A grand cemetery
What if we were anime characters
|Me, Rhod and Rob messing about with Mac's Photo Booth.||There is very little else that could get three guys giggling until they cry.||Rob's eyes are huge! He wins.|
The grand wizard and the demon on the bridge
This is Modori-bashi, or Modori Bridge. This small bridge that spans the Horikawa River has two very big tales from the Heian period (794-1185) woven in to its history, one involving a demon and one a dead father brought back to life. Though not much to look at nowadays, the Horikawa River was a willow-lined waterway that cut through the heart of the ancient capital (so named because Emperor Horikawa built a mansion in the vicinity of the river). In the late 1950s Japan's cities concreted over rivers that flowed through main urban areas and built up emergency drainage ditches to prevent flooding. Kobe had suffered massive flooding and damage pre-WWII from rivers bursting their banks, and forever after the government initiated a policy of controlling waterways within city limits*. Thus the Horikawa now flows beneath the city and the large avenue that follows its course is flanked by a willow-line drainage ditch that is an empty eye-sore out of rainy season. The Modori-bashi now spans this ditch.
Modoribashi is known as the 'Bridge of Revival', all because of one legend from 918 involving the funeral procession of Kiyotsura Miyoshi (a renowed professor of literature) and his grieving son, Jozo. Upon receiving news of his father's death, Jozo rushed back as quickly as he could from the remote Kishu-Kumano. By the time he reached the city, the procession was crossing over the Modoribashi Bridge. Jozo leapt to his father's coffin and cried to the heavens, pleading to speak with Kiyotsura one last time. Maybe the heavens felt merciful that day because Kiyotsura revived and father and son were able to say a few words of farewell.
The second tale revolves around the oni (demon) that lived inside the famed Rojomon (Rashomon Gate), the once grand entrance to the city of Kyoto (Heian-kyo). While a samurai soldier Watanabe no Tsuna was holding a party, some of his colleagues challenged themselves to a test of courage. To measure this courage they each walked to the Rashomon gate one by one, knowing well that an ogre had made his home inside the gate. It came to Tsuna's turn. He too went alone and arrived at the gate without incident. He placed a card at the gateway to certify his arrival. Trouble stirred instead upon his return journey. As he passed the (Ichijo) Modoribashi Bridge, an ogre grasped his kabuto (samurai's helmet) from behind. Lightning quick, Tsuna attacked the monster with his sword and managed to scare the beast away. At his feet Tsuna found a big severed arm, still clutching his helmet. The owner of the arm was a demon called Ibaraki-doji, who is still said to haunt the bridge to this day, returning to forever collect his sliced off arm.
Across Horikawa avenue from Modoribashi Bridge sits Seimei Shrine where Abeno Seimei**, the famed Heian astronomer, is enshrined. Abeno served six emperors and was said to have been an expert in astronomy, performing fortune telling (onmyodo) about the affairs of the Imperial court and of remote countries, all through gazing at the motion of the stars. He died in 1005 and Emperor Ichijo built a shrine on Abeno's rather massive mansion grounds. At the time Modoribashi Bridge (crossing from the Imperial Palace grounds to the private grounds that belonged Seimei) was believed to be the gateway between the human and spirit worlds. Abeno's own father (Yasumei) was said to have been killed on the bridge by his rival Ashiya Doman. Again there is a story that the corpse was resuscitated for a short time.
Modoribashi Bridge was dismantled, but the old railing was preserved at Seimei Shrine, used as a road guard and kept from destruction. Peoples belief in the bridge was so strong that young soldiers on their way to fighting in WWII would cross the bridge for good luck, believing that they would be spared from death if they did so. The veil that separates this world from the spirit world is paper thin upon Modoribashi Bridge still.
|Snakeskin trousers? Daring! But who could it be?||Why Mokkun of course, putting on some serious dance moves...||...at Rob and Ruth's enkai and introduction to Japanese karaoke.|
|A question arises from all of this. No, not about Mokkun's daring snakeskin fashion.||How old do you think he is? It is notoriously difficult to guess the age of a Japanese person.||Likewise, the Japanese have trouble at guessing a Westerner's age. So, what do you think?|
Bye bye for now
|Rob and Ruth are gone. Sad.*|
The Rob and Ruth show
Driving Miss Daisy, but in the water. Ruth suns herself while Rob slaves away at the oars, Togetsukyo Bridge in the distance.
|Rob and Rhod cuddle up on Benten-jima.||Rob, Ruth and Rhod enjoying the sun outside Ryoan-ji.||A preppy Rob...oh yeah.|
|What's through the square window today?||Cheeky faces...||...peeking through a stone lantern.|
|Growl.||That woman in the background simply would not move.||Rob found out that trees need insulin, too.|
|Rob's cabaret.||Rhod plays the matching game at Shigureden.||Ruth contemplates Hyaku-nin Isshu.|
|She's a real lady.||Beer whilst rowing? Dear oh dear.||Hugs high above the Hozu-gawa River.|
The Chinese Premier and the King of the Underworld
Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao was in our neighbourhood today and I was lucky enough to see him.
None of the photos I took, however, came out well in the grey drizzle. Waiting for the motorcade, I explored our neighbourhood, finding many temples and shrines that I hadn't really paid much notice of before, but which all seemed to have their fair share of fame. Kannon-ji is a plain little temple (whose history has been lost in the wars and natural disasters of the city) with a gate that looks out of place. Much older than the rebuilt buildings of the temple, it is known as the 'gate of a hundred beatings'. Originally it belonged to the gaul of Momoyama castle, where prisoners were beaten one hundred times before being released. The gate was moved to Kannon-ji (which burnt down in the Temmei conflagration of 1788 that razed Kyoto). Inside the hall is the Yonaki Jizo, the 'god of children who weep nightly'. Comforting, if somewhat strange.
A little to the North is Daishogun-Hachijinja Shrine, dedicated to the deity Daishogun, who is the god of direction and protects people from natural disasters. In Chinese pilosophy he is King of the Stars. A compass sits in front of the shrine, tucked away on a street famed for an annual parade of ghosts and demons. Close by is the oldest Buddhist Hall in Kyoto, an unassuming building hidden amongst some affluent houses. Daiho-on-ji watched sadly as its vast complex of temples and halls slowly burnt piece by piece in the Onin Wars, until only the Buddha Hall was left.
Further East still is a temple dedicated to Yama (Emma), the King of Hell. Injo-ji Temple (Sembon Emmado) is oddly dark and frightening, statues glaring out of the perpetual gloom. But outside, if you ignore the cars parked all over the destitute frontage, there are blooming sakura trees that are extremely rare. Sembon actually means 'the place of 1000 trees' and was so named because originally there were indeed 1000 fugenzo zakura trees in this area. Now there are about two, and a very ugly shopping street. The forest of trees cut down to make way for the tide of modernisation.
Dead men don't carve statues...do they?
|There is a saying that a man could visit a pub and church every day and still he wouldn't have visited all the drinking halls and houses of God in the city of Norwich in a year. In Kyoto you would have to be drunk to even try and visit every shrine and temple. There are well over a thousand, and that is not including the tiny box-like neighbourhood shrines that sit by the way-side. Men with money would worry about their position in the after-life and men of power would worry that the blood on their hands in this life would hinder their salvation, thus went about building to appease their gods.||They built houses to appease the spirits of the dead and to praise Buddha. It's hardly surprising there are so many temples when you consider that many were once homes to Emperors, court officials and wealthy merchants, who simply gave them over to priests when they took holy orders or died. The shrines -fewer and far between- evolved from more folky origins, such as the turtle spotted in a stream by the foot of Mt. Matsuno. Considered a fortuitous omen Matsuo Taisha Shrine was constructed. Shrines were built in the heart of nature: in forests, in the mountains, next to rivers and streams.|
|My well-worn atlas is swamped with tiny red marks that denote a temple or a shrine. There are more Buddha halls than there are road names. But these notations do not even scratch the surface. Vying for space on any detailed map of Kyoto, only those of any great size or importance win out, meaning that if you choose a street at random, you are almost guaranteed to come across the gate of temple. What is surprising, is that most of the temples and shrines today have interesting stories to tell, legends that have sprung up and attached themselves to these places.||My favourite story is about the magical well in the garden of Chiko-ji Temple, said to be a portal to the underworld. This same temple has a bell that rather than wishing spirits a safe journey to the afterlife, instead welcomes them to our world. Such fantastical old tales can be found at most old spots of interest. The only problem is that to learn about many of these legends, you have to visit the shrine itself where a plaque or pamphlet tells you about each place. Going on the internet often only brings up an address and founding date.|
|So what I am trying to say is that to truly get under the skin of Kyoto, to truly feel some of the history and legends of this ancient capital, you have to walk or cycle at random. The great sightseeing spots are still working temples, but they are temples where ceremony -where the inner workings of the sect- is hidden away. What we see is the pretty outside with the religion and mysticism carefully packed away. In its place we have gaudy good-luck charms and merchandising Disney would be proud of. But take a step into a smaller temple and it is easy to hear the chanting, the beating of drums and remember that faith still hangs heavy in the clouds of incense.||Jozen-ji Temple (the picture to the left) has an intriguing story about a man that died, visited the underworld, met the real-life Jizo there and was brought back to life. He thus went about carving out a life-like statue of Jizo. The man was called Ono-no-Takamura, and he carved six such statues out of a single tree. On August 22nd and 23rd, pilgrims take part in the Rokujizo Meguri in which they visit the six temples that hold the six jizo's carved by Takamura. The jizo at this temple is affectionately known as Kuramaguchi Mizorogaike, or Aneko Jizo.|
