Sunday, December 20, 2020

Pagoda at Kinzanji


While walking up a country lane north of Okayama City on the third day of my walk along the Chugoku Kannon Pilgrimage, I spied a pagoda on the hillside ahead. I was quite surprised as while studying maps of my route I did not notice any major temples.

Turns out it was Kinzanji, a Tendai temple that was commonly known as Kanayama Kannonji and was founded by Ho-on Daishi in 749.

The pagoda, a three storeyed one, was built in 1788. Approaching the pagoda you pass through the Niomon, which like the nio housed inside, is much in need of repair and is held together by wooden scaffolding.

Where the huge main hall once stood now all that remaons are the foundation stones. The niomon, main hall, and pagoda line up. There is also a goma-do that dates back to the 16th century.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Reflections of Hunting the Turquoise


Day 1 in Mitsu.

Day 2 in Kaga

Da3 in Kasaura

Day 4 Katae

Day 5 Mihonoseki

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Hunting the Turquoise

 November is my favorite time of the year to go walking in Japan, and I usually spend a lot of time walking pilgrimage routes stalking the autumn colors. For obvious reasons this year is a little different and instead I chose to stay local and explore the coast of Shimane. Whe the sun is shining and the sea is calm then it becomes turquoise....... I went on a five day walk along the eastern half of the Shimane Peninsula in search of this turquoise.

On the first day I walked from Kashima to Kaga, The photo was taken in Owashi.

Day 2 was from Kaga up to Tako. This is the harbor in Okidomari in Tako village.

On the third day while heading for Sagiura, I turned a bend in the road and came to this stunning view looking down on Kitaura.

Before reaching Shichirui on the 4th day I skirted Tamayu Bay.

My destination at the end of 5 days was Mihonoseki.

Monday, December 14, 2020

Masks of Taketomi Island


Taketomi Island is a small island just off Ishigaki Island in the chain of islands now called Okinawa. It is most well known for the water buffalo-drawn carts (click here) that take tourist around the small village which is a preservation district.

Being a mask-maker myself, though admittedly somewhat lapsed, I was intrigued by the masks in the local folklore museum that was housed in the villages small buddhist temple.

There are obvious similarities with the masks I found on nearby Ishigaki Island (click here)

There are also some similarities between Okinawan masks and Japanese masks, with the mask below very similar to a Hannya mask.

Ishigaki Sea Salt

Buy Handmade Masks From Japan

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Senfukuyama Kanrenji Temple 53 on the Kyushu Pilgrimage


Located on a hilltop just north of the main train station in Hitoyoshi, Kanrenji is temple 53 on the Kyushu Pilgrimage that I visited towards the end of my 42nd day walking.

Said to be founded as a zen temple by Taira Shigemori, son of the famous Taira Kiyomori, it was destroyed during the Warring States period and rebuilt as a Shingon temple at the end of the 16th century.

The honzon is an 11 -faced Kannon claimed to date back to the temples founding in the 12th century. The temple is also on the local Kannon Pilgrimage.

This was my last stop in Hitoyoshi. Next day I would start walking the Kuma River further downstream to the coast.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

New Thatch for Yamada Daio Shrine


Since I moved to the Japanese countryside more than 18 years ago, almost all of the thatched farmhouses in my area have disappeared. However, along the upper reaches of the Kuma River in the mountains of Kumamoto there are still a lot of shrine and temple buildings with traditional thatched roofs.

The skill of thatching has not been lost as I discovered when visiting Yamada Daio Shrine. The scaffolding was still up but it seemed that the rethachting of the roofs had been finished.

As far as I could make out the main kami enshrined here was a wealthy local landowner. It was unclear whether he was a vassal of the ruling Daimyo  or a farmer who grew wealthy later/.

Though what is called Shinto has managed to reinvent itself as a "nature" religion, much of its roots lie in deifying political power.

Monday, December 7, 2020

Takatera-in Temple 52 on the Kyushu Pilgrimage


As the suffix "in" shows, this was not originally a full temple, rather a hermitage.

The main building seems to be primarily the priests house. However the focus of the temple is the okunoin, or inner sanctuary.

Reached via 375 stone steps, after climbing to the top there is still a walk through the forest along an ancient stone path.

The okunoin used to house three statues of Bishamonten, two of which are registered nationally as Important Cultural Propertis and are now kept in the temple's teasure house and ar not normally shown to the public.

Saturday, December 5, 2020

Down the Kumagawa River by Boat


The Kuma River, or as it is commonly referred to in English, the Kumagawa River, that runs through  Hitoyoshi is classed as one of the three fastest rivers in Japan. It was also the site of disastrous floods earlier this year.

Boat trips on the river are a major tourist attraction, with primarily two courses offered, the Seiryu course from Hitoyoshi down to Watari, and the Kyuryu course from Watari down to Kyusendo. The Kyuryu is the fastest section and involves a lot of whitewater.

I took the Seiryu which is gentler and is by far the most popular. Each traditional, wooden boat has two boatmen who in the slower sections help propel the boat, and in faster sections do more steering.

Though every boat carries a loudspeaker that is pumping out music and commentary it is nevertheless a very pleasant experience.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Unique Shimekazari of Hitoyoshi


Shimekazari are traditional New Year decorations usually found attached to the front door of homes and businesses. At the heart of a shimekazari is a small, stylized shimenawa, the "rope" used to demarcate sacred space, typically at shrines.

The shimekazari has the function to protect against bad spirits,but also to attract good fortune, and therefore usually include various symbols of good fortune like daidai, a kind of bitter orange, and or pine twigs.

While exploring Hitoyoshi in Kumaoto I came across these examples of shimekazari that are both very large, and also incredibky ornate, but also made out of  rice straw.

They go much further with the range of symbols of good fortune and include dragons, cranes, horses, etc. While normal shimekazari are destroyed after the new year period, these unique versions are obviously treasured as folk art.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Gangoji Temple & Kannonzenji Temple


The Sagara Graveyard I visited in Hityoshi was located behind a small temple, Gangoji, and there was a little bit of autumn color around the temple.

Near Gangoji I passed a larger temple, Kannonzenji, and there was a bit more color there.

Because of the pandemic I didn't get to do my usual walks hunting the Fall colors this year, so these will have to do.