Jazz Concert at a Buddhist Temple

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saikoji1     A Jazz concert at a TEMPLE?

     I was very surprised to hear from the deputy head priest of Saikoji Temple in Toyohashi that he was organizing a Jazz concert at the temple, but decided right away to join it because it is rare to have opportunities to listen to Jazz music at temples in Japan. saikoji2

   Incidentally, Saikoji Temple is famous in Mikawa area for an event called Tori-no-ichi. Tori-no-ichi’s literal meaning is the Rooster Fair and a market selling lucky charms for business, especially decorative rakes called Kumade. Actually, the day before the concert was Tori-no-ichi. So, a big Kumade rake was displayed at the temple.

     The concert was held on November 23rd. I was very surprised again when I entered the temple because the room was packed with little children. saikoji3

     This is the right place, isn’t it?

     A Jazz concert was certainly held at the temple. It started solemnly with the priest’s greeting to the audience under gorgeous golden decorations. It was a concert indeed, but it was different from others I have experienced. saikoji6

     First of all, there were no seats in the room. The audience could sit down on the floor anywhere they liked. Actually, they did not need to sit down. If they wanted to stand up, they could. Secondly, they were able to do anything they liked, for example, dancing, running around, and even making sounds! So many of the children were holding something to make a sound, such as maracas made from milk cartons, percussion instruments made from empty boxes, or rolled-up newspaper. Actually, I did not know until that day that the purpose of the concert was to cultivate children’s artistic expression.saikoji5

      The musicians were Minoru Yoshiki, the bassist, Noriyuki “Knocky” Nakahashi, the pianist, and Syuji Mori, the tenor saxophonist. Once the music began, the children got excited and started to express their feelings freely. Some clapped their hands, some ran around, some hit the floor with rolled-up newspaper, and some played their handmade instruments. I think this freedom of expression was because children are not bound or fixed by rules. But meanwhile, adults like me are limited by many restrictions. I would need gallons of alcohol if I needed to let my real self out…saikoji4

     Interestingly, the bassist and the saxophonist moved around in the room while playing, though, keyboardist could not move around. The concert had no separation between the stage and the audience, but had a free atmosphere. I had a great time at the temple!

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Nagoya Castle’s Castle Gates and Watch Towers 2: Watch Towers

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     1403058_10152815111282356_7611750469628211205_o “I said JUST eleven!” Professor Miura said, looking at Chris from the corner of his eyes again.

     Professor Miura is a specialist in castle architecture at Hiroshima University. Chris Glenn, the famous radio DJ and samurai expert in Japan, was interviewing him about Nagoya Castle’s gates and watch towers. It was November 15th and I was attending the lecture. 1513753_10152815111457356_992569869806058203_n

     The number eleven, Professor Miura mentioned, indicates the number of watch towers in Nagoya Castle. Watch towers were the buildings for looking out, the strongpoints of defense, and arsenals before the Meiji Era (1868).

     “I said JUST eleven!” Professor Miura said again. The whole room was filled with giggling. You know the reason if you have read my former article (Nagoya Castle’s Castle Gates and Watch Towers 1: Death Box). Actually, almost the same thing had happened a few minutes previously when he mentioned the number of castle gates in Nagoya Castle. He said “I said JUST six!” at that time.

     10155448_10152815111777356_721926655084910360_n “Why did you say JUST eleven?” Chris asked him, rolling his eyes. Professor Miura nodded approvingly and said, “There were more than 80 watch towers in Hiroshima Castle and Okayama Castle. Kumamoto Castle and Himeji Castle had over 100 watch towers! Therefore, the number of watch towers in Nagoya Castle was extremely small.”

     Actually, two more watch towers were planned to be built in Nagoya Castle. But Osaka Castle, which was the enemy’s stronghold, fell in 1614 before all the watch towers were completed. That newfound victory is why the foundations for those watch towers remain unbuilt-on.

     Interestingly, the designs of the watch towers in Nagoya Castle are all different. Their size, style, shapes of roofs and windows and everything are diverse. Professor Miura gave a funny example to illustrate this uniqueness. “Imagine all the fighters in the Japan Self-Defense Force are different.” Oh, I see…1939566_10152815111937356_3404223952661816583_n

     One big difference between Nagoya Castle’s watch towers and those of other castles except for its diversity is their largeness. Each tower is as big as other castle’s main buildings (donjon). After the lecture, the participants had a rare opportunity to tour one of the watch towers. It is called Seihoku-Sumi-Yagura, and used to be the main tower of Kiyosu Castle, which was the castle of Oda Nobunaga, one of the most powerful feudal lords in the Age of Provincial War (the 16th century). That is why the watch tower is also called Kiyosu Yagura.

