johnliddlephotography

Frozen moments from the infinity that is time


Leave a comment

Tenjuan-in (Kyoto)

Located on an approach to the sprawling Nanzen-ji complex, Tenjuan-in is a sub-temple set within a wondrous garden. The temple buildings comprise a main hall, gate and study, with the temple itself dedicated to the Zen master who guided Emperor Kameyama in his religious studies. If one associates Zen with contemplation or meditation, then Tenjuan-in is the embodiment of such views.

As with many of Japan’s more interesting attractions, its portal to the outside world is understated and many people walk past on their way to the more famous and spectacular Nanzen-ji attractions such as the Sanmon Gate. In this sense it is a lesson in the value of curiosity and taking the time to checkout what lies behind those unobtrusive walls and gates. For a modest entrance fee of 300 yen, those who venture in are well rewarded.

The environment is calming with tall mature trees enveloping the space and creating a cocoon within which one feels safe and temporarily freed from the worries of the everyday world. The garden is a place to enjoy slowly – a place made for meandering, with paths that guide one through areas of light and dark. For those who may prefer a more passive approach, the main hall provides a perfect viewing platform to enjoy the views in private or in the company of others.

I feel fortunate that Tenjuan-in was one of the first temples I visited in Kyoto and yes – I was on my way to somewhere else (the Philosopher’s Path). In fact, I think it probably took me three days to get to the Philosopher’s Path as I kept being sidetracked by places that appealed to my curiosity. This is, of course, the dilemma one faces when visiting Kyoto. If one has limited time, then it makes sense to focus on the key locations. However, if one has a little more time, being curious and flexible is usually well rewarded.

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

 

Advertisements


Leave a comment

Arashiyama (Kyoto)

It is said that “word of mouth” is the best advertising and I suspect that Arashiyama benefits from this form of advertising. If you are a first-time visitor to Kyoto and seek advice from others of where to go, there is a very good chance that Arashiyama will be recommended. That was my experience and now when I am asked I always recommend visiting Arashiyama.

Why is this so? Well, rather than complicate the answer, my view is that Arashiyama is simply a pleasant, relaxing and interesting place to visit. One can enjoy beautiful natural scenery, visit spectacular temples, stroll through beautiful gardens, watch life go by from cafes and restaurants and meander through Arashiyama’s laneways. Most visitors seem to do most, if not all of these activities.

There is, of course, major attractions for which Arashiyama is well known such as Tenryu-ji, the bamboo grove and the gardens of Ohkochi-Sanso Villa. Each has been covered in earlier blogs and there is no reason to revisit them here. Instead, this post shows glimpses of everyday life that one may encounter during a visit. With the exception of the Togetsukyo Bridge, a prominent local landmark, the images shown are quite nondescript. This is not unlike life, which, if captured photographically would be replayed as many nondescript images punctuated by occasional highlights. Rather than celebrate the highlights, I hope this post may demonstrate that there is much to celebrate within the nondescript moments of our daily lives.

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


2 Comments

Ohkochi-Sanso Villa (Kyoto)

Is 1000 yen too expensive to visit a beautiful garden on the slopes of Mount Ogura with glorious views over Kyoto? Compared to (say) temple entry fees, a visit to Ohkochi-Sanso Villa is more costly, but it is money well spent. It is a garden built for the four seasons and after visiting during the Autumn, my travel journal record read, in part: “I can only say it is the most beautiful garden I have ever seen.”

Located in Arashiyama the villa is easily accessible and is, in my opinion, another of Arashiyama’s gems. Being close to the magnificent Tenryu-ji, combining the two locations is an ideal way to spend a day in Kyoto. In fact, exiting Tenryu-ji and turning left along Arashiyama’s famous bamboo grove will bring you to Ohkochi-Sanso Villa within a few minutes walk.

The villa was opened to the public following the death of the famous silent movie actor Denjiro Okochi in 1962, which, during his life, had been a second home for the actor. Covering approximately 20,000 square metres, the estate was a labour of love, taking about thirty years to create and hone to his liking.

My personal memory is of a sublime space where one eagerly followed every path and where every boulder was perfectly placed. This is not to suggest, however, that the garden is clinical. Whilst it is traditionally Japanese, it is not manicured to perfection in the manner of karesansui style gardens. In Okochi’s garden, everything simply seems to be in the right place and discrete spaces seamlessly join. Quiet places well suited to meditation and relaxation are to be found, as are little meadows and open spaces where children can frolic. It is a garden built for the four seasons and to be lived in and enjoyed.

Spending time here is a pleasant experience that continues in the tearoom prior to leaving. Entry includes a souvenir postcard and green tea served with a seasonal sweet in the tearoom where one could view maples or bamboo depending where one sat. To return to the opening question, 1000 yen is money well spent!

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


2 Comments

Kinkakuji (Kyoto)

The crown jewel of a visit to Kinkakuji is the famous Golden Pavilion and the image everyone wants to see is that of a shimmering pavilion reflected in the water of Kinkakuji’s pond. Unfortunately I was met with an overcast sky and breezy conditions that rippled the water, thus the favoured image was not seen. I have, however, shown a selection of images (pics 1 to 4) of the Golden Pavilion from a variety of angles.

