Friday, September 23, 2022

“Kuyo” Memorial Service for victims, animals, dolls, needles in Japan

When Japanese people pray and give something for the spirits of the dead, it's called "kuyo" or "irei". It is not only for a dead relative or friend but also for the victims of natural disasters or incidents like murders, traffic accidents, and war.

Cenotaph Hiroshima

"Irei-hi", the memorial cenotaph for the Hiroshima atomic bomb victims including 12 American captives.

In addition, "Kuyo" or "Irei" are also for animals and non-living materials.

For animals

Some temples in Japan implement funeral and prayer services for pets.

a tombstone for pets in a temple in Kyoto

Many Japanese institutes which use lab animals exercise irei or kuyo for lab animals every year.

e.g. Memorial Service for Laboratory Animals (Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University)

Oncomelania nosophora cenotaph. Chikugo River area.A

the memorial cenotaph for a certain kind of water snail.

In the past, in some districts in Japan, a serious disease infected many habitats for a long time. A study in the early 20th Century found the cause of the disease to be parasites which grow in water snails called "Miyairi-gai". Therefore, the government and habitats exterminated all "Miyairi-gai".

The cenotaph indicates as follows;
Miyairi-gai Kuyo Cenotaph (This is the spot where the last living Miyairi-gai was found)
We pray (kuyo) for Miyairi-gai (the intermediate host of the parasite "Nihon Juketsu Kyuchu") which were exterminated by humans, for human society's safety. (Established in 2000)

For non-living materials

"Ningyo-kuyo" is a memorial service for dolls. When Japanese people dispose of dolls they love or they get dolls by inheritance, some of them ask temples to pray and burn them.

Ningyo-kuyo at Nishino Shrine

"Hari-kuyo" is to pray for needles. On 8th of Feb. or 8th of Dec. (ancient people thought these dates were the first and last of everyday life), at some shrines or temples, people put broken or rusted needles to very soft things (tofu or something) with thanks.

Harikuyou at Sensō-ji Awashima-do 2800822 org

Hari kuyo; needles on a big tofu

Why soft things? Needles have seen hard life on clothing or some hard things, therefore people think needles deserve thanks for all their hard work and should finally rest in something soft.

There are other "kuyo" for other things - kitchen knives, scissors, mirrors and wallets in Japan.

My personal feeling

I was born and have lived in Japan for over 50 years so I don't feel strange about these customs. Pets and dolls are similar to family members. Lab animals and exterminated snails are victims of selfish mankind. Of course, the best is not to kill them, however if you can't do so, you have to feel guilty, apologise and thank them.

"Hari-kuyo" and other kuyo for materials are a little bit strange for me, but I understand it. In the past, before the mechanisation of society, these things were like close friends and partners for people. It is natural that people thank and pray for friends and partners, I think.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Things to do When I’m 50

When I turned 50 last year (2020), I was more shocked than when I turned 40. The average life expectancy for healthy Japanese males is 72.14. That means I only have 20 years left. Therefore I began to do as follows;

Use memorabilia

I have a lot of memorabilia of musicians, video games, manga characters, T-shirts, mugs and old magazines. Until now, I've kept them and never used them because I don't want them to get worn out.

Now I have begun to use them because my body might wear out sooner than the memorabilia.

Get excellent earphones

Your knees, chest, ears and eyes. Different things wear out for different people. As for me, it is my ears. I find myself asking the speaker to repeat what they've said more and more in conversations.

This means that I'm in my final days of being able to listen to music in high-fidelity sound, I think. Therefore I've bought excellent earphones (SONY WH-1000XM3). It makes my favorite music sound even more brilliant. I really enjoy them.

Get a good desk light and computer display

Fortunately, I don't feel any problems with my eyes, except for being near-sighted (since my teenage years) and my aged eyes (since my 40s). Nonetheless, it may be good for my eyes that I have prepared a good desk light and computer display (EIZO EV2460) which is equipped with non-flickering, auto-light volume control.

Using a new desk light and display, I feel it has reduced the tiredness of my eyes when I finish my work in my room. It isn't a dramatic change, but it must be good for the health of my eyes because this change affects me every single day of my life, in particular on these telework days due to COVID-19.

