Monday, April 26, 2010

Early morning at Sofuku-Ji


Just got back from a great, but hectic, weekend down in Nagasaki.


Early this morning we visited Sofuku-Ji, a Chinese Buddhist temple.

The low morning sun created some great shadows.....


Built in 1629 by Chinese residents of Nagasaki. It is now a temple of the Obaku sect of Japanese Zen Buddhism.


21 of the buildings and statues are "cultural assets", and there are 2 National Treasures, one of which is the Main Hall which was made in China and shipped over to be erected by 1649.

It looks and feels more Chinese than Japanese, and I will post more later...


Friday, April 23, 2010



The Yamanobenomichi (the road along the base of the mountains) has the distinction of being the oldest road mentioned in Japanese historical records, the Kojiki and Nihonshoki, as well as being mentioned in many poems in the Manyoshu. What is left of it runs from approximately Tenri to Sakurai in Nara Prefecture.

Sections of the route are footpaths, and sections are on quiet village roads. There is no real up and downs and so it can be walked pleasantly in a day.


There are masses of historical sites along the way. Many of the shrines I've already posted about here, including the major shrines of Isonokami and Omiwa, as well as lots of interesting smaller shrines including the Sumo Shrine where legend has it the first human sumo match took place.

A lot of the temples in the area were razed in the early Meiji Period, but there are several along the way including Chogaku-Ji.


There are also many burial mounds including some large ones like the Hashihaka Kofun. In the Meiji period the government went around and ascribed Imperial ancestors to all these tombs and built torii on them as part of the new State Shinto, but historians generally have differing histories to them. Many now believe that Hashihaka is Himikos Tomb.


You would probably want to bring your own lunch/picnic as there are not a lot of facilities along the way,... some vending machines and maybe farmers stalls selling fruit. The small settlements are very quiet and rustic, in fact the whole route is a very pleasant, quiet, relaxing break from the buzz and hubbub of nearby Nara and Kyoto.


Not actually on the route, but at one of the places you would leave the route to head back to the station in sakurai is the biggest torii in Japan. Built in 1986 to commemorate a visit by the Emperor, the black steel torii rises 32.2 metres, eclipsing the previous biggest torii at Yasakuni.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Shimenawa Diversity


Shimenawa, the sacred ropes most commonly found at Shinto shrines, come in a wide variety of styles, shapes, and sizes.

The simplest would simply be a length of string with shiden hanging from it such as would be used to line the roads leading to a shrine during matsuri, or to enclose a temporary sacred space.

One day in Shimonoseki 791

Thicker rope is commonly used, usually made of rice straw, but increasingly make of plastic. The long shimenawa used to connect sacred rocks would be of this type.


When it comes to size and sculptural form, the shimenawa of Izumo rank high, including the largest shimenawa in the world.


Recently in the Bitchu area (now part of Okayama Prefecture) I found this unusual design at several shrines.


Shimenawas with fringes I've seen at several places. This one is at one of the shrines on Yoshidayama in Kyoto City.

48 Hours. 227 oif 600

There are severak styles that involve the thicker ropes being tightly wrapped to make them smoother. This one is at one of the Munakata Shrines in northern Kyushu.


There are several styles of shimenawa that are braided. I believe one of these styles is known as Kasuga style. The one above was a common design around the base of Mount Daisen in Tottori.


Very short shimenawa can often be found on Hokora (wayside shrines) or Kamidana (household altars. This one is up in Higashi Izumo

Part of my continued fascination with visiting new shrines is to discover new variations on such things as the shimenawa, statues and carvings etc.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Santoka Taneda

Pricks and pussies
Boiling together
In the overcrowded bath.

This is the most common translation of a poem by Yamaguchi born poet Santoka Taneda. The draincover is in Yuda Onsen, and I am informed that the meaning is read nowadays to mean that both men and women are welcome in Yuda Onsen's spas.

He was a very interesting poet, by all accounts an inveterate drunk who came under the influence of the Free Haiku Movement.

After what was probably a failed suicide attempt he became a monk and then spent the rest of his life wandering Japan, begging, and writing poems a la Basho.

His poetry, like much of Japanese "folk" culture is quite crude and earthy, displaying a very human and natural attitude. Those who prefer the sanitized Victorian/Puritan/Confucian version of japanese culture that prevails today may not like his stuff, but its worth searching out.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Vacation 2010 Day2: along the Coventry Oxford canal


For the second day of my vacation I really lucked out weatherwise. I was out at sunrise under a blanket of fog. My plan was to walk along the Coventry canal until the start of the Oxford Canal and then keep going to see how far I could get.

