Cultural


Shiraoi Hokkaido Ainu's Title NO2

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Exploring Ainu’s Wisdom and Crafts in Shiraoi, Hokkaido

By Denis Plamondon

Photos by Sandra D’Sylva and Denis Plamondon

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When one thinks of Hokkaido, many images surge from the conception of Japan’s northernmost island. Notions of nature, wilderness, mountains, volcanoes, large farms, snow, ice carvings, festivals and ski resorts easily come to mind. So are major events like the Winter Olympics of Sapporo in 1972 or last year’s G8 Hokkaido Summit. If one scratches the surface a little further, one might identify the name of the indigenous people of Japan. After all, the Ainu have been living here for several thousands of years.

On the other hand, we’re probably unaware of the long history of discrimination and the chronicled inferiority complex felt by the Ainu themselves which almost led to their extinction. As a matter of fact, many stories depict the Ainu-Wajin (Japanese) relation as a stream of repulsion for a culture of lesser importance, second rate and not worth keeping. The Ainu elders even stopped teaching their native language to their children to enable them to more easily integrate into mainstream Japanese culture. The embarrassment of being Ainu seems particularly ironic when we know its meaning: Ainu means “human” or a “respectable human”. The government only recognized the rights of this great nation in 1997 with the rather ineffective Ainu Cultural Promotion Law to describe their culture as “unique”. But it takes more than an exhibition of fabrics and other crafts to preserve a culture; teaching language and transmitting values are instrumental to keep the Ainu nation alive. (Please read an insightful interview with Hasegawa Osamu ). According to a 2006 census, the Ainu population in Hokkaido accounted for 23,782 inhabitants while between 2,500 and 10,000 individuals were estimated to be living in Tokyo. This number is probably higher since many are unaware of their origin or hide their true identity. At first glance, one may get discouraged with such an outcome, but the situation has started to change for the Ainu people, like many other things in Japan.

In addition to dedicated ‘backstage’ activists, proud and talented Ainu artists are trying to promote and revitalize their culture to a new level by transcending their folklore: Oki and his Ainu Dub Band are gaining world recognition; and Ainu Rebels led by Mina Sakai are known for fusing traditional music with dance, rock and hip-hop. The international solidarity between aboriginals from around the world, who hold regular meetings every year, is no stranger to the emancipation of Ainu culture. In September 2007, the UN General Assembly passed the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the Japanese Government finally passed a bill which recognizes the Ainu as “the indigenous people of Japan”.

Keeping Ainu Culture Alive:

On 3 October 2009, Kaha:wi, a Mohawk dance company from Canada, is performing at the Red Brick Warehouse, in Yokohama. The theater company will share the stage with Ainu Rebels in a show called: Dance with the Earth. To mark the occasion, Professor Hiroshi Nakagawa of Chiba University will give a lecture on the teachings of Ainu language. In Tokyo, the Restaurant Rera Cise (House of Wind) in Nakano is also a good place for the diffusion of Ainu culture and cuisine.

The Ainu Museum in Shiraoi:

Shiraoi is a small town located some 20 kilometers west of Noboribetsu. There are a few hotels in the area, but Ryokan Okita, just a few minutes from the JR Station, is a good recommendation if you are looking for convenient budget accommodation. The Ainu Museum actually offers more than only a museum. An interesting display of houses (cise) was erected to represent a typical Ainu village. A series of music and dance performances are scheduled every day which allows visitors a great opportunity to learn about this rich and unique culture. Lively entertainers dance around a rectangular fire in the middle of the house with typical instruments, such as a tonkori (plucked string instrument). A woman plays a mukkuri (mouth harp) with rhythms that evoke the Inuits in northern Canada. They take great care to perform correctly as it is said that most Ainu songs are sacred and are often sung to keep evils spirits away.  Performers proudly wear traditional Ainu costumes and headbands embroidered with organic patterns, also designed with the rational of protecting the wearer from evil. If you would like to learn more about Ainu patterns, please visit the superb website by Deborah Davidson, Project U-E-Peker.