|Goryo-jinja (the pictures above and to the right) was built by Emperor Kammu. Followers of the Goryo faith believed that natural disasters and epidemics were caused by malevolent spirits acting out revenge upon the world. The shrine was said to counteract such deeds. It also played a part unintentionally in the Onin Wars that destroyed most of Kyoto over eleven years. In the forest that surrounded the shrine Hatayama Masanaga and Yoshinari clashed in battle (January 18th 1467), sparking the devastating civil war of succession.||The pictures from top to bottom, left to right are...the main hall of Shokoku-ji, a flower adding a little colour in Honman-ji's garden, Nashinoki-jinja, a sacred stone at Sainokamino-yashiro Shrine, the drum tower at Shokoku-ji, jizo statues at Jozen-ji, a komainu at Goryo-jinja, Goryo shrine (built in the style of the original Heian palace building), the vermillion of torii gates lined up in the precinct of Goryo, and votive tablets with peoples wishes written on the back at Goryo Shrine (also known as Kamigoryo). A whistle-stop tour of those shrines and temples that flank the Imperial Palace (Gosho).|
|Rhod's friend Rob and his girlfriend Ruth will be staying with us from Friday on, so I thought I would use my free time and the sunshine to scout out some new eateries, shrines, gardens and temples for us to visit. I was hoping to uncover a diamond in the rough (like Ninna-ji and Koryu-ji), exceptional places that are far from the bombastic honeypots (damn you Kinkaku-ji) that tourists buzz around. As this is sakura season I took my tranquiliser darts and prepared to fight my way through the crowds.||My whole scout had been prompted by Neko-dera (Cat Temple) from which the whole cult of the Maneki-neko (good-luck cat) is said to have sprung (though many places vie for this title). I found most of the temples empty of people, the cherry trees shedding their blossoms like drifts of snow. None of the places I visited were beautiful -all wore their religion in drab colours- but there was a certain magic in the quiet. Teranouchi (the twin of Teramachi) has all but vanished, the massive halls still standing but desolate and almost defunct.|
|There was still a charm, a sense that history weighs more heavily in the absence of people. My route took me vaguely North-East from our apartment in a massive circle. The photos from left to right are as follows (as best as I can tell). A statue of the priest Gakuyo at Neko-dera* (Cat Temple), a statue of Nichiren is swamped by sakura, Myoren-ji Temple, Honpo-ji Temple, and straw sandals strung up for good-luck before the guardian statues of Honpo-ji Temple**. The immense buddha hall of Myoken-ji, cherry blossoms float about a dragon statue in a pond at Myoken-ji, and a second picture of Myoken-ji's main hall.||And finally...the remaining cornerstone of Dodobashi Bridge (demolished in the reclaiming of the Kokawa River in the 60s), the little bridge pivotal as a main battlefield in the Onin Wars, Rokusho-jinja Shrine at the base of Mt. Kinugasa (meaning Shrine of Six Invited Deities) and Emperor Nijo's mausoleum, who was a continually fought over pawn in the Heiji Disturbance (Hogen Rebellion). About half-way through my cycle, I realised that for a history geek these places are gold, but for Rhod probably pretty dull. Oh well.|
On top of a tumulus
|It is no myth that the Japanese are thin, but unless you have a Japanese mother slaving away to prepare traditional dishes then it is likely that just being in Japan is not going to slim the waistline. With the 24 hour convenience culture it is all to easy to forget what made the Japanese healthy in the first place, a fact that many of the younger generations are going to start suffering for. Sure, the typical Japanese person could hide behind your average American quite safely (and indeed a whole troop), but Western cuisine and modern life are gradually taking their toll. As the Japanese get taller, many are also filling out in the wrong directions. Which is why I have been trying to walk and cycle as much as possible everyday, because Japanese food alone does not guarantee a svelte form, something many of my friends are often surprised at.||Close to Hanazono Station there is a forested hill that looks odd because most of the city is completely flat. In many ways it looks like an island surrounded by the concrete mess of downtown, close to the Movie Town. This is Narabigaoka Hill* (the 'Lined-up Hill'), an ancient burial site for emperors. I climbed through the woods, around the rocky outcroppings that mark the tumulus (ancient burial caves) and to a breathtaking view at the top. There is little to indicate that this was once a revered site, just an untouched nature reserve preserved from destruction, though not soon enough to save the deer that once lived here. With the fluttering of birds and the absence of people, it was all a bit eery and I started a couple of times, convincing myself that I was being followed. It was here that Yoshida Kenko"" (1238-1350) lived and wrote his famed 'Essays in Idleness'. In the increasing heat of the city, a nice escape, a place from which to observe the bustling life below.|
Buddha houses and god homes
A breakfast of toast and job-hunting left me a bit despondent and stir-crazy -though I blame most of that on the Chris Moyles podcast- so I thought I would catch the sun and dispel my pale Winter skin. Roaring South on my lovely, friendly and ultra-tough mountain bike*, I wove in and out of the temple and shrine precincts that break up the monotonous apartment blocks. Yesterday was about the lush North-West with its luxurious houses and landscaped gardens in the shadow of the mountains, today was about finding islands of peace in the industrial and poor South-West.
