Takyoi Light Festival in Usuki

こんにちはみなさん!Hello everyone, let me tell you about a wonderful experience I had while studying in Japan so far. Me and my girlfriend Yuki heard about this light festival that happens every October to celebrate a bountiful harvest. During this festival people in the small village of Usuki light up thousands of carved bamboo shoots. There is a old story about the return a ghostly princess who returns every year at this festival and the local people reenact this event.  The bamboo shoots are meant to ensure the ghost princess can find her way home. People on the main street also set up market stalls that sell local handicrafts and foods like fugu sake. For those of you who don’t know, fugu is the deadly pufferfish which the Japanese had found a way to clean in a particular way as to make it safe to eat. On the train to Usuki from Oita we fortunately ran into two of Yuki’s friends Hiroki and Take. Take is actually a local of Usuki and has worked as a tour guide there. Luckily for us she offered to show us her village and was eager to explain to us the local traditions.

First we went to the most prominent temple where legend holds that a dragon is imprisioned  within the main pagoda. Take explained to us that several of the demon statues called Oni guard the dragon and keep it from escaping. We also visited her family’s baking stall and bought some delicious english tea cake. After following the trail of lit bamboo shoots we scaled Usuki Castle to get a great view of the whole town. I learned that the famous Sengoku period daimyo, Otomo had constructed this castle which was formerly situated on an island. My inner nerd came out and I couldn’t help but imagining this town with samurais and women in their traditional kimono’s strolling around. Luckily for me my fantasy was about to come true as the locals were going to reenact the “return of the ghost princess”.  We witnessed the a procession of flute players dressed as ancient court attendants and the princess dressed in a pale white kimono being carried on top of an ornate litter. We could all feel the peaceful serenity of the moment and I’m pretty sure everyone had goose bumps from hearing the soothing flute music. We also were able to see traditional harp playing and wadaiko (drum dancing).

Throughout my travels I have realized that certain culture festivals seem more like shows put on more for the tourists than the locals. In the Takeyoi festival I was one of the very few foreigners and got the sense that the night was sacred to the people of Usuki and not a show for tourists. It is incredible to me how Japan has so many contrasts between old and new customs. Many people think of samurai and the medieval period when they picture Japan, others picture robots and anime. It is interesting and admirable to me how Japanese society is constantly evolving but also successfully maintains it’s rich cultural heritage and identity.

 

 

 

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Trip to Mt. Tsurumidake(つるみだけ) Beppu Ropeway

My new home, Beppu has created an entire industry based on onsens produced from geothermic energy. These onsens are filled with sulfur and other minerals that keep people’s skin young and fresh looking. I was able to see the source of the volcanic energy first hand when I took a small bus ride from Beppu station up to the Beppu Ropeway situated at the base of Mount Tsurumidake. We bought our tickets and huddled aboard the cramped yet well ventilated cable car. I was the only gaijin there and smiled at the novelty of it all. Yuki and I peered out the window at the vista of the entire Beppu cityscape to our right and another mountain called Mt.Yufuin to our left. We also happened to take this ride in the middle of November right when the leaves are becoming the perfect shades of yellows, reds, and browns. Japanese have hundreds of Haikus about the fall (秋) season and this particular leaf changing phenomenon. Honestly I don’t know much about Haikus, but what I do know is that the colors were stunning. The cable cars go fast and I was surprised by how quickly the returning cable car sped past us on their way down. I also remarked to Yuki that I would definitely need a change of underwear if a earthquake was to suddenly start while were were dangling in the air.

Once we arrived at the top of the mountain we were greeted with great views of the Kojima Kogen theme park and Lake Shidako. We took some great photographs and moved onto the next phase of our adventure…. A great picnic lunch bento that Yuki had prepared for us chicken karage and rice. Gosh she is a great cook! After we were done eating we discovered a pilgrims trail on-top of the mountain. Yuki told me that Japanese Shinto gods can be compared to greek gods and there are patron deities of almost everything. There is a god of fisherman, lovers, students, fire and so much more that I can’t keep track.

