Kadomatsu at Shinpukuji Temple

Kadomatsu at Shinpukuji Temple

A few days ago I woke up to my cell phone ringing and it was Mr. Tanaka on the other end.  He said to my surprise, “Peter, you have today off.”  I said thanked him and hung up.  I was not expecting that because my last day off was 5 days ago.  The funny thing was that I actually thought to myself, “wait, isn’t it a little too early for another day off?”  That kind of tells you how I’ve gotten so accustomed to working all the time.  Anyhow, I didn’t question it and gladly took it.  It was a relaxing day for me and I got to do some post writing (the previous post) and some personal things done.  I was really enjoying it…

At around 5pm Mr. Tanaka calls me into the living room and tells me that Mr. Tohru Suzuki of Daiju-en asked (ordered) if I can help him at Shinpukuji Temple the following day.  Mr. Omura is the owner of the temple and keeps his very high quality Bonsai collection there and is one of Daiju-en’s best customers.  I’ve worked there before and said, “great! What will I be doing?”  Mr. Tanaka looked at me and said, “you’re going to help them build a large Kadomatsu.  It’s going to be very hard work.”  Then he added, “I’m staying here and it’s just you going.”  I laughed and said no problem.  In this post I’m going to tell you all about my day at the temple, what a Kadomatsu is, how we built the Kadomatsu and how a tough day turned out to be quite educational.  Don’t worry, I did all the heavy lifting so all you have to do is sit back and enjoy the pictures.  ;o) For those that know what a kadomatsu is, Shinpukuji Temple held a Guinness world record for tallest kadomatsu two years ago…

So what is this Kadomatsu?

In Japan, before the New Years, people like to make or purchase Kadomatsu to put in the entrance of their homes.  In my case, the kadomatsu was built for the entrance of Shinpukuji Temple.  Kadomatsu has a religious meaning to them but I’m not going to get  to much into the details of it.

Here is an animated picture to give you a better idea of what they look like.  They vary in sizes but consist mainly of three bamboo poles that are tied together at three different heights.  The different heights are suppose to represent Heaven, Man and Earth.  They are then placed in a bamboo container or at least a container dressed in bamboo.  At the base of the poles you will find flowering plum branches (ume) and pine branches.  Sometimes other things are added but the bamboo, ume and pine are the three basic components.

Wondering around the Shinpukuji Temple grounds

The following morning, Mr Suzuki, Uch Sempai and myself arrived at the temple early and had a chance to roam around before the work began.  The following are some shots I took of the temples and surrounding grounds.  Shinpukuji Temple is on a small mountain that Mr. Omura’s family have lived on for many generations.

Here is the main entrance to the temple shot from a bridge I was standing on.  To the left of this picture are large stone steps that go up to the temple.  The two Kadomatsus we’re building will be placed at this entrance.

Here is one of the many shrines at the temple grounds.  I’m not sure how old some of the builds are but based on what the wood looks like, it’s probably over 100+ years old.

Got moss?  This whole area is all moss.  Pretty nice!

A large stone shrine.

It can get pretty cold at night when you’re a stone statue.  All the statues had knit caps on them.

I was walking around with Mr. Suzuki and we stumbled around this huge hole in the ground.  Based on his reaction, this was the first time he’d seen it too.  There’s even steps going down.

After further inspection of the hole, it turns out it didn’t go very deep and deadened.  I wonder what it’s used for?  I was too scared to walk down into it so this is the only picture you’re going to get!

Here is an shot of the underside of the roof.  There are some amazing wood craftsmanship here.

There is a Bonsai museum next to the temple and you can see a little bit of the bonsais here.  The museum was closed that day so I couldn’t get in.  In the future, when I’m in there, I’ll take some pictures of the bonsai and share them with you.

Because the temple is at an elevated area and the food building is on another elevated area, this long bridge was built so that people wouldn’t have to climb up and down the grounds.

Time to build some Kadomatsu

Surrounding the temple is a forest of Cryptomeria and Timber bamboo.  We walked into the forest in search for the six pieces of bamboo we needed for our Kadomatsu.  I was then told that the bamboo poles needed to be at least 12 meters long (about 39 feet long)!  I thought to myself, “how are we going to get these poles out of this forest and how heavy are these poles going to be?”  Now I see why I got the previous day off…

Here’s a shot of one of the grounds keeper looking for just the right one.  The poles needed to be as straight as possible.  This also gives you an idea of how big the bamboo poles are.  These are the biggest bamboo I’be ever seen.

