johnliddlephotography

Frozen moments from the infinity that is time


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Ninnaji and Rengeji (Kyoto)

Like most visitors to Kyoto I was keen to experience the great temples and I was not disappointed. However, I also made the effort to seek out lesser-recognised temples, which was equally rewarding and often left me shaking my head as to why they are less popular. The answer is, I think, simply attributable to our fickle human nature, where one can find parallels with virtually every aspect of life.

Visiting the two temples featured in this post was easy. Each is located within easy walking distance on the same street as two of Kyoto’s jewels, namely Kinkakuji and Ryoanji. Ninnaji and Rengeji are, in effect, neighbours and are the head and secondary headquarters respectively of the Omura School of the Shingon sect of Japanese Buddhism.

Rengeji was founded in 1057 and had operated at several sites before being restored at its current site in 1928. Similarly the five large stone statues (pics 1 to 3) for which Rengeji is best known were brought together in 1958 from dispersed locations and set out in their current arrangement. The five Buddhas of Yakushi, Hosho, Dainichi, Amida and Shaka are believed to be the patron gods of scholastic achievement.

Ninnaji is one of Kyoto’s oldest temples and dates back to 888 during the Heian period, though none of the foundation buildings have survived. However, several buildings including the front gate (pic 4) and the Pagoda (pic 12) date back to the early 1600s. Ninnaji, which enjoys world heritage listing, is one of those vast, sprawling temples with impressive architecture and gardens, as well as being historically significant. For almost one thousand years from its formation to the end of the Edo period in 1868, the temple’s head priest was always the son of a reigning emperor. When one considers its history and continuing magnificence, it is difficult to understand why Ninnaji has lower patronage than its more popular neighbours.

Another significant attraction is Ninnaji’s famous grove of late blooming cherry blossom trees. The trees are a local variety known as Omura Zakura cherry trees and are a smaller variety well suited to mass plantings as can be seen from pics 5 to 8. However, even during the cherry blossom season, the appeal of Ninnaji’s gardens does not rely on a single species (pics 9 to 11). Indeed, the combination of interesting architecture such as the Reihoken (Treasure House), which is open to the public during April and May and the well-maintained gardens within sprawling grounds positions Ninnaji favourably among Kyoto’s temples.

(Please click on any of the following images for an enlarged view.)

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Which way to Kiyomizudera (Kyoto)?

Given its location near Gion, Kiyomizudera (which translates to “Pure Water Temple”) is one of Kyoto’s most visited and celebrated temples. Sitting atop a hill on the site of the Otowa Waterfall from which it derives its name, the temple offers glorious year-round views over Kyoto and since 1994 has been listed as a UNESCO world heritage site.

Despite its significance and popularity I must admit to spending little time there, mainly due to my visits not quite coinciding with the peak Autumn colours or the Spring cherry blossom season when Kiyomizudera is one of Kyoto’s most popular viewing platforms. Unfortunately this means I cannot offer photographs showing Kiyomizudera at its best. I can, however, suggest that intending visitors give some thought about the route taken to and/or from Kiyomizudera.

The most popular route is through Gion by wending one’s way uphill through Gion’s old narrow streets until Kiyomizudera appears at the top of the hill, where one can follow the steps taken by the pilgrims shown at pic 1. An alternative, lesser-used route is to approach from the other side of the hill via the Otani Mausoleum complex and I would certainly recommend first time visitors to approach from one direction and exit from the other direction. Either way involves an uphill approach.

Approaching from the Otani Mausoleum side takes one through a number of grand wooden gates and halls at the foot of the hill, then along a path through a rather full and impressive cemetery (pics 2 to 9). Along the way one will find areas of specific interest such as small shrines or vendors who specialize in the preparation of incense blends specific to the needs of families with relatives interred in the cemetery (pic 4). Above all, it is an interesting and pleasant walk offering an “off the beaten track” insight into Kyoto’s story.

Upon reaching Kiyomizudera the views from the famous viewing platform make the effort worthwhile regardless of the season (pics 10 and 11) and show why people come from all over Japan to enjoy the scenic views over Kyoto. Another popular attraction is the Otowa Waterfall (pic 15) at the base of Kiyomizudera’s main hall, where the waters are divided into three separate streams. Visitors use cups attached to long poles to drink from their selected stream, which are believed to result in longevity, academic success and a fortunate love life. Despite being regarded as a demonstration of greed, I did observe many drinking from all three streams. Temptation is always hard to resist.

(Please click on any of the following images for an enlarged view.)


