Tuesday, 29 December 2009


A photograph has a certain kind of power.

My father passed away sometime ago and his photo brings back memories. After he passed away, we searched for some photos to use for his funeral. I found many pictures of him which I had never seen before. On the back of one of them was written my father’s name and 17 years old. His appearance was dramatically different and that made me think of his devotion to his work, family and friends, like many other Japanese men of his age his work was his hobby.

I found this picture in his photo pile. I think this is the area I was born, but nothing like it was even in those days.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Tenryu-ji Temple

Tenryu-ji Temple, Arashiyama, Kyoto

I think Tenryu-ji Temple’s attraction is the garden.

It has been known as Tenryu-ji and belonged to the Rinzai Zen sect of Buddhism since its founding in 1345 by the first Ashikaga shogun, prior to that the land had been a temple and for a time a detached palace.The temple has a long history, however it has suffered fire many times and the present day structures are mostly built within the last 200 years.

The garden around the pond has never been affected by the fires and is said to closely resemble the original.

It was designed by a priest Muso Soseki, who also designed the garden of Saiho-ji, Koke-dera or Moss Temple. It is a strolling style garden but the path around the pond is closed to the public.

Nevertheless it still has an open-spaced cheerful atmosphere with a backdrop of mountains showing seasonal colours throughout the year.

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Sagano Bamboo Grove

The image of this path is used frequently to introduce Sagano, the Arashiyama area, sometimes as a whole Kyoto or even Japan. This little path is very, very popular not only with overseas but also domestic visitors. There are countless bamboo forests all over Japan, but this is especially favoured because of its serene atmosphere. Many people come to enjoy it, so many in fact the atmosphere is far from serene. –it might be quiet very early morning.

The sound of bamboo blowing the wind is very peaceful and pleasant, indeed.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Jojakko-ji Temple

Jojakko-ji Temple, Sagano, Kyoto

Spring and autumn are the best seasons to visit Kyoto. Some places are well known for cherry blossom and some for Japanese maples. This temple is a popular place for Japanese maples. It is notably praised for its picturesque hillside setting amongst the blazing reds of autumn.

Jojakko-ji Temple was originally the retirement place of a renowned monk. The land was said to be donated by a successful merchant and the structures were donated or transferred from a castle and temple. It shows how influential and respected he was.

The temple has a pretty cypress bark roofed Taho-to tower, a thatched Nio-mon gate and a small quiet garden. It may worth trying to visit during the maple season.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Gio-ji Temple

Gio-ji Temple, Sagano, Kyoto

Sagano has been known as a beautifully scenic place since the beginning of Kyoto’s history. It used to be a popular location for the Imperial family and aristocrats to own second homes and for anyone seeking seclusion, some still-active temples were founded a long time ago for that reason. Gio-ji Temple was one of those and is known for two historical figures who became nuns and spent the rest of their lives there. The temple is named after one of them.

The precinct is surprisingly small, but the temple is in bamboo forest and the garden is covered with moss, it’s very pretty and cosy.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Adashino-Nenbutsu-ji Temple

Adashino-Nenbutsu-ji Temple, Kyoto

The other day I took guests to Arashiyama and Sagano areas. We started at Adashino-Nenbutsu-ji Temple in Kiyotaki.

It is located in north east Kyoto and takes 40 minutes by bus from the city centre. Nowadays it’s easily accessible from the city but until 40 or 50 years ago it was a very quiet backwater.

According to the temple record a monk, Kukai, founded the temple about 1,100 years ago to repose deceased souls in the area. The custom had been to leave bodies randomly in the open without burial and this area was the designated area for leaving the bodies. Later burial became the common practice for disposal of the deceased but there were still no cemeteries and graves were scattered throughout the area. Over the years the graves were abandoned because there were no relatives or descendants to look after them. These abandoned, scattered tombstones (in this case pagoda-shaped or jizo statues rather than the western idea of tombstones) were gathered together in around 1903 and set in the temple in order to help the souls of those buried and forgotten throughout the area. The temple’s uniqueness is due to the resulting huge number of aligned stone statues and pagodas there –it is said over 8,000 of them .

