Tag: ‘Nara’

Sento-kun’s creator auctions bronze sculpture

29 Sep 2008

Bronze Sento-kun statue by Yabuuchi Satoshi --

Sculptor Satoshi Yabuuchi is auctioning a limited-edition bronze statue of Sento-kun, the popular but controversial official mascot he designed for the Commemorative Events of the 1,300th Anniversary of the Nara-Heijokyo Capital (the upcoming festival marking 1,300 years since Nara's establishment as Japan's capital in 710 AD). The current bid on this 30.5-cm tall sculpture -- one of only 130 created -- is 185,000 yen ($1,750).

[Via: Yahoo! Auctions]

Rare ‘Devil’s Cigar’ fungus discovered in Nara

06 Aug 2008

Chorioactis geaster found in Nara, Japan --

One of the world's rarest fungi, an exotic star-shaped mushroom known to exist at only three locations on Earth, has been discovered in the mountains of Nara prefecture.

The Devil's Cigar (a.k.a. "Texas Star") -- known to botanists as Chorioactis geaster -- had been observed only in central Texas and at two remote locations in Japan prior to the recent discovery in Nara. The peculiar fungus is described as a dark brown cigar-shaped capsule that transforms into a tan-colored star when it splits open to release its spores. It is also one of only a few known fungi that produce an audible hiss when releasing spores.

First reported in 1893 in Austin, Texas, the curious mushroom appears in a limited area of central Texas each year, and until now, the rare sightings in Japan have occurred in forests in Miyazaki and Kochi prefectures. The fungus is included on the red list of threatened species published by Japan's Environment Ministry.

The recent Nara discovery was made by Masakuni Kimura, curator of a natural history museum in the town of Kawakami (Nara prefecture). Kimura first encountered Devil's Cigars in October 2006 while surveying a forest near Kawakami, where he found 12 of them growing from a dead oak tree next to a mountain stream at an elevation of 470 meters (about 1,550 ft). Nearly a year later, in September 2007, he discovered four more of the mushrooms when he returned to the site with Shuichi Kurogi, curator of the Miyazaki Prefectural Museum of Nature and History. Their findings were presented at a recent meeting of the Mycological Society of Japan.

The site of the Nara discovery, like the previous Miyazaki and Kochi sites, is located in a humid forest. At all three sites, the Devil's Cigars were observed growing on dead oak trees near a stream.

Chorioactis geaster in central Texas --
Texas Star, the state fungus of Texas?!

In central Texas (which is located at approximately the same latitude as southern Japan), the rare fungus appears during fall and winter, growing from the stumps and dead roots of cedar elm trees.

Tsuyoshi Hosoya, head botanist at Japan's National Science Museum, says, "The DNA of the Devil's Cigar from Miyazaki is consistent with the one from Texas. They are regarded as the same species."

While it is unknown how this exceedingly rare mushroom came to appear only in Japan and central Texas, one intriguing theory suggests that spores from Japan were swept up in an Asian dust cloud and carried across the globe.

[Sources: Sankei, SAS via Watashi to Tokyo]

See also: Rainy season brings glow-in-the-dark mushrooms

Vote for your favorite Nara mascot

20 May 2008

Sentokun --

Ever since his unveiling in February, Sento-kun, the official mascot character for the Commemorative Events of the 1,300th Anniversary of the Nara-Heijokyo Capital, has garnered widespread criticism from the media, religious groups and the blogosphere. A Buddhist child monk with a rack of deer antlers sprouting from his head, Sento-kun is supposed to evoke the image of Nara's rich Buddhist history and the wild (but tame) deer that roam freely around town. But some citizens have expressed anger at officials for shutting them out of the decision-making process and wasting 5 million yen (about $50,000) of taxpayer money on an ugly mascot, and some Buddhist groups are reportedly upset with the inappropriate use of a religious image.

In response to the fiasco, a group of Nara-area designers called the "Creators Forum Yamato" have voluntarily organized an independent design contest to come up with a mascot that more closely represents the will of the people and the true spirit of Nara. After receiving 619 submissions from the general public (some from as far away as New York and Paris), organizers have narrowed the pool to 30 candidates and are encouraging the public to vote online.

Here are the candidates on the ballot...

Nara character ballot --

To vote, go to the online ballot, select the button under your favorite character, and hit the confirmation button at the bottom of the screen. Then hit the confirmation button on the next screen. The polls are open until May 25. As of this writing, nearly 15,000 ballots have been cast.

As a representative of the citizens of Nara prefecture, the winning mascot will work side-by-side with Sento-kun to make the anniversary event a success.

The Commemorative Events of the 1,300th Anniversary of Nara Heijokyo Capital will be held in Nara prefecture in 2010 to commemorate the 1,300th anniversary of the founding of Heijokyo (now known as Nara), the capital of Japan from 710 to 784 A.D. The large-scale, year-long international project is expected to attract 15 million visitors.

[Vote here]

UPDATE: The votes are in and the winner is Manto-kun (#8).

Pyramid-shaped watermelons

17 Aug 2006

Pyramid-shaped watermelon

Toshimichi Boui (55), a Nara prefecture resident in the furniture business, is making a name for himself by successfully growing pyramid-shaped watermelons.

Each melon is cultivated inside a hand-made acrylic box from a very young age. The vines grow on a wooden trellis so that the melons can be exposed to full sunlight. This allows them to develop nice, evenly colored rinds.

"Next year I hope to grow melons shaped like gourds and bottles," says Boui.

The melons are lacking in flavor because they are unable to fully mature, so Boui has put them on display at the neighborhood hair salon, among other places. "You taste them with your eyes," he says.

[Source: Asahi Shimbun]