We visited the Shrine to the first god and did the traditional three bows, two claps and bow again prayer. There is also a little donation box where it is customary to leave five yen (5 cents) to the gods. Yuki told me not to worry about it but I’m pretty superstitious and figured I could use all the help I can get to learn Japanese, so I plunked my five yen in the box and we continued on the pilgrims path. We got great views of Beppu city and Oita. We could even see the Iyo peninsula jutting off of Shikoku in the deep blue waters of Beppu Bay. Unfortunately dust storms occasionally blow in from China’s Gobe desert but we visited on a relatively clear day. One of the more notable shrines was situated next to a pile of pebbles Yuki explained to me that it’s the god of love and marriage. In Beppu since ancient times it was customary for newly married couples to place a pebble on the pile to symbolize there union and wish the deity for good luck. Did I mention these couples also had to climb the mountain without the cable car, maybe it was a good way to bond? Me and Yuki aren’t married but we placed a pebble on the pile just for good luck. Next we saw a very old woman and her family praying to the god of longevity I hope he continues to serve her well! After walking to each of the twelve shrines we used our return cable car ticket to descend the mountain. At the base of the mountain there is a lovely little park and a liquor shop for tourists. We had to wait awhile for our bus so Yuki and I decided to purchase some sake and enjoy it in the park. Yuki got Nihonchu a rice sake and I got a delicious jelly sake shot. I’m still not quite sure what it had in it but it tasted good and it was strong! We chilled in the park looked at the pretty fall colors and reflected on the great fun we had.

Beppu Ropeway is a fantastic attraction if you find yourself in Oita. The mountain also has a great view of other active volcano calderas and the nearby Self Defense Force military base which often has landing helicopters and an active firing range. Beppu is certainly an interesting area with alot going on. Don’t worry about he firing range I was assured it was all very safe (and I’m used to it since I hear the gunshots often while I’m in class). I highly recommend a visit to this memorable and interesting site!

Views from the top! The closer city is Beppu the outer city in the distance is Oita City

Top right: Yufuin Mountain

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Me and Yuki at the Base of Tsurumidake see the cable car behind us

 

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One of the many gods with an offering box

 

 

Not In Kansas Anymore

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One of the more shocking moments I experienced was that in my class titled “Culture and Society of the Asia Pacific”, we were having a debate over female circumcision. Which many in Western societies including myself find abhorrent and cruel. I was shocked to discover that many Indonesian students had actually undergone female circumcision and advocate for the practice. This was one of the first moments I felt that I had a vastly different world view than some of my fellow classmates. After living in Dubai during my High school years and in japan during college I have come to realize that cultural relativism and ethnocentrism is a huge aspect of how people behave. Once an individual can break away from these constraints sociological behaviors and differences in cultures can become more easy to understand. One of the personal things that has happened to me is becoming more and more secular throughout my travels. Personally I have realized that the reason I am a white christian from Texas is no more than mere happenstance. I could have just as easily been born into a Tibetan Buddhist family. I choose to maintain my cultural affinity for the Baptist sect of Christianity but view it more of a philosophy and cultural habit than a religion.

I believe that ethnocentrism and religious zealotry are some of the biggest problems facing societies today. If any individual form the Christian, Jewish, Muslim or Buddhist groups is willing to commit violence in the name of their religion then certainly they have a very ignorant and selfish world view. Respect for differences and tolerance towards all peoples regardless of race or creed is essential for a harmonious world.

Particularly in Japan I have found that I enjoy the study of Buddhist philosophy. I enjoy pondering the parables and thinking how each anecdote or lesson can apply to my experience. The Buddhist ideas about reincarnation also reinforce my assertion that concepts like racism, ethnocentrism and religious zealotry are tribalistic and ignorant ideals. Unfortunately, I have found that humans as a species are tribalistic but through deep contemplation, education and travel these unfavorable traits can be broken. Going back to my previous point about female circumcision, I would hope that after education about the importance of the clitoris to female sexual pleasure and contemplation about how this ritual developed based on sexist preconceptions I believe that rational individuals could be swayed. However it is also important to remember my place and remember my own cultural relativism.

Occasionally, unfortunate sociological rituals and behaviors must take time to be rooted out of a society. Also in relation to the host culture, Japan has undergone a period of intense fascism and militarization during WWII. I am currently reading a very interesting book written by a member of the British occupying force who collected various war propaganda and advertisements to highlight life during Showa Japan. I find it incredible fascinating how the experience of extreme misery after the WWII has transformed Japan into a country that advocates for pacifism. The experience of the War has also led Japan to embrace one of the most mature outlooks on violence and warfare I have ever seen. Japan does not glorify modern violence at all (excluding pop culture and samurai history) and museums about WWII do not focus on who was right or wrong but mostly on the horrors of warfare in general. I am impressed by the Japanese outlook on the importance of peace and the suffering that war can cause.

