Hiyoshiya Wagasa: Traditional Japanese Umbrellas

Today, I visited Hiyoshi Wagasa, a maker of wagasa (traditional Japanese umbrellas). I had a nice chat with the president of the company, Mr. Nishibori Kotaro. Mr. Nishibori is representative of an interesting group of young Japanese people who are trying to find new uses for traditional techniques. His company is now making wonderful lamps with traditional wagasa-making techniques. Mr. Nishibori said, “Tradition is continuing innovation. What we now call `traditional’ was once new.'”

Osaka’s Tenjin Matsuri

Last night I hopped on a train to Osaka to catch the famous Tenjin Matsuri. There were raucous festival barges on the O-kawa River and teams heaving gaudy mikoshi (portable shrines) around the streets. I was struck once again by the contrast between Osaka and Kyoto. The Osakans I saw seemed almost like a different species from the Kyotoites I’m used to – they were rough, ready and speaking an incredibly thick Osaka-ben dialect. I recommend this festival to anyone in Kansai in late July.

Solar Eclipse in Japan

The decade’s longest solar eclipse happened over southern Japan and other parts of Asia this morning. Here in Kyoto, the eclipse did not reach totality – it was about 80%. There was just enough cloud about to watch the eclipse without eye protection. My wife Hiroe and I watched the eclipse from Shinyodo Temple, near our house. It was much better than we had expected. While we were watching, an airliner flew right in front of the sun, creating a double artificial/natural eclipse. We liked that. This was my fourth solar eclipse: I’ve seen previous partial eclipses in New York City as a child, and in Paris and Thailand as an adult. Now, we’re keen to see a total eclipse and we’re looking at one that’s going to take place in Borneo in 2013.

Gion Matsuri 2009

Kyoto’s biggest festival, Gion Matsuri, was held today. I checked out the parade of floats on Oike-dori around noon. There were several gaijin in the team pulling this float, including one of the guys sitting on top.

A Foreign Sword Maker in Japan

Yesterday, I visited the forge of Pierre Nadeau, a French-Canadian who has been pursuing an apprenticeship under master sword makers in Japan. He aims to become only the second or third (there is some debate) gaijin to become a licensed sword maker in Japan. Pierre’s forge is in the mountains of Wakayama Prefecture. Pierre gave me a fascinating introduction to the world of Japanese sword making. You can visit Pierre’s site here.

Here is the outside of Pierre’s forge:

Here’s a picture of Pierre at work: