johnliddlephotography

Frozen moments from the infinity that is time


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Hamamatsucho Pier

Whilst the opening shots for this post may create the impression of a rural fishing village, that is not the case. The shots were taken around Hamamatsucho Pier in the heart of Minato, a densely populated city within the greater Tokyo metropolis and only a short walk from the Tokyo World Trade Centre.

Curiosity created the shots and this post. When visiting Tokyo I have always chosen accommodation near Japan Rail’s Yamanote Line for ease of travelling around, as well as travel on the line being included within the JR Rail Pass. Each time I travelled on the line I would catch a glimpse of boats moored in a canal near the Hamamatsucho Station and curiosity eventually got the better of me.

As can be seen from the shots, the vessels are mainly pleasure cruise boats and fishing boats and serve as a reminder of Tokyo’s extensive system of waterways. To find a little community such as this nestled within Minato, which is host to many embassies and corporations, also demonstrates Tokyo’s ability to (seemingly) effortlessly accommodate the diverse needs of its population.

As I spent time within this microcosmic environment, I was impressed by its calmness despite the reality of it being enveloped by infrastructure. This can be seen at pic 7, which I’ve titled “Infrastructure aplenty”. First of all we can see a canal system supporting water-based transport and commercial activity. Running across the shot at mid-level, one can see a train crossing over the canal. Not just any train, but a Shinkansen (bullet train) capable of travelling at speeds in excess of 350kph and arguably the epitome of state-of-the art train travel. For the record, regular trains also cross the canal. Finally, running above the canal is an elevated toll road carrying motor vehicle traffic. With so much infrastructure and technology within one frame, we gain a glimpse of how Tokyo works around the constraint of space. Notice also the softening effect of the greenery along the sides of the canal and the creeping plant softening the look and integrating nature with the built environment.

One may argue over the beauty of the aesthetics, though I don’t think there can be much argument over the beauty of how the various infrastructure elements combine to help a giant metropolis run smoothly.

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


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Toyota Car Museum (Odaiba)

Travel photography often requires one to adapt to circumstances. My visit to Odaiba was one such day due to miserable weather, which meant I spent longer than expected wandering through the Toyota Car Museum. Before that I spent some time trying my hand on a car-racing simulator and let’s just say that had it been real I doubt I would have survived to visit the Museum. Great fun though!

You don’t have to be into cars to enjoy the Car Museum, as many of the cars are displayed quite theatrically within movie-set environments, thus adding to their appeal, especially the older vehicles. The vehicles shown here were produced in the period 1945 to 1973 and in some cases are significantly different to the cars produced today. For example, during their heyday, the owners of these cars would have had little awareness of computerisation, yet modern vehicles rely heavily on integrated computers to manage many automotive systems such as anti-lock braking.

Looking back through my shots to select the included images also made me think more broadly about the car industry. Whilst today’s cars are very different to those displayed in the museum, we are of course in another transition phase with the move from petrol powered to electrically powered vehicles now regarded as inevitable. Given that Ford’s Model-T commenced production in 1908, the internal combustion engine has been around for just a little more than a century. In this time it is fair to say that the car industry has impacted significantly on our lives and cultures, in both positive and negative ways. Where then will we be in a further 100 years and how different will the vehicles of 2117 be? Something for us all to ponder!

On a less philosophic note, my personal favourite was the 1967 Toyota 2000GT (pics 3 to 5), of which only 337 were built. James Bond fans may remember the convertible version of the 2000GT featuring in the You Only Live Twice movie, which was predominantly set in Japan. Fifty years on the car has lost none of its appeal. The other Japanese made vehicle shown is the 1955 Toyopet Crown (pic 13), which I can’t help but visualise as a car that would have been popular with gangsters.

Of the others, they all have individual charm and serve as reminders of other times, but the 1954 Porsche 356 (pics 17 to 19) is hard to ignore. Few car companies are as true to their heritage as Porsche and although the design has been progressively modified over the past 70 years, the underlying design principle has been maintained.

