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Frozen moments from the infinity that is time


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Nagasaki

Nagasaki has the unenviable place in history of being the second city subjected to the horror of an atomic bombing, which took place at 11.02am on August 9, 1945. Over 150,000 people were killed or injured and approximately one-third of the city was flattened by the ferocity of the windblast and scorching heat generated by the explosion. Today, Nagasaki along with Hiroshima stands as a reminder of an event that must never happen again and of the resilience of both nature and the human spirit. Whilst forever scarred, the city has grown from the ashes and regenerated itself.

As with Hiroshima, the city has sought to use the past to promote the message of peace to the rest of the world and in this post I want to highlight some of the symbols for peace to be found in Nagasaki. The opening photograph is a view looking out over the city from the Nagasaki Peace Park and within the park one finds a number of impressive sculptures promoting the need for peace, of which the most dominant is Seibo Kitamura’s Peace Statue at the northern end of the park.

94.03 Peace Statue (IMG_7162)

Peace Statue

Seibo, a local sculptor from Nagasaki Prefecture, described the statue thus:

After experiencing that nightmarish war,

that blood-curdling carnage,

that unendurable horror,

Who could walk away without praying for peace?

This statue was created as a signpost in the struggle for global harmony.

Standing ten meters tall,

it conveys the profundity of knowledge and

the beauty of health and virility.

The right hand points to the atomic bomb,

the left hand points to peace,

and the face prays deeply for the victims of war.

Transcending the barriers of race

and evoking the qualities of Buddha and God,

it is a symbol of the greatest determination

ever known in the history of Nagasaki

and the highest hope of all mankind.

— Seibo Kitamura (Spring 1995)

At the southern end of the park is the Fountain of Peace, constructed in 1969 as a prayer for the souls of atomic bomb victims who perished searching for water.

94.04 Fountain of Peace (IMG_7152)

Fountain of Peace

A stone plaque in front of the fountain carries the following words from a poem written by a survivor – a young girl named Sachiko Yamaguchi who was nine years old at the time of the blast.

“I was thirsty beyond endurance. There was something oily on the surface of the water, but I wanted water so badly that I drank it just as it was.”

In 1978 the city of Nagasaki established a Peace Symbols Zone on both sides of the park and invited donations of monuments from countries around the world.   China’s donation in 1985 was the Maiden of Peace, for which the plaque reads:

“It expresses the sincere aspiration of the Chinese people for human love and the everlasting friendship between Japan and the People’s Republic of China.”

94.05 Maiden of Peace (IMG_7160)

Maiden of Peace

New Zealand’s donation is the more contemporary Cloak of Peace by Kingsley Baird donated in 2006, for which the plaque reads:

“The statue symbolizes consolation, protection, and solidarity. It also expresses ambivalence, reflecting conflicting interpretations of historical events.”

94.06 Cloak of Peace (IMG_7161)

Cloak of Peace

Nagasaki has historically had a significant Christian population and a tragedy within a tragedy occurred when the Urakami Cathedral, only 500 metres from the epicentre of the blast, was destroyed whilst a Mass was being held. The congregation attending Mass was cindered and buried, with the loss of life and property presenting a spiritual challenge to the religious community. Similar to the debate around the future of Hiroshima’s Dome building, there was a difference of opinion as to whether or not to rebuild the cathedral. In this instance, the congregation was successful in its desire to rebuild, despite the city government’s preference to preserve the site as a memorial. Rebuilding commenced in 1959, with further remodelling in 1980 to more closely align with the original French style. Today the Cathedral holds a dominant position in the Nagasaki streetscape, as can be seen below at pics 7 to 10.

Some scars from the bombing have been retained such as a fallen belfry being left where it fell (pic 9) and battered statues (pic 10) near the front of the Cathedral.

On the walk from the Peace Park to the Cathedral I came across a small museum commemorating the life of Dr. Nagai Takashi. Dr. Takashi was a radiologist who, prior to the bombing, had been diagnosed with myeloid leukaemia as a consequence of working with sub-standard equipment and given three years to live. As well as losing his wife in the bombing, he was further injured, yet continued to work tirelessly to help victims and write extensively on the subject of radiation treatment. Until his death in 1951 (aged 43), Dr. Takashi lived with his two children in Nyokodo (As Thyself Hermitage), which stands today as a symbol of Dr. Takashi’s selflessness and community spirit (refer pics 11 and 12).