Watch an interesting interview with Mina Sakai of Ainu Rebels

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Shiraoi Hokkaido Ainu's houses (Cise)

Shiraoi Hokkaido - Ainu Houses (Cise)

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Ainu's costumes and culture presentation in Shiraoi, Hokkaido

Ainu traditional wear and cultural performance - Shiraoi, Hokkaido

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Ainu's dance around a fire place in indigenous house, Shiraoi. Hokkaido

Ainu dance around a hearth in an indigenous house - Shiraoi, Hokkaido

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Women Musician playing the tonkori (plucked string instrument) in Shiraoi, Hokkaido

Musician playing the tonkori (plucked string instrument) - Shiraoi, Hokkaido

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Ainu's woman musician playing the "bombard" in Shiraoi, Hokkaido

Ainu musician playing the "mukkuri" - Shiraoi, Hokkaido

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2 women wearing Ainu's costumes with baby bed in Shiraoi, Hokkaido

Women wearing Ainu dresses singing a baby to sleep - Shiraoi, Hokkaido

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Inside an Ainu's house in Shiraoi, Hokkaido

Inside an Ainu house - Shiraoi, Hokkaido

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Fishes are being smoked in the ceiling of an Ainu's house in Shiraoi, Hokkaido

Fishes are being smoked inside Ainu house - Shiraoi, Hokkaido

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Wall patterns and tatoo on one hand in Shiraoi, Hokkaido

Wall patterns and tatoos (hand in photo) - Shiraoi, Hokkaido

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Women executing Ainu mats'work in Shiraoi, Hokkaido

Women weaving an Ainu mat - Shiraoi, Hokkaido

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Title Ainu Article

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Ainu are the first inhabitants of Hokkaido, a major island located  in northern Japan. In a coming article, I will be writing  about the museum of Shiraoi and its enactment of Ainu’s great, but yet endangered culture.

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Enormous blue demons welcome you in Oyako kisou, Noboribetsu Onsen, Hokkaido

Enormous blue demons welcome you in Oyako kisou, Noboribetsu Onsen, Hokkaido

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Date Samurai Matsuri: Hokkaido

By Denis Plamondon

Photos by Sandra D’Sylva and Denis Plamondon

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Opening of the 2009 Date Samurai Matsuri

Opening of the 2009 Date Samurai Matsuri

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Memento of the Bushido (The Way of the Warrior)

There are many festivals in Japan and finding one in Hokkaido isn’t hard! Japanese enjoy celebrating past events and observing important anniversaries. Hokkaido is no exception to this fervor. When planning a trip to Hokkaido, consider that many events run during the peak summer season, thus the next question on your checklist may easily read: are their festivals worth the effort of traveling so far a field?

This is a question we asked locals at Lake Toyako about the Date Samurai Matsuri (1-2 August 2009). Some responses were uncertain and unenthusiastic. One senior lady we met said with a quiet smile: “when you’ve seen it once …” Nevertheless, trusting a good recommendation and our own intuition, we set-off by train for the town of Datemombetsu … and, we were pleased with the outcome of this 2-day festival. The events of the first day conveniently took place in front of the Datemombetsu JR train station, from 6 pm onwards. Citizens, visitors and contributors alike were greeted by the organizers in typical festival fanfare during the opening ceremnoy, including a sacred blessing and sutra from a visiting monk. A representative from each of the 10 participating floats gregariously introduced themselves to an equally receptive crowd. As the procession of floats, dancers and performers paraded down the town’s main street, onlookers were treated to the usual aromas and resonances of summer in Japan – whiffs of yakitori on the grill, the drum beat of taiko 「太鼓」 – always a great way to stimulate the senses and nourish the soul.

The following day consisted of a historical re-enactment of a samurai procession preparing for battle. The event was short from about 3-4 pm, and held in a large park called “Date Rekishi no Mori” (伊達歴史の森) some 20 minutes walking distance from the JR station. (Nonetheless, it was prudent to arrive early to secure a good spot.) This colorful and imposing production involved as many actors in traditional costume as there were spectators. Armies of samurai (侍) and heavily armored cavaliers paraded across the makeshift battlefield to congregate atop a hill, while an array of banners and flags fluttered in the background and gunmen on bended-knee fired shots into the air from vintage weapons. A contingent of samurai warriors, wearing outfits from the “bushido” (武士道) era, followed with their squires and fabulously adorned horses. Each took a turn to enter the arena and demonstrate their respective skills. The ceremony reached its climatic finale with the lighting of a bonfire and cries for the triumphant return of samurai armies from the supreme commander known as the sodaisho (総大将)or shogun (将軍).

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Order of cart presentation in the parade of 2009 Date Samurai Matsuri

Order of floats in the opening parade during the 2009 Date Samurai Matsuri

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Pushcart at the 2009 Date Samurai Matsuri in Hokkaido

Pushcart-float at the 2009 Date Samurai Matsuri in Hokkaido

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Black and white banner at the 209 Date Samurai Matsuri in Hokkaido

Colourful banners at the 2009 Date Samurai Matsuri in Hokkaido

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Warriors with their red banner at the 2009 Date Samurai Matsuri in Hokkaido

Warriors in vibrant red at the 2009 Date Samurai Matsuri in Hokkaido

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Archery at the 2009 Date Samurai Matsuri in Hokkaido

A group of archery apprentices choreographically take aim with the grace inherent to this sport. 2009 Date Samurai Matsuri in Hokkaido.

