Monday, January 14, 2013

Sand Museum Revisited


While walking the Iwami 33 Kannon Pilgrimage I was able to revisit many places I had been before. There were of course some new things, like the new draincover at Nima.


The design shows a woman playing a Koto, a reference to the "singing" sands of nearby Kotogahama Beach.

Singing is a bit of a stretch!.... as you walk on the sand it squeaks a little. Of course, if you are familiar with Japanese pop music you may realize that there is little distinction between squeaking and singing.


Also in the manhole design are the glass pyramids of Nima Sand Museum, the local museum built to showcase the sand.


Designed by Nima-born architect Shin Takamatsu, the largest pyramid houses the biggest sand-timer in the world.


When I was there in mid December the lower part of the timer was almost full. It takes a full year for all the sand to fall through. At midnight on December 31st the timer is ceremoniously rotated 180 degrees to begin the cycle again.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Sarutahiko Mask


Winter is the time I finally get to finish some of the masks I have been working on. This one is Sarutahiko.

According to the National Myths he was an Earth kami who guided Ninigi and his party, including Uzume who Sarutahiko later married, on their descent to Japan.


Sarutahiko masks are very common at shrines as he is most commonly known as a phallic kami, related to Dosojin, the phallic stones found at village borders and crossroads. His mask is often paired with Uzume/Otafuku.


Sarutahiko masks and Tengu masks are often conflated, and in Iwami the same mask is often used to represent both. usually though a tengu mask will be wearing a "tokin", a small hat-like box worn on the head of yamabushi.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Kikugahama Beach, Hagi


Stretching from the promontory to the west at the base of which are the ruins of Hagi castle to the old port to the east, Hagi's Kikugahama is a delightful,  fine sandy beach.


It is named after the Kikuya family, wealthy merchants who were great supporters and benefactors of the ruling Mori Clan. It was the Kikuyas who were responsible for building much of the old town that lies behind the beach.


With great views of the sunset, its also very photogenic at sunrise, which is when these photos were taken.


Thursday, January 10, 2013

Misumi Elementary School


Misumi, a small town on the Shimane coast between Hamada and Masuda has, like much of rural Japan, been depopulated over the last 60 years with a consequence being that many of the smaller elementary schools have been closed and merged into one central school.


For the design of their new school the town council chose to go with Shimane-born architect Shin Takamatsu, one of my favorite Japanese architects.


The school buildings have all the hallmarks of Shin Takamatsu, simple geometric solids like cyclinders, cubes, cones etc. the main building itself is circular.


Extensive use is also made of refelective pools of water. The school was closed when I visited but I hope to go back and see inide as the centre of the building is a circular pool.


The school opened in 1997 and sits on top of a hill with great views out over the Japan Sea.


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Shikoku 88 Temple 18 Onzanji


According to the legend, when Kukais mother visited him at this temple she was not allowed past the gate as being female she was impure. Kukai performed rituals for 17 days and the ban was lifted and she was allowed into the temple. She became a nun and supposedly her bones are housed here.


The temple was reputedly founded by Gyoki and he carved the statue of Yakushi Nyorai.


The previous 5 temples had all been in an urban environment and so it was nice to be once again out in the countryside, though it was a rainy day, the beginnings of my encounter with the typhoon.


Now the temple belongs to the Shingon sect, and the name translates as "Temple of Gratitude Mountain" referring to Kukais gratitude that his mother was allowed in.



Sunday, January 6, 2013

Onamuchimikonokami no Yashiro

After passing by Izumo Taisha, the route of the Izumo 33 Kannon Pilgrimage heads up a steep and narrow mountain lane. About 1k up the road is this small shrine, a sessha of Izumo Taisha.

The main kami is Onamuchi, the name of the kami more commonly known by his title Okuninushi, the Great Land Master. The second kami is Kotoshironushi, one of his sons and the main kami of the Miho shrine.

The third kami is Takahime, one of Okuninushis' daughters who married Amewakahiko the second envoy sent from the High Plain of Heaven to ask Okuninushi to hand over control of Japan to Amaterasu's line. Both the first and second envoys switched sides and joined Okuninushi and did not report back necessitating a third envoy being sent.

After this shrine, the only structure on the road up the mountain, the road continues to steeply ascend before dropping down towards the sea.

Friday, January 4, 2013

The Bridges at Usa Hachimangu

Back in November I went on a 5 day walk on the Kunisaki Peninsular down in Oita, Kyushu.

I have been wanting to walk the old Kunisaki Pilgrimage route, a shugendo pilgrimage based on a mandala of the Lotus Sutra, but it has been impossible to find details of it.

So I decided to make my own route, starting at Usa Hachimangu, where the original route would have started, and from there heading east over the peninsular to the coast, from there down the coast to Kitsuki, and then once more over the peninsular from south to north.

I spent the first hour exploring the gardens and lotus pond in the grounds of the shrine.

Dotted with several smaller shrines, at first light it was very photogenic despite the light drizzle.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Inside Track: Japan


With the increasing popularity of tablet computers and dedicated ebook readers the range of reading material available at a lower cost than print has ballooned, but it has also spawned a new type of publication,  ebooks that don't exist as hard copy, available at very low cost, for example Inside Track: Japan by JapanVisitor.

Starting in 2005, and its associated JapanVisitor Blog has been written by a team of long-term Japan residents from Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka, and Shimane. No prizes for guessing who the Shimane member is :). This little book is a collection of more than 60 of the most popular articles from the blog. By most popular is meant these are the articles that had the most visits, and I can say from my own blog that the posts that get more visitors are sometimes surprising, so what we end up with is a very diverse collection of topics.

There are a few of the major tourist sites in Japan:- Hikone Castle, some temples in Nara, Tokyo Tower, etc, but a lot more quirky, off-the-beaten-track sites like a Meteor Museum, a Shaving Museum, and the tunnels dug towards the end of the war for the government and Emperor to retreat to. All of the articles include access information, prices, opening times etc.

Another group of articles I would classify as "tips":- getting around by train, being vegetarian in Japan, and even some language tips on talking about the weather, and a whole slew of articles on miscellaneous things like Batting Centers, Japanese bicycles, Ladies shaving......

I read to learn things, so a good book is one that I learn a lot from, and I have to say I was surprised at how much I learned from this little volume. On sale for the same price as a cheap cup of coffee, well worth the purchase.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Last Day in Essouira


On my last day in Essouira we got up before the sun and took a cab a few miles south to a small village and walked back along the beach.


Jimi hendrix stayed in this village and legend has it that the island, rock outcroppings, and ruins were the inspiration for his song "Castles made of sand", but that was actually written a few years before he was here.


The Carthaginians were here in ancient times and on the little island was a roman villa about 2,300 years ago.


It was only a few miles back to the town but it took a few hours.....


It had been my first time in essouira and I hope to go back at some point. I would highly recommend it as a vacation destination....


2013 Year of the Snake


2013 is the Year of the Snake so I thought I would post some pics of that most lucky of all snakes, the White Snake. Long associated with Benzaiten, one of the 7 Lucky Gods of Japan, white snakes have appeared in many stories and legends throughout history, in all probabilty albino mutations of regular snake species, but the trait is not passed on to descendants.


But Iwakuni in Hiroshima is home to the unique Iwakuni White Snake, the only place in the country where they appear and a registered national monument.


They are first recorded as appearing in the 18th century, and are a mutation of the common Japanese rat Snake, Elaphe climocophora.

Best wishes for the coming year to all my readers.