     10430362_10152815111882356_7696285545257231049_n Kiyosu Castle was demolished and its main tower was reconstructed as one of the watch towers in Nagoya Castle at the beginning of the 17th century, when Nagoya Castle was built. I do not know the reason but the present main tower of Kiyosu Castle is a replica of Inuyama Castle’s main tower…

     Although the number of watch towers is very small, the scale is more impressive than other castles due to the capacity of Nagoya Castle’s watch towers. Moreover, Nagoya Castle had a series of huge roved corridors which surround the main enclosure of the castle. It was called Tamon-Yagura and was also a gigantic store-room for weapons and armor. The width of the corridors was about six meters and the dimensions were equal to more than 300 watch towers from other castles. Unfortunately, this has not been rebuilt yet after it was burnt down by air raids during the Second World War. 1618320_10152815112082356_4570931935487098778_o

     I wrote in my previous article that enemies could not enter through the castle gates or other places. The reason is the existence of this huge series of corridors. It was impossible to break into the main enclosure of the castle through the strongest gates and the roofed huge corridors at that time. Actually, the corridors had a disconnected fireproof compartment, and the idea of fire protection was introduced to castle architecture for the first time in Japan. Not only its military preparedness but also the concept shows that Nagoya Castle was the most advanced architecture in Japan in the 17th century.

   10257195_10152815112942356_8133282589992585861_o   Professor Miura shouted, “Nagoya Castle should be rebuilt to its original style including Tamon-Yagura! It is Nagoya City’s duty!” Yeah! I would like to see the beautiful appearance of Nagoya Castle with the legendary Tamon-Yagura!

Nagoya Castle’s Castle Gates and Watch Towers 1: Death Box

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     1506169_10152815110842356_4771654284456702730_o  “I said just six.” Professor Miura said that with a sidelong glance at Chris. “I said JUST six.” He repeated.  

     It was November 15th. I was attending a lecture on Nagoya Castle. The lecturer was Professor Miura of Hiroshima University. He is a specialist of Japanese castle architecture. The MC was Chris Glenn, who is famous as a radio DJ and samurai expert in Japan. This lecture’s theme was the gates and watch towers of Nagoya Castle. 10714011_10152815110922356_443045128408129985_o

     “Okay…what does JUST six mean?” Chris noticed that Professor Miura had repeated the phrase and asked him. Professor Miura started explaining it with satisfaction…

     “As I said, there are JUST six castle gates in Nagoya Castle. This number is very small. For example, Himeji Castle has 19 gates. Why does Nagoya Castle have such a small number of gates? Because it didn’t need so many gates due to each one’s strength, such as Masugata-Mon Gate.”

     “Oh, yes. Death Box…” Chris nodded.

     1658130_10152815111102356_1262957222292603576_o Masugata-Mon is a box-shaped gate. Once enemies entered the box, they would be shot to death by ambushing guards. No one could either move through or return alive from the gate. That is why Chris called the gate “Death Box.”

     The present main gate of Nagoya Castle, which was rebuilt after the World War II, is a replica of the gate called Fujimi-Yagura from Edo Castle. But the original one was a “Death Box.” So Professor Miura was shouting, “That gate is not a part of our castle! We should rebuild the gate to its original appearance!” Yeah, he is always passionate about Nagoya Castle… 10688258_10152815111187356_6083034233513872565_o

     The other gates were also strong. The gate called Omote-Nino-Mon is also known as Kurogane-Mon, which means “iron gate.” It was made from iron just as the name suggests and was about 21 centimeters thick, protecting against not only bullets but also cannon balls in the Edo period. Ninomaru-Ote-Nino-Mon is a gate with a big roof. This type of gate is called Korai-Mon. Korai-Mon were excellent at preserving the construction materials against deterioration because of the weather and its unique shape was to allowed archers to shot arrows.

      Therefore, the reason there were only six gates in Nagoya Castle, is each gate was much stronger than the other castles’ gates. But you might think, “But enemies can enter the castle from other places.” Actually, they could not. I’ll write about that next time.

The Halloween Party @ Miro in 2014: You can come here naked!

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10599324_10152783291912356_2190151069188427448_n     Everyone was surprised when I answered, “A bakery nearby.” Do you know what they asked?

     “Will you take part in a Halloween party this year?”Screenshot_2014-11-06-14-45-24
     “Yeah.”
     “Where are you going?”
     “Miro.”
     “What is it? A restaurant?”
     “No, a bakery nearby.”
     “A Halloween party at a bakery?!”

     Actually, Miro, the bakery holds a Halloween party every year, and I have attended them without fail so far. I was a witch last year. And this year I disguised myself as Maleficent! But I am not as slim as Angelina Jolie. So I had to wear thick shadow on my cheeks! Anyway, I went to the bakery in my hand-made costume this year, too. I look forward to meeting old friends and new people there every year. 1010118_386691044826667_3445927870504971979_n

     However, Kon-chan, a friend of mine, LINEd me with a sticker, which was a crying man: I might not be able to come this year! I was sad because I had expected to meet him. When I told other participants about Kon-chan’s absence, they were also sorry. We wanted to hear from him what had happened with his girl friend afterwards… What a shame!10712932_10152783291082356_1687141319878098156_n

     Enjoying food with my friends, I suddenly noticed that Girasol had not come to the party yet. He is also a regular participant. He performed with his light saber last year…It was a few minutes past eight. I texted him with a photo I had taken at the party.1507919_386690168160088_107494918271858174_n

“Hello! Aren’t you coming this year?”
“What?! Is the party on now?!
“You didn’t know? OMG!”
“I didn’t know that! Or I should say I didn’t notice that, maybe…”
“Can you come?”
“Well…I’ll arrive there around 9:30…I don’t know whether I can stay there for an hour if I come…What shall I do?”10462975_10152783291167356_907277443039235109_n
“Does it take you 90 minutes to come here?”
“It’ll take an hour, but I’ve just started taking a shower…”
“Finish having a shower right now! You can come here naked!”
“Oh, no! I can’t do that!”
“Don’t answer me! Leave home soon!”
“RGR!”10387397_10152783296997356_2977014414126460750_n

     After a while, the baker came to the counter with a big pot, shouting “Donabe cake!” Donabe means earthen pots, which are not used for baking cake usually…How big! I asked her if they still had some food, mentioning Girasol was coming soon, “He didn’t know about this party.” She was very surprised and assured me, “Okay, I’ll prepare some food for him, then!”1012923_10152783291557356_7221395947877148033_n

     While we were enjoying the cake, Girasol showed up. Soon the baker appeared with some food and a “Snoopy” cap. She put many dishes on the table before him and the cap on his head, saying “Welcome!” with a big smile. What a wonderful reunion! Last time I met most of the participants was one year ago. But it was very easy for us to close the gap. I was very happy to talk with many people over delicious food this year, too!

Walking with a stray child: Excuse me…Where’s Nanami?

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“Excuse me…” a little girl stopped to talk to me. I was walking to a grocery store. She looked up at me and kept on. “Where’s Nanami?” I was confused and asked her, “Sorry, I don’t know about Nanami. Who’s Nanami? Your friend?” But she did not reply to my questions. She was just staring at me. Then I thought, “Oh, God! Again!

Somehow I sometimes pick up lost or unconscious people when I am walking. Interestingly, I am always alone and cannot find anyone to ask for help when I find them. That is why I feel like I am being tested by God like a pop quiz at school.

When I found an old man who could not move in the street several years ago, I was almost mistaken for a scammer or something by his family! He was hospitalized at that time and got lost while walking outside of the hospital. He turned at the wrong corner and kept on walking more than two hours. He was far away from the hospital. I offered him to tell the hospital about this situation, but he asked me to call his family instead. So, I phoned the number he gave me and tried to explain what was happening to his family. But the voice on the other end of the line was cold. “My father is in hospital now!” she said that and hung up. I told the old man that his family did not believe me and phoned the hospital, where staff was looking for him, of course. I caught a cab for him…A few days later, his family visited me with a lot of sweets!

