The Development of Japanese Washi

English: Cranes made by Origami (Washi paper)....
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Washi paper (Sugihara paper)
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Here is the second installment from the Washi Paper series. If you read the first post, “The Discovery of Paper” at .

In the reference section of this blog post, you can find the link to the parent site from which this article was printed in full.

Washi paper is not only an ancient art in Japan, but many beautiful art forms have come out of its use, such as creative wrappings for gifts, origami paper folding and intricate, paper dolls.

Making washi-paper-like projects are as easy as placing pieces of torn paper and water in a blender and then laying the wet pulp on a piece of screening and adding bits of flowers or other things as decoration. Here is a video to help you through the entire process.


World Papers and Washi

写真 Kozo楮
写真 Gampi雁皮
写真 Tororoaoi黄濁葵
写真 Noriutsugi糊空木

■The development of Japanese washi
Because of its location across the sea east of the coast of the Asian continent, Japan was influenced by China mainly by way of the Korean peninsula. Scripts and paper were first introduced to Japan in the fourth to fifth century, and these symbols of advanced civilization greatly influenced the thinking of the Japanese people. The subsequent introduction of Buddhism to Japan in the sixth century had a major impact. As part of its efforts to disseminate Buddhism, the government increased paper production for the transcription of sutras. People were encouraged to grow kozo, paper mulberry, as a raw material for paper, and Buddhist priests were invited from the Korean peninsula to introduce the new technology. During the high culture of the Tempyo period (eighth century), techniques to manufacture and process paper developed, and papermaking spread nationwide. As demands for paper grew, manufacturers looked for raw materials other than kozo to produce it and discovered gampi, a plant indigenous to Japan. This prompted the transition from the imitation of Chinese paper to the creation of washi, Japan’s own paper. Gampi fibers are delicate and have a natural viscosity, so although forming them into paper requires sophisticated techniques, the finished product is both beautiful and durable. A new method to make paper from hemp and kozo was invented in which the viscous mucilage of tororo-aoi (the root of a hibiscus plant) or noriutsugi bark was added. This method, established in the late eighth century to the ninth century, is today known as nagashizuki. In the Heian period (794-1185), a government – owned paper mill, or kamiyain, was established in Heiankyo (Kyoto), then the capital of Japan, to make paper for official use. The mill also dyed and processed paper and trained technicians. In addition to being used for sutras and official documents, the paper was also used for private correspondence and poetry, helping to promote the development of literature. Kana, or the Japanese syllabary, was invented from kanji, Chinese characters. A unique Japanese culture flourished, becoming free from the influence of the once predominant Chinese culture. With its abundant forests and clear streams, the Japanese environment was highly suited to papermaking, and the Japanese people, who respected nature and its cyclical changing of seasons, took pleasure in making fine papers and using them beautifully. By the time the government moved to Edo (now Tokyo), paper mills around the country were producing papers characteristic of each region. The common people used these papers widely and in this way paper became part of daily life, adding both convenience and beauty, and washi reached its zenith around the 17th century.


This is an entrance of Geku (Ise Grand Shrine).
This is the entrance to Geku, Ise Grand Shrine

(This article was copied in full from: Sacred Places: “Ise Shrine, Japan”

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.


The oi-ya in the old shrine compound of the Naiku 
[another photograph of the same]

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).


File:Naiku 02.JPG

Steps leading to the main shrine, Naikū

Temizusha - purification building, Naiku, Ise ...
Temizusha for ritual purification.

A Saga of Seduction in Japan: Tale of Genji (The first novel ever written)

Ilustration of the Genji Monogatari, ch.5–Waka...
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Many things can be said of Murasaki Shikibu’s fictional account of the Heian aristocracy, set in eleventh century Japan. Yet the true heartbeat of The Tale of Genji, is the recurring rhythm of artful seduction that pulsates through Hikaru Genji, i.e. the shining genji, the novel’s main protagonist.

It is thought that Genji’s character is most likely based on the real-life man, His Excellency, the Grand Counsellor, Fujiwara no Korechika. Korechika is described in The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon as a man of incredible charm with a hypnotic effect on women. Shonagon goes on to describe Korechika as arriving at court “wearing a rather soft and supple cloak in the cherry-blossom combination, over deep violet gathered trousers of heavy brocade and white under-robes.” He arranges “the sleeves of his wonderfully glowing deep scarlet-purple damask cloak for (optimal) display” (17).

The fictitious version of Korechika starts life as the son of the emperor. In The Tale of Genji: A Reader’s Guide, Genji or as he is sometimes called, Lord Hikaru is describes as a beautiful son, who is so magnificent that he is a possible rival to the title of the crown prince. Robert Greene in The Art of Seduction refers to Genji as one who never lost certain childlike charms from his personality, an attribute that others find irresistibly alluring.

The first to fall under the Shining Genji’s spell is none other than the emperor of Japan, Genji’s own father:

“The emperor’s thoughts were on his youngest son even when he was with his eldest… (The emperor) made constant inquiry after (Genji)” (7).

Though Genji is described as having “the face of one who should ascend to the highest place and be father to a nation…” (14) He is nevertheless striped of any imperial title and appointed to the non-royal Gin clan. The reason for his fall from grace can be attributed to the fact that Genji’s mother is “…a lady not of the first rank, whom the emperor loved more than any of the others” of all the wives and concubines” (3). Despite all this, Genji retains the position of most beloved son to the emperor.

Notwithstanding this political setback, Genji is far superior in deportment and disposition to most anyone else so “that few find it in themselves to dislike him” (13). As it turns out, he is a child wonder with inexplicable talent, like the musical prodigy Mozart. When Genji is only seven years of age, “he (recites) the ceremonial reading of the Chinese classics” (13). The aristocrats of the royal court had never before heard or seen such talent in one so young.

Not only is Lord Hikaru an extraordinarily handsome man as well as the beloved son of the emperor with uncanny artistic talents, he has seemingly unlimited time and wealth that enables him to retain the wild independence that makes a child so gloriously charming. These are just a few of the ways he is able to have such a provocative effect on most everyone with which he comes in contact.

Despite all this, Genji is not perfect. Impulsive to a fault, he follows his heart, more often than not, though it may lead to disastrous results. Particularly in the case of several wives or consorts to other men that invariably catch his attention. One such infamous encounter results in Genji’s banishment from court, though only temporarily it is a sorrowful time in his life.

Still, for many other women, Genji fills the order as Sei Shonagon would say of “Things that make your heart beat fast—“ one being a “fine gentleman (who) pulls up in his carriage and sends in some request” (30). One thing for certain, Genji savors each and every one of his conquests with a singular devotion.

The next to succumb to Genji’s charms is his step-mother, Kokiden, mother of the present heir apparent, Genji‘s older half-brother. “Admitting the boy to her inner chamber, (Kokiden) was pleased (even)…reluctant to let him go. She had two daughters, but neither could compare with (Genji) in beauty” (13). All this, even though in the recent past Kokiden proves a deadly rival against Genji’s birth mother.

At age 12, Genji is married to the Minister of the Left’s daughter. His boyish charm is enough to win over his father-in-law, though Genji’s wife, Aoi–five years his senior, is less than enthusiastic about the relationship.

As a young man of seventeen, Genji bewitches an even younger boy, Kojimi, age 12 and the boy’s reluctant older sister, Utsusemi, the wife of a government official:

“The two voices, very sleepy, resembled each other. (Utsusemi said,) “‘And where is our guest? (Kojimi’s) voice was low. ‘I saw him. He is every bit as handsome as everyone says’” (41).

Genji searches to find Utsumei alone. “His manner was so gently persuasive that devils and demons could not have gainsaid him” (32). “(Utsumei) was bathed in perspiration and quite beside herself at the thought of what… the others… would be thinking… Yet the sweet words poured forth, (from Genji’s lips) the whole gamut of pretty devices for making a woman surrender” (43).

As Utsusemi flees Genji’s further advances, she leaves behind her daughter-in-law, Nokiba-no-ogi. Though a bit startled by the unexpected visitor, Nokiba is quite happy to give her time and attention to the charming young man. “The girl beside him had a certain young charm of her own and presently he was deep in vows of love” (54).

On another occasion, Genji finds himself whisked into a passionate search to find a mysterious lady that has given him a “heavily scented white fan” to place a plucked white flower in, “known as ‘evening faces’” (58). Later Evening Faces, as the lady is referred to, is found to be the mother of another young woman who Genji will love, Tamakazura.

Even people who have nothing in common with Genji are drawn to him. On occasion someone may receive a “little poem from him or (having) been treated to some little kindness found him much on their minds. No doubt it distressed them not to be always with him” (63).

From a very young age, Genji’s true passion is for his step mother, Fujitsubo, only five years his senior, the same age as his wife Aoi. After the untimely death of Genji’s birth mother, the emperor is to the point of inconsolable grief. He is told about a “lady famous for her beauty” (15). Fujitsubo, also called, “‘the lady of the radiant sun’” because she ranks beside Genji in the emperor‘s affections (16). Her resemblance to Genji’s dead mother is uncanny. For this same reason, and that Genji seems to have little emotional connection to his own wife, Fujitsubo is for him “a vision of sublime beauty” (18).

Although their relationship is in every way forbidden, Genji manages a night alone with the beautiful Lady Fujitsubo. Afterwards, she is found pregnant with his child. No doubt suffering from humiliation and various other unpleasantries, she becomes ill leaving the tenderhearted Genji quite beside himself with concern for her. Much to his sorrow, from this day forward, Fujitsubo will not see him alone.

In his search to fill the empty place left in his heart, Genji meets the child Murasaki, the ten-year-old niece to Lady Fukitsubo. Murasaki will one day become the “true” love of Genji’s life:

A “sudden realization brought him close to tears: the resemblance to Fujitsubo, for whom he so yearned, was astonishing” (88).

From the beginning, the little girl is also quite fond of Genji:

“She would be the first to run out and greet him when he came home, and she would climb on his lap, and they would talk happily together” (111).

While Murasaki is still a child, Genji encounters the Lady of the Misty Moon during a cherry blossom festival. He has little trouble enticing the lady into his bed:

“She came (could he believe it?) to the door. Delighted, he caught at her sleeve. ‘Who are you?’ She was frightened. ‘There is nothing to be afraid of… (He assured her). Quickly and lightly he lifted her down to the gallery and slid the door closed. Her surprise pleased him enormously. Trembling, she called for help. “It will do you no good. I am always allowed my way”, Genji assures her (152).

Robert Greene tells us that “This “self-belief is half of Genji’s charm.” In fact another’s resistance “does not make him defensive; he (merely) retreats gracefully, reciting a little poetry, and as he leaves, the perfume of his robes tails (is left deliciously) behind him” (Greene 65).

Another of Genji’s conquests is the Lady of the Orange Blossoms, the younger sister of one of his deceased father’s former consorts. Genji quietly makes his way to where the younger sister resides. She has never seen a visitor of such “unsurpassed good looks” (217). His manners are tender and she is soon convinced that he would never lie to her when he whispers sweet things in her ear.

Another of Genji’s special talents is his attention to important and intimate details. The way he seduces the object of his desire is to adapt to their moods with tacit details that fill their sights, and sounds while swirling them into a fantasy of delectable scents that will later remind them of the pleasure of his company. This is shown to perfection when Genji is enticed by the beautiful Tamakazura. As Genji shows his regard for the much younger woman, she is made uncomfortable by his attentions. She feels his behavior is inappropriate since she thinks Genji is her father or in the least her protector. In fact her real father is Genji’s former brother-in-law, the Lady Aoi’s brother.

To win Tamakazura, Genji uses his considerable charm, ingenuity and consummate accomplishment on the koto of which he is a master. His majestic playing of the seven-string instrument won her when none of his other tactics did.

The modern reader no doubt sees Hikaru Genji as an incorrigible Don Juan, a shameless rake. Yet Ivan Morris tells us in The World of the Shining Prince: Court Life in Ancient Japan that for the modern reader who inhabits a monogamous society, The Tale of Genji provides valuable insight into a world where polygamy is the order of the day. The possession of numerous wives and consorts is normal and actually a respectable means of behavior for Heian gentleman.

In the Heian aristocracy, large families have an important advantage, one being that women tend to die young. Also the fact that women are almost completely dependent on men, therefore, a wealthy man who possesses numerous wives and concubines is not labeled a lecher. In fact, it is considered a status symbol.

The type of disapproval our modern-day societies would put on unfaithful husbands is instead directed at the man who has only one or two wives. He is considered anti-social.

The way Genji comports himself during his romantic liaisons falls into the proper ways a courtier is expected to behave. A Reader’s Guide: the Tale of Genji gives us the appropriate guidelines for ladies and gentlemen of the aristocracy. They should “compose delicate poetry,” written in a certain way with just the proper “shade of the ink”. Even “the selection of the paper” is important, the texture, the color. All these nuances are “meticulously scrutinized for evidence of courtly sensibility” (49).

In the Encyclopedia of Erotic Literature we find more valuable information such that the particular way a courtier paints their calligraphy is very important. They should prepare special music that would entice an erotic encounter. In this way, both men and women carry on their romantic affairs around the standing screens posed between them.

The reason for much of this painstaking decorum is that the women of the upper had few options to deal with the mind-numbing monotony of their lives. These were love and literature. They must have something exciting to fill their days.

In regards to Genji, it is not only his astonishing looks, his sensitivity, and his remarkable artistic talents that elevate him as the ideal male. It is the way in which he savors each of his romantic encounters and their various, individual virtues with almost religious devotion. In Heian Japan, an era when a man could walk away at anytime for any reason, leaving the woman destitute if he chose, once Hikaru Genji gives his support to a woman, he never withdraws it, even though he may have lost all interest in her as a mistress. In fact, he builds a magnificent mansion with rooms enough to house all his women.

Works Cited

Brulotte, Gaetan. Encyclopedia of Erotic Literature. New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2006. 680, 682.

Greenway, Robert. The Art of Seduction . New York: Penguin Books, 2001. 55, 271.

Morris, Ivan. The World of the Shining Prince: Court Life in

Ancient Japan. New York: Kodansha America, 1994. 236-237.

Puette, William J. A Reader’s Guide: The Tale of Genji. Massachusetts, 1992. 49, 63, 104.

Murasaki Shikibu. The Tale of Genji. Trans. Edward G. Seidensticker. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007. 3-454.

Sei Shonagon. The Pillow Book. Trans. Meredith McKinney. New York: Penguin Books, 2006. 17, 30.

Oni (Japanese folklore) Demon, Devil, Ogre or Troll?

Oni pelted by beans
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You hear a creaking sound coming from the upstairs bedroom, though you are the only one at home. Armed with your katana blade, you creep silent as a ninja up the stairs.

Standing beside the open window of the upstairs bedroom, you see what appears to be a giant human with wild hair, and two long horns growing from the top of its head. On closer inspection, you see claws instead of fingers and since it is barefooted, you count six toes on each foot.

In the moonlight, its skin appears to be reddish-blue, almost purple. It wears only a loincloth made of tiger’s skin and carries an iron club, kanabo 金棒. Is it just a trick of the light, or did the creature disappear and then reappear?

As you make your way forward, the floor creaks beneath your feet. The Oni turns in your direction.  Its hideous face has three bloodshot eyes. The creature shape shifts into what can only be described as a giant purple tiger. It turns to face unlucky northeast and growls, as if to summon other minions from Jigoku, the Oni hell.

You reach for the pouch at your waist filled with crushed green peas. You dip your fingers in while raising your kanata in the other hand. You rush toward the demon.

More Information:

The Chinese character meaning “ghost” is sometimes used to describe the Oni’s formless nature. They also go by the name of  rakshasa and yaksha, meaning “the hungry ghost” called gaki. They are the demon minions of EnmaŌ who punishes sinners in Jigoku or Hell.

They Oni are used in conjunction with the northeast direction or kimon 鬼門, which means “demon gate”. Thus the northeast is considered an unlucky direction through which evil spirits may cross over into this world. Temples often face the northeast and Japanese buildings are frequently built with an L-shaped indention at the northeast to help ward off Oni. For this same reason, the Japanese capital was moved northeast from Nagaoka to Kyoto in the 8th century.

During the spring festival of Setsubun festival, people throw soybeans or green peas outside their homes while shouting, “Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!” “鬼は外!福は内!”, which is translated to mean, ” Oni go out! Blessings come in!”.

Monkey statues are used to guard against Oni. because the Japanese word for monkey, saru, is a homophone for the word, “leaving” in the Japanese language. The holly plant is also used to guard against Oni.

In more recent times, the Oni have taken on a more protective guise. Men dress in Oni costumes and lead Japanese parades to ward off bad luck. Japanese buildings are sometimes built with onigawara 鬼瓦, which are Oni-faced roof tiles used in the same sense as gargoyles are in the western tradition.


The Death Rock (Japanese Mythology)

Tamamo-no-Mae, a legendary kitsune featured in...
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In the summertime of old Japan, when the oppressive heat and humidity rendered daylight activity all but unbearable, people longed for the night and the scant relief brought by the setting sun. There, amidst a chorus of frogs and insects serenading the coming of the dance of the dead, the people played a game called, “A Gathering of 100 Ghostly Tales”, and silently the spirits would return.

100 lit candles were placed in a circle, and the players each told a ghoulish tale. As each tale ended, the storyteller doused a single candle. As the light slowly faded the tension rose. The game was said to be a ritual of evocation, the expiration of each story and each candle summoned more spiritual energy, transforming the room into a beacon for the dead. With the vanishing of the final light, someone or something terrible was found waiting in the darkness… This story is for the first lit candle…

You sit the garden near the Palace in the once Imperial City of Kyoto. It is a beautiful spring day. In fact you are fortunate to have planned your visit to Japan the very day the cherry blossoms are at the most glorious. As you admire the scenery, a young woman happens by and sits on the bench near you. When she turns your way, she smiles sweetly and asks if you have ever heard the story of Tamamo-no-Mae? You shrug and tell her it is your first day in Japan and no you have never heard the story.

Again, the young woman smiles sweetly and gets a far off look in her eyes. This is when you see the smooth, black stone she holds in her hands. It has the glossy look of obsidian, the kind of rock thrown millennia before from the pit of Mount Fuji. You find it odd that the young woman is caressing the glossy stone as if it is a pet of some sort.

You’re not sure why, but a shiver runs up your spine at this particular moment. Your first inclination is to jump up and hurry back to your hotel. But you stay thinking how silly you are being on such a beautiful day with such a pleasant companion to talk to.

As the young woman continues to pet her stone, she begins to tell a story, of a priest named, Gennoh who decided to see the world, so the next morning he and his servant packed their belongings and left the city. One day on their journey, they were crossing a field when they saw a bird fall dead from the sky. They found out in the village that the bird had flown to near Nasuno, the death stone.

A village woman told the priest and his servant, “It is a good thing you did not go too close. You see, the stone steals the life from whatever touches it. Inside the stone is the spirit of Lady Tamamo-no-Mae.

“Who?” the priest asked, confused as to the significance of the spirit.

The woman shook her head and continued. “It is said that the spirit that resides inside the death rock once destroyed kings in both India and China and was later a consort to the Japanese Emperor, Toba. Tamamo-no-mae was her name. She was both beautiful and wise, but her heart was filled with evil.

“Late one night during a concert at the end of autumn, all the lamps in the emperor’s garden suddenly blew out. To everyone’s horror and amazement, Tamamo-no-mae began to glow like the full moon. Soon after this, Emperor Toba became deathly ill.

“His Astrologer cast the Emperor’s fortune and found that it was Tamamo-no-mae who had caused the Emperor’s illness.

The Astrologer began an exorcism which in turn caused Tamamo-no-mae to writhe in torment. To escape her punishment, she leapt into the air and landed far away on the Nasuno plain.

“But the Emperor sent warriors to find and destroy her. They chased her into a trench and shot arrows at her until her life drained away. It was then that she became the Death-Rock, which has killed all who come too close.”

The young woman sitting near to you smiles once again, but this time you see a gleam in her dark eyes that can only be described as feral. Again, you shiver, but not from the cold.

