Tuesday, August 31, 2010



My favorite temple, Gakuenji, like most larger temples is guarded by a pair of Nio statues.


Once the largest temple in the province of Izumo, and during medieval times a massive complex of building scattered over the area, Gakuenji is now very much off the beaten track and rarely visited outside of the maple-viewing season at the end of November.


Most of the buildings have long since disappeared, though a huge thatch-roofed nunnery was only demolished a couple of years ago. Not sure what this building is, but it is well on the way to becoming a haikyo.


The treasure house, a modern concrete structure, is well secured, though it is a case of "after the horse has bolted". The temple is so remote and rarely visited that a couple of years ago persons unknown drove in with a van, jimmied open the treasure house door and drove off with a priceless statue.


Gakuenji is one of the temples on the Chugoku 33 temple kannon pilgrimage as well as the Izumo 33 temple Kannon pilgrimage. It is also located on the Chugoku Nature Trail.


The name Gakuenji means "crocodile pool" and refers to the pool at the base of the waterfall behind which is built a small temple. Legend has it that Benkei stayed at Gakuenji for a long time and performed ablutions under the falls.

Legend says that the founder of Gakuenji, the priest Chishun Shonin, accidentally dropped something into the pool and a crocodile popped up and returned it to him.

Monday, August 30, 2010

A walk to Suga part2

This is a continuation of a previous post


Lower Imbe is a small hillside village that is cut off from the main road (Route 24) by a small resevoir created on the Imbe River. Here I found one of the things I am always on the look out for, a sacred grove of trees with a Kojin shrine. You can see the rope snake wrapped around the tree in the back.
These shrines are never marked on maps as they are "folk" shrines, and there are hundreds of them but you have to go looking for them. I imagine this sacred grove and shrine has been here since the village was first settled.


Carrying on up the valley I stick to the side road that runs along the hillside above the main road. The road follows the ins and outs of the hills so mean longer to walk, but the sound of rustling bamboo and the occasional farm machine is preferable to the buzz of traffic.


In the village of Imbe is the main shrine for the area. At the top of a long flight of steps.

In the Heian period 22 local shrines were gathered together here, and then again in the Meiji period more local shrines were transplanted here making a large complex.


I chatted with a young man carrying his daughter. I noticed he was carrying a flute so I asked if he played kagura. he said no, but that he played in the shrine as he was the priest. Priests, like policemen, seem to be getting younger and younger :)


The valley narrows and the road steepens as it gets closer to the pass. No more settlements. only an occasional hillside farm.


At the pass there was a small folk altar in the weeds at the side of the road. The beckoning cat is not a religious symbol, but "folk" practises make use of anything. The bottle of sake left as offering and the gohei mark it as a shrine.


Over the pass and I can now look over the eastern part of the Hi River watershed. This is Okuizumo, Inner Izumo, and is home to all the legends concerning Susano and the 8-headed serpent Yamata No Orochi.........

I am pleased that my way is now downhill.......

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Matarajin Shrine


Matarajin Shrine is located next to the main hall in Gakuen-Ji Temple, though the shrine originally stood behind Izumo Taisha.

It was dismantled and carried up into the mountains probably in the 16th Century.


Matarajin ( or Madarajin or Madarashin) was brought back from China in the 9th Century by the Tendai monk Ennin as a protector of the Amida Sutra, and so has strong links with Tendai. Gakuen-Ji is a Tendai temple.


Attached to the front of the shrine is a buddhist building that houses 2 statues. The building is opened once every 33 years.


Some old statues of Matarajin have 3 heads, Dakiniten, Shoten, and Benzaiten.

Dakiniten is one of the constituent influences on the kami Inari, and next to Matarjin Shrien is a small Inari shrine.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Fukuoka City Museum


The Fukuoka City Museum is located in the Momochi district, an area of land reclaimed from the sea in western Fukuoka City.


It was opened in 1990 and was designed by the AXS Satow Company.


The museum has permanent displays that showcase the history and culture of the region as well as changing special exhibitions.


Probably the most famous object on display is the gold seal given by the Chinese Emperor to the "King of Na"


The exterior of the building is clad in mirrored glass, which makes for interesting photography.


Fukuoka has a lot of interesting and innovative modern architecture, so I will be posting a lot from there for a while.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The White Fox of Yuda Onsen

One day in Yamaguchi City 5925

Images and statues of a white fox appear all over the place in Yuda Onsen, a spa resort next to Yamaguchi City, even on the drain covers.

One day in Yamaguchi City 5926

The reason is that local legend has it that the hot spring and its healing properties were discovered by a white fox.

One day in Yamaguchi City 5929

A priest from a nearby temple saw an injured white fox bathing itself and from then there have been spas in the area.

This occurred in the Muromach period, about 800 years ago.

One day in Yamaguchi City 5959

In 1707 the spas closed down as an eruption of Mt Fuji caused the springs to dry up, but they reopened 3 years later.

One day in Yamaguchi City 5958

Since the onsen boom of the 1980's the number of ryokans and spas has increased dramatically, most of them leaning toward the expensive price range.