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Koko-en Gardens (Himeji)

Koko-en is a Japanese garden overlooked by Himeji Castle on the other side of the castle moat. Its proximity to Himeji Castle allows visitors to enjoy the serenity of a Japanese garden after visiting the castle. Indeed, the peacefulness of the garden is an ideal complement to the castle’s symbolic reminder of Japan’s often violent feudal history.

At only 3.5 hectares, Koko-en is a relatively small garden, but once inside the gates the impression conveyed is that of a larger space, which is a credit to the designers. The garden was constructed in 1992 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Himeji municipality, thus is relatively new. Nevertheless, It is historically linked to Himeji Castle in that it occupies the former site of the feudal lord’s west residence.

The photographs shown here are of the garden of the lord’s residence, one of Koko-en’s nine walled gardens and arguably the most visually impressive with features including a pond stocked with Japanese Koi fish, waterfalls, bridges and pavilions.

Whenever I visit Japanese gardens I enjoy the beauty of their apparent simplicity whilst, at the same time, recognising the complexity of achieving this impression. The elements may be basic and elemental, but their arrangement creates living and evolving masterpieces. For example, the concrete spans used to cross water (pics 7 and 10) are not only functional; they become key focal points especially when subtly arched as in the span at Koko-en.

Enjoying beautiful gardens is one of life’s simple pleasures and if you agree, make a commitment to visit a nearby garden soon, whether of Japanese or other style.

(Please click on any of the following images for an enlarged view.)


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Nijo Castle (Kyoto)

It is said that minds are like parachutes in that they work best when open. What has this to do with Nijo Castle? Well, nothing really, but it is my explanation for being able to offer only a small selection of images. After visiting and being highly impressed with Himeji Castle (https://johnliddlephotography.com/2014/11/18/himeji-castle-a-reminder-of-feudal-times/), I became somewhat dismissive of other castles, thus did not allocate sufficient time or importance to Nijo Castle. I have, therefore, shown only external detail shots of Ninomaru Palace and some shots of the Ninomaru Garden.

Nijo Castle has a long history dating back to 1603 and was built to serve as the residence for Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shogun of the Edo Period (1602 to 1867). Building works were completed some 23 years later by the Shogun’s grandson Iemitsu who added a five-storey castle keep. Unfortunately the keep was destroyed by fires in the 18th century and never rebuilt, thus denying Nijo Castle the architecturally dominant keep so characteristic of other Japanese castles. Nevertheless, the palace buildings are regarded as among the best examples of castle palace architecture of Japan’s feudal era and are a designated UNESCO world heritage site.

The internal areas of the castle are arguably more interesting than the external, but, as was the case at Osaka Castle, photography restrictions apply to internal areas. Whilst frustrating one must comply with the restrictions, though visitors with small cameras seemed able to sneak shots. Yes, there are times when a big camera is a disadvantage.

If I had to nominate one castle to visit I would still nominate Himeji Castle. However, I erred in prejudging Nijo Castle and urge anyone planning a visit to allocate sufficient time to fully appreciate all it has to offer.

(Please click on any of the following images for an enlarged view.)


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Myoshin-ji Temple Complex (Kyoto)

It could be said that Kyoto has an embarrassment of riches in terms of the number and variety of Buddhist temples located within this ancient and culturally rich city. At one end of the scale one may come across small local temples, most often found when wandering the streets and at the other end of the spectrum are the large sprawling temple complexes such as Myoshin-ji in Kyoto’s north-east.

These large temple complexes are always impressive given their scale, yet each varies in character. For example, if I think of Kyoto’s Tenryu-ji (https://johnliddlephotography.com/2014/02/11/tenryu-ji-kyoto/) I think of generations of monks working tirelessly to create a serene environment. On the other hand, Nagano’s Zenkoji Temple (https://johnliddlephotography.com/2016/02/06/zenkoji-temple/) conjures images of a warring and bloody history. Myoshin-ji is different again with its feeling of community with many of the sub-temples serving also as residences and members of the local community simply “hanging-out” within the temple grounds.

Estimates of the number of sub-temples within the complex range from 38 to 50, with most closed to the public. Nevertheless, many front gates are open or ajar to offer visitors a glimpse of what lies beyond, a la the opening photograph “Peek-a-boo”. Meandering through the complex’s laneways is a delightful way to gain an appreciation of this very Buddhist community and I suspect I may have inadvertently wandered into a few of the “off limits” sub-temples such as Nehando where I came across the entrancing Jizo statuary shown at pics 8 to 11. Sometimes one’s poor language skills can be an advantage!

