spunktitud3

Musings on Travel, Fashion & Fun


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Japan – Mikoshi 神輿 Parade at Yushima Tenjin

Yushima Tenjin - Mikoshi ParadeI was fortunate enough to chance upon a mikoshi 神輿 parade when I was at Yushima Tenjin for its Plum Blossom Festival. Yushima Tenjin - Mikoshi ParadeA mikoshi 神輿 is a divine palanquin or portable Shinto shrine which transports a deity while moving between main shrine and temporary shrine during a festival or when moving to a new shrine. During festivals, they bring the mikoshi around the neighbourhood to bring blessings to the area.Yushima Tenjin Plum Blossom FestivalSaying a prayer before the mikoshi procession. People sign up to be mikoshi bearers as they believe they can get a bountiful harvest or blessings for the year.Yushima Tenjin - Mikoshi ParadeAnd off goes the parade. Such processions usually start and end at a Shinto shrine.Yushima Tenjin - Mikoshi ParadeAs they parade down the street, mikoshi bearers will shout a loud chant to encourage themselves to carry a palaquin that can weigh over a tonne. There are 4 different styles of shouldering, all with a different chant. The beareres may also toss the mikoshi to ‘amuse’ the diety inside.Yushima Tenjin - Mikoshi Parade
The most common method of shouldering in Japan is “Hira-katsugi 平担ぎ” where the beareres shout “wasshoi わっしょい,” and may or may not toss the mikoshi. For the “Edomae style | 江戸前” which is seen at the Asakusa Sanja Festival, bearers shout “say ya, soi ya, sah, sorya” and sway the mikoshi rapidly.Yushima Tenjin - Mikoshi Parade“Dokkoiドッコイ ” shouldering style is seen in Shonan in Kanagawa Prefecture where the mikoshi is moved up and down rhythmically, and more slowly than in the Edomae style. Bearers shout “dokkoi dokkoi dokkoi sorya” and there is a song called a “jink” (lively song).

Multiple mikoshi is used for the “Odawara style 小田原担ぎ where the mikoshis meet and run in a “Holy Dash”, shouting “oisah…korasah…koryasah” and there is a song called a “Kiyari” chant. Instead of swaying the mikoshi, it is moved from side to side and turning corners at full speed.Yushima Tenjin - Mikoshi ParadeYushima Tenjin - Mikoshi ParadeYushima Tenjin - Mikoshi Parade

Yushima Tenjin - Mikoshi ParadeWhat caught my attention were these men in traditional fundoshi (loincloth).Yushima Tenjin - Mikoshi ParadeAt 10 degrees celsius – don’t you feel cold?! *feeling shy*Yushima Tenjin - Mikoshi ParadeYushima Tenjin - Mikoshi ParadeThe palanquins return to Yushima Tenjin after the procession. It was an interesting cultural experience that I appreciated. Do try to catch one too the next time you visit Japan.

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Japan, Tokyo – Plum Blossoms at Yushima Tenjin

Yushima Tenjin Plum Blossom FestivalEvery year, the arrival of plum blossoms (ume 梅) herald the start of spring. These beauties typically bloom between February and March. The event is celebrated with plum festivals (ume matsuri 梅祭り) in public parks, shrines and temples across the country.Yushima Tenjin Plum Blossom FestivalI was happy to view the plum blossoms at Yushima Tenjin Shrine right in Tokyo.Yushima Tenjin Plum Blossom FestivalYushima Tenjin 湯島天神,also known as Yushima Tenmangu 湯島天満宮, is a Shinto shrine originally built in 458 A.D. to worship Ameno Tajikaraono Mikoto 天手力雄命, one of deities associated with strength and sports. Later in February 1355, the spirit of Sugawara Michizane 菅原道真, a historical figure, was also enshrined here to venerate his extraordinary virtue as a scholar.Yushima Tenjin Plum Blossom Festival
Due to Tenjin’s great love of plum blossoms, Yushima Tenjin maintains a garden of 300 plum trees made up of 20 varieties (Shirokaga white plums). The shrine also holds a yearly plum blossom festival (ume matsuri 梅祭り) every Feb-March depending on when the flowers bloom.
Yushima Tenjin Plum Blossom FestivalBefore the Nara period, the term hanami (flower viewing) in Japan referred to the act of admiring plum blossoms before becoming almost exclusively linked with sakura by the Heian Period (794–1185).

