Friday, June 17th was the first day of the city sports events in which the sports clubs from the various junior high schools compete for a position in the prefectural competitions. Since there were no lessons, I took the day off.
The Kira mansion was located in Ryogoku, not far from the present-day Ryogoku Sumo Hall, and I saw a few junior wrestlers in and around the station. In fact, the area has a number of historical locations linked to the likes of the renowned artist Hokusai, Katsu Kaishu, the writer Akutagawa, and the man who allegedly invented nigirizushi. (No, seriously!)
Kira’s residence was said to have comprised of some 8400m2 of land, a main building of 1280m2 and a longhouse of 1400 m2. No wonder it took the ronin of Ako over an hour to find Kira.
The “park” is a courtyard of just under 100 m2 of land in what is now a residential block.
Having satisfied myself that I had seen and photographed everything relevant, I headed off towards the Asakusa Line for the trip to Sengakuji.
From Sengakuji Station, it’s a short walk to the temple.
I entered the gate and was subtly pressured into buying a few dozen sticks of incense to place at the graves and cenotaphs. I can think of a better way of spending ¥300. The other issue is that carrying that incense around made taking photographs more difficult.
¥500 gains one admission to the memorial hall. Visitors are shown three short videos, totalling about 15 minutes. (My inner teacher was not impressed with the method of Romanising Japanese used in the videos, and wished that a better speaker of Japanese had been used for the English dub)
There were a few interesting items on display, including pieces of armour, documents from the event, etc., but these had no English description beyond simple names. Photography is not permitted.
The ticket also grants one access to another building where wooden statues of the forty-seven ronin plus Lord Asano and even Kayano, dating from the late 19th century. Again, photography is not permitted.
At around 4 o’clock I was ready to go home.
I can say that the temple is worth visiting, and you should visit the old Kira mansion if you are in Ryogoku.
I can’t believe that it has been a month since my last post.
My encounters with nature have been too few and far between, or at least too difficult to photograph. The pair of soft-shell turtles are sometimes to be seen on my way to work, and I had an encounter with a civet on the way home from aikido the other night.
That actually coincided with the appearance of a snake at work earlier that day.
I thought this could be a photo opportunity…
Can you identify the snake?
Today I decided to go for a walk. I thought maybe some beetles might be out an about in the nearby forest. Unfortunately, the only large insects I saw were some hornets sucking the sap from some oak trees.
Further along, I spotted a slightly unusual flower.
Tell me what kind of flower this is and why this one is unusual in the comments.
After two consecutive years of cancellations due to global pandemics, the 6th Yoshitaka Walk was held this year on May 4th.
I managed to get into a group – the last one to depart – with one of my aikido seniors, which made things a little easier.
The thing about doing a historical walk is that one is unlikely to have many different photos, although I did have a small amount of luck in this respect, as you will see.
This year’s walk, apart from being a revival, also coincides nicely with the NHK historical drama The 13 Lords of the Shogun, which featured Yoshitaka and Ohime (although played by slightly over-aged actors and portraying Yoshitaka as being killed on the way to Kiso and not on the Iruma River, much to the ire of Sayama residents)
The walk takes its participants to the Shimizu Hachiman Shrine, where Yoshitaka was killed. It turns out that a piece of the original grave marker set up under orders from Masako is enshrined there.
They then go to the Kagekakushi Jizo – which is neither the original statue nor at the original location. This part of the story is probably a legend invented in the Edo Era, when the character of Yoshitaka would appear in Kabuki plays as a young man.
The rest of the walk is the closest modern route to what Yoshitaka would have taken to get to Okura. Some people suggest that he may have intended to head to Oshu in the north or to Kiso in modern Nagano, but Okura would have been a likely stopping point in any case.
I almost got a couple of wildlife shots. I spotted a bullfrog on a riverbank, and further on we saw a pair of pheasants. However, photos were not to be.
We stopped for a simple lunch at the Moroyama Historical Hall.