Which car would you choose to drive away in if you had the choice?

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


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Tokyo Station

My first visit to Tokyo was during the time Tokyo Station was undergoing significant refurbishment and I recall being disappointed that the station’s glories were hidden behind scaffolding and screens. When I returned the second time my disappointment continued and I was mentally associating Tokyo Station with the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, which I had visited when it too was shrouded from view. Perhaps I’ve discovered my superhero skill!

However, timing is everything and a few days later when I again passed through Tokyo Station, the scaffolding and shrouding was gone and a beautifully restored station could again be appreciated. Everyone seemed to be stopping to look, even locals, many of whom probably used the station every day.

I don’t know how Tokyo Station compares statistically to other Japanese and international stations, nor do I wish to know. What I do know is that for such a large station I have always found it quite easy to navigate, primarily due to good signage in both Japanese and English. Nevertheless, upon viewing the restored exterior for the first time, I must admit to being a little surprised at its architectural style. My first impression was that it did not appear to be very Japanese and would not be out of place in western cities.

First impressions are, however, prone to mellowing when one has had time for reflection and so it was in this instance, especially when viewed from above. The station fits its surroundings and the more I reflected, the more I came to the view that it is a quite imperial structure befitting its close proximity to the Imperial Palace.

Several of the photographs were taken from the rooftop of the Kitte Shoka shopping centre opposite the station, which allowed one to more fully appreciate the quality of the restoration work and see detail that would not have been possible from street level. Whenever I can access an elevated position, I always regard it as a photographic treat. The detail shots (e.g. pics 7, 8 & 10) show, in my opinion, exceptionally good craftsmanship. The copper work is sublime and as the copper patinates with age and acquires those wonderful greens that come with patination, the aesthetic will change progressively and the station’s character will similarly change.

The crowning glory (pic 8) is, of course, the domes – simply magnificent! These were destroyed during the 1945 bombings and not replaced until now. Whilst it has taken a long time, it has been worth the wait and as well as being true to the original design, they add an important Japanese element that will surely become a defining feature of the Marunouchi skyline.

When visiting Tokyo, don’t rush through this station. Take the time to enjoy it.

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


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Bullet Train Ride

Travelling on Japan’s Shinkansen network was always a pleasure. Comfortable, safe and on-time performance makes it an obvious choice and it is easy to understand how the service has become such an integral part of Japan’s transport system and indispensable to business travellers.

After recently watching a documentary on the Shinkansen, which showed the behind-the-scenes organisation and attention to detail, my admiration of the service is further enhanced. The documentary also served to jog my memory of a trip I made from Kyoto to Tokyo where I took photographs along the way. The images are titled simply by the time of day and are shown sequentially in the order they were taken. The first pic is a Kyoto scene and the final pic a passing shot of a Tokyo suburb.

Train travel is always a good way to see slices of a country and some of my observations from this slice of Japan are:

  • The compactness of Japanese homes and the general tidiness of the neighbourhoods along the line.
  • The lack of graffiti and other signs of petty vandalism to property that often characterises properties adjoining railway lines.
  • The changing weather patterns during the trip, which ranged from bright sunshine to wintry scenes.
  • The extent of horticultural and aquacultural activities, including traditional rice crops and several installations utilising glasshouses.
  • Typical views showing Japan’s mountainous terrain.
  • Evidence of Japan’s industrialisation, including one of the nation’s most iconic brands (SONY).

More specifically, at pic 12 “12.48pm” one can observe (around the middle-right of the shot) a small cemetery located within the fields. One observes these small cemeteries throughout Japan, which one would also expect to include a shrine honouring those who have passed. Seeing Mount Fuji is, of course always a thrill for visitors and I like the symbolism of Fujisan watching over a group of baseballers in the foreground of pic 15 “1.20pm”. Similarly, in pic 16 “1.22pm” the twin symbols of Japan’s ancient iconic mountain meeting an industrial scene reminiscent of the nation’s post-war growth seems quite apt.

