Thursday, September 20, 2012

Obon holidays

From 12th to 15th August, hubby and I visited my father-in-law and several other relatives in Ichinomiya city during Obon festival. Obon is an annual Buddhist event to commemorate our ancestors. It is believed that each year during Obon, the spirits of ancestors return to this world in order to visit their relatives. Traditionally, lanterns are hung in front of houses to welcome the spirits of ancestors, graves are visited, and food offerings are made at family altars. At the end of Obon, floating lanterns are put into rivers, lakes, and seas so that the spirits can return back into their world. The customs followed vary considerably from region to region. Obon is celebrated from 13th to 15th August every year.

Hubby and I reached Ichinomiya city late in the evening on 12th August. Next day, hubby went to play golf with his father. I just relaxed and did nothing much the entire morning. In the afternoon, hubby’s sister, her two daughters, and I visited a nearby local temple. At about 5 pm, hubby and my father-in-law returned back after playing golf. Later in the evening, we all had dinner at a local Sushi restaurant.
Dinner with relatives

All happy and chatting

On the morning of 14th August, hubby, my father-in-law, and I visited the home of my father-in-law’s eldest brother who also lives in Ichinomiya city. It is the main ancestral home of ‘Nagata family’. There is an exotic family altar at this home, where father-in-law prayed to welcome the souls of his late parents and all the ancestors. Hubby and I recited Sutras from a sacred book and prayed at the altar. Every year in mid August, we visit this ancestral home. During each visit I look forward to seeing the photos of hubby’s late grandparents because hubby resembles both his grandparents a lot. The home is full of many antiques and unique artistic objects. These antiques are so amazingly wonderful that I can keep looking at them forever and ever. We had a nice time chatting with hubby’s eldest uncle and his wife over snacks and cups of green tea.
Family altar at the home of the eldest uncle of hubby

Father-in-law praying to welcome the souls of ancestors

Hubby reciting Sutras

Hubby standing next to the photos of his grandparents

Many artistic objects on shelves

Hubby sitting next to a polar bear rug

Afterwards hubby and I visited my mother-in-law’s grave located in the same city, and offered our prayers. Hubby cleaned the gravestone with water, offered flowers, and lit some candles and incense sticks.
Hubby cleaning his mother’s grave

Hubby arranging flowers at his mother’s grave

Hubby seems to be talking to his mother

Whenever we visit Ichinomiya city, we stay at my father-in-law’s home. But this time, we stayed at a hotel as the home was going to be demolished in the next few days and a new home will be built at the same location. The present structure is a traditional Japanese home built using lot of wood and is 40 years old. Hubby and his sister grew up at this home, and hubby wished to see the home one last time before being demolished. So in the afternoon of 14th August, we visited the home. We saw that almost everything was removed from inside the home and only a few things remained. Hubby looked around in the garden and remembered playing baseball with his cousins in childhood. Hubby, my father-in-law, and an uncle of hubby got busy determining the color scheme of the roof and exterior walls for the new home. Next, hubby went to his room at the second floor and was shocked to see it almost empty. Later, we went to the first floor living room where hubby started looking very carefully at something written on the wall. He showed me the marked up living room wall chart showing his and his sister’s growing heights in their childhood. Nostalgic childhood memories made hubby a bit sad as he remembered his late mother marking up his height with a pencil on the wall. Afterwards we went to the family altar room. The altar had already been removed. However a musical instrument named Koto was still there in this room, and hubby played it for some time. Later he helped his father in removing the ceiling lights from all the rooms. We stayed at the home for about an hour.
Entrance gate of father-in-law’s home

Traditional Japanese style home looks so elegant. Sofa, massage chair, and other furniture kept in the garden were to be thrown.

The garden in front of the home

Hubby, his father, and uncle engaged in a serious discussion

Choosing the color of the tiles for the new home

Hubby in his room at the second floor of the home

Hubby walking down the steps that connects his second floor room to the first floor

Living room at the first floor

Another view of the living room

Hubby looking at something written on the wall of the living room

Marked up living room wall chart showing hubby’s growing height as a child

Yet another pencil marked wall chart in the living room

Hubby playing Koto in the family altar room

Hubby helping his father in removing the ceiling lights

About two weeks after hubby and I returned back to Akita, my father-in-law made a phone call and told us that his home was demolished on 21st August. He sent us two photos of the ground where the home was located. It is a bit shocking to see the photos as everything is removed and nothing remains at the location. However, we are happy for the future and waiting to see a brand new home probably by the beginning of next year.
My father-in-law sent us this photo after demolition of the old house

Nothing remains. We are waiting for the new home.

