Saturday, January 21, 2006


Remember the “space sake” project I posted about last year? Here’s an update, if you are interested. See this entry on a local sake brewery's blog. (Sorry, Japanese only. And it's our local dialect, not standard Japanese. But the photos give you an idea of what's going on, I think.) The fermentation was started last December at 18(?) breweries in Kochi.

The photos on the entry show their work at one of those breweries. The brown liquids in flasks are culture solutions containing the yeast that experienced a space travel (with Gregory Olsen ;)). The reason why there are two flasks is that they are using two types of yeast: high ethyl-caproate producing yeast and high isoamyl-acetate producing yeast. Those are the two leading esters used to give fruity aroma to ginjo-shu.

The first uchu-shu (space sake) is going to be launched in April, 2006, and I’m sure I’ll be in trouble then. Eighteen brands of space sake with different tastes. Yeah, you know how greedy I am… I'm tempted to try all of them to see the difference! I really hope that they sell this special sake in small-sized bottles, too.
posted by obachan, 1/21/2006 09:41:00 PM | link | 1 comments |

Tuesday, January 17, 2006


It has been eleven years since that dark, cold morning. Today, for the first time in the eleven years, I didn’t go to the park to light a candle on the morning of January 17th. It is not that I finally forgot about the Great Hanshin Awaji Earthquake. Honestly, after moving back to Kochi, it got harder every year for me to feel the emotional distance between the people in Kochi – who did not actually experience “that morning” – and me at the candle-light memorial service in Chuo Koen. So I decided to send a prayer alone in my room from this year on.

Just a few minutes before 5:46 AM this morning, I lit a candle. This “can badge” was something they made (for a fundraising purpose, I guess) in Hyogo pref. a few years after the earthquake. I felt like taking it out this morning. Also I bought a white sweet pea like I did every year for my personal ritual.

Some of you readers might have noticed that I haven’t updated my “A Frozen Clock” blog for about a year after a few entries. Of course it is NOT because I finished writing everything I wanted to. I just couldn’t go on. Writing about the initial fears was not so difficult. But what hurt me the most in that earthquake was "people factors," and it was much harder to put them into words. In that chaos after that earthquake, I experienced real anger or rage for the first time in my life, and ten or eleven years is not enough to erase it. No, I don’t think that kind of anger can ever be “erased” like it didn’t happen at all —it can only be “processed” so that I can move forward from there, and that was the biggest reason why I started that blog.

We are expecting a major earthquake and tsunami to hit Kochi in the near future. It is said that most of the residential areas will sink under the water, leaving the top of Kochi castle only showing above the water at least for certain period of time. That’s part of the reason why I’m trying to introduce our life in Kochi on my blogs this way… I want to leave it in the cyberspace before it is destroyed. By the same token, I wanted to leave in the cyberspace a description of a woman’s ugly struggles to “process” the anger…because I thought some people might feel related to it. It’s harder than I had thought, but I guess I’ll probably work on it little by little. After all, I’m trying to see the task as the reason why I survived that earthquake while so many – too many – people with more talents, bright futures, dreams and hopes just had to die around me then.

When I was interviewed by a local media person at the candle-light service in Kochi a few years back, the word spontaneously came from inside was “I don’t want to see the same thing ever again.” But what do I want to see changed? What can be changed anyway? Maybe I’m not the only one who spent the eleven years haunted by these questions...

Added Jan. 20, 2006 11:39 AM

Please take a look at all these candles. (Scroll down and see all of them, please. The Chinese characters written on the bamboo tubes mean things like "life," "hope," "remrembrance" and "bond between people." Sorry, my translation may not be conveying the true meaning of the original Japanese words...)
My candle is a part of them.

I was trained in Western psychology, and I would like to tell the whole world that we are not lighting candles every year on January 17th just because we are all stuck in a certain point of grief process. To me, we are lighting the candles for the sake of a continuum that is very future-oriented.

I can’t speak for everybody, but I light a candle to affirm ourselves. I light a candle to remember and accept how scared, brave, heroic, sad, coward, ugly, self-centered, immature, loving, generous and angry --- just how human we were. I light a candle to remember that we did survive in the past, and will survive in the future, too, and keep telling the world that we can. I light a candle to remember the lesson we had to learn through such a great loss. I light a candle to support all the efforts to go on the grief process, and share the courage and strength to let it take as long as it needs to take. I light a candle to support and care about the people dealing with the issues that get harder as time goes by. Those include things from talking about unresolved issues from the earthquake to getting financial supports for earthquake-related projects. I light a candle to trust that we can remember and make things better in the future. I light a candle to remind myself how precious life is and ask myself how fully I'm living my life. I light a candle for hope and to be able to keep hoping.