Until next time – safe travels.

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


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Homeless in Tokyo

When travelling it is easy (and not at all unreasonable) to seek out pleasurable experiences and pay little attention to social issues that may be of greater concern to us in our home cities.

Homelessness is an issue that seems to be common across all countries and the more highly developed and relatively affluent societies such as Japan are not exempt. This may come as a surprise given Japan’s homogeneity in class terms where it is estimated that more than 90% of Japanese people are deemed to be middle-class. In many other western societies, a rate of 90% would be considered a thing of the past and an unattainable dream in today’s world where western governments are disproportionately influenced by corporate rather than societal concerns.

Nevertheless, people fall through the cracks in all societies and it is estimated that Tokyo alone has more than 5000 homeless – mostly men over 40, many of whom are likely victims of changes to Japan’s corporate culture where Salarymen (and women) can no longer assume that loyalty will be rewarded with jobs for life.

I did not seek out photographs of the homeless, though with the benefit of hindsight it would have been an interesting project. One must be sensitive to individuals’ needs and for this reason I tended, in most instances, to resist taking such shots. However, in terms of general observations, I was never troubled or approached for money by homeless persons in Japan, something that certainly does not apply in my hometown. It was also noticeable that they were, in effect, not noticeable on city streets, at least during the day. One would encounter homeless people sleeping rough around subway stairs at night, but during the day I mostly came across the homeless in parks, where they would sit quietly and contemplatively on the benches. Their possessions would, for the most part, be stowed away in less obtrusive areas of the park.

The convention seemed to be that people leave the homeless alone and vice versa. Whether such mutual respect and tolerance will continue if the issue worsens is difficult to predict. In fact, the only time I recall seeing the homeless openly express some anger was in Kyoto prior to a long holiday weekend when the police were not allowing the homeless to settle in the vicinity of Kyoto Station.

All the selected shots were taken in parks; some in Ueno Park – a very popular recreational area, particularly at weekends when families flock to visit the nearby zoo, galleries and museums. Others were shot in a smaller park across the road from Tokyo’s billion-dollar Metropolitan Government Building, an irony impossible to ignore. Indeed, pic 3 shows a rather forlorn homeless person resting within the forecourt of the Government Building.

Of the other images I wish to comment on only the first (pic 1) and the last (pic 10), in that I personally consider these images to be the most powerful. When I shot Bed is a Park Bench (pic 1) and checked the image on my camera’s screen, my first instinct was to adjust the exposure and shoot a second image. Fortunately this instinct was quickly replaced by the realisation that the image was far more powerful as shot and did not require a face to communicate the hardships faced by homeless persons. Similarly, Not Quite Alfresco Dining (pic 10) shows a person who has seemingly become inured to eating most if not all their meals in public view and foregoing the dignity that we take for granted.

If this subject and/or images have upset anyone, I do apologise, but the subject is real and alive wherever we live and I hope this post will encourage viewers to pause and reflect.

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


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Contemporary Architecture in Japan

We depend on buildings for so many aspects of our daily lives such as shelter, safety and places of work, study and recreation to name a few. They are perhaps the most dominant mark that humankind has made on the planet and all buildings, regardless of size or function, started as an idea in someone’s mind. Architecture gives form to these ideas and when we travel to new places, we bring with us a natural curiosity about the architectural forms we will encounter.

So it was with my visits to Japan and although I was probably more interested in Japan’s older and more traditional buildings, I also found much of interest in its more contemporary architecture. In my last post on Shinjuku I featured a few examples, two of which are shown again here along with other selected buildings.

