Tag Archives: Matsuyama

Urban Flora

As someone who has come from a very rural part of the US where plant-life can be found no matter how deep into a city one goes, the lack of grass and yards in Japan was a cause of some minor culture shock. Dirt-only parks and the playgrounds at my schools only added to this. It is almost as if Japanese urban planning is a thorough rejection of nature, even in small towns like Iyo.

However, this does not mean that  Japanese people as a whole have also come to reject the natural world. Walking down a side street will inevitably lead one past a house that has been covered in potted plants. This set of photos was inspired by these houses with their potted gardens and flowers that have been cultivated in unlikely spots, such as roses and zinnia growing along train tracks.

Words and Photo Story by Michael Haverty, a first year JET living in Iyo City, Chuyo

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Power Stones and Seishin Sekai

If you spend enough time in Japan, you will surely begin to notice the stone bead bracelets that many people seem to own or that are sold in a variety of shops, from second-hand stores to matsuri stalls. There is even a store called M’s Power Stone Shop (パワーストーン専門店エムズ) in the Ōkaidō (大街道) shopping district of Matsuyama. What significance do these little beads hold that they have become so popular? Is it just fashion? If you look more closely, you will see that these bracelets are a sign of a larger spiritual movement bubbling under the surface of Japan.

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M’s Power Stone Shop (パワーストーン専門店エムズ) in Ōkaidō (大街道)

Having studied the sociology of religion at my university in the U.S., I noticed many similarities with practices common among those whose spiritualities fall under the umbrella term of New Age Religions. Though New Age spiritualities consist of many different walks of faith that do not necessarily relate to one another, many of them do have overlapping beliefs and/or practices that are generally tolerated in shared religious spaces. One practice that has gained a lot of popularity in the West is the concept of crystal healing. This is a belief that different gems and various other stones and minerals hold significant properties outside of their material chemistry. Often, this is described as them holding energies or vibrations, attuning to the energies around them, including our own. Beyond healing, these gems can be associated with luck, fortune, fertility, calm moods, protection against harm, and a variety of other purposes.

Knowing this, it is clear that the “power stones” in Japan hold a similar significance. Most places that sell these stones and bracelets also include charts that describe what each stone/color signifies. Anecdotally, there have been stories of people using them as prayer beads, using them to repel negative energies in their lives, etc. Though many may call this simply a placebo effect, this does not delegitimize the spiritual connection these stones are capable of embodying. In fact, many associate these stones with a broad category in Japan known as Seishin Sekai (精神世界) or the Spiritual World, a term very closely approximating the category of New Age religions in the West.

However, one may wonder why people in Japan would turn to Western concepts found in minority religions when Japan has well-established mystic practices in both Shinto and Buddhism. The truth is, Japan has been experimenting with new religions for a while now. Western New Age spirituality, itself heavily influenced by Eastern spirituality and practices such as yoga, chakra, and karma, is just one of many such religious movements.

To start with, Japan has been acquiring new religions (sometimes deemed “cults” by the mainstream media) since the Meiji period and especially since the end of World War II. A quick online search shows over 40 different religious groups that fall under this category. Including small cults with few members and groups that have stayed underground, it is hard to say how many dozens of these faiths there may be in Japan.

Some scholars believe that traditional Japanese religions have not kept up with the needs of modern Japanese society. During the Meiji Period, Shinto was promoted as the national religion of Japan. However, though Shinto was a commonly practiced spirituality, until this point, most Japanese people turned to Buddhism for deeper spiritual meaning and experiences. (This can be seen today in that some religious scholars and many Japanese themselves question whether Shinto counts as a religion or not.) This led to people using Shinto in religious ways they had not before and Buddhism lagging behind society, growing more and more rigid in its traditions. Ultimately, after the Japanese defeat in WWII which included the de-deification of the Japanese emperor, a major tenant of state Shinto, Japanese people searching for spirituality and community identity found a void. This has been compounded by globalization and the use of the internet. As a result, many new religions, often off-shoots of Shinto and/or Buddhism, have formed over the past century.

