May 14, 2010

Manners at Shinto shrines

1. Torii (gate)
Stand in the front of the Torii gate and make a 90-degree bow. If you have a hat or cap, you should take it off.

2. Sandou (gravel path to the main building)
Try to avoid walking in the center of the Sando way. We Japanese believe the center of the way is for the kami-sama (god). However, it is not a must for you to do. Actually, I never minded myself until now.

3. Mitarashi (washing hand hut)
Before meeting the kami-sama, you have to make your body pure at the Mitarashi.
Ladle water with your right hand and wash your left hand. Switch the ladle to your left hand and wash your right hand. Then pour some of the remaining water in your mouth with your left hand. Attention: do not touch your lips to the ladle. Put the mouth of the ladle just under your lip. After, spit the water in the basin at your feet or ditch and NOT in the place where you got the water from. This is sure to get your thrown out of the country. Finally, wash your left hand again and replace the ladle standing up letting the water run along the length of the ladle from mouth to handle. We Japanese believe that this cleanses the whole thing.

4. Oinori (praying or wishing to the god)
There are many ways to do this in Japan. It is dependent on the particular shrine or religions. There is usually a sign telling you what to do since there are a countless number of shrines and temples here. I will tell you the basic way.
First throw your offering in the box. You might not get your wish from borrowed money!
Make two bows, clap your hands loudly twice (to get the god’s attention) and make a final single bow.
My grandfather followed Izumo-Taisha (one of the oldest shrine in Japan). He would clap 4 times. I follow my grandpa’s way. Please feel free to do the same if you like.

5. Omikuji (paper fortunes)
Now is your chance to see what your future holds. There is usually a box with sticks. First pay the fee. Then shake the box until the stick comes out. Tell the priest or priestess what number is written on the stick and they will give you your fortune. Some shrines are self-service so you will have to find your fortune from a set of drawers. After you are done reading it, you can fold it up and tie it on one of the ropes or trees nearby specifically for this purpose. If it is a good one, you can take it home with you. Bad ones are usually tied at the shrine for the god to think about.

There are many food stalls along the Sando. However, you should not buy or eat anything before finishing Oinori. Since you must have finished, you can now buy and eat anything you please on your way out of the shrine.

6. Torii (gate)
Before leaving, turn to main building and make a bow again.

Apr 3, 2010


Matcha has been drunk in Japan for over 800 years. Matcha is made from the dried leaves of the tea plant. But, matcha is different from other teas. Matcha is made by grinding the tea leaves into a fine powder. Other teas are the distillation of tea essence from the leaves, leaving the leaves in the teapot unused. Matcha uses the whole of tea leaves leaving nothing behind. It is very unique.

How to serve matcha:
Using a bamboo spoon, put the matcha powder into a tea bowl. Afterwards, using a bamboo ladle, add hot water into the bowl. Then, using a bamboo whisk, whisk the contents quickly. It is very simple. However, there are many methods, styles and deep meanings to go with them. For example, I mentioned that all the tools are made from bamboo. I think there is some special meaning for why everything must be bamboo.

Matcha is made using the first leaves of the season and only the highest quality leaves. Those leaves are picked by hand with care. The leaves and plants are covered by sheets to prevent sun from shining directly on them. Covered tea plants grow slower than others and don’t dry out as fast. This generates a rich flavor. The growing method is the same with sencha, another high quality Japanese tea.

Matcha is a healthier drink than regular tea, because it contains much more caffeine, tannin, polyphenol, catechine and vitamins.

The contents and the flavor are very distinct when matched with other foods. Matcha desserts are especially famous. You must know green tea ice cream. I know of many other desserts in Japan using matcha: chocolates, cakes, cookies, candies, soy bean paste and wagashi(traditional Japanese sweets). I also know of matcha-salt which is used for tempura.

Feb 16, 2010

Tokoname teapot burning

Gray Hidasuki

Kokudei Inka

I went to tabletop show 2010 spring in Nagoya city on Jan 13th in order to get new items. I could meet a potter who is Teruyuki in Tokoname and asked about processing the Tokoname teapot. I have gotten some his special works in the show. He has been providing new styles and models of teapots for the show. They are not for regular items.

This time I got two types. One is Gray Hidasuki. The other is Kokudei Inka.

The Gray Hidasuki teapot was burned three times. The first burning was kept 650 degree-C and made Hidasuki patterns. Hidasuki was made by straw burning on the teapot surface. Second burning was 1200 degree-C with oxidation atmosphere. The process made white color on the surface. The third burning was 1200 degree-C with deoxidization atmosphere. It made gray color surface.

