After watching my neighbor’s home and then garden get scarped to dirt last week, it’s great to see a cafe like this one at Waseda’s Okubo campus where the new building adapts itself to the existing mature trees. With very limited space, much longer than deep, the campus was able to add a narrow cafe that is mostly counter space with views of the sidewalk and street. I like how modern and adaptive this architecture is.
This week is Japan’s Obon festival, a Japanese Buddhist custom of honoring ancestors’ spirits. Mid-August is a time when many Japanese take vacation, some to visit their home towns and others simply to get away or take a rest. Obon is a 500 year tradition that includes offerings in home altars, special dances and lantern festivals.
The date varies by region and by neighborhood. Tsukudajima had its festival in mid-July. The shift in the timing of the Obon festival is discussed by Nagai Kafū in his Tidings from Okubo. Kafū laments the change from fall to summer, from lunar to solar calendars, and from agricultural Edo to modern “careless” Tokyo.
After three days of rain, autumn suddenly deepens. Not waiting for the night, the crickets sing their loudest under the verandas. Their singing somehow brings to mind a Japanese wife of old, sad and yet alluring, at work on her husband’s clothes in the dim light of a paper lantern. . . . Under the old lunar calendar the festival of the dead came at the beginning of autumn. Every unfilial son, however profligate and however forgetful of home he might have been on ordinary occasions, must have thought of his dead mother and father in the sadness of the autumn dews. But now we have imitated the West and adopted the solar calendar, and the festival comes just after the June rains or toward the middle of the summer. The sadness with which the dead ought to be remembered is wholly lacking. The morals of a country are in danger when they are cut loose from the beauty of its soil and its seasons. The makers of our new age have been careless in many ways.” (p 238, Edward Seidensticker’s Kafū the Scribbler: The Life and Writing of Nagai Kafū, 1879-1959, Stanford University Press, 1965).
I am continuing to read Edward Seidensticker’s Kafū the Scribbler: The Life and Writing of Nagai Kafū, 1879-1959 (Stanford University Press, 1965). Kafū’s writing elegantly chronicles the Tokyo seasons, festivals, street scenes, and the clash of old Edo Tokyo with modernizing forces. The passage below seems particularly relevant to my previous post about the Tsukishima omasturi, and demonstrates Kafū’s love for the Sumida River, remnants of Edo, and nostalgic sounds.
“We first waited for everyone to assemble at the Garden of the Hundred Flowers, then proceeded to the Yoaomatsu restaurant. The upstairs room to which we were shown was really too cheap and vulgar, and we asked if there might not be something better, perhaps in one of the outbuildings. It seemed, though, that all the rooms were fairly much the same, and we had to make the best of what we had. It being the night of “the late moon,” the third night after the full moon, we all set out in a boat for the Azuma Bridge. At night you cannot see the factories and bronze statues, and there is only the moon gently lighting the surface of the water, and, white in the mist beyond, the houses of Imado and Hashiba on the left. Ah, here it is, I thought, almost ready to weep– the Sumida! We put the geisha ashore at the Mimeguri Landing, and as the boat tied up at Hanakawado, the drums and flutes of a festival came across the water to us, as if opening a domestic tragedy on the Kabuki stage. And so we disbanded.” (p 66, from Tidings from Okubo)