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Showing posts with the label Japan

Nara, the Ancient Capital of Japan

As I sleep
Facing the city,
My Buddhas
Stand even in my dreams
On an autumn night. Aizu Yaichi, Poet, historian, calligrapher 1891-1956

Arashiyama Bamboo Forest

Arashiyama has the distinction as being both a Historic Site and Place of Scenic Beauty. It shares its name with the mountain that creates a lovely setting to this popular destination.Sakura or cherry blossoms in the spring, the red and golden colors of autumn leaves and snow on the slopes of Arashiyama in winter enhance the beauty of the landscape through the changing seasons. 

Osaka, City of Kuidaore

Unlike its neighbors, Kyoto and Nara, Osaka has few historical landmarks to show. This third largest city in Japan makes up for the shortfall with its thriving entertainment and food scene. 

Sunset

While waiting for my flight to Singapore from Narita, I was a lucky witness to this incredible sunset in the land of the rising sun.

Kyoto Station

Main Hall of Kyoto Station
When Hiroshi Hara conceived his plan for Kyoto Station, he thought about "geographical perspective" and Kyoto's grid patterned streets. I am reminded of Piet Mondrian's painting, Broadway Boogie Woogie, which is based on the grid pattern of the streets of Manhattan. Hara had essentially incorporated old Kyoto in his design. But his futuristic ideas met resistance from locals who viewed his modern aesthetic plan for the station as a threat to the traditional landscape of Kyoto.
I felt dwarfed by the immensity of the main hall with its glass and steel beamed roof. Standing in the center of the hall, I looked around in wonder and wondered where to begin my exploration of this city within a city. Here's where three rail lines converge. There's a bus terminal on the north side of the station and a mall in the basement called Porta Underground with about a hundred shops and restaurants. No need to search far for lodging. The Granvia Hote…

Gion

Hanami-koji, Gion
My first impression of Hanami-koji was that it was clean and orderly. Wooden machiya merchant houses line this street of ochaya (tea houses) and expensive restaurants serving Japanese haute cuisine. It was late afternoon but the machiyas were still shuttered from the world. It was relatively quiet as I walked up the street hoping to see a geiko (term for geisha in Kyoto) or two.

A side street in Gion
I passed by somnolent alleys where not even a cat stirred. I reached the end of the street and looked up at the houses to check for signs of life. No such luck.  I retraced my steps to Shijo Dori past Gion Corner where one can pay to watch maiko (apprentice geiko) perform traditional Japanese arts like the tea ceremony, ikebana, music, and dance. Then suddenly I noticed a maiko coming towards me from an alley to my right. She was walking fast in her geta sandals. I had to move faster to get that fleeting image. What I saw was an exquisite woman in a beautiful kimono. He…

Fushimi Inari

Romon Gate
Fushimi Inari Taisha is the main Shinto shrine of the thousands of shrines in Japan. It is dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice and sake. With Japan's transformation from an agricultural economy to an industrial state, Inari has come to represent success and prosperity especially for businessmen and companies.

Shinto is an ethnic religion that flourished in Japan from the 12th century. References to Shinto practices have been traced as early as the 8th century. Shinto, unlike Christianity, does not recognize one god but rather believes in a multitude of deities (kami) who demonstrate superhuman qualities. About 46% of the Japanese population profess the Shinto faith.*

Torii Gates
Behind the honden (main hall) is a trail lined with thousands of vermilion torii gates which were donated by individual worshippers and businesses. The cost of a small torii gate is around 400,000 yen. Etched in black on the back of each gate is the name and address of the donor. The t…

Kinkakuji Temple (The Golden Pavilion)

Kinkakuji Temple (The Golden Pavilion)
All that glitters is gold at Kinkakuji Temple in northern Kyoto. Gold leaf covers the two upper floors of Kinkakuji or the Golden Pavilion which was once the retirement villa of the shogun, Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. When he died in 1408, his villa became a Zen temple of the Rinzai sect of Buddhism as specified in his will.  It is officially called Rakuon-ji which is also the name given to Yoshimitsu on his journey to the next world.
The Golden  Pavilion represents three architectural styles. The first floor is in the Shinden style featuring a large room with a veranda and wooden pillars supporting the upper storeys.  The second level reflects the samurai style and was used for private meetings. It's completely gilded on the outside. The top floor emulates Chinese Zenshu style of architecture with cusp windows, gilding inside and out, and houses the Amida triad and 25 Bodhisattvas. A bronze phoenix which is also covered in gold leaf crowns the roo…

Higashi Honganji - Kyoto

"Now, Life is living you"
I was struck by this message on the wall surrounding the Higashi Honganji mother temple. "Now, Life is living you".  I believe we should live life. Not the other way around. Perhaps this is a wake up call.  The Shakyamuni Buddha taught a path to self awakening. "Through this, one is able to become aware of the futility and suffering caused by one's actions and eventually come to truly appreciate life as it is." (from Higashi Honganji - The Teaching of Jodo Shin-shu) 
A door leading to the Goeidō
When Kennyo the 11th  Monshu (Chief Priest) of the Jodo Shin-shu sect passed away in 1592, he named his third son, Junnyo, his successor. This created a conflict between Junnyo and Kyōnyo, the eldest son. Hideyoshi who arbitrated in this dispute of succession asked Kyōnyo to step down. In 1602, Kyōnyo, received land from the shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu. There he built his own temple. Honganji was thus divided into two branches. Higashi (…