So, this little girl looked lost. I crouched down and talked to her. “What’s your name?” But she did not say her name. “Do you live near here?” She tilted the head and said, “I don’t know.” I changed questions. “Are you a first grader?” She nodded. “Which is your school?” She said, “K Elementary School.” Oh, she answered precisely for the first time! The school was near the place. “Okay, then, let’s go to your school. You might find Nanami there. (And your teachers know about you!)” She nodded and started walking with me. What if I were a psychopath?!

Actually, there was a terrible murder case last month in Kobe. A first-grader-girl was killed by a 47-year-old man. The girl had promised with a friend of hers to play together after school, but she could not meet her friend. When she was walking alone, she was spoken to by the criminal. According to the news, the murderer invited her to his apartment, saying, “You’re very cute. Why don’t you become a model for my painting?” Taking the victim to his apartment, the perpetrator killed and mutilated her…

Walking with her, I tried to know her name and get other info. But she was incoherent. Without knowing her name, we got to a pedestrian bridge, on which we were able to see her school. “Look! That’s your school. Now, do you know where you are?” She seemed to be confused. She just said, “Where’s someone’s house?” I was at a total loss. “Someone’s house? Well…Who?” Both of us were puzzling now. “Anyway, let’s go to your school.” I said that and started walking, but she did not move. We were just in front of the grocer store where I was going to. I decided to ask for help there.

“Where are we going?” She asked me anxiously. “To the service counter.” I replied with a smile and entered the shop. She soon came running to me and said, “Do you buy me something?” I laughed and replied, “Ha ha, no. But we’ll find someone who can help us here.”

“Help me.” I whispered to a clerk at the service counter. There were three clerks behind the desk. They looked from me and to the girl. “This girl seems to be lost. I couldn’t get her name, but she seems to be a pupil at K Elementary School. I found her outside of this shop, not inside. But could you help me to find someone who knows her, please?” They said, “Of course!” in chorus. Two of them crouched down and started to talk to her immediately. I was relieved watching the exchange between the girl and the staff members for a while. It seemed that there was nothing for me to do. So, I asked one of them, “Can I go shopping? I’ll leave my name and phone number just in case you call the police.” “Okay. Take your time!” She said with a smile.

After buying some food, I went back to the service counter. One of them realized and came to me. I could not find the girl anywhere around the desk. “What happened?” I asked. “Oh, I was about to call you. Soon after that, her mother appeared and took her home. According to the mother, they don’t live around here.” I do not know how her mother found out that she was in the store, but I was relieved to hear that she met her mother anyway. “You know, we had that horrible murder case in Kobe last month. So, she was lucky because she found me!” “Exactly!” She laughed nodding. By the way, what is the girl’s name?

Coffee lovers: She drew the curtain on her life with her favorite coffee.

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コーヒー     “Thank you for your kindness to my mother while she was alive. I really appreciate it.” The man bowed down deeply. I was very shocked to hear the news that Mrs. Shinoda suddenly had passed away. He was her son.

     The third Sunday morning is the cleaning day in my neighborhood. It is a kind of volunteer activity and local residents clean around their houses, for example, gathering fallen leaves, and empty cans, bottles, and cigarette butts. After the cleanup, there is a brief meeting, in which the residents get new info, such as a fire drill, the local art festival, the sport meet, and so on. So, we received the sad new about the death of one of our neighbors last Sunday morning.

     Of course, not only me but also others were shocked to hear of Mrs. Shinoda’s sudden death. But the news had a special meaning for me. She and I had a curious coincidence, which goes back over ten years…

     My short essay appeared in the Chunichi, a local news paper some while ago. Actually, I do not remember exactly what I wrote at that time, but it was about coffee. A few days after the article was in the paper, I received an envelope from the newspaper company. When I opened it, I found another envelope. It was a letter from a reader, Mrs. Kawade in Showa-ku. She said that she also loved coffee and was impressed by my story…She and I have been pen pals since then.