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Re-enacting old gun shooting at the 2009 Date Samurai Matsuri in Hokkaido

Re-enacting gun shooting at the 2009 Date Samurai Matsuri in Hokkaido

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Personalizing the "Bushido" or "Way of the Warrior" in the 2009 Date Samurai Matsuri in Hokkaido

Personalizing the "Bushido" or "Way of the Warrior" at the 2009 Date Samurai Matsuri in Hokkaido

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A proud and young samurai? 2009 Date Samurai Matsuri in Hokkaido

A proud and young samurai at the 2009 Date Samurai Matsuri in Hokkaido

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Cavalry and ground army presentation at the 2009 Date Samurai Matsuri in Hokkaido

Cavalry and ground army presentation at the 2009 Date Samurai Matsuri in Hokkaido

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Inspection and presentation of orders at the 2009 Date Samurai Matsuri in Hokkaido

Inspection and presentation of samurai sections at the 2009 Date Samurai Matsuri in Hokkaido

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Please share your comments with me:

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Next article: Discover the Geothermal Region of Noboribetsu

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Datemombetsu Samurai Matsuri

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Archery Demonstration at the Date Samurai Matsuri, Datemombetsu Hokkaido

Archery Demonstration at the Date Samurai Matsuri, Datemombetsu Hokkaido

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The town of Datemombetsu held a colorful annual festival in early August. The Date Samurai Matsuri enacts scenes of the Bushido era and it is worth the journey. Please come back soon for a report on this particular event.

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Excursion sacrée entre Kurama et Kibune

Par Denis Plamondon
Photos par Sandra D’Sylva et Denis Plamondon
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Se perdre dans la nature au dessus de Kurama

Se perdre dans la nature au dessus de Kurama

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Si vous voulez profiter au maximum de votre séjour à Kyoto(京都), l’exploration de ses environs pourraît consolider la fabuleuse expérience que l’on attend d’une visite dans la capitale de 1000 ans. À part l’incontournable préfecture de Nara (奈良), reconnue pour  ses célèbres temples Tōdaiji (東大寺) et Hōryū-ji (法 隆寺), trésors de l’humanité qu’ il ne faut surtout pas ignorer, la ville de Kyoto est entourée de plusieurs destinations faciles d’accès. De telles visites vous procureront d’enrichissantes découvertes. La ville de Uji (宇治) cache l’un des plus beaux temples bouddhistes du Japon: le Byodo-In (平等 ). L’éloge lui vient de la finesse de son architecture et de l’élégance de ses formes. Profitez de ce périple pour visiter une fabrique de thé et goutez à la délicatesse du Macha. À la nuit tombée, vous pouvez aussi embarquer sur l’un des bateaux qui partent à la pêche au cormoran munis d’une perche à laquelle on suspend une cage de feu afin de naviguer dans la nuit. À l’ouest de Kyoto, se trouve la petite ville d’Arashiyama (嵐山)et une multitude de temples éparpillés dans une forêt de bamboo. Au nord, le village de Ohara (大原)vous permettra de découvrir le temple Sanzen-In (三千院)et son impressionnant jardin. Mais le secret demeure une petite course en montagne entre Kurama (鞍馬) et Kibune(貴船)

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Randonnée Kurama-Kibune:

Niô-mon, la porte des gardiens

Niô-mon, la porte des gardiens

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Je vous propose aujourd’hui une randonnée dans la montagne de Kurama qui se trouve à peine à 12 kilomètres au nord de Kyoto. La compagnie de chemin de fer Eisan opère un petit train à trois wagons qui part de la gare de Demachi-Yanagi et termine son trajet à Kurama-Yama, 30 minutes plus tard. Le village, célèbre aussi pour son festival du feu (鞍馬の火祭り) le 22 octobre, – voir l’article sur le Festival de Feu de Kurama – est encastré au fond d’une gorge que traverse la rivière Kurama-Gawa (鞍馬川). Au retour de votre promenade en forêt, suivez la route qui longe le cours d’eau et profitez de l’un de ses onsen(温泉). Il n’y a rien de plus charmant que de relaxer dans un bain thermal en plein air tout en admirant les arbres célestes qui se dressent dans le flan de la montagne, surtout après les efforts de la marche.