One day in Yamaguchi City 5956

The waters have a reputation for healing rheumatism, neuralgia, and dermatitus.

One day in Yamaguchi City 5955

Monday, August 23, 2010

Radio Controlled Pest Control

I was woken this morning by the whine of the village rice paddies being sprayed with insecticide. The area to be sprayed is not huge,.... I reckon a single person with a sprayer on his/her back could spray the paddies in a good long day, but why do that when expensive, hi-tech, labor-saving devices are available? Surely it costs much more to hire a team of 4 men with an obviously expensive piece of equipment than to pay 1 man a days labor?
There is an obsession in Japan with hi-tech toys that I still cannot quite grasp. Automatic doors, escalators, toilet seat covers that raise automatically when you enter the room, electronic corkscrews,... there are miniature diggers that look like oversize Tonka toys that people will rent when a pick and shovel could do the job at half the price.
They are developing robots to take care of the elderly.... surveys show that old people would prefer to be taken care of by Japanese robots rather than foreign care workers....... I understand the logic, though I disagree with it, that producing crap that is not needed, using up resources and producing pollution, is "good for the economy", and one of the first things I observed when I came to Japan was the blind worship of "the economy", but I still can't figure out why Japanese people have this need to play with the latest gadgets.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Korean Forge Shrine

Karakama Shrine (Korean Forge) is not an easy shrine to reach, First you have to find the way along narrow mountain lanes in the mountains north of Izumo Taisha. Once you find the old wooden torii it is then a climb up into the mountains.


Once you get up close to the shrine one further hurdle must be crossed.... to reach the shrine one must squeeze through a narrow crack between rocks.... and it is no exaggeration to say that overweight people will not get through.


Despite its remoteness, the guest book at the small shrine attests to its popularity. The shrine enshrines Susano, and clearly links him with Korea and the introduction of metallurgy,


The nearby river Karakawa (Korean River) gives its name to the local settlements, and further underscores the link between this part of Japan to Korea.


Between Karakama Shrine and Hinomisaki Shrine on the coast once stood Karakuni Shrine (Korean Country). It was moved to within the grounds of Hinomisaki during the Meiji Period. Hinomisaki Shrine itself is believed to have been built upon the site of a much older shrine to Isotake, the son of Susano who came with hime from Shiragi (Sila)

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Sesshu and the Rat

Sesshu & The Rat

The artist and Zen monk who is known by the name of Sesshu is one of the greatest Japanese artists of all time. Born in Akahama (now part of Soja, Okayama Pref.) in 1420. The son of a samurai family, at the age of 10 he was packed off to the nearby Zen temple of Hofuku-Ji to train as a monk, and it was from this time that a famous story about him is set.

Apparently he was not a good novice, preferring to spend his time drawing rather than chanting the sutras, and one day as punishment for his misbehaviour he was tied to one of the pillars in the temple hall.

Later when a monk (or abbot) came to check on him he was startled by what appeared to be a rat on the floor in front of the bound Sesshu. On closer examination it turned out that the rat was a very life-like drawing done by Sesshu using his toe to draw in the dust of the floor with his tears.

His artistic talent being recognized he was encouraged to follow his heart and so became the great artist he is known as today.

There is another version of the story that says that the rat drawing was so life-like it actually became real and chewed through the ropes binding Sesshu and freed him.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Vacation 2010 Day 6: Nuremberg


After the Mercedes Benz Museum in Stuttgart I hopped a train to Nuremberg. I had a room inside the old town walls, so spent the afternoon wandering around there. Nuremberg was once the unofficial capital of the Holy Roman Empire, so of course there are many large churches and cathedrals.


There are some pretty impressive large temples in japan, but the main differences between those and European cathedrals I noted were that the combination of height and light made for quite a different focus. In temples usually the only light is focused on the statues, whereas in cathedrals the building itself was the focus. Focusing in versus out.


I didn't stop in here for lunch as I am not overly fond of sushi.


The Hangmans Bridge crosses the River Pegnitz. Apparently contact with the hangman was avoided so he had his own bridge.


More churches........


The big surprise was just down a narrow alley from my hotel. The new Museum of Modern Art cleverly uses a curved glass facade to reflect the surrounding traditional architecture and therefore avoids standing out like a sore thumb.


In the foyer was a wonderful spiral staircase...

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Most Beautiful View in Japan

Not according to me it isn't!

And not according to the Japanese.

It's the opinion of a diplomatic emissary from Korea who stayed at Fukizenji temple in Tomonoura in eastern Hiroshima. I-Pan-On stayed here in 1711 and he claimed it was the most beautiful view in Asia.

The temple and Tomonoura have made good use of his opinion in advertising the town though.

The views from Tomonoura are good I have to admit, and the centerpiece is the island of Bentenjima.

I really enjoyed Tomonoura, it was not too crowded with tourists like nearby Kurashiki, and has a nice feel to it. There are lots of Edo-period buildings in the narrow streets and alleys, and a high concentration of shrines and temples.

To get the best views it is worth climbing the hill to Io-Ji temple, claimed to have been founded by Kobo Daishi.