     We have tried to meet each other a few times, but our rendezvous is always disrupted by something. One day I received an interesting letter from her. It said, “I believe that Mrs. Shinoda is one of your neighbors. Actually, she and I are friends!” My apartment is on the fifth floor and The Shinodas’ is on the first floor in the same building. I was surprised and went to see Mrs. Shinoda right away. She also loved coffee, and we became friends. Since then, we always said, “Let’s meet Mrs. Kawade together someday!” But we cannot achieve it…

     She was a terminal cancer patient. So, she was not able to go out by herself lately and often asked me to buy some coffee beans. I used to deliver what she asked at her room. But one day her daughter visited me with some money. She told me unexpected things. She said, “How much should I pay you?” First, I could not understand what she meant and replied, “Excuse me, but what do you mean?” She thought that her mother had not paid for the coffee beans. According to her, her mother’s dementia was progressing. So, she and her brother did not give money to their mother. But they found many bags of coffee beans in their mother’s room and asked her how she got them. Then they knew about my existence.

     Actually, I did not notice Mrs. Shinoda’s dementia. Whenever I thought she bought too much coffee beans, I asked why. She always replied, “Oh, many of my friends visited me last week. So, the coffee I bought the other day has gone. And I’m going to have them this week again. I need lots of coffee!” I kept on believing her words. Besides, she always paid me correctly. When I told her daughter about that, she was nodding and said, “Yeah, she used to live that way. Probably, she believes those past experiences are happening now. I’m wondering where she’s hiding her money…” Anyway, I apologized and promised her not to buy anything if her mother asked me. That was a few weeks ago. Since then I had not seen Mrs. Shinoda…

     On the cleaning day, not only Mrs. Shinoda’s son but also her daughter was there. So, I extended my condolences to her. According to her, soon after her visit to my apartment, her mother’s condition got worse and she was hospitalized. Her mother could not eat or drink anything a few days before she passed away. But when she asked her mother, “Do you want to have some coffee, Mother?” Mrs. Shinoda smiled, nodding, and then sipped coffee before she was gone. “My mother died as if she fell asleep. She no longer needs to suffer from any pains. She drew the curtain on her life with her favorite coffee. She was lucky. Thank you for your kindness.” She said that and smiled.

     “You still have lots of coffee at your mother’s apartment. I’ll buy them if you like.” I offered. But Mrs. Shinoda’s daughter said with a big smile, “Thank you, but you don’t need it. All of my family love coffee! They’ll be gone soon!” Mrs. Shinoda’s passing was a blow for me, but her deathbed episode was relieving for me. I’m going to offer incense sticks of coffee aroma to her grave…

The Tai Chi Training Camp in Toyohashi 2014: Congratulations, Satchan!

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1926730_599608880160996_25541487563107799_n-a     “Satchan!” I called out my friend’s name when I found her in the hotel’s lobby. She was sitting with her teacher. Where was I? I was in a hotel in Toyohashi to attend a Tai Chi training camp, which was held on October 4 and 5. Satchan was there to take a test for becoming a shihan( Tai Chi master.)

     The Tai Chi training camp is held every October. I’ve joined it since I was a beginner and this was probably the seventh time for me. The participants practice Tai Chi together and learn theory with some actual movements. In addition, there is an examination for becoming a Tai Chi master. Actually, not everyone can take the test. Test-takers have to fulfill all the conditions: having already the pre-master certification and five years further after taking it, a membership of Tokyo head office and a recommendation letter from their teachers. It takes at least ten years to qualify for taking the test after starting to do Tai Chi. DSCF0741-a

     Satchan met all the conditions. That was great! Actually, there were more than 80 people who were going to take the test this time! Wow! Mr. Kawamura was also included. He and I are learning from the same teacher. So, I came to the place not only to practice Tai Chi and meet my friends but also to cheer him at the test this time. DSCF0746

     Actually, I did not know that Satchan was going to take the test there until I found her at the hotel. I had thought she would take it at another opportunity in Tokyo because she had not mentioned anything about her participation. It might be because she and I are not “Tai Chi” friends. We are “English” friends. I mean, we got to know each other through English classes. I did not even know she was also doing Tai Chi when I started. That is why, we seldom talk about Tai Chi when we meet. Interestingly it was the first time for us to see each other in uniform, which is originally for karate but is our school’s (Yang Ming-Shi Simplified 24-Form Tai Chi) official costume. DSCF0771

     The test-takers were divided into two groups. Satchan and Mr. Kawamura were in the  latter group. Besides they were standing next to each other. So It was lucky for me because I was able to take photos of them once. All the examinees looked nervous before their names were called, but once the test started, interestingly the audience seemed to be more nervous than the performers. Fortunately, all of the candidates passed the test. Congratulations!