Japan, an elemental puzzle

A week has passed since I wrote my first post. Over that period I have come across many expressions of the elements in Japan. The following ten brief examples, all experienced in the last seven days while in Kameoka, Japan, illustrate some of the diverse pieces in the puzzle that constitute Elemental Japan. The exciting challenge will be piecing them together into an engaging story that adds value to the voluminous material available on Japan. As my introductory post noted, I feel that it is a story waiting to be told.

  1. The wind has been the focus of events in Hamamatsu on the south coast of Honshu. Over May 3 – 5th a massive Kite Festival is held. Massive for the number of kites involved, and for their size. I learnt from Facebook that my friends were attending the festival this year. Lucky them!

    Kite festival at the Kite Festival at Nakatajima Sand Dunes, Hamamatsu. That's my friend Richard taking the photo.

    Massive kites at the Kite Festival at Nakatajima Sand Dunes, Hamamatsu. That’s my friend Richard taking the photo. Source: Midori Suzuki

  2. Using fire to create objects of beauty, made out of clay, is the purpose of the multi-chambered Noborigama kiln. It was a pleasant surprise to see one of this style so soon during my time in Japan. The kilns evolved out of the single-chambered anagama, or cave kiln, that came to Japan via China and Korea in the fifth century. Sensing the way the fire in the kiln would affect the pottery glaze is a masterful skill.

    The noborigama kiln beautifully illustrated here is similar, although not the same as the one I saw this week. It shares the character of having been built on a slope with multiple chambers, the access openings were not as large as in the drawing however. Source: swan ceramics.com

    The noborigama kiln beautifully illustrated here is similar, although not the same as the one I saw this week. It shares the character of having been built on an angle with multiple chambers, the access openings were not as large as in the drawing however. The heat generated when the kiln is in full use would be intense. Source: swan ceramics.com

  3. Kirin, usually known for their beer, present fire in a different guise. They produce several types of canned or bottled coffee with the name fire in it. The bottle of cold coffee that I bought had a fabulous image of a StarTrooper on it with a flamethrower! If you drink ‘Fire’ you can conquer the universe!

    That is one impressive flamethrower on the 'Fire' coffee sold by Kirin.

    That is one impressive flamethrower on the ‘Fire’ coffee sold by Kirin.

  1. Kirin’s name is taken from one of the most important mythical creatures in Japan. The Kirin has a pelt of five colours, based on the five Chinese elements/phases of earth, fire, water, metal and wood (Gogyo in Japanese). Images of Kirins are found on many Japanese art forms, including an Inro and several netsuke being offered in a May 2016 auction in Melbourne.

    A kirin depicted on a cinnabar Inro. Source: Mossgreen.com

    A kirin depicted on a cinnabar Inro, a small ornamental box . Source: Mossgreen.com

  1. The five Chinese elements are also the basis of noodles that come in five colours (goshiki somen), available near Nara. The manfacturer’s associate the colours with Himiko, the shaman Queen of ancient Japan, seeing her as an embodiment of Yin Yang and the five elements. I’ll be visiting Nara the week after next so will try and track down some of these noodles down. And the story behind them.

    Five coloured noodles and a shaman Queen. Source: JapanSquare.com.

    Five coloured noodles and a shaman Queen. Source: japansquare.com.

  1. While walking around the streets of Kameoka I came across two gorintos (five-ringed towers) in the grounds of a Buddhist Temple. The gorintos are Japanese-style pagodas and represent the five elements (Godai in Japanese) of earth, fire, water, air and ether/void.

    Two gorintos (five-ring stupas) at a Buddhist Temple in Kameoka

    Two gorintos (five-ring pagodas) at a Buddhist Temple in Kameoka

  1. Constant reminders of the vulnerability of Japan to earthquakes was seen over the last few days by the fund-raising efforts and other support for the people of the Kumamoto region in Kyushu. Tremors are still being felt on the island nearly a month after the main quakes.

    The bear image has been popular in fund-raising appeals for Kumamoto that I've seen

    The bear and heart  image has been popular in fund-raising appeals for Kumamoto that I’ve seen

  1. The weather over the last week has been a mixture of fine, calm sunny days, and days with gentle rain. I have been staying with Oomoto, whose tree-covered grounds are a haven to walk around. One afternoon I was captivated by the play of light, water and wind over a large pond which was originally part of a castle moat. Pine pollen and leaves were blowing gently in the wind. It was a truly elemental experience.

    A captivating (and elemental) play of water, light and wind at Oomoto

    A captivating (and elemental) play of water, light and wind at Oomoto

  1. The shrines at Oomoto, like many shrines and temples in Japan, have a stone wash basin where water is used for purification before entering the sacred grounds of the shrine.

    Stone water base for purification, Oomoto, Kameoka

    Stone basin filled with  water for purification, Oomoto, Kameoka

  1. And all the while Gabi Greve has been posting material on her Facebook site ‘Joys of Japan’ that has relevance to the elements. I look forward to  working through her informative material, plus that found in other blogs and websites.

    Joy of Japan blog, written by Gabi Greve

    The informative ‘Joys of Japan’ Facebook site, written and compiled by Gabi Greve. The theme of Festivals in Japan that Gabi covers, amongst others, will be very useful.

Last but not least, May 4th was Greenery Day in Japan. A national holiday to celebrate nature, of which the elements are a fundamental part. There are many more expressions of Elemental Japan, to be shared along the way.

2 thoughts on “Japan, an elemental puzzle

  1. You’ve gathered together some really lovely and enticing examples of elemental Japan here, Jann. I love the multi-chambered kiln and the five differently colored noodles. I would also like one of those stone basins used for the water purification!

    Like

    • Thank-you for saying so. What fascinates me is how the elements are expressed in so many different ways in Japan, both explicitly and implicitly. A stone basin is too large for me to bring home, the noodles may be a possibility though. 🙂

      Like

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