Lord Sugawara wrote a famous poem that read:
“Let the east wind blow and send your fragrance
Oh, plum blossoms
Do not forget the spring
Even though your master is gone”Yushima Tenjin Plum Blossom FestivalLike cherry trees, the Japanese plum (also referred to as Japanese apricot) come in many varieties, many of which were cultivated by humans over the centuries. Most plum blossoms have five petals and come  in colors from white to dark pink. Some varieties with more than five petals (yae-ume) and ‘weeping’ branches (shidare-ume) have also been cultivated.

Some ways to tell plum and cherry blossoms apart – cherry blossoms have split-ended petals while plum blossoms don’t. Several cherry blossoms bloom from a single oval bud, whereas there’s only one plum blossom per round bud. And, unlike cherry blossoms, plum blossoms have a strong, sweet fragrance.Yushima Tenjin Plum Blossom FestivalYushima Tenjin is also popular with students who come to present petitions on wooden votive tablets (ema) to Lord Sugawara’s spirit for success in examinations.Yushima Tenjin Plum Blossom FestivalOmikuji 御神籤Yushima Tenjin Plum Blossom FestivalEveryone going shutter-happy with the pretty blossomsYushima Tenjin Plum Blossom FestivalYushima Tenjin Plum Blossom FestivalIt’s also a great time to get married under the picturesque floral canopyYushima Tenjin Plum Blossom FestivalAnother wedding coupleYushima Tenjin Plum Blossom FestivalEven birds join in the celebrationsYushima Tenjin Plum Blossom FestivalAlong with the plum blossoms, a month-long matsuri festival consisting various events such as food stalls, performances, a mikoshi 神輿 (portable Shinto shrine) procession, tea ceremonies, bonsai plum trees display and other traditional Japanese art forms are also held at the shrine during weekends and public holidays.Yushima Tenjin Plum Blossom FestivalTraditional tea ceremonyYushima Tenjin Plum Blossom FestivalFood stalls selling local produce from the various Japanese regions. I would say it is a great place to buy some local gifts home.Yushima Tenjin Plum Blossom FestivalThese were yummy!Yushima Tenjin Plum Blossom FestivalThe handmade zaru soba totally changed my impression of the dish – the noodles were springy and amazingly satisfying I drank up all the sauce hee. Slurppp!Yushima Tenjin Plum Blossom FestivalBuying blessingsYushima Tenjin Plum Blossom FestivalFree cultural performancesYushima Tenjin Plum Blossom FestivalAnd yes, this is the 59th year the festival is held.Yushima Tenjin Plum Blossom FestivalPraying for blessings before the mikoshi processionYushima Tenjin Plum Blossom Festival

Yushima Tenjin Shrine 湯島天神 (Tenmangu 天満宮)
Address:
3-30-1 Yushima, Bunkyo-ku, 〒113-0034 Tokyo
Opening Times: 6:00AM – 8:00PM daily
Nearest Train Stations:
– Yushima 湯島 Station, Exit 3 on Oeda and Chiyoda subway lines, 2mins walk (easiest)
– City bus 02 and 69, Stop at Yushima San-Cho-Me 湯島三丁目, 2mins walk
– Ueno-hirokoji 上野広小路 Station, Exit A4 on Ginza subway line, 5mins walk
– Hongo San-cho-me 本郷三丁目Station on Marunouchi Line, 8mins walk
– Okachimachi 御徒町 Station on JR Line, 8mins walk

Best times to view plum blossoms: Yushima Tenmangu Shrine  Flower information (usually mid-Feb to early-March)


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Look of the Day – Mane Attraction

Look of the Day - Mane Attraction
Trying out my new film camera with my new hairdo..
Look of the Day - Mane Attraction
Outfit: Contemporary Store Bangkok
Hat: From Japan
Necklace: From Bangkok
Glow-in-the-Dark Resin Horse Ring: Art Box Night Market, Bangkok
Watch: G-Shock
Bracelet: Vintage Hollywood
Shoes: Simone Rocha

