johnliddlephotography

Frozen moments from the infinity that is time


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Yokohama

Although Yokohama is Japan’s second-largest city with a population of around 3.7 million, one’s first impression is that it is part of the greater Tokyo metropolis. I travelled there by Shinkansen in under twenty minutes and even the return trip on the regular rail network took only thirty minutes. Yes it does seem ridiculous to take such a short Shinkansen ride, but I had a JR Pass and I enjoy travelling by Shinkansen. Along the route I did not discern any real geographical separation from Tokyo – it was more like riding through the apparently never-ending Tokyo metropolis.

Nevertheless, even a short Saturday afternoon touristy type visit revealed a city with a distinct character. Most of my time was spent strolling through Yokohama’s Chinatown – the biggest Chinatown in Japan, which has grown along with Yokohama’s growth as a key port city. It does not take long in Chinatown to realise that the main attraction is food. Apparently the area has more than 500 eateries of various types and most visitors seemed to be on a mission to enjoy the gastronomical delights on offer. Queues were everywhere, with people patiently waiting their turn for tables to become available and the overall atmosphere was very relaxed.

Probably the most striking building in Chinatown was the Kanteibyo Temple (pics 6 & 7), a brightly coloured Chinese temple built in 1873 and dedicated to the Chinese god of good business and prosperity.

A short walk from Chinatown is Yamashita Park, which runs along the waterfront and was full of individuals and families enjoying time outdoors. The park was constructed following the great Kanto earthquake of 1923 and seems to align perfectly with Yokohama’s history as a major port city. The most striking attraction is the Hikawa Maru, a retired ocean liner now permanently moored on the waterfront and serving a new life as a museum and affording visitors a glimpse of 1930’s style. I understand the ship mainly served the Yokohama to Vancouver/Seattle route and was well patronised by Japan’s imperial family and celebrities such as Charlie Chaplin, who were attracted by the quality of the ship’s first-class cabins.

On the way back to the station I passed through the Minato Mirai area and came across an interesting juxtaposition of styles (pic 14) where part of an old stepped structure appeared to have been retained within a more contemporary shopping precinct. I don’t know anything about the old structure and perhaps that is a good reason to return and explore Yokohama more extensively.

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

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A Glimpse of Kamakura

Kamakura is a small coastal city that can be easily visited as a day-trip from Tokyo. However, it is historically significant as a former de-facto capital of Japan during the Kamakura period (1200 to 1300), during which time it was Japan’s most populous settlement. Today it is popular as a resort city and for its many temples and shrines that offer visitors a glimpse of old Japan.

Unfortunately I am unable to share much of this history due to navigation difficulties in finding places of interest I had earmarked to visit. I can usually find places, but in this instance I’m choosing to blame the map.

The most dominant attraction is the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine (pics 1 to 6) and I was most fortunate to visit on a day where a Shinto Wedding ceremony was taking place. In fact, it was the first Shinto Wedding I had seen and that alone made the day memorable. If you are interested in shots from this and other weddings, please follow the link to an earlier post on this subject. https://johnliddlephotography.com/2014/06/03/shinto-weddings/

The Hata-age Benzaiten Shrine (pic 6) is located on a small island within the grounds of the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine. Benzaiten is regarded as one of the seven gods of prosperity and is identified with water, hence the reason Benzaiten shrines are often built in ponds. The white flags visible in the foreground link back to 1180 when a similar banner was offered in prayer for victory before a successful battle. Members of Yorimoto’s army carried a white flag with two black lines to identify them and the tradition of offering prayers in this way has continued.

The remaining shots (pics 7 to 11) are of unidentified locations within Kamakura. Next time I’ll be sure to have GPS to help with navigation.

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


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Nagasaki

Nagasaki has the unenviable place in history of being the second city subjected to the horror of an atomic bombing, which took place at 11.02am on August 9, 1945. Over 150,000 people were killed or injured and approximately one-third of the city was flattened by the ferocity of the windblast and scorching heat generated by the explosion. Today, Nagasaki along with Hiroshima stands as a reminder of an event that must never happen again and of the resilience of both nature and the human spirit. Whilst forever scarred, the city has grown from the ashes and regenerated itself.

As with Hiroshima, the city has sought to use the past to promote the message of peace to the rest of the world and in this post I want to highlight some of the symbols for peace to be found in Nagasaki. The opening photograph is a view looking out over the city from the Nagasaki Peace Park and within the park one finds a number of impressive sculptures promoting the need for peace, of which the most dominant is Seibo Kitamura’s Peace Statue at the northern end of the park.

