Cafe World Goodbye

And just like that leave-day has come and we must be gone. We are off to make games! Goodbye Mi-chan, Akko, Moko-kun, Tomomi, Etsuyo, Mitsuko, Andy and Omar...for now.

26 05 10 - 11:05 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Below Kimyozan

No photos will ever quite do Renge-ji justice. It is far more beautiful in real life whether bathed in sunlight or concealed in shadows. I am pleased that it was my last temple visit, as it leaves me satisfied with the peace of the place and wanting more. I think it perfectly serves as reminder that there are countless places in Japan off the beaten track that are more special than those flooded with tourists or more famed in the guidebooks.

21 05 10 - 02:02 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Alight

This is a photo of one of Renge-ji's prayer-hall statues (the main one is locked away inside an old wooden cabinet until festival days). I belatedly realised you are neither allowed to photograph inside the prayer hall or from inside the garden itself, but as this was my last photographic outing in Japan for some time I felt that breaking the rules was for once fine.

21 05 10 - 01:31 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Finding peace

Shigenao Imaeda, a retainer of the Maeda Clan in Kaga (present day Ishikawa Prefecture), entered the priesthood around 1661 and built a residence below Kimyozan mountain. He spent his later years associating with such people as Jozan Ishikawa (the poet and calligrapher) and Tanyu Kano (painter). His grandson, Chikayoshi, who much admired Shigenao, transferred a temple from Hichijo-shiokoji to the grounds of the residence in order to pray for the repose of his late grandfather. He made it a sub-temple of the Enryaku-ji Jitsuzobo Temple.

The principal statue enshrined in the main hall is of Shakyamuni Tathagata. Unique Renga-ji temple-style stone lanterns -with hexagonal shades and a monument commemorating Shigenao (inscribed with tensho-style calligraphy by Jozan Ishikawa and a passage by Jun-an Kinoshita)- are found on the mossy grounds.

The garden, with stone crane and turtle islands, was reportedly designed by Ishikawa and is particularly beautiful in autumn.

21 05 10 - 01:30 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Take with you the good

Goodbye to Q-Games.

21 05 10 - 00:40 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Irises in full bloom

Today was a strange mixture of melancholic happiness. A last cycle around the winding streets and hikes through sun-bathed hillsides. I know with certainty that we will visit these places again, but who can tell when that will be? It is sad, but being a grown up comes with certain sacrifices.

I passed by the Ota Shrine to take photos of the irises in full bloom. The last time I visited only a few flowers had emerged. While the pond was not as carpeted with purple flowers as I had hoped, it was pretty nonetheless.

21 05 10 - 00:17 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Renge-ji

As it was my last day left in Kyoto before the flight, I got to choose one more place to visit. After thinking long and hard about my favourite spots, I thought it better to take a risk and try one of the few temples I have never been to. Renge-ji was close to Andy's house, beyond Takaragaike in the foothills that march up to Hiei-zan, and so it won by the single merit that I once heard good things about the garden.

Quite honestly I did not expect very much, but the place blew me away. It was, as I had read, very quiet and for most of the time I had the place to myself. And though it may well be because of a certain nostalgia growing in the emotional melodrama of leaving, I think it may well be my favourite of Kyoto's many temples, shrines and gardens. I especially loved the run-down feel of the temple, the beautifully clear pond and mossy garden, and the dragon painting glaring down from the ceiling of the prayer hall. Whilst clearly cared for, the garden immaculately tended, the plaster walls are cracked and many of the wooden pillars eaten away. Rather than take away from the magic of the place, it makes everything more special. The monk attendant was very friendly, and for once I took the time to sit down and contemplate the changes that are about to happen.

21 05 10 - 00:09 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

The tower of enlightenment

The Indian style Busshari Tower of Myoman-ji Temple is a concrete copy of the famed stupa at Bodh Gaya, India. It is said that the historical Buddha gained Enlightenment at the site of the stupa. Inside this reconstruction is a brilliant gold Buddha, quite a surprising find after such a dull, concrete exterior.

17 05 10 - 21:34 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Myoman-ji revisted

I visited Myoman-ji Temple a few years ago with Etsuyo to see the famous bell brought from Dojo-ji Temple in Wakayama. Dojo-ji is the setting of a legend regarding a monk called Anchin, and the amorous advances of a girl called Kiyohime. The story ends with the girl transformed into a dragon-snake, taking her revenge on the foolish monk for his broken promises.

Myoman-ji offers fantastic mountain views of Northern Kyoto and Hiei-zan, and today I had the entire place to myself. Originally built in 1383 by Priest Nichiju in the Muromachi area (for the Nichiren sect), the temple was moved to its current site in 1968 from the Teramachi-Nijo area of the city. The main attraction is the Indian style Busshari Tower and the Yukinoniwa Garden.