Once we found the right one, out came the chainsaw.  I don’t have any pictures of the actual cutting or of us pulling the poles out of the grove because I was the one doing it.

It was very interesting how bamboo is harvested.  One person had the chainsaw and one or two people will hold the bamboo.  The chainsaw man will start to cut  it and it was the holders job to lightly pull up so that the weight of the bamboo wouldn’t bog the chainsaw down.  Once the cut was made, Uch Sempai and I would both hug the trunk and on the count of three pick it up and set it down off of it’s base.  Since the grove was dense and all the foliage is on top, the bamboo can’t fall over like a typical tree that is being cut down.  The bottom of the bamboo had to be dragged in an angle to slowly bring the top of the tree down with it.  Guess who was doing the dragging?  The youngest backs in the group that’s who!  Once the bamboo was almost horizontal, they measured out 12 meters and cut the tops off.  The tops had to have been another 10 meters long.  These things were tall!

This was the best picture I could get of me and Uch Sempai carrying these beams out of the grove and up hill for about 80 meters, 80 meters on level ground then downhill another 50 meters.  That was the most difficult part of the day.  Each beam had to have weighed about 100 kg (220 lb).  I’m surprised I was able to pull out my camera and take this shot while we were walking uphill.  I thought I was going to die when we dropped the first one 210 meters away.  Good news though was that halfway through more helpers came so I only had to carry three of them with Uch Sempai.

Here’s the bamboo together.  Notice how steep that hill is in the back?

Here’s me and Uch Sempai holding the poles while the boss was deciding where the front of the poles should be.

Here they’re using a massive saw to cut the ends of the bamboo.

Clean slant cut!

Once we got all the poles cut, we drilled holes in them and bolted them together in a couple of spots.  These guys are going nowhere!

After we bolted three of the poles together we tied the bamboo with straw rope.  The tie was a decorative tie as opposed to holding the poles together.  There were three sets of ties for one pole set.  The first tie had to have 7 loops, the second tie had to have 5 loops and the lowest tie had to have 3 loops.  On top of that, there was a special knot that had to be made to hold it all together.  I’m not even going to get into the details of that.  ;op

Once we got these made, five of us picked them up and carried them another 100 meters down hill to the front of the temple.

After lunch we proceeded to placing the poles into the base.  The base is actually a big concrete cylinder with bamboo tied around it.  The man on the right is operating a crane that is holding the poles up and we guided the them into the base.  Once we set them down, we all started shoveling gravel into the base to hold the poles in place.

Slight adjustments with a excavator.

And there you have it!  That’s me standing next to the two Kadomatsu.  I can see why the temple held the record two years ago.  We didn’t place the ume or pine branches at that time but I’m sure it’s all there by now (that’s the easy part).  We just took care of the hard part.  After we finished here, we went back up the hill and make 6 more smaller versions that were about 1.25 meters tall.

Overall, the day turned out great.  I got to learn lots about how to harvest and cut bamboo, how to make Kadomatsu and a workout to boot.  How many people can say that they helped build one of the largest Kadomatsu in Japan?  I can!  Plus it makes for a great story.

Just another day in the, “Apprentice Life.”  By the way, it was about 9 C (48 F) outside and I was fighting a cold (not that I’m looking for sympathy or anything…) which brings me to an important point of being an apprentice.

Show No Weakness and Representing…

One thing I’ve learned in the past and during my apprenticeship is that I cannot show weakness.  No matter what I am doing, I always have to show that I am able to handle it.  No matter how tired I am, how cold, how hot or how frustrated, I have to keep a smile on my face and preserver.  Of course all of the crying during my private time is none of your business.  Hahaha.  All jokes aside though, I have learned that I have to be on top of everything because my performance doesn’t just represent me, but Aichi-en, Mr. Tanaka, the Bonsai community in the U.S. as well as everyone thats supported me.  Asians have a tendency not to judge a person directly, but based on his or her surroundings and friends.  If I fail, the blame doesn’t go to me alone.  It goes to everyone and everywhere that is associated with me (only a little pressure).

