johnliddlephotography

Frozen moments from the infinity that is time


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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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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.)

 

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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Sanmon Gate (Kyoto)

We are all familiar with gates … house gates, station gates, security gates etc.  Kyoto’s Sanmon Gate is altogether different.  In fact, it is a gateless entry to the most sacred part of the Nanzen-ji Temple, which has been at the core of Japanese Zen history since 1386.

The Sanmon Gate is an impressive wooden structure constructed in 1626 and supported by massive wooden pillars that dwarf those passing through its five bays.  One cannot help but feel humbled by such scale and reminded of the opportunity afforded pilgrims to free themselves from the three passions of greed, hatred and foolishness.

As will be seen from the photographs, the Sanmon Gate also serves as a meeting place and a place for reflection, particularly during the cherry blossom season when it becomes a popular platform for hanami (cherry blossom viewing).

Readers who enjoyed the movie Lost in Translation may also recognise the location from the scene where the Scarlett Johansson character (Charlotte) is entranced by witnessing a Shinto wedding group during a day trip to Kyoto.  I’ve only ever seen Shinto weddings at shrines rather than temples, but Hollywood is Hollywood and I still enjoyed the movie.

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