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Les moines au départ de la randonnée

Les moines au départ de la randonnée

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Dès que vous sortez de la gare à Kurama, vous vous engagerez dans les escaliers qui vous mènent à la Porte des Gardiens (Niô-mon) 「二王門」. La structure est imposante. Une fois affranchis de votre contribution de quelques centaines de yen, vous emprunterez une longue suite d’escaliers, de sentiers, de ponts et croiserez une multitude de petits hôtels shintos, de temples bouddhistes et des statuts de toutes dimensions. Le chemin zigzague dans la montagne et la nature vous réserve un accueil surprenant avec ses arômes, sa fraîcheur, ses ombres et la curiosité de ses formes. L’aménagement forestier respecte à la lettre l’esthétique japonais: Atteindre l’harmonie tout en évitant de niveler jusqu’à la perfection! Cette randonnée vous donnera en outre l’occasion d’observer d’étranges manifestations de la nature. Entre-autre, l’imposante stature de plusieurs de ses arbres donne à la forêt ses lettres de noblesse.

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Les charmes de la montée entre Kurama et Kibune

Les charmes de la montée entre Kurama et Kibune

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Taille impressionnate des arbres entre Kurama et Kibune

Taille impressionnate des arbres entre Kurama et Kibune

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L'eau de la purification près du Temple de Kurama

L'eau de la purification près du Temple de Kurama

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Le temple Kurama 「Honden-kondô」 (本殿金堂), situé à mi-chemin du sommet de la montagne, fut fondé en 770 suite à l’illumination de son fondateur, le moine Gantei – (Voir information complète ). La montagne sacrée préserve les trois symboles de l’âme universelle, soient le pouvoir, la lumière et l’amour. Tous les cultes visent à vénérer la manifestation de ces trois éléments dont la Trinité représente la divinité suprême : Sonten (尊天). La Trinité de Sonten se traduit aussi par les concepts suivants:  L’âme de la vie, l’âme suprême de l’univers et l’activité de l’âme. Après 1239 ans d’histoire, on ne s’étonne plus de trouver autant de reliques du passé religieux à cet endroit alors que la dimension sacrée du lieu explique l’aspect intact de sa nature.

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La montée entre les temples de Kurama à Kibune

La montée entre les temples de Kurama à Kibune

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Plus on monte, plus le panorama s’ouvre jusqu’à ce que l’on atteigne le Honden Kondô. Sa terrasse alors offre un spectacle magnifique sur la vallée. L’originalité des objets religieux vaut le déplacement.

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Le pavillon adjaçant avec ses espaces ouverts près du temple kurama

Le pavillon adjaçant avec ses espaces ouverts près du temple kurama

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Le cône de pierres fines près du temple Kurama

Le cône de pierres fines près du temple Kurama

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Si vous ne voulez pas marcher cette longue partie sinueuse, une autre option s’ouvre à vous. Grâce au funiculaire situé à la base, près de la Porte des Gardiens, il est possible d’accéder directement à la Pagode Tahô-tô (多宝塔)quelques mètres à peine au dessous du temple de Kurama. Un peu plus haut, vous pouvez vous arrêter un moment au musée dont la collection est voué à l’environnement. Il existe même un étage contenant des reliques au fort contenu historique pour Kurama.

Que ce soit les racines qui s’étalent au dessus du sol, les temples au bois naturel comme le Sôjo ga dani Fudô-dô (僧正が谷不動堂) ou Maô-Den (魔王殿) qui attireront votre regard inquisiteur ou encore la forme en lambeaux de l’écorce des arbres, cette promenade dans la montagne sacrée ne vous laissera guère indifférent.

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Une pause près d'un lieu sacré: le Sôjô ga dani Fudô-dô

Une pause près d'un lieu sacré: le Sôjô ga dani Fudô-dô

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Lieu de culte en montagne: Maô-den

Lieu de culte en montagne: Maô-den

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Racines en surface Randonnée Kurama-Kibune

Racines en surface Randonnée Kurama-Kibune

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Sôjô ga dani Fudô-dô

Okuno-In Maô-den

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Étrangeté de la nature. un arbre s'habille d'un châle

Étrangeté de la nature. un arbre s'habille d'un châle

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Au cours de votre descente vers Kibune, vous souhaiterez peut-être refaire le chemin inverse. Le joli village de Kibune continuera de vous épanouir par l’authenticité des ses restaurants, l’ordonnancement de ses commerces et la simplicité de ses maisons. Les piétons et les voitures qui circulent dans les deux sens se partagent l’unique rue étroite, car le village est coincé entre la petite rivière et l’autre versant de la montagne. Au cours des longs mois d’été, on installe des planchers temporaires (Yuka / 床) au dessus de la rivière afin de créer de l’espace pour des restaurants.