I have chosen to open the post with two shots (pics 1 and 2) of the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum as a reminder of Japan’s diligent and ongoing commitment to world peace and as a reminder of the extensive rebuilding that was required post-war. The domed glass roof shown in pic 1 reminds me of Hiroshima’s famous domed building that stands as a monument to the horror and folly of atomic war. Similarly, the striking shadows at pic 2 invite visitors to the museum to contemplate past events as they wend their way down to the museum via the gently curving walkways.

Also utilising a lattice structure, the aptly named Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower (pic 3) in Shinjuku houses three tertiary educational institutions (as identified in my previous post). To the bottom right of the photograph one can glimpse the adjoining dome structure, which, viewed at street level, is reminiscent of a golf ball half buried in a bunker. I’ve never really thought of buildings as “eye candy”, but this particular building jumps out and demands to be viewed.

Not far away, also in Shinjuku, one finds the towering Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building (pics 4 and 5). This truly is a colossus and although I did not find it very appealing aesthetically, its scale commands attention. The more visually appealing part of the complex is the semi-ringed structure shown at pic 2, itself of considerable scale as can be gauged from the solitary figure traversing the forecourt. Although it is an illusion I like the way the forecourt appears to be sloping away from the building.

Probably what most surprised me about Tokyo’s commercial towers was their scale and solidity. Compared to skyscrapers in cities such as New York and Chicago, the buildings in Marunouchi opposite Tokyo Station are not particularly tall. However, they sit so solidly on the ground to appear unshakeable, thus bearing witness to how architects have designed buildings to survive in an earthquake ravaged land.

As a demonstration of scale, one of my favorite shots is that of the three glass towers (pic 7), which was shot from a viewing area atop the Kitte Shoka shopping centre. The solitary figure highlighted at street level (bottom right of shot) hints at our physical insignificance, yet we must remember we are looking at the product of human imagination and construction.

Tokyo’s tallest structure is Skytree (pic 8), which, like other tall structures dominates the skyline. I recall one day being in Ueno and on impulse deciding to walk to Skytree. No maps or GPS navigation was required. All I had to do was look up and follow my nose. The structure is so dominant it did not even allow one the excuse of practicing Japanese by asking for directions. During that walk I took many photos along the way with Skytree in shot and perhaps I will post a “Finding Skytree” blog at some stage.

I mentioned Kitte Shoka a moment ago, which is a relatively new shopping centre directly across from the Marunouchi entry to Tokyo Station. As shown at pic 9, the internal design is interesting with the shops arranged on several floors following a triangular layout.

One of Tokyo’s most striking buildings is the Tokyo International Forum (pics 10 to 12) located near the boundary of Tokyo’s CBD and the Ginza shopping district. The building functions as a convention and exhibition space and is the outcome of the first international architectural competition held in Japan in 1989. Inside the building is especially magical and teases visitors to open their imaginations. Designed in the shape of a sailing boat, one could equally imagine being Moby Dick swallowed by a giant whale, or even being held within an inter-galactic spaceship.

To conclude this post that, in reality, has not even scratched the surface of contemporary Japanese architecture, I have chosen three smaller scale structures. Pic 13 can be found in Ginza and is included simply for its elegance and distinctly Japanese aesthetic. At pic 14 I have shown an external staircase attached to the FUJI television headquarters building in Odaiba because, for some reason, I felt compelled to include something brutal. In my opinion this staircase met that need. Finally, the vertical garden at pic 15 seemed an apt way to acknowledge that there is always room for nature amidst the concrete and steel.

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


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Shinjuku

Most visitors to Tokyo probably think of Shinjuku for its nightlife and for its brightly lit thoroughfares ablaze with all sorts of neon signs. However, this is only one part of Shinjuku’s character and in this post I have focused not only on Shinjuku’s streets, but also on its role as a daytime business centre and the tranquility offered by the magnificent Shinjuku Goen park.

Shinjuku’s skyscrapers are prominent whenever one has a birds-eye view of Tokyo from locations such as Tokyo Tower and other vantage points. They are equally impressive from ground level and in this post I have drawn attention to three buildings that caught my attention. The first is the gargantuan Tokyo Metropolitan Government building (pics 1 and 4) that occupies three city blocks. Its scale has to be seen to be believed and it serves a useful role in getting one’s bearings when moving around the area.