As I wrote earlier in this post, my sister-in-law, her daughters, and I visited a local temple on August 13th. I will write about this temple visit in the next post.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Inakadate rice field artwork

As I wrote in the previous post, on 15th July hubby and I visited Cape Omazaki in Aomori prefecture. That night we stayed at a hotel in Aomori City. The next morning we went to see rice field artwork in Inakadate Village. Inakadate village is located in Minamitsugaru district of Aomori prefecture. The tradition of rice field artwork began in 1993 as a way to revitalize the village. The artwork has brought fame and well earned reputation to the village, and every year more than 150000 visitors travel to see the fabulous creations. Huge displays of rice field artwork are created by farmers using differently colored rice plant varieties and arranging the plants in precise and strategic manner in the paddy fields. In the first nine years, the farmers grew a simple design of Mount Iwaki every year. But in 2005, a complicated and enormous rice field artwork was created using green, yellow and purple colored rice plants. It should be mentioned that yellow and purple rice plant varieties are common in this area since Edo period. A year later, the planning went high-tech and organizers used computers to precisely plot the planting of differently colored rice varieties. The artwork has evolved into a sophisticated form with increasing addition of diverse colored rice plant varieties and improved techniques for intricate designs. With the assistance of Aomori Prefectural Industrial Technology Research Center (homepage in Japanese), genetically engineered rice plants in red color became available in 2006, white in 2008, and dark green and orange in 2011. So this year, all the seven rice plant varieties with differently colored leaves have been used to create high quality, sharp, and prefect artwork. This year, two different rice field artworks have been created, namely Daiichi Tambo Art and Daini Tambo Art.

Inakadate Village is located about 43 kilometers southwest of Aomori City and it took us about 50 minutes to reach there by our car. First we went to see the artwork at Daiichi Tambo Art field located behind the Village Hall. This is the usual rice field where artwork is created every year. The artwork is not visible from ground level. So the Village Hall has been built up into a mock-castle structure 22 meters high, and visitors climb up to the observation deck of the mock-castle to get a perfect view of the artwork. The present high level of sophistication and perfection in the rice field artwork has been achieved due the 2003 artwork subject ‘Mona Lisa’ that marked a major turning point. When seen from the observation deck of the mock-castle, the famous smile of ‘Mona Lisa’ was disproportionately small. Since then, the rice field artworks have been created so as to look perfect from the observation deck, with the section farthest away made deliberately larger and the nearest smaller. Until last year, entering the mock-castle to view the artwork was free. But from this year, visitors have to pay 200 Yen as admission fee to go to the observation deck of the mock-castle to help finance the 5 million yen project.
A portion of the mock-castle tower is seen at Inakadate Village Hall. The observation deck is marked by a red arrow. The artwork field is at the backside.

This year in late May, about 1200 volunteers and villagers planted seven different varieties of rice saplings in a pair of paddy fields called Daiichi Tambo adjacent to the Village Hall. The farmers and villagers create the artwork by planting local green-leafed Tsugaru roman rice variety along with yellow-leafed, purple-leafed, red-leafed, white-leafed, dark-green-leafed, and orange-leafed rice plants to create the colored patterns. The artwork covers 15000 square meters of rice field. Each year a different design is on show. This year, enormous stunning pictures of the goddess of mercy Hibo Kannon and the god of fire and wisdom Fudo Myoo are created. This artwork can be enjoyed until 29th September this year.
Seven rice plant varieties with differently colored leaves have been used to create the artwork

