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.)



It is almost a year since I last posted on this blog. During this time I noted that some bloggers I follow had similarly quiet years and I look forward to again reading your posts when the time is right. Others kept powering on and those I thank for their entertaining posts and inspiration.

This year I want to finish my series on Japan and thought I should start with an iconic subject, hence my choice of kimono – instantly recognisable as Japanese. I have taken a broad approach to my selection of photos by including different types of kimono from the ceremonial to the more lightweight yukata and by showing kimono worn by women of different generations.

Being of the wrong gender and nationality I can only speculate why Japanese women continue to wear kimono and at the risk of being corrected, I suspect that wearing kimono represents a connection to past generations, to Japanese culture and as an affirmation of their nationality. Other reasons might simply be that wearing kimono feels good and is something they like to do.

The opening shots (pics 1 and 2) show two young women engaged in viewing the cherry blossoms and my observation of each was that they were very much “in the moment”. Would wearing western clothing have lessened their experience? Only they would know, but I do know my experience was enhanced by their presence at those locations.

Shichigosan (pic 3) is a Shinto festival where three and seven year old girls in formal dress receive blessings. Unfortunately I arrived late and this is literally the only shot I was able to capture. I see a proud young girl in a splendid kimono posing for a “milestone family album” shot that, in future years, may remind her of a special day in her life. Will this experience encourage her to wear kimono in her later life? Again, only time will tell, but festivals such as Shichigosan provide important opportunities to expose children to their cultural heritage.

The closest I have come to a personal kimono experience is shown at pic 4, where this colourful arrangement occupied a corner of a tatami room at the traditional Japanese house I rented in Hiroshima. Looking at the photo brings back pleasant memories of the stay.

I have included a selection of photos (pics 5 to 8) to show that wearing kimono does not hamper everyday activities such as shopping, with women in several cities shown going about their business. My favourite from this group is the woman doing her Christmas shopping in Dotonbori (pic 5), who encapsulates the Japanese ability to combine the traditional and the contemporary; in this case kimono, modern handbag and cell phone.

One also sees many younger women in kimono, especially during times of celebration such as celebrating the autumn colours (pic 9) or simply enjoying the fantasy of dressing as a geisha for the day (pic 11). I first noticed the elegant woman in pic 12 for the furoshiki she was carrying – a simple square of cloth that can be configured for multiple uses, including carrying goods. Someone else obviously noticed her, but whether wearing kimono or not it would seem that body language tells the story.

I often walked past the teahouse in pic 13 and every time the hostess greeting patrons at the door was smiling. One could not imagine her wearing anything other than kimono. Finally I have chosen to close the post with several photos of a Shinto bride taken at Tokyo’s Meiji Jingu, whose kimono epitomises elegance.

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


Sensoji Temple – Asakusa

With an estimated 30 million visits a year from locals and tourists, it is safe to conclude that Sensoji Temple is Asakusa’s most popular drawcard. First established in 645 AD, Sensoji is Tokyo’s oldest temple and has been revered by many influential historical figures through the ages, as well as by the general population. Sensoji is devoted to the Bodhisattva Kannon who is regarded by followers as the most compassionate Buddha and is seen as a source of benevolence and relief from suffering.

Judging from my personal visits the temple is always busy, somehow befitting its background as the centre of Edo (present-day Tokyo) culture. Such busyness also fits well with Tokyo’s image as a bustling, vibrant metropolis.

Looking back from the temple steps (pic 1) through the Hozomon Gate to Nakamise Dori gives some impression of the temple’s popularity. Indeed, for some visitors it is likely that the highlight of their visits will be walking the gauntlet that is Nakamise Dori (pics 2 to 4). This is a long approach path through rows of souvenir shops and food stalls. Whilst such an approach to Japanese temples is quite common, I found Nakamise Dori to be overly commercial, though its longevity suggests that my view may be in the minority. Nevertheless, it is an interesting place to observe the contrasting and sometimes individualistic dress styles of visitors.

Japan has many impressive temple gates and the Hozomon Gate (pics 5 and 6) is yet another. First built in 942 AD, the Hozomon Gate has been destroyed twice; firstly by fire in 1631 and again in 1945 during the bombing of Tokyo. The current structure of steel-reinforced concrete houses many of Sensoji’s treasures in its second-storey; including a copy of the Lotus Sutra that is a designated national treasure. Standing almost 23 metres high, 21 metres wide and 8 metres deep, it is a commanding presence and a worthy gateway to Tokyo’s oldest temple. However, the most eye-catching feature is the large red chochin (lantern) weighing approximately 400 kilograms that hangs from the gate’s central opening.

Passing through the Hozomon Gate brings one into an area (pic 7) where official temple souvenirs and worship related materials such as amulets, incense and scrolls may be purchased, beyond which lies the temple’s main entrance. Upon entering the main hall, one’s eye is immediately diverted upwards to a series of impressive ceiling paintings (pic 8), which, despite the different subject matter, reminded me of Kyoto’s Kennin-ji (covered in a December 2014 post). Ceremonies occur throughout the day and although one’s view is generally restricted, it is always satisfying when one can experience any temple ceremony (pic 9).

Some respite from the crowds can be found within Sensoji’s gardens, which, as can be seen from the glimpse viewed from the left-hand exit of the main hall (pic 10), are quite beautiful in their own right. Within the gardens are many statues of deities, including those at pic 12 where the statue to the right of the shot is said to represent the image of the Bodhisattva Kannon. I have always found Jizo (protectors of children) statues to be rather comforting (as in pic 13) and given that Sensoji is associated with compassion, it seemed an appropriate way to conclude this post.

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


Geisha Blur

Blur is not a word one normally associates with geisha, yet it aptly describes my most valued sightings of geisha from dusk onwards when their focus is getting to their next appointment. This is their busy time and in an evening with several bookings, time is money and they are ladies in a hurry. Sightings can be a “where did she come from?” experience as they pass in a blur of colourful elegance, appearing to float above the pavement with their short, quick steps.

Pics 1 to 3 are examples of geisha blur, all shot in Kyoto’s Gion district. Sadly the Geiko shown in pics 1 and 2 show signs of unwanted attention and it was disappointing to witness the lack of respect shown by many people obstructing their path and popping flashes to get the souvenir shot. Nevertheless, their grace shines through. I did not travel with a flash unit and was happy to record the blur, nor did I elect to join in chasing, which is why pic 3 shows a Maiko moving away. It is unfortunate that a frontal shot was blocked, as she was the most beautiful Maiko I saw. However, there is a certain pleasure in accepting blur as the trade-off for retaining one’s dignity. (I guess a career as paparazzi is out of the question.)

To stay with this theme, one must understand that geisha are celebrities with a difference. Their celebrity is an inheritance from being the current custodians of a traditional entertainment form unique to Japan. Indeed, in my opinion, geisha represent Japan’s most recognisable icon. Unlike western celebrities who seemingly crave attention, geisha go about their business in a quieter, more refined manner. However, their time-honoured practice of walking to appointments means that they are frequently exposed to an adoring and curious public.

Much has been written about the world of geisha, yet so much remains unknown. Retaining an element of mystery and intrigue is essential, but I would like to touch on one aspect that tends to be somewhat overlooked.

A general perception of Japan is that of a male dominated society and there is much to support this perception. Yet the geisha culture challenges this perception. The world of geisha is female dominated, with men occupying specific roles such as dressing, where strength is required to perfectly arrange a geisha’s apparel. The okiya within which geisha live and train under the guidance of an Okasan (mother) is exclusively female and most importantly, the Tea Houses (ochaya) where geisha entertain have traditionally been female owned and operated. I find it fascinating that this most feminine of Japanese cultures has emerged from a male dominated society and whilst geisha do not openly associate with feminism, their achievement is significant.

Pics 5 to 7 are of a young Maiko in Kyoto during the cherry blossom season. I gained the impression that she was somewhat uncomfortable in the public spotlight and perhaps she had not yet realised her powers.

Pics 8 and 9 are of a Tokyo geisha, shot in the late afternoon on her way to a nearby ochaya. Tokyo geisha are more elusive than their Kyoto counterparts and these shots were my reward for several hours spent wandering the streets of Mukojima. It was an enjoyable time as Mukojima is one of Tokyo’s older areas and although my primary focus was to see geisha, the area is interesting in its own right. After wandering for some time, I came across an area that simply felt right and decided to hang around for a while. (Maybe there is a bit of paparazzi in me after all.) A short time later, I heard the distinctive clip clopping and jangling sounds and there she was coming in my direction. My satisfaction with the day’s shoot was heightened after speaking with some Tokyo residents who advised that many people live for years in Tokyo without ever seeing geisha. Maybe I got lucky.

The final photograph (pic 10) of the older woman in kimono was taken shortly after pics 8 and 9. The wrapped object the lady is holding is a shamisen, a stringed Japanese instrument, which she plays as accompaniment for geisha performing dances. I would have liked to know if she had once been geisha, but alas, my Japanese language skills were inadequate.

It is always a special experience when one encounters geisha, whose numbers are unfortunately declining. One hopes this decline can be arrested and their place in Japan’s traditional art forms can be forever ensured. There are traditions that should never be lost. Geisha is one such tradition.

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





I have heard Kyoto described as “old Japan” in contrast to Tokyo being seen as “new Japan”. Like many generalisations, such descriptions may be seen as unkind and incomplete summations of each city given that each sits comfortably in the 21st century and embrace, in that very Japanese way, the old and the new. Nevertheless, differences in the relative emphasis assigned by each city to the old and the new tends to support these broad classifications, as is supported by the preponderance of world heritage sites in and around Kyoto.

Through previous posts I have shown several of Kyoto’s world heritage listed sites and will show more in future posts. Today, however, I wish to focus on the area that has been Kyoto’s gathering place through the centuries and continues to be so today. The place I am talking about is, of course, Gion.

Its history is too deep to cover in this brief discussion and I will leave readers to pursue their own enquiries, preferring instead to talk of my own experiences.

My first morning in Kyoto was spent in Gion and perhaps it was the chance meeting with a Geiko (Kyoto term for geisha) that cast its spell over me. From then, the place was like a magnet and it seemed that at some point of each day I would find myself somewhere in Gion. This was not always planned, but Kyoto is a great city to explore on foot and many paths lead to and/or from Gion.

In its heyday Gion was a maze of narrow streets filled with traditional wooden buildings and home to many thousands of geisha. If time travel were a reality it would be at the top of my time travel bucket list. Times do, of course, change and with tourism comes commercialisation. However, old Gion remains. The streets and alleys are still narrow and if one can ignore the modern additions such as power lines, a sense of the old maze and its charm can be felt. It is not a place to visit with a guidebook and a list of sights to see. It is a place in which to wander, get lost and keep wandering until you find your way.

The selected photographs attempt to show old and new Gion, though I openly admit they do not do justice to the place. The tea-houses by the canal (pic 1) attract an up-market clientele where geisha entertain. In fact, pic 2 shows a Geiko and Maiko (apprentice geisha) on their way to the tea-house in the foreground of pic 1. One can only wonder how many Geiko/Maiko have and will continue to walk this street. For me, pic 2 is a reminder of a lost opportunity. I was lost in concentration setting-up another shot with the camera mounted on a tripod when I became aware of movement behind me. On turning around I was greeted by the graciously smiling white painted faces of a Geiko and her Maiko sister en route to their appointment. There was only time to settle for exchanged greetings as they passed, hence the shot of them walking away.