Changing my career

I've been in charge of sales for over 25 years. The work gave me a sense of fulfillment and a lot of time. For example 400 hours overtime per year for my last 10 years of this career. After 45, I feel seriously tired in this work environment. Therefore I consulted with my boss and a manager of the personnel department about this problem and we agreed about changing my career.

My current work involves the management of our fiscal plan and contracts with suppliers. My overtime work is reduced to one fifth compared to when I was a salesman. This situation gives me much more free time.

Organising my room and playing the electric drums

Right around the time of this career change, the coronavirus catastrophe started affecting everything. This had me staying in my room for longer periods of time than ever before. Therefore I organized my room from top to bottom.

It provides not only a clean and neat feeling for me, but also a more free space in my room. I recalled that I once wanted to play drums but I gave up because of little space of my room, so I put an electric drum set in the empty space and I practice playing them every day since February 2021.

Time with my mother

All of the above-mentioned topics are about myself. However, more important topics are the time with my children and parents because they are limited.

Five years ago, I asked my father to visit our family's home town (100 years ago, my grandfather left the town. I had only one opportunity to visit there 40 years ago). My father and I visited the temple which has our ancestors' cemetery and other memorial spots. Two years after the visit, my father died.

I also asked my mother to go to the town where my mother lived until her wedding. She seemed to really enjoy this visit so I made an album of this visit and gave it to her it. Now she told me, "It was a very good memory, thank you my son for asking me to go there. Because of my current old body problems, I can't go there anymore"

Spending time with my children isn't difficult because they live with me, but spending time with my mother who lives far from my house isn't easy.

One of the most important things to do for me in my 50s is to have time with my mother, I think.

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Why is Osaka called Osaka (big slope) with even no slope?

An American man who lived near Osaka asked me: "Why is Osaka called Osaka (big slope) even though there is no big slope?" This question is difficult for me, even though I've lived near Osaka for over 50 years.

Osaka is a big slope

Look at this picture.
This is a current topographical map of Osaka. Red means high elevation (114 metres from the sea), yellow is moderately high, blue means sea level.
A ; Umeda area, which is the most densely populated area in Osaka
B ; Osaka Castle

From this picture, you can see that Osaka is a big slope, which is from Umeda or the seaside area to Osaka Castle. However, this big slope is so large and is beneath many tall buildings, therefore people have trouble to perceive that this area is a big slope.

quote from Geospatial Information Authority of Japan, addtional captions by Yoshiteru

FYI: The Osaka City official website explains the origin of the name of Osaka is not clear, however the oldest paper in which "Osaka" appeared was the letter written by the high buddhist priest "Ren-Nyo" in the 15th century. (He was also the establisher of the temple Ihiyama-honganji which was located in the same spot of Osaka castle)

Geography teaches us about history

Osaka castle (B)

Osaka castle was the most important spot in Osaka among the leaders in the Age of Civil Wars (around the 16th century). You can realise the reason why by looking at the picture above. The location of the castle is easy for both offence and defence during a conflict.

Daisen-kofun (C)

Daisen-kofun is the largest tomb in Japan (the length is 840 metres). The era the tomb was constructed was the 5th century. That means the pale blue area of the above picture was the sea at the time. It shows the reason for the location of the tomb. The leaders at that time had intended to show this big tomb as the power of Japan to people on the ships who were from Korea or China.

High elevation spots (D and E)

D and E are the unique points in the picture. What are they?Both spots are manmade mountains.

D is Tsurumi-ryokuchi park. Now it is a popular green park, also the site of the International Garden and Greenery Exposition in 1990. Before that, however, the spot was a large accumulation of the rubbish. The park is 39 metres from sea level, the highest spot in the entire Osaka city area, constructed by old rubbish.

E is chishima park, also the manmade mountains. It was constructed with the soil from subway construction in 1970.

Geographical features teach us both the origin of the name of the city and the history, even though native people don't know.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

The traditional Asian manner of counting one's age called 'kazoedoshi'(数え年)

What’s kazoedoshi(数え年)?

