Thursday, April 30, 2020

Anger From the Bottom by Beat Takeshi


As I was climbing up towards the first mountain temple on the Shodoshima Pilgrimage I spied ahead of me what I guessed was a kind of shrine. When I got to it I was faced with a stainless steel figure with big red eyes and an axe embedded in its skull.


Anger From the Bottom is a sculpture by "Beat" Takeshi Kitano and Keniji Yanobe, originally produced for the Setouchi Art Triennale that takes place in the area. It is one of the artworks that is now permanently on display.


Originally there was no roof over it, and the statue was below ground only rising up for 5 minutes every hour. Takeshi is famous in japan as a comedian and TV presenter, but internationally he is known as a film-maker. The unexpected and surprising is a large part of why I enjoy my walks around rural Japan......


Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Chiran Samurai District


I wandered around the Samurai district in Chiran early in the morning before tourists had arrived. I recently posted on the gardens found in many of the former samurai residences. It is a Preservation District of Groups of Traditional Buildings, one of about 120 such districts around Japan, and I have come to enjoy most of the ones I have visited, though the better ones tend to be, like here in Chiran,  off the beaten track


Primarily one street, it is lined with well-constructed stone walls topped with impenetrable hedges. To get into any residence or garden you have to pass through a high-walled corridor that twists and tiurns at 90 degrees several times, a classic defensive arrangement found in many castles.


This was a semi-fortified village. The Shogunate decreed that each domain must only have one castle. This resulted in many castles being dismantled, and others moved. It was also decreed that all samurai must live within the castle town. Here in the distant lands of the Satsuma in southern Kyushu, this last law was ignored.


The Satsuma placed settlements of samurai throughout their domain, Chiran being just one. This was obviously a defensive measure by the Satsuma, but may also have been simple logistics, because the Satsuma had a high percentage of samurai. A figure of 10% is often considered the percentage of samurai in the Japanese population, but here in Satsuma the figure was above 20%.


Sunday, April 26, 2020

Okayama Castle


Okayama Castle was constructed between 1573 to 1597 by the Ukita Clan. They were on the wrong side of the Battle of Sekigahara and so the castle passed briefly to the Kobayakawa Clan before coming under the control of the Ikeda Clan who held it until the abolition of the domains in 1869.


The castle's nickname was  Crow Castle because of its black exterior. The famous Himeji Castle not far away was likewise nicknamed "White Egret Castle".


The Asahi River was utilized as a moat on two sides of the castle.


Some of the roof decorations are gilded, but for its first few years all the roof tiles were  gilded earning it the nickname Golden Crow Castle.


This last photo is taken from Korakuen Garden which was built by the Ikeda.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Samurai Gardens of Chiran


At the start of day 35 of my first walk around the island of Kyushu I wandered around the former samurai district in Chiran, a small town  in the south of Kagoshima. Seven of the former samurai residences are open to the public, but none of the buildings can be entered. However they all have delightful gardens.


Most of the gardens are relatively small and usually incorporate the distant mountains as "borrowed scenery". The first photo is the garden at the Saigo Keiichiro residence. This second photo is at the Hirayama Ryoichi residence. Its garden is unusual in that it has no stone arrangements, and is primarily pruned hedges, including azalea. This type of garden was an Edo period innovation and is usually attributed to Kobori Enshu.


Obviously, all these residences belonged to fairly high ranking samurai. The above garden belonged to Sata Mifune. 6 of the 7 gardens are karesansui, dry gardens with no water.


This one belonged to Sata Tamiko, and the bottom photo belonged to Mori Shigemitsu. It is the only garden with a water feature, and I believe he was the most senior samurai of the district


Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Gongendo Shrine Ishigaki


Gongendo Shrine is a Shinto shrine on Ishigaki Island in Okinawa Prefecture. It is claimed that Okinawa is part of Japan, and it is also claimed that "Shinto" is the indigenous religion of Japan that dates back thousands of years into the mists of prehistory.


Gongendo Shrine was established in 1614, though it was destroyed by a tsunami in 1771 and rebuilt in 1786. and as far as I am able to discover was the first Shinto shrine on the island.


The Ryukyu Kingdom was established on the main island of what is now called Okinawa in the 15th Century and later took control of Ishigaki. In 1609 the Japanese Satsuma Clan invaded the Ryukyus and established military domination. Gongendo Shrine was built in 1614.


Like most Japanese shrines of that time Shinto architecture and ornaments and such were heavily Buddhist, and so it is here at Gongendo, though the Chinese influence is evident. Gongendo Shrine is immediately adjacent to Torinji Buddhist temple which I will cover in my next Okinawa post


Monday, April 20, 2020

Chiran Peace Museum


Hundreds of stone lanterns line the main road that leads towards the Chiran Peace Museum in Chiran, southern Kagoshima. Chiran was an airbase operating during WWII that was home to one of the "Special Attack Squadrons", known as kamikaze in English.


All the displays are to do with the kamikaze operations and it is heavily focussed on the pilots themselves. It is very much a place to memorialize them and revere them.


The grounds of the museum also includes a Shinto shrine and a Buddhist temple, both of which revere the dead pilots. Photography was not allowed inside the museum.


I was quite uncomfortable during my visit as there was a heavily nationalistic element to the place, and in my humble opinion nationalism is not connected with peace. Individuals sacrificing their lives for the state is an increasingly popular ideology, especially for the sociopaths who comprise the state.


There seems to be no mention of the indoctrination that caused the sacrifice of the pilots in an unwinnable war, nor that such tactics likely influenced the decision to drop the nuclear bombs.

Many of the "peace" museums in Japan focus almost exclusively on Japanese victims. A few that didn't have in recent years had their funding removed.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Kitsuki Castle the Smallest Castle in Japan


Claimed to be the smallest castle in Japan, Kitsuki castle is located in northern Kyushu in the town of Kitsuki in Oita.


The keep is a mere three storeys, but the castle does occupy a strategic position on a headland overlooking the river and sea.


A castle was built here in the late 14th Century by Kitsuki Yorinao, though it must be said that the Japanese definition of castle would in many cases be called s small fortification in English.


I like Kitsuki. There is an excellent, well preserved samurai district near the castle which I will post on later. The current keep is a modern reconstruction though they have made an effort to keep signs of modern times out of the grounds.


Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Daikokuji Temple 97 on the Kyushu Pilgrimage


Situated on top of Mount Kunimiyama above the town of Makurazaki in the far southeast of Kagoshima is Daikokuji Temple, number 97 on the Shingon Kyushu Pilgrimage of 108 temples.


I got here on day 34 of my walk, and was met at the gate by several youngish people with shaved heads. In fact there were quite a few young people walking around the temple grounds and it seemed far more active than any others I had been to.


The most intriguing things were the statues. More than 100 of them, including 88 representing the Shikoku pilgrimage. Most of them were large, brightly colored, and obviously not made by professional sculptors.


Though it is a Shingon temple it also had a Zen dojo. There were also lots of photos of many foreign visitors and guests. The view down and across to Kaimondake was also nice. An unusual and particularly friendly place.


Monday, April 13, 2020

Sunrise from Osakikamijima Island



It was cloudy when I woke up on the third day of my walk along the Aki Nada island chain in the Inland Sea in Hiroshima, but it was still a delightful sunrise.


I had slept out at 425 meters above sea level, the highest point of the island.


It is pure coincidence that I am posting so many sunrise and sunset pics recently.


I occasionally do topical posts, but mostly I am sequentially going through my folders of photos from my walks around Japan, and posting chronologically from them.


Saturday, April 11, 2020

Kanmai Masks at Hirakiki Shrine


One of the things I am always on the lookout for in my wanderings in the back country of Japan, are masks. Being a mask-maker myself, though admittedly somewhat lapsed, I look for the unusual and diverse that can inform my own masks.....


At Hirakiki Shrine in the far south of Kagoshima Prefecture I hit paydirt. They had 24 old wooden masks on display. In a back room I also saw a collection of newer masks that the priest let me in to view, but today here are some of the old ones.


I wish I had talked with the priest more, but what I have been able to find out is that the masks were worn for Kanmai, which translates as "god dance"... they don't use the word kagura. There used to be a lot more dances performed, but some still are, in October.


Traditions in this part of Japan were usually somewhat different from mainstream Japan.


I'm sorry I didn't ask about the names of the masks....


Need to get back there and do some research..... one of these days.....


Thursday, April 9, 2020

Sunset from Michika Island


Michikajima, Michika Island, is a tiny, uninhabited island in the Seto Inland Sea. It is located between Hakata Island and Oshima Island and is part of Ehime.


It is on the Shimanami Kaido that connects Shikoku with Honshu. It connects to Hakata Island by the Hakata Bridge, and to Oshima Island by the Hakata-Oshima Bridge which can be seen in some of these photos. There is a small campsite on the island but is only accessible for cyclists, pedestrians, or moped/scooter riders.


I spent the night there at the end of my second day walking along the Shimanami Kaido, and I had the island completely to myself.


I know many of you are in lockdown right now, and I hope you are all staying safe and well. There will come a time when we can all go out and visit such places again.....