17 05 10 - 21:33 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

The Second Part of the Excellent Law

More photos from Matsugasaki Hill.

17 05 10 - 20:55 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Matsugasaki bonfire

The fine weather is not set to last, so I woke up early to climb Matsugasaki Hill. The azalea-carpeted slope hosts the Hou part of the Myo-Hou Gozan no Okuribi bonfires. I visited the Myo character on the hill beside Takaragaike the other day, so thought it would be nice to see the second part of the characters which make up the phrase 'Excellent Law' during the August 16th celebrations. Unlike the closed-to-the-public Myo character, you can walk all over the Hou character, and I had the hillside to myself which was fantastic as it was so warm and quiet.

Below the hill sits the Myoen-ji Temple (Rhod and I visited here on Sunday), and as the character is relatively small it was an easy hike. Dotted across the brush are metal spikes where the individual bonfires are lit. Together they create a massive kanji character. Beside the steep paths were barrels of water as an emergency precaution.

17 05 10 - 20:41 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Genko-an - Through the Square Window (or Circular one)

Genko-an (Yohozan Hojurin Genko-an Temple) was founded by Testu-o, the first priest of Daitoku-ji Temple in 1346. Originally belonging to the Rinzai Sect, in 1694 the temple fell under the leadership of Manzan Dohaku, who was of the Soto Sect. The main temple building was built in the same year that Manzan took control, by a Kaga (Ishikawa Prefecture) carpenter by the name of Seika-Koji. In the Northern part of this building there is an alcove with an image of Manzan, beneath which are buried his bones.

Inside the western wing rests an image of the Goddess of Mercy. It was said that Emperor Gosai (111th emperor) loved this statue a great deal and would often visit the temple so that he might look on the kannon. People today still believe that visiting the statue will bring luck.

Perhaps most famously nowadays, Genko-an has two windows, one circular and one square, both looking out onto a pretty little garden. The round window, called Satori-no-Mado, symbolises Zen and religious awakening, and the square, called Mayoi-no-Mado, symbolises deep human afflictions (to live, to be old, to be ill, to die - shiku hakku suru in Japanese, meaning the four afflictions).

In the Western grove of the temple grounds there is a well called Chigo-i. It is said that this well once saved the lives of the local inhabitants during a particularly nasty drought, refusing to dry up.

16 05 10 - 22:06 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

The chanting call of a Japan that will be missed

Opposite the entrance to Koetsu-ji stands a large shrine with beautiful ponds and a cleansing waterfall inside a grotto for purification rites. We visited many years ago when there were still hillsides full of bamboo. A friendly monk talked to us about the history and name of the shrine, though I have forgotten the name since and there were no signs to give us any clues. A great deal has changed in four years, and sadly much of the bamboo forest that once flanked the shrine has been cut down to make way for a Buddhist cemetery.

The shrine is exceptionally pretty, and gets very few of its neighbour's visitors. What made this time more memorable was the chanting that filled the air, both from a ceremony inside one of the prayer halls and also the many speakers that magnified the sound. It was haunting, beautiful, noisome and peaceful all at the same time, and helps clarify why Japan can be such a magical place.

16 05 10 - 21:56 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

The bloody ceiling

If you look closely, it is possible to see a footprint in some of these photos. What it is more difficult to see are the lines where someone has clawed at the ground with gory fingers, and the spattered marks where kimono once sat in pooled blood, creating strange shapes that would forever stain the wood. Genko-an, like Shoden-ji and numerous other temples across the city, utilises the old, blood-stained floorboards of Fushimi Castle to create a memorial ceiling within the main prayer hall. By using the bloodied wood, it was hoped that the prayers of the faithful would ease the vanquished souls of the men who had died in the short siege of Fushimi Momoyama castle.

The Siege of Fushimi was a decisive sortie in the lead up to the Battle of Sekigahara, which would hand Japan to the Tokugawa Family. A key ally of the Tokugawa, Torii Mototada (leader of Ieyasu's Eastern Army), holed himself up in the castle to help divert the enemy forces under the leadership of Ishida Mitsunari away from Ishida's own fortress. Sacrificing himself, Torii helped Ieyasu get the upper hand in the war. Torii's family and retainers committed suicide before the castle was taken.

The blood-stained floorboards were ripped up and distributed to temples across Kyoto. It was hoped that the sight of such horror would help people better pray for peace.

16 05 10 - 21:47 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

The artist's mountain

Koetsu-ji rests in the hills above the Golden Pavilion, famed for being a of artistic blossoming in the early 17th century. The neighbourhood is called Takagamine Koetsu-cho, after Hon-ami Koetsu to whom the land was given by Tokugawa Ieyasu, the shogun, in 1615. Koetsu lived here with his family and relatives, and founded an artistic village for craftsmen who were engaged in aesthetic pursuits. He built a mausoleum for the Hon-ami Family, which became a Buddhist temple of the Nichiren sect after his death. In one corner of the grounds stands his moss-covered grave stone.

There is very little to actually see in the temple, though the surrounding mountains and views of the city are breathtaking. Most of the tea-houses and inner gardens are private, and that is a terrible shame. Koetsu was greatly interested in tea-ceremony, and studied under many of the great masters, refusing to dedicate himself to one school. The Taikyo-an tea house is where Koetsu spent the last hours of his life. After burning down, the house was recreated in 1915.

The Hon-ami Family is renowned for being keepers of knowledge, experts in the field of swords and great polishers. Koetsu was the first son of Hon-ami Koji, and was called Jiro-Saburo when a child. Supported by the feudal lords of Kaga (the Maeda of Ishikawa Prefecture), the Hon-ami served both the Imperial Court and Shogun Family. The family business, focused as it was on the arts, helped to nurture Koetsu's artistic talent. When he founded his artistic village, Koetsu fostered many masterpieces in many different fields (such as poetry, calligraphy, painting, lacquerware, sculpture and literature to name a few). He is regarded as on of the three distinguished calligraphers of the Kan-ei Era (Edo Period) together with Konoe Nobutaka and Shokado Shojo.

16 05 10 - 21:28 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Rhod visits the prehistoric lake

Certain that the irises would finally be in bloom, I took Rhod to Midorogaike for the first time.

16 05 10 - 20:58 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Shoden-ji's solace

Shoden-ji is a small, quiet temple tucked away in the Northern part of Kyoto on a small mountain beside Funayama*. Its unique dry garden -called Shishi-no-ko Watashi- makes use of 'borrowed scenery' in which the distant Mt. Hiei serves as one of the garden's main elements, along with its beautifully-trimmed azalea bushes (planted in a particular 7-5-3 arrangement on white sand). The temple was established in its current location in 1282.

Like Genko-an Temple (which we were on our way to visit), the temple ceiling makes use of blood-stained floorboards from the dismantled Fushimi Castle, site of a long-ago mass suicide of soldiers defeated at the battle of Sekigahara. The battle, which took place in the year 1600, is considered to have cleared the path for the founding of the Tokugawa Shogunate. These days the temple is a tranquil place, suited to contemplation. It awakens only for the annual Gozan Fire Festival, in which massive Japanese characters (spelling out the phrase 'Wonderful Buddhist Law') are set alight on five different mountains around Kyoto. Shoden-ji Temple is responsible for one such fire, on Nishigamo Funayama, a neighboring mountain.**
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16 05 10 - 20:35 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

The road to Shoden-ji

Getting lost in Kyoto is often worthwhile, because there is always something new and interesting to see. On our way to Genko-an, we took a wrong turn and ended up in the mountains around Funayama. Signs directed us to a small temple called Shoden-ji, a place I had never heard of. It was fortunate that we decided to take a look, as it was the highlight of the day.

16 05 10 - 20:25 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Daikokuten's smile

16 05 10 - 20:06 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Good luck before goodbye

Daikokuten -Indian in origin- is the god of wealth and farmers. He is also deity of the kitchen and thus a provider of food. He is generally shown wearing a hood standing on two rice bales with a large treasure sack over his shoulder (probably full of rice). Daikokuten carries an uchide no kozuchi (lucky wooden mallet) that can produce anything desired when struck.

Matsugasaki Daikokuten (Myoen-ji) is not too far from Andy's house, hidden above a pretty shrine and below the Myo character (part of the Myo-Hou Gozan no Okuribi) etched on to Matsugasaki hill's slopes. Although we visited the shrine, we didn't realise the temple sits in the forest. It just goes to show that you should always check every nook and cranny when visiting shrines and temples.

Myoen-ji is fairly modern, its buildings rebuilt in concrete, but in spite of this it is a lovely little place, filled with smiling statues of Daikokuten and Benzaiten. It seems apt that we visited as Rhod is considering making a small games company. Please bring us luck!

16 05 10 - 20:00 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Takaragaike Lake

Our time in Japan is fast drawing to a close, and a single week remains to visit those places we will miss the most. There is sad reflection to be had, but also many cherished memories. Deep down I think Rhod and I both know that our lives are changing rapidly, that we have outgrown Kyoto for the time being. Holidays beckon, but there is a lot to achieve back home before we can ever think of living in Japan once more. This blog will remain dedicated to our six years together in Kyoto, and there is much still to collect together and post, which gives me hope that Kyonoki will continue for a good many years. In the meantime, we will be starting a new blog to focus properly on a whole different country, one that is only four hours from my birth-home by train, but one that I haven't visited since I was a toddler. It has a distinctive culture and language, beautiful beaches and more castles than anywhere else in Europe...I am of course talking about Wales.

13 05 10 - 02:54 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

The restive bonfire

13 05 10 - 02:45 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

A room with a view

More photos from Takaragaike, some so over-exposed in the glaring sun that they appear lifted from a magazine in the 70s.

13 05 10 - 02:38 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Excellent Law and excellent views

The view as seen from the Hou part of the Myou-Hou Gozan no Okuribi.

13 05 10 - 02:32 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

A steady supply of water

Today's weather was a photographers dream, with perfect clear skies. Not wanting to waste the afternoon I took a walk around Takaragaike where the azaleas and irises were still in full bloom. A kindly old gentleman stopped jogging to chat, telling me about how expensive traveling was forty years ago when he was a travel agent.

Takaragaike is a tranquil man-made lake in North Kyoto, dating from the 18th century, when it was built to supply a steady stream of water for the area's rice-fields. Nowadays there is pleasure-boating, a jogging track, cherry-blossom viewing in season and fine views of Mount Hiei. Nearby is the Kyoto International Conference Center (built in 1996), where the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change was negotiated in 1997.

13 05 10 - 02:23 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

The Hou in Myouhou

One of the Gozan no Okuribi (mountain bonfires lit for the culmination of Kyoto's Obon celebrations) rises up behind Andy's house. The giant character, cut onto the slopes of the mountain, represents Hou - the second part of the dual bonfire character Myou-Hou (meaning 'Excellent Law' in Buddhist teachings). Although it all but disappears in Spring under a pink blanket of azalea, and wild grasses in Summer, I thought it would be nice to climb the hill and look over the city. After days of rain the sky was startling blue, cotton wool clouds ailing by. The path up the mountain was locked, but a small cemetery to the East gave access to a rocky cliff filled with ancient tomb-markers. From here it was easy to squeeze onto the hillside proper and the view was spectacular.

12 05 10 - 18:07 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Bowling broncos

Rhod's bowling score ended up being the worst of the day, while Moko managed to take first place quite easily. Fortunately, Akko, Misako and Yu-chan helped my team steal a narrow victory.

10 05 10 - 03:33 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Kamo Hawks

The hawks of the Kamo.

10 05 10 - 03:32 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Through the nostrils of giants

Behind the Great Buddha of Nara stands a column with a hole. It is said that enlightenment awaits for any who can squeeze through. The hole is the size of one of the statue's nostrils, and tight for adults. This did not stop Akko and Misako from trying, and with a little help they struggled through, though I am not sure you can become enlightened after being pulled through

09 05 10 - 07:00 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Behind Andy's House

The end of Kitayama-Shimogamohondori Street ends a few metres North of Andy's house in pretty hills filled with shrines and expensive houses. To get some fresh air, I took a walk along the gloomy forest paths and the string of holy sites that sit overlooking the city. As I cannot read the characters that make up their name, I have no idea if they are in any way famous, but it was a nice distraction during a dull afternoon.

06 05 10 - 02:32 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

The problem of obese deer

Dozens of stalls line the paths of Nara Park, right up the avenue that leads to Todai-ji, all selling Shika Sembei (rice cakes) to feed the deer. One problem with this is the amount of overweight and surly deer you find towards the mid-afternoon. We duly bought some sembei, but each deer we offered the sweet snack to turned their head in disgust. Amazingly it appears that their appetites have finally been sated, something which is probably not an entirely good thing.

Misako, Akko and Moko managed to find a small group of deer in a gully that were still hungry and so took the opportunity to unload their cakes.

06 05 10 - 00:11 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

A lot of wood

The Great Buddha Hall (Daibutsuden) of Todai-ji (the Great Eastern Temple) is the largest wooden building in the world, housing the world's largest bronze statue of the Buddha Vairocana. The temple also serves as the Japanese headquarters of the Kegon school of Buddhism. Sika deer, regarded as messengers of the gods in the Shinto religion, roam the grounds freely.
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05 05 10 - 22:13 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Nara koen

Nara Park was established at the foot of Mount Wakakusa in 1880 as a public park. Over 1,200 wild sika deer (shika) freely roam around the park and are classified as a 'Natural Monuments'. Jinrikisha (ricksha) services operate around the entrances to Todai-ji or Kofuku-ji.

While Nara Park is usually associated with the broad areas of the temples and the park proper, there are now previously private gardens open to public. These gardens make use of the temple buildings as adjunct features of their landscapes.

