A Local Perspective on Life in Tsukuba, Ibaraki, Japan.
Highlights from a Bike-Ride: Tsukuba to Ami-Town (September 2, 2020)
By Avi Landau
By the second day of September, most of the rice fields in Tsukuba and the surrounding area had started turning yellow – which means its harvest time! This field, in Onozaki, Tsukuba, just in from of the Onozaki Yasaka Shrine, was the first cleared field I had seen in 2020. Today (the 4th) I was able to speak to the farmer, who told me that his family had already eaten some of this year’s crop (the “new-rice”, SHINMAI) – and he said the grains were large, moist, fluffy, chewy and delicious! I guess despite our worries about this year’s weather, the rice crop was not that bad after all!
The yellow rice plants are ready for harvesting.
I passed by an empty lot along Onozaki’s main street – with old sacred stones and small HOKORA (small shrines which usually shelter statues of deities) along its edges. It was once the site of Onozaki’s “meeting-house” which has long since been demolished. I peeked inside one of the HOKORA and was surprised to find a little TANJO BUTSU ( A Birth Buddha), pointing both to the ground and the sky, usually associated with Buddha’s Birthday (Hana Matsuri) of April 8th.
I passed an old graveyard and stopped to check out this old war-monument covered densely with engraved characters. I quickly realized it told the story of a local boy, Private First Class Suzuki, who was killed in the Russian Far-East during the Nikolayevsk Incident (尼港事件, Niko Jiken) of 1920 (the monument itself was erected in 1921). In the Tsukuba area there are several such monuments dedicated to local Japanese killed in that incident, with the largest being at the Kanamura Wakeikadzuchi Shrine (Raijin Sama) in Kamigo.
A close-up of monument’s engraving (I will provide a complete translation in the near future!)
A dead Hakubishin (palm civet) on the side of the road. Sorry for this, but I`ve only ever caught fleeting glimpses of these nocturnal creatures in the dark of night – so this was a good chance to have a look (since it was not crushed). Along with raccoons (another invasive species spreading rampantly throughout Ibaraki Prefecture) these animals are causing a lot of grief among farmers and gardeners – who go out in the morning to find all their fruit gone! You also have to be careful about them moving into your house (for example up in the roof space).
As I crossed the bridge over the Joban-Line train tracks near Arakawaoki Station (huffing and puffing) I noticed for the first time that the Great Buddha of Ushiku ( Ushiku Daibutsu) was visible in the distance, looming over an expanse of housing.
The Ushiku Sukego Ikki (Ushiku Forced Labor Uprising) Consolation Stone (牛久助郷一揆供養塔). Standing beside a country road (not far from Arakawaoki Station is this bland looking stone monument (now under a HOKORA type shelter) about one meter in height. A first look will lead you to think that it is merely an old road marker (dated 1823), with the names of the directions carved in large characters on each of its four sides. A closer examination, though will prove that it is a KUYO-TO ( a monument for the consolation of dead spirits) dedicated to the executed leaders of an 1804 local peasant uprising (brought about by a severe system of forced labor imposed on the local farmers – they were made to work for the merchants of the post-town even during the busiest agricultural seasons). What makes this stone fascinating is that it was erected by the owners of the establishments destroyed during the incident. It is an interesting example of GORYO-SHINKO (御霊信仰), in which possibly vengeful spirits (ONRYO-, 怨霊), are appeased so that they don’t make any trouble. Other examples in this area are the Kokuo Jinja Shrine (dedicated to the rebel warrior Taira no Masakado) and the monument to the American airmen who died after their bomber went down on the night of the Great Tokyo Air-Raid (of March 10, 1945)
This late 11th or early 12th century Amida Nyorai made of cypress wood was on display at Ami Town Community Center. It has been designated an Important Cultural Property of the Town, but almost nothing is known about its origins other than the fact that the temple it had long been installed at was abolished during the Meiji Period. It is part of a three-statue set.