Nishi Honganji Temple

The Altar
The Nishi Honganji (or West Honganji) is the main temple of the Hongwanji-ha denomination of Jodo Shin-shu Buddhism in Japan. Shinran Sonin founded the Jodo Shin-shu (True Pure Land) sect during the mid Kamakura period and it became one of the largest and most influential schools in succeeding centuries. Over time, the Jodo Shin-shu sect was challenged by both interminable wars and warlords who were bent on controlling the country.  Oda Nobunaga, a military leader, finally succeeded with the help of Emperor Ogimachi in moving the group out of Kyoto in order to diminish its power. Later, in the 17th century, the sect was divided into two factions, effectively weakening its political influence. The Nishi Honganji faction are followers of Junnyo, the third son and successor of Kennyo, the 11th Monshu (spiritual leader) and descendant of Shinran. To this day, the Jodo Shin-shu sect has kept its large following intact. It is the largest of any sect in Japan. 


The Goeidō Hall (l…

Souvenir Shopping in Asakusa

It's fun shopping in Asakusa though the prices may not necessarily be cheaper than in the Omotesando district. There are hundreds of stalls on side streets and on the main alley leading to Sensoji Temple. But it's hard to get close to some stalls  (like the cookie shops) on Sundays when it seems a third of Tokyoites are congregating in the area.


No wonder the cookie stalls are mobbed. Check out these goodies which are wrapped so attractively. Who wouldn't be thrilled to receive a box of these freshly baked treats?


The cute knick knacks above are cell phone accessories or possibly something you can put into your key ring or hang from the handle of your handbag. I like the miniature wooden Japanese dolls best though I didn't buy any.


These cloth made dolls are beautiful to behold. Note the price for each doll - from 2,000 yen to 5,250 yen or US$24 to $64.00 at $1 to 82 yen. Behind the dolls are paddles with two feather shuttlecocks.


There are also many kimono and fabri…

The Christmas Holidays in Tokyo

A glittering tree at the Swarovski boutique in Omotesando,
the Rodeo Drive of Tokyo
Inside Omotesando Hills Mall

A jewelry store in the Ginza district
Sparkling lights and banners herald the new year
Christmas trees line the main street in fashionable Ginza
Happy Holidays to passengers at Narita Airport
*  *  *
Images by Charie

The Wooded Hills of Kamakura

Daibutsu

The Kamakura countryside is within an hour by train from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo but is so far removed from the trappings of the big city. Set amidst a backdrop of wooded hills and sea, it is the ideal place for prayer and meditation. A small train chugs along the Enoden line from Kamakura to Hase where we got off for the short stroll to see the Daibutsu or Great Buddha. Measuring 37 ft. in height and weighing 93 tons, it is the second largest bronze statue of Buddha in Japan. I could see its face through the wooden slats which made up the gate enclosing an area where a temple once sheltered the statue. That temple was washed away by a tsunami in 1495, exposing the Daibutsu to the elements for the last 500 years. But this has proved to be a godsend because visitors can see the Amita Buddha in full view, serene yet majestic against the natural setting.

Closer to the train station is Hasedera (Hase Kannon Temple) which is up on a hillside. A typical Japanese garden leads …

Ordering food in Japan

I've been studying the Japanese language while driving between home and work for the last year since I got my Pimsleur CD's. But I'm not there yet. That is, I don't know enough Japanese to order from a menu. My very limited knowledge of the language is no hindrance though from enjoying Japanese cuisine when I can point to a plastic replica of what is served in the restaurant. How about a shrimp tempura with a bowl of rice, soup and tea? All for 1430 yen.

The window display above shows a variety of enticing dishes. Surely one of these will whet your appetite. As for drinks, Japan is a country of vending machines. When traveling in Japan you're never far away from ice cold water or your favorite soft drink or juice.

Another way to find the best meals is by checking out the food counters at various department stores. There's usually an incredible array of selections that you might feel a little overwhelmed, in a good way. Take your time and let your eyes have …

Cherry Blossoms

Cherry blossoms at Ueno Park It's late March and the temperature is in the low 70's, enough to motivate local residents to get the picnic basket out and sit under the cherry blossom trees in Ueno Park. There's a full week to go before the white blooms turn pink but some trees are already showing a preview of Barbie pink blossoms. It's a wonderful time to enjoy this shortlived phenomena. If you decide to go on the spur of the moment and brought no snacks or provisions for a meal, not to worry. There are food stalls and restaurants nearby. There is also a zoo, rides for children, and the Western Art Museum where Auguste Rodin's Thinker contemplates on what to wear for Spring. * * * Image by Rosario Charie Albar