Soon it was time to get moving again.
It’s not every day that one simply stumbles upon an archaeological dig in progress. But this was that day.
Some excavations had revealed that parts of the Kamakura Kaido had been covered with a layer of loose stones. The section at this point in Moroyama was about four metres wide, as opposed to the very narrow track further down. Apparently, similar construction has also been discovered at digs near the Nanamagari well. The widening and rough paving may have been related to the positioning of shrines and temples, or according to the needs and desires of local lords.
We were greeted by some members of the Ranzan History Club just beyond Fuefuki Toge, where Nitta Yoshimune (third son of Nitta Yoshisada) met his decisive defeat, and a large number of human remains were discovered during road construction. I regret only reading up on this later and not getting a photo of the sign marking the area.
Further along we came to the Enkiribashi. “Enkiri” means to renounce, and goes back to a story about the legendary Sakanoue no Tamuramaro. Sakanoue was sent to fight a dragon.
His wife was worried and came to see him. Sakanoue was furious that she had come when he had been sent on an important task and as she waited on the other side of the bridge, he declared that she was no longer his wife.
It is said that it is bad luck for newlyweds to cross the bridge.
From there it was a short walk to Yoshikata’s grave and some marker stones commemorating Yoshinaka and Yoshitaka.
Then it was just a short walk to the old site of Okura to officially finish the walk, then walk another 3 km to the station.
Given it’s nearly two kilometres from home to Tokorozawa station, I can safely say I walked more than 30 km.
My brown frog, which we have had since 2013, has died. I noticed over the last month it seemed listless and was getting thin. A cursory internet search a couple of weeks back suggested that the lifespan for these frogs was three to four years.
The weather has been unstable and on the cool side. I’m dying for just two consecutive days without rain!
May 1st was the Tiger Festival at the Tamon-in. This year is the year of the tiger, which meant the temple’s treasure, a small figure of Bishamon, would be displayed to the public. Although a figure on display for just three hours every twelve years is not quite a once-in-a-lifetime event as, say, Halley’s Comet, finding May 1st landing on a weekend when I’m not busy is almost as uncommon.
I arrived at the temple around 10:30 and found a quiet place behind the neighbouring shrine to park my bike before joining the queue to see the figurine. Silly me.
First of all, there were signs up requesting that people didn’t photograph the figurine. Secondly, I realised that rather than being on display, the treasure would be inside the Bishamon Hall and the doors merely opened. As a result, one could get maybe a tad over three metres from the figurine – which is only 4 cm tall and inside an unlit building – for a few seconds.
I had a better view of Halley’s Comet with the naked eye.
I felt gypped.
The garden of the temple was in peak condition, but I had no desire to stay long as hundreds of people threatened to crowd it. Not to mention that I didn’t trust the weather.
My mistrust was well placed – it started raining around two in the afternoon and didn’t let up until the wee hours of the 2nd.
“Most people love butterflies and hate moth,” he said. “But moths are more interesting – more engaging.”
Thomas Harris, The Silence of the Lambs
Well, today I achieve what I thought would be impossible and make a third post for the month.
Today is a national holiday, and the weather has turned nasty yet again. One is forced to check forecasts every hour since the weather changes so frequently. I just hope 4th is good walking weather.
Yesterday was my day to teach at primary school, and it was there that I looked out a window and spotted a moth not unlike a Tornado fighter-bomber painted in camouflage colours on the outside wall.
I had seen similar moths before, but never in decent lighting conditions.
The moth didn’t appear in my field guide of insects, and matching image searches returned other hawk moth species not found in Japan. Not to be fazed, I switched to a Japanese language search and entered the search terms in Japanese “moth” and “camouflage”.
The moth in question is Callambulyx tatarinovii gabyae , which has no common name in English. The Japanese name is unmonsuzume (雲紋雀).
These moths appear around May (close enough, eh?) from pupae buried in the ground. They have a wingspan of 65 to 80 mm. The patch on the thorax is darker in males than females, so the one I photographed is male. I was surprised that I would get such an accurate identification.
The larvae of these moths prefer zelkova leaves. Zelkova trees tend to be the dominant trees planted in school grounds.
According to my book on larvae, the larval stage is very similar to its close relatives; imagine a green version of this caterpillar with white stripes instead of red false eyes and you would be pretty much on the mark.
Maybe I’ll encounter one someday…
This moth is widespread across Japan, and can also be found in parts of China, Taiwan, the Korean peninsula, and Siberia.
Apart from the change of job location and the associated moving, the rollercoaster temperatures and the recent rain – we just had a run of nine consecutive days in which it rained within a 24-hour period – the things to blog about just aren’t happening.
I went on a walk with the Goat and Y earlier this month along the Tamako jitensha-do, a cycling and walking road from Musashi Sakai to Lake Tama. We ended up walking around 20 km and saw pretty much nothing worth blogging. Great walk, and the weather was glorious, if a bit hot, but nothing worth photographing.
Then I encountered this green lacewing on the car the following Sunday (cool, overcast, and sometimes rainy) The phone camera didn’t like the reflective surface, and so the photo turned out poor. Subsequent attempts to move the insect to a better surface resulted in it flying away.
Then coming home on the 21st, I passed this pair. I was able to get close enough to get a shot with my phone on maximum zoom.
I have encountered these birds before but had never managed to photograph them. They are nervous and will either take flight or, more likely, run into dense bush.
I am talking about, of course, Chinese bamboo partridges.
The Chinese bamboo partridge (Bambusicola thoracicus) is an introduced species. It goes by the Japanese name of kojukei (小綬鶏). The name is said to refer either to a colourful Chinese sash, or to a kind of Chinese pheasant. Please ignore the Wikipedia page that suggests the Japanese name comes from the call.
Chinese bamboo partridges appear to have been introduced as a pet and/or game bird in the early 20th century and evidence points to wild populations prior to 1915.
Actually, there appear to be two subspecies, B. t. thoracicus from southern China and B. t. sonorivox from Taiwan (which was Japanese territory at the time).
These birds grow to about 27 cm in length. It is difficult to tell males from females.
They live in dense brush and bamboo groves. The birds mature at about one year old and breed twice a year between April and June. Seven or eight eggs are laid in a single clutch, and the chicks are raised by both parents.
They are omnivores, feeding on seeds, fruit, worms, spiders, and insects.
They are sometimes considered a nuisance in residential areas because of their loud, raucous calls at night.
Visit this site to hear an excellent quality recording of their call. Some Japanese people call these birds the “police bird” because the call sounds like “chotto koi” (“come here”), but I think these people are trying too hard. (Much like talking dogs and cats)
Someday I hope to be equipped with a proper camera and good zoom lens when I come across these birds again.
We are in April, which means the start of a new academic year. I have changed schools, which meant having to say goodbye to so many wonderful students. (I admit to being a bit chuffed when some of the kids started crying). My eldest starts university. Busy times indeed.
This morning I was sweeping out the entrance when I spotted a small, attractively patterned spider. A jumping spider, to be more accurate. I decided to see if I couldn’t get a photo with the macro camera on my phone.
I wondered how accurately I would be able to identify the spider; there are somewhere in the neighbourhood of 600 genera and 6000 species of jumping spider around the world, and 105 species known in Japan. It wasn’t in my field guide of wildlife of Saitama.
Luckily, this particular specimen was a male of perhaps the most widespread of all the jumping spiders, Hasarius adansoni, Adanson’s house jumper, and so was easily identifiable on the Internet.
Adanson’s house jumper is found in warm climates throughout the world, probably being unintentionally spread by humans. They are typically found in and around human habitations.
If nothing else, I was pleased to be able to get some decent photos and to learn the name of another spider.
Avid readers may remember a few years ago I posted an entry on Japanese mermaids, and mentioned both how certain temples claimed to own mummified mermaids, and that mermaids were manufactured for sale to Europe and North America as well as local sideshows.
