Monday, March 22, 2010

Yomi, The Underworld!

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When it comes to where you go after death, the Japanese have had multiple places to believe in. Probably the most common nowadays is the Pure Land of Buddhism, and also the christian notion of heaven has had some influence. Before the introduction of Buddhism there were several places, Ne no Kuni (land of the root), Tokoyo no Kuni, the land of everlasting life that lay across or under the sea, but the classic version is Yomi, the land of the dead.

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Yomi is where Izanami went to after giving birth to the kami of fire caused her death. Her partner, Izanagi, was under strict instructions not to follow her, but he did anyway and discovered a place underground filled with rotting corpses. The description of Yomi reads like the inside of a tomb. Anyway, Izanagi was chased by the hideous guardians of Yomi and only managed to escape by blocking the entrance with boulders.

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The entrance to Yomi is up in Izumo, not far from Matsue, just off Route 9. One would think that the entrance to hell would be a big deal, but its actually hard to find, marked with a handpainted sign up a small farm road. The farmer who lives next to it doesnt seem at all bothered by it.

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A few kilometres away is Kamosu Shrine, and this is where Izanagi stopped and rested after fleeing Yomi. Afterwards he purified himself with water to get rid of the pollution of death, and in the process created Amaterasu and Susano, among others.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Omiwa Shrine

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Omiwa Shrine is the major shrine at the base of Mount Miwa in Nara Prefecture. Known as Mount Mimoru in the ancient chronicles, Miwa is generally considered to be where the Yamato established themselves and eventually formed what became the Japanese state.

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Much emphasis is placed on Omiwa Shrine not having a honden, the inner sanctuary where the shintai (god-body) of the kami resides, as the mountain itself is considered to be the honden. There are though plenty of other buildings of typical Ryobu shinto design.

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The kami is considered to be Okuninushi, the Izumo kam who ceded the land to the Yamato. He took up residence here along with other kami from Izumo to protect Yamato. Not long afterwards Amaterasu was moved to Ise.

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Omiwa shrine became marginalized as the center of power moved north, first to Nara and then to Kyoto, and as the courts focus switched to Amaterasu and Ise. However in the middle ages Omiwas declining fortunes were reversed as it was revived by Buddhism. Until the Meiji eras seperation of buddhas and kami (shinbutsu bunri) the area was home to a lot of temples. After shinbutsubunri the temples were mostly destroyed or converted to shrines. There is an excellent paper on this subject The Separation of Gods and Buddhas at Omiwa Shrine

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Snakes have been important elements in the mythology surrounding Omiwa shrine and mountain, and the most well-known story concerns a Princess Yamato Totohi Momoso. The Kojiki and Nihon Shoki both give different versions of who she was, but the story is essentially the same. She slept with the Kami of Miwa everynight and asked to see him during the daytime so she could see him in light. He agreed as long as she promised not to freak out. Next morning she saw him in his form of a white snake, and she freaked out. He got angry and disappeared into Mount Miwa and she became so distraught she killed herself by stabbing herself in the genitals with her chopsticks. She was buried in the nearby Hashihaka (chopstick grave) Kofun. Historians tend to believe this is the kofun of Queen Himiko.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Shimenawa & Rock

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Rock and stone plays a major part in ancient Japanese mythology, so it's not surprising to find them marked as sacred with a shimenawa.

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Iwakura, "stone seat" are rock outcroppings found often on mountaintops and are places where the kami descend to earth. They will often be fenced off behind shimenawa rather than having the shimenawa on them.

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As with most other places in the world, rocks with unusual shapes and such will often have stories and legends associated with them. The one above is at a female fertility shrine on Mount Daisen, and its easy to see what it reopresents.

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This rock has Sainokami carved in it. sainokami are male/female kami found in pairs at village boundaries, crossroads, etc. originally represented by a male and female rock, later they began to be carved as figures.

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And, of course, there are lots of memorial stones that will have shimenawa on them.

I'm looking forward to reading a book I just got on the new discipline of Geomythology, the study of the geological foundation to human myths.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Concrete Wabi Sabi: Mountainsides

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Any look at the aesthetics, or economics, of concrete in Japan would have to look at concreted mountainsides.

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There is no doubting that Japanese mountainsides are, by and large, steep. That comes partially from Japans "newness" geologically speaking, and that steepness causes problems that can be remedies by concrete.

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But whether the truly staggering amounts of concreted mountainsides in Japan are truly necessary.... thats another thing.

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Like many of the roads, bridges, tunnels, and tetrapods, their function is more to provide profits for concrete and construction companies. And jobs of course.

