Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Lost in the Mountains Day 3 of the Chugoku Kannon Pilgrimage


Well actually lost is a bit of an exaggeration. I knew exactly where I was, I was in Mitsukitano, a rather secluded mountain village north of Okayama City. The problem was the road I had planned on taking simply no longer existed, and the alternative was a lengthy detour.

The Chugoku Kannon Pilgrimage is a fairly modern invention, made I believe in 1985. This means that there are no well-established, historical routes between the temples, and in fact the guidebooks are written for drivers, though public transport access to each temple is often given.

This means that when planning my walks along it I have to figure out my own route, usually with the aid of googlemaps, but often also with the Japanese official topo maps, whose website is now much more useful. 

There are many factors that influence my choice of routes, I prefer smaller roads if possible, and I prefer to do as little climbing as possible, and often I am tempted to make detours that take me to interesting sites.

On day 3 of my walk  I had chosen not to take the obvious route but had instead detoured up some narrow mountain roads so I could visit the Maneki Neko Museum. I had no particular interest in Maneki Neko, but I partially funded my walks by writing articles for a large Japanese tourism website, and so I try to visit such sites. By taking that detour I had accidentally discovered Kinzanji, the oldest temple in Okayama, with its magnificent ancient pagoda.

So, here I was in Mitsukitano, and across from me I could see the golf course scarring the hillside. My destination lay down there about 1k away between the two mountains, but the road that googlemaps told me should exist did not. It probably did exist at some point in the not-too-distant past. This was not the first time I had been put in this position by following maps, and it would certainly not be the last.

Monday, September 27, 2021

Bairinji Gaien the Outer Temple Garden


The Gaien is the outer gardens of Bairinji Temple in Kurume. Mostly situated to the north of the temple along the bank of the Chikugo River.

In 1958 the temple gave it to the city asa public park. It is most famous for more than 500 Plum trees of about 30 different species, asa well as azaleas. I visited in late December so there wee no plum blossoms ready yet.

As the first photo shows, there was evidence of maple trees, and the last photo shows evidence of Gingko, so there must have been some nice autumn colors a month or so before.

Even without the seasonal displays, I found the gardens nice to visit.

The buildings inside the walls seem to be closed to the pub;ic, but there still remains some zen gardens in the outer garden.

A previous post with details of the temple and its history can be found here.

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Bairinji Zen Temple


Bairinji Zen Temple.

Situated on the bank of the Chikugo River in Kurume, Fukuoka, Bairinji is a long established temple of the Rinzai sect that I would call a monastery as many Buddhist monks, priests, and laypeople come here for training .

Bairinji Zen Temple.

The temple originated in Fukuchiyama, northern Kyoto, and was named Zuiganji. It was moved to Kurume in the early 17th century by Toyoji Arima after he was given the Kurume Domain for his part in the battle of Sekigahara.

Bairinji Zen Temple

Zuiganji was where his father had been buried and the remains were also brought along so the temple could continue to be the family temple.

It was renamed Barinji after the posthumous name of his father. The cemetery contains the tombs of  the Arima famiy.

There seems to be some fine buildings, but the gates to most of them were closed. Some of the fates had some fine carvings. The temple is apparently home to many treasures..... but seems ,ostly closed to visitors.

However, the larger "outer" garden of the temple was made into a public park, and to this I return in the next post...

Buy tatami direct from Japan

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

A Long and Delightful Day 51 on the Kyushu Pilgrimage


A Long and Delightful Day 51 on the Kyushu Pilgrimage

It was still dark when I left my hotel in Kurume on 23rd December 2013, and took the first train out to the south to where I finished my walk yesterday. Dawn revealed a thick blanket of frost on the land as I approached the first pilgrimage temple of the day.

After the temple I start to walk back towards Kurume ad am greeted by these jolly fellows. Apparently a biker group collecting donations and toys to give to kids. Think they were impressed that I didnt have to wear a fake beard to look like Santa.

By lunchtime I had climbed up to a mountaintop shrine that had stupendous views down over Kurume and the whole Chikugo River valley. I would be walking avross and around that area for the newxt week.

Down into Kurume to explore and I discover a lot of small gardens....

Chinese Garden.

Most surprising was a Chinese garden

However, the highlight of the day was a visit to something I could see not long after visiting the first temple, but which still took a couple of hours to reach...... The Kurume area is not a well known tourist destination, but I hope you will join me over the next week or two as I post photos of some of the surprising delights I found....

Monday, September 20, 2021

Flowers of Taketomi Island

Taketomi 竹富島

I don't often take photos of flowers. I quite like flowers, and they are obviously beautiful, but I am not obsessed with them.

All these shots were taken on Taketomi Island in Okinawa, a sub-tropical environment with some large and spectacular flowers.

I visited in an April, so don't know what the floral offerings are at other times of the year.

I also have absolutely no oidea of the names of any of these flowers, in English, Japanese, nor Lation.

This display was in front of the village school, or maybe the former village school. One could easily imagine oneself in England.

Ishigaki Sea Salt

Buy Ishigaki Bath Salts from Japan

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Koinoki Shrine the Love Shrine in Fukuoka

Koinoki Shrine

Koinnoki Shrine is within the grounds of Mizuta Tenmangu Shrine in southern Fukuoka and is distinctive for being painted pink.

There are also a plethora of hearts around the shrine so you would perhaps not be surprised that the shrine advertises itself as a Love Shrine.

Probably the original shrine that took the name "Love Shrine" is the small one in Kyoto next to Kiyomizu Temple. It enshrines Okuninushi who, since the Edo period, became known as the kami to pray to for success in finding a spouse or lover. However , here at Mizuta Tenmangu it is not Okuninsuhi who is enshrined but Koinoki no mikoto, the only shrine in the country to this "god of love"

The shrine is very popular, especially for young females, and there are many things they can spend their money on including this heart-shaped ema, votive plaques, as well as omamori, amulets, and omikuji, fortunes, all guaranteed to have a love theme.

As well as the pink color scheme, other decorations have been added to the shrine to appeal to the target demographic. I quite liked the semi-abstract dosojin statue.

There was also a Meoto Iwa, or "married couple rocks". Usually, these are naturally occurring pairs of rocks, often on the shore, with a shimenawa connecting them. Here I suspect the rocks were purposefully arranged. There were also  hearts found all over the place.

I can find no information about the kami Koinoki no mikoto. I strongly suspect that it was simply the name for a local kami and because of the idiosyncrasies of the Japanese language the Chinese character representing"koi" was changed to the one that reads as "love". This kind of redefining of words is fairly common, perhaps the most well-known example being "Karate". Originally kara was written using the character meaning China, but this was rewritten by the Meiji government to the character for "empty hand", thereby obscuring the Chinese origin of the martial art.

This was my final stop on my 50th day walking the Kyushu Pilgrimage that had started out in the fog further south in Arao, Kumamoto. On my way north I stopped in at shrines before reaching one of the pilgrimage temples. I had a wonderful time exploring the nearby Kyushu Geibunkan and its' annexes before reaching Mizuta Tenmangu. 

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Nakane Samurai Residence & Garden in Kitsuki

Nakane Samurai Residence

The castle town of Kitsuki in Oita is yet another of the small towns in Japan that have chosen to label themselves as "Little Kyoto". The castle claims to be the smallest in Japan and the town that grew up around the castle is organized in an unusual way due to the lay of the land.

There are two bluff, kind of small plateaus with  steep slopes that in places are cliffs. It bwas on top of these that the samurai built their homes as a defensive location. The narrow strip of land between these two strips of high ground is where the merchants and lower class townspeople lived and worked.

Atop the southern bluff, closest to the castle, is the former home of the Nakane family who were, I believe, the highest-ranked of the retainers to the castle lord. As befitting their status the Nakane had quite a rage garden.

When I visited the house was occupied by a kimono rental company and was therefor free to enter and explore. It seems the kimono rental has moved to a different location and now the house is just an open house but remains free to enter.

It seesm thatdressing up in kimono to explore the town gives you free entry to all the samurai houses, museums etc in the town.

The northern bluff is actually very well preserved with many former samurai houses open to the public and is a Historic Preservation District. Many of the houses also have quite nice traditional gardens.

Buy dokudami tea from Japan

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Many Komainu at Mizuta Tenmangu


Mizuta Tenmangu is a fairly large, well establishd, and popular shrine  in southern Fukuoka, and so has over the years received donations and support from wealthy benefactors as well as parishioners. Komainu statues are one such recipient of donations, and Mizuta Tenmangu has numerous pairs that have been installed over the centuries.

These first pair are carved into the lintels of the porch, along with baku, the mythical elephant-like creature. Usually, but not always,  one of the pair will have an open mouth, and one a closed mouth. With this pair, it is not clear.

The open mouth corresponds to "Ah" and the closed mouth to "un", the Sanskrit equivalent of the Greek alpha and omega. usually the "ah" is on the right, I presume because the Japanese traditionally wrote and read from right to left.

All these komainu are made out of different kinds of stone. Originally komainu were wooden and placed inside the shrines. Predominantly in the Edo period they came to be placed outside and made of more weather-resistant stone, though you can sometimes find them made of metal or ceramic.

Behind this pair, you can see a bronze statue of an ox.... a symbol of Tenjin, and found at many Tenmangu shrines.

Lichen and erosion take their toll on komainu and other stone statues. One of the pairs here is in the haunches raised pose.

This final pair seem to be more recent as they have little miss, lichen, or erosion. I continue to be fascinated by the diversity of styles of how komainu are represeneted both through history and in different regions. A selection of previous posts featuring komainu can be viwed by clicking this link.