According to local folklore, deer from this area were considered sacred due to a visit from one of the four gods of Kasuga Shrine, Takenomikazuchi-no-mikoto. He was said to have been invited from Kashima, Ibaraki, and appeared on Mt. Mikasa riding a white deer. From that point on, the deer were considered divine and sacred by both Kasuga Shrine and Kofuku-ji.

Killing one of these sacred deer was a capital offense punishable by death up until 1637, the last recorded date of that law having been enforced. Post World War II the deer were officially stripped of their sacred/divine status, and were instead designated as National Treasures and are protected as such.

05 05 10 - 22:01 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Daibutsu

Known simply as Daibutsu (Large Buddha), the Buddha Vairocana is the biggest bronze Buddha statue in the world. The photos absolutely do not do the statue justice. It is immense and majestic, and an old friend.

Statistics - Height: 14.98 m (49.1 ft) / Face: 5.33 m (17.5 ft) / Eyes: 1.02 m (3.3 ft) / Nose: 0.5 m (1.6 ft) / Ears: 2.54 m (8.3 ft). The statue weighs 500 tonnes (550 short tons). Big then.

05 05 10 - 21:51 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

The Heijo Theme Park (the Historian's nightmare)

Lovely weather, lovely friends, and a mediocre pseudo-historical palace.

05 05 10 - 20:48 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

The Heijo Palace

Just in time for the 1300th anniversary of the city, the reconstruction of the original imperial palace has been revealed. I remember visiting the site six years ago, when it was nothing but grassy wetland and the vague hint of foundations. Today was vastly different. If anything, I preferred the site before, when it was just the Suzaku Gate overlooking the railway tracks. The great efforts and money has produced a perfect replica, which lacks that special something that will make it a permanent tourist trap. Aside from the obvious idiocy of placing glass windows across the entire front wall, the palace simply looks uninspiring without the courtyards, government buildings and gardens that would have filled the vast space between front gate and palace.

I could even ignore the newness of everything if the palace was given better context. The ultra modern facilities, museums and restaurants are not particularly intrusive, but add to the desolation of gravel and grass that fills ninety percent of the space. When you consider the huge undertaking it all was, you cannot help but come away thinking 'meh!', and hurry on to the wonders around the deer park across the city.

So here is some information. The main hall of the Heijo Palace stands 800 metres of the Suzaku Gate. The structure is 44 metres wide, 20 metres deep, and 27 metres high. Built using 44 vermilion columns (each 70 centimetres in diametre), and some 97,000 roof tiles, the hall was the largest building in the palace complex. After being dismantled and rebuilt during the middle of the Nara period as Kyoto Kuni-no-Miya, which served as the nation's capital for a time, the structure was used as the golden hall of a provincial temple in the kingdom of Yamashiro. At the time of its original construction, the Former Imperial Audience Hall was the site of the nation's most important ceremonies, including the accession to the throne of the emperor and meetings with foreign envoys.

05 05 10 - 20:38 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Approaching Todai-ji

The grand avenue leading up to the magnificent Todai-ji is a marvel itself, with deer lumbering beneath the flaking pillars of the grand gate. The existing Nandaimon (Middle Gate) is a reconstruction of end-12th century based on Song Dynasty style. The dancing figures of the Nio, the two 28-foot-tall guardians at the Nandaimon, were built at around the same time by Unkei, Kaikei and their workshop members. The Nio are known as Ungyo, which by tradition has a closed mouth, and Agyo, which has an open mouth. The two figures were closely evaluated and extensively restored by a team of art conservators between 1988 and 1993. Until then, these sculptures had never before been moved from the niches in which they were originally installed. This complex preservation project, costing $4.7 million, involved a restoration team of 15 experts from the National Treasure Repairing Institute in Kyoto.

05 05 10 - 20:31 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Changing the guard

I don't have an awful number of positive things to say about the Heijo Palace site, but one of the more interesting events seemed rather mute and sidelined. Traditional costumed guards performed an old ritual at the palace's inner gate, which should have drawn far more people than were actually watching (in Kyoto it certainly would have been better promoted). I have some issues about the short women dressed up as men, but it was a nice change to see something different amongst all the blandness.

05 05 10 - 20:19 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Nara's 1300th Birthday

After exhaustive promotion, finally Nara's 1300th birthday is well underway. Strangely, Rhod and I always promised ourselves that we would visit the city for the anniversary, and the volcano god has ensured that it is a wish fulfilled. The behorned Buddha-boy Sento-kun appeared some time ago to public malignment, but of late has been growing in popularity. He is the poster mascot for the celebrations, and beckoned us over to Nara.

As expected, the crowds were insane, people enjoying the last day (Children's Day) of Golden Week. A shuttle bus carried us from the station over to the palace site and we shuffled with hundreds of other people through the maze of shops, visitor's centres and market. The Suzaku gate has stood for many years, but for the celebrations the newly built audience hall has been unveiled for the first time. This reconstruction is hoped to fill the prefecture's coffers with tourist cash.

What became quickly clear is that a reconstructed gate, audience hall and period boat do not a tourist attraction make. None of the walls, moat, gardens or imperial buildings have been constructed to compliment the audience hall, so what you have is an immense sway of grass and untidy looking paths. Temporary barriers have been put up to prevent people walking over the grass, for fear that the unexcavated ground beneath could be damaged, making everything appear unfinished. Despite thousands of pansies, nothing was ever going to fill up the spaces.

I have nothing against reconstructions, but the whole event felt like a theme park without the rides. Misako and Akko's most memorable moment probably came from aura photographs they had taken, nothing whatsoever to do with the city celebrations. In a word, disappointing. Perhaps the money would have been better spent on protecting the historic treasures and improving city wide transport. Just a thought.

05 05 10 - 20:12 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Moko's Birthday

04 05 10 - 04:26 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Inner gardens and inner calm

The inner garden of Jisso-in is without a doubt its heart, a blindingly green explosion of moss and leaves reflected in still ponds. While the guide book tells us to pay attention to the famous paintings and mesmerizing reflections on the lacquered floor, it is the beautiful garden that gets the fullest attention. There are signs that the buildings are unstable, great supports erected to keep up the aging walls and roof, but if it crumbled tomorrow, the garden would still be sure to draw people in.

04 05 10 - 04:14 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Jisso-in

Jisson-in is a Monzeki temple (it seems to be that we are only visiting Monzeki Temples during Golden Week), which is a special term for temples that have strong connections with families of imperial -or high*- rank . Traditionally, members of these families served as the head monks (or nuns) of Monzeki temples. Monzeki temples had great influence in the field of Japanese Buddhism and at the same time maintained special cultural and political relationship with the imperial family and samurai feudal governments. Because of this characteristic, Monzeki temples have histories and cultural legacies that differ considerably from other kinds of temples.

The temple was created in the Kamakura Period, but moved to its present location 600 years ago. The main hall and the gate were originally part of the Imperial Palace, but given as a gift in 1720. In autumn, the maple leaves in the temple garden turn bright red, drawing thousands of visitors. The temple also has a classic stroll style garden designed around a pond - which you are not permitted to stroll around. The wooden floor of the temple's main building is lacquered which results in a stunning mirror reflection of the colourful leaves in the garden.

The sliding door and wall paintings of the temple's main hall were painted by Kano School artists, pioneers in Japanese painting in the early and mid Edo period (1600-1868). The oldest painting (in the Delegate Room) is the painting of Flowers and Birds. It was painted by Eikei Kano, the 4th master of the Kano School. He used the screen's full length and dynamically painted birds playing among the trees.**
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04 05 10 - 03:58 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

The place where god descends

When exploring temples on the outskirts of the city, it's common to find that nature has shrouded the simplest route to their front doors, and cheerful two dimensional maps confuse in their simplicity. To find a way usually entails back-pedaling, and scratching of heads, and more often than not the random stranger we ask for directions is the one person that has never really heard of the temple in question. But, in consideration, such diversions are so often the best part of the day, as we follow calm streams through neighbourhoods seemingly untouched by modern times, and stumble upon beautifully kept gardens in the middle of nowhere.

On this particular adventure, we proceeded on from Entsu-ji to find Jisso-in, losing ourselves in the narrow, flower-lined lanes and marveling at the enormous houses so uncommon in the city itself. It is not unusual to find the temperatures here 3 or 4 degrees lower than Kyoto main, but on this day thermometers were pushing 33 degrees even out here. The area, about as far North as you can go before climbing into the mountains, is an ancient place with an ancient name* meaning 'the place where god descends'. Iwakura was considered to be sacred for many centuries... and we were about to discover why.

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04 05 10 - 03:45 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Lounge lizard

A tiny lizard, sunning itself in Jisso-in's garden, entertained us with its fearless curiosity. Rhod dearly would have liked to bring him home as a pet.

04 05 10 - 02:35 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Hiei-zan framed

There are many temples hidden in the mountains behind Andy's house (beyond the Midorogaike pond) and so we decided to spend Midori-no-hi* exploring a few.

Entsu-ji was our first port of call as it was closest, up an exceptionally steep hill (25% gradient!). Originally an imperial villa called the Hataeda Palace, built by Emperor Gomizuno in 1639, the nun Enkoinbunei transformed the buildings into a temple in 1678 with the support of Prince Rinnojishuchohoshinno. Enkoinbunei had previously been the former attendant of the Emperor Gomizuno's mother, Chunamonin. Keisen Soryu, the tenth head priest of Myoshin-ji Temple, became the temple's first abbot.