If one looks closely at the images it will be seen that only the second and third floors are covered in gold leaf and that each of the three floors represent different architectural styles. The ground or first floor is built in the style of a Japanese Palace, which is not suited to a gold leaf finish. The second floor represents the samurai style and was used for composing poetry, whereas the third floor used for meditation is in the old Chinese style. If viewed only from afar and head-on, it is understandable how visitors could form the mistaken view that the entire pavilion is golden.

Apart from the Golden Pavilion, Kinkakuji’s grounds contain reminders of past legends. The Toryumon (pic 5), which translates as “gateway to success”, looks, at face value, like a simple waterfall.  However, the elements of water and rock symbolise an old Chinese legend that only carp could swim up a waterfall and by so doing, the carp would become a dragon. The waterfall is known as Ryumon-baku (Dragon Gate Waterfall) and the rock as Rigyo-seki (carp stone). In modern-day terms, Toryumon is a reminder that tackling and overcoming difficult challenges can lead to success in life.

The small White Snake Pagoda (pic 6) located on a knoll in the pond is based on another legend. Apparently Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, the third shogun of the Muromachi era, had many mistresses, one of whom grew jealous of his other mistresses and threw herself into the pond and became a white snake. Yoshimitsu built the White Snake Mound to console her soul, which in turn led to the belief that a white snake is the symbol of jealousy. An alternative view is that it honours the previous owners of the area (the Hosokawa family), for whom the white snake was their guardian deity.

Also within the grounds one finds Sekkatei (pics 7 and 8), which dates back to the 17th century, though the current structure was constructed in 1884 following a fire in 1874 that destroyed the original teahouse. Sekkatei is a good example of modest teahouse design in order to focus attention on the tea ceremony itself. To the left of the alcove in pic 7 one can see a crooked supporting pillar. The pillar is apparently a rare example made from wood from a Nandin tree, which is a very slow growing tree and rarely produces pillars of this size..

I look forward to revisiting Kinkakuji and one day sharing the classic image everyone wants to see. Next time I will check the forecast in advance.

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


2 Comments

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.)


4 Comments

Which way to Kiyomizudera (Kyoto)?

Given its location near Gion, Kiyomizudera (which translates to “Pure Water Temple”) is one of Kyoto’s most visited and celebrated temples. Sitting atop a hill on the site of the Otowa Waterfall from which it derives its name, the temple offers glorious year-round views over Kyoto and since 1994 has been listed as a UNESCO world heritage site.

Despite its significance and popularity I must admit to spending little time there, mainly due to my visits not quite coinciding with the peak Autumn colours or the Spring cherry blossom season when Kiyomizudera is one of Kyoto’s most popular viewing platforms. Unfortunately this means I cannot offer photographs showing Kiyomizudera at its best. I can, however, suggest that intending visitors give some thought about the route taken to and/or from Kiyomizudera.

The most popular route is through Gion by wending one’s way uphill through Gion’s old narrow streets until Kiyomizudera appears at the top of the hill, where one can follow the steps taken by the pilgrims shown at pic 1. An alternative, lesser-used route is to approach from the other side of the hill via the Otani Mausoleum complex and I would certainly recommend first time visitors to approach from one direction and exit from the other direction. Either way involves an uphill approach.

Approaching from the Otani Mausoleum side takes one through a number of grand wooden gates and halls at the foot of the hill, then along a path through a rather full and impressive cemetery (pics 2 to 9). Along the way one will find areas of specific interest such as small shrines or vendors who specialize in the preparation of incense blends specific to the needs of families with relatives interred in the cemetery (pic 4). Above all, it is an interesting and pleasant walk offering an “off the beaten track” insight into Kyoto’s story.

Upon reaching Kiyomizudera the views from the famous viewing platform make the effort worthwhile regardless of the season (pics 10 and 11) and show why people come from all over Japan to enjoy the scenic views over Kyoto. Another popular attraction is the Otowa Waterfall (pic 15) at the base of Kiyomizudera’s main hall, where the waters are divided into three separate streams. Visitors use cups attached to long poles to drink from their selected stream, which are believed to result in longevity, academic success and a fortunate love life. Despite being regarded as a demonstration of greed, I did observe many drinking from all three streams. Temptation is always hard to resist.

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


6 Comments

Koko-en Gardens (Himeji)

Koko-en is a Japanese garden overlooked by Himeji Castle on the other side of the castle moat. Its proximity to Himeji Castle allows visitors to enjoy the serenity of a Japanese garden after visiting the castle. Indeed, the peacefulness of the garden is an ideal complement to the castle’s symbolic reminder of Japan’s often violent feudal history.

At only 3.5 hectares, Koko-en is a relatively small garden, but once inside the gates the impression conveyed is that of a larger space, which is a credit to the designers. The garden was constructed in 1992 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Himeji municipality, thus is relatively new. Nevertheless, It is historically linked to Himeji Castle in that it occupies the former site of the feudal lord’s west residence.

