Sunday, January 10, 2010

"Tora doshi": a spirit of rebellion guiding Tokyo

"2010 Year of the Tiger" started and after the economic crisis of 2009, people are hoping for a much better luck. Politics, business, society. The year of Tiger is to show lots of combative spirit. Japanese society is known to look inward to find answers to life's challenging questions, traditions, inner strength, leading to modernization, sacrifices eventually...

The year started as all the others, wishful prayers flocked to local religion (Shintoism) shrines for the first business day of the New Year. One of the most praised is Tokyo's Kanda Myojin Shrine. Why? It is dedicated to the country's god of business! Kanda-Myojin is located in Soto-Kanda, in one of the most expensive estate areas of Tokyo. It's packed in early days of the year by Japanese (and vdocam' foreigners) who pay a ritual visit to ask for business prosperity and good health. People gathered by thousands in the first hours of O-Shogatsu (the 3 first New Year days) as seen on this vdo.

Battling against their own fear, some good-luck-wishers wearing white gowns threw freezing water to themselves in a typical "shamanist" purification rite, the rites of passage to the new year. Under 7 degrees temperature, needless to say that only a few volunteers (around 30) practiced and many roared as Tigers!

History repeats itself

Kanda Shrine (神田明神) was built 1,270 years ago what is present Otemachi (大手町) areas in Tokyo. It was moved to Kanda-dai (神田台) at the beginning of the Edo era, early 17th century. Kanda Myojin shrine was much revered in old days by the warrior class of people. Especially in the Edo period, the general Tokugawa paid high respect to this shrine, and later it proved to be the object of cult and respect from Japanese.

The three major Kami enshrined are Daikokuten, Ebisu, and Taira no Masakado. As Daikokuten and Ebisu both belong to the Seven Gods of Fortune, Kanda Shrine finds itself as a popular place for businessmen and entrepreneurs who come to to pray for wealth and prosperity.

Kanda festival (Kanda matsuri) is one of the three major Shinto festivals in Tokyo, started in 1600 by Tokugawa Ieyasu to celebrate his decisive victory at the battle of Sekigahara. At the time, the festival was important enough to be named a state festival, and its highly decorated mikoshi were paraded down the main streets and into Edo castle so that even the shogun could observe the celebrations. Today it is held in honor of the enshrined kami, and celebrated around May 15.

A society of right and wrong

Japan as a "society says" cutural relativism.

On the gate of the Kanda Myojin Shrine there’s a tethered horse and this is Taira no Masakado’s family crest (Heike no Monogatari).

Taira no Masakado (平将門), a powerful landowner in the Kanto (Tokyo) region, was a Samurai in the Heian period of Japan, he led one of the largest insurgent forces in the period against the central government of Kyoto. In 939, Masakado led a rebellion, the "Jōhei Tengyo no ran". In December of that year, he conquered Shimotsuke (Tochigi prefecture) and Kozuke (Gunma prefecture) provinces; Taira claimed the title of "Shinno"(New Emperor). The central government in Kyoto responded by putting a reward on his head, and fifty-nine days later his cousin Sadamori, whose father Masakado had attacked and killed, killed Taira at the Battle of Kojima (Shimosa Province) and took his head to the capital.


After his death, the head of Taira no Masakado was separated from his body and moved somewhere near the Kanda Myojin shrine’s current location and later was enshrined in the Kanda Shrine. Today indeed, Taira no Masakado is one of the three kami enshrined in Kanda Myojin Shrine, together with Daikokuten and Ebisu. It is believed that his spirit watches over the surrounding area.

Over the centuries, Taira no Masakado became a demi-God (as the Greek Mythology Heracles, the ultimate hero) to the Japanese locals who kept impressed by his stand against the central government (or any major authority). His life can be regarded as a feature of rebellion, a fact known in the archipelago Middle Ages. In contemporary Japan a comparative may exist with the fight of the nation, in politics, diplomacy, business, societal issues concerning the whole community. Needless to mention that the legendary final resting place of Taira no Masakado's head is buried nearby the Tokyo Imperial Palace. (quotes of agencies, Fujisankei, Wikipedia, Shrine asso. Muza. Mackinnon. Asian Art. Notes)

Taira no Masakado as seen here at the peak time of his life, strength and conquest, described as the archetype for bravery and living proof that might-makes-right...

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