Friday, April 30, 2010

Confucian Shrine

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In Nagasaki you are never far from the influence of China, and nowhere is this more obvious than at the Confucian Shrine.

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Built in 1893 by Chinese residents of Nagasaki it is reputed to be the only Confucian shrine outside China actually built by Chinese.

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It was badly damaged in the A Bomb blast and did not reopen until 1967, though extensive renovations in 1982 brought it to its current vivid glory.

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Behind the shrine is the Museum of Chinese History and Culture, and entry to it is included in the entrance fee to the shrine. The museum's collection is quite large and varied with many of the exhibits on loan from the National Museum in China.

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A statue of Confucius is the center of worship in the colorful main building of the shrine, and 72 white statues line the entrance.

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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Oura Catholic Church

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Established in 1864 during the closing years of the Edo period, Oura Church was built by the French in Nagasaki to dedicate prayers for the 26 Martyrs of Nishizaka Hill, the place where 26 European and Japanese Christians were brought to Nagasaki and crucified in 1597 to discourage Japanese from becoming Christian following Hideyoshi's edict of 1587 banning Christianity in Japan.

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A few days after the church opened a group of Japanese "Hidden Christians" appeared and introduced themselves to the French priest. These people had been secretly practising Christianity since the late 16th Century. I posted earlier about what was done to some of these hidden christians as Christianity was still banned in 1865.

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The stained glass was installed in the early years of the twentieth Century, and while the church survived the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, most of the stained glass did not. However it has been replaced with glass from the same period.

Oura Church is the only western building to be listed as a National Treasure.

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Oura Church served as the model for the Catholic Church in Tsuwano.

There is a 300 yen entrance fee to enter the church, and photography inside is banned, but I guess my camera accidentally took some pictures all by itself without my knowledge.

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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Spectacles Bridge

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Found this draincover in central Nagasaki, not far from the bridge depicted in the design.

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Its name, Meganebashi, means "spectacles bridge", for obvious reasons, and it is believed to be the oldest stone arch bridge in Japan. It was built in 1634 by a Chinese monk from the nearby Chinese temple, Kofuku-Ji.

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The buttresses of the central section of the bridge are covered in coins. I can only imagine that it is done for good luck.

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There are a total of ten stone bridges along the section of the Nakashima River that runs through central Nagasaki. During a major flood in 1982, 6 of them were destroyed. Badly damaged, all the original stones of Megane Bashi were found and so the bridge could be restored.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

On Battleship Island

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Since Gunkanjima re-opened to visitors last year the tours have proved to be very popular. I was lucky to get the very last seat. The part of the island that is open is at the industrial end, and visitors are fenced in and herded by guides.

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When inhabited the island had schools, a hospital, a temple, shrine, a brothel, cinema, and a pachinko parlor. All things that are needed for a civilized life. However absolutely everything had to be shipped in from the mainland including all the fresh water.

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The guides give plenty of explanations and information (in japanese only), and the island has applied for World Heritage status, but they would need to make an effort to make information available in English. Of course there is a part of Gunkanjima's history that the guides don't mention.

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During the last years of the war the mine, like most mines in Japan at that time, was worked bv slaves, mostly Korean and Chinese. The slaves were of course not paid, and the regulations for controlling the slaves called for "extreme camp security, inferior clothing, overcrowded sleeping quarters, primitive sanitation with no bathing facilities, limited medical care, and minimal amounts of the poorest quality food—which was to be withheld as necessary to ensure discipline."

Obviously, the death rate was very high.

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While some Japanese companies that used slave labor have apologised and paid compensation, Mitsubishi, probably the company that benefited most from slave labor, have absolutely refused to pay anything, and their continued denials make for a sad indictment of Japanese corporate greed, though the main thrust of their argument is that to admit to it would saddle Japan with "a mistaken burden of the soul" for hundreds of years. An excellent article on the subject is here

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To make the place a World heritage Site without dealing with this unsavory episode of its history would be a mistake, I think.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Battleship Island: The ultimate haikyo

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Gunkanjima (Battleship island) is the nickname of Hashima, a very small uninhabited island about 15k from Nagasaki. Why that is its nickname should be obvious from this first photo.

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Originally much smaller than its current size, at the end of the 19th Century coal was discovered under the island and Mitsubishi began mining. As rock was brought up from the tunnel digging it was used to expand the island and protect it with a big sea wall.

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At the mine's peak in the late 1950's the island had a population of 5,300 people, which translates to a density of 216,264 people per square mile, certainly among the highest in the world.

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In 1974 the mine closed and all the people moved off, and the buidings began to crumble. Incidentally, Japans first large concrete building, a 9 storey apartment block was built here.

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There are regular tour boats from Nagasaki that circle the island, and since 2009 there have been tours that actually visit the island, though only a small section, fenced off, is currently accessible, but the plan is to extend the accessible sections. Photos from on the island tomorrow.

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Early morning at Sofuku-Ji

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Just got back from a great, but hectic, weekend down in Nagasaki.

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Early this morning we visited Sofuku-Ji, a Chinese Buddhist temple.

The low morning sun created some great shadows.....

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Built in 1629 by Chinese residents of Nagasaki. It is now a temple of the Obaku sect of Japanese Zen Buddhism.

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21 of the buildings and statues are "cultural assets", and there are 2 National Treasures, one of which is the Main Hall which was made in China and shipped over to be erected by 1649.

It looks and feels more Chinese than Japanese, and I will post more later...

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Friday, April 23, 2010

Yamanobenomichi

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The Yamanobenomichi (the road along the base of the mountains) has the distinction of being the oldest road mentioned in Japanese historical records, the Kojiki and Nihonshoki, as well as being mentioned in many poems in the Manyoshu. What is left of it runs from approximately Tenri to Sakurai in Nara Prefecture.

Sections of the route are footpaths, and sections are on quiet village roads. There is no real up and downs and so it can be walked pleasantly in a day.

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There are masses of historical sites along the way. Many of the shrines I've already posted about here, including the major shrines of Isonokami and Omiwa, as well as lots of interesting smaller shrines including the Sumo Shrine where legend has it the first human sumo match took place.

A lot of the temples in the area were razed in the early Meiji Period, but there are several along the way including Chogaku-Ji.

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There are also many burial mounds including some large ones like the Hashihaka Kofun. In the Meiji period the government went around and ascribed Imperial ancestors to all these tombs and built torii on them as part of the new State Shinto, but historians generally have differing histories to them. Many now believe that Hashihaka is Himikos Tomb.

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You would probably want to bring your own lunch/picnic as there are not a lot of facilities along the way,... some vending machines and maybe farmers stalls selling fruit. The small settlements are very quiet and rustic, in fact the whole route is a very pleasant, quiet, relaxing break from the buzz and hubbub of nearby Nara and Kyoto.

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Not actually on the route, but at one of the places you would leave the route to head back to the station in sakurai is the biggest torii in Japan. Built in 1986 to commemorate a visit by the Emperor, the black steel torii rises 32.2 metres, eclipsing the previous biggest torii at Yasakuni.
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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Shimenawa Diversity

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Shimenawa, the sacred ropes most commonly found at Shinto shrines, come in a wide variety of styles, