Over the course of my four years in Matsue, I put a lot of special effort into art, be it developing my hobbies or learning the ways of traditional Japanese aesthetics. Long-time readers of my blog will probably recall my adventures in competitive kimono dressing with regional contests in Kochi and Hiroshima and a shot at a world championship in Tokyo. However, since 2014, I limited my kimono practice to only occasional refreshers for getting myself dressed for tea ceremonies. Sure, I love the chance to dress up in traditional Japanese attire, be it for strolling around Izumo Taisha during my New Year shrine visit or taking part in Matsue’s early Edo inspired Warrior Parade. However, I chose to dedicate more time to tea ceremony practice.

I still keep in touch with Kimono-sensei, of course. It just so happened that when I called her for advice on behalf of a friend who was getting started with her first kimono that she asked if I happened to be open on May 29th, during the annual kimono show she and her kimono buddies put on at the Matsue English Garden. As luck would have it, I did happened to be open that day, and thankfully there was no prep necessary for showing up on stage as a hanamusubi (folding obi in the shapes of flowers) model.

Knowing this might be one of my last times to wear kimono for a while, Kimono-sensei specifically chose to have me model the tsubaki (camellia), because it is one of the representative flowers of Matsue. It just so happens that I’ve always had a very soft spot for tsubaki, so this made us all happy. After all, Kimono-sensei wanted me to have this as one more memory of Matsue.

tsubaki

Fast forward to June 26th, when I woke up at 4am to get ready for an Asagayu tea ceremony. Because it’s hot in summer, it’s an early morning tea ceremony served with a light breakfast instead of a full fancy meal. Having, yes, even something as humble as rice porridge can be made very, very fancy when you leave the menu to the discretion of an inn that’s been in operation since the Edo period, where even Lord Fumai himself was known to frequent. After breakfast, we had the very formal okoicha (thickly prepared tea) ceremony in a very small, intimate room, and then the more relaxed o’usu ceremony outside in the garden by the banks of where Lake Shinji meets the Ohashi River. The weather was beautifully sunny to the point of being uncomfortably warm, but the tools all had a cool sense to them—the mizusashi for fresh water was made of very clear glass, the dish for the sweets was silvery and reminiscent of the upcoming Tanabata festival, and there was an enormous green leaf across the table to give everything a refreshing hue.

But yes, I mentioned 4am. Because this was a morning tea ceremony, I had to wake up very early to do my hair and make up, and dress in my kimono with room for making mistakes. It was the first time I had used that hydrangea obi since my first tea ceremony in June 2013, when Tea-sensei gave me that obi. I had practiced with Kimono-sensei how to tie a regular taiko obi, but at that time I ended up asking for help after all. Then in June 2016, I had not practiced a taiko obi in forever, and with my busy schedule lately, I barely had tied to do one frustrating practice late the night before. The first shot I took at doing my obi in the morning was a failure, but on the second attempt I tried something else with it which would have made no sense to me before, but somehow trying new things to get the correct form didn’t feel odd. But hey, it worked, and I had about ten minutes of leeway before the taxi came!

Don't mind the snapshot of a laminated photo I received...

Don’t mind the snapshot of a laminated photo I received…

It was also my first time performing the okoicha ceremony. I did really well–almost flawless, with poise and calmness. I’d like to say it was the fruits of over three years of near-weekly tea ceremony practice, but it was mainly due to being so sleepy that I was seriously nodding off in the mizuya (preparation room). I simply was not alert enough to be nervous, so my hands moved automatically. Everyone said the tea was the perfect, too. I know my knowledge and practice of the tea ceremony is still shallow, but hey, I can say that I can practically perform a tea ceremony in my sleep.

This was also my official farewell party from my tea ceremony school. It was very nice to have a formal setting in which many people were gathered so I could express my thanks to them all at once, but I’ll still attend a couple practices before I leave to learn a couple things I should know as an official dues-paid member of the worldwide Omotosenke school of tea. I’ll be able to say a more personal farewell to my regular classmates then. A couple of my other classmates who had taught me a lot arranged for me to go make pottery with a lapsed student of our school who is a professional potter. As of writing this I still have yet to see how they turned out, but it was fun. He helped us make proper tea cups/bowls, and then with the remaining clay he left us to our imaginations. Well……… I’m interested to see how my, erm, very imaginative “flower vases(?)” turn out.

tougei

As part of that mid-June day, with off and on rain out in the mountainous area around Sada Shrine, the ladies who brought me along prepared a casual tea ceremony in the display room neighboring the workshop. They borrowed some pieces from the potter, and picked from persimmon leaves to place the summer sweets on, and we casually partook of a couple cups of tea while listening to the alternating sounds of bugs and rainfall and talking about the creativity and craftsmanship of his works and works that he admired other places.

It was one of those “Ah, this is Japan” moments. Or at least, “this is my life in Shimane, when I actually slow down and enjoy it” moments.

My job as a CIR has of course been very demanding at times, with a very wide variety of exciting and challenging work to do. On the flip side, when I haven’t been as busy, I’ve found many opportunities to use my art as part of my work. I made it a point to do this in my first year. I had always loved drawing and had dreamed for years of writing manga professionally, but for some reason it always felt like I had to keep my passion for anime and manga a secret if I ever wanted to be taken seriously. After some self-published manga I made right before I started the JET Program, I knew I wanted to embrace it and let myself put a little more effort into it, which is part of why I started on the Kojiki manga.

Although I saw it as a chance to improve over the course of the years it would take me to write the narrative I had in mind, it turns out I got more and more lazy with it over the course of the project, haha! But I was busy with other projects on the side. Besides the experimental and hastily drawn Tengu manga that won 2nd place in an international contest in 2014, I also fulfilled a long held dream by submitting a short story to a monthly shoujo manga magazine contest last summer. It did not win anything (as expected), but I got professional criticism on it, and was overall very satisfied with the experience. However, I feel it is safe to say that I have worked that dream out of my system—the process of using professional tools and making print-quality manga without assistants and while having a full time job was exhausting. There were many late nights spent on it, and many hours hunched over my work, and the emotional stress of knowing how undeveloped my art skills are due to lack of any practice on the basics. The professional criticism I asked for very aptly suggested I focus on the fundamentals of drawing, and I know myself well enough to know that I’m only interested in doing this as a hobby.

However, it is through actually doing it that I’ve figured this out, which is why I feel very satisfied instead of feeling like I’ve given up. Besides, it already felt I had my “debut” in my 1st year when this article came out in the local Sunday paper about my Kojiki project.

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Furthermore, I’ve branched out a lot, and tried out a lot of different styles and subject matters while I’ve made use of here at the office. I’ve become the go-to person for copyright-free illustrations on fliers and newsletters, so much so that when I walked into work one day and was told, “Buri-chan, we need you to draw Matsue Castle real fast,” it was only mildly startling.

A snapshot from my 1st year

A snapshot from my 1st year


happi
I'm really proud of this logo design too. I thought it was only going to be a CIR-made newsletter, but it turns out it's been used in foreign tourism material as well.

I’m really proud of this logo design too. I thought it was only going to be a CIR-made newsletter, but it turns out it’s been used in foreign tourism material as well.

I’m sure I’ll always continue drawing as a hobby, and I’ll likely have opportunities to use my kimono and tea ceremony practice in the future. It may not be quite as regularly as I use them now, but I have attained both deep and wide knowledge to take back with me.

However, the fact that I am leaving Japan soon really hit home when I was putting away my kimono materials after the tea ceremony the other day. I could pack this all up right now, I thought. That was probably the last time I’ll wear one for a while.

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Although the messengers from heaven met Okuninushi at Inasa-no-Hama beach, the rush to go ask his son Kotoshironushi for the land, and Kotoshironushi’s relinquishing of it is celebrated every year in two rituals at Miho Shrine, home to Kotoshironushi, also popularly known as Ebisu.

Both rituals bring together the whole neighborhood and draw crowds from around the area, and the entire process goes on for hours, including purification rites for the people taking roles and kagura dances performed by the miko (shrine maidens).

Morotabune Shinji is celebrated every December 3rd, and reenacts the rush to the shrine with two boats of lightly dressed men racing each other around the harbor and liberally splashing water on each other with their oars. Yes, the water and weather are both very cold. However, I am told that the men taking part are so absorbed in the moment that they don’t notice the biting cold.