Why, then, is Seishin Sekai so visible and popular? Put most simply, it’s marketable. Beginning around the 70’s but mostly in the 80’s, the term Seishin Sekai was used in magazines, bookstores, and various other places to refer to a wide variety of spiritual practices including Western forms of yoga, meditation, chakra, reincarnation, karma, and more, which fit very easily into the already heavily Buddhist country of Japan. At this time, interest in the occult, UFOs, extrasensory perception, Western folk practices, and more began to rise as forms of entertainment. These also fit with the cultural association with rituals and mysticism found in Shinto and Japanese folk beliefs. We still see remnants of this in many forms of media, especially anime and manga, including the genre of “magical girls.” Some examples that are popular today are “Puella Magi Madoka Magica” which uses witch-related terms  and “Cardcaptor Sakura,” which references Tarot cards, though neither is an accurate representation of these traditions.

However, this positive relationship with the media was short-lived. On March 20, 1995, a new religious movement known as Aum Shinrikyo (オウム真理教) released sarin nerve gas on five trains in Tokyo, killing 13 people and affecting over 1000 other commuters. This was massively devastating for Japan. After, anti-cult movements formed, and the media took on the role of gatekeepers, presenting cults and new religions in a negative light, regardless of affiliation with the terrorists. Many religious movements were forced to go underground if they wished to survive this cultural pushback.

This is another area where Seishin Sekai has excelled. Despite often receiving negative media attention, Seishin Sekai is not an organized religious movement; it is more of a loose association of spiritual and pseudoscientific practices and beliefs that fall outside of mainstream religions. In this way, individuals’ practices are harder to associate with religious organizations like Aum Shinrikyo with its organized meetings and internal hierarchies of power. Morning yoga and wearing colorful bracelets are not comparable to attending religious services. This allows people to explore their spirituality without fear of associating with dangerous and/or socially deviant cults.

Likewise, New Age religions and the category of “spiritual but not religious” are two of the fastest growing spiritual categories in the US and other parts of the West. Such influence has also added another push to the popularity of Seishin Sekai in Japan. This is especially true recently with the omnipresence of the internet and its globalizing influence.

In summary, many of today’s Japanese population have been left without a solid spiritual foothold. Rigid, traditional Buddhism had not adapted quickly enough to the contemporary needs of Japan, and Shinto, which had only recently been used as a centralized religion, had been severely weakened after WWII. This forced many Japanese people to begin searching for new spiritual outlets. Spiritual practices from the East (especially Buddhism) began to influence Western spirituality, and, in turn, these Western New Age spiritualities began to influence Japan’s Seishin Sekai. After mainstream Japan and the media pushed back against “cults” in the 90’s, the more subtle spiritual practices that are associated with Seishin Sekai allowed it to survive until today where it has become commonplace. Next time you’re in a crowd of people, keep an eye out for colorful gem bracelets; they might just be a fashion statement, but they come with the history of modern Japanese spirituality.

 Photo and words by Michael Haverty, a first year ALT in Iyo City, Chuyo 

Iyo Kasuri – The Calming Dark Blue of Ehime

立秋の紺落ち付くや伊予絣 Risshuu no kon ochitsuku ya Iyo kasuri At the start of fall, dark blue puts my mind at ease – Iyo kasuri – Natsume Soseki 夏目礎石

The famous author and poet Natsume Soseki dedicated one of his renowned haiku to the calming beauty of dark blue Iyo kasuri, a fabric  export carrying the name of Iyo Province, modern day Ehime Prefecture. But what is Iyo kasuri exactly?

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Threads dyed using the kasuri process

Often translated as “ikat,” kasuri (絣) is a fabric dyeing technique that involves tying cotton around threads before submerging them in a vat of fermenting indigo dye. After being dipped in the vat of dye many times and allowed to oxidize into a dark blue color, the cotton is untied from the threads, leaving behind undyed, white areas. Anyone who has experience with tie-dye would be familiar with this. However, unlike tie-dye, individual threads are dyed instead of an already finished cloth. Patterns are painstakingly calculated and mapped out using bamboo rulers so that when weaved together, the white and blue sections of thread create a repeating pattern. If the dyeing on the thread is off even a little, it can ruin the whole product. The resulting pattern often has a slightly hazy outline, called kasure (掠れ), meaning “blurred” in Japanese, a likely source of the name Iyo kasuri.

