Champion figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu to make on-screen acting debut as samurai lord

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Olympic gold medalist, Yuzuru Hanyu will be making his screen debut as a samurai lord in the Edo period!

Figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu captured the nation’s collective heart when he won the gold medal at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. Now, Japan’s sweetheart is set to captivate audiences on the big screen as he makes his very first acting appearance in the movie Tono, Risoku de Gozaru (which roughly translates to “The Interest Please, My Lord”).

The movie is set approximately 250 years ago in the Edo period, during which the Tokugawa Shogunate ruled Japan. The film’s plot centers around nine ordinary inhabitants of a post station town and their efforts to save the townspeople from the burden of the heavy taxes imposed on them by the local government.

▼ Here’s the title of the movie, set against the picture of a Edo Period coin in the background.

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In the movie, Hanyu plays Date Shigemura, the lord of the Sendai Domain, who is apparently sympathetic to the plight of the people under his rule. According to the information that has been released, Hanyu’s role isn’t a huge one but is nonetheless a symbolically key figure in the story. Hanyu, who himself is from Sendai, the capital city of Miyagi Prefecture, reportedly was quite happy to play an actual historical figure from his birthplace, especially as the story is considered to be based loosely on true events.

 

Hanyu filmed his scenes last summer, and in commenting on his first acting experience said that it was a bit difficult to act with spoken lines and accompanying movements, which is  quite different from what he is used to in figure skating. He admits he was quite nervous while filming but enjoyed seeing the process of movie making first hand and meeting so many talented actors. He also said that he was pleasantly surprised to learn of this touching story involving Date, whom he tried his best to portray convincingly with both authority and kindness. Hanyu also added that he hopes the acting experience will add to his depth as a skating performer, not just in competitions but in exhibitions and shows as well.

 

Even fellow actors in the movie were apparently surprised by Hanyu’s appearance, as Sadao Abe, who plays the protagonist, was reported saying that he was stunned to learn that Hanyu would be cast in the film, adding that he was impressed with how the famous skater handled his acting duties.

The movie is scheduled for release in theaters across Japan on May 14. We have a feeling that the film just might attract a whole new audience of people desperately wanting to see the prince of ice on the big screen!

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The many twists, turns and trapdoors of Kanazawa’s incredible Ninja Temple

 

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Ishikawa Prefecture is a little off most tourist itineraries of Japan, since it’s located along the north coast of the main island of Honshu. If you’ve got the time to spare, though, the capital city of Kanazawa has more than enough attractions to fill a day or two.

The city is home to Kenrokuen, considered one of Japan’s top three gardens and recently voted to be one of the 30 best sightseeing spots in the country. The Omicho Market is also a great place to enjoy delicious seafood, including the shrimp that Ishikawa is known for.

Or, if neither of those pique your interest, there’s also the ninja temple, whose layout is said to be so confusing that few could make it out without a guide.

Although the official name of the structure is Myoryuji, literally the “oddly built temple,” it’s better known as Ninja-dera, the ninja temple. First constructed in the 16th century, the building was moved to its current location in 1643 by Maeda Toshitsune, the warlord who controlled Kaga Fief in present-day Ishikawa.

As an official Buddhist temple, Myoryuji’s ostensible purpose was as a place of worship. In actuality, though, it served as a secret Maeda stronghold. By 1643, the civil war that had ravaged Japan for centuries had largely died down, with the Tokugawa shogunate having suppressed its political and military rivals. Still, the peace between the shogunate and the regional warlords was an uneasy one. Maeda feared the Tokugawa forces may one day come to separate him from his gold-rich lands, and placing Myoruji near Kanazawa Castle gave him a safe-house hidden in plain sight.

 

▼ Maeda Toshitsune

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Ninja-dera was never home to a clan of fearsome shadow warriors, however. Instead, its name come from the numerous traps and tricks incorporated into its design to help repel intruders.

The deception starts before you even enter. From the outside, Myoryuji appears to have two floors, in keeping with the feudal era restrictions that prohibited buildings other than the town’s castle from being over three stories tall.

 

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In actuality, though, the complex is built with a four-story frame, and the numerous spaces between the floors give it seven separate levels. Myoryuji’s 23 rooms are connected by an intricate network of no fewer than 29 staircases.

 

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These aren’t all ordinary staircases, either. For example, take a look at the wooden grid at the front of these steps.

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The white sections are actually made of paper. As intruders run up the stairs, guards positioned beneath the floorboards could stab at their feet.

Other staircases lead downwards to pit traps. Once the attacker falls into it, his slide continues to a room where a team of defenders is waiting to finish him off before he can recover from the shock and properly defend himself.

 

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As you’d expect from a building constructed at this point in history, many of the passages are connected by traditional Japanese sliding doors. Unlike normal doors of this type, though, many of Myoryuji’s automatically lock after being shut and can only re reopened from one side. This allows defenders to quickly block their adversaries’ advance or trap them in a confined space.

 

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As is the case in many countries, centuries-old architecture in Japan tends to be built for the shorter stature of the people from bygone eras. If the room shown in the following photo looks to you like it has a particularly low ceiling, though, you’re absolutely right.