Well, some scientists have taken interest in one such “relic”.
KURASHIKI, Okayama Prefecture—A “mermaid mummy” kept at a temple has been an object of worship, the stuff of nightmares and a source of mystery for hundreds of years.
Now, for the first time, a project has started to scientifically analyze the mummified creature, which has the upper body of a human and the lower body of a fish.
The researchers from the Kurashiki University of Science and the Arts here and other organizations plan to announce their findings around autumn.
On Feb. 2, Kozen Kuida, 60, chief priest at Enjuin temple in Asakuchi in the prefecture, removed the 30-centimeter-long treasured specimen from a paulownia box in the CT scanning room of the university’s veterinary hospital.
Laying face up on an examination table, the mummy appeared to be locked in a scream while holding its hands to its mouth. In addition to nails and teeth, the mummy has hair on its head and scales on the lower body.
According to a note contained in the same box of the “dried mermaid,” the creature was caught in a fishing net on the coast of Tosa Province (present-day Kochi Prefecture) between 1736 and 1741.
The Kojima family in Bingo-Fukuyama Province bought the mummy before it was passed on to other owners after the turn of the Meiji Era (1868-1912).
How Enjuin temple acquired the mummy is also a mystery.
It was put on display in a glass case for public viewing about 40 years ago. But it is now kept in a fireproof safe to prevent deterioration, Kuida said.
Hiroshi Kinoshita, 54, a board member of the Okayama Folklore Society, came up with the project after coming across a photo of the mummy while reading materials left by Kiyoaki Sato (1905-1998), a natural historian from Satosho in the prefecture.
Sato is believed to have written Japan’s first encyclopedia on “yokai” ghouls, hobgoblins and other supernatural creatures of Japanese folklore.
After learning that the mermaid mummy was housed at Enjuin, Kinoshita sounded out officials at the temple and the university to conduct the research, he said.
Mermaid mummies have also been reportedly used as objects of worship at Mount Koyasan in Wakayama Prefecture and on Amami-Oshima island in Kagoshima Prefecture.
According to Kinoshita, one of them has the upper body of a monkey and the lower body of a salmon.
Takafumi Kato, 54, a professor at the university specializing in paleontology, is in charge of the morphology analysis of the upper body of the Enjuin temple specimen. It will be his first research on a mythical creature.
He intends to examine the antiseptic treatment of the well-preserved mummy.
An associate professor specializing in ichthyology is focusing on the lower body, while another associate professor with expertise in molecular biology is carrying out a DNA analysis.
Kinoshita is analyzing the relic from the standpoint of folklore studies.
The Kurashiki Museum of Natural History, which served as an intermediary between Enjuin and the university, is providing support for the project.
Kuida likens the mermaid mummy to Amabie, a folklore monster believed to have the power to fend off plagues.
“We have worshipped it, hoping that it would help alleviate the coronavirus pandemic even if only slightly,” the head priest said. “I hope the research project can leave (scientific) records for future generations.”
Interestingly, a Japanese language version of the article put out by the Yomiuri Shimbun quotes the head priest as saying that he would be quite happy if “it all remains a mystery”. I am not at all surprised by this – a fake mermaid is likely to see a drop in visitors to the temple.
The commentary in the video suggests that the findings will be published this coming autumn. My money is on it being a monkey and a fish glued or stitched together.
Taking leave of my friend in Kurobane, I started for the Murder Stone, so called because it killed birds and insects that approached it.
Matsuo Basho, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
(Penguin Classics translation by Nobuyuki Yuasa)
I can hardly believe that this is only my third post for the year. Trust me, you don’t want to know the reasons. I almost wrote something after taking advantage of some utterly glorious weather on February 27th, but had no photos worth publishing – suffice to say that mobile phone cameras are no match for pygmy woodpeckers…
Then something was shared with me by an old work acquaintance. It’s very recent news and fits well within the parameters of this blog, plus give me the chance to debunk some misconceptions.