I've always had good luck with photography along the canals as they offer such perfect reflections.


I was surprised at how much wildlife there is along the canals, ducks especially.


A few miles along at Hawkesbury Junction is the start of the Oxford Canal which winds through the countryside to Oxford, 78 miles away. I plan on eventually walking all the way to Oxford, and then along the Thames to London, and this was my second leg of the journey.


One of the great things about walking the canals is that they are flat.... a pleasant change from Japan where every walk involves climbing. Another great thing is that there are pubs liberally scattered along their length. At 8 a.m. there weren't any open though.


A lot of people live on the canals, and there are a lot of people cruising them for pleasure in rentals.


Saturday, April 17, 2010

Adakaya Kojins

The main kami in my area is known as Omoto, and is represented by a straw serpent. Up in Izumo a similar kami goes by the name of Kojin, and it is also represented by a serpent made of rice-straw. In the Higashi izumo area these straw serpents have developed into large sculptural forms. The 2 pictured here are from Adakaya Shrine.

You won't find Kojin in the ancient chronicles as it has nothing to do with the ruling classes or the political Shinto of the shrines. It is a "folk" kami, which simply means it was/is actually worshipped by people. It is a kami that combines elements of ancestor and nature worship.

Though now in the grounds of Adakaya Shrine, these 2 altars would have been moved here during the late Meiji Period when the government closed down half the folk shrines in the country and moved them to state shrines.

The number of gohei in front of the altars, as well as the care and attention that goes into creating these straw serpents attests to the continued importance of Kojin to the local people. The only other place I have seen such large Kojin was on the eastern side of Dogo, the largest of the Oki Islands.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Shimonoseki Kaikyokan


Shimonoseki Kaikyokan is the big, new aquarium located right on the seafront in Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi Prefecture.


It was designed by the Nikken Sekkei Company who also designed our local aquarium, Aquas.

Whereas the design of Aquas was based on the shark form, Kaikyokan is supposedly based on the whale form.


The entrance foyer has a huge whale skeleton on display. (Nearby at the fish market you can by whale steaks)

Many of Japan's whaling fleet are based in Shimonoseki. Ooops... I mean of course Japan's "research" fleet.


By all accounts the aquarium has good displays, but at 1,800yen for entrance, the short time I had as I passed through Shimonoseki meant I didn't go in.


They do have a big display of Fugu.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Vacation 2010 Day1: Coventry.


I took a break from posting recently as I went on vacation.

A lot of friends and family read this blog, so I thought I would post vacation pics here.

My first day was in Coventry, the city I grew up in.


One of the first things I notice when I return to Europe are the trees. They are different from Japan. Older and gnarlier. The streets of European cities tend to have more trees than in japan.


It was really nice to see stone buildings, especially sandstone. This is Swanswell gate in the old town wall dating to the fifteenth Century.


The area around Millenium Square has been redeveloped with a great Transport Museum (free), and more public art. This statue is of Whittle, the inventor of the jet engine.


The skyline in my old neighborhood used to be dominated by the gasworks, but they have long gone and been replaced with Ricoh Stadium, the home of the Coventry FC.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Tachikue Gorge


Tachikue Gorge on the Kando River just south of Izumo City is a great place to spend a quiet couple of hours.


The area is a designated scenic area because of the towering rock formations, many of which have buddhist names as this was a center of Shugendo. All that remains now though is one temple, Reiko-Ji, and 1500 statues along the cliffs and around the giant trees.


There are 2 suspension bridges that cross over to a pleasant footpath. The times I`ve been there I`ve been the only one there. There is a youth hostel in the gorge, but storms a few years ago caused it to close and I don't know if it has opened again. There is also an Onsen on the main road side of the river that has great views of the gorge from its open-air baths.


There are regular buses to Tachikue from outside Izumo-Shi railway station, though the best way to approach it is by walking down the river valley from the mountains :)


Saturday, April 10, 2010

More Colourful Koi


Japanese koi come in an astonishing number of breeds.

Here are a few of the major ones.....


KOHAKU.... white with large red markings on top

TAISHO SANSHOKU..... similar to the Kohaku but with the addition of black.

SHOWA SANSHOKU.... black koi with red and white markings/


CHAGOI..... meaqns tea colored... olive green, brown, bronze etc

SHIRO UTSURI... black with white markings

GOLD OGON..... single color, ranging from gold to yellow.


AKA BEKKO.... red with small black markings

BEKKO.... White, with small black markings.

UTSURI MONO..... 2 colred in an almost checkerboard pattern. Several color combinations.

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