94.03 Peace Statue (IMG_7162)

Peace Statue

Seibo, a local sculptor from Nagasaki Prefecture, described the statue thus:

After experiencing that nightmarish war,

that blood-curdling carnage,

that unendurable horror,

Who could walk away without praying for peace?

This statue was created as a signpost in the struggle for global harmony.

Standing ten meters tall,

it conveys the profundity of knowledge and

the beauty of health and virility.

The right hand points to the atomic bomb,

the left hand points to peace,

and the face prays deeply for the victims of war.

Transcending the barriers of race

and evoking the qualities of Buddha and God,

it is a symbol of the greatest determination

ever known in the history of Nagasaki

and the highest hope of all mankind.

— Seibo Kitamura (Spring 1995)

At the southern end of the park is the Fountain of Peace, constructed in 1969 as a prayer for the souls of atomic bomb victims who perished searching for water.

94.04 Fountain of Peace (IMG_7152)

Fountain of Peace

A stone plaque in front of the fountain carries the following words from a poem written by a survivor – a young girl named Sachiko Yamaguchi who was nine years old at the time of the blast.

“I was thirsty beyond endurance. There was something oily on the surface of the water, but I wanted water so badly that I drank it just as it was.”

In 1978 the city of Nagasaki established a Peace Symbols Zone on both sides of the park and invited donations of monuments from countries around the world.   China’s donation in 1985 was the Maiden of Peace, for which the plaque reads:

“It expresses the sincere aspiration of the Chinese people for human love and the everlasting friendship between Japan and the People’s Republic of China.”

94.05 Maiden of Peace (IMG_7160)

Maiden of Peace

New Zealand’s donation is the more contemporary Cloak of Peace by Kingsley Baird donated in 2006, for which the plaque reads:

“The statue symbolizes consolation, protection, and solidarity. It also expresses ambivalence, reflecting conflicting interpretations of historical events.”

94.06 Cloak of Peace (IMG_7161)

Cloak of Peace

Nagasaki has historically had a significant Christian population and a tragedy within a tragedy occurred when the Urakami Cathedral, only 500 metres from the epicentre of the blast, was destroyed whilst a Mass was being held. The congregation attending Mass was cindered and buried, with the loss of life and property presenting a spiritual challenge to the religious community. Similar to the debate around the future of Hiroshima’s Dome building, there was a difference of opinion as to whether or not to rebuild the cathedral. In this instance, the congregation was successful in its desire to rebuild, despite the city government’s preference to preserve the site as a memorial. Rebuilding commenced in 1959, with further remodelling in 1980 to more closely align with the original French style. Today the Cathedral holds a dominant position in the Nagasaki streetscape, as can be seen below at pics 7 to 10.

Some scars from the bombing have been retained such as a fallen belfry being left where it fell (pic 9) and battered statues (pic 10) near the front of the Cathedral.

On the walk from the Peace Park to the Cathedral I came across a small museum commemorating the life of Dr. Nagai Takashi. Dr. Takashi was a radiologist who, prior to the bombing, had been diagnosed with myeloid leukaemia as a consequence of working with sub-standard equipment and given three years to live. As well as losing his wife in the bombing, he was further injured, yet continued to work tirelessly to help victims and write extensively on the subject of radiation treatment. Until his death in 1951 (aged 43), Dr. Takashi lived with his two children in Nyokodo (As Thyself Hermitage), which stands today as a symbol of Dr. Takashi’s selflessness and community spirit (refer pics 11 and 12).

 

A display (pic 13) from the Atomic Bomb Memorial Hall serves as a sobering reminder of the destructive nuclear arsenals that represent an ever-present danger to the ideal of peace in our times. When faced with such reality, the lessons that can be learnt from Nagasaki and Hiroshima take on an even greater importance and monuments such as People at Peace (pic 14) found in both Nagasaki and Hiroshima serve as apt reminders of what should be.

 

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


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Kenrokuen Gardens (Kanazawa)

Due to bad planning on my part I had only a short time in Kanazawa, a mistake I hope will one day be rectified. However, I was aware that the Kenrokuen Gardens was highly rated among Japanese landscape gardens and was not disappointed.