If the candles were blown out, we will light them again. And again and again. Even if people stop having those memorial events in various places, we’ll keep lighting the candles IN OUR HEARTS.
posted by obachan, 1/17/2006 11:05:00 PM | link | 8 comments |

Monday, January 16, 2006

Momote-sai Festival in Yasu

Many of our traditional ceremonies held at Shinto shrines are highly ritualized and often performed very seriously. The audience is usually supposed to keep quiet while the ritual is being performed in front of the god(s). The atmosphere of the Momote-sai (百手祭), a festival held last Sunday in a town called Yasu, however, was so friendly that I believe all the visitors there felt really at home.

Perhaps the friendly atmosphere had something to do with the fact that I saw only the 2nd day of the festival, not the 1st. Momote-sai is a traditional bow-shooting festival which is celebrated in several places in Japan. In Yasu town, the festival is held every year in January on the second “day of the hare and day of the dragon” of ancient Chinese calendar, and most of the formal rituals are performed on the day-1. This year, those two days fell on the 14th and the 15th, so the formal part was finished on Saturday.

According to several websites, Momote-sai has started in Yasu more than 400 years ago. There are several different stories about the origin of the festival, but the most popular one holds that it started to praise a hero who shot to kill a monstrous beast called “ushioni (cow-shaped ogure?)” that had been causing troubles there. The events on day-1 include the ceremonies of distributing bows to the twelve shooters, drinking “sacred sake” and bow-shooting, all performed by the participants in formal traditional costumes. They say that shooters used to cleanse their bodies in the ocean the day before the festival, but that part of the ritual is not observed any more.

The shooters are supposed to shoot more than 1200 times in total of two days. On the day-2, the shooters just continue shooting, in less formal traditional costumes, to complete the required number of shots, and that was what I saw on Sunday.

I think it was past 10 am when I got to Nishiyama hachimangu shrine after asking a few people directions at the convenience store near JR Yasu station. I loved walking on the tree-lined path leading from the gateway to the main shrine. At the shrine, the shooting was already started.

This was the target. It is said that a Chinese Character, “鬼(ogure)” is drawn in the center of the target first, then painted over to have the concentric circles drawn on the surface. So the shooters are considered to be shooting the ogure, just like their ancient hero did.

The shooters were shooting from the east end of the shrine to the target located in the west.

As I was watching the ceremony, an elder man came to me to give me a nice hot ameyu (sweet ginger drink) in a small paper cup. Then a few other elder men told me one after another, "Hey, come! Have a potato!" and led me to this place :)

Yes. They were baking bunch of sweet potatoes, and looked like taking care of those potatoes was a very important work.They offered visitors baked sweet potatoes one after another, and I got an amazingly big one. When I found that it wasn’t done inside, they told me to bury it in the ash. The atmosphere was so laid back and everyone, including the audience, was joking around all the time.

The friendly man who was taking care of the potatoes told me some detailes of the ceremony. According to him, the distance betw. the target and the shooters was apx. 20 meters. The fence surrounding the target was built about 10 years ago because when there was no fence, an arrow that missed the target hit a neighbor’s house. He also told me how difficult it is every year to secure 12 shooters. Not many young people are interested in the festival, and if someone in a shooter’s family or extended family dies, the shooter cannot join the ceremony until the next year. (We say here that you are not supposed to participate in Shinto-related activities until the mourning period is over.)

There used to be male shooters only, but the first female shooter joined this festival in 2002, according to him. It is probably true that people in Kochi are more open about having female in male-dominant fields, but I guess the lack of successors is undoubtedly playing a big role there, just like in many other underpopulated areas. At my parents’ house in my hometown, I’ve done some rituals in my childhood that women were not supposed to do, because I have no male siblings. ;P

He also told me that some of the shooters belonged to Japanese archery clubs at school when young, but most of the clubs do not exist any more. When they were desperately short of hands, he said, they taught a total beginner how to shoot just for this festival and had him practice at the shrine every day for certain period of time before the festival.

The man sitting in the chair was in charge of hitting a big empty oil can every time there was a good hit. The people taking care of this festival friendlily teased the shooters like “Hey, we haven’t heard the sound of the can for a long time, ” or “You guys aren't drunk enough, huh?” Right beside the shooter’s hut, kids were cheering, “Go for it, dad!” And some shooters were drinking sake in the back row when it wasn't their turn to shoot.

After a certain number of shots, the target was changed to a fan with a character “鬼(ogure)” written in the red circle in the center. When an arrow hit between the spines of the fan, we all clapped and cheered!

And there came a smaller wooden plate with “鬼(ogure)” written in the center. Everyone thought that it’d be a while before someone would have a good shot, so all the photographers there including myself were totally unprepared when an arrow suddenly hit and cracked the target! We were too excited and most of us forgot about photo-taking.