 

A display (pic 13) from the Atomic Bomb Memorial Hall serves as a sobering reminder of the destructive nuclear arsenals that represent an ever-present danger to the ideal of peace in our times. When faced with such reality, the lessons that can be learnt from Nagasaki and Hiroshima take on an even greater importance and monuments such as People at Peace (pic 14) found in both Nagasaki and Hiroshima serve as apt reminders of what should be.

 

(Please click on any of the 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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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.)


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Nikko (Toshogu & Taiyuan Shrines)

Someone told me that Nikko is the place every Japanese person wants to visit at least once.  After visiting there twice in different seasons I came to understand why, but I had no idea how their words would resonate on my feeling that this post does not do justice to Nikko’s importance to the Japanese.

In Nikko, all roads lead to the complex including the Toshogu, Futarasan and Taiyuin shrines and it is from this complex that today’s images are drawn.  Words that may typically be used to describe Japanese temples and shrines such as subtle and understated do not apply here.  There is nothing understated about these shrines.  Quite the opposite, yet still their underlying message is that of reverence and respect for those honoured here.

Toshogu is the dominant shrine, as evidenced by the buildings of the Taiyuan Shrine being oriented to face Toshogu as a mark of respect for Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shogun of the Tokugawa era.  As well as being the driving force behind the construction of Toshogu Shrine to honour his grandfather, Iemitsu (the third shogun) is perhaps better known as the shogun who closed Japan to foreign commerce and isolated it from the rest of the world for 200 years.

The tree-lined path to Toshogu Shrine is dominated by Ishidorii (pic 1), a granite torii gate that majestically draws one forward.  In my humble opinion, it must surely rank among Japan’s most significant torii.  To the left of Ishidorii is the five-storey pagoda (pic 2), where the storeys represent, in ascending order, the elements of earth, water, fire, wind and heaven.

Toshogu’s most famous attraction is perhaps the Sacred Stable (pics 3 and 4), or more specifically the story of stages in a monkey’s life told through a series of carvings on the walls of the building.  Since early times in Japan, monkeys have been regarded as guardians of horses, hence their significance to the stable building.  The most famous carving is, of course, that of the three wise monkeys, whose message of “hear no evil, speak no evil and see no evil” has been an aspirational refrain of parents through the ages.

Other structures of interest include my favourite, the relatively subdued Rinzo or Holy Sutra Library (pic 5), which houses a collection of valuable Buddhist scriptures; the heavily decorated Yomeimon Gate (pic 6) flanked on each side by statues of the first shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, whose presence remains imposing (pic 7); and the designated national treasure – the Karamon Gate (pic 8).

The heavily wooded setting makes for pleasant walking and throughout the grounds one finds areas of interest such as small roadside shrines (pic 10) and many stone and metal lanterns (pic 9) donated by feudal lords.  To walk these grounds with someone steeped in Nikko history would be a pleasure, though the stories behind each building and object may require a lifetime of walks.

Although not as grand as the Toshogu Shrine, the Taiyuan Shrine is no less interesting.  Prior to climbing several sets of stairs and passing through a series of gates, one finds The Cistern for Holy Water (pic 11).  Water from a nearby stream is channeled down through a system of gutters into a solid granite basin so perfectly aligned that the water evenly overflows each edge.  Visitors stop here for purification before proceeding to the Nitenmon Gate, which can be seen in the background.

Taiyuan is built on a fairly steep slope, thus opening up vistas such as those shown (pics 12 and 13) at various points during the climb.  Reaching the upper level, one finds the largest building (pic 14), with this view showing the Ainomo or connecting chamber between the Haiden (sanctuary) and Honden (inner sanctuary).  Adjacent to the Honden is the Koukamon Gate (pic 15), the final gate behind which lies the Okunoin – the tomb of the third shogun Iemitsu.  Neither the Koukamon Gate nor Okunoin are open to the public.

Finally, walking back to central Nikko, one passes the Shinkyo Bridge (pic 16), regarded as one of the three most significant bridges in Japan.  The bridge across the Daikyo River was originally built in 1636 (rebuilt 1907) for the use of the Shogun and imperial messengers.

A visit to these sites is at first a visual assault on the senses, such is the splendour and grandeur one encounters.  However, the true value is felt by slowing down and allowing Nikko to seep into one’s senses.  One can then begin (only begin) to understand why it is so revered by the Japanese people.

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