The other images demonstrate, in my opinion, how splendour can manifest in different ways. The images (pics 2 to 7) of the main Myoshin-ji buildings (the Butsuden and the Hatto) are further examples of the solid Japanese architecture typical of major traditional temple buildings. These buildings sit so solidly into their environment as to appear immovable and evoke feelings of calm and serenity. Elsewhere in the complex one finds the highly popular Taizo-in Temple, much admired for its beautiful gardens (pics 12 to 17) that similarly evoke feelings of calm and serenity, albeit by different means. I felt fortunate when the smartly dressed people wandered into the shot (pic 15), thus giving the image a rather timeless feel and one hopes that the final image has indeed become a precious memory for the elderly and young person mesmerized by the Japanese Koi fish.

(Please click on any of the following images for an enlarged view.)


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Osaka from 173 metres

Osaka’s Umeda Sky Building is an impressive structure of two towers connected at the top by an open-air circular walkway offering magnificent views of the city and surrounds. The area atop the building is formally described as the Floating Garden Observatory, but is more frequently referred to as simply “173” denoting its height of 173 metres above ground level.

Even though I have visited higher observatories, including the Shanghai World Financial Centre Observatory, which, at 474 metres, is the highest in the world, I found “173” a more enjoyable experience. This is due to its circular design providing 360-degree vantage points and most importantly, the unimpeded views from being in the open-air. Notwithstanding that my visit took place on a cold December day, not having to deal with the barrier of glass windows made it an altogether more pleasurable experience.

I was also fortunate to have visited in late afternoon/early evening, thus providing an opportunity to witness the sunset from a “birds-eye” position. My only regret was not carrying a tripod and having to shoot handheld on high ISO settings, hence the somewhat grainy images. Nevertheless, I am happy to have these images as memories of a most enjoyable interlude and I highly recommend a visit to “173” for those visiting Osaka.

(Please click on any of the following images for an enlarged view.)


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2017 Favourites

Time is our most common yet precious commodity that moves inexorably forward, one tick of the clock at a time. In a way one could say the ticking clock is the soundtrack to our lives.

At this time of year it is not unusual to hear people say: “where has the year gone?” or words to that effect. Throughout the year I often hear people say, usually in the form of an excuse or apology, that they have no time. Of course, they are wrong given that time is an equal opportunity for everyone on the planet. We all get 24 hours each day, seven days a week and so on. So rather than bemoan a lack of time, it would be more appropriate to acknowledge that how we use our time is our choice. One way or the other, we each manage to fill the 24 hours in each day and it is our responsibility to use it well and wisely.

I am happy to have got back on track with this blog during the past year after posting only once in 2016. My objective was to post twice a month and I have come up a few short of my target, but overall I have enjoyed being able to share photographs, thoughts and recollections with those who have kindly visited my blog. Whilst the blog is small in terms of views and followers, I will continue to resist chasing statistics through Internet trickery and continue to appreciate that those viewing the blog are real and genuine.

I am planning to take a short break during which I will consider my approach to the 2018 blog. The Japan series is nearing an end and perhaps it is time to consider drawing on the material to create a book. I hope you enjoy the favourites I have selected from 2017’s posts and all that remains now is to thank you for your visits and to wish you a safe and Happy New Year.

(Please click on any of the following images for an enlarged view.)


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ICAN …. can you?

I had expected to be posting on a different subject, but changed my mind when I learned that the Nobel Peace Prize 2017 was awarded to International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) “for its work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons”.

Having visited Hiroshima a number of times, the first time being six years ago to the day, the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize award to ICAN resonated with me. Prior to my visits I was, like many people I expect, horrified at the potential for nuclear weapons to be used again. However, spending time at the site of humankind’s single most horrific act focused my understanding on how truly horrific the use of nuclear weapons was and can be. From that moment I have strongly believed that the stories of Hiroshima and Nagasaki must continue to be told and it was most pleasing to hear this sentiment echoed by President Obama during his speech at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial on 27 May 2016, when he said: “But the memory of the morning of Aug. 6, 1945, must never fade. That memory allows us to fight complacency. It fuels our moral imagination. It allows us to change.”

Technology has taken great leaps forward since 1945 and the destructive power of today’s nuclear warheads is many times greater than the weapons used in 1945. When considered alongside the current emergence of leaders apparently more driven by ego than wisdom, ICAN’s work is timely.