On the 23rd and 24th of August a festival takes place in the temple called “Sento-Kuyo (千灯供養)”. “sen(thousand) to(light) kuyo (repose of deceased souls)”. The candle lights offered in front of the statues are to pray for the souls of the deceased who are now unknown.

The temple is located on a mountain and viewing cherry blossom in spring and autumn colours is enjoyable there. The place reminds us life and death are connected and like the changing colours of the seasons nothing is eternal.

Adashino-Nenbutsu-ji (Official/ Japanese)

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Shimogamo Shrine (2)

Shimogamo Shrine, Kyoto

I’ve lived in Kyoto city nearly 10 years. Since I got involved in guiding overseas visitors, I’ve been to many places guiding and for research. There are more than 3,000 temples and shrines, many of them are not open to the public, it is impossible to visit them all, not that I intended to try it anyway.

Perhaps it’s surprising that in that time I’ve never visited such a well known shrine as Shimogamo. I always associate it with the Aoi (holyhock) festival which takes place in May and is one of the three major festivals in Kyoto along with Gion-Matsuri in July and Jidai-Matsuri in October. Though I thought it a must-see-place my daily routine makes it difficult to pop in. Anyway, it can be seen as a good example both of grandiose-scale shrine architecture and Shinto ritual practice.

I’ll tell you a little about Shimogamo Shrine.

The origin is unknown but it is one of the oldest shrines in the city and existed before the formation of Kyoto as a family shrine of indigenous Kyoto clan, Kamo. The official name is Kamomioya-Jinja (jinja means Shinto shrine), but nobody calls it that and uses the familiar name, Shimogamo-Jinja. Although the shrine is located in the centre of the city it still has a decent amount of woodland around it creating a pleasant atmosphere, enough to forget you are in the city centre. It is designated a World Heritage Site along with other temples and shrines in Kyoto.

Friday, 11 September 2009

A summer rite at Shimogamo Shrine –Shimogamo Shrine (1)

The Mitarashi festival at Shimogamo Shrine, Kyoto

It’s already September. The worst of the unbearable heat and humidity is passing, it’s getting milder. Before summer is gone I want to leave one more Kyoto summer.

I was requested to guide at Shimogamo Shrine and went to do a little pre-guiding research.

The day I went there was a festival taking place - Kyoto has so many festivals there’s one almost everyday somewhere in town. This festival is called The Mitarashi festival and involves ritual foot bathing in the water of Mitarashi pond (actually a stone-lined pool) in front of Mitarashi Shrine, part of the Shimogamo complex. The ritual is based on the belief that those who bathe their feet in the pond will be blessed by the god Mitarashi, bringing good health, curing plague and removing misfortune. There was a long queue I didn’t join waiting to follow the ritual. I had a look but wasn’t impressed…

I took my guests to the shrine and asked if they would like to have a look at the pool in which the ritual is conducted. It was terribly hot and we were almost dried up having been out in the strong sunshine all morning. There were only few people there. We approached the steps into the water and I couldn’t resist bathing my feet in the clear-looking water and took off my shoes, slowly walked in. The water wasn’t deep, coming to just below the knee and kind of chilly, but very pleasant and refreshing in the centre of the pool, until then I hadn’t realized it was spring water. I felt the water was not only cool but also blessing. No wonder there had been a long queue on my previous visit. Seeing is believing so I recommend you try it if you visit the shrine on a hot summer day.

