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Frozen moments from the infinity that is time


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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.)


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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.)