Enkoinbunei made wood block prints of the sutra Hensoufumonbon that were famously sent to temples in China. The temple still possesses a hanging scroll made by the Emperor Reigen. Entsu-ji is perhaps most well known for its rock-garden, which was constructed to place Mt. Hiei as a backdrop, though I found the most interesting part of the temple an unusual statue of kannon in its prayer hall. The statue is a kind of optical illusion, arms and clothes carved to create the appearance of a grinning skull around the belly. Unfortunately photos were not allowed and no postcards are sold.

It was ultimately a disappointing visit, too much money spent on a brand new car-park than the upkeep of the temple precincts itself. But that said, if you ever get a chance, I would recommend visiting the skull-kannon.
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04 05 10 - 02:30 - kieren - Photostory| two comments - §

Iris field

The Ota Shrine's stroll garden comes alive in May with thousands of purple, rabbit-eared irises. Famed in Heian-period poetry, the ancient pond has been untouched for a thousand years, and with only the first few flowers open it was still worth the cycle.

03 05 10 - 01:28 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Birdpocalypse

Cormorants and heron fishing in the Kamogawa today. Oh, and it's my birthday.

03 05 10 - 00:12 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Midorogaike's sunken gems

Midorogaike, meaning Shallow Lake of Mud, is an ancient pond in Kitayama. It is a pretty little spot surrounded on three sides by mountains, but unfortunately succumbing to the encroachment of modern development. White irises bloom in May, but it was too early to see the flowers, so I took a walk around the banks. An elderly man joined me, and proceeded to tell me all about the history of the lake in Japanese. Some of it I could follow, but most of his ramblings involved cultural musings that were a bit too complicated for me to get my head around.

The pond is in fact an ancient relic of the ice age, dug out for irrigation purposes before Kyoto existed by early tribes. Farmers filled their paddies and watered their crops from the pond, inadvertently creating a haven for now rare species of fish, insects and birds. The pond was once much bigger, but the city's suburbs have since filled the agricultural land with houses and roads, and only a sorry remnant of Midorogaike remains.

Many ghost stories focus on the pond. One of the most famous involves a taxi driver picking up a customer in the city who asks to be taken to the pond. When he arrives, he is shocked to discover that the passenger is gone!

03 05 10 - 00:08 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

The bee gate

Whilst admiring the Nio (guardian statues) of Bishamondo's Niomon Gate, I could hear the sound of cheering drifting from a baseball game further down the mountain at a junior high. Gradually the sound changed, becoming rather odd and buzzing, but as my ears were fuzzy from hay-fever I ignored it until Andy pointed the dozens of bees swarming on the fence of the gate.

As we were to see time and again, the warm weather has brought out swarms and swarms of bees in search of a new, suitable nest. And what better home than the peaceful shelter of temple gates and gables. These are the friendly honey bee variety, not the horror of the Asian hornet, and there wasn't any crazy running but a rather wary observation.

02 05 10 - 22:29 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Painting illusion

Many of Bishamondo's painted screens are clever optic illusions when viewed from certain angles. The ceiling dragon's face and claws seem to move, the famous carp jumps from left to right, and a desk that appears normal at first glance is actually much larger when you step away. It is interesting that the temple seems to have fostered this skill amongst its monks, and it makes the decoration all the more interesting, visitors concentrating on paintings they otherwise may have ignored.

02 05 10 - 22:18 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

The gift of the golden bell

The gift of a golden bell helped fuel an obsession with gilding amongst the monks of Honkokuzi.

02 05 10 - 22:04 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Geisha of Gion's canal

Mineko Iwasaki, one of the inspirations behind Memoirs of a Geisha, mentions in her own book (Geisha of Gion) that her sister drowned in the canal close to her parents' house when she was young. Rhod pointed out that the canal below Bishamondo is the very waterway where this tragedy occurred, something he discovered when he first lived in the area as an English teacher many years ago.

The canal pours from Lake Biwa, through Yamashina and Keage to the Okazaki area of Kyoto. It is a pretty cycle route, flanked with cherry trees and passing by several famous temples. The mausoleum of Emperor Tenji (Kyoto's oldest) and tomb of Sakanoue-no-Tamuramaro are also located close-by.

02 05 10 - 21:58 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Gold for wealth, red for power

A bright vermilion bridge over the Biwa Canal advertises the rather surprising Honkokuzi Temple. While not marked on my map, it was a welcome detour and possibly the most gaudy temple I have ever seen. It manages to out-bling Kinkaku-ji, and must surely win an award for most gratuitous use of decorative gold.