It is very special indeed to be at a place like APU where all cultures can easily intermingle and exchange ideas. I told Yuki that APU reminds me of Singapore because there are people gathered here from all over the world. Sadly I have discovered that these groups also tend to stick together for example Indians hang out in the Indian group and Chinese stick to other Chinese. Being at such an interesting a diverse university I would hope that individuals can branch out and define themselves. With people and cultures whom they are unfamiliar with.

Comparing Cultural Norms Between Japan and the U.S.A.

One of the many cultural differences between the United States and Japan is that Japan has very homogenous society and most people who identify as Japanese have the same ethnicity. Many Japanese also seem to be more financially similar than in the United States. The U.S. is very heterogeneous and there are many races religions and ethnicities who identify as Americans. Also foreigners or “gaijin” in Japanese are fairly rare outside of urban centers in Japan. I am a large redheaded man so many people stare at me while I’m on public transportation or walking down the road. I’ve had many people ask me if I dye my hair. I try my best to understand their curiosity and try to greet them with a smile and phrase from my rudimentary Japanese.

One of my expectations of being a Texan is that people enjoy friendly chit chat while waiting in line or for transportation. Many people in Japan are quite shy and reserved. I have said good evening “konbonwa” to many strangers and occasionally received confused stares. I have also learned that a common stereotype many Japanese have about American people is that “we are always happy”. I suppose this stereotype must have to do with our friendliness or loudness. I was also quite startled with how many media sources and businesses objectify women. Of course, the U.S. has the same problem but not on the scale or openness that it is used here. I was surprised to see signs featuring completely nude women. This is quite different for me especially after spending my high school years in Dubai where women are supposed to dress modestly under Islamic custom. Speaking of nudity one of my most interesting cultural experiences was visiting an onsen (hot spring) where people are expected to get completely nude and bathe together. Being American I was quite unnerved by this at first but relaxed once I realized nobody seemed to care. I then enjoyed my warm soak in the sulfur rich water.

I have a keen interest in Japanese History especially concerning WWII and I have met an older Japanese gentleman who was able to tell me about the bombing of a rail train he witnessed when he was a child here in Japan. I am also very interested in the Battle of Okinawa and the last stand of the imperial army on that little island. I find it inspiring and intriguing how japan was able to thoroughly reinvent itself after its defeat in WWII and become a cultural and economic powerhouse.

Before coming here, I took Japanese lessons for two years at St. Edwards. My mother and grandfather also lived in Japan during their twenties so I was able to hear many stories about Japan. My grandfather was stationed at an air force base in Morioka and my mother was a model in Iwate. I am currently taking Japanese lessons and a Japanese history course. I also intend to travel extensively while I’m in Japan. I am very excited to get a firm grip on the language because I believe that will provide a steady platform to continue my study of the culture, society, and region. Like other East Asian cultures such as Korea and China Japanese society is based on buddhist and Confucian structures. I am studying these belief systems more closely and currently reading several books on the matter.

 

 

History of Japan: Christians in Oita and Nagasaki

 Geography and History are linked very strongly and often can help to explain why cultures develop in certain ways. We can also analyse traditions, philosophy, religion and political structures of the past to better understand the present. I wanted to develop my understanding of the religious makeup of Oita and Beppu. As we learned in class among many Northeast Asian Countries there “is a shared moral philosophy derived from Confucianism”. During my research of this region I discovered that Oita was under the control of a famous Daimyo named Otomo Sorin. It is rather interesting to me that these Daimyos from the Sengoku period live onward in the imaginations of their former subjects and are often venerated in festivals, literature, and pop culture. I wanted to attend a festival to see this for myself during my visit to Oita city I saw Otomo Sorin depicted with a Christian Cross. I also noticed that the Portuguese missionary and founder of the Jesuits, Francis Xavier has a statue directly adjacent to a statue of Otomo. These monuments are situated prominently outside the train station in the city square. I became interested in how the influences of Christianity had shaped this region and political developments of the past. In my research I will describe the historical developments of Otomo’s conversion, instances of conflict arising from religious differences and the current distribution of churches in comparison to the native Japanese Shinto and Buddhism. I will also attempt to describe and list locations of particular historical significance in relation to the Christianization of Beppu and Oita City.