Photo by Jisun Han on Unsplash

  • Age counting method
  • When you’re born, you are 1 year old
  • When the new year comes, you turn 2 years old
  • ex. You’re born on the 31st of December in 2020, you will be two years old on the 1st of January in 2021.

  • History

  • Old custom from China
  • In 1902, the Japanese government made a law that set the rule "a man gets one year older at the last moment of the previous day of his/her birthday" ("man-nenrei"(満年齢) system)
  • However, Japanese people continued to use kazoedoshi
  • In 1950, the new law, which said "obey the 1903 law system, not kazoedoshi" took effect

  • Why?

  • Kazoedoshi includes the period of development in the womb
  • Some people say "the first number is one, not zero". For instance, the 1st day, the 1st grade, the 1st century, and so on.
  • Getting one year older on new year’s day for the viewpoint "elderly is respectable" in Buddhism and Confucianism
  • Some people say the reason why is the lunar-solar calendar which Japanese society used till 1872. The calendar has a "leap month" due to a complex calculation method (7 times in 19 years). Therefore kazoedoshi system is easy to count age. Source: National Astronomical Observatory of Japan(in Japananese) 

  • Still used in modern Japanese society

  • "nenki"(年忌); the anniversary of the death of family in Japanese Buddhism. The third anniversary is held in two-year-after of the family member death, the seventh anniversary is held in six-year-after of the death. All Japanese people hold nenki under kazoedoshi count.
  • "Shichigosan"(七五三) (Seven, five, three); festival in November for 3-year-old boys and girls, 5-year-old boys and 7-year-old girls at a Shinto shrine or Buddhist temple. Some people count their child’s age in kazoedoshi, others in man-nenrei
  • Embed from Getty Images

    In the world

  • In the past it was popular in other east Asian countries; China, Korean peninsula, Vietnam
  • South Korea is the only country that usually uses kazoedoshi system now
  • Sunday, January 24, 2021

    Crime nation U.S.A. or earthquake nation Japan: which is safer?

    The U.S. sees around 15,000 victims of murder every year. 

    Japan sometimes sees vast number of victims from a single earthquake; 6,437 in 1995, 22,252 in 2011. 

    If you wanted to live a safe life, which would be the better choice: the U.S. or Japan? See the following slide.

     (In 2020, the following slide was presented at the Earthquakes and Disaster-Prevention Research Study Group, at Kanazawa University in Japan)


    Saturday, August 15, 2020

    How Japan started the war with the US

    This article is based on Kazutoshi Hanto's "Showashi (The History of Showa) " for organizing a part of Japanese history with a certain viewpoint. I don't think that this is the one and only truth.


    Kwantung army (Japanese troops in northeast China) assasinated Zhang Zuolin, the warlord of Manchuria.(Japan had supported him, however he began to get out of Japan's control, therefore the Kwantung army murdered him secretly without permission. After that, many people were suspicous about the Kwantung army imvolvement.)

    Zhang zuolin
    The Zhang Zuolin assasinated place (All pictures in this article are public domain from Wikipedia Commons, unless otherwise described)


    (1) The emperor ordered the prime minister Tanaka to survey the Zhang Zuolin incident. However, Tanaka couldn't complete his mission because of the army's interruption against Tanaka's survey, therefore the emperor reprimanded him. After that, Tanaka resigned as prime minister and died three months later. (At that time, Japanese people were taught that the emperor was God. Tanaka was heavily shocked from emperor's reprimand.)
    Giichi Tanaka posing
    PM Tanaka

    (2) The emperor blamed himself for Tanaka's death and he made up his mind to accept the cabinet's consensus on proposals or reports if he was against them. → The emperor became "speechless"
    Bundesarchiv Bild 102-12923, Kaiser Hirohito
    Emperor Hirohito(1932)(Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-12923 / CC BY-SA 3.0 DE


    (1) The delegation for the London Disarmament Conference got the agreement which Japan would be able to construct 69.75% of the support vessels compaerd to the US numbers, for the original target of 70%. Therefore they sent telegraph instructions for the navy's directions for the acceptance.

    (2) At first, the Navy agreed with the delegation's instructions.

    (3) The emperor approoved the delegation's instructions.

    (4) After the Emperor's approoval, the Navy went against the instructions.

    (5) The emperor was surprised at the Navy's change.

    (6) For the London Disarmament Conference, the nongovernmental parties declared the theory "Never interrupting the Emperor's right to control the armies" → the parliament accepted the rule "Even though the PM never be against the army about war affairs"

    (7) The government ratified the treaty of disarmament.

    (8) Their opinion was normal as mass media: "The nongovernmental parties theory was merely a campaign to topple the government."

    (9) The navy were separated to supporters and opponents of the Disarmament Conferece result. The supporters left the Navy and the opponents joined of key posts of the Navy.

    1931 to 1932

    (1) Yosuke Matsuoka (The vice president of Manchuria Railways) declared "Manchuria and Mongolia are the lifeline of Japan." → this was spread among the masses.
    Yohsuke matsuoka1932

    (2) The tone of mass media was "the problem about Manchuria and Mongolia shouldn't be solved by the military power."

    (3) The emperor ordered the minister of the Army, "The military discipline looks loose, therefore you should dicipline the Army to observe the military discipline."

    (4) The Plannning Director of the Army Takekawa, who was ordered by the Minister of the Army to dicipline the Kwantung army, went to the office of the Kwantung army by train, not by airplane, because he was worried about persuading the Kwantung army.
    The Kwauntung army got him drunk and he didn't persuade the army. After that, the Kwantung Army broke up the invasion to Manchuria (The Ryujoko Incident)
    Mukden 1931 blast spot
    The Ryujoko Incident place
    Tatekawa Yoshitsugu

    (5) Suddenly the newspapers began to support the Kwantung army. Asahi and Mainichi (Japanese big quality papers) released many ads of them with a large budget and increased their number of sales.

    (6) Prime Minister Wakatsuki said, "Did the Kwantung Army enter Manchuria? So we can't stop it anymore." (The approval of the Ryujoko Incident)
    Reijiro Wakatsuki posing
    PM Wakatsuki

    And the emperor ordered Prime Minister Wakatsuki, "As for the problem about Manchuria and Mongolia, you should maintain the strengthening of Japan-China relations."

    (7) The US noted that Japan's invasion of China is a violation of the non-belligerence pact. (Before that, it was relatively conciliatory to Japan.)

    (8) The emperor declared "The Kwauntung army did a good job" * *The author of this book said, "This is the biggest mistake of the Emperor.

    (9) Manchuria (virtually Japan's puppet state) was established.
    Inauguration Ceremony of Chief Executive of Manchukuo
    Inauguration Ceremony of Chief Executive of Manchukuo

    (10) Commander Honjo and Staff Officer Ishihara, the main manipulators of the Ryujoko Incident, who should have gotten the death penalty according to the militaly rules, got a promotion instead. *The author of this book said, "This is the moment of the Showa era collapses."

    Shigeru Honjo 01
    Honjo (1933)
    Kanji Ishiwara2
    Staff Officer Ishihara (1934)

    (11) China had difficulty confronting The Japanese Army because it was in the middle of the civil war (Chinese Nationalist Party vs Chinese Communist Party)


    Prime Minister Inukai was assasinated by young navy officers The Navy Genereral Saito became the PM (The end of party Government)
    May 15 Incident
    Osaka Asahi Shinbun


    (1) When the emperor heard the cabinet's plan to leave the League of Nations, he said "I think that Japan doesn't have to leave the LN and should stay in the LN."

    (2) Japan left the League of Nations → It became difficult for Japan to get overseas information for proper political judgements.
    Tokyo Asahi Shinbun on the following date of left the League of Nations

    (3) "Go-Stop Incident" (The Osaka Police confronted the Army for their ignoring of red lights during their training then they were compromized.) (It was the last confrontation among the Army and civilians. After that, all the people in Japan never went against the Army)


    From 1910s to this year, the citizens, the government and emperor Hirohito supported the "emperor-organ" theory, which means that the owner of the sovereignty of Japan is the citizens, not the emperor, and the emperor is one of the organs of the nation.
    That year, Prime Minister Okada declared that Japan is a nation whose ruler is the emperor. After that, the government began to strictly control theories which were against the declaration including the "emperor-organ" theory."

    Prime Minister Keisuke Okada cropped
    PM Okada(1936)


    (1) The February 26 Incident broke out. (The incident was the abortive coup d'etat by young officers of the Japanese Army. They thought that they killed the old ministers and the emperor ruled directly then that Japan's social problems such as political corruptions or poverty in rural area were solved. They killed some ministers and occupied some mass media buildings. After that, the emperor quickly commanded they eliminated. The leaders of the incident were then executed.)
    After this incident, the army began to controled the government and took advantage of fear of terrorism like this incident.
    2 26 Incident
    Officers at the February 26 Incident

    (2) From the beginning, he commanded the army and police to deal with the incident.

    (3) The cabinet (PM Hirota) implemented a rule which let only an active service military officer be assigned to minister of the army or of the navy. This rule gave the army strong power to control the cabinet.
    Kohki Hirota suit
    PM Hirota


    (1) The regimental commander of a area of China, Mutaaguchi, commanded his soldiers to resist The Chinese army, which fired two bullets at them during training at night. However, his boss, the brigade commander Kawabe, admitted it without speaking. Then, the second Sino-Japanese War began.

    Mutaguchi Renya
    Army 29 Fighting 1937
    Chinese army against Japanese army

    (2) The German Ambassador to China, Oskar Trautmann, attempted to make a peace between the Japanese Army and Chiang Kai-shek of the Chinese Kuomintang Government. (Trautmann Mediation) .


    The Japanese prime minister Konoe refused the Trautmann Mediation. He declared, "We have decided not to negotiate with the the Chinese Kuomintang government anymore."
    Fumimaro Konoe suit
    PM Konoe


    (1) The National Spiritual Mobilization Law takes effect. (The government began to control its citizens' lives and thoughts to save resources and to use them for the military. They refrained from a luxury lifestyle. For example, perms for hair were prohibited. Propaganda phrases like: "Luxury is our Enemy" "We never want anything till we win [wars]" "Kill our selfish minds and let our nation prosper")
    Luxury is our enemy
    "Luxury is our Enemy!"

    (2) German-Soviet Non-aggression Pact concluded.

    (3) The General staff office of the Japanese army was shocked at German-Soviet Non-aggression Pact (They were lacking the ability to research and analyze the movement of world affairs.)

    (4) The Emperor commanded the government to cooperate with the UK and the US.

    (5) World War II broke out (Germany invaded Poland.) "


    (1) Representative Takao Saito criticised the Army that it didn't end the Japan-China war, and was expelled from the diet by the Army. (This was the last critical comment from the Diet to the army.)
    SaitoTakao 2
    Rep. Saito(1929)

    (2) The US declared the abolition of the Treaty of Commerce and Navigation between Japan and the USA and prohibited the export of steel from the US to Japan.

    (3) The Japanese army entered the northern area of French Indochina (Vietnam)


    (1) Japan signed the Tripartite Pact between Japan, Germany and Italy.

    (2) The US proposed an improvement plan for US-Japan relations from two Americans, Bishop Walsh and Father Drought, to a Japanese banker, Ikawa.

    (3) Both the Cabinet and the Japanese Army accepted the improvement plan. However, Prime Minister Konoe decided to wait for the opinion of Matsuoka, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, who had been abroad. After his arrival in Japan, he ended up refusing the plan.

    (4) Hull, the Secretary of State told the US policies to Nomura, the ambassador to the US that Japan had to "withdraw from the Tripartite Pact, China and Northern area of French Indochina", and "give the US the opportunity for getting involved in Manchuria concessions."

    (5) On the 2nd of July, the second supreme conference in the presence of the emperor decided the direction of "We won’t hesitate to enter into a war against the US"

    (6) The Japanese army made an entered the southern area of French Indochina.
    Japanese troops entering Saigon in 1941
    Japanese army in Saigon

    (7) The US froze Japanese assets in the US and prohibited the export of oil to Japan.