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This purposefully cramped design was chosen in order to give assailants less room in which to swing their weapons, which would put them at a disadvantage against guards who were already aware of the low clearance and adjusted their tactics accordingly.

Even Myoryuji’s well is more than it appears to be at first glance. At the bottom of the 25-meter (82-foot) shaft is a passage that’s said to connect with Kanazawa Castle, although no one who’s alive today has gone deep enough into the tunnel to confirm this.

 

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It’s said that once you enter Myoryuji, its layout is so confusing you won’t be able to find your way out. Thankfully, the temple offers guided tours, which are offered between 9:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Reservations are required though, which can be made by contacting the temple by phone at the number listed on its website here up to three months before the date of your intended visit.

Perhaps the most mysterious thing about Myoryuji, however, is that no one knows the identity of the architect that designed its defensive features. Given the detailed written records throughout Japanese history that chronicle the accomplishments of scholars, statesmen, and strategists, this sort of anonymity is especially rare. Thankfully, not knowing who was responsible for the Ninja Temple so many years ago doesn’t mean visitors can’t still marvel at his or her craftsmanship today.

 

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 The many twists, turns and trapdoors of Kanazawa’s incredible Ninja Temple

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See a Tokyo from the past as you’ve never seen before — in vivid colors and brushstrokes!

 

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Before the capital city of Tokyo was given its current name in the late 1800s, it was known as Edo and served as the seat of power for the Tokugawa shogunate. The era now referred to as the Edo Period effectively ended with the last Tokugawa shogun Yoshinobu Tokugawa relinquishing power to Emperor Meiji in 1867, thus drawing the age of the shoguns to a close. However, we were pleasantly surprised to find a collection of vivid paintings depicting Tokyo sometime after the end of the Edo Period but still strongly reminiscent of a past era when the city was called by its former name. Quite interestingly,these paintings happen to be the work of an American artist who travelled to Japan near the end of the 19th century. So, come join us and take a look at Tokyo through the eyes of a foreign visitor to Japan over 120 years ago. It’s certainly nothing like the Tokyo we know today!

The creator of these paintings, which we found featured in a post on music and art information site DDN Japan, is American artist Robert Frederick Blum, who became fascinated with Japanese culture after making a visit to the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. He later made his way to Japan in 1890, where he stayed for three years, during which he created various paintings and sketches based on the scenes and people he saw in the country.

Although these works were created after the end of the Edo period, the period was a dynamic time when the economy and popular culture, as well as the size of cities in Japan, grew substantially and you can get a very good feel of what life was like around that time. In fact, the paintings are so vibrant that they have been impressing Japanese Internet users with their details and colors.

▼ This painting is called “The Candy Seller (Ameya)”. The people look like they could step right out of the picture!
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▼ “The Flower Market in Tokyo (Tokyo no Hana Ichiba)”: Chrysanthemums seem to be the main flowers on offer.
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▼ “The Silk Merchant (Kinu Shonin)”
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▼ “The Silk Merchant” in closer detail (center image)
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▼ Also ”The Silk Merchant” in closer detail (left-side image)
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▼ “Meguro Fudo Temple”: The detail in the decorations of the temple gate is amazing!
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▼ “Orange Kimono (Orange-iro no Kimono)”
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▼ “Japanese Samurai (Nihon no Samurai)”
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▼ Lovely sketch showing a woman (bottom) wearing a traditional hairstyle common in the Edo period
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▼ “Japanese Woman (Nihon no Josei)”
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▼ “Cherry Blossoms (Sakura)” : The beautiful pale pink blossoms are a pleasure to look at whether in real-life or in a painting.
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▼ “The No Dance” : Depicted here is the classical  Japanese performing art of , a blend of traditional Japanese music and drama, in which all roles are played by men.
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▼ Some sketches of ordinary people in late 19th century Japan
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▼ “The Picture Book”: The woman’s leisurely pose and beautifully done hair are  captivating.
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▼ “The Geisha”:  The geisha here is shown apparently in the process of applying her elaborate make-up.
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▼ “Japanese Woman in a Kimono (Kimono wo Kita Nihon no Josei)” as a sketch
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▼ The colored version of the same picture
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▼ “Japanese Tea Party (Nihon no Tea Party)”: The soft colors and light in this painting are gorgeous.
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▼ “The Shippo Craftsman”: The craft of Shippo, depicted here, is a Japanese metalwork decorating technique, similar to the technique known as Cloisonné.
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▼ “Rest (kyu-soku)”: The woman looks like she’s enjoying a nice nap. We’re quite sure a little afternoon snooze felt  just as blissful 120 years ago as it does today.
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So, there you have the selection of paintings of Tokyo from 120 years ago. Not only does it give you an interesting glimpse into a long gone era, the images are also quite striking, and the scenes and people almost seem to come alive, don’t they? We hope you enjoyed this little trip back in time, because we certainly did!

Source and images: DDN Japan (Japanese)

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See a Tokyo from the past as you’ve never seen before — in vivid colors and brushstrokes!