The second building is the Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower (pics 7 and 10), which is actually a vertical campus with capacity for 10,000 students. The tower houses three educational institutions: the Professional School of Fashion (Tokyo Mode Gakuen), the Special Superior School of Technology and Design (HAL Tokyo) and the Medical College (Shuto Ito). Adding further to the appeal of the building is the adjoining dome structure at street level.

The third building selected is the Sompo Japan Building (pic 13), which is said to resemble Mount Fuji with its flaring sides. The building is the headquarters of Sompo Japan – a major Japanese insurance company and I was quite surprised to learn it was constructed in 1976, such is its continuing aesthetic appeal today.

Readers will no doubt be aware that Shinjuku is also host to the world’s busiest train station used by over three million people per day. What is perhaps less well known is the presence of Shinjuku Goen Park within easy walking distance of the station, which offers an opportunity to relax in a tranquil setting unaware of the hustle and bustle outside the park’s boundaries.

To demonstrate Shinjuku’s diverse nature I have chosen to intersperse my photographs across the three subject areas of tall buildings, street shots and the park.

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


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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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Streets of Asakusa

To conclude this series of posts on Asakusa I have selected shots to show what visitors may typically see if strolling the streets of this interesting and often quirky area.

Designed by Phillipe Starck, the renowned French designer, the “Flamme d’Or” (Flame of Gold) atop Asahi’s Super Dry Hall (pics 1 and 2) is difficult to miss. The Super Dry Hall takes the shape of a beer glass and is quite architecturally striking in its own right, but absolutely unmissable with the 300 ton Flamme d’Or perched like a crowning glory. The building to the left is the Asahi Beer Headquarters, with the complex of buildings occupying the site where Asahi started brewing beer over 100 years ago.

Visitors will usually spend some time walking through Shin-Nakamise (pics 4 to 7), an undercover arcade running parallel to the more famous Nakamise Dori approach to Sensoji Temple (refer to previous post).

On the outside streets there is much to catch the eye. The Nimi building, or as I prefer to call it, the Tea Cup building (pic 8) presents as an eccentric novelty. However, it is actually in keeping with Asakusa’s hosting of many businesses supplying product to the hospitality sector, an example of which is a vendor’s display of takeaway food trays (pic 9).

Translation is always good for a laugh and although the antique shop’s wares (pic 11) appear interesting, my attention was initially caught by the misspelt word (“planing” rather than “planning”). Nonetheless, I freely admit that their attempt is much better than I could manage if operating in reverse.

Tokyo must go close to being the Starbucks capital of the world (pic 15) and yes I did succumb to taking a break and enjoyed looking out over Asakusa life from an upper level vantage point. Just as Starbucks is everywhere in Tokyo, so are bicycles (pic 16) and titling the shot as “bicycle calamity” is probably unkind. What most impressed me about this and other bicycle parking I observed in Japan was the general absence of security devices to prevent theft. I read recently that one of the reasons for the low crime rate in Japan is the high proportion of travel made on foot or by bicycle and perhaps there is some credence to this argument.

I felt a bit sorry for the rickshaw operator being passed by the cyclist at pic 17, as it is was hardly a fair contest in “power to weight” terms. It never ceased to amaze me how fit the rickshaw operators are and their ability to maintain conversations with their clients while jogging along.

I have shown the house at pic 18 in a previous post on concrete buildings and am indulging myself by reposting here as an example of the innovative architecture one finds in contemporary Japanese residences. By contrast, I also offer pic 19 as an example of how small many Japanese residences are.

My farewell to Asakusa is pic 20, which serves to remind that no matter how busy and bustling life can be, water and greenery combine to create opportunities to enjoy tranquil moments.

(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.)