Kenrokuen means to “have six factors”, which in this instance refers to the six attributes considered essential to a perfect landscape. These are spaciousness, tranquillity, artifice, antiquity, watercourses and a magnificent view. With the exception of artifice, each attribute is clearly evident and one can reasonably assume that the fountain (pic 10) ticks the “artifice” box given that it was Japan’s first fountain, not to mention the sophisticated engineering in 1632 to divert water from a distant river to create the garden’s watercourses.

The selected photos aim to show the tranquillity of the gardens and the several teahouses found within the grounds. Yugao-tei or the Gourd Teahouse (pics 3 to 5) was built in 1774 and originally stood on a small island in Hisagoike Pond until its relocation near the pond due to the reclamation of the island. In the foreground of pic 3, one can observe the original washbowl in front of the entrance to Yugao-tei.

Another impressive teahouse built around the same time is Uchihashi-tei (pics 7 to 9), which is supported on stone pillars and appears to hover over the Kasumiga-ike Pond. The pond is a prominent element of the Kenrokuen Gardens and Uchihashi-tei jutting out over the pond achieves a pleasant symmetry with the surrounding flora. In the bottom right of pic 10 is the Kotojitoro Lantern, which has become the symbol of Kenrokuen Gardens. The lantern’s mounting on two curved pillars, rather than the traditional single pillar, is said to take its design from the Japanese koto (harp).

As mentioned earlier the fountain at pic 10 is the oldest in Japan and whilst unspectacular by comparison with today’s fountains, it has stood the test of time and stands as evidence of the Garden’s artifice, antiquity, tranquillity and watercourses.(Please click on any of the following images for an enlarged view.)


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Tenjuan-in (Kyoto)

Located on an approach to the sprawling Nanzen-ji complex, Tenjuan-in is a sub-temple set within a wondrous garden. The temple buildings comprise a main hall, gate and study, with the temple itself dedicated to the Zen master who guided Emperor Kameyama in his religious studies. If one associates Zen with contemplation or meditation, then Tenjuan-in is the embodiment of such views.

As with many of Japan’s more interesting attractions, its portal to the outside world is understated and many people walk past on their way to the more famous and spectacular Nanzen-ji attractions such as the Sanmon Gate. In this sense it is a lesson in the value of curiosity and taking the time to checkout what lies behind those unobtrusive walls and gates. For a modest entrance fee of 300 yen, those who venture in are well rewarded.

The environment is calming with tall mature trees enveloping the space and creating a cocoon within which one feels safe and temporarily freed from the worries of the everyday world. The garden is a place to enjoy slowly – a place made for meandering, with paths that guide one through areas of light and dark. For those who may prefer a more passive approach, the main hall provides a perfect viewing platform to enjoy the views in private or in the company of others.

I feel fortunate that Tenjuan-in was one of the first temples I visited in Kyoto and yes – I was on my way to somewhere else (the Philosopher’s Path). In fact, I think it probably took me three days to get to the Philosopher’s Path as I kept being sidetracked by places that appealed to my curiosity. This is, of course, the dilemma one faces when visiting Kyoto. If one has limited time, then it makes sense to focus on the key locations. However, if one has a little more time, being curious and flexible is usually well rewarded.

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

 


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Arashiyama (Kyoto)

It is said that “word of mouth” is the best advertising and I suspect that Arashiyama benefits from this form of advertising. If you are a first-time visitor to Kyoto and seek advice from others of where to go, there is a very good chance that Arashiyama will be recommended. That was my experience and now when I am asked I always recommend visiting Arashiyama.

Why is this so? Well, rather than complicate the answer, my view is that Arashiyama is simply a pleasant, relaxing and interesting place to visit. One can enjoy beautiful natural scenery, visit spectacular temples, stroll through beautiful gardens, watch life go by from cafes and restaurants and meander through Arashiyama’s laneways. Most visitors seem to do most, if not all of these activities.

There is, of course, major attractions for which Arashiyama is well known such as Tenryu-ji, the bamboo grove and the gardens of Ohkochi-Sanso Villa. Each has been covered in earlier blogs and there is no reason to revisit them here. Instead, this post shows glimpses of everyday life that one may encounter during a visit. With the exception of the Togetsukyo Bridge, a prominent local landmark, the images shown are quite nondescript. This is not unlike life, which, if captured photographically would be replayed as many nondescript images punctuated by occasional highlights. Rather than celebrate the highlights, I hope this post may demonstrate that there is much to celebrate within the nondescript moments of our daily lives.