    (8) Seeing the agenda of the supreme conference in the presence of the emperor, the emperor asked Sugiyama, the Army Chief of Staff.
    Emperor: You wrote "First: preparing for war. Second: diplomatic negotiation". Is it a reverse sequence, isn't it?
    Chief: We (army) are able to solve the problem in Southeast Asia within three months after the beginning of war against the US.
    Emperor: When the Japan-China incident (war) began, you said you would end the war in China within one month. However, now four years have passed, you didn’t end the war in China.
    Chief: China is vast therefore the plan hasn’t progressed as planned.
    Emperor: The pacific is larger than China, isn't it?
    Chief couldn't reply to the emperor.
    Sugiyama Hajime1

    (9) Prime Minister Konoe proposed a summit conference with President Roosevelt.

    (10) President Roosevelt refused a summit with Japan.

    (11) PM Konoe resigned as Prime Minister. Just two days after, Tojo (war plan supporter) constructed his cabinet.
    PM Tojo

    (12) Every newspaper supported the start of Tojo cabinet. For instance, Tokyo Nichinichi (daily) News wrote "The beginning of all one-hundred-million-Japanese people army progression"

    (13) The Japanese government asked the US to "Export oil to Japan, in exchange for withdrawal from French Indochina"

    (14) The US refused Japan's request and told them that "Japan must resume Asia as the condition in 1931"
    Hull, Nomura and Kurusu on 7 December 1941
    Hull, Nomura and Kurusu on 7 December 1941

    (15) On the 1st of December, Japan decided to declare war against the US at the fourth supreme conference in the presence of the emperor.
    Franklin Roosevelt signing declaration of war against Japan
    Franklin Roosevelt signing declaration of war against Japan

    The chart of "How Japan started the war with the US"

    "(1) " and (2) "… in the box mean the order of incidents in the same year. -Red ink means the reasons that began the war, green ink means the important incidents that changed Japanese society or conditions.

    How Japan started the war with the US

    Sunday, July 19, 2020

    How common are job transfers away from their family in Japan?

    It is not rare that Japanese businessmen (not including businesswomen) experience job transfers away from their family. They live alone away from their family for about three years in exchange for their new position in an office far from their home.

    How common are such transfers in Japan?

    A government survey said, "men who have a family but live alone and aren't divorced" in all Japanese family numbers is 2.5%*.

    However, I disagree somewhat. As a big company (means it has many offices all over Japan) worker, my feeling is about 10 to 20% ("tanshin funin" (Japanese word for job transfer away from their family) of men among my all headquarters offices) or 5% (among my all regional offices). I have never met any businesswomen who have experienced tanshin-funin in my company except only one case.

    Photo by Pawel Janiak on Unsplash

    Why do Japanese big companies mandate such transfer of their workers?

    Actually, companies never command their workers to live apart from their families for work. Companies prepare their new home and pay for the move. However, workers choose to live alone after discussing with their families. They value "not changing the children's school and friends" or "not changing the environment for raising kids. (frequently means their wife's mother living near their home) than "living family together" .

    Anyway, such hard choices in families never appear if big companies never mandate such transfers. Why? Many companies including my company say the reason why is "the result of thinking what is the best position for workers to suit their abilities". I have never heard a clear reason from companies. In my opinion, a part of company's reason is true but the cost (workers' and their family members' quality of life getting worse) is so high, therefore the tanshin-funin system is very unreasonable.

    How about me? In my company's custom (with no documented rules), if you become a manager, the first position will be far from your current area of residence. If you have family, you will experience tanshin-funin. Therefore I declined to receive the examination for a promotion.

    One of some good results

    This month (July of 2020), a famous Japanese confectionary maker has decided to abolish tanshin-funin because the telework environment has become popular. Fujitsu has also decided to switch from tanshin-funin to telework. The Coronavirus is causing huge problems all over the world but leaving some good results. Reduction of tanshin-funin must be one.

    *The numbers of tanshin-funin(in Japanese)