The photographs shown here are of the garden of the lord’s residence, one of Koko-en’s nine walled gardens and arguably the most visually impressive with features including a pond stocked with Japanese Koi fish, waterfalls, bridges and pavilions.

Whenever I visit Japanese gardens I enjoy the beauty of their apparent simplicity whilst, at the same time, recognising the complexity of achieving this impression. The elements may be basic and elemental, but their arrangement creates living and evolving masterpieces. For example, the concrete spans used to cross water (pics 7 and 10) are not only functional; they become key focal points especially when subtly arched as in the span at Koko-en.

Enjoying beautiful gardens is one of life’s simple pleasures and if you agree, make a commitment to visit a nearby garden soon, whether of Japanese or other style.

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


6 Comments

Osaka from 173 metres

Osaka’s Umeda Sky Building is an impressive structure of two towers connected at the top by an open-air circular walkway offering magnificent views of the city and surrounds. The area atop the building is formally described as the Floating Garden Observatory, but is more frequently referred to as simply “173” denoting its height of 173 metres above ground level.

Even though I have visited higher observatories, including the Shanghai World Financial Centre Observatory, which, at 474 metres, is the highest in the world, I found “173” a more enjoyable experience. This is due to its circular design providing 360-degree vantage points and most importantly, the unimpeded views from being in the open-air. Notwithstanding that my visit took place on a cold December day, not having to deal with the barrier of glass windows made it an altogether more pleasurable experience.

I was also fortunate to have visited in late afternoon/early evening, thus providing an opportunity to witness the sunset from a “birds-eye” position. My only regret was not carrying a tripod and having to shoot handheld on high ISO settings, hence the somewhat grainy images. Nevertheless, I am happy to have these images as memories of a most enjoyable interlude and I highly recommend a visit to “173” for those visiting Osaka.

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


8 Comments

Osaka Castle

On flicking through the subjects I have covered in this series of Japanese posts, it became apparent that I had given little attention to Osaka, due mainly to having spent very little time there. However, like many visitors to Osaka, I did visit Osaka Castle – the subject of today’s post.

Now that I reflect a bit more, my experience of Japanese castles is also quite limited, having visited only three, the others being Kyoto and Himeji. Of these, the standout is definitely Himeji (https://johnliddlephotography.com/2014/11/18/himeji-castle-a-reminder-of-feudal-times/). I do not like to speak negatively about such important and magnificent buildings, but I did find the restrictions on photography imposed at the Kyoto and Osaka Castles to be disappointing, as much of the most interesting subject matter was within the restricted areas. Notwithstanding such restrictions, they are worth visiting.

I travelled to Osaka Castle by train and the walk from the station through municipal parklands builds one’s curiosity through early glimpses and as one gets closer, the scale of the castle and surrounding moat (its first line of defence) is most impressive – if not majestic. Entering through the gates (pic 1), one’s eye is immediately drawn to the magnificence of the dry-stone walls, which are quite captivating in their own right. Once inside the castle grounds, one becomes more aware of the towering edifice that is Osaka Castle (pics 2 to 4). I wish I could include internal shots, but much as I dislike photography restrictions I do respect the right of operators to impose them. Climbing to the highest level is recommended for the views over Osaka (pic 5) and the appreciation that the castle was very strategically positioned from a defensive perspective.

The inclusion of pics 6 to 10 is somewhat of an indulgence, but during my visit I was quite taken by the geometric patterns of the stone walls around the castle. In fact, I distinctly remember comparing the visual impact of the castle walls to more contemporary structures utilising acutely angled aperiodic tiling as a surface treatment. Of course a major difference is that the castle walls relied on manual planning and construction techniques, whereas contemporary structures benefit from the use of sophisticated computer-aided design, fabrication and building techniques. It does, therefore, seem appropriate to conclude with pic 10 “An Artisan’s Mark”, which shows an example of how the stonemasons of the day marked their contribution to the construction of Osaka Castle.

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


Leave a comment

Kyoto streets by day

Following-on from my last post of Kyoto at night, this post shows sights that one encounters wandering Kyoto’s streets during the day. When selecting the images, I have intentionally ignored the shrines and temples for which Kyoto is famous, choosing instead to show aspects of the city that one may encounter moving between the more famous attractions.

Kyoto is a great walking city and will reward those with the time and energy to meander through its streets and laneways. As well as getting a better feel for the city, one may find hidden gems the equal of the more popular tourist sites.

The shots do not require explanation, but let me make some observations nevertheless. Arashiyama (pic 1) is simply a delightful place to spend time and should be a must-see on any trip to Kyoto. The bridge in pic 5 is wider than it appears, but not recommended for those who may have had one too many drinks. Above the tunnel (pic 7) is the Keage Incline – a popular and magnificent place to view Sakura during the cherry blossom season. My apologies to the taxi driver (pic 8), though I can report that he was amused at walking into the picture. Although the dish hails from Hiroshima, Kyoto’s okonomiyaki (pic 11) is worth trying. Last but not least, the parked car (pic 16) was one of the more amusing examples of creative parking I came across, albeit not conducive to a quick getaway.

Thanks for visiting and I hope you enjoy these little windows into the real Kyoto.

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