Frozen moments from the infinity that is time


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.)


Miyajima Walks – part 2

For a small island, there is much to see on Miyajima and unfortunately I was barely able to scratch the surface. As with many places in Japan, one leaves knowing there is still much to see on future visits. For this final post on Miyajima, I would like to focus on two of the island’s many interesting sites, namely the Reikado Hall and the Daisho-in Temple.

Kieza-no Reikado Hall is home to an eternal flame that has burned continuously since the lighting of the holy fire in the year 806 by Kobo Daishi, the founder of the Shingon sect. It is said that Kobo Daishi, during his visit to Miyajima, performed “Gumonji” for 100 days – a meditative practice involving a fire ceremony. Since that time, the flame has continued burning and in 1964 was used as the pilot light for the Peace Flame of Hiroshima’s Peace Park. Such a link could not have been foreseen when the flame was first lit, yet one hopes that one day the Peace Flame will be extinguished to mark the destruction of all nuclear weapons.

Reikado Hall (pic 1) is a relatively small building near the summit of Mount Misen, where the eternal flame is an irresistible attraction despite the smoke filled interior not being the most pleasant of environments. Pics 2 and 3 give some idea of the smoke-filled interior and show a large pot of water being heated above the flame. It is believed that drinking the heated water has curative power and perhaps the couple in pic 3 will enjoy the benefits. The Hall is also renowned as a “lover’s sanctuary” with the flame being akin to the eternal fire of love. There is a legend that those dedicating votive tablets (pic 4) at least three times will be granted their wish.

At the base of Mount Misen, one finds Daisho-in, an impressive complex and one of the most important temples of Shingon Buddhism. Unfortunately my visit was too short to properly view and appreciate the variety of buildings and artifacts within the complex, thereby limiting my ability to share. However, I enjoyed my all too brief visit and as I hope the selected images will show, I left Daisho-in with a feeling of light-heartedness.

The temple grounds are sloping, even a tad hilly, yet they manage to evoke a feeling of relaxation. Kannon-do Hall, seen in the background of pic 6 is probably the dominant building and pic 6 is also a good example of how buildings, Buddhist deities and gardens are integrated within an inviting environment.

A recurring theme around Daisho-in and indeed elsewhere on Miyajima is the use of multiple statues, such as the Rakan statues (pics 7 and 8) lining the steps to the temple.   Altogether, there are 500 statues, each with a different facial expression. However, I couldn’t help but be taken by the personality added by crowning each with woolen beanies, which reminded me of football team colours.

Other multiples were found in the form of the 1000 Fudo images (pic 9) donated by worshippers to commemorate the succession of the current (77th) head priest and the seven happy deities in their lovely garden setting at pics 11 and 12.

In conclusion I would like to comment briefly on pics 10 and 13, which depict representations of Jizo – one of the most beloved of Japanese divinities. Although Jizo have many guises, they are invariably presented as friendly, comforting figures as in pic 10, or even as cute manifestations in more contemporary form as in pic 13.

As I said in the introduction, Miyajima has much to offer for such a small island and I hope this and the two preceding posts has provided a glimpse of the island’s significance.

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


Miyajima Walks

The best way to explore small islands such as Miyajima is by walking around and in this post I would like to share a selection of photographs taken during my exploration of the island. Some shots were taken around the island’s small town, but most are shots from time spent walking on Mount Misen, an enjoyable and sometimes arduous activity.

The graceful flowing lines of Japanese temple roofs is a sight I never tire of and when the thatched roofing materials can be shown in front of a natural forest (as in pic 1), the blending of man-made and natural structures is quite sublime. Maintaining this natural theme is the island’s houses (pic 2), which typically portray traditional Japanese styles utilizing materials such as wood and stone to great effect. Of course, this is accompanied by modern additions such as satellite dishes.

It is not unusual in Japan to come across small businesses supplying temples and shrines and as shown by pic 3, Miyajima is no exception. I have long admired Japan’s ability to maintain old skills and traditions, often through businesses passed down through many generations and when one consistently finds businesses of this type close to temples and shrines, it suggests a preference to support the work of local artisans.

As a protected site, the island’s deer population (pic 4) can be found everywhere from the peak of Mount Misen to wading through the waters at low tide near the Itsukushima Shrine. Perhaps I was just lucky during my visits, but the Miyajima deer seem to be less mischievous than their Nara counterparts. (Those who have visited Nara will know what I mean.)

The deer certainly handle the slopes of Mount Misen with greater ease than humans and although there are extensive paths to follow, care is often required to safely negotiate one’s climb and descent. Nevertheless, as can be seen from pics 5 to 9, Mount Misen is well worth the effort. When walking in Japan, a frequent sight is that of stone arrangements like those shown at pic 10. I don’t know if there is any special significance to the arrangements, or perhaps people simply like the challenge of creating and/or adding to little ornamental stone arrangements. Whatever its significance, it is an engaging form of communal art and entertainment.