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Manger sur une terrace au desus de la rivière à Kibune

Manger sur une terrace au desus de la rivière à Kibune

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Profitez-en pour vous restaurez et commandez le Shabushabu (しゃぶしゃぶ), une sorte de pot au feu que l’on prépare devant vous et que vous mangerez au son de l’eau qui gicle entre les pierres de la rivière.

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Serving ShabuShabu in Kibune sr le "yuka" au sessus de la rivière

Serving ShabuShabu in Kibune sr le "yuka" au sessus de la rivière

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Si vous voulez laisser un commentaire, veillez retournez au début de cet article et cliquez le lien “Comment”. Vos impressions seront appréciées.

Horikiri Shobuen Gardens:

An Original Iris Matsuri

By Denis Plamondon
Photos: Sandra D’Sylva & Denis Plamondon

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Koto, Shamisen Horikiri Shobuen Station

Koto and Shamisen at Horikiri Shobuen Station

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As summer kicks off with flowers in full bloom, festivals to celebrate irises, azaleas and hydrangeas have been organized across Japan. On June 7th, we decided to go to Horikiri Shobuen Gardens in Tokyo and, as soon as we pulled into the train station, we discovered that most of the neighborhood had gathered for an annual iris festival! Local organizers had closed the main avenue and surrounding small sinuous streets leading to Horikiri Shobuen Gardens allowing hundreds of performers to exhibit their many talents. They had even laid down tatami (畳)mats for spectators to slip off their shoes, sit down and appreciate the show in comfort. Groups of dancers and musicians paraded one after the other for the enjoyment of their suburban audience and the few foreigners like us who had ventured into the heart of Edogawa. Wadaiko (和太鼓)and taiko (太鼓)[Japanese drums], koto (琴)and shamisen (三味線)[three-stringed Japanese banjos], and traditional dances were in abundance, with performers clad in colorful costumes, unusual hats and head bands. A few female performers in particular added a special texture to their folk dances with specially angled geitas (下駄) [wooden shoes].

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Horikiri Shobuen Station Iris Festival

Horikiri Shobuen Station Iris Festival

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Iris Festival Horikiri Shobuen Wadaiko Dancers

Iris Festival Horikiri Shobuen Wadaiko Dancers

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Iris Festival Horikiri Shobuen Dancers Yellow & Orange Outfit

Iris Festival Horikiri Shobuen Dancers

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Iris Festival Horikiri Shobuen Traditional Dance in Streets

Iris Festival Horikiri Shobuen - Traditional Dances in Streets

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Iris Festival Horikiri Shobuen Dancers Group in Black & White Outfit

Iris Festival Horikiri Shobuen - Traditional Dances in the Streets

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Iris Festival Horikiri Shobuen Dancers featuring Geita variation

Iris Festival Horikiri Shobuen - Dancers Featuring Geitas

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Iris Festival in Horikiri Shobuen, Dion Shinyou Taiko Group

Iris Festival in Horikiri Shobuen - Dion Shinyou Taiko Group

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Iris festivals (Shobu Matsuri) in Tokyo are coming to an end soon (June 1 to June 30). Flowers have already reached their peak, but will last until mid-July.  If you miss them this year, make sure to put one of these festivals on your calendar next year. Horikiri Shobuen Garden and Mizumoto Koen Park in Katsushika-ku, or Yoyogi Park, are among the favorites.

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Iris Violet Horikiri Shobuen Gardens

Violet Iris - Horikiri Shobuen Gardens

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The variety of these flowers is phenomenal . The beauty in their colors and the care that gardeners take to provide them with the best conditions are worth a yearly visit.  Admiration, contemplation and peace are surely the best words to express one’s state of mind when experiencing this extraordinary diversity of nature.

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Iris Violet Unique Horikiri Shobuen

Horikiri Shobuen- Unique Iris Variety

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For more information: see related articles in The Nihon Sun 1) Yomeiri Fune: Wedding Ships Set Sail in Japan and 2) Meiji Jingu Iris Garden

In Spanish: Flores de Iris

In Japanese: 堀切菖蒲園

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Field of Iris in Horikiri Shobuen Gardens

Field of Irises at Horikiri Shobuen Gardens

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Iris viewing rapidly produces a sound peace of mind.

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