I think spring water has ability to add something extra to things and feelings, which reminds me of this from my childhood. When ever I visited my grandmother in summer she always offered fruit which she cooled in a little stream by a paddy field. In my memory those home grown water melons and oriental melons were the best I’ve ever eaten.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

if they run after a hare

The day we went to Ichinohe we started by first driving to Shirakami-sanchi. I must say my plan wasn’t neat, it meant a long drive but it wasn’t without reward. The route from Shirakami-Sanchi to Ichinohe was long, taking us through the mountains sometimes on unsurfaced roads, we saw a Mountain Hawk Eagle swoop down on an unfortunate Japanese Hare that was already being chased up the road towards us by a Japanese Marten. The eagle pulled up at the last second, perhaps because of our presence, and perched in a dead tree next to our car. Both of us were thrilled to see the scene. The Hare was at a loss, with the Marten following up the road, us ahead and the Eagle perched above it walked in circles in the middle of the road. Finally it hopped into the forest and the other players soon disappeared too leaving just us sitting in our car on the empty road. It was like a show and though it might happen all the time we thanked for our luck that we could witness the performance.

We were so astonished to see the scene and couldn’t take off our eyes from it. This was the only photo we could take… the Marten, last to depart, sniffing around on the road contemplating its lost meal.


Gosyono Jomon Site -Japanese Stone Age sites (4)

Gosyono Jomon Site, Ichinohe town, Iwate Pref.

Before I went on the Tohoku trip I collected information by internet and found this archaeological site. I contacted them to arrange a visit with the resident volunteer guide. They answered my e-mail very promptly and apologised for being unable to provide us with an English-speaking guide, but arranged guiding in Japanese.

This was the third site we visited taking advantage of their guides. They asked us how long we would like the tour to be, 30 minutes or an hour, and whether we’d like to visit the visitor centre. We found out later not everyone bothers with the centre.

The award winning building is impressive, it blends seamlessly into the environment and the exhibition was well-organized. I must say it’s well worth paying for the admission fee.

We excited to see so many unearthed artefacts from the many Jomon sites in the town. They were very good condition, far better than those we’d seen elsewhere, so much so we asked if they were copies, and we were amazed to see the quality of workmanship. They are stunning.

This mask is a replica - but that doesn’t detract from its striking appearance. The original was shipped to the British Museum for a special exhibition. It is pity we weren’t able to see the real thing.

We started out with one guide and ended with three of them. All are local people who support the activities of the site, they are enthusiastic and really hospitable. The best thing is we could hear the local people’s point of view about having an archaeological site on the doorstep and told us so many interesting stories.

The site had long been known to locals but it wasn’t until the local government were planning to build an industrial park to bring jobs to the area that it was brought to wider public attention. Whether to conserve the site or develop local industry was a controversial issue but ultimately residents choose to protect the regions history. I suppose the local government offered a replacement location for industrial development.

The site is more like a park in that people can visit free. There seems to be lots going on, experiments and activities not just restricted to scholars but also involving the local community.

We enjoyed it so much we spent more than two hours with our guides. Even at closing time they were kind enough to ask the place to stay open a little longer so they could finish showing us everything.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Sannai-Maruyama Site -Japanese Stone Age sites (3)

Sannai-Maruyama Site, Aomori, Aomori Pref.

While I was travelling Akita I met a group of old women from various parts of Japan who seemed to be on a reunion trip and we had a chat about own towns. One of them came from Aomori and recommended I should visit Sannai-Maruyama Site. According to her the site was well-organized and worth the long journey to get there. I said “Yes, I will.” The next month my husband and I decided to go Aomori, so I put the site on top of my places-to-see list and arranged for the resident English-speaking volunteer guide to help.

That day we started on the east coastline of Aomori Prefecture to see birds then drove along the north coastline back to Aomori city. I had arranged the guide for the entrance hall
the last available tour time and we arrived at the last minute, as it took more than 3 hours to get there.

The site, looking like a large park, is located just beyond the outskirts of Aomori city and it is entered through a large, extremely modern art museum seeming to connect old and new or past and present.

