Frozen moments from the infinity that is time


Bukko-ji (Kyoto)

Kyoto has an embarrassment of riches in the form of its impressive temples and shrines representing several Buddhist disciplines. Tourists, local and international, flock to enjoy the history and ambience of the better-known and grander temples, especially during the peak Autumn and Spring periods when nature’s allure is magnetic.

Other temples exist more quietly and this is where one finds Bukko-ji. I was fortunate to be staying near Bukko-ji, which I passed most days on my way to and from my apartment and one day I acted on my daily reminder that “I must visit here before I leave”. Since visiting, it remains as a most memorable visit and serves as an example of the jewels one often finds by simply wandering away from the main thoroughfares.

Bukko-ji has a long history of teaching Shin Buddhism and promoting its message to: “Become a real human under the guiding light of the original power of Amida.” Founded in 1212 by Shinran Shonin, Bukko-ji moved to its present site in central Kyoto in 1586 and today sits comfortably within a neighbourhood of apartment buildings, hotels and other businesses. We talk today of community hubs, but I wonder how many can claim to have served the role for over 400 years.

Two halls joined by a connecting bridge dominate the temple complex. To the left is the Amida Hall or Hondo (main hall), where the statue of Amida Buddha is enshrined and to the right is Daishl-do (Great Priest’s Hall), where the seated statue of Shinran Shonin is enshrined. Typical of Japanese temples, the wide eaves provide protection from the elements and allow worshippers and visitors to move freely between the halls. Indeed, I would go as far as claiming that walking on the smooth boards, polished over time by many feet, as one of life’s simple pleasures.

The selected photographs aim to emphasise two aspects of Bukko-ji and arguably similar Japanese temples. The external shots remind one of strong beauty. Built from solid native timbers, these wooden structures are built to last and stand with an unspoken invitation as safe havens. The internal shots show a quiet, serene environment that invites contemplation. Softly filtered light, expansive tatami floors, classic scenes depicted on painted wall panels, statues of revered deities and splendidly adorned altars combine to make time spent in either hall a memorable experience.

I hope the photographs give readers some insight into Bukko-ji and serve as a reminder that Kyoto has many more hidden jewels. My memories from the visit include the friendliness of administrators and other staff I met during my visit; the absolute joy of being the only visitor there and having the halls to myself; the feel of the tatami; and most of all the feeling of calm and of life slowing down, if only for a while.

May Bukko-ji still be there for another 400 years.

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


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.)


Kennin-ji Temple

Being located in Kyoto’s Higashiyama district and close to Gion, the Kennin-ji Temple is easily accessible if visiting Kyoto. Unfortunately, much of the temple was closed for renovation and refurbishment during my visit, thus I am able to present merely a glimpse of the temple’s range and splendour.

The temple is historically significant as not only one of the Kyoto Gozan (five most important Zen temples of Kyoto), but as Kyoto’s oldest Zen temple founded in 1202. The founding monk (Eisai) is credited with introducing Zen to Japan and is buried within the temple grounds.

Pic 1, somewhat playfully titled “Contemplation”, hints at the temple’s meditative qualities. I say playfully titled because the shot took me at least thirty minutes to capture due to other visitors wandering into and lingering within the frame. Perhaps next year I will start a “ban selfies” movement :). Sadly the light deteriorated over this period, but one must acknowledge that all visitors have equal rights no matter how frustrating it can be when all one wants is a fraction of a second of clear space. Okay, I finally have that off my chest.

The most dominant feature of the main hall is also the newest, namely the Twin Dragons (pics 1 to 4) that look down from above. The work was installed in 2002 to commemorate Kennin-ji’s 800-year anniversary after taking the artist almost two years to complete. Created offsite, the work’s scale is imposing and is equivalent to the size of 108 tatami mats.

Other fine examples of Japanese art may be seen in the study rooms (pics 8 to 11) where various themes and traditional stories are represented in visual form.

Finally, I would have liked to show images from across Kennin-ji’s gardens, but I had access only to Chouontei – the garden of the sound of the tide. As one can observe from pic 12, Chouontei is indeed a relaxing place to spend some quiet reflective time outdoors.

(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.)