|Sandal votives tied up for good luck at Saiin (originally Emperor Junwa's villa).||Saiin-Kasuga Jinja, where a princess with smallpox recovered by resting on a sacred rock in the shrine.||Gojoten Shrine, originally called the Angel's Shrine (Tenshi-no-miya), built by Emperor Kammu after a heavenly spirit visited him.|
|A dragon spits out water in the trough where visitors cleanse their hands before praying.||Choen-ji, whose statue of kannon is said to fight against epidemic.||The massive buddha hall of Bukko-ji, mostly a carpark for workmen at the moment.|
|Kandaijin-jinja, the place Sugawara-no-Michizane's (845-903) family home stood and where he was born.||Bukko-ji is undergoing massive rennovation, so this is just the gold leaf of the roof, minus the scaffolding.||The elaborate bell-tower of Bukko-ji, with its elephant-like creatures sculpted onto the main pillars.|
|A crested end tile of Kuya-do Hall. On the anniversary of Kuya's death the monks pray whilst leaping with joy and delight.||The unusual gold torii gate of the 'Money Shrine' Mikane-jinja, where people pray for their fortunes.||Cherry blossoms hanging over the pond at Shinsen-en Garden.|
|Martin and Rach must be the only people in Kyoto (possibly Japan) to have gotten themselves sunburnt this Winter. Forgetting to apply sunscreen on their snowboarding trip to Shiga, they looked nice and rosy.||I have lost count of the amount of times we have gone out for farewell dinners and drinks, only to have them return a few months later.||Still, as England is very very far from Australia, one day it might actually be the last dinner and drinks. So best celebrate whilst they are around.|
A couple of weeks back, Rhod bought himself some Rollerblades in San Francisco. So far he has skated himself to work a couple of times, but yesterday was the first time I got to be his up-hill lackey. We went in search of cherry-blossoms and smooth macadam.
|Rolling Rhod.||The trees were in full bloom at the Meteorological Centre by our apartment.||Just when the blossoms are ready to fall they look like exploded popcorn.|
|The gardens, dormitories and temples of Myoshin-ji.||Rhod takes a breather.||The cobblestones and swards of gravel prooved a bit tricky.|
|Each temple proclaims its sponsor by advertising a crest at the entrance.||Nice work-out dodging the tourists and steps.||This little old man must have prayed at every hall, slowly wandering around the precinct.|
Hanami (cherry-blossom viewing) is already over in Tokyo, but Kyoto is still going strong.
|The Q-Games Team assembled for drinking under the cherry blossoms.||Our camera seemed to be giving off a romantic tint for some reason.||Erina looked like she should be eating a Cadbury's Flake.|
|Kitty and Rhod had a heart to heart about his jumper.||Like birds perched on telephone wires.||A game of smack the bum with Makoto chasing Rhod and Kitty.|
|Maeta and a very happy Shuji.||The sun sets over the Kamo River.||An explosion of sakura (cherry-blossoms).|
|The blossom-lined banks of the Kamo River.||Jake wearing the cherry blossoms well.||An insect's eye-view of the picnic.|
|Rhod and Akko do the obligatory pose in front of a cherry tree.||Our hanami party.||Paul contemplates things on a turtle.|
2) A Short Guide to the History of Kyoto: Constructing a Capital.
Toji Temple. (more)
Hold me close and think of home
Rhod and Ki's tour of life in Kyoto, Japan.