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


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Ohkochi-Sanso Villa (Kyoto)

Is 1000 yen too expensive to visit a beautiful garden on the slopes of Mount Ogura with glorious views over Kyoto? Compared to (say) temple entry fees, a visit to Ohkochi-Sanso Villa is more costly, but it is money well spent. It is a garden built for the four seasons and after visiting during the Autumn, my travel journal record read, in part: “I can only say it is the most beautiful garden I have ever seen.”

Located in Arashiyama the villa is easily accessible and is, in my opinion, another of Arashiyama’s gems. Being close to the magnificent Tenryu-ji, combining the two locations is an ideal way to spend a day in Kyoto. In fact, exiting Tenryu-ji and turning left along Arashiyama’s famous bamboo grove will bring you to Ohkochi-Sanso Villa within a few minutes walk.

The villa was opened to the public following the death of the famous silent movie actor Denjiro Okochi in 1962, which, during his life, had been a second home for the actor. Covering approximately 20,000 square metres, the estate was a labour of love, taking about thirty years to create and hone to his liking.

My personal memory is of a sublime space where one eagerly followed every path and where every boulder was perfectly placed. This is not to suggest, however, that the garden is clinical. Whilst it is traditionally Japanese, it is not manicured to perfection in the manner of karesansui style gardens. In Okochi’s garden, everything simply seems to be in the right place and discrete spaces seamlessly join. Quiet places well suited to meditation and relaxation are to be found, as are little meadows and open spaces where children can frolic. It is a garden built for the four seasons and to be lived in and enjoyed.

Spending time here is a pleasant experience that continues in the tearoom prior to leaving. Entry includes a souvenir postcard and green tea served with a seasonal sweet in the tearoom where one could view maples or bamboo depending where one sat. To return to the opening question, 1000 yen is money well spent!

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


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Kinkakuji (Kyoto)

The crown jewel of a visit to Kinkakuji is the famous Golden Pavilion and the image everyone wants to see is that of a shimmering pavilion reflected in the water of Kinkakuji’s pond. Unfortunately I was met with an overcast sky and breezy conditions that rippled the water, thus the favoured image was not seen. I have, however, shown a selection of images (pics 1 to 4) of the Golden Pavilion from a variety of angles.

If one looks closely at the images it will be seen that only the second and third floors are covered in gold leaf and that each of the three floors represent different architectural styles. The ground or first floor is built in the style of a Japanese Palace, which is not suited to a gold leaf finish. The second floor represents the samurai style and was used for composing poetry, whereas the third floor used for meditation is in the old Chinese style. If viewed only from afar and head-on, it is understandable how visitors could form the mistaken view that the entire pavilion is golden.

Apart from the Golden Pavilion, Kinkakuji’s grounds contain reminders of past legends. The Toryumon (pic 5), which translates as “gateway to success”, looks, at face value, like a simple waterfall.  However, the elements of water and rock symbolise an old Chinese legend that only carp could swim up a waterfall and by so doing, the carp would become a dragon. The waterfall is known as Ryumon-baku (Dragon Gate Waterfall) and the rock as Rigyo-seki (carp stone). In modern-day terms, Toryumon is a reminder that tackling and overcoming difficult challenges can lead to success in life.

The small White Snake Pagoda (pic 6) located on a knoll in the pond is based on another legend. Apparently Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, the third shogun of the Muromachi era, had many mistresses, one of whom grew jealous of his other mistresses and threw herself into the pond and became a white snake. Yoshimitsu built the White Snake Mound to console her soul, which in turn led to the belief that a white snake is the symbol of jealousy. An alternative view is that it honours the previous owners of the area (the Hosokawa family), for whom the white snake was their guardian deity.

Also within the grounds one finds Sekkatei (pics 7 and 8), which dates back to the 17th century, though the current structure was constructed in 1884 following a fire in 1874 that destroyed the original teahouse. Sekkatei is a good example of modest teahouse design in order to focus attention on the tea ceremony itself. To the left of the alcove in pic 7 one can see a crooked supporting pillar. The pillar is apparently a rare example made from wood from a Nandin tree, which is a very slow growing tree and rarely produces pillars of this size..

I look forward to revisiting Kinkakuji and one day sharing the classic image everyone wants to see. Next time I will check the forecast in advance.

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


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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.)