飾り樽 Kazaridaru – Sake barrels at Shinto shrines

Visit any Shinto shrine in Japan and you’ll notice barrels of rice wine on display. These wooden sake barrels known as sakedaru (酒樽) wrapped in straw blankets are stacked and bounded together by rope on a wooden frame.

The decoration of barrels known as kazaridaru signifies a spiritual connection and relationship between brewers and shrines for prosperity. Most brewers donate these sake barrels to shrines for Shinto ceremonies, rituals and festivals. Japanese believe that sake acts as a symbolic unification of Gods and people.

The origin of sake in Japan dates back to around 300 BC as the drink of the Gods. Polished rice is washed and cleaned before steamed. Yeast is later added onto the rice and allowed to ferment. The fermentation process is continued with series of incubation, heating and cooling before alcohol is produced. Traditional sake brewing is no longer in practice as production process has improved to increase yield and reduce brewing time. Today, there are over 1,500 sake manufactures in Japan.

In some of Japans oldest texts the word used for sake is miki (神酒),written with the characters for ‘god’ and ‘wine.’ People would go to a shrine festival and be given rice wine to drink, and they would feel happy and closer to the gods.”

These days, the word o-miki (お神酒) is reserved for rice wine used in Shinto rites and festivals. Sipping a cup is still a prayerful act of symbolic unification with the gods. Shinto shrines and sake manufacturers maintain a symbiotic relationship, in which the shrines conduct rites to ask the gods for the prosperity of the brewers, and — this is where the barrels come in — the brewers donate the sake that shrines need for ceremonies and festivals.

Smaller shrines usually get their o-miki from local sake companies, but two shrines, Meiji Jingu in Tokyo and Ise Jingu in Mie Prefecture, look after the entire national product by accepting donations from every rice-wine brewer in the country. There are about 1,800 sake manufacturers in Japan.

Rice wine is not normally stored in barrels because it picks up too much of the taste and smell of the wood. But a short stay gives the sake a pleasant woody aroma, so upon request brewers fill barrels (from a steel tank) a few days in advance of festivals and other special occasions.

One of those sake barrels, which are called komodaru (薦樽). (Komo is the woven straw wrapped around the staves.) holds four to (斗) (an old measure), or 72 liters (a standard komodaru).

Generally, a brewer provides just one bottle, or an empty barrel for display. The kimochi (気持ち) (gesture) is important, because asking for or giving more sake than is actually needed would be mottainai (勿体無い) (wasteful).

This strikes me as an example of traditional Japanese values: Shinto gods don’t make unreasonable demands of people, and people show respect for the natural world inhabited by Shinto gods by avoiding waste.

12年09月04日 靖国神社

12年09月04日 靖国神社

12年09月04日 靖国神社

12年09月04日 靖国神社

12年09月16日 明治神宮

12年09月16日 明治神宮

12年09月16日 明治神宮

12年09月16日 明治神宮

12年09月16日 明治神宮

12年09月16日 明治神宮

12年09月16日 明治神宮

12年09月16日 明治神宮

飾り樽 Kazaridaru


足利学校 Ashikaga Gakko

Ashikaga Gakko, meaning Ashikaga School is well-known as the oldest academic institution. It is located in Ashikaga city, Tochigi prefecture, about 70 km north of Tokyo and about 70 km south of Nikko. So, Ashikaga would come handy if you plan your trip further to Nikko.

There are controversies about the origin of it, but it is said to have been established ca. 832 in the Heian period by Ono no Takamura and restored in 1432 by Uesugi Norizane, the lord of Ashikaga.

In the 1500s more than 3000 students came to study Confucianism, Chinese Medicine and Divination. The famous library contains more than 12000 volumes ( mostly in Chinese ) and some of Japan’s oldest historical documents,

Missionary Francisco Xavier reported in 1549 the Ashikaga School as the largest and most famous university of Japan.

After the Meiji Restoration in the late 1800s the school was disestablished. After 1990 several wooden buildings including the former student living quarters, classrooms and the library were restored and today the school is under the direction of Ashikaga city board of education.

Now the Ashikaga Gakko has beautiful gardens and lovely, peaceful grounds to walk around.

Inside the school visitors can enjoy videos of the school’s history and challenge the School Kanji tests ( I did and found it pretty hard ) and join a program reading Analects of Confucius aloud.

In the Ashikaga Flower Park you will find 1000-square-meter gigantic wisteria trellises and a 80-meter-long wisteria tunnel.

Entrance Gate. The Kanjis mean 'School'

Entrance Gate. The Kanjis mean ‘School’

Statue of Confucius

Statue of Confucius

Garden area in the school area

Garden area in the school area

Confucius statues

Confucius statues

Students brooding over the challenging Kanji Teasts

Students brooding over the challenging Kanji Tests

The school seen from the street
The school seen from the street


Learning Japanese in Context: temizu 手水

Temizuya  手水舎 inAsakusa Shrine 浅草神社

Temizuya  手水舎 inAsakusa Shrine 浅草神社

Temizu  手水

Temizu  手水

From this article on there will be contributions for the Japanese learning community.

According to my experiences the most effective way to learn and improve your language skills is to use practical and contextual topics in both oral and written situations.

When it comes to written material the dedicated japanese learner is surrounded with a multitude of written boards, plates, signposts, commercials e.t.c.

Happily one expression or Kanji is recognized, but mostly time and schedule doesn’t allow to decipher a somewhat longer text line.

Yet, why not take 5 or 10 minutes trying to come closer to a japanese text.

Armed with a smartphone app, a pocket dictionary and the courage to ask a native speaker can be a rewarding challenge and can be fun as well.

I am convinced this way the learning outcome will turn out more profitable than learning vocabulary in an isolated manner.

Today I chose an instruction table I saw inside a Shinto shrine instructing the visitor step by step with easy sentences and illustrations how to perform a symbolic cleansing called TEMIZU 手水.This purification is considered indispensable before visiting the sacred area and signifies the removal of evil and pollution. Every shrine provides an area in form of a pavilion called temizuya or hōzuya 手水舎 for the ritual.

In the following text I underlined the Kanjis and wrote the whole sentence in Hiragana.

Please, note well, temizu instructions vary between shrines.

The photos were taken at Asakusa Shrine浅草神社 Asakusa-jinja in September 2012



Water and Washing of Hands Method (Purification before praying to the deities)



When worshipping the deities



let us clean heart and body



1. First pour water on the left hand using a dipper



2. next, pour water on the right hand





  1. collect water on your left hand and rinse your mouth.Hide it with your hand when you let the water out. (remark: quietly spit the water out into your cupped left hand, not in the reservoir)



4. Wash the left hand which was held on the mouth once more.



5.At last, cleanse the dipper handle with the leftover water.

この作法では つぎの気持ちよく 手水れるようにづかいが大切です

このさほうでは つぎのひときもちよく てみずれるように こころづかいがいせつです

In this etiquette It is important being thoughtful in a manner that the next person will feel comfortable while performing the purification 

礎石夏目の墓 The grave of Sōseki Natsume in Zōshigaya Cemetery

One of the greatest writers in the modern japanese literature is Sōseki Natsume (1867 to 1916). He lived in the Meiji period (1868 to 1912) and was one of the first japanese novelists to depict the clashes between japanese and western culture.

Among his most outstanding works are I am a cat, Botchan and Kokoro.

Before Natsume Sōseki himself was buried in Zōshigaya Cemetery, he selected the cemetery as the final resting place for the friend of the Sensei in the novel Kokoro (1914)

(雑司ヶ谷霊園, Zōshigaya Reien

Zōshigaya Cemetery

Zōshigaya Cemetery

Zōshigaya Cemetery is a public cemetery in Minami-Ikebukuro, Toshima, Tokyo.

As I recently had been reading Kokoro and recalled the parts where Sensei mentioned about visiting his friend’s K  grave ( he committed suicide) 

and knowing that the author himself got buried there two years after completing the novel I had the strong wish to visit that grave in Zōshigaya Cemetery.