The villagers of Inakadate create artwork by using rice paddies as their canvas and living plants as their paint and brush. On reaching the observation deck of the mock-castle, we looked down and saw a public foot bath called ashiyu where many visitors relaxed by plunging their feet in to the hot water. In front of us on the left side, we saw an extraordinary artwork of the Buddhist goddess of mercy named Hibo Kannon. The artwork shows an affectionate female form of Kannon with a baby nearby looking up at the Kannon. The loving and compassionate facial expressions of Hibo Kannon could be seen so clearly from the observation deck. On the right side of us, we saw another wonderful artwork named Fudo Myoo. Fudo Myoo is a personification of Dainichi Nyorai, and the best known of the Myoo guardian deities, who are venerated especially by the Shingon sect of Esoteric Buddhism. Fudo Myoo converts anger into salvation and is depicted as having a furious glaring face. The deity carries kurikara or devil-subduing sword in his right hand and holds rope in left hand to catch and bind up demons. The artwork of Fudo Myoo looked so real and the angry expressions could be clearly seen from the observation deck. We loved seeing the Daiichi Tambo artwork very much as it was very sophisticated, amazing, and fantastic.
Many visitors relaxing at a public foot bath near Tambo Art field

Hibo Kannon and Fudo Myoo

Goddess of mercy Hibo Kannon

Hibo Kannon and a baby nearby

Compassionate facial expressions of Hibo Kannon

Fudo Myoo and the village in the background

God of fire and wisdom Fudo Myoo

Angry facial expressions of Fudo Myoo

Next we went to see Daini Tambo Art field, which is located just five minutes drive away by car from Inakadate Village Hall. This rice field artwork has been started from this year, and the Tambo Art field is located at Yayoi no Sato Inakadate Roadside Station. During our drive as we neared the artwork field, we saw an observatory tower and many farmers working in the field. The observatory tower is a newly built very simple structure but it definitely serves its purpose well. Visitors have to pay 200 Yen as admission fee to go to the observation deck of the observatory to view the rice field artwork. However, we had already purchased special discounted tickets at the mock-castle of the Village Hall where we paid an admission fee of 300 Yen per person to view both the Tambo Art fields. While climbing up the stairs of the observatory, we saw many display panels and photographs of the rice field artwork from the last several years. I was very happy to see a photo of the artwork that we had visited in 2009. From the observation deck, we looked down and saw that the farmers working in the field looked so tiny as compared to the artwork. We could clearly see all the seven rice plant varieties with differently colored leaves in the field.
Observation deck (marked by a red arrow) of the observatory tower along with the Tambo Art field in the foreground

I am standing next to the photo of the rice field artwork of 2009

I am standing at the observation deck of the tower. Rice field artwork is partly seen in the background.

Farmers working in the artwork field where all the seven rice plant varieties with differently colored leaves can be seen

From the observation deck, we got a perfect view of the enormous stunning artwork named Shichifukujin. Shichifukujin are the seven deities of good fortune in Japanese mythology and folklore. These seven lucky gods are Ebisu, Daikokuten, Bishamonten, Benzaiten, Fukurokuju, Hotei, and Jurojin. These gods travel together in a dragon-headed treasure boat named Takarabune and visit human ports on New Year's Eve to dispense happiness to believers. Recently I came to know that Daikokuten, Bishamonten, and Benzaiten gods have Hindu religion equivalents named Shiva, Vishnu, and Saraswati, respectively. The rice field artwork of Shichifukujin on a treasure boat looked amazing and sophisticated. Looking down from the observation deck, to our right we saw another enormous artwork of an anime named super robot Mazinger Z. We loved viewing the rice field artwork at Daini Tambo also. This artwork can be enjoyed until 8th October this year.
Portion of the rice field artwork to our left where the dragon head of Takarabune is fully seen

Portion of the rice field artwork right in front of us where Shichifukujin gods travelling on Takarabune is seen

Portion of the artwork to our right where the backside of Takarabune and super robot Mazinger Z is seen

View to our extreme right where the artwork Mazinger Z is seen along with Yayoi no Sato Roadside Station

Enlarged view of the seven lucky gods

Enlarged view of five gods of the Shichifukujin group

Enlarged view of three gods of the Shichifukujin group, of which one god is seen in the previous photo also

Enlarged view of Mazinger Z

Hubby and Shichifukujin

We loved viewing the rice field artwork at Daiichi and Daini Tambo Art fields in Inakadate Village. From Inakadate, it took us about 3.5 hours of car ride to return back home. We had a fun filled and memorable three day sightseeing trip.