Look of the Day - Mane AttractionLook of the Day - Mane AttractionLook of the Day - Mane Attraction


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Bhutan’s got my Stamp of Approval

Making stamps in Bhutan
One of the most interesting things that you can do in Bhutan, is to get your own personalised stamps at the National Post Office in Thimphu. Costing about USD4 for 12 stamps (including the value of the stamp), imagine your friends’ and family’s pleasant surprise when you send home a postcard with your face on the stamp :) Making stamps in BhutanThimphu’s Post Office is right in the city centre.
Source: Wikicommons (cos’ I was too excited, I forgot to take a photo, bleah) 

Making stamps in BhutanYou can have your photo taken on the spot by the friendly post office staff, or bring your own (glamour) photos in a thumbdrive. It takes less than ten minutes to make your very own stamps. Now that’s what I call exclusive edition.Making stamps in BhutanWhile you are there, visit the Bhutan Postal Museum that was recently opened in November 2015 celebrate the 60th Birth Anniversary of Fourth Druk Gyalpo His Majesty King Jigme Singye Wangchuck. It’s not huge, but the five galleries are full of interesting facts related to Bhutan’s postal history as well as the country’s progress and development told through stamps.

What you see is a statue of their legendary postal runner (known as a garp) who was able to walk from Punakha to Trongsa and back in one day, crossing torrential rivers and dense forests (according to Google Maps, the distance is 135.8km per way and it would take 39 hours to walk. I think they have a real good chance of winning marathons!).

Garps were selected by the King or regional chieftains based on qualities such as speed, power of memory (messages often being verbal), clarity of speech, and being trustworthy. Modern telecommunication was only introduced in Bhutan on 17 November 1991, so these postal runners were an important part of the social system for a long time.Making stamps in BhutanThe modern postal network in Bhutan started in 1962 with the opening of the first post office in Phuentsholing, in addition to Paro and Thimphu in the same year. Making stamps in BhutanBhutan is also known as the Land of Beautiful Stamps – the county has some of the most intricately designed stamps in the world, including the world’s first scented stamps, first steel foil stamps, first silk stamps, first 3-D stamps and first talking stamps(!). For the reclusive country, stamps were regarded as “little ambassadors of their country”. Bhutanese stamps are also popular as gifts for friends and family back home, with some tourists buying hundreds of dollars worth from the post office.Making stamps in BhutanStamps are often released to feature the sights and culture of Bhutan, celebrate festivals, anniversaries, the royal family wedding or anything worth remembering. Have a look at some of the stamps here.Making stamps in BhutanCommemorative stamps for royal birthday, royal visits and diplomatic relationsMaking stamps in Bhutan
Wildlife in Bhutan (yes, even dinosaurs)Making stamps in BhutanThe annual Chinese zodiac animal stampsMaking stamps in Bhutan
Buddhism is an integral part of the Bhutanese culture. Bhutan is a Buddhist country and people often refer to it as the last stronghold of Vajrayana Buddhism. Making stamps in BhutanForms of postal transportation. I would love to get a ride in the red jeep.

If I could post a message to Bhutan, I would say “I am in love with you, and I want to go back!” If you were to send a message to someone, who would that be and what would you tell him/her? In these modern times where Wechat, Whatsapp and Facebook permeate our daily lives, we have taken personal communication for granted. Try sending a handwritten note to a loved one, and I am pretty sure he/she will be pleasantly surprised. :)

 

Bhutan Postal Museum
Opening Hours: Daily from 9:00AM – 5:00PM in summer (April-October); 9:00AM – 4:00PM in winter (November – March)Admission fee: Tourists – Nu. 250 (approx. USD3.70); SAARC Tourists – Nu. 150; Locals – Nu. 50

 

Photos of Bhutan Postal Museum courtesy of Tharchu from Happiness Journey Bhutan (thanks pal!)
Photos of Bhutan stamps from Bhutan Postal Corporation Ltd.
More of my travel adventures in Bhutan


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Bhutan, Thimphu – National Memorial Chorten

National Memorial Chorten

The National Memorial Chorten is one of the most prominent religious structures located in Bhutan’s capital city of Thimphu, and a focus of daily worship for many Bhutanese.

