johnliddlephotography

Frozen moments from the infinity that is time


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Patience

In this post I want to talk briefly about two of my favourite images from my Japan trips and the need for patience in order to capture each shot.

101.01 Monks' reward (IMG_6120)

Monks’ reward

Monks’ reward (pic 1 above) was taken from inside a room at Kyoto’s Tenryu-ji Temple, but lived in my mind for several weeks before I got the shot. When I first visited Tenryu-ji on a busy holiday weekend it was teeming with people drawn by the autumn foliage, thus making this capture impossible at that time. Knowing that I was returning to Kyoto in a few weeks, I decided to wait and although the red leaves of the autumn maples had long gone, having the space to myself allowed me to relax and imagine how life may have been in the early days of this wonderful temple.

The buildings and gardens of Tenryu-ji, like those of the other renowned Kyoto temples, are the result of hard labour, which makes one reflect on the physically arduous lives of monks at that time. It was that train of thought that led me to imagine that being able to spend time in such a serene space and place was a reward for their labour, hence the title of “Monks’ reward”. Of course, this might be nothing more than a figment of my imagination, but it is how I think of this place whenever I look at this shot.

101.02 Pathway to tranquility (IMG_7865)

Pathway to tranquility

Those familiar with Kyoto will recognise Pathway to tranquility (pic 2 above) as having been taken at the Fushimi Inari Shrine. Once again patience was required to capture the shot, though not as much as for the previous photograph. Before visiting Fushimi Inari I had seen many photographs of the shrine and was really quite resigned to capturing my own version of what others had already captured. Then I got lucky when I reached this point on the path with the angled side lighting creating wonderful highlights and shadows. However, I was not so lucky in that other people were moving through the shot in each direction, thus I was presented with another exercise in patience.

Whilst my preference was to capture the shot without people I would not have objected to a geisha or other kimono clad people. Unfortunately, people in coloured puffer jackets didn’t fit the mental image I had created. My luck held in the sense that the light held and eventually I was rewarded with a clear people-free shot and managed to get off a couple of frames before the next puffer jacket appeared. That was enough. I captured my moment in time and got a shot of Fushimi Inari I had not seen before. Now, whenever I look at the shot I don’t think of puffer jackets and having to be patient, I really do see a pathway to tranquility.

Thanks for reading this post, which is different to how I’ve structured my series of Japan posts and is somewhat of an indulgence on my part. However, I would like to finish off 2019 by talking about a few shots that are important to me.

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Konchi-in as it was in 1627 (Kyoto)

My introduction to Japanese temples was the Konchi-in Temple, a sub-temple of Kyoto’s sprawling Nanzenji Temple complex. Konchi-in is accessed from a laneway running from the Keage incline to the Nanzenji entry area and one typically finds that most people will bypass Konchi-in on their way to the more famous Nanzenji. Little do they know the jewel they bypass, though the lack of crowds is an advantage for those who take the time to enjoy Konchi-in.

What I most like about Konchi-in is that a visit is like visiting the past with the halls and gardens appearing as they were since its completion on the current site in 1627. The temple’s history is significant. First founded in the fifteenth century during the Muromachi period and located originally in the northern hills area of Kyoto, it acquired greater status in 1605 when the temple was moved within the Nanzenji precinct. The person responsible for this move was the temple’s third head priest Ishin Suden, otherwise known as the “prime minister in a black robe”, who served as an advisor to three Tokugawa shoguns Ieyasu, Hidetada and Iemitsu from 1608 to 1633.

Midway through this period, Suden was appointed head administrative priest of all the Gozan temples in Japan and represented the Shogun in appointing the chief Abbots of the Rinzai sect. This key administrative role remained with Suden’s successors at Konchi-in for some 250 years up to the beginning of the Meiji Restoration in 1868, thus one can appreciate the significance of Konchi-in during this period. Furthermore, Suden was the key driver in reviving Nanzenji, which was greatly damaged during the Onin Rebellion (1467 to 1477). In his honour an annual memorial service is held on February 19 and 20.

If I had to choose one word to describe the gardens I would choose “harmony”, as can be seen from the selected photographs. Even the gnarly old Juniper tree (pic 6) blends with and complements its surroundings, as does the mossy undulating mound at pic 5.

Achieving such harmony was no accident and is attributed to the garden’s designer Kobori Enshu, whose vision was faithfully implemented by a talented gardener named Kentei. Enshu was appointed as a garden planner by Tokugawa Ieyasu and as well as Konchi-in, worked on many other magnificent gardens including Nikko’s Tosho-gu Shrine, Kyoto Castle and Nanzenji’s Hojo Garden. With credentials like this he would have been a celebrity gardener today. Whereas the traditional concept of Japanese gardens is sabi (simple, quiet, deep…), Enshu’s aesthetic is said to have been kirei sabi where beauty and personality was assigned greater importance.

Within the grounds the principal structure is the Tosho-gu (pic 12) where the hair of Tokugawa Ieyasu is enshrined and where prayers are offered to the first Shogun of the Tokugawa Shogunate. It should be understood that a Tosho-gu is any Shinto Shrine in which Tokugawa Ieyasu is enshrined and that over 500 such shrines existed during the Edo period. After the Meiji Restoration many of the shrines were abandoned and it is estimated that approximately 130 survive today, with the most famous being the Nikko Tosho-gu.

If you plan to visit Kyoto don’t always follow the crowds. Walk into the smaller temples – you never know what awaits you.

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


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Higashiyama Whimsey (Kyoto)

Higashiyama is one of the eleven wards that comprise the city of Kyoto and is well known for its examples of old Japanese architecture and for a number of significant historic sites within the ward.

I have covered many of these historic sites in previous posts and today I would like to share images of a more whimsical everyday nature. Whilst I will be forever impressed by Kyoto’s better known sites, I also enjoyed my walks between these sites and took many photos to remind me of the little joys of walking around the Higashiyama precinct.

I will restrict my comments to brief mentions of the Tokei-ji Temple (pic 14) and the Wakamiya Hachimangu Shrine (pic 15). Tokei-ji is a small temple that dates back to the mid 18th century, which was transferred to its present site in 1860. Also known as Akiba-san (after the main object of worship), the temple is seen as a guardian against fire-related calamities and robbery, as well as for safety at home.

The Wakamiya Hachimangu Shrine was established in 1053, with the main deities enshrined being the Emperor Ojin and his parents, Emperor Chuai and Empress Jingu. The shrine was moved several times before settling at the present site in 1605, with the present shrine buildings dating back to 1654. A four-day pottery festival is held from August 7th through 10th each year in commemoration of the deity of pottery (Shiinetsuhikonomikoto) who was enshrined here in 1949.

(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.)


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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.)