The stone arrangements are again seen at pic 11, where Kannondo Hall in the foreground is said to be where prospective parents can ask for a safe childbirth, despite no births being allowed on the island. The building visible in the background is Monjudo Hall, where one can ask to be endowed with the ability to be a good student.

Further up the mountain, one finds Sankido Hall (pics 12 and 13), where it is believed one’s prayers for household welfare and business prosperity will be answered. On a practical level, Sankido Hall also serves as a welcome rest stop where one can enjoy a relaxing and contemplative break from the comfort of the welcoming Tatami flooring.

On the descent I came across a hall I failed to identify (pics 14 to 16) guarded by a couple of impressive, but fierce looking guardians. If anyone can provide further information about this building, it would be appreciated. I also found the sign made by the guardian’s right hand in pic 16 quite amusing given the penchant of the Japanese for hand signs. Perhaps it is more deeply ingrained in their culture than I realised.

What better way to end a walk around Miyajima than the shot of two young boys waiting for the ferry, looking happy and well stocked from their trip to the island.

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



Floating Torii and Itsukushima Shrine (Miyajima)

A short train journey of approximately 20 kilometres from Hiroshima followed by a ferry ride brings one to Itsukushima Island or, as it is more popularly known, Miyajima.

Even those with little knowledge of, or interest in Japan are likely to have seen photographs of Miyajima’s famous Floating Torii (also known as Otorii or Great Torii), which is acclaimed as one of Japan’s three most scenic views and said to be the most photographed structure in Japan. Now it is my turn to humbly add a few more.

When viewed from Mount Misen (pic 1), the Floating Torii can be seen about 200 metres out to sea in a direct line with the Honden (main hall) of the Itsukushima Shrine, which is similarly built over the water. The decision to build the torii and shrine over the water is testament to the sanctity of the island, which, since ancient times has been revered and worshipped as a sacred place. It was believed that locating the buildings over the water would allow Shinto followers to worship without despoiling the sanctity of the island. Although such beliefs and the strict rules governing access to the island have been relaxed over time, even today no births or deaths are allowed on the island.

The first Floating Torii was built in the 12th Century and the current structure dates back to 1875. To refer to it as “floating” is somewhat misleading in that Otorii rests on the seabed, where its solid structure and weight of some 60 tons provides ample stability. Included in the overall weight are seven tons of (fist sized) stones filling the box shaped upper section of the torii.

Prior to visiting Miyajima I had seen many brilliant photographs of the Floating Torii, yet when on site I found myself more interested in the torii’s relationship to its environment as shown at pics 2 to 5. I recall the thrill on my first visit of seeing the Floating Torii in the distance from the ferry terminal and watching it grow in stature as the ferry approached the island – an experience shared by many over the centuries. Similarly, when viewed from the island, one is drawn to thinking of how the mainland has changed over Otorii’s lifetime. In turn, one wonders how it will change in the centuries to come and it is comforting to think that a nexus will continue to exist between the ever-changing world on the mainland and the traditional past represented on the island.

Itsukushima Shrine stands in a protected cove, with all the shrine’s wooden buildings rising out of the sea, as can be appreciated from pic 6. At high tide, the entire shrine complex appears to float and at low tide, visitors and the island’s resident deer population can stroll on the sand between the buildings.

The accompanying photographs give some idea of this unique place, which includes the only Noh stage in Japan (pics 7 and 8) that rests upon the sea. I particularly like the way the stage blends with the beach and the surrounding hills (pic 8) to create a contemplative scene, hopefully being enjoyed by the lone person on the shore.

As with all shrines, they are functional places and during my visit a ceremony (pic 9) was underway. Connecting the mainland to the shrine is Sori-bashi (arched bridge) shown at pic 10, an imposing structure that is believed to have served as access for imperial messengers on important festive occasions. The bridge was first built around 1240, with the current bridge dating back to 1557.

Adjoining Sori-bashi is the Tenjin Shrine (pics 11 and 12) dedicated to a deity of education and intelligence. This building was constructed in 1556 and served as a venue for monthly Renga poetry ceremonies through to the middle of the Meiji period. To distinguish its later build, this building and the Noh Stage are not coated in the vermillion lacquer used predominantly across the Itsukushima Shrine buildings, but have been left untreated. This has allowed the timber to age naturally, which I found quite in keeping with the shrine’s exposure to the elements.

Whilst I did not visit the five-storey pagoda (pic 13), it is a prominent landmark built on a bluff overlooking the Itsukushima Shrine, first constructed in 1407. Finally, I end with a couple of shots (pics 14 and 15) of Otorii at low tide where it has sat majestically for centuries.

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