Tag Archives: london

Celebrating Japanese New Year in the UK

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Kagami-mochi (Japanese New Year decoration) at Japan Centre, London

Shogatsu, or New Year’s Day, is probably the most important day in the Shinto calendar. But celebrating it in the Japanese way in the UK can be rather challenging, partly because there are no Shinto shrines to visit and food and goods associated with Shogatsu are hard to come by, and partly because the British was of celebrating the New Year can be difficult to mix with the Japanese customs. In Japan, New Year’s Day is a time for getting up early and celebrating with the family by eating a large meal and visiting the local shrine. [Read more...]

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An Evening with Prof. Brian Cox and Dr Adam Rutherford

I'll admit that #LondonThinksCox is an unfortunate hashtag...

I’ll admit that #LondonThinksCox is an unfortunate hashtag…

Yesterday evening my sister and I were fortunate enough to attend a special talk with physicist Prof. Brian Cox and geneticist Dr Adam Rutherford, at the beautiful Conway Hall in London.

As readers of my blog may know, my love of science is deeply tied in with my Pagan beliefs, and I was so glad to hear these two experts explain some difficult concepts so well and in such an engaging way, as well introducing me to new ideas in science (such as the theory that electrochemical gradients are behind the origin of life). But what I wasn’t expecting was for these two scientists to comment on the place of religion in society.

One thing you should know about Conway Hall is that it is owned by the Conway Hall Ethical Society, who are a humanist (and by extension, atheist) organisation. As a result, there were a lot of atheists in the audience, and one of them posted the question, “Will we ever be fortunate enough to live in a society without religion?”

In response to this, both scientists said that while we should not be dominated by superstitious beliefs, they don’t think that society should lose religion and that religion plays an important role in creating a cultural framework. Prof. Cox also mentioned that the co-existence of different beliefs (including those of religious and atheist people) are a sign that democracy is working.

I was so impressed and so pleased to hear such attitudes that I (and other people in the audience) gave them both a round of applause.

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Open Day at Three Wheels Temple & Zen Garden

Three Wheels

Today my husband and I attended an Open Day at Three Wheels Temple – a Buddhist temple in Acton, London. It’s a very interesting and unique place – while the temple itself is Shin Buddhist and run by (mainly Japanese) devotees of Shin Buddhism, it houses a Zen Buddhist garden that was commissioned by a non-Buddhist Englishman, Professor John White.

After taking part in a tea ceremony and hearing some of the temple’s history, we sat before the garden and held Professor White tell its story. Professor White takes pride in the fact that his garden does not conform exactly to Zen standards. Although he commissioned top professionals from Japan to build the garden, he made sure that he made some adjustments to fit his preferences. For one thing, the majority of the materials, from the wattle-and-daub viewing hut to the stones themselves, are all from the UK. In fact, the stones are all from a different UK country – England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. This, too, is not in line with traditional Zen garden principles, as the stones should all be the same type and colour. However, the stones in this garden are all different types, colours and textures. This reflects the principle of Three Wheels, which is “Diversity in Harmony.” I also think it is a wonderful reflection of the diversity of the UK, especially London.

Three Wheels is indeed a very meditative and welcoming place, and I do recommend those in the UK with an interest in Buddhism paying it a visit.

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Beltane / May Day 2015

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St Clements Clogs welcoming the Sun on Windmill Hill, Gravesend

Brightest Beltane and Merry May Day to everyone!

My day started before dawn. I made an offering of mead on my Pagan altar, and offerings of incense and an Anzac biscuit on my Inari altar. As I did last year, I went up Windmill Hill, the highest point in Gravesend, to see in the May Day dawn with the Morris sides St Clements Clogs and West Hill Morris. And just like last Beltane, I saw a fox on the hill as I was walking up! [Read more…]

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Japan Matsuri 2014

The O-Mikoshi at a previous Japan Matsuri, near the London Eye (from Japan Matsuri's Facebook page)

The O-Mikoshi at a previous Japan Matsuri, near the London Eye (from Japan Matsuri’s Facebook page) – photo by Megumi Walers

Yesterday was London’s Japan Matsuri – a huge Japan-themed outdoor festival that currently takes place at Trafalgar Square. I work for a Japanese cultural institution that promotes international relations, so was there as part of work, giving information about learning more about Japanese language and culture.

As anyone who’s been to Japan knows, there are several key features without which no Japanese festival (matsuri) is complete – plenty of good food, games to play, performances of music and dance, and people dressed in traditional yukata or other amazing costumes (matsuri are often a chance for members of subcultures in Japan such as Lolita to don their more spectacular outfits).  But perhaps at the heart of every big matsuri is spirituality, as matsuri are traditionally days where the local kami are venerated. In fact, the word “matsuri” itself literally means “worship.” At most Japanese matsuri, the essence of the kami is transported out into the local streets on an o-mikoshi, a portable shrine resembling a palanquin that is carried by locals.

London’s Japan Matsuri is actually pretty authentic in many of these aspects. It’s an opportunity for all the local Japanese businesses to exhibit ans sell their wares, which always means there’s plenty of Japanese food – and just like a matsuri in Japan, there’s also plenty of long queues! There’s also stage performances throughout the day – this year had some particularly good performers, including thundering taiko drums, Okinawan eisa dancing from the local Japanese nursery school, and the beautiful, haunting music of the traditional Japanese music group Hibiki Ensemble.

But perhaps what delights me most about Japan Matsuri is that its Shinto origins are still honoured. At the beginning of the festival, there is a procession of an o-mikoshi, carried by young men wearing traditional happi jackets and hachimaki headbands. Just as the o-mikoshi bearers in Japan do, they bounce the o-mikoshi up and down and lunge in a zig-zag motion all over the path, crying “wasshoi!” These actions are said to please the kami in the o-mikoshi. I have no idea what kami is enshrined in the o-mikoshi – there aren’t any jinja (large Japanese shrines) in London so perhaps it’s one venerated at a private shrine. I’d love to find out.

I think that the authenticity of Japan Matsuri, right down to the religious aspects, is what makes it so successful – I think it attracts far more Japanese people than any other Japan-themed event in London. I am so glad that such a festival, which helps to both strengthen Anglo-Japanese relations and to give Japanese residents in the UK to express their cultural identity, has continued to grow, and I am very proud to be a part of it as an exhibitor.

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Filed under Places, Rituals & Festivals, Shinto / Japanese Religion