johnliddlephotography

Frozen moments from the infinity that is time


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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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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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Cherry Blossoms (Kyoto)

My desire to experience a cherry blossom (sakura) season was born when photographing the beautiful autumn colours during my first visit to Japan. At that time the sakura trees were standing bare, yet even then one could imagine the transformation when they bloomed. Although my personal preference is probably for the autumn hues, the visual spectacle of cherry blossoms in bloom is magnificent and the atmosphere created is, of course, unique to Japan.

Cherry blossom season starts in the south in tropical Okinawa around late January and moves gradually north to end in Hokkaido around May. Being a natural phenomena, the season is naturally dependent on weather conditions, hence the interest at this time of year on news reports and websites tracking the appearance of the fragile and delicate blooms.

The viewing season is short – perhaps two weeks or less and it would seem that this symbolic reminder of the cycle of life is what has most contributed to the sakura’s place in the Japanese psyche. Life is temporary and each year the sakura provides a reminder to use our time well and an opportunity to celebrate the gift of life.

When discussing the sakura season with Japanese people, it becomes apparent that many hold special memories of their sakura experiences. I recall asking a Japanese friend what sakura meant to her and she recalled a day in Tokyo where she and her boyfriend were cycling under sakura trees as the petals gently fell to the ground. What was most impressive about the telling of her story was that she was transported back to that moment in time – such is the power of sakura.

It is now that time of year around Japan’s major population centres in central Honshu when new memories will be formed and what better time to share images from the last sakura season.  In this and successive posts, I intend to share a series of images depicting different themes of how cherry blossoms present.

For this initial post I have chosen to simply focus on their delicate beauty and invite viewers to remember similar views or imagine being there.  My images are drawn from magnificent gardens found within four of Kyoto’s many temples and shrines. The first nine images are scenes from the gardens within the Heian Shrine, which, in my opinion, had the most visually impressive sakura.  The peace and tranquility of these gardens was interrupted only by the frequent sighs of appreciation from those savouring the spectacle.

These are followed by three images (pics 10 to 12) from Ryoanji, one of my favourite places in Kyoto, with pic 12 being a particular favourite, where the solitary sakura dominates the landscape.  Ninnaji is close to Ryoanji and given that a television station was photographing the blooms on this day, perhaps these images (pics 13 and 14) were indeed taken at the peak time.  Understandably, but unfortunately, the trees could only be viewed from walkways and one was denied the pleasure of walking through the tunnels of overhanging branches shown at pic 14.

The final shots (pics 15 and 16) taken at Taizo-in present two quite different views.  Whereas pic 16 shows that a lone cherry blossom tree can command attention even within a typically beautiful Japanese garden; pic 15, where sakura blossoms have filled the hollows in the karesansui (Japanese dry garden) is fittingly symbolic of the season.

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