We have a saying that goes, “暑さ寒さも彼岸まで (Atsusa samusa mo higan made) “, which means that even the most persistent heat or chilly air will subside around Autumn or Spring Equinox. In other words, until around Sept. 20th when the Autumn Equinox comes, the heat of summer lingers on. So imagine, once at last it cools down towards the end of September, how refreshing it feels! We can start sleeping better, and our appetite picks up. We feel like going on a trip, catching up on reading on long nights, or engaging in rigorous exercises.
We have plenty of phrases to describe these changes in Autumn: 食欲の秋 (shokuyoku no aki: Autumn for enjoying food!); スポーツの秋 (supoutsu no aki: Autumn for sports!); 読書の秋(dokusho no aki: Autumn for reading!); 芸術の秋 (geijyutsu no aki: Autumn for appreciating art!), to name a few.
To reflect this, in schools, there is an athletic meeting day (秋の運動会: aki no undoukai). This is a big day when a whole family will come to see their children’s performance. Not only the usual 100m and 200m races and relays, there are many other shows, such as dancing, and other entertainments. For this day, pupils and students practice very hard. As soon as the second term starts on Sept. 1st, many hours will be spent practicing. When I was a child, it was never a fun activity. I remember how hard we had to practice marching. It was just like a military drill! I think I can still march meticulously in five columns!
Another difficult exercise was 組体操 (kumi taisou: coordinated group gymnastics). For this, at each whistle, students climb up on each other like building blocks until the final figure is completed (probably the photos will explain better!). When we managed to complete the last figure, there was huge applause, and we did feel a strong sense of accomplishment. Yes, the hard work had paid off.
But it was not just the hard training I remember about the undokai. I remember very well that I was excited to find my mother’s face in the crowd when we broke for picnic lunch, and how sweet and juicy a 梨 (Nashi: a Japanese pear; it ripens around early September) she peeled for me tasted.
Once an athletic meeting is over, there will be a 文化祭 (bunkasai: Cultural festival) at a later date, usually around mid to late October, mainly for high schools and universities. At universities, it is called 大学祭 (daigakusai: University festival), or 学園祭 (gakuensai) and can be extremely elaborate. Besides many food and shop stalls, which are run by students and various students’ Societies and clubs, there are often concerts and recitals by famous musicians, comedians, and performers. Because of the huge number of visitors, often famous food companies hold stalls at these festivals for promotional purposes. Recently, they have started 学園祭グランプリ(gakuensai grand prix) to decide the best gakuensai among all the universities in the Greater Tokyo Metropolitan Area, so it’s a serious business! Many people check the schedule of gakuensai’s and try to do “gakuensai-hopping”. This is one way of enjoying Tokyo’s Autumn. Would you like to try that next time?
NB: Recently, there have been a few serious accidents in kumitaiso, so a number of schools decided to stop doing it altogether, or to limit the number of layers.
I visited Manchester Zen Dojo in 2012 and created a Youtube video and a blog entry.
This time, I was asked to do an interpretation of a Japanese Zen monk’s lecture at Manchester Zen Dojo. It was very nice to visit there again and see the familiar faces. After the lecture, I had a chance to interview the monk, Kishigami Osho san.
He is a free soul, so he wasn’t hesitant to say whatever he honestly felt. You might disagree with what he says…. Please watch the video and find out!
Have you ever been to Japan during summer? If you have, I’m sure you’d agree that it is unbearably hot and humid! Someone like me who is not athletic can’t even think about moving in the heat. However, one of the most popular sports events in Japan takes place during this mercilessly hot season. It is高校野球 (Koko Yakyu; the baseball tournament for high schools). The proper name is 全国高等学校野球選手権大会 (zenkoku kotogakkou yakyu senshuken taikai! Wow, that’s a mouthful.) It started in 1915, and this year marks the 100th anniversary of Koko Yakyu. The Koshien stadium (甲子園球場), the only stadium used for this tournament, was completed in 1924, nine years after the tournament started.
There are spring and summer tournaments, but the one in summer is by far the more exciting one, because the participating schools need to win through the Prefectural tournament. Only one school per prefecture is allowed (although, for Tokyo and Hokkaido, 2 schools are allowed due to the large number of schools). The tournament usually starts on August 8th, and continues for 2 weeks. When it starts every summer, it is just like Wimbledon; you cannot help noticing that it has started, as it is always on TV whenever you turn it on! And again, just like Wimbledon, when it finally comes to an end with the excitement of the final game, it feels so sad. From the next day, the TV feels like it’s missing something very important.
In Japan, I think it’s safe to say that the most popular sport of all is baseball, not football. So many boys join a baseball club/team during junior high and high school. For those, the Koshien stadium is a dream; only the best teams who survived the Prefectural tournament can participate in Koko Yakyu at the stadium. During the summer tournament, once you lose, you need to go. So, you will often see the team members of the losing team collecting the soil from the baseball field, crying heavily. It is very moving. The boys at Koko Yakyu, unlike professional baseball players, are so pure, so genuine; no money involved, no greed involved, they just do their very best at each game. That’s the beauty of Koko Yakyu, and that’s the reason people will never stop loving it.
When the tournament is over, it is approaching the end of August, and the long school summer holiday is nearing an end. Although it is still hot for a while in Japan, you will notice a subtle change in the air. Autumn is coming.
Have you ever seen the hair ornament that Geisha wear? That is called “Kanzashi” in Japanese.
This time, I found a lady in Lancashire who can make Kanzashi on her own! Please watch the video to find out more about it!
Helena, who was a former curator of Japanese art at the National Museum in Prague, now lives in the UK, near Manchester. I was able to meet up with her when she was holding a small exhibition of her paintings in Stockport. Please watch the video!
I was there on the first day of Manchester Comic Con 2015. As usual, here’s the video. Hope you can find yourself in there!
Let everybody know if you are in the video!
It was about 2 years ago that I was contacted by an Iranian lady, Mahboobeh. She asked me to teach her about Japanese folklore and myth. When I first met her, I was surprised to realize that much stuff she found on internet about Japanese folklore was not correct. I told her about Kojiki, Japan’s oldest history book, created around 700AD, and also the story of Amaterasu, the God of the sun, which is probably the most well-known story in Kojiki in Japan. She was saying that she would like to create a stop-motion anime on it. After that, I didn’t hear from her for a long time and I forgot about it.
Then, about one year later, I heard from her. She said she had created a video on Amaterasu, and that she’d like me to check it. So I did, and after some revision, here is the video!
I have to say, I was very impressed at her hard work creating this, and that she really meant what she had told me.
Later on, I interviewed her on her making of the video. Here is the interview: