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Frozen moments from the infinity that is time


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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.)

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Karesansui

Karesansui is the Japanese word for dry landscape gardens. Introduced to Japan as landscape concepts from China and Korea around the seventh century, the form progressively evolved to take on a distinctive Japanese style. To borrow a relatively modern terminology, karesansui may be described as minimalist in their design, an approach consistent with the Japanese view that frugality is virtuous.

Karesansui are gardens for the mind, designed to encourage contemplation and meditation. From my experience of viewing karesansui I can certainly attest to their ability to induce a contemplative state of mind. Alas, my meditative skills are very limited, but one can imagine such environments being conducive to intense meditation for skilled practitioners.

I regret not having spent more time visiting and photographing karesansui, but in this post I offer a selection of shots from Kyoto’s Ryoanji and Ginkakuji temples. Ryoanji is considered to be the finest example of dry landscape gardening and Ginkakuji’s expansive Sea of Silver Sand and large (Mount Fuji) sand cone is quite unforgettable.

Photographs are a poor substitute for the real experience, but I hope you will experience a little appreciation of these wonderful and enduring gardens.

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


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Sakura Remembered (Kyoto)

Once experienced never forgotten is but one way to describe Japan’s cherry blossom (Sakura) season. These delicate pink/white flowers that visit fleetingly, yet around which so much goodwill is generated stay in one’s memory.

I will not pretend to understand the phenomenon of Sakura and the celebrations (Hanami) that will be taking place in Japan as this post is written. Nevertheless, around this time of year, no matter where I am, I find my thoughts drawn to and remembering the Sakura. For Japanese people the bond to the Sakura grows season by season and perhaps the same applies to non-Japanese who have lived in Japan for some years.

As concern grows over our environment and as modern life separates us more and more from nature, I must admit to some envy at Japan’s annual celebration of the Sakura and the nation’s more general appreciation of the seasons. Whilst Japan has its own environmental challenges, I cannot help but think that such widespread appreciation of nature is a positive force for the future.

In March/April 2014 I posted a series of images and thoughts on the cherry blossom season and with this post I have included some additional shots taken at various locations around Kyoto. Once experienced never forgotten.

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


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2014 Favourites

As 2014 draws to an end, it is natural to become somewhat reflective and for my final blog for this year, I thought I would select my favourite shot from each month’s posts.

This was more difficult than I had thought. Each photo is a memory and some months had several favourites. However, changing the rules on New Year’s Eve does not bode well for 2015 resolutions, so I stuck to the task and made my selections.

There is no theme. They are simply my selections for a variety of reasons and no further commentary will be made, except to say they are shown in chronological order (January to December) should anyone wish to visit the original posts.

I would like to thank everyone who has supported my blog this year and I hope the photos and stories have brought you as much pleasure as they have brought me.

I wish you all a safe and happy New Year and my best wishes for the year ahead.

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


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Sayonara Sakura (Kyoto)

Sayonara Sakura is my fourth and final post on the cherry blossom season and I hope readers of this blog have enjoyed the images as much as I have enjoyed sharing them.

Once captured, an image is forever and becomes one of those frozen moments from the infinity that is time. This has allowed me the indulgence of posting cherry blossom themed photographs over four weeks, somewhat longer than the real-life experience.

To conclude this series I have selected photographs linked only by the common factor of cherry blossom. Some photos are personal favourites, whereas others revisit and extend previous themes. Allow me to make a few brief observations on select photos.

All the photos were taken in and around Kyoto, with the first photograph showing the Philosopher’s Path – a walk I made many times and a favourite place of mine in Kyoto. This photo best captures the image of the Path that I carry in my mind.

In an earlier post (March 28, 2014) I featured a number of shots taken at the Heian shrine, where the cherry blossom was simply magnificent. I had reluctantly excluded pics 3 and 4 from that post – an exclusion now remedied.

Pics 8 and 9 should be viewed together in that they show diners at different ends of the culinary spectrum, each enjoying views of nearby cherry blossom whilst dining. On the one hand there is the clean, modern lines of a fast-food establishment (pic 8) and on the other (pic 9), a row of high-end teahouses, which I have seen attended by geisha. Two polar dining experiences linked by the sakura.

Another favourite location is Ryoanji and particularly its highly renowned karesansui within a magnificent earthen wall. At pic 13 I have shown the sakura from the other side of the wall – a personal indulgence.

Those who have visited Kyoto will probably have visited the Kiyomizudera Temple in Kyoto’s Gion district. Pics 14 and 15 feature the same sakura tree at the top of the steps near the main entrance. Pic 14 is the view that greets visitors on arrival and pic 15 is the reverse view looking out over Kyoto and its surrounding hills.

I recall an earlier visit to Kyoto where I chose to capture the sunset from Kiyomizudera as my final shots of Kyoto. Somehow the final photograph of this blog seems an appropriate way to bid sayonara to the sakura until next year.

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

 


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Cherry Blossoms Everywhere (Kyoto)

Objects that attract admiration and generate excitement are typically those that have a measure of rarity; yet this does not apply to Japan’s cherry blossoms, except in the sense that the season is short. Indeed, in terms of supply, cherry blossom is ubiquitous. They can be found almost everywhere. In public and private spaces; in avenues of serenely subtle colour and as solitary trees lighting up otherwise desolate places; in urban and rural areas; and in meticulously tended gardens or growing untended in their natural habitat.

Wherever they are found, they enhance the space and draw attention to their surroundings. To demonstrate this I have chosen a selection of photographs taken at various Kyoto locations, which contain two common subjects, namely buildings and cherry blossoms.

The first four photographs featuring old buildings are scenes that have doubtless been enjoyed for many seasons. The welcoming view of the Sakura blossoms framed by the temple entrance (pic 1) is an invitation to enter and enjoy an interlude of quiet contemplation. By contrast, the magnificent Sakura highlighted against the classic dark timbers of old Japanese temple buildings (pic 2) stops one in one’s tracks to enjoy the visual feast. Nevertheless, the sight of blossoms through the temple doors then draws one’s attention inwards.

The Hanami scene (pic 3) is another example of a beautiful Sakura tree, framed in this instance by the structure of the Sanmon Gate, itself the subject of an earlier post (January 27, 2014) where this photograph was previously shown. Completing the sequence of sakura and older buildings is Renge-ji (pic 4), a small temple admired for its gardens and where the Buddha statues appear to be savouring the visual feast within which they reside.

I am unsure as to the history of the old industrial building (pic 5) located near the Keage Incline – a favoured Hanami spot in Kyoto. The building’s proximity suggests it may have been part of the infrastructure for the Lake Biwa canal network, though every time I passed I couldn’t help but imagine a future life as modern loft-style apartments. Residents would wake to a wonderful view at this time of year.

Pics 6 and 7 show a wide and closer shot of Sakura trees lining the canal running alongside Kyoto’s International Exhibition Hall, where the modern architecture and the timeless Sakura coexist harmoniously in yet another example of Japan’s ability to blend the old with the new.

Following is a series of five shots (pics 8 to 12) of private residences alongside the Philosopher’s Path – another popular Hanami location, as well as a pleasant walk at any time. The Sakura show an ability to enhance various architectural styles and building materials, such as timber, corrugated metal and masonry.

This ability to enhance is further shown at pics 13 and 14, where older style buildings are lifted by the neighbouring presence of cherry blossoms in bloom. Finally, at pic 15, a contemporary apartment building is similarly lifted, suggesting that whatever direction future building developments take, there will always be a place for the ubiquitous and inspiring Sakura.

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

 

Hanami (cherry blossom viewing in Kyoto)

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Hanami means to view the cherry blossoms and would be a frequently used word across Japan at the present time as people plan their hanami experiences before the fragile blossoms disappear for another year.

To limit the meaning of hanami to “viewing” is somewhat incomplete, as I believe careful observation of the accompanying images will reveal. Hanami is more of an appreciation and celebration, not only of the blossoms per se; but of life itself and those with whom hanami is shared. To even be a viewer of hanami, as was my position in capturing these photographs, is an uplifting experience.

If I were asked for one word to describe what I observed, the word would be “joy” – a simple yet significant word. When joy is felt, other emotions such as happiness, peacefulness, love and even reverence are brought into play.  To think that little pink/white blossoms can evoke such emotions is testament to the power of nature to build the human spirit and is, in my view, an inherent strength of Japanese culture to harness this subtle power for individual and community good.

The photographs were taken at a number of Kyoto locations, though location is insignificant in this instance. Whether located in one of Kyoto’s most sacred or most nondescript locations, the cherry blossom is appreciated. Indeed, I recall thinking during my walks through Kyoto, that the solitary trees one finds in otherwise plain areas may even have the greatest significance.

Let me discuss the photographs and I will try to be brief. The young girl crossing the narrow bridge over the canal (pic 1) is an everyday sight in Kyoto. Add the presence of cherry blossoms and her pink clothing and the image becomes poetic. Similarly, the generations passing on the bridge (pic 2) talks of the timeliness of the season’s appeal and the seasons of life.

Look closely at the faces of the businessman (pic 3) and the father with his adult daughter (my assumption) at pic 4. What do you see? Apart from more pink clothing worn by the daughter (there is a trend here); their faces show appreciation for the object of their gaze. What were they looking at? An old sakura tree, draping its blossoms over the wall of Ryoanji’s famous karesansui (pic 5). The wall alone is an object of beauty, which, during the cherry blossom season, becomes mesmerizing.

Pic 6 illustrates why the Philosopher’s Path is a time-honoured hanami location and further along the path, one finds a group of old friends sharing another hanami season at pic 7.

Hanami can be and is often enjoyed alone, as shown by the young woman (pics 8 and 9) apparently lost in admiration of the season’s blooms. What is she thinking? What is she remembering? What is she wishing for? Only she knows, but look closely at the patterns on her kimono. Could she be wearing her hanami kimono? Whatever the answer to these questions, I sense she will have remembered these frozen moments.

The season is a time for parents and children of all ages. At pic 10 we see a father tenderly supporting the tottering early steps of his daughter, experiencing what may be her first hanami. In years to come, one wonders whether she will be in a photograph such as pic 11, where two women of different generations celebrate another season, again exhibiting tenderness and love.

Communal groups also form in popular locations such as the Sanmon Gate (pic 12), where the steps form ideal viewing platforms. Hanami can even dispel myths. Anyone who thinks the Japanese are always quiet and reserved would change their views after spending time around groups like those at pics 13 and 14. Office juniors are often assigned the task of securing a location for after-work hanami celebrations and from what I observed, their efforts and lonely hours are well rewarded with convivial and loud company.

Finally, it is a season where romance can also bloom and even if short lived, it’s not every day that sharing a takeaway meal on a concrete seat can be an atmospheric experience (pic 15). Happy hanami (pic 16) is intentionally placed last, simply because it is an infectiously happy shot and if we could all have moments like this throughout each year, the world would be a happier place.

Thank you for reading and looking at my personal interpretation of a cherry blossom season in Kyoto. I hope you can see some of what I saw and I’d be delighted if you see and feel much more.

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

 

This gallery contains 16 photos


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Cherry Blossoms (Kyoto)

My desire to experience a cherry blossom (sakura) season was born when photographing the beautiful autumn colours during my first visit to Japan. At that time the sakura trees were standing bare, yet even then one could imagine the transformation when they bloomed. Although my personal preference is probably for the autumn hues, the visual spectacle of cherry blossoms in bloom is magnificent and the atmosphere created is, of course, unique to Japan.

Cherry blossom season starts in the south in tropical Okinawa around late January and moves gradually north to end in Hokkaido around May. Being a natural phenomena, the season is naturally dependent on weather conditions, hence the interest at this time of year on news reports and websites tracking the appearance of the fragile and delicate blooms.

The viewing season is short – perhaps two weeks or less and it would seem that this symbolic reminder of the cycle of life is what has most contributed to the sakura’s place in the Japanese psyche. Life is temporary and each year the sakura provides a reminder to use our time well and an opportunity to celebrate the gift of life.

When discussing the sakura season with Japanese people, it becomes apparent that many hold special memories of their sakura experiences. I recall asking a Japanese friend what sakura meant to her and she recalled a day in Tokyo where she and her boyfriend were cycling under sakura trees as the petals gently fell to the ground. What was most impressive about the telling of her story was that she was transported back to that moment in time – such is the power of sakura.