Finally they used daidai orange hung with a string as the target. All the photographers incl. myself held our breath this time to get the shot of the very moment of an arrow piercing the orange. The friendly festival staff (elder men) brought things one after another like a chair, big woodpiece or empty oil can so that the photographers could put cameras on. They said to us “Hey, don’t miss the shot this time!” and joked to the shooters “Maybe you have a better luck if we swing the orange?” It was so funny. Unfortunately no one hit the orange target, though one shot was really close and we all thought that the feather part touched the orange, but it wasn't counted as a hit.

BTW, last year at every festival I visited, I always saw more than one middle-aged (often much older than I) female photographers with professional-looking big cameras. I often wondered if it was the policy of the media in Kochi to hire predominantly female photographers or if there are more free-lance female photographers in Kochi than other prefectures. At this Momote-sai, the relaxed atmosphere made it easier for the photographers to socialize and I found that some of them were amateurs who love local traditional festivals so much and have their websites to upload the festival photos.

One of the 12 shooters told his daughter to pose for us.

Daddy told me to hold this thing and stand here, but how long do I have to do this???

Then an elder lady came to pray to the god. We (the amateur photographers) thought it would be a good picture, but as soon as she sat there to pray, the shooters started changing clothes in the background! :O It was so hilarious!! We ended up with shots of a religious elder lady with middle-aged guys in underwear in the background … We all laughed so hard.

Countless omikuji (paper fortunes) were tied to trees at the shrine.

Maybe because the bow-shooting performance is more athletic in nature and continues for as long as two days at this festival, both participants and onlookers were so relaxed. But that may not be the only reason for the friendly atmosphere of Momote-sai in Yasu. The history says that when Lord Yamanouchi came to rule this district in the feudal era, he tried to discontinue many of the community-based traditions, but the people in Yasu argued that they had to continue this Momote-sai and finally won a permission from the new lord. It must have been something really brave to do at that time, and I think that shows how much this festival is loved in this small town. I really like this kind of story.

Feeling so warm inside (not only from the hot ameyu and yakiimo) I left the shrine.
There was one camellia tree in full bloom on the roadside.

I walked back to the station, but didn’t feel like going straight home, so I had a snack in the beachiside park called “Ya-shii park.”

It was so nice and refreshing to see the ocean and families playing on the beach.
posted by obachan, 1/16/2006 01:19:00 PM | link | 0 comments |

Monday, January 09, 2006


As I wrote in my last post, this year I’m going to do the things I’ve always been wanting to do. Hence, another project. My room is in a great chaos right now. Why? Because I’m working on saving my favorite music on cassette tapes to a file on my PC. Here in my room, a good deal of space in one corner has been occupied by a huge dusty carton box full of old cassette tapes, which has been pretty annoying. So I finally decided to do something about it.

Now all my cassette tapes are scattered all over the floor, the songs on the tapes are being saved as MP3 files on the “digital audio player” (yay! :D) I bought today, and eventually copied to a music file on my PC. After saving the files on PC, I’m going to delete most of the files from the digital audio player to leave only my real faves there. This new device doesn’t have much memory, but it’s so small and amazingly light… just perfect for keeping in a pocket to listen to my favorite music as I do cleaning/washing or go walking.

Oh… listening to those 80s and 90s songs hit me with nostalgia… and the music I recorded in the U.S. from local radio stations (SL100 and Power108)!! I’m almost crying… Really.

Anyway, when I finish this project, I’m going to throw away all these cassette tapes and get rid of that dirty carton box! Woooooooooooooooooooooo, I can’t wait!!
posted by obachan, 1/09/2006 09:52:00 AM | link | 0 comments |

Tuesday, January 03, 2006


Happy New Year!

The year 2006 had a rather rough start for me. I’m resting now with cold compress on my right leg and I have to leave for the izakaya work again in a few hours. Ahhhh…. Hope it’s not going to be too busy tonight.

Thank goodness! It wasn't too busy at the izakaya. But tomorrow my daytime work will start...

I’m thinking about taking my mom to an onsen (hot spring) sometime this winter. She never asks me to take her, but she always talks about her “dream plan” of staying for a couple of days at a small, cosy inn with nice hot spring, without having to do any cleaning, washing and cooking.

From my past experiences with her, I’m almost sure that on the 2nd day she would start feeling guilty for not doing any household tasks and also start saying that the food she is used to eating in her hometown is the best for her. You know those people. ;) But I guess she wants to have a stimulating experience. My real plan actually is forcing her to go to the hospital to have her feet examined in exchange for this onsen stay. She’s been complaining about the pain in her right foot for the longest time but never sees a doctor. You know those people. ;)

This year I’m going to do the things “I’ve always been wanting to do” as much as possible. In 2005 I set the basis for that. This year I'm going to go one step forward.
posted by obachan, 1/03/2006 04:07:00 PM | link | 6 comments |