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Gyotaku – The Traditional Japanese Art of Painting Fish with Actual Fish

Back when there were no cameras for fishermen to record their trophy catches, the Japanese came up with a unique printing method called Gyotaku. Gyo means fish, and Taku means impression, and the technique involved just that – using freshly caught fish to make inky impressions on paper.

Hundreds of years ago, Japanese fishermen would take paper, ink and brushes out to sea with them. They would rub the fish they caught with the non-toxic sumi-e ink and then print them on rice paper. Most of the fish were then cleaned and sold in markets, but a few revered ones were released back into the ocean. In the mid-1800s, fishermen began to add eye details and other embellishments, giving rise to a unique art form.  

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Ukai – The Fascinating Ancient Art of Fishing with Cormorants

Ukai is a traditional Japanese method of fishing that employs trained cormorants to catch freshwater fish called ‘ayu’. For the past 1,300 years, fishermen along the banks of Nagara River have been spending the summer months catching fish with the help of the highly skilled birds. Some of the other rivers where ukai is practiced include the Hozu River and Uji River.

Fishermen who are skilled at ukai have patronage from the emperor. According to legend, samurai warlord Oda Nobunaga took the ukai fishermen under his wing, conferring upon them the official position of ‘usho’ (Cormorant Fishing Master). He is said to have enjoyed watching ukai in action and vowed to protect the art.

When the famous haiku poet Matsuo Basho witnessed ukai fishing, he wrote a poem to honor the tradition: “Exciting to see/but soon after, comes sadness/the cormorant boats.” In modern times, the master fishermen are still the official Imperial fishermen of the emperor of Japan. The sweetfish (ayu) they catch are sent to the Imperial family several times a year.

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India’s Controversial Baby Dropping Ritual Is Back

The devotee scales the high walls of the religious shrine on a rope, a bucket dangling off his back. Once he is at the top (typically about 30ft high), he miraculously retrieves a baby from the bucket, handing it over to a bunch of men standing on the balcony. One of these men takes hold of the baby’s hands and feet, holding the child as though it were a basket. He swings the kid back and forth in the air, exclaiming a chant in the praise of the Lord. And then, shockingly, the baby is dropped.

Baby dropping could be India’s most bizarre ritual. Screaming, wailing babies are dropped from several meters into the air, and there are a group of 14 to 15 men standing right below, holding a blanket that breaks the baby’s fall. Just as it bounces on the blanket once, it is caught by one of the men and handed over to the mother. Understandably, it takes several minutes before the baby recovers from the shock. Read More »

Indian Man Bathes with Boiling Milk Once a Year

India is a land of ancient culture, with practices that date back thousands of years. It is hard to trace the origins of any particular ritual, let alone remember the significance behind them. With no logical explanation available, several Indian practices seem superstitious and sometimes even a tad foolish. However, this does not deter the people of India from participating in religious and cultural celebrations with gusto.

One such example is the festival of the nine evenings, Navaratri (Nava=9, Ratri=Evening), celebrated every year in the month of October. Dedicated to different versions of the Goddess, all 9 days are filled with festivities, good food, music, dance and religious ceremonies across the country. Living in India, watching the Navaratri for me is a part of normal life. But then I heard about this man who is certainly unusual, even for Indian standards. Every year, during Navaratri, he bathes with pots of boiling milk. And he comes out of the experience, unscathed.

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Kapala – The Human Skull Cup of the Gods

The kapala is a sacred sculpted cup made from the top of a human skull frequently offered by Hindu and Buddhist worshipers to their fierce deities.

A legacy of the ancient tradition of human sacrifice, the kapala is nowadays perceived as a dark but fascinating form of sculpture. Tibetan kapalas, in particular, feature impressive bas-relief artworks depicting religious figures and scenes, and are often adorned with semi-precious stones and silver-work. The elaborate carvings were handmade and the skull was soaked in water to soften the bone.

In Tibet, skull cups are used at Buddhist altars to offer wrathful divinities either wine, which symbolizes blood, or dough cakes shaped as human eyes or ears. Through the force of tantric visualization based on meditation and deep philosophical study,  a sort of transubstantiation will occur and the wine will be transformed into the Wisdom Nectar, a liquid form of the enlightened mind of one or all the deities in the Celestial Palace of the Mandala. This is just one of the many uses of the kapala in Tibetan ritual culture.

Some modern-day kapalas are still shaped like the top of a human skull, but they are made of brass and while they are adorned with artistic motifs, they aren’t nearly as fascinating as  genuine human skull cups.

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Jallikattu – India’s Answer to Spanish Bullfighting

In the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, people don’t need red capes and sharp swords to tame bulls, they do it with their bare hands, in a sport called Jallikkattu.

The ancient sport of Jallikattu pits crowds of brave young men against angry bulls who will tear anyone apart, if they get in the way. The name of the sport comes from the words “salli”, which translates as “coin”, and “kadu”, which means tying the coin to the horns of the raging bull. The goal of Jallikattu players is to tame the bull long enough to claim the prize.

But that’s is a lot harder than it sounds, especially since the bulls used for Jallikattu are extremely aggressive, and the players aren’t allowed to defend themselves with anything else but their bare hands. The bravest of the young men will try to grab the hump of the bull, and hang on, while the beast will most often grab him with its long horns and plunge him into the ground.

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Wet Monday in the Ukraine

Known as an ancient tradition, in central-European countries like Poland and the Czech Republic, Wet Monday appears to be very popular in Ukraine, as well. It takes place on the second day of Easter

Wet Monday started out, in Poland,as a pagan custom that symbolize cleansing, with the coming of Spring. When Christianity became the main religion, Wet Monday was adopted as a Christian ritual, related to cleansing souls of sins. The truth is people loved this tradition so much, they found a way to keep it, by associating it with religion.

On Wet Monday. boys and men armed with bottles and buckets of water, chase after girls and splash them from head to toe. According to the original custom, the most beautiful girl in a village would be the wettest, but nowadays, boys just splash any girl they see. At one point, the tradition got so out of hand that boys threw buckets of water, at girls, threw their car windows.

With the current water shortage the world is facing right now, some would say this is a terrible waste, but the boys with water bottles wouldn’t dream of abandoning this ancient tradition. just look at those happy faces.

The photos below were taken on Wet Monday, in the Ukrainian city of Lviv. They are copyright of  Yurko Dyachyshyn.

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The Ethiopian lip plug

So what you see in these photos is practically what you get if you decide to marry in some Ethiopian tribes, a woman with a huge round circle through her lower lip and no lower front teeth…That’s right, in order for her to be able to wear that thing, 2 or sometimes all four lower front teeth are yanked out.

Now I’ve always supported cultural diversity, but this and what they do at Phuket Vegetarian Festival, just make me sick. I wouldn’t go out there and try to impose my culture on them but still…I can’t agree with I’m seeing either. I wonder how they kiss in Ethiopia? Even with that thing off, it’s got to be something nasty! Read More »