Kokudei Inka teapot was burned a couple times. The first burning was 600 degree-C. After that he painted outside with red and green color. The second burning was 1150 degree-C.

Jan 21, 2010

Chopsticks & Fish


Japanese have loved eating fish since the Stone Age. This is probably because Japan is surrounded by the sea on all sides. I think Japanese eat fish more than Chinese do. You know, we Japanese have learned much culture from China & Korea. Some examples: Kanji (Chinese character), rice cropping, pottery, iron work, building styles, etc. Chopsticks also came from China. However, the shape is different. Chinese chopsticks have a square shape with a uniform width. Japanese chopsticks taper from one side to the other. This shape was developed in Japan. It is understood from history that this modification comes from eating fish in the Edo period (the 18th -19th century). Fish that live near the coast are small and have many small bones. It is hard to separate meat from bone with wide chopsticks.

I used to work in a steel plant in North Carolina. Like Japanese and unlike Chinese and Koreans, Americans also do not normally eat fish with the head still attached. Japanese do eat small fish like sardines whole. I could get my hands on some fish with head in Atlanta, Georgia. Specifically, I could get the fish I especially love, shishamo (a saltwater smelt) which is 6” long 1” wide that still has fish eggs in its belly. It can be eaten whole, head and all. My wife would cook the fish for my lunch box. When I ate it, my friends and coworkers would leave my table. They thought I was crazy for eating the whole fish! My dad eats inago, a locust, a kind of grasshopper. It has very bitter taste, and when I ate it in childhood I thought he was crazy too!

Jan 7, 2010

Shiro ( Japanese castle) Vol. 7 Pine plants

Pine plants
There are pine plants around stone walls and moat. These plants are full of sharp thorns and only the foolhardy would try to cross them. The plants are also very dense so they are difficult to cut and even if burned they retain their strength.

Dec 11, 2009

Shiro ( Japanese castle) Vol. 6 Wells

Water is also very important for defense and in case the castle was sieged. There were 33 wells in Himeji castle. 13 wells are left in the present time. One of the deepest wells is 100 feet deep. You can see from the numbers how important wells were to the castle.

Nov 21, 2009

Shiro ( Japanese castle) Vol. 5 Inside of the castle


Stairs in entrance

Door that covers the stairs

Storage for weapons

Storage for guns and lances

Inside of the castle
There are also some interesting devices in the castle. There are small stairs just inside the main front door. There is a door that covers the top of all stairs to prevent entry by attackers. All the stairways are built in the same style. The 2nd and 3rd floors have storage for weapons and also hidden storage spaces for when visitors would come to the castle.

Nov 14, 2009

Shiro ( Japanese castle) Vol. 4 Drop roof (murder hole)

Drop roof (murder hole)

Castles and gates feature drop roofs. There are also larger ones located on the outer corners of the castle. Defenders would drop stones, hot water and hot oil when enemies attempted to climb the stone wall.

Nov 7, 2009

Shiro ( Japanese castle) Vol. 3 Shooting Hole

on the wall (outside)

on the wall (inside)

In the castle

on the gate (inside)

on the gate (outside)

Shooting Hole

The walls also feature defenses. The walls and castle buildings have round and triangular shaped holes. These holes are used for shooting arrows and guns. The holes taper down in width from the inside to outside. This allows for more flexible aim from the inside and presents a smaller target from the outside.

Oct 24, 2009

Shiro ( Japanese castle) Vol. 2 Gate

1st gate with moat (outside)

Gate "Hishi" (outside)

Gate "Hishi" (inside)

Gate "I" (outside)

Gate "I" (inside)

Gate "Nu" (outside)

Gate "Nu" (inside)

The last gate (door of the castle)

Castle Gates

There are 21 gates in the castle area. There were 84 gates in the past. Attacking enemies would have to pass through more than 10 gates from the outer area of the moat before reaching the main building. The outside of the gate area are widened and shaped in an L-pattern. Enemies would have to pass the inner part of the L to reach the gate, but they would be attacked from all sides from the safety of high arrow-slits on the walls and murder holes where rocks or liquid could be dropped on them.Some gates feature another type of defense.

Some gates (gate Nu) have stone stairs and stone walls that slope down towards the gate on the inside. If enemies reached the front of the gate, defenders could break the stone stairs and put the stones behind the doors of the gate. This way the enemies could not breach the gate easily. The only way to pass the gate would be to break the door down first and then remove the stones. In this time the defenders could continue shooting them from above the gate.