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Examples of clothing made with Iyo kasuri patterns

This technique came to Japan from India via the Ryukyu islands and spread throughout the country during the Edo and Meiji Periods. However, the Iyo Province version became one of the most well-known with its smooth finish and more lighthearted designs. Matsuyama native Kagiya Kana (1782-1864), considered the mother of kasuri, thought up many of these fanciful designs such as diamonds, 6-pointed star hemp leaves, hexagons, and more. According to legend, she was inspired after watching farmers change the thatching on their roofs. Over time, the bamboo had weathered and aged, but where they had been tied together, the bamboo was its original color. Besides the fun patterns, a few other elements aided in the quick rise of Iyo kasuri’s popularity. The Iyo Province already had a strong textile trade network established by the production of striped cotton fabric. Also, because the dyeing process strengthens the threads used in the fabric, Iyo kasuri was often used as durable but fashionable working clothes, a market that had been largely untapped. Furthermore, traditional hand looms used in Japan were inefficient, taking a lot of time and energy to weave with. However, Shinsuke Kikuya (born in 1773), a merchant with a store in Masakicho who was familiar with textiles, bought a loom from Kyoto and began experimenting with ways to improve it. Eventually, he invented the takabata (高機), an upright, treadle-operated loom which would allow weavers to create fabric much faster and more easily than ever before. Iyo kasuri is alive and well even today. The iconic navy blue and white patterns can be found in everything from kimono to Western-style clothes, hats, coin purses, folding fans, and more. Some dyers have even been inspired by tie-dye and have created a hybrid using Iyo kasuri dying techniques on finished cloth to formtie-dye-like patterns. Other colors outside of dark blue have also been introduced through artificial dyes, expanding Iyo kasuri’s possibilities. One place where Iyo kasuri is alive and well is Mingeiiyokasurikaikan (民芸伊予かすり会館) or the Iyo Kasuri Folk Arts Museum. Located near the Kinuyama Iyotetsu station in Matsuyama, the Iyo Kasuri Folk Arts Museum offers visitors many different experiences for only 100 yen. (You can download their app at the front desk for an English guide to the museum.)

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Iyo Kasuri Folk Arts Museum 民芸伊予かすり会館 in Matsuyama, Ehime

The first part of the museum shows the many steps taken in making Iyo kasuri. Set up like a mix between an old Japanese home (where dying originated) and a modern textile factory, visitors can walk through while seeing examples of thread preparation and design creation, tempering the thread by boiling it, the measuring and tying of the threads, dying, untying, winding the warp threads, weaving, and examples of the final products. There are also historic photos of some of the original dyers and weavers running along the wall along with quilts and clothing made of Iyo kasuri.

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A modern loom with warp threads of various colors

The next section goes over the history of Iyo kasuri, also including many examples of historical pieces including screens, clothes, and decorative panels. The designs range from simple geometric patterns to depictions of nature, such as birds and fish. A few pieces even display religious figures from Japanese mythology . After learning all of this history and walking past the very tempting gift shop, visitors enter a room filled with indigo vats and looms. For around 2000 yen, visitors can try their hand at making their own Iyo kasuri tie-dye handkerchief. Visitors can also take a turn weaving at a loom. The dyeing can take close to an hour to do, and it closes before the rest of the museum (around 2:30 pm), so I would recommend going early or calling in advance  if you want to take part in this. Along with an Ehime-themed dining areaand a gift shop that sells an assortment of Iyo kasuri goods and Ehime-themed omiyage, the  museum also houses an exhibit of Ehime folk art. At the end of the route, which loops back to the entrance, is a room filled with handmade paper, pottery, glassware, and much more including, of course, Iyo kasuri.

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Bolts of Iyo kasuri fabric along with goods made from it, in various patterns

A dark blue fabric for both the workers and the nobility, painstakingly made by inventive minds, Iyo kasuri is a treasure from Ehime’s history  that has spread throughout the country of Japan and into the present.  Smooth, durable, and decorated in fun and playful patterns, it is no wonder Iyo’s style of indigo dyed fabric was such an instant hit. It is also no wonder the sight of it in early autumn made Natsume Soseki pause, relax, and find a bit of peace in the fast-paced and quickly modernizing world of Meiji Japan.