Can one person make a difference? Can you or I effect the destruction of nuclear stockpiles? The answer is, of course, no! But just as it takes many stitches to make a blanket, you and I combined can, over time, make a difference. We cannot rely on politicians acting independently to make such a monumental change. The self anointed “political class” lack the moral fortitude to take the lead. If it is to happen they must be dragged by the undeniable weight of public opinion to act and perhaps this is what President Obama during his Hiroshima speech was alluding to with the words: “Those who died, they are like us. Ordinary people understand this, I think. They do not want more war. They would rather that the wonders of science be focused on improving life and not eliminating it. When the choices made by nations, when the choices made by leaders, reflect this simple wisdom, then the lesson of Hiroshima is done.”

The photographs I have chosen are a combination of historic photographs and photographs of paintings made by survivors almost 60 years later of their memories from 6 August 1945. The clarity of those memories reflected through their art talks directly to the impact on their lives. I have also included links below to a series of posts I made on Hiroshima in August 2014.

https://johnliddlephotography.com/2014/08/07/time-and-place-hiroshima/

https://johnliddlephotography.com/2014/08/15/hiroshima-peace-museum/

https://johnliddlephotography.com/2014/08/25/peace-park-memorials-hiroshima/

https://johnliddlephotography.com/2014/08/30/shukkeien-gardens-hiroshima/

Thank you for reading and I hope you will consider your position on this important issue.

(Please click on any of the following images for an enlarged view.)

 

 


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Osaka Castle

On flicking through the subjects I have covered in this series of Japanese posts, it became apparent that I had given little attention to Osaka, due mainly to having spent very little time there. However, like many visitors to Osaka, I did visit Osaka Castle – the subject of today’s post.

Now that I reflect a bit more, my experience of Japanese castles is also quite limited, having visited only three, the others being Kyoto and Himeji. Of these, the standout is definitely Himeji (https://johnliddlephotography.com/2014/11/18/himeji-castle-a-reminder-of-feudal-times/). I do not like to speak negatively about such important and magnificent buildings, but I did find the restrictions on photography imposed at the Kyoto and Osaka Castles to be disappointing, as much of the most interesting subject matter was within the restricted areas. Notwithstanding such restrictions, they are worth visiting.

I travelled to Osaka Castle by train and the walk from the station through municipal parklands builds one’s curiosity through early glimpses and as one gets closer, the scale of the castle and surrounding moat (its first line of defence) is most impressive – if not majestic. Entering through the gates (pic 1), one’s eye is immediately drawn to the magnificence of the dry-stone walls, which are quite captivating in their own right. Once inside the castle grounds, one becomes more aware of the towering edifice that is Osaka Castle (pics 2 to 4). I wish I could include internal shots, but much as I dislike photography restrictions I do respect the right of operators to impose them. Climbing to the highest level is recommended for the views over Osaka (pic 5) and the appreciation that the castle was very strategically positioned from a defensive perspective.

The inclusion of pics 6 to 10 is somewhat of an indulgence, but during my visit I was quite taken by the geometric patterns of the stone walls around the castle. In fact, I distinctly remember comparing the visual impact of the castle walls to more contemporary structures utilising acutely angled aperiodic tiling as a surface treatment. Of course a major difference is that the castle walls relied on manual planning and construction techniques, whereas contemporary structures benefit from the use of sophisticated computer-aided design, fabrication and building techniques. It does, therefore, seem appropriate to conclude with pic 10 “An Artisan’s Mark”, which shows an example of how the stonemasons of the day marked their contribution to the construction of Osaka Castle.

(Please click on any of the following images for an enlarged view.)


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Kyoto streets by day

Following-on from my last post of Kyoto at night, this post shows sights that one encounters wandering Kyoto’s streets during the day. When selecting the images, I have intentionally ignored the shrines and temples for which Kyoto is famous, choosing instead to show aspects of the city that one may encounter moving between the more famous attractions.

Kyoto is a great walking city and will reward those with the time and energy to meander through its streets and laneways. As well as getting a better feel for the city, one may find hidden gems the equal of the more popular tourist sites.

The shots do not require explanation, but let me make some observations nevertheless. Arashiyama (pic 1) is simply a delightful place to spend time and should be a must-see on any trip to Kyoto. The bridge in pic 5 is wider than it appears, but not recommended for those who may have had one too many drinks. Above the tunnel (pic 7) is the Keage Incline – a popular and magnificent place to view Sakura during the cherry blossom season. My apologies to the taxi driver (pic 8), though I can report that he was amused at walking into the picture. Although the dish hails from Hiroshima, Kyoto’s okonomiyaki (pic 11) is worth trying. Last but not least, the parked car (pic 16) was one of the more amusing examples of creative parking I came across, albeit not conducive to a quick getaway.

Thanks for visiting and I hope you enjoy these little windows into the real Kyoto.

(Please click on any of the following images for an enlarged view.)