The other is Aofushigaki Shinji, on April 7th. The 7th of every month is a holy day for Miho Shrine, with their treasure storehouse only open on the 7th day of the month, with a few items on display each time it is open. The April 7th ritual reenacts how Kotoshironushi hid himself in the bushes and the water after agreeing to hand over the lands. While this is not necessarily a suicide, it is thought of as a sort of rebirth, and there are many somber elements of the ritual that take place before the boats are even involved. A number of roles are performed by community members which require the adults and children involved to eat special food, or be lead blindly, or not be allowed to have their feet touch the ground, and the majority of other people involved guide, carry, or form chains around the processing members to keep them out of reach of the onlookers. It makes for a rather mysterious atmosphere.






I’ve completed the manga portion of The Kojiki As Told By Brittany, but we still have the explanation behind Kuniyuzuri (Relinquishing of the Land) to address! After all, this is one of the most influential legends in the San’in region, but it plays a role in Shinto lore and ancient, semi-mythological Japanese history at large.

This is because a large portion of ancient, semi-mythological Japanese history is focused on the imperial family, in particular, that their lineage is traced back to Amaterasu, the Sun Goddess. This can theoretically be said for the current Japanese Imperial Family members who are related by blood as opposed to by marriage.

How did one family gain this power, though?

That requires a walk very far back in Japanese history, when different clans, called uji, took over other clans and enforced a hierarchy of gods, with the victors’ gods being worshipped by the overtaken clan members. One of the uji that gained a significant amount of power of the Yamato clan, which claimed to be descended from the Sun Goddess, and would later have a base in central Japan (modern-day Nara) that was rich with rice cultivation, and they would also use their religious influence to rule over the commoners.

Further west, however, Izumo Province had their own religious traditions (see the other legends listed in my Kojiki comics for some of the gods they had special ties to—Okuninushi being a major one, of course). Izumo and Yamato were at odds, but ultimately Yamato won control over the Izumo region, and went on to establish the Yamato state by the 8th century. Although “Yamato” is now synonymous with anything traditionally Japanese, Izumo continued to retain its religious significance–or at least, one could argue that in modern day Japan. See Klaus Antoni’s article, “Izumo as the ‘Other Japan’: Construction vs. Reality” for a very critical and interesting scholarly look at how Izumo and why the Izumo area, particularly in regard to Shintoism, is known the way it is today. It’s very interesting to note that Izumo traditionally seemed to represent Korean and other foreign influence, and many of the Izumo gods were thought of as having foreign origin, but at some point along the region’s history (especially within the past couple centuries) Izumo began to be thought of as something more traditionally Japanese than the rest of Westernized Japan. Intriguing as that topic is, I will continue to describe things here as simply as I can so as to show how the Kuniyuzuri legend is generally approached and spoken of outside of the scholarly sphere.

The Yamato clan, that is, the imperial line, ordered the writing of the Kojiki, Nihonshoki, and 48 Fudoki, upon which most of Japanese Shinto mythology is based. The Kojiki was completed in 712, and was a mash of clan myths from around Japan mainly compiled by a nobleman named O-no-Yasumaro. It was written in Chinese characters that more or less fit Japanese pronunciation.

The 48 Fudoki, records of individual provinces under the imperial court’s rule, underwent compilation starting in 713, the year after the completion of the Kojiki. In addition to geographical, economic, and ecological data, the Fudoki also expanded on Shinto mythology. Of them, only the records of Izumo Province remain mostly intact today.

A few years later, in 720, the Nihonshoki was finished. This had more of a national history textbook approach and political basis with a different sort of mash of writing in Chinese style. It also included Shinto mythology, and O-no-Yasumaro likely contributed a lot to this project. However, there are some differences, and many of the same gods are recorded under different names than were used for them in the Kojiki.

Part of the reason these were compiled were to stand up to outside cultural and political pressure from the Asian continent (especially Tang, now known as China) and show that they were their own legitimate political entity all along. Another reason was to internally justify the rule of the Yamato clan as opposed to any other powerful family, and much of this reasoning was based on their lineage from Amaterasu, which thereby gave them heaven-granted dominion over the islands of Japan. Despite the large role Okuninushi (an earthly–and thereby foreign?–kami) played in establishing a functional state and culture, his key scene in this narrative is that he willingly handed power over to Amaterasu’s descendants.