Emperor Toba (who was a real historical character) was deeply in love with one of his courtesans / concubines, a beautiful and intelligent woman known as Tamamo-no-mae.
Toba, however, became sick and weak. Eventually, an onmyoji was called in and revealed that Tamamo was in fact a kyubinokitsune, a nine-tailed fox spirit. The fox spirit escaped.
However, in the following months and years, reports came to the court of women disappearing in the Nasu Plains area, clearly the work of the fox spirit. Toba sent a military force to deal with the problem, but it was defeated by Tamomo’s magic.
The leaders regrouped, practicing their archery on dogs before deciding they were fully prepared for another battle. This time they were successful, with Miura-no-suke hitting the fox spirit with two arrows and Kazusa-no-suke cutting the body in two with his sword.
The body of the fox became a rock, known as sesshoseki (殺生石) – literally “life killing rock”, also known as the “Murder Stone” or sometimes “Slaughter Stone” – which spewed poison into the air, until the priest Genno broke the rock, and its pieces were scattered across Japan.
Naturally, there are variations of this story, and there are a number of rocks around Japan known as sesshoseki, but one in Nasu, Tochigi, lays particular claim to being the sesshoseki. Popular legend has that touching the stone would be fatal.
Returning to Basho, he said of his visit:
The Slaughter Stone was in a mountain niche where there was a hot spring. The stone’s poisonous vapors were as yet unspent, and bees and moths lay dead all around in such heaps that one could not see the color of the sand beneath.
(Dorothy Britten translation)
The rock is located in a volcanic area which releases sulphurous gases into the air, and it would not be hard to imagine the concentration of toxic fumes sometimes causing insects and birds to suffocate and die.
殺生 means to kill without mercy or pity, so I would agree with the translation of “Killing Stone” used below rather than either of the popular translations of Basho used above.
So, how does this old legend relate to current news?
Japan’s ‘killing stone’ splits in two, releasing superstitions amid the sulphur springs
Legend has it there is an evil spirit trapped in the Sessho-seki stone, so what happens now that the stone is broken?
Tamamo-no-mae is confronted by a warrior as she turned into an evil fox with nine tails in this woodblock art by Yashima Gakutei. The ‘killing stone’ said to contain her body in Japan has split. Photograph: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. H. O. Havemeyer Collection
Predictions of dark forces being unleashed by an evil vixen hung over social media in Japan on Monday after a famous volcanic rock said to kill anyone who comes into contact with it was found split in two.
According to the mythology surrounding the Sessho-seki, or killing stone, the object contains the transformed corpse of Tamamo-no-Mae, a beautiful woman who had been part of a secret plot hatched by a feudal warlord to kill Emperor Toba, who reigned from 1107-1123.
Legend has it that her true identity was an evil nine-tailed fox whose spirit is embedded in the hunk of lava, located in an area of Tochigi prefecture, near Tokyo, famous for its sulphurous hot springs.
Its separation into two roughly equal parts, believed to have occurred within the past few days, has spooked online users who noted that, according to folklore, the stone continually spews poisonous gas – hence its name.
While the stone was said to have been destroyed, and its spirit exorcised by a Buddhist monk who scattered its pieces across Japan, many Japanese prefer to believe that its home is on the slopes of Mount Nasu.
Visitors to the area, a popular sightseeing spot, recoiled in horror at the weekend after witnesses posted photos of the fractured stone, a length of rope that had been secured around its circumference lying on the ground.
“I feel like I’ve seen something that shouldn’t be seen,” one Twitter user said in a post that has attracted almost 170,000 likes.
While others speculated that the demon spirit of Tamamo-no-Mae had been resurrected after almost 1,000 years, local media said cracks had appeared in the rock several years ago, possibly allowing rainwater to seep inside and weaken its structure.