It is now that time of year around Japan’s major population centres in central Honshu when new memories will be formed and what better time to share images from the last sakura season.  In this and successive posts, I intend to share a series of images depicting different themes of how cherry blossoms present.

For this initial post I have chosen to simply focus on their delicate beauty and invite viewers to remember similar views or imagine being there.  My images are drawn from magnificent gardens found within four of Kyoto’s many temples and shrines. The first nine images are scenes from the gardens within the Heian Shrine, which, in my opinion, had the most visually impressive sakura.  The peace and tranquility of these gardens was interrupted only by the frequent sighs of appreciation from those savouring the spectacle.

These are followed by three images (pics 10 to 12) from Ryoanji, one of my favourite places in Kyoto, with pic 12 being a particular favourite, where the solitary sakura dominates the landscape.  Ninnaji is close to Ryoanji and given that a television station was photographing the blooms on this day, perhaps these images (pics 13 and 14) were indeed taken at the peak time.  Understandably, but unfortunately, the trees could only be viewed from walkways and one was denied the pleasure of walking through the tunnels of overhanging branches shown at pic 14.

The final shots (pics 15 and 16) taken at Taizo-in present two quite different views.  Whereas pic 16 shows that a lone cherry blossom tree can command attention even within a typically beautiful Japanese garden; pic 15, where sakura blossoms have filled the hollows in the karesansui (Japanese dry garden) is fittingly symbolic of the season.

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

 


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Nikko – Part 2 (Toshogu and Taiyuan Shrines)

Today’s post is a continuation from my last post on Nikko’s Toshogu and Taiyuan Shrines.  Whilst the emphasis is to provide a more comprehensive coverage of significant buildings and their splendour, it is acknowledged that the surface has barely been scratched.

The Yomeimon Gate is arguably the most eye-catching structure within the Toshogu Shrine complex and as can be appreciated from pic 1, the approach up a flight of rather steep stairs certainly focuses visitors’ attention on what lies ahead.  Those who take the time to peruse the gate more closely are rewarded with an array of 508 sculptures, a selection of which is shown by pics 2 to 4.

The inner wall extending from each side of the Yomeimon Gate (pic 5) is also heavily decorated with sculptures of flora and fauna.  Another interesting sculpture is the Imaginary Elephant (pic 6), which can be seen on the gable of the Kamijinko – the upper of the three sacred warehouses where Samurai-style costumes and Yabusame (archery on horseback) equipment is stored.  Keen observers will notice that the Imaginary Elephant differs in appearance from that of real elephants.  This reflects the fact that the artisans responsible had never seen a real elephant, hence the description Imaginary Elephant.

The Kamijinko is also shown to the left of the Nakajinko (pic 7), or the middle warehouse of the three sacred warehouses.

In front and to the right of the Yomeimon Gate stands the Drum Tower (pic 8) and the Korean Bell (pic 9), which was dedicated by messengers from Korea to celebrate the birth of Iemitsu’s son, later to succeed his father as the fourth Shogun Ietsuna.

During my travels through Japan I was consistently impressed by the craftsmanship and attention to detail assigned to the roofs of old buildings, which have an inherent beauty independent of the buildings they protect.  The examples shown here include a corner section of the Kamijinko roof (pic 10); the Honden roof at the Toshogu Shrine (pic 11); and the Karamon Gate (pic 12).

I could not resist including the detail photo of the doors to the Holy Sutra Library (pic 13), through which is stored volumes of historically significant Buddhist sutra.

Albeit less ornate than the Toshogu Shrine, the Taiyuan Shrine is nevertheless impressive as can be seen from the photographs of the Yashomon Gate (pic 14) and the entry to the Haiden (pic 15).

Apart from being, in my opinion, visually appealing, the old memorial stone (pic 16) I came across within the grounds of the Taiyuan Shrine is somewhat of a mystery.  I have asked a number of native Japanese speakers for assistance in translating the inscription, but the old kanji characters are proving difficult to interpret.  If anyone can translate the characters into English, their help would be most appreciated.

