survives from 756, and it shows a number of important buildings. On Mt Mikasa, the small mountain on which Kasuga Shrine is built, however, there is no indication of a building. Instead, there is a square marked, with “ground of the kami” written in it. The characters are written so that they are the right way up if you are facing east, which, judging from the characters for surviving buildings, means that the front of the area was in the west. The square is about the same size, and in about the same place, as the current inner sanctum at Kasuga, and so almost certainly indicates its forerunner.

If you are in Nara, Kashima and Katori Shrines are to the east, so if you want to worship them remotely, you should face that way. However, it is very unusual for shrines to face west, and the main sanctuaries at Kasuga (there are four separate ones, one for each kami) do not. This dates back to their original construction, in 768. According to the records, the Emperor Shotoku (the daughter of Emperor Shomu, who built the Great Buddha of Nara, and Empress Komyo, who was a daughter of the Fujiwara) had a divine vision in which she was instructed to construct shrine buildings, facing south. The fact that the records explicitly mention the direction, which is the normal direction for shrines to face, suggests that they didn’t originally face that way.

So, it seems most likely that Kasuga Shrine originated as a sacred enclosure, without buildings, for worshipping the kami of distant shrines.

Professor Okada then moved on to tell us a bit more about the history of the tradition. He was running out of time, so some of these points were covered rather briefly. The first point concerns two of the minor shrines in the precincts of Kasuga Shrine, Verdant Sakaki Shrine and Withered Sakaki Shrine. Sakaki is the evergreen tree that features in most Shinto rituals, and which grows around Kasuga Shrine. But why are there shrines to these two states of the tree?

The forests around Kasuga Shrine are unusual in the present day, as they are virgin forest in the middle of a city. This is because it has been explicitly forbidden to hunt or cut wood in them since 841, and they were probably untouched before that, since they became sacred at the same time as people moved to the area in any significant numbers. Shinto has always valued trees, and shrines still need the permission of the Association of Shinto Shrines to cut down trees in their precincts. However, the trees at Kasuga were particularly important to the shrine.

First, they were thought to warn of the anger of the kami. If the trees on the Kasuga hills became brown and dead, this was a sign that the kami was displeased about something, and had withdrawn from the area. The number of brown trees indicated the severity of his anger, so the exact number was recorded; it could be several thousand. The Fujiwara would then perform ceremonies to placate the kami, and wait for things to improve.

The second point relates to the attempts of the shrine (and the associated Buddhist temple, Kofukuji) to browbeat the government into doing what it wanted. When the shrine was unhappy with the government, it used to send its men (lots of them) to the capital with a sacred tree, threatening the Emperor with divine displeasure. The men would all carry withered sakaki branches, to show that the kami was angry, and they went to the imperial palace to make their demands. If these demands were not met, they threw the withered sakaki branches into the compound, symbolically throwing the kami’s curse in as well. On the other hand, if the government caved in, they would come back with green sakaki, indicating that the kami was happy now.

Professor Okada briefly mentioned the Kasuga Wakamiya On-matsuri. The Wakamiya enshrines the son of Amenokoyane, and the On-matsuri is its big festival. It happens once per year, and was popular with the local people, while the main festival of the main shrine was more of a government event, with official ambassadors from the Emperor (as there still are, in fact). The people would put on performances for the kami, and these performances were very important in the development of Noh. These days, Noh is still performed at the festival. However, the performances do not take place at the normal shrine. Instead, the kami is taken in procession to a temporary shrine, which is built every time, and then returned to the main shrine when the plays are over. However, he must get back within 24 hours, possibly because his father gets annoyed if he stays out too late at parties. (Or possibly because he turns into a pumpkin, although that’s less likely; Professor Okada did compare it to Cinderella, however.) The On-matsuri was first held in 1136, making it old, but significantly younger than the main shrine.

