This is one of those anime that I could not stop watching until I had gotten a hold of every single episode. It is a long series, but still I was sucked in and waiting anxiously for each and every Netflix disk to arrive in the mail. The story has the type of heroes that most of us cannot get enough of. The sweet boy trapped inside the body of a robot, a feisty older brother who makes up for what he lacks in height with true grit and magic, to boot.
“Fullmetal Alchemist (鋼の錬金術師Hagane no Renkinjutsushi?, literally “Alchemist of Steel”), is a Japanese manga series (and anime) written and illustrated by Hiromu Arakawa. The world of Fullmetal Alchemist is styled after the European Industrial Revolution. Set in a fictional universein which alchemy is one of the most advanced scientific techniques known to man, the story follows the brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric, who want to restore their bodies after a disastrous failed attempt to bring their mother back to life through alchemy.”
Living in modern Tokyo, one can be forgiven for doubting that anybody wants to undergo serious ascetic training. Perilous hikes on sheer mountain slopes, food and sleep deprivation, solitary meditation, prayers and other religious rituals are distant and exotic adventures. Yet only a half-day’s journey from the metropolis, followers of the ancient Japanese religionShugendo continue to practice “the way of training and testing.” Their goal is nothing less than enlightenment in this very lifetime.
These are the “yamabushi” (“one who lies in the mountains”), and modern mortals can still follow their pilgrimage in Dewa Sanzan– the three mountains of Dewa–one of two main centers in Japan where “shugenja” (followers of Shugendo) still practice and keep the tradition alive.
Dewa is the name of an old Japanese province that is now part of Yamagata Prefecture in northern Honshu. Three mountains — Mt Haguro, Mt Gassan and Mt Yudono — are considered sacred by the “shugenja” who go there once a year on a pilgrimage to practice their faith.
Travel there in the right season and you can follow the alpenhorn-like sound of the conch shell, blown by “yamabushi” masters decked out in esoteric outfits, as they lead rows of white-clad pilgrims up the mountains. New Age is short lived in comparison to this syncretistic folk religion based on mountain worship, incorporating elements of Shinto, Buddhism and Taoism that dates back over 1,400 years.
Traditionally, the pilgrimage route starts at Toge, a small village at the foot of Mt Haguro. Pilgrims walk up a 1.7-km-long stone path, the Ishi-dan, set amongst a forest of 350- to 500-year-old Cryptomeria trees, before reaching the summit where they pray to three deities, one for each mountain peak, at the Sanjin Gosaiden shrine.
In the old days people walked, but many modern-day pilgrims can’t resist the shortcut of catching a bus that takes them from Mt Haguro to Mt Gassan. Some slopes of the 2,000 meter-high Gassan are covered in snow even in mid-summer, providing an unusual sight. Yudono shrine is not located on the summit of Mt Yudono but in a valley with a descent so steep that steel ladders and ropes must be used by pilgrims and adventurers alike.
Historically, women were forbidden to worship at the shrine. They were only allowed as near as Dainichibo, a temple at the foot of Mt Yudono. It is said to have been established by Kobodaishi (774-835), the founder of the Shingon sect of Buddhism and probably Japan’s best known saint.
Legend has it that after coming back from China where he underwent Buddhist training, Kobodaishi petitioned the ruler at the time to build a temple. Baffled about where the location should be, he threw two ritual objects used in Buddhist ceremonies into the air. The first hit a cedar tree standing near Dainichibo, and the second hit a pine tree on Mt Koya. He promptly established a temple at each site, both of which are still places of worship, as are the trees that still stand there today.
The main attraction at Dainichibo, however, is a fellow named Daijuku Bosatsu Shinnyokai Shonin. He is one of a number of so-called “Living Buddhas” that can be found in temples in the Yamagata area. They appear much like mummies in priest’s robes. However, unlike their famous counterparts in Egypt, they were not mummified after death. They self-mummified themselves while still alive by following a severe ascetic routine as part of their Buddhist religious training.
