johnliddlephotography

Frozen moments from the infinity that is time


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Kimono

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.)

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Karesansui

Karesansui is the Japanese word for dry landscape gardens. Introduced to Japan as landscape concepts from China and Korea around the seventh century, the form progressively evolved to take on a distinctive Japanese style. To borrow a relatively modern terminology, karesansui may be described as minimalist in their design, an approach consistent with the Japanese view that frugality is virtuous.

Karesansui are gardens for the mind, designed to encourage contemplation and meditation. From my experience of viewing karesansui I can certainly attest to their ability to induce a contemplative state of mind. Alas, my meditative skills are very limited, but one can imagine such environments being conducive to intense meditation for skilled practitioners.

I regret not having spent more time visiting and photographing karesansui, but in this post I offer a selection of shots from Kyoto’s Ryoanji and Ginkakuji temples. Ryoanji is considered to be the finest example of dry landscape gardening and Ginkakuji’s expansive Sea of Silver Sand and large (Mount Fuji) sand cone is quite unforgettable.

Photographs are a poor substitute for the real experience, but I hope you will experience a little appreciation of these wonderful and enduring gardens.

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


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Sayonara Sakura (Kyoto)

Sayonara Sakura is my fourth and final post on the cherry blossom season and I hope readers of this blog have enjoyed the images as much as I have enjoyed sharing them.

Once captured, an image is forever and becomes one of those frozen moments from the infinity that is time. This has allowed me the indulgence of posting cherry blossom themed photographs over four weeks, somewhat longer than the real-life experience.

To conclude this series I have selected photographs linked only by the common factor of cherry blossom. Some photos are personal favourites, whereas others revisit and extend previous themes. Allow me to make a few brief observations on select photos.

All the photos were taken in and around Kyoto, with the first photograph showing the Philosopher’s Path – a walk I made many times and a favourite place of mine in Kyoto. This photo best captures the image of the Path that I carry in my mind.

In an earlier post (March 28, 2014) I featured a number of shots taken at the Heian shrine, where the cherry blossom was simply magnificent. I had reluctantly excluded pics 3 and 4 from that post – an exclusion now remedied.

Pics 8 and 9 should be viewed together in that they show diners at different ends of the culinary spectrum, each enjoying views of nearby cherry blossom whilst dining. On the one hand there is the clean, modern lines of a fast-food establishment (pic 8) and on the other (pic 9), a row of high-end teahouses, which I have seen attended by geisha. Two polar dining experiences linked by the sakura.

Another favourite location is Ryoanji and particularly its highly renowned karesansui within a magnificent earthen wall. At pic 13 I have shown the sakura from the other side of the wall – a personal indulgence.

Those who have visited Kyoto will probably have visited the Kiyomizudera Temple in Kyoto’s Gion district. Pics 14 and 15 feature the same sakura tree at the top of the steps near the main entrance. Pic 14 is the view that greets visitors on arrival and pic 15 is the reverse view looking out over Kyoto and its surrounding hills.

I recall an earlier visit to Kyoto where I chose to capture the sunset from Kiyomizudera as my final shots of Kyoto. Somehow the final photograph of this blog seems an appropriate way to bid sayonara to the sakura until next year.

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

 

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.)

 


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Ryoanji in Autumn

Ryoanji (the Temple of the Dragon at Peace) is located in the foothills northwest of Kyoto.  If visiting, I would recommend travelling on the small train of the Keifuku Kitano Line to enjoy a view of residential life in Kyoto.

Ryoanji is a Zen temple most famous for its karesansui (rock garden), which is said to be the finest garden of its type.  The karesansui will be the subject of a later post, though glimpses of the magnificent garden wall can be seen in photos 6 and 7.  For this post I simply want to share the beauty of Ryoanji’s other garden areas during autumn, particularly those around the Kyoyochi Pond, built in the 12th century and pre-dating the temple buildings of the late 15th century.

“I learn only to be contented” is the translation of an inscription on a stone washbasin for Ryoanji’s tea-room (not open to the public).  Zen considers those who learn only to be contented to be spiritually rich.  My hope here is less ambitious and is simply that you may find contentment in the images.

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