Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Garden at Kozanji Temple


The garden at Kozanji Temple in Chofu, Yamaguchi, is neither well-known nor well-visited, though the temple itself and its grounds are usually crowded.

It's a large, Zen temple whose main hall is a National Treasure as it is one of the oldest Kara-yo buildings left in Japan. Kara-yo is the Chinese-influenced temple architecture that was introduced along with Zen in the 13th century and so is strongly associated with the Zen sects.

Kozanji is the 19th temple on the 33 temple Chugoku Kannon Pilgrimage, and that was the reason for my visit. While wandering the grounds I was approached by a priest who engaged me in conversation. Foreign visitors to the temple are certainly not rare, so maybe he was intrigued by my pilgrim jacket.

Anyway, it was he who suggested I seek out and visit the garden which is tucked away at the side of one of the main halls and seems to have been designed to be viewed from what I presume to be the abbots residence.

The garden has a pond as well as some shaped azalea bushes, lanterns, etc but was very shaded and primarily a moss garden. Less-manicured than most zen gardens, it was also very shaded.

Far more restrained than the huge Chofuteien stroll-type garden I had visited earlier that morning. Next up I head to the nearby Mori Mansion gardens

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Chofuteien Garden

Chofuteien Garden

Chofu, a former castle town not far from Shimonoseki in Yamaguchi, was a base of the Mori Clan and though not so well known or visited is actually a delightful place for a visit.

Chofuteien is a large stroll-type garden that opened to the public in 1993. These photos are from a visit I made on November 27th, 2014, on my 24th day walking the Chugoku Kannon Pilgrimage. I had been here before in the late spring when everything was green, but the autumn colors were really spectacular.

It is on the site of the former manor of Nishi Yukinaga, the most senior of the Mori vassals.

In the middle of the 31,000 sq meter garden is a large pond, with koi, and a couple of bridges over it as well as stepping stones.

There is a small teahouse looking over the pond and a large summer house as well as a couple of white-walled storehoues, one of which hosts exhibitions.

The path heads up into the woods to a waterfall and heads back down to the storehouses through a bamboo grove and areas planted in a variety of seasonal flowers.

There are two more gardens in the old town, one a temple garden in a large Zen temple, and the other in the Mori Mansion. If readers requested it I could post on them soon.

Buy dokudami tea from Japan

Friday, June 18, 2021

Taketomi Beaches


Taketomi Island, a small island a few kilometers from the larger Ishigaki island in what is now Okinawa Prefecture, is a very popular tourist site that visitors come to primarily to see the picturesque traditional village, and to take a ride in a cart pulled by water buffalo.

However the island also has a couple of rather nice beaches, one a little rocky, the oyjer with fine white sand.

We visited in April, out of season, and so the beaches were deserted. Also it was an overcast day so the colors are not so spectacular.

At low tide, it seemed too shallow for swimming or snorkeling for quite a ways out.

This gentleman was off collecting something, maybe a type of seaweed, maybe shellfish.....

Ishigaki Sea Salt

Buy Ishigaki Bath Salts from Japan

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Tamana Observatory


Taman Observatory is a curious structure located on a small hilltop overlooking a sports park and the town of Tamana beyond. It's not so high and the views are not particularly impressive.

More like an oversized, climbable sculpture than a building, it does have a single room inside the central ovoid shape.

As a photographer I found it exciting as I spent a good hour running around taking lots of geometric, abstract shots.

It is yet another of the Kumamoto Artpolis projects, and was completed in 1992, so an offspring of the bubble-era. Like so many similar projects, the lack of use and deteriorating concrete surfaces do not bode well for the future.

If I was a kid with friends, it would be a great place to play hide and seek, and I would imagine it would be suitable for a paintball contest, with lots of different levels and nooks and crannies.

The architect is a young Kagoshima native, Masaharu Takasaki, who does not seem to be very well known but does have a book written about him. I came across another of his projects earlier in my walk when down in Kagoshima.Nanohanakan  Sports Park is quite bizarre, but also excellent for the kind of geometric, abstract photography I am partial to.. 

It was an excellent place to spend the solstice night to see the sunrise

Monday, June 14, 2021

Down the Kikuchi River


December 20th, the 48th day of my first walk around Kyushu and I left Yamaga to head down to Tamana. First stop was the burial mounds museum I posted about here and here. Pictured above are some of the haniwa reproductions. Haniwa were the ceramic figures placed on top of the burial mounds. Horses and chickens appear here. Houses, deer, and human figures are also common.