  I found in my research that Kyushu was one of the main points of contact with European traders. In fact Dejima island is an artificially created island in the bay of Nagasaki where European traders were allowed to stay and trade their goods. I discovered that the antiquated term for the European traders is “nanban” or “southern barbarians”. Europeans arrived with advanced technologies such as matchlock guns and powerful ships. The Europeans accidentally stumbled upon Japan when a typhoon washed up a ship of Portuguese traders on Tanegashima Island. Unbeknownst to the Japanese the world had been split into two spheres in the Treaty of Tordesillas which the Pope mediated between the Catholic powers of Spain and Portugal. Due to this treaty the Portuguese were given permission to exploit Japan for the famous three g’s god, glory and gold. Otomo himself most likely saw the advanced “nanban” technologies and saw converting to Christianity as more of a strategic move, rather than a religious revelation. Otomo was also the most prominent of all the sengoku period Daimyos to convert to Christianity and one of the few to meet with Francis Xavier directly.

 Francis Xavier was already an experienced missionary whose main focus had been converting Goa and Southern India. Xavier found significantly less fortune in Japan where he struggled significantly to understand the language. Eventually Xavier alongside three Japanese converts were able to spread Christianity where it gained its initial foothold in South West Japan. The main sects of Christianity that appeared was Roman Catholicism, Orthodox Christianity and much later Protestantism. Beppu known as Bungo during the Sengoku period was allowed religious tolerance under Otomo who allowed his people to continue to practice shintoism or convert to the new and foreign religion of Christianity.

   After his conversion in 1578 Otomo used his favor with the Europeans to exploit them for guns, financial gain and assistance in his civil war against the other major Western clans the Shimazu and Mori. Eventually however Shimazu was assisted by the unifier of Japan Toyotomi Hideyoshi and the Otomo clan was destroyed. Despite the pacification of Otomo Christianity remained entrenched in Kyushu particularly in Nagasaki and islands in the West.

  Toyotomi Hideyoshi banned the arrival of new Jesuit monks and outlawed Christianity seeing the popularity of the religion as a personal threat to his power. Under Tokugawa and the Edo Bakufu Christianity was completely outlawed. Famously 26 Japanese Christians were martyred by crucifixion on a hill outside of Nagasaki. Christian missionaries were banned for 250 years and Japanese Christians were forced to go into hiding. “Kakure Kristians” developed, meaning literally “shadow christians”. Congregations were forced to hold services inside people’s homes. This period was similar to the period when Christians were persecuted by Roman Emperors. Finally in the 1850’s the ban on Christianity was lifted in the Meiji restoration and Churches were free to appear publicly. Several beautiful churches sprang up in Nagasaki and the surrounding islands.

  Let us now evaluate the present day implications of these historical facts. According to the World Value Survey there “may be up to three million Japanese Christians”. Most Japanese Christians live in the Western part of Kyushu because this was one of the main meeting points between Europeans and Japanese. After World War II many protestant preachers from the United States also protletyzed in Japan and protestant sects such as Lutherans and Methodists appeared in Japan. Even now I discovered Mormon missionaries in Beppu. Christians do not really hold any political power in Japan because japan prides itself on having a secular government.

 I wanted to investigate clearly the comparison between christian churches and shinto temples in Beppu. I used google maps to find the location of several of these churches and temples. I also took several pictures of various locations I traveled to that helped me to understand my research. I will differentiate pictures that I took myself and photos I found on the internet. I will show some of the important sites around Oita.

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Photo I took of Otomo Sorin Statue in Oita City

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Photo I took of a float in a festival depicting Otomo Sorin with a cross on his chest to show his Christianity

 

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Me at the Festival among the floats (dashi)       Visiting a Shinto shrine in Beppu with Jizos

 

 

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Beppu Churches (12)                                                                                 Beppu Temples (15)

 

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Higashi Beppu Temples                                              Higashi Beppu Churches (6)

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Thanks to these maps I can see that the amount of Churches and Temples is roughly equal in Beppu. There are 12 Churches and 15 Temples. The distribution of the temples are somewhat unequal and most of the temples to be in the Northern part of Beppu and further away from the sea. I also compared Higashi Beppu and there was a strong concentration of churches in one area. I hypothesize that perhaps in the 1600’s there may have been trade with Europeans in the inner city close to the main port. This may have affected demographics and caused more Christians to live in urban areas. Often times religion is hereditary and passed down through generations perhaps these current day christians are descendants of the “hidden christians” from the Edo Periods.

  To supplement my research I also discussed the conversion of Otomo Sorin with my Japanese History professor Hasuda sensei. I asked professor Hasuda what were some of the implications of Christianity’s arrival in the 1500’s he explained to me that the lower caste people were more likely to convert because they would receive welfare and a better sense of community. Hasuda also shared with me that almost all of the missionaries came from either Spain or Portugal and the Jesuits and Dominicans were the most active in Asia. He discussed how the Jesuits found even more success in converting the Vietnamese to Christianity partly because they were a French Colony. It is also well known that the Philippines is a very Catholic country mostly due to its Spanish Colonial period.