National Memorial ChortenElderly ladies at the entrance of the National Memorial Chorten

National Memorial ChortenThe Tibetan-style chorten (or ‘stupa’ in Hindi) was built by Her Majesty the late Queen Ashi Phuntsho Choden Wangchuck for her son, Bhutan’s third king, His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck (“the father of modern Bhutan”) and built in 1974, two years after his death. It was the late King’s wish to build such a chorten to represent the mind of the Buddha and dedicated to world peace.

National Memorial Chorten

Every day from dawn till dusk old people and young alike circumambulate the chorten turning the large red prayer wheels, or chanting with their mala prayer beads or mini handheld mani prayer wheels. On auspicious days, religious ceremonies and initiations are also conducted at the chorten.

National Memorial ChortenThe Bhutanese are highly pious, and many elderly people come here from dawn and stay for most of the day, chanting.

National Memorial Chorten

National Memorial ChortenMost of the devotees come in a group, and have picnics on the chorten grounds. I would say it’s one of the best form of community bonding for the locals.

National Memorial Chorten

Almost everyone has a mani prayer wheels with them, spinning them in a clockwise direction to release their prayers to heaven. Repeatedly inscribed with Buddhist mantras, these wheels are especially useful for the illiterate since according to Tibetan Buddhist belief, spinning a prayer wheel is just as effective as reciting the sacred texts aloud. This enables the individual to become awakened and realize the Four Immeasurables of Love, Compassion, Joy and Equanimity, thus assisting their journeys to enlightenment.

National Memorial ChortenBoy playing with the many, many birds at the chorten’s little garden

National Memorial ChortenBhutanese child in modern attire. While the adults typically go to religious places in their traditional attire, I spotted many kids in modern wear.

National Memorial Chorten

Devotee with the statue of Goddess Ihamu at the front of the chorten. I wonder what’s on his mind…

National Memorial Chorten

Chorten literally means ‘Seat of Faith’ and this whitewashed chorten decorated with its richly carved annexes facing the four directions is an extraordinary example of Buddhist architecture and artwork with its gorgeous paintings, elaborate mandalas and intricate sculptures. All the four sides of the chorten have different mandalas & statues dedicated to the third king.

Unlike other chortens, the National Memorial Chorten does not enshrine human remains – only Druk Gyalpo’s photo in a ceremonial dress adorns a hall in the ground floor.

National Memorial Chorten

The basic structure of a Chorten consists of a square foundation symbolizing the earth, a dome symbolizing water, and thirteen tapering steps of enlightenment symbolizing the element of fire. There are eight different kind stupas, all referring to major events in Buddha Shakyamuni’s life.

National Memorial Chorten

Numerous religious paintings and complex tantric statues housed inside reflect both peaceful and wrathful aspects of Buddhist deities, with some 36 of them in erotic poses. The inside of the Chorten opens only once a year for locals & tourists during the Monlam Prayer festival, usually held during the 4th to 11th day of the first Tibetan month when the Je Khenpo (religious head of Bhutan) addresses and gives blessings the people present for the occasion.

National Memorial ChortenAll day long, devotees circle the chorten in a leisurely clockwise direction, praying for blessings. The atmosphere is serene yet relaxed.

National Memorial ChortenStudents and office workers stop by in the morning or during lunch breaks to pray for their respective needs.

National Memorial Chorten
In a reflective mood

National Memorial ChortenElderly man repeatedly prostrating

National Memorial ChortenReligion being highly embedded into the Bhutanese way of life, visiting places of worship like this one is a regular family affair to pray for good fortune, apart from pujas (religious rites).

National Memorial ChortenFor the foreign visitor in me, I enjoyed the serenity and unhurried pace at the National Memorial Chorten, while quietly admiring the architecture of the religious monuments. For a moment, I felt like I was part of the local community. Maybe I should bring some tea and join them on my next visit, I would love to hear their stories :)

National Memorial Chorten
Address: Chhoten Lam, Thimphu, Bhutan
More of my travel adventures in Bhutan