After we finished working at the temple, Mr. Suzuki turned to me and asked if I was tired?  I looked at him with a smile on my face and said, “No problem,” with a thumbs up (notice that I didn’t say yes or no?  A “no” answer means I’d be lying to Mr. Suzuki and a “yes” answer would show weakness.  My answer purely told him that I could handle it).  He laughed with a surprise look on his face and walked away shaking his head.  In that instant there, I made sure that the next time Mr. Suzuki mentions me to other people, he’s going to say, “Peter is an American who studied Bonsai under Boon Manakitivipart, then came to Japan to study at Aichi-en under Junichiro Tanaka who studied under Me at Daiju-en, is on top of his game.”  Representing…

I said this before but it doesn’t hurt to say it again…

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and Happy New Years everyone!

Thanks for supervising the work  ;o)

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23 thoughts on “Kadomatsu at Shinpukuji Temple

  1. xwires says:

    Kadomatsu at Shinpukuji Temple – good times. Representing while under the weather – shizen na kanji! Awesome job Peter.

  2. Great post and wonderful pictures to boot. What a challenging day you must have had. The surrounding deciduous trees added a great deal of beauty that we lack here in Southern California. At the end of your post I think you meant that if you said no them you would have been lying and yes would have shown weakness. All of a sudden I feel so lazy. Happy Holidays.

  3. Bruce says:

    Thanks for another informative and entertaining post, Peter. I’ll be sure to pass it along to friends in Hilo.
    Does Mr Tanaka speak some English or are you speaking Japanese with him…Just wondering.

    • Peter Tea says:

      Thank for reading Bruce! Mr. Tanaka speaks a English fairly well. At least enough that we can communicate fairly easily. His English is getting better but my Japanese has been slow. I’m going to have to work on it. Perhaps that will be a good New Years resolution! Happy New Years to you and take care!

  4. Mike Arakaki says:

    In Hawaii, everyone’s buying kadomatsu at this time, they sell them everywhere! The ones we have are a little smaller than the one you’ve made (ok, a lot smaller), but they do cost quite a bit. I guess big or small, a lot of work goes into making them. Great job “represent-ing”! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

    • Peter Tea says:

      Hi Mike,

      I’ve been seeing them here too and they look like they are expensive as well. Since I did pretty good in helping out, I now get to do it every year while I’m in Japan! LOL Take care and Happy New Years to you all in Hawaii!

  5. Dirk says:

    Peter, its always nice to supervise others working. Nice post as usual. Looking forward to the next one. Merry Christmas, Happy New Year!!

  6. Barry McDonnell says:

    Peter, the Wabi Kei Bonsai study group from New Hope, Pa. will be having our annual Christmas get together tomorrow (Thursday) night. I will make sure a toast is made to you for “representin” us in the U.S. so well. Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and Double Happiness to you.

  7. Kathy Sloan says:

    Peter, What a wonderful post. You are certainly giving us all an education. Thank you and Merry Xmas. Kathy

  8. Penny Pawl says:

    Great story about your hardwork!!

  9. Sandy Vee says:

    AHA! I went to Hakone Gardens in Saratoga California (built in 1918) one winter day and saw about a 2 foot (2/3 of a meter) tall arrangement of Bamboo, Pine and Ume. Now I know what it was!

    Peter, amazing posts you are getting a wonderful education in a culture as well as bonsai.


  10. Randi Sharp says:

    Peter, what a beautiful and amazing post – not to mention interesting. I always look forward to your posts and the sharing of your experiences. Merry Christmas!

  11. cherylas2009 says:

    HI Peter,
    just think about all the exercise you are getting that you don’t need a gym membership for.

  12. Frank says:

    Peter— Great story. And yes now you have the bragging rights to building one of the largest kadomatsu in Japan. It might have been hard work but you got a good education on building one and I would say you are one lucky guy ! Who knows maybe one day when your back in the US you will have one in front of your nursery.
    Merry Christmas and Happy Healthy New Year !

    • Peter Tea says:

      There ya go Frank! One day someone is going to talking about a Kadomatsu and I’m going to be able to tell this story! LOL! It was really good meeting you and talking with you in person in Takamatsu. I’m thoughly enjoying the cigars! Take care my friend and Happy New Years!

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