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Sunday, March 14, 2010

Samurai with guns

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These 2 draincovers are on Ishin kaido, Restoration Road, in Yuda Onsen, Yamaguchi. The restoration referred to is the Meiji restoration of 1868 whereby the government forces were defeated and the emperor "restored" to rule by the Imperial faction led by the domains of Satsuma and Choshu (the previous name for what is now Yamaguchi Prefecture). The partnership of Satsuma and Choshu had been brought about by Ryoma Sakamoto of Tosa domain. An early meeting of all three parties took place in Yuda Onsen.

One day in Yamaguchi City 5951

The civil war to bring about the Meiji restoration is known as the Boshin war, and both sides used plenty of foreign weaponry. The Imperial faction used a lot of French Minie rifles, and these were more accurate and had a longer range than the guns used by the Shoguns forces. This may not have been a deciding factor, but is must have helped in their victory.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Okuizumo Vineyard

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Other than Omiki in matsuri season I rarely drink any alcohol, maybe 6 bottles of beer a year, but when offered samples to taste at Okuizumo winery I couldn't refuse.

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The winery moved to its current location in the hills above the Hi River near Kisuki about 8 years ago. Wine has been drunk in Japan since the first christian missionaries brought it, but the first attempt to produce it domestically was not until the Meiji era, however, a boom began post WWII, and now there are many vineyards all over Japan.

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Okuizumo Vineyard has won prizes for some of their wines, but I wouldn't put too much stock in Japanese prizes......

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For some reason they also had a small collection of donkeys.

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and a nice flower garden leading to the shop and restaurant

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Friday, March 12, 2010

Mojiko Retro Tower

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The Mojiko Retro Tower is a 127 meter high-rise apartment building next to the harbor in Mojiko.

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On the 31st floor there is an observation deck with great views across the straits to Shimonoseki.

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It was built in 1999 and was designed by famed architect Kisho Kurokawa.

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The observation deck is open from 10am till 10pm and entrance is 300 yen.

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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

No work in the garden today :)

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After an unusually warm and wet February, winter returned the last 2 days with non-stop snow.

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The stinkbugs prediction has been somewhat vindicated

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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Reiko -Ji

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Reiko-Ji is the only remaining temple building in Tachikue Gorge. When the area was a stronghold of Shugendo there were many more.

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The large Owaraji (straw sandals) are a common offering at temples and shrines, but as far as I can remember this is the only shimenawa I've seen adorning a temple building. I've been unable to find out why.

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In 852 a monk discovered a statue of Yakushi Nyorai, the healing buddha, on the back of a giant blue turtle. He removed the statue and placed it in a nearby cave. The Emperor, on hearing the story, founded the temple, so it was probably a Shingon temple originally.

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Now it belongs to the Soto Zen sect. Home to more than 1,500 statues, Tachikue Gorge is located 8k south of Izumo City on the Kando River

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Sunday, March 7, 2010

Typical Japanese Landscape 27

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At this time of the year, and others too, there is not a lot of color.

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Grey greens, grey browns, grey blues, etc

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One could think that one was in a 3D ink wash painting.....

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Thursday, March 4, 2010

Sai Shrine

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The full name of Sai shrine is Sainiimasuomiwaaramitama Shrine. It enshrines Omiwa Aramitama, the spirit of the sacred mountain Mount Miwa. It is an affiliate shrine of the great Omiwa Shrine, and is located right next door, close to the southern end of the Yamanobenomichi in Nara Prefecture.

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Mount Miwa has been sacred since ancient times, and is an example of a "kannabi", a mountain where the kami resides IN the mountain, rather than descending onto the mountain. After ceding "Japan" to the Yamato, Okuninushi settled in Mount Miwa, and 5 of his relatives from Izumo inhabited other mountains surrounding the Yamato Basin, and it seems most likely that the concept of kannabi is from Izumo

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It is possible to go up on the mountain, though there are many restrictions. There are about 6 periods during the year when it is forbidden, but the rest of the time you pay a fee of 300 yen, put on a white sash and begin the climb here. No photography or eating is allowed, and you can only spend 3 hours.

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The spring at the shrine is renowned for its healing qualities.

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Kotoshironushi, Okuninushi's son, is also enshrined here.

Monday, March 1, 2010

A visit from our mountain neighbors




All afternoon yesterday the forest behind my house was alive with the calls of our troop of monkeys. My human neighbor was away, so there had been no firecrackers set off to drive the monkeys away.

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This troop, with about thirty members, are very shy and skittish which makes it hard to get good photos of them. 100 meters away on the opposite hillside is another troop of mo nkeys that are far more aggressive.

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I've been very fortunate in my life to have lived many years surrounded by and among wild critters. It helps me, I think, to maintain a certain perspective on my place in the scheme of things.

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The monkeys, wild boars, foxes, badgers, etc etc can at times cause problems, but they are more than offset by what they give, to me at least.

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