Sasumata; the samurai weapon of Japanese school administrators

Sasumata 刺股

Safety and threats in society-

Japan is an incredible safe country, violent crimes rates (and crime rates in general) are among the lowest levels in the world.

Americans are familiar with mass shooting and gun violence, so it is not unusual to see security officers or even metal detectors in schools.

Despite the social safety and stability in Japan as well as the limited access to firearms, there have still been acts of violence that have shaken Japan. Most foreigners are aware of the sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo subway that were perpetrated by a religious cult (Aum Shinrikyo) in 1995, sending thousands to hospitals and killing 12.

Foreigners are much less aware of the “Osaka school massacre” of 2001. In Osaka, at the Ikeda Elementary School, a mentally ill man went on a rampage with a kitchen knife, killing 8 and injuring 15.

A defensive weapon-

After the massacre, schools became more concerned with the possibility of classroom invasions and random violence. Some schools have specialized security staff, but the possibility of an attacker armed with a knife caused Japanese school workers to go medieval in their thinking. To combat knife wielding attackers the “sasumata,” (刺股, literally “spear-fork”) was reintroduced to society. The sasumata is a “man-catcher” weapon from the samurai period, consisting of a long pole with wide u-shaped prongs on the end. The sasumata is used to restrain the arms and torso of an attacker while keeping them at a safe distance. The medieval weapon sometimes incorporated a bladed edge and spikes along the shaft to prevent the target from grabbing the weapon or pulling it away from defenders.


An exhibit of historical weapons with a sasumata at Wakayama Castle.

The modern sasumata looks like a piece of pool equipment as it is made from lightweight aluminum and does not have the scary-looking spikes which prevented the medieval version from being resisted. In the event of an attack the idea is aim for the attackers torso, arms and legs to hold them down and keep them back, minimizing any injuries until police can arrive.

You can see the sasumata hanging in Japanese schools, usually in the teachers room. Sometimes, they are places in more public parts of the school; in which case I marvel at the restraint of students who do not joust each other with these long pole weapons.

Label instructions: 用心棒 (use the shaft)

There are also traditional martial arts, still being practiced that focus on the use of long pole similar weapons, such as Sojutsu and Hojojutsu. The Hozoin-ryu Sojutsu group often gives such demonstrations in the Nara area:


Hozanji; the hodgepodge temple of wealth


Hozanji, a temple an the side of Mount Ikoma, which is the border between Osaka and Nara prefectures. The site upon which the temple was built was used as a training ground for monks as far back as the year 655.

The temple buildings began construction in the 1676. The buildings on the temple grounds reflect a number of different styles. Including Japanese style buildings with a cedar bark roof and flared eaves,


Cliffside statue overlooking the site


Dezome-Shiki: New Years Firefighter Show

The Firefighter demonstration in Osaka is held at the beginning of every year. The word “dezome” (出初め) means “first outing” and “shiki” (式) means “ritual.”

At this event, cities present demonstrations of their fire department’s capabilities. This includes dress parades, PR interactions and disaster drills.

Representatives of various firefighting groups in Osaka gathered at ATC (a port area with a shopping mall and government offices) for the 2017 dezome-shiki. They presented drills with firefighters hosing down a mock house fire, performing CPR, loading ambulances and scaling obstacles. They used helicopters to demonstrate rooftop evacuations and retrieving overboard sailors from the sea. As a major port city, Osaka also employs firefighting ships which demonstrated their abilities by mixing colored dye with the jets of water they deploy.

Some places (such as Yokohama) have performances of traditional fire brigades who show off their acrobatic stunts with bamboo ladders.

Historically, fires have been a manor threat to Japanese society. In the Edo-era huge populations crowded into cities of densely built and very flammable architecture.


Kadomatsu; the Japanese bamboo bouquet of New Years🎍

Kadomatsu is a traditional decoration which is set out during New Years (about one week before and after Jan.1). The design/arrangement varies, with some variations being unique to specific regions. Generally, the kadomatsu is made of several of mature bamboo shoots, branches of pine needles and often some pine branches.

The bamboo and pine are the most basic and universal elements. Shoots of bamboo are hollow, so they represent purity or honesty. Also because they are hollow, they serve as a temporary home for spirits that visit their families for the holiday. They are usually displayed in pairs on either side of doorways, thus the name kadomatsu, 門松, or gate-pines. The matched pair represent male and female (I guess the spirits have segregated facilities like a bathhouse?)

In Japan New Years is a time for family gathering while Christmas Eve is the time for romance (reverse to American tradition).

The pine elements represents the persistently blooming life of that evergreen tree during the winter season.

The plum tree represents prosperity because the plum tree is the first to bloom, even while the weather outside remains cold.

These three plants together are thought of as the “three friends of winter” (“suihan sanyou”) and placed together in context are known as “shou-chiku-bai” (松竹梅). “Shochikubai” is also the name of a popular brand of sake.

This is confusing because the normal pronunciation of these character is different: pine = matsu 松, bamboo = take 竹 and plum = ume 梅. You can also see these secondary pronunciations in some other words: for example the word for a “plum grove” is 梅林, which is the word for plum (ume) and forest (hayashi) together that make the word “bai-rin.”

The trio of plum-bamboo-pine also appears in Japanese culture as a traditional version of gold-silver-bronze. You can see this method used in rating grades of goods; plum=cheap, bamboo = medium level, pine = highest grade. For example, some restaurants use this scale for meal sets and kendo goods sell grades of equipment (especially himo) in these terms.

Kansai Festival Map; 300+ events

As a continuing project, I am working on a map of festivals in the Kansai area (and sometimes beyond) to display recurring events, organize them visually by the time frame they occur and provide links for the official websites and photo previews of the event, in some cases.

Currently this site represents over 300 events but please keep in mind that schedules may be subject to change and some events may cease to exist, so be sure to check with the official website of the event you are interested in.

“Circle of Saviors” – VR arcade game

“Circle of Saviors” an arcade VR game where you bash ogres and crystals. The Club Sega arcade, in HEP FIVE, near Osaka station, provides costumes and a green screen environment which is used to overlap camera input onto a 3rd person perspective from the game so that bystanders can see what is happening. The players wears a VR headset (HTC Vive) with two wireless hand controllers that sense when/how to swing weapons.

Nade Ushi; rubbing cow to ease your pains

Shinto shrines often have these statues of a cow, lying down. These statues are usually made of bronze and you can usually see spots on the statue where the patina has been worn off to reveal the shiny metal.

These statues are called “nade ushi ” (撫牛) meaning “rubbing cows.” If shrine visitors have some sort of ailment, then they rub the corresponding part of the cow’s body to pass their pains on thr statue. 

So if you feet are sore, you rub the ushinade’s feet. If you back aches, rub the cow’s back. This is the concept.