  I also discovered an interesting anecdote about issues that faced Christians in Nagasaki after the Atomic bombing. Due to weather issues the crew of the Boxcar the USAF crew that dropped the Fat Man bomb diverted its course from downtown Nagasaki to the Urakami district. The Urakami district had been one of the cities districts which housed many of the social outcasts and lower caste peoples. Despite the fact that the Japanese caste system was banned in the Edo period the burakumin caste still suffered discrimination. Christians and burakumin were often grouped together in impoverished areas. After the bomb fell some Japanese who were shinto said that the gods were punishing the Christian population in Urakami and blamed them.

 

Photo from the Japan Times Article “Nagasaki’s ‘Providential’ Nightmare Shaped by Religious, Ethnic Undercurrents.”

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Urakami Cathedral after the Bomb

 

Conclusions

Christians went through a period of growth in Japan upon contact with Europeans who mostly hailed from Portugal. Trade with Europeans was mostly concentrated in Kyushu specifically Nagasaki. Otomo Sorin Daimyo of Bungo (modern day Oita) Converted in order to receive guns and financial support from European powers. Under Otomo his subjects were allowed religious freedom and Christianity in Oita grew. During the Edo Bukufu (Tokugawa Period) Christians were banned due to isolationist and xenophobic policies. During this time Christians were persecuted and even crucified. Finally in the 19th century Christianity was allowed once more and several churches sprung up especially in Nagasaki and Western Kyushu. Otomo retains a legacy as the most prominent Daimyo ever to convert to Christianity.

 

Sources:

Google Search, Google, www.google.com/maps.

“Nagasaki’s ‘Providential’ Nightmare Shaped by Religious, Ethnic Undercurrents.” The Japan Times, www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2015/08/07/national/history/nagasakis-providential-nightmare-shaped-religious-ethnic-undercurrents/#.W_EvQZMzZmA.

“Once Hidden, the History of Japanese Christianity Gains UN Recognition.” Crux, 3 July 2018, cruxnow.com/global-church/2018/07/03/once-hidden-the-history-of-japanese-christianity-gains-un-recognition/.

Ledford, Adam. “Christians in Kyushu: A History.” Tofugu, Tofugu, 8 Jan. 2015, http://www.tofugu.com/japan/history-of-christianity/.

 

 

 

 

 

Who’s Mitch?

Well to start off I’m 20, I’m bald and I’ve been around the world. I was born and raised in Houston, Texas but my life changed when my father got a job in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. I exchanged my love of Tex-Mex for a love of hummus and lamb kabab. My parents are colorful character’s my mother is an ex Broadway dancer and my father is a scuba instructor turned oilfield salesman. Thanks to them I’ve been to around 40 countries (give or take) and counting! After living for five years in Dubai and attending high school I have some interesting stories about my time there. I knew I wanted to continue my time abroad and live and work in challenging environments.

I returned to Texas after university because I found a fantastic program at a small liberal arts school in Austin Texas called St. Edwards University. In this special and new program called the dual degree program I was given the opportunity to stay in Texas for two years get my undergrad in International relations, then travel to Japan for two years and get another undergrad in Asian Studies. I figured it was a great two for one deal. I also happened to meet my girlfriend Yuki Nishihara on the first day of university in Texas. Yuki is also in the Dual Degree Program but from Japan. The professor who I had been corresponding with about the program introduced us on the first day. I invited this lovely Okinawan girl out for running in Austin and the rest is history! It worked out perfectly that she spent two years in Texas with me and now I am living with her in Japan while we finish up university.

My goals:  I speak a fair amount of Japanese and am trying to become fluent. I’ve also been experimenting with ideas surrounding Buddhism and intend to delve into this further. I want to work on my writing and get feedback. I also want to understand the complex historical, geographic and cultural traits that define our current world.

My Experiences: So far I’ve been a bartender on a riverboat, hotel cook, Emirates Airline security intern, Scuba Diving Instructor and lifeguard (because what American teenager hasn’t been a lifeguard?)

I’m young and I’m trying to figure out what I want to be. I want to talk about my experiences, explain my perspectives and learn as much as I can! I will be discussing History, Culture and Travel mostly. However, I also enjoy video games, international relations and martial arts. If you’ve read this far thank you! I invite you to come along for the ride and see some of the world with me!

 

“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.”                   – Gustav Flaubert.

“A writer should have this little voice inside of you saying, Tell the truth. Reveal a few secrets here.” -Quentin Tarantino