Finally, he talked about the Oracle of the Three Shrines, very briefly. This is a set of three oracles, from Ise, Hachiman, and Kasuga, which became very popular in the middle ages, and remained popular in the early modern period. Each of the three kami extols a particular virtue, and Kasuga extols compassion. Professor Okada provided a modern Japanese translation, as well as the original text, so I can provide an English translation.

Even if you purify yourself for a thousand days, I will not enter a house of malice
Even if you are mourning your father, I must enter a room of compassion

The death of your father is one of the greatest sources of ritual pollution in Shinto, close behind your own death, so the gist of this oracle is that ritual purity is much less important to the kami than compassion.

As the oracle was very important, and both the other kami are going to be covered later, I suspect we may come back to this topic.

This promises to be another extremely interesting course of lectures. I’m really looking forward to it.

We’re In

Yesterday, we moved into our new flat, and we slept here last night. Everywhere is full of boxes, but my computer is set up and working, and I am hopeful that I will be able to get the office clear of boxes before my first student arrives in five hours or so. The rest of the flat will still be a complete tip, of course, but the biggest advantage of the new place is that my students don’t need to see the rest of the flat.

In the end, the move seems to have gone off without any serious problems. Despite snow falling on Saturday, the next days, Sunday and Monday, the days we were moving, had perfect weather. It was dry, warm, and not too windy, without being hot. We could leave things on the balcony to keep them out of the way, and nothing got wet between the two flats. A local electrical goods shop sold us a new heater/cooler, and moved the old ones to the new flat, doing all of it on Sunday and fitting covers over the hoses between the interior and exterior units. Getting that done before the furniture came in was a big help.

The removals company (Kuroneko Yamato) sent people to pack our things up on Sunday, although they didn’t quite finish, so they had to come again on Monday. Then, on Monday, everything was loaded into trucks and unloaded into the new flat. They even managed to get all of my bookshelves into the positions I wanted in the office, which, given that they are double layer and there is about two millimetres clearance over one of them, was quite impressive. Some of the tiny metal cylinders that support the shelves seem to have fallen out at some point, so I hope I still have the ones that were left over. Of course, even if I do have them, I have no idea where I have them.

So, the new flat is now full of boxes. My first student is coming around 11am, so I have to get the office straight before then. One of the big advantages of the new place is that I can teach in the office, so there is no need for students to go into the rest of the flat. That’s just as well, as it’s still going to be full of boxes.

Yuriko’s parents have come up from Nagoya to help, and yesterday they mainly helped by looking after Mayuki all day (Yuriko’s mother also did some cleaning at the old flat). In the evening, when Mayuki came back to the new flat, quite a bit of the furniture was already in, and she was shocked. “That’s not right! Take it back!” she said (roughly, in Japanese). Unsurprisingly, she hadn’t quite understood what “moving house” meant. Still, she calmed down and watched her video, and then went to sleep, so I think she’ll get used to it.

Now I have to get on with putting books on the bookshelves.

All Change

The actual physical move is almost upon us. The removals company will come on Sunday to pack all of our things up, and our air conditioners will be moved on the same day. On Monday, our things will be moved to the new flat, and we’ll hand over the keys to this one to the new owners.

Also next week, or maybe the week after, Yuriko will start her new job, at a kimono rental shop. That will probably mean that the days Mayuki is in day care will change, and the school where she takes her music classes is also likely to change.

Fortunately, my job won’t change much; I’ll just teach my students in the new flat.

All these changes are, of course, keeping me quite busy, and I’ll blame them for the lack of interesting articles on this blog.

Preliminary Training Session

Yesterday, there was a preliminary training session for the eighth Kawasaki Representative Assembly for Foreign Residents. As one of the new representatives, I naturally went along. The session was held in Kawasaki City Hall, in a meeting room on the fifteenth floor, which had quite a good view of the city. There were name badges and name plates for everyone, and great piles of literature in everyone’s place. I’ve not read all of it yet, but I hope I’ll be able to get to it before the first real session.