This Jomon site was discovered in 1993 and has been gradually excavated ever since, but it might take long, long time to be completed and reveal its full extent. I’ve posted about two archaeological sites so far, both of them were stone circles intended as ritual sites, this on the other hand was a large thriving village of the Jomon period. As it’s not a stone site, all the original wooden structures have gone leaving only holes and wooden stumps of what were once great pillars in the case of the larger structures as well as many ornaments and fragments of pottery. We can learn a lot from this evidence.

When we visited Oyu stone circle, our guide answered our questions and told us that we can only learn the location and purpose of the buildings, not what the structure itself would have looked like. The wooden structures displayed are not replicas but are built on the actual sites using a combination of research and imagination.

Yes, of course… but I didn’t realize till it was pointed out.

To come back to the Sannai-Maruyama site, it has structures in different styles, all possible variations based on what has been discovered, whereas unearthed artefacts speak for themselves. Objects made from a variety of stone not found the area is evidence of Jomon trade with others. Evidence uncovered so far tells us so many things about the past and it is now said that the Jomon people were much more advanced than we had previously thought.

The site is very well-organized, in a way very modern and park-like. Though it might not look as it did in Jomon times it is nevertheless an enjoyable and pleasant place to visit.

Sannai-Maruyama Site (Official/English)
The Group of Jomon Sites in Aomori Prefecture (Official/English)

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Isedotai Stone Circle -Japanese Stone Age sites (2)

Isedotai Stone Circle, Kita'akita, Akita Pref.
伊勢堂岱遺跡 (秋田/北秋田市)

I was informed about a Jomon archaeological site in Akita when I had visited Oyu Stone Circle. I drove, drove and drove to the west. Located near Odate-Noshiro Airport(Akita Kita Airport) the site was discovered in the early stages of preparation to build the airport 14 years ago.

According to the information board, the site was used for ceremonies and four stone circles have been found so far. It is open to the public, but doesn’t have any facilities like the other sites and it’s difficult for me to image what the place was like as I don’t have enough archaeological knowledge.

It might be further excavated and better organized to receive visitors sometime in the future. It may well look completely different the next time I visit as this along with all the other sites in the area have jointly applied for World Heritage Site designation.

Isedotai Archaeological site (Japanese)
Isedotai Stone Circle (Japanese)


Sunday, 30 August 2009

Oyu Stone Circle -Japanese Stone Age sites (1)

Oyu Stone Circle, Kazuno, Akita Pref.
大湯環状列石 (秋田/鹿角市)

While I was staying at Akita, I found several stone circle symbols on the map and as I had enjoyed visiting megalithic monuments, sites and ruins in Britain, I went to see Oyu Stone Circle(大湯環状列石) to find out what a Japanese site was like.

Compared to Stonehenge or The Ring of Brodgar, it was on a much, much smaller scale but nevertheless unexpectedly interesting. I didn’t know anything about Japanese archaeological sites and what I heard and saw was beyond my expectation.

I went there twice during the summer. The first time I casually visited the site and enjoyed it but wanted know more so I asked to be accompanied by a volunteer guide on the second visit. He seemed to be an archaeologist rather than just a guide and his explanations were enthusiastic and informative. My husband and I visited two more sites afterwards the things he told us were of great help to understand more deeply the overall picture of life in northern Japan at that time.

The site was discovered in 1931 when the land was being cultivated, many stones were discovered. Fortunately someone who had some knowledge of stone circles learned about it and through his efforts the site was saved.

The site belongs to the Jomon period (16,500-3,000BC), graves have been found and also it is considered that the site was used for conducting ceremonies. The site is still under excavation from time to time, as funding allows, and there are still many unanswered questions.

I strongly recommended arranging a guide if you have a chance to visit it. Unfortunately they are not able to provide an English speaking volunteer guide so it may be necessary to ask someone who speaks Japanese to help. –They may be able to provide an English speaking guide in the future.

Official website (Japanese)