While ascetic exercises are not for everyone, mere mortals can simply meditate in the superb mountain scenery of the Dewa Sanzan area. Enjoy your own spiritual awakening: catch a glimpse of some fascinating esoteric traditions that reveal the mystical side of Japan so often forgotten in the urban jungle of Tokyo.
The five story pagoda near the base of Mount Haguro
Trees and stones have long been objects of deep devotion in Japan. Originally there were no shrine buildings; instead a tree, forest, or a large boulder or a mountain, festooned with ropes, would be the focus of worship.
In Japan the mysterious forces of nature, called ke, were believed to permeate palpable matter and formless space (collectively called mono in Japanese) to create mononoke.Mononoke was seen to coalesce in trees and stones. Certain trees, especially the cryptomeria and the evergreen sakaki,were considered sacred for this reason. When one of these trees was felled and the wood used in the construction of a shrine, this sacred quality was believed to follow it into the building. The sacred tree itself was literally and symbolically present in the form of a pillar or post around which the shrine was constructed.
The great Shinto shrine at Ise is built amid a dense forest of giant cryptomeria trees next to the Isuzu River at the foot of Mount Kamiji and Mount Shimaji in the Mie Prefecture[see Mie Prefecture] in southern Honshu, Japan. Crossing the Uji Bridge and passing through the large torii gate marking the entrance to the shrine, a long path leads to Ise Jingu (Ise Grand Shrine).
The shrine consists of two groups of buildings: the Imperial Shrine (Kotai Jingu), also known as the Naiku (inner shrine), and the Toyouke Shrine (Toyouke Daijingu ) which constitutes the Geku or outer shrine. The Naiku is dedicated to the Sun Goddess Amaterasu Omikami (Heaven-Illuminating Great Deity), and the Geku to the Goddess of Cereals Toyouke Omikami (Abundant Food Great Deity). Each shrine is composed of a number of buildings, including ancillary shrines, workshops, storehouses, etc. Each shrine has an inner precinct with a main sanctuary and two attendant shrines, as well as treasuries, fences, and gates.
Both shrines are constructed of wood, and every twenty years both are totally rebuilt on an adjoining site. The empty site of the previous shrine (called the kodenchi) is strewn with large white pebbles. The only building on the empty site, which retains its sacredness for the intervening twenty years, is a small wooden shed or hut (oi-ya) inside of which is a post about seven feet high known as shin-no-mihashira (literally the august column of the heart, or more freely translated as sacred central post). The new shrine will be erected over and around this post which are the holiest and most mysterious objects in the Ise Shrine. They remain hidden at all times.
Kenzo Tange and Noboru Kawazoe (p. 167, see Bibliography below)suggest that:
the erection of a single post in the center of a sacred area strewn with stones represents the form taken by Japanese places of worship in very ancient times; the shin-no-mihashira would thus be the survival of a symbolism from a very pimitive symbolism to the present day.
The present buildings reproduce the temple first ceremoniously rebuilt in 692 CE by Empress Jito. The first temple had been built by her husband Emperor Temmu (678-686), the first Mikado to rule over a united Japan.
Emperor Temmu had established Ise as the principal cult shrine of Imperial Japan, but the site itself, and the cryptomeria trees that grew on it, were already sacred before then. The cryptomeria is a tree associated with Shinto shrines. The principal sacred plant of Shinto, however, is the sakaki (a shrub related to the tea bush). The shin-no-mihashira is taken to represent a branch of the sakaki stuck upright in the ground.
The chambers of the shrines are raised on timber piles which themselves are analogous to the central sacred post. The roof is not supported by the walls (although the rafters do rest on purlins), but the ridge beam is carried instead by two large columns at either end which embedded directly into the ground without any foundation.
Besides trees, at the Ise Shrine are many subsidiary shrines of rocks from the sea which are regarded as the abodes (iwakuraor rock abodes) of deities.
Kenzo Tange and Noboru Kawazoe, Ise: Prototype of Japanese Architecture, Cambridge, Massachusetts: M.I.T. Press, 1965.