This of course makes the beach Inasa-no-Hama, the stage for this momentous event in mythological politics, historically important, (but you might already remember this as the beach from where the gods proceed to Izumo Taisha for their annual meeting).

I’d like to point out that the imperial family is not the only family in Japan that claims direct lineage from heavenly kami. The family that has continually passed down responsibility as head priest of Izumo Taisha, the Sengu Family, claims to be descended from Ame-no-ho-hi, the first messenger sent down from the heavens (and is also said to be her son, thereby uncle to first emperor Ninigi, and thereby also of Amaterasu’s bloodline even if not the heir) to request that Okuninushi relinquish his land, but who instead befriended Okuninushi. Befriended him enough to remain his main servant, apparently.

That makes last year’s royal wedding (or rather, de-royalfying) wedding very interesting. The former Princess Noriko of Takamado, a first cousin once removed of Emperor Akihito, married Kunimaro Senge on October 5, 2014, at Izumo Taisha with a private reception at Ichibata Hotel here in Matsue in the (now so-called) land of En-musubi, divine fate-binding. Her husband is the eldest son of Takamasa Senge, current head priest of Izumo Taisha. Although she is now technically a commoner and imperial lineage is passed down through the male line anyway, mythologically, it still means that the descendents of Amanoterasu and Ame-no-ho-hi (who disobeyed Amanoterasu’s order and did not receive the same privileges as his nephew Ninigi) are now married. No one really mentioned this little tidbit in any of the media coverage I noticed.

Granted, family lineages are not always so smooth throughout centuries worth of enough drama to fill NHK’s decades of annual lengthy Taiga Drama (period dramas). Just as much as the imperial family has had drama surrounding its transfers of power between relatives, the Sengu family is also only one branch of the Ame-no-ho-hi family line, and they have been officially in charge of Izumo Taisha since 1947 after it was privatized again following its brief stint as a government-administered, Imperially-affiliated shrine during state-lead Shinto. Although the Sengu family has more followers throughout the nation in their Izumo Taisha-Kyo faith (sort of like an order or spirituality within the broader faith of Shintoism), it is said that the Kitajima family–whom they seperated from–has more local followers for their supposedly more orthodox Izumo-Kyo. But alas, this all takes place many centuries after the mythology of their origins was recorded in the Kojiki/Nihonshoki/Fudoki.

Continued from Part 4










Thus concludes The Kojiki As Told By Brittany! Well, not quite. We still have the historical context, local rituals, and some more info about Izumo Taisha to address in the coming weeks. That, and although it won’t be a preview of more comics to come, I am hoping to do another local mythology themed nengajo (New Year’s card) illustration (see 2013, 2014, and 2015).

Learn about the sites associated with this legend!
Historical basis and influence
The Kuniyuzuri rituals at Miho Shrine
The layout of Izumo Taisha Grand Shrine
En-musubi and Kamiarizuki at Izumo Taisha Grand Shrine

Or see the Kojiki a.t.b.b. masterlist!
The Kojiki Myths in Manga Form

Continued from Part 3









To be continued in the grand conclusion of the Kojiki a.t.b.b. series!

Continued from Part 2




Recall who Kotoshironushi is here.

Recall the Cape of Miho here.

The Hii River has shown up in many legends, as it was home to the Yamata-no-Orochi and a love-struck crockasharkagator swam up it. Back then, it fed out into the ocean, but after centuries of land reform and water control, this part of the Hii River is now Lake Shinji, the Ohashi River, Lake Nakaumi, and Miho Bay.



It was actually much more complicated than that. Kojiki scholars have spent a lot of time on this passage.



Continued in Part 4

Continued from Part 1








In the Kojiki canon, he was lounging on his couch when it fell back and hit him. Also, his brother-in-law bore an uncanny resemblance to him, so when he showed up to pay his respects the mourners mistook him for Amawakahiko. It mad him so angry to be mistaken for a dead person that he tore down the funeral hut in rage.


Continued in Part 3