The young woman rises from the bench. Her back is to you now, but she is still speaking. “That day, Gennoh, the priest did a second exorcism on the stone. The spirit of Tomama-no-mae appeared, begging forgiveness, promising to do good all the rest of her days.”

Silence falls across the garden and you wait to hear the rest of the story. Instead, the young woman walks away. As she does, you see a swishing fox tail following directly behind her and a pale radiance like the moon glowing out from her body.

Much to your horror, your throat begins to feel tight as if someone’s fingers clench around your windpipe. You find that you can no longer draw a breath. In your desperation you look down to see the black stone the young woman was holding now sits on the bench only a foot or so from you. You reach out as if to knock the rock to the ground. Instead, you collapse beneath the bench where only moments before you sat upright.

A couple, walking in the garden, sees your distress and hurries toward. You try to tell them not to come closer. You gesture toward the glistening black rock that seems to writhe as if alive. But the words stick in your throat. You hear jeering laughter like the wind whistling through the tree tops. The next instant everything goes dark as the first candle is blown out…

Image Source

Tales of Ghostly Japan:


Images of Tamama-no-Mae:

The Nightingale Floor (Kyoto, Japan)

Main gate to Ninomaru palace
Image by thaths via Flickr

Are you secretly a ninja? Here is a test. It is the dead of night when you enter Nijo Castle. Everyone is asleep except for the two guards that were served a special tea flavored secretly by you. They now snore unaware at their posts. Tomorrow, they may lose their heads because of you.

You are dressed as a lowly peasant though your warlord master pays you sweetly for your work as a spy. In fact you are actually a samurai in disguise. Your katana is tucked inside your robe tie. You never know when you may need it. You have all the right equipment, but the true test comes when you step onto the nightingale floor. If it “sings” you are dead…

Built 400 years ago by Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Edo shogunate, Nijo Castle is situated so that it guarded the once Imperial city. It actually resembles the Imperial Palace in Kyoto. When all the floors were laid throughout the castle, they were suspended in a special way above the frame using a particular type of iron clamp so that the floor moves up and down when walked upon. The nails rub against the wood creating a sound like the cheeping of nightingales. Only a trained ninja can walk across the floor without making it “sing”.

Other places to find nightingale floors are:

Daikaku-ji temple in Kyoto

Chio-in temple in Kyoto

Toji-in temple in Kyoto


YouTube demonstration of a “Nightingale Floor”

Common Misconception Concerning Ninja “Nightingale floor, Uguisubari”

The “Roaring Dragon” of Shokoku-ji Temple (Kyoto, Japan)

Kyoto imperial palace garden in Kyoto, Japan
Image via Wikipedia

You enter the temple. An eerie quiet surrounds the few pilgrims, besides you, inside the hall of the inner sanctum. Yet it feels as if someone or something is watching from above. Your gaze travels toward the ceiling where a giant dragon is coiled in painted wood above your head. While you stand transfixed, yours and the creature’s eyes lock.

Then the unthinkable occurs. Someone claps their hands disturbing the peace of the sanctified place. Before righteous indignation registers, an amazing thing takes place. The dragon, in all its Imperial majesty, roars.

You cannot believe it. A trick of imagination and the awesome surroundings must have caused the breathtaking phenomena. Yet, another clap summons the dragon once again and you smile.

“So this is what calls the creature to wake.”

You hear someone whisper that the sound is a reverberating echo traveling between the parallel planes of the floor and the ceiling. A subtle overlapping of acoustic reflections is what brings the dragon to life. Still, you clap your hands knowing the sea god, Ryujin has communicated to you on a mystical level that words cannot express.


Located in the old neighborhood near Doshisha University, just north of the Imperial Palace.

The Main Hall was completed 1394 by Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (1358-1408).

Destroyed by fire and rebuilt many times, only the Dharma Hall and the Imperial Gate are what is left of the original structures.

A Zen sect temple, Shokokuji has treasures and cultural collections displayed in the Shotenkaku Museum, onsite.


Kansai Window: Japanese Architecture in Kansai, Echoes, “The Secret of the Dragon and the Mysterious Urns” “Dragon Sculptures, The “roaring dragon” of Sokoku-ji”