Unfortunately there was no information about the temple, and further research hasn't dug up any more than mention of a golden bell. I cannot quite recall if the bell was a gift from the niece of Nobunaga Oda (Cha Cha) or a sister of the Totyotomi clan, but it forever bound Honkokuzi with gold in the public imagination. The temple has recently been reconstructed, giving architects an excuse to add further golden embellishments, including two shiny gate guardians which stand in stark contrast to the frighteningly lifelike statue of the temple's founder below the prayer hall. Beside another of the halls is a stone basin filled with water. A legend claims that if you wash a coin and keep it with you at all times, then the polished coin will act like a magnet, attracting untold wealth. Rhod duly washed a 500 yen coin (the largest denomination of coin in Japan).

In Buddhism, and Shintoism, red is considered to be powerful and celebratory colour, while gold -of course- indicates wealth and by extension helps to display a temple's influence and power. Honkokuzi would be far prettier without the gold, but is still an intriguing place to visit.

02 05 10 - 21:52 - kieren - Photostory| five comments - §

With its own original paint

Bishamondo was originally built to the North of the Imperial Palace in 703 as the Izumo Temple. Later, it was renamed Bishamondo because the high priest Saicho (Denkyo Daishi) enshrined a hand-made statue of Bishamonten in the main prayer hall.

The temple was devastated countless times by war over the centuries until the priest Tenkai of the Tendai Sect (and his disciple Kokai) reconstructed Bishamondo at its present -quieter- site in 1665. Shortly after, the priest Koben (1669-1716), son of Emperor Gosai, became the chief priest of the temple. Since then, Bishamondo has been a Monzeki Temple, meaning that Imperial Family members or regency family members serve as head priests.

The Shinden, behind the prayer hall, is actually the former palace of the Emperor Gosai, which the emperor donated to the temple following his son's investiture. The famed painting of the dragon on the ceiling is unusual because the direction of the face and eyes differ depending on what position you are viewing it from. Likewise, the temple has many optical illusions amongst its screen paintings. The Kyuro-no zu (Picture of Nine Elders), drawn in reverse perspective, is particularly famous.

Behind the temple is the pretty Bansuien stroll garden with lake and a rock-island in the shape of a dragon's head. Surrounded by forested hills, Bishamondo is now most well-known for its weeping cherry trees and autumnal colours. Because of its out-of-town location, it is the perfect place to view sakura and momiji as there are relatively few people when compared with the other temples and shrines of Higashiyama.

02 05 10 - 21:44 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Bishamondo calling

Tomomi has often called Bishamondo her favourite Kyoto Temple, and with a gorgeous Sunday stretching before us it seemed the perfect opportunity to explore Yamashina. The cycle ride in 30 degree heat took us along Sanjo-dori, past Keage Station and up the sharp incline that twists between the Eastern Mountains. Once we had crested the top of the hill it was a pleasant pedal-free sail into the valley, right up to the steep lane that climbs to Bishamondo itself.

I have always had use of a mountain bike, so it was an 'experience' to use Andy's three-geared mamachari to get me to my destination. While not exactly comfortable, the hard-work was to prove more than worthwhile.

02 05 10 - 08:18 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Palace of the Great Lion

The rather gaudy outdoor structure beside the main hall of the Namba Shrine is called the Ojishi-den, or Palace of the Great Lion. It is about the size of a three-story building (12 metres high, 11 metres wide, and 10 metres deep) and the ferocious face is designed to drive away demons. The stage inside the mouth is used for concerts several times a year.

On the third Sunday of January the shrine's festival features a tug-of-war contest. While not the most remarkable shrine, it is certainly one of the more memorable, and who could ever tire of lying on the fangs and pretending to be eaten?

01 05 10 - 18:56 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

The dragon of Namba

After picking up some goods at the Apple Store in Shinsaibashi (Osaka), Andy remembered a shrine in the shape of a dragon he had wanted to visit. A little research pointed us to the Namba Yasaka Shrine, and indeed the hall next to the main shrine is in the shape of a roaring dog-dragon's head. Living in Kyoto means that we are spoiled for history, and this theme-park styled shrine certainly opened my eyes to what modern reconstructions are out there.

Built on the orders of Emperor Hanzei, the shrine originally stood in the city of Matsubara, Osaka. In 943 it was relocated to what today is Uehonmachi in Tennoji Ward (also in Osaka), then in 1597 it was relocated once again to its present location* (in 1872 it became purely Shinto after the Meiji Restoration separated Buddhism and Shintoism). In 1945 the shrine was destroyed in an air-raid, but it was rebuilt in 1974.
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01 05 10 - 18:48 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

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Rhod and Ki's tour of life in Kyoto, Japan.

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