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Iyo Kasuri Folk Arts Museum foyer with Mikyan cut-out

I would like to thank 民芸伊予かすり会館 and its workers for providing information that was used in the writing of this article.

Written by Michael Haverty, a first year JET living in Chuyo, Ehime. Michael also took the photographs that accompany his article. 

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In Shiki’s Honor- A Haiku Celebration, by ALT’s

This year is the 150th anniversary of two of Matsuyama’s most celebrated literary icons, Natsume Soseki and Masaoka Shiki. Michael Haverty has created a series of photos inspired by the late writers, depicting their impact on present day Matsuyama.

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Shiki Statue in Dogo

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Masaoka Shiki was an inspirational human being, for those of you who aren’t familiar with his work, a visit to the Shiki museum in Matsuyama is a must.  Shiki achieved many things within his short life,  despite being plagued with tuberculosis for the majority of this. Not only did he help to revive the art form of haiku and tanka, he also acted as a war correspondent during the First-Sino Japanese War and coined most Japanese baseball terminology. In honor of Masaoka Shiki’s 150th anniversary, the Mikan presents to you a haiku extravaganza featuring poetry from ALTs across Ehime prefecture. Some have been inspired by traditional haiku form, whilst others take on a modern approach, whereas some take a comedic turn, akin to senryu.


Summer Storm

Head bowed against rain

Where do you see the beauty?

Petite flower’s smile.

 

Remembering

How’s the weather?

Too hot, too muggy, too much.

I dream of autumn.

Ada Smith


si won

Si Won Yi


Wild wind whispers while

Summer sun sings sapor songs.

Wayward we wander…

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Osamurai-san

Long, beautiful nails;

A yukata and geta;

He arpeggiates.

 

Bugged

Cicadas droning,

Dragonflies flit and flutter.

Mosquitoes stab me.

 

ugh

Woke up late today…

Cannot… Stumbling through fog…

Fire me back to bed.

Ciaran Doyle


A tinge of yellow

on every green growing tree

Fall, what a relief.

 

Cicadas are loud

I can hear them in my dreams

There is no escape.

Kate Flake


Poetry

I envy people

Who put words togetherand

get Perfect poetry.

 

Spring

The ground awakens

“Mushi atsui desu ne.”

Bugs and heavy heat.

 

Summer

Like a sweaty hug

From that one estranged Aunty

Can’t escape summer.

 

Why

Turn the lock firmly

Faceplant in front of aircon

Summer is the worst.

 

The Cyclist

The rain god is pissed,

The heavens open heavy

Unplanned morning swim.  

 

The Cyclist Part 2

The sky has opened

Walls of water spray my bike

Where is my raincoat?

 

Autumn

Fall clings to the trees

Fog erases the mountains

Freezing wind bites bones.

 

Local

Float through cityscape

A common yet foreign sight

You, the A.L.T.

 

Students

Surprise in their eyes

As they see you in the street,

I exist here too.

 

Work

Tall dull white building,

Eerie disjointed singing,

Children’s laugher too.

Kai Dearlove


Off from work early

Still wearing my business suit

They think I’m important

 

Rain at the station

“I’ll leave when it gets better”

It only gets worse

 

Imitation sky

Paint chips off rotting concrete

It’s pacing its cage

 

Lost petals lost in

Bike pedals form a surprise

Bouquet in my spoke

 

A twenty-four hour

Vending machine inside a

Twelve hour grocery store

 

Hit a bump too hard

Groceries jump from my basket

Salt peppers the road

 

Normal, strange people

Saying thanks five times over

To an empty room

 

Hilltop children’s park

Brutalist architecture

Lost in knee-high grass

 

“Under Construction”

Laid against a chipped torii

Taut vines wrap around

 

Evening Ropeway Street

Sun dims and lights tick on

Soft jazz pianos

Tim Alley


黒いマント 星明かりのネックレス あたしのハロウィーン

 夏の夕 セミや鈴虫 ラジオいらない

Kelsey Cooknick


遠くても 潮風に向かい 同じかな

Emily Crichton


 

秋風に 吾がカールの髪を なびかせつ

Hayley Cox