The stone, which was registered as a local historical site in 1957, was mentioned in Matsuo Basho’s seminal work The Narrow Road to the Deep North, and has inspired a Noh play, a novel and an anime film.
Masaharu Sugawara, the head of a local volunteer guide group, told the Yomiuri Shimbun it was a “shame” the stone had split because it was a symbol of the area, but agreed that nature had simply taken its course.
Local and national government officials will meet to discuss the stone’s fate, according to the Shimotsuke Shimbun. The newspaper quoted a Nasu tourism official as saying he would like to see the Sessho-seki restored to its original form – presumably with its demonic inhabitant sealed within.
The most common legends hold that the rock is in fact the body of the fox spirit, not that the spirit is imprisoned inside the rock. I doubt that the rock breaking is going to release anything evil or dangerous upon the earth. We have plenty of those already anyway.
I regret not being able to see the rock before it broke.
Sorry it has been more than a month since I could bring myself to sit down and write a blog entry. I’ll spare you the gory details, suffice to say it involves a combination of nasty wintry weather, a suspected kidney infection, and stupid stuff happening at work.
Media coverage of anything relevant is almost zero at this point, largely thanks to Japan’s obsession with the Winter Olympics and the wins they feel entitled to. Not to mention any wins being repeated over and over for days on end, instant replays of studio reactions, reports of what the women’s curling team had for snack time…
Then this popped up in my news feed.
COVID-19 face mask recovered from sea turtle caught off Japan coast
A disposable mask has been found in the feces of a juvenile green sea turtle caught off Japan’s northeastern coast, a study by a team of Japanese researchers recently showed, raising concerns that plastic debris related to COVID-19 is contaminating the marine ecosystem.
While sea turtles have been known to accidentally ingest plastics for some time, no face mask had been found during the 15-year survey of the region prior to the pandemic, according to the team from the Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology and the University of Tokyo.
Reports of disposable masks entering the ocean have increased in coastal areas around the world since the outbreak of the coronavirus.
In the paper published in the Marine Pollution Bulletin earlier this month, the team also confirmed that commercially available masks contain stabilizers to prevent plastic from deteriorating due to ultraviolet rays. The additives are considered to be endocrine disruptors, meaning they can interfere with hormonal systems of organisms.
The juvenile green turtle was caught alive in a set net off Iwate Prefecture in August 2021, and is currently being kept in captivity.
The item later confirmed to be a nonwoven polypropylene mask was found in its feces by Takuya Fukuoka, a researcher at the Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology.
Hideshige Takada, a professor at the same university who was also involved in the study, said the findings suggest that marine life is being exposed to chemical substances through the accidental ingestion of plastic debris.
With the use of masks and other personal protective equipment likely to continue for some time, “We need to take measures such as ensuring appropriate waste management and changing additives,” he said.
I will ignore the blatantly obvious and not comment on the mask other to say that of course masks will end up in the oceans. Humans can’t be trusted with anything.
Instead, I want to look at a couple of other points. The photo was taken over six months ago. Why is this news only now? (Since this is a Kyodo article, the Mainichi also ran it at the same time https://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20220210/p2g/00m/0li/002000c). Six months ago, Japan was riding a peak of Covid-19 infections – although barely half of today’s numbers. Since that time, the authorities have been encouraging us to use disposable masks instead of reusable cloth or polyurethane – which I was typically using at that time – due to their relative lack of effectiveness against transmission.
My other reaction to the article comes from the wording found in the Mainichi version which slightly different from the Japan Times version:
The juvenile green turtle was caught alive in a set net off Iwate Prefecture in August 2021, and is currently being kept in captivity. (Japan Times)
The juvenile green turtle was by-caught alive in a set net off Iwate Prefecture in August 2021, and is currently being kept in captivity. (Mainichi, emphasis mine)
How many turtles are caught in set nets off Japanese waters, and how many of them don’t survive? Are these reported? I also wonder how many are caught alive and then released but are in a weakened state and die soon afterwards.
Another article that raises more questions than it addresses.