With the help of some locals and some efforts to decipher the cemetry plot signposts I managed to find Sōseki Natsume’s grave.

The plot number is 1-14-1-3.


Approach everything rationally, and you become harsh. Pole along in the stream of emotions, and you will be swept away by the current. Give free rein to your desires, and you become uncomfortably confined. It is not a very agreeable place to live, this world of ours.

The Three-Cornered World

Edo-Tokyo Museum 江戸東京博物 2012年08月30日

The Nakamura-za Kabuki theater 中村座 歌舞伎

The Nakamura-za Kabuki theater in Tokyo

The Nakamura-za Kabuki theater in Tokyo

The art of kabuki, a type of stylized Japanese dance-drama, is a fascinating reflection of Japanese culture. Although it started out as a type of dance, kabuki eventually evolved into a full-blown type of theater, where its performers wear elaborate costumes and apply elaborate makeup to tell a dramatic story.

Kabuki originated in 1603 when a woman named Izumo no Okuni began performing a special new style of dance that she had created. Kabuki caught on almost instantly. Women began learning kabuki dances and performing them for audiences. Kabuki had a large impact socially as well. The dances themselves were very suggestive and, even though it didn’t start out that way, many prostitutes began learning the dances so they could attract customers. The performances started attracting bad crowds. In 1629, the government stepped in and banned women from performing the dances.

Male dancers then took over. Known as wakashu, these men were typically young and effeminate. As such, prostitution wasn’t stopped as the men were just as available as the female dancers. In 1652, the government banned young males from dancing as well since it became very common for brawls to break out at performances over them.

Kabuki really came into its own during its “Golden Age” which lasted from 1673 to 1841. The dances really began to have a formal structure and kabuki theaters began to catch on. Unlike most plays, these lasted all day from sunrise to sunset. Many theaters were destroyed again during World War II and the forces occupying the country banned kabuki. The ban only lasted until 1947, but the damage had already been done. As Japan tried to rebuild itself after the war, it began rejecting its “old ways” and kabuki was almost abandoned. However, a director began producing plays that revitalized kabuki and it remains popular today.

The male dancer hero known as wakashu 若衆

The male dancer hero known as wakashu 若衆

Female hero and the bad one...

Female hero and the bad one…

フランツィスカーナーバー Franziskaner-Bar


This is for all Germans who fancy a Franziskaner-Hefeweizen in Tokyo. I found this place near Nihonbashi bridge in Ginza.

The board on top says:


doitsu chokuyunyuu biiru & wain senmonten

Special store with direct import of German beers and wines

フランツィスカーナー バー&グリル

furantsuisukaanaa baa & guriru

Franziskaner bar and grill

日本橋店 Nihon bashi ten       store at Nihonbashi bridge

Morning View at Nihonbashi 歌川 広重 「日本橋 朝の景」

The repeating picture in the background represents a noted Ukiyo-e woodcut print from the famous Edo Artist Hiroshige Utamaro.

It is named “Morning View at Nihonbashi”from the series Fifty-three Stations on the Tokaido.

This is an especially appropriate design for the starting point of the Tokaido: it shows the procession of a daimyo (feudal lord) coming over the bridge in the stillness of early morning. At the left is a group of fish-sellers from the nearby fish-market. In former times Nihonbashi was considered the hub of the country, and all distances in Japan were measured from it. Today the bridge still exists (in a modern reconstruction), but the fish-market has been moved.

Hello Japan lovers 今日は!

Soon my dream is going to come true. After many years of studying the japanese culture and language I am going to spend a month in Tokyo. The main purpose of the trip is to practise and activate my language skills during a university project. Before, during and after the academic activities I will take time to explore Tokio alone and with company.

Of course I am excited and wondering how much will my theoretical knowledge support me or mislead me. A part of this blog I will write in japanese. So all japanese learners and lovers watch out and don’t hesitate to correct or comment my writing.

With the help of a friend today I got a ticket for a Sumo show. I really look forward to that.