Yesterday I went on another field trip with the Japanese Culture A class. We left from the International House at 7:30 in the morning and drove to Shiroishi (白石, literally “white rock”). The plan for the day was to first visit a small community Noh theater and tea house in Shiroishi and then go on to see a traditional Samurai house followed by Shiroishi Castle (白石城 shiroishi-jou).
I woke up to a beautiful snow fall this morning as well. It wasn’t very deep, but it was very even, covering everything with a homogeneous layer of white and leaving a very nice dusting in all the trees. The view from the bus as it drove along the Hirose river and the suburbs of Sendai was absolutely amazing. Unfortunately, I was not in an ideal position to take any pictures. I will have to be vigilant in the mornings from now on and go out on a snow picture taking expedition nice and early the next time there is snow this nice.
After a longish bus ride down the highway, we stopped in Shiroishi to visit the Hekisui-en (碧水園) Noh theater and tea house. The sign on the building says 白石市古典芸能伝承の館 shiroishi-shi koten geinou denshou no kan, or “The Shiroishi City Building for the Tradition of Classical Theater.” It is a combination Noh theater (能楽堂 nou gaku dou) and traditional tea room (茶室 chashitsu).
The Hekisui-en Noh theater is a rare community-run Noh theater. The theater has an authentic Noh stage where performers form the Shiroishi community perform.
Yesterday was actually the first performance of the year, so an opening ceremony was held to commemorate the start of the new season. Unfortunately, I was not sitting in the best position to get a good angle of the proceedings.
After the opening ceremony, there was a short Noh scene with two dancers dressed in elaborate Noh costumes. It was a little disappointing since it was only one scene, but still very cool to see nonetheless. Afterwards, they threw pieces of Mochi out into the audience as another component of the new year’s celebration.
After that was the tea ceremony where everyone got to try some traditional Japanese sweets and tea made from Matcha. First up is a traditional kashi (菓子 pastry), a sweet to go along with the tea.
Next comes the tea itself, nicely mixed into a froth.
After walking around downtown Shiroishi for a little while, we went to an Umen restaurant in Shiroishi. Umen (温麺) is a type of short Somen (素麺), a thin Japanese noodle. Umen was created in Shiroishi in the beginning of the Edo period. The meal was quite delicious!
After lunch, we visited an old Samurai house. This house is actually an original, preserved in its original state.
They have to keep a fire burning at all times since the smoke helps keep the roof from rotting.
The place was lit with some very nice andon (行灯), a type of Japanese paper-covered lantern.
Japanese style paper windows provide a very good background for silhouettes, incidentally.
After departing the old Samurai house, we made our way to Shiroishi castle. Unfortunately, it wasn’t really the best weather to be taking pictures outdoors.
After exploring the castle for a while, we went to the visitor center to see a short film and meet Mr. Miyagi, one of the few remaining katanasmiths in Japan who make katana (刀) using traditional techniques.
The katana is surprisingly light for its size and strength. It is also very delicate. We weren’t allowed to touch the blade with our hands because it is highly sensitive to corrosion and the blade edge to chipping. It also takes several weeks to make each sword and traditional ones like this one are worth upwards of 900,000 yen (about $10,000) for the blade alone. The handle, sheath, and other accessories are not included and are made by different people. Here is our fearless leader (Koji Shidara) with the katana:
I don’t know how effective countering a katana strike with a kasa (傘, umbrella) would be….
And you probably don’t want to mess with Nadine while she wields one of those either…
By the time we were done admiring the katana, it was time to head back to the International House for a good night’s rest.