Pics 3 to 5 show other examples of the warm, welcoming atmosphere created by the elements of old wooden buildings, cobbled streets, trees and water. To round off the older style images, pic 6 shows the Minamiza Kabuki Theatre, Kyoto’s premier kabuki theatre located in an always bustling section of Gion.

As mentioned earlier, Gion is a major tourist attraction and pics 7 and 8 give some indication of its popularity. Pic 9 shows the same street with fewer people, but what is interesting is how the young Maiko is the focus of attention. Although the kimono worn by regular Japanese women do not match the finery worn by geisha, one does see more kimono worn around Gion than elsewhere in Japan (at least in my experience). Typical examples are those of the kimono clad women in pic 11 enjoying a stroll through one of Gion’s many winding laneways and the young women (pic 12) disappearing into an alley, framed again by those typically Japanese building elements of paved stone and wood.

For those readers who have visited Gion I hope these images may spark some pleasant memories and for those who have not visited in person, I hope this little glimpse may spark some interest.

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



Shinto Weddings

The best pleasures are those of the unexpected variety, such as I experienced on a visit to Kamakura’s Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine. One is always drawn to a crowd and in this instance, a crowd had gathered around the Maiden (an open sided stage or pavilion) in front of the stairway leading to the main hall. Drawing closer it became apparent that, purely by luck, I was about to witness my first Shinto wedding ceremony.

As with western-style ceremonies the centre of attraction is the bride, as one will surely appreciate from the accompanying photographs. The ceremony itself is symbolic and does not legally confer marriage. This takes place previously via a civil ceremony in accordance with Japanese law.

Happening across the Kamakura wedding conducted in public was most fortunate, as most Shinto wedding ceremonies are conducted within the private areas of shrines, thus the public can only view the participants before and after. Nevertheless, it is a sight I would never tire of and I could quite happily spend my weekends photographing Shinto weddings. (Bookings will be gratefully accepted haha.)

As with many things Japanese, the ceremony and the costumes communicate a link to past traditions – a link further emphasised by the historic significance of the shrines within which the weddings take place. The locations for these photographs, the Hachimangu Shrine at Kamakura and Tokyo’s Meiji Jingu, are each steeped in history and are highly significant sites in their own right.

The brides wear exclusively white garments – a colour associated with purity in Japan, with the only exception appearing to be adornments worn in their hair. In ages past, I understand that brides would paint their faces and arms white, as do geisha, though this practice is no longer followed. The bridal kimono is intricately embroidered in patterns of the bride’s choosing, though the patterns do seem to draw heavily on symbols from nature. Perhaps the most striking part of the costume is the wataboshi, the large oval shaped hood intended to conceal the bride’s face to everyone except the groom. Whilst I don’t think it succeeds in this respect, the wataboshi is undoubtedly elegant and adds an air of mystery. For viewers who may be wondering, of the five brides shown in the photographs, four were wearing wigs.

I will now allow the pictures to tell the story. Pics 1 to 5 are shots from the Kamakura wedding and pics 6 to 17 were taken on a rather wet and cold afternoon at Tokyo’s Meiji Jingu, where a number of weddings were taking place.

Of the four brides photographed at Meiji Jingu, it was interesting to observe their different personalities. The first bride (pic 6) was ebullient and radiated happiness and joy. The second bride (pics 7 to 9) was simply a picture of elegance, whom one could happily photograph all day long. (For the photographically minded, I acknowledge that pic 9 is greatly over-exposed, but I like it anyway. It was unintentional and my best guess is that my shutter fired at exactly the same time as the official photographer’s flash.) The third bride (pics 10 to 12) looked so nervous at the conclusion of the ceremony. However, some calming words from her attendant and fine-tuning of her kimono soon transformed her into a radiant bride. Finally, the fourth bride (pics 13 to 17) epitomised grace at all times.

I hope this post gives at least a little glimpse into another of Japan’s links with tradition.

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