The final shot is included by way of a segue to my next series of posts, where I will pursue the theme of cherry blossom in keeping with that most joyous of Japanese seasons fast approaching.  It is also an appropriate note on which to end this post, where the old structures of Nikko gracefully accommodate the seasonal rebirth of the cherry blossoms – a scene somewhat symbolic of Japan’s ability to accommodate and cherish the coexistence of the old with the new.

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


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Nikko (Toshogu & Taiyuan Shrines)

Someone told me that Nikko is the place every Japanese person wants to visit at least once.  After visiting there twice in different seasons I came to understand why, but I had no idea how their words would resonate on my feeling that this post does not do justice to Nikko’s importance to the Japanese.

In Nikko, all roads lead to the complex including the Toshogu, Futarasan and Taiyuin shrines and it is from this complex that today’s images are drawn.  Words that may typically be used to describe Japanese temples and shrines such as subtle and understated do not apply here.  There is nothing understated about these shrines.  Quite the opposite, yet still their underlying message is that of reverence and respect for those honoured here.

Toshogu is the dominant shrine, as evidenced by the buildings of the Taiyuan Shrine being oriented to face Toshogu as a mark of respect for Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shogun of the Tokugawa era.  As well as being the driving force behind the construction of Toshogu Shrine to honour his grandfather, Iemitsu (the third shogun) is perhaps better known as the shogun who closed Japan to foreign commerce and isolated it from the rest of the world for 200 years.

The tree-lined path to Toshogu Shrine is dominated by Ishidorii (pic 1), a granite torii gate that majestically draws one forward.  In my humble opinion, it must surely rank among Japan’s most significant torii.  To the left of Ishidorii is the five-storey pagoda (pic 2), where the storeys represent, in ascending order, the elements of earth, water, fire, wind and heaven.

Toshogu’s most famous attraction is perhaps the Sacred Stable (pics 3 and 4), or more specifically the story of stages in a monkey’s life told through a series of carvings on the walls of the building.  Since early times in Japan, monkeys have been regarded as guardians of horses, hence their significance to the stable building.  The most famous carving is, of course, that of the three wise monkeys, whose message of “hear no evil, speak no evil and see no evil” has been an aspirational refrain of parents through the ages.

Other structures of interest include my favourite, the relatively subdued Rinzo or Holy Sutra Library (pic 5), which houses a collection of valuable Buddhist scriptures; the heavily decorated Yomeimon Gate (pic 6) flanked on each side by statues of the first shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, whose presence remains imposing (pic 7); and the designated national treasure – the Karamon Gate (pic 8).

The heavily wooded setting makes for pleasant walking and throughout the grounds one finds areas of interest such as small roadside shrines (pic 10) and many stone and metal lanterns (pic 9) donated by feudal lords.  To walk these grounds with someone steeped in Nikko history would be a pleasure, though the stories behind each building and object may require a lifetime of walks.

Although not as grand as the Toshogu Shrine, the Taiyuan Shrine is no less interesting.  Prior to climbing several sets of stairs and passing through a series of gates, one finds The Cistern for Holy Water (pic 11).  Water from a nearby stream is channeled down through a system of gutters into a solid granite basin so perfectly aligned that the water evenly overflows each edge.  Visitors stop here for purification before proceeding to the Nitenmon Gate, which can be seen in the background.

Taiyuan is built on a fairly steep slope, thus opening up vistas such as those shown (pics 12 and 13) at various points during the climb.  Reaching the upper level, one finds the largest building (pic 14), with this view showing the Ainomo or connecting chamber between the Haiden (sanctuary) and Honden (inner sanctuary).  Adjacent to the Honden is the Koukamon Gate (pic 15), the final gate behind which lies the Okunoin – the tomb of the third shogun Iemitsu.  Neither the Koukamon Gate nor Okunoin are open to the public.

Finally, walking back to central Nikko, one passes the Shinkyo Bridge (pic 16), regarded as one of the three most significant bridges in Japan.  The bridge across the Daikyo River was originally built in 1636 (rebuilt 1907) for the use of the Shogun and imperial messengers.

A visit to these sites is at first a visual assault on the senses, such is the splendour and grandeur one encounters.  However, the true value is felt by slowing down and allowing Nikko to seep into one’s senses.  One can then begin (only begin) to understand why it is so revered by the Japanese people.

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