The training session started off with self-introductions; there are 26 representatives, and this time we have 17 different countries of citizenship (our Canadian is from China, and speaks better Japanese than English), representing every continent apart from Antarctica. Since there are no countries on Antarctica, that’s not really surprising. We then had a talk introducing Kawasaki, and explaining how the assembly works, before the chair of the last assembly told us a bit about it from his experience. Then there was a mock meeting, followed by a chance to chat with some of the other members. The lunch break was also good for that, so I’ve talked for some time with about half of the representatives already. I hope I’ll get chance to do that more over the next two years. We finished up with some messages of encouragement and advice from people who had been on the panel in the past.

The Assembly gets significant support from the city, as it’s established by ordinance. There’s a non-career track employee who works full time on supporting the assembly, gathering information we need, and two career-track employees who, I think, mostly work on supporting it. Having attended quite a lot of meetings last year, I know that the staff do provide a significant amount of information to the assembly, when they are asked for it, but they don’t participate in the discussions except when reporting on what they’ve found, so they really do support the assembly.

About the only thing I learned about the assembly’s procedures yesterday was that individual members are not allowed to submit materials for consideration. All documents submitted to the assembly must be prepared by the secretariat and approved by the chair and vice-chair, to ensure that they maintain neutrality. On the other hand, during the meetings the representatives can say whatever they like, so it’s not as if we’re being censored. (I imagine that people who hadn’t read two annual reports and attended five meetings last year learned more; certainly it seemed to cover all the important points.)

The mock meeting was very useful. We were split into groups of five and, after the initial diffidence, everyone in our group contributed quite enthusiastically to the discussion. We didn’t get sidetracked much, and we had a solid set of opinions to present to the full meeting. That seemed to be true of the other three groups, as well. The people who had been on the assembly in the past sat in on the groups, and they all commented that the discussion had been good, so I think everyone must have contributed. This is a very good sign; it suggests that the discussions over the two years will go well.

The first formal meeting is in two weeks. That’s when we are officially appointed, and elect the chair and vice-chair. Apparently, that will take up just about all of our time. At the second meeting, we decide, in broad terms, what we are going to discuss, and how we are going to organise the assembly; it normally splits into sub-groups, just like in the mock meeting. The real work of the assembly starts from the third meeting.

I’m looking forward to it.

Cherry Blossoms

The cherry blossoms are out in Tokyo. Unfortunately, the weather is really not very good. It’s raining this morning, and the forecast is for it to continue doing so for much of the day. Yesterday was grey, and rather cold. Nevertheless, we went out to see the cherry blossoms.

Mayuki squashing my face in front of blossoming cherry trees

Pay attention, Daddy!

We went to our local graveyard. This may sound a little odd, and Yuriko also thought it was a bit strange, but the graveyard is very big, and has a lot of cherry trees. It’s also a bit hidden, in that you have to go up little roads behind houses to get to it, which means that, despite its location, it’s not as popular as you might think. There were still a lot of people there, but it wasn’t heaving, and while part of that could well have been the weather, I think the main locations in Tokyo would have been packed.

We didn’t have time to go round the whole area, but we did see that there are areas where you can have barbecues, and there were a lot of families having picnics. If your family is from this area, it could be a fun day out for the whole family, including the dead members. In any case, now that we know where it is, it’s likely to be our main cherry blossom spot in future years. At the very least, we’re likely to go there once.

After that, we went to Art Fair Tokyo. This is where Yuriko worked before Mayuki was born, and she’s gone back to work there part-time at the moment, so she had those reasons to go. She also wanted to see the art, and has dreams of being able to buy something at the fair. I’d like to save up so that she can, but the budget won’t permit at the moment. Anyway, my main job was looking after Mayuki, so that Yuriko could look around. I took her round the fair, of course, and she was fascinated by one of the exhibits.

It was an animation of a girl walking up a down escalator. She was climbing at the same speed as the escalator was descending, so the image didn’t change much, but Mayuki was fascinated. She watched it for over ten minutes, even complaining when we tried to take her away.

There’s still a lot to do to get ready to move, and that’s putting pressure on the blog. Maybe there’ll be more time for updates once we have moved.