Yasutada Watanabe, Shinto Art: Ise and Izumo Shrines,New York: Weatherhill, 1974 (first published in Japanese, 1964). The Roots of Japanese Architecture, a photographic quest by Yukio Futagawa, with text and commentary by Teiji Itoh, New York: Harper & Row, 1963 (first published in Japanese, 1962).
I watched this anime a few months ago and could not stop until I had seen every single episode. Since viewing it, I have wanted to write something about it in my blog. It was mentioned as one of my favorite anime in a previous blog entry. At present the best thing I can say is to watch the episodes and find out why I was hooked from the first moment.
Balsa is a wandering warrior, whose special technique is wielding a massive spear with incredible accuracy. Her entire adult life has been spent saving lives as atonement for a past sin. Her path crosses that of a young prince, Chagum, whose mother hires Balsa as a bodyguard because she believes her son’s life is in grave danger from the boy’s own father, the emperor of Japan. Chagum’s father believes that the boy is possessed by a dangerous spirit that will destroy everything if Chagum is not killed immediately. In fact, the emperor has ordered his son’s own assassination.
Balsa and Chagum find themselves on a perilous journey, not only to elude the emperor’s many assassins, but also to stop the dangerous creature that is growing inside the boy’s chest. Desperate choices must be made along the way, as well as peeks into Balsa’s dramatic and traumatized past.
The link below contains every episode of the anime. If you enjoy Japanese History and a good fantasy adventure, tune it. You won’t be disappointed.
The awesome Dragon of the orient is sacred, beautiful, and blessed with infinite wisdom and vast knowledge. They are playful by nature, but also have the capacity to destroy entire cities with one swipe of their mighty claws and terrifying magic. They are associated with wealth, water and wisdom. All humans desire wealth, whether they admit to it or not. Water is necessary to sustain life on Earth, and wisdom is something we all seek after.
The Dragons of the orient have long, thin bodies, covered in rainbow-hued scales that are strong as steel and magnificently beautiful to behold. They have no wings and instead can bound from the Earth to the Heavens in a single leap. Their heads resemble horses with great billowing whiskers, like a mighty tiger’s, sprouting from their lips. They hear through a pair of horns worn atop their heads like crowns.
When a Dragon of the orient speaks, their voice is like the jingling of coins, yet they possess a melodic quality unequaled by mortal musicians. Closely linked to the elements of water and air, they were originally created from the storms that lashed the earth a the beginnings of creation. In fact, these Dragons love storms so much that they play inside great typhoons. Their claws slash the ground along with the lightning that streaks from their eyes. Their breath creates great clouds that sail into the sky while rain is formed from the pressure of their feet squeezing water from the clouds as they climb into the sky. The wind itself comes from the passing of their breath as they move.
They are known for their wealth and their generosity with humans they are fond of. They are also known to pay unfathomable riches for the freedom to rule the skies. They are especially fond of pearls and will go to great lengths to gain possession of these gems of the sea. Many a human, who has gained favor with a Dragon of the orient, has been presented with pearls that possess magical abilities.
Their king is Ryu-Jin, the greatest and wealthiest of all the Dragons of the orient. Ryu-Jin’s palace is located at the bottom of the ocean, made from crystal and held upright by magnificent jade pillars, encompassed by walls laced with coral and, of course, pearls. Every day precious stones wash down into his palace from the mountains near the seashores. The stones are so numerous that they pile up like mounds of sand that mingle with great piles of magical trinkets and artifacts that litter his palace.
High in the mountains of the Orient is a secret place with a waterfall known as the Dragon Gate. This is the birthplace of all, but the first dragons and is said to lead to their magical domain.
Dragons can take human form and often come in the guise of a humble scholar. In this form, they have been known to sire children that may or may not have the capacity to shape-shift from human to dragon form. Though not all are born with this ability, they all are physically perfect with unblemished skin, sparkling green eyes and flowing black hair. And there is within them all some level of the Dragon’s magic.