My route takes me roughly alog the Kikuchi River, though here the land is fairly flat and the river meansers so the road sometimes cuts straight. I am still surprised by how much agricuture takes place under plastic. I have no idea what was growing here, though being December 20th, the coldest weather had yet to arrive.

A statue modelled on a clay haniwa marks the entrance to a cluster of tombs, the largest being the Etafunayama Mound. The grave goods excavated from the burial chamber included multiple swords, mirrors, and jewels, collectively known as the three symbols of Imperial power, or the Imperial Regalia.

November and December are my favorite times for walking around western Japan. The weather is usually good, the light is great, and the lack of mosquitoes makes sleeping out more pleasant, but the days are somewhat short.

Arched stone bridges would not be particularly noreworthy in many places, but in Japan they are somewhat unusual. Introduced by Chinese monks in Nagasaki most of them seem to be in areas near to Nagasaki. Therevwere several more in Tamana.

Being the solstive eve I found myself a nice high-point to spend the night.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Kumamoto Komainu


Day 48 of my Kyushu Pilgrimage found me walking down the Kikuchi River in Kumamoto from Yamaga to Tamana. As normal I stopped in at every shrine I passed on the way, on the look out for art, stories etc. Usually I would post about each shrine, with details of the kami there enshrined, history, features, etc but these posts do not seem to interest many people, so instead I will just post some photos of the komainu I encountered.

Komainu literally means "Korean Dogs", but they are usually translated as "Lion Dogs. They are a variation on the guardian lions found in China that were transmitted to Japan via Korea. Some of the earliest ones found in Japan are in Yaegali Shrine in Izumo, which attests to Izumo's close connection to Korea.

Most komainu are now found at the entrance to shrines and lining the walkway to the main shrine buildings. However thyese date to the Edo Period at the earliest, and the original versions were places inside thye shrines, or inside the gates where they are often paired with Zuijin.

Komainu are in essence guardians, and can also be found outside temples as well as secular properties. Usually, but not always, one of the pair will have an open mouth, one closed. Like with the Buddhist Nio guardian statues, this represennts the "ah" and "un", the alpha and omega of sanskrit.

Sometimes the pair are male and female, and sometimes the female may be shown with a pup or two. Mostly they are shown in a sitting position, but sometimes, especially in Izumo, one will have its haunches raised like the photo above.

There is more and more standardization of Komainu designs, so I delight in seeking out unusual, local variations like those I discovered further south in Kumamoto.

Quite rarely I have actually found standard lion statues at a few shrines.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Kumamoto Decorative Tumulus Museum


These are just some architecture shots of the museum I posted on last. This time I use the name that is listed in the official Kumamoto Artpolis listings, in which the museum is included.

It opened in 1993 and was designed by Tadao Ando, one of the best known modern Japanese arhitects, though many dislike his obsessive use of plain concrete.

From a purely photographic viewpoint I really like his work as it allows me to take strong, abstract photos with lots of curves and shadows.

A typical feature of many Ando designs is a great, sunken, circular space that brings the sky into the design, something he also often does with great expanses of water reflecting the sky.

More of my visits to Tadao Ando works can be found here. Some of the older posts have lost their photos. If you have any particular desire to see them or if you would like to see more posts on Ando Tadao, please leave me a message in the comments.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Decorated Tombs Museum Kumamoto

Tombs Museum

The Kumamoto Decorated Tombs Museum is located a few miles from Yamaga, north of Kumamoto City. It is sometimes referred to as the Forest of Tombs Museum.

The museum is situated in the middle of an area that has a high concentration of burial mounds of different sizes including the largest, a so-called keyhole tomb.

Burial mounds, tumulus in Latin, are found all over the world, called barrows in England, cairns in Scotland, and kofun in Japan where the name is applied to a historical period, the Kofun Period,  which runs from about 300 to 538 AD.

Burial chambers within the mounds that were decorated, either with carving or painted were in a minority, with a few being found in the Nara/Kinki area, but most being found in northern Kyushu. Of course there may well be more in the Nara region but the tombs there are not excavated. The official reason given is  to protect the dignity of the imperial ancestors, but many believe it is to avoid questions about the origins of the imperial clans.

The kofun, like so much technology, was imported into Japan from the Korean Peninsula. Decorated tombs, in particular, seem to have the strongest link with the kingdom of Paekche. On display inside the museum are many replicas of these decorated tombs. I believe they were originally created for a major national exhibition on decorated tombs in 1993.

While approaching the museum I also passed by another unusual type of burial, tunnel burials, where small tunnels were excavated into the rock face, kind of like pigeonholes or left luggage lockers