🌸Sokushinbutsu: The Self-Made Mummies of Tsuruoka ğŸŒ¸

Do you ever think to yourself – “God, how truly wonderful it would be if I buried myself underground, lived off of nuts, roots, and water, whilst ingesting poison for three years and three months?” Well, someone in Japan did. “Hold my beer,” they said as they put the masochists of the world to shame.

The Mummy 2

The practice of sokushinbutsu (buddhahood in this very body) was thought to have been brought over from China by Japanese monks. The practice begins with the monk slowly reducing their diet from grains such as lentils, rice, soybeans, and sesame, to eating only nuts, grass, and roots found in the local mountains, thus removing any body fat, and helping prepare them for the mummification. They also ingest a poisonous tree bark which, besides from slowly killing you, also has the added health benefit of drying out your organs so they don’t decompose once you become an undead holy husk. Once the monk feels they approach death, they go in an underground pit where they chant the nenbutsu (a buddhist mantra). Eventually, they would also abstain from water, helping further shrink and dry out their organs and body. This process would take usually take around 3,300 days. There would be a small bell in the chamber, and the imprisoned monk would ring it every morning to signal he is still alive. When he stopped ringing the bell, the other monks would know he is dead. They would wait three years and three months, and then proceed to clean and dress the monk in new robes. The self-mummified monk would become a holy relic at a temple, where people would come to pray for health, guidance, and good fortune.

“Cool story, but why though,” I hear you ask. This particular sect of buddhists believed that by doing this practice they would become one with the cosmic Buddha, and their sacrifice would help alleviate the misfortunes of those living around them.

The most famous of these monks is probably Tetsumonkai. He famously killed a Samurai, who, while drunk, dismissed Tetsumonkai’s warnings that the dam at the local river was about to collapse due to a recent flood. The two fought and the samurai was slain. To escape punishment for his crimes, he became a monk. He was a devoted monk, and as early as his 20s, he had decided that he wanted to become a sokushinbutsu in order to help the people. When a nearby volcano erupted and showered the surrounding area with ash, many people got an eye disease. He took his own left eye out and cast it into the Sumida River as an offering to the deity of Mt. Yudono so that the people’s eye disease may be cured. At the age of 71, or 91, texts differ, he began the process of becoming a sokushinbutsu.

There are 18 of these mummies across Japan. The most famous of these can be found in Tsuruoka, Yamagata prefecture, Japan. They can be found at Dainichibo, Honmyou, Kaiko, and Nangaku temple. There are monks present which will tell you the history of the sokushinbutsu. Unfortunately for you English-speakers, that’s only available in Japanese. However, there are English-speaking staff at Dainichibo who can give you know-how of what’s what.

Mummy Tales at Dainichibo Temple

Tetsumonkai’s robes are changed every 6 years by local monks. You can view the ceremony, however, the changing of his underwear is done behind a screen, presumably to preserve his divine, uh, integrity. Though you would think once you’ve starved and poisoned yourself for years, died and become a god, a little exhibitionism wouldn’t be a problem, but hey, we’re all slaves to propriety it seems, gods and all. The old robes are cut up into small pieces and put inside talismans you can purchase to secure your health and good fortune – the latter seeming rather superfluous, as once you know what these guys went through, any fate seems a fortunate one in comparison. Mission achieved, I guess.

🌸The Tekkojima Iron Island Festival🌸

Made of cement, steel beams, and industry, the small island of Keihinjima doesn’t look like much. A mere twenty minutes away from Haneda airport, it is an artificial island created for iron manufacturing and recycling. Grey streets, warehouses, and shipping containers dominate the landscape. And the only pulse that can be heard is that of metal and the heavy machinery that works it in the warehouses spread across the island.

Despite this, in this unlikely place, the youth of Kaihinjima have decided to reclaim this space as one for art and expression. In 2016, the Buckle Kobo creative hub decided to transform their metal home into a melting pot for contemporary music, film, art, and expression.

With just a few sound systems and projectors, the empty warehouses transform into clubs, filled with sound, light, and people. And the empty streets suddenly have a new pulse.

Tekkojima Warehouse Club
With just a little light and sound, a cold and empty warehouse suddenly becomes the place to be.

The streets are lined with artisanal food and drink vendors, offering everything from cheese and avocado koroke to nutella latés. Performance artists roam the streets singing, dancing, and toying with various forms of expression. Paintings and art installations are aplenty. Some seek to please the eye, while others strive to express the sense of identity the people of Keihinjima have with metal work.


The Tekkojima Island Festival was a fantastic experience. Every year they have more and more artists showing up. Some of Tokyo’s most innovative and creative musicians, film makers, artists, and performers make an appearance. It is truly a wonderful thing to see, how a community can so drastically transform itself into something so colourful and lively.

I’ll let their promo video have the last word. If you’re ever in the area this time of the year, do yourself a favour and make an experience. It’s definitely one of the more authentic festivals out there.

 

Sultans of Ping — Song of the Week

by Chris

This week’s song selection sees me continuing my flirtation with Math Rock. This time around, I have a pick from an album that mixes the unorthodox genre with a dystopian concept.

Delta Sleep’s recent album, Ghost City, tells the story of a woman living in what the band describes as a “techno-noir” dystopian future dominated by tech firms.

In selecting a single song, I had to face a difficult choice. As there is a narrative through line, selecting my favorite song would not have made sense without the larger context of the rest of the album. To that end, I chose the opening track, Sultans of Ping.

The track can give you a taste of the ride you’ll be in for. If you find the lyrics and the concept edifying, the rest of the album will take you for a ride with an excellent conclusion. Just be sure to expect diversity in the album; some songs will be calm pensive, while other may shake you to the bone.

The lyrics of the album as a whole are straightforward in a way that reminds me of Orwell’s 1984, which makes sense for its dystopian concept. While I prefer the imagery of a Leonard Cohen’s style, Delta Sleep’s lyrics pair well with their music and deliver the narrative in a satisfying way.

 

 

 

The Hakone Open-air Museum/Little Prince Museum

Having recently reached the second year of my life in Japan I had developed a more refined taste for attractions and adventures. Well, perhaps not more refined, but rather more demanding. If you threw the word “island” at me paired it with just about any animal in front of it, I would probably be there faster than a salaryman slurps raamen, or an NKH man knocking at your door.

For some time now I have had my eye on The Hakone Open-air Museum. It’s an attraction located in the southern mountains of Kanagawa. It is roughly a 3-4 hour trip by train from central Tokyo. It is an open-air park in the midst of beautiful, lush mountains. There’s a great variety of sculptures and art installations all across the park.  If you appreciate sculpture or just artistic expression in general, this would definitely be a good go for you. As an added bonus, there’s a little Picasso art gallery in the middle of it, so if you’re a fan, you got two reasons to go. “But I want three!” I hear you ask. Well, just a short bus ride away, there’s a Little Prince museum which has sculptures and installations from the book, as well as photographs and excerpts of the author’s work.

The sculptures are the main focus of the Hakone Open-air museum. There’s a great variety of the themes, styles, and materials used. Sadly, no photographs are allowed in the Picasso museum, so you’ll have to find out for yourselves 😛

 

The Little Prince museum is a short bus ride away. Unlike most such museums which are just a giant box with cool stuff inside, this one is made to look like a little French villa. It’s adorned with roses and gardens along the way. There’s even a section of it that’s made out to look like a French street. There are statues of the characters strewn around the gardens. And once you go inside you can enjoy a vast variety of content. There are photographs of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. There’s detailed maps showing the flights he used to take across Africa, and the nature of his adventures. There are manuscripts, doodles, and illustrations. There are descriptions of both his early and later life. And all this along dark and intimate rooms and hallways painted in backdrops from his most famous book.

Again, sorry for the lack of photographs from the inside of the museum. Many of the rooms forbid it. It’s probably for the best, though. This is something better experienced than seen. If you’re ever in Hakone, don’t think twice. These two attractions are well worth the price of admission, and you’d be hard pressed to find anything quite like them anywhere else.

Bon Voyage!

Weekly Podcast Plunder #7

by Chris

If you follow political discourse, there’s a good chance you have heard the word fascism thrown around, often with enthusiastic zeal. While fascism today seems to be synonymous with authoritarianism, digging into the actual political philosophy and its modern day incarnations may turn out to be a matter of urgency in the digital age. Enter, this week’s podcast recommendation:

Historian Yuval Noah Harar examines the intersection of fascism and technology in a recently published episode of Ted Talks Daily. In it, he makes an important distinction between nationalism and fascism, and points out how technology and the consolidation of data can make a significant difference in how the fascism of the future can succeed where the fascism of the past failed.

Monday Song of the Week (Celeste Edition)

by Chris

After a short break, I am back and looking to take care of some long overdue business. Celeste, as many of you know, is a successful indie game noted for its exceptional soundtrack.

While Celeste remains of my “to play” list (and I will be using my Nintendo Switch to remedy this situation soon), I did get a chance to peruse the Bandcamp  and compile a list of my top three songs from the game’s original soundtrack.

#3 Anxiety

I’m going to have to admit that the title of this track instantly connected with me, which probably skewed the results in this track’s favor. That being said, the track is not without its merits. Anxiety comes and goes like a single wave, with a disorienting and oppressive rhythm that elevates in volume then falls off in a way that reminds me a little too much of my own experiences. It’s a perfect little burst of uneasiness packaged in just under two minutes of song.

#2 Exhale

If the above track did a good job encapsulating the dizzying high of a wave of anxiety, the piano-driven Exhale reminded me of the gentle calm and euphoria that sets in after it ends. While the two tracks aren’t neighbors on the soundtrack list, both stand out to me as different moments in the same experience.

#1 First Steps

Instantly catchy and reminiscent of the whimsical old school themes of my childhood, this track was an immediate download onto my phone. If you need any one song to draw you in, I’d recommend First Steps. If you can stretch your listening sessions out to two songs, I suggest pairing it with the preceding track, aptly titled Introduction, which climbs from a sober tune to a burst of energy that flows well into this song.

 

I want to do a dive into Celeste as a whole once I’ve had some time to give it the attention it deserves, but for now, I hope this list serves as a useful set of recommendations, and as a warm welcome back aboard Grog Boat.

It’s good to be back.

Weekly Podcast Plunder #6

by Chris

Just when you think we’re done with the English language, I’m slapping you across the face with an episode of Mignon Fogarty’s Grammar Girl Podcast.

Clocking in at a mere 12 minutes and 14 seconds, this podcast is a useful refresher on the difference between the words “lay” and “lie”, as well as a few other language facts you may find interesting.

If you found that podcast beneficial, I’d recommend perusing the rest of the Quick and Dirty Tips website, which is full of tips to help you become a better communicator. The website also hosts “quick and dirty tips” ranging from health and relationships to finance and pets.

Further Reading

Mignon Fogarty has published a healthy selection of books under the Grammar Girl name. It’s definitely worth a look to see if there is a book that speaks to your deepest language fears.