Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


I AM a souvenir hunter. And, if our home bookshelves are any indication, I’ve been successful in this hunting. Though I’ve not been to Japan recently, I certainly have lots of stuff around to remind me of visits there. Most of it lies somewhere between knickknack souvenir and outright art, so I’ll call it Folk Art and tell you what I’ve gleaned about the pieces.

Yamaboko floats. Parade floats are part of Japanese festival fun. There are two kinds of floats, based on size. Yama floats are the smaller ones, perhaps 20 ft. in height, weighing 3000 lb. and pulled, pushed or carried by perhaps 20 people. The larger hoko variety have multiple layers, more than 100 ft. high, weighing 25,000 lb. and tugged, steered and otherwise controlled by teams of 30 to 40 people.


My yamaboko, about 8 in. high, is evidently a multi-story hoko. Like its full-size counterpart, it is encrusted in shiny metallics, its walls covered in tapestries.

Check out for a video of yamaboko floats, part of the Gion Matsuri Festival during the month of July in Kyoto, Japan.

Paper crafts. Ningyogami are Japanese paper dolls.


The long mane of my ningyogami identifies him as a Shishi, a mythical creature renowned for the Kabuki Lion Dance.

“Renjishi,” a popular Kabuki play, tells the story of father and son Shishi characters, lion-like protectors of the holy stone bridge to Paradise and known for their strength and bravery. The drama, written in the 1800s, ends with a celebration of the Shishis’ eternal energy. For a video of “Renjishi,” see Jump to 8:45 of video 4 for the pair’s famed dance.


A Shishi father (white beard) and son (red beard).

If you’re interested in making your own Shishi, there’s a tutorial on ningyogami at


Other paper craft in my collection are an archer with his own ema (see below) and one I call “the teacher.”

Sumo. Classic sumo was ritualistic, its wrestlers competing with kami, spirits of the Japanese Shinto religion. Today, wrestlers attempt to throw each other to the ground or force them out of the dohyō, a ring of 4.55-meter (14.9-ft.) diameter.

After much glowering, posturing, salt tossing and other rituals, a bout is typically over in seconds. See These guys are tough!

Most sumo wrestlers live in training stables known as heya, communal settings where all aspects of their daily lives are dictated by tradition.


My sumo heya is a Hallmark card of foldout construction.

Sumo wrestling is a big-time sport in Japan (and joining the 2020 Olympics). Like its western equivalents, it is not immune to gambling, scandals and other highjinks. I had a sumo bubble-gum card in the collection, but it seems to have gone missing.

Ema plaques. Ema, 絵馬, are small wooden plaques on which Shinto worshippers write their wishes and leave them hanging at the shrine. They’re also symbols of good luck in business endeavors, school exams or other life challenges.

The Japanese character 馬 means “horse.” In the old days, wealthy worshippers sought favor by donating horses to the Shinto shrines. This evolved into images of the horse and, in time, of other creatures.


My ema collection has evidently brought much good fortune.

Kendo. The word kendo means “way of the sword,” practiced since the 18th century with bamboo swords and protective armor. Its sword, a shinai, is made of four slats of bamboo held together with leather wrappings.

A kendo stroke is accompanied by stomping of the leading foot and a shout expressing a fighting spirit. Traditional rules govern the techniques of strikes and thrusts of the two adversaries.


My kendo master is an intricate assembly of aluminum pieces.

To watch some amazing kendo, go to

This brings to mind, in a trivial sort of way, the game Moriarty, Are You There? (as played by Cleveland teens). Two combatants of opposing gender are blind-folded, prone, gripping each other’s left hand, the other hands armed with bats of rolled-up, tape-wrapped newspaper.

One says “Moriarty, Are You There?” The other must respond (preferably throwing one’s voice) “I am here.” Then the first, guessing the other’s location, gets a single swing of the bat. Next, it’s the other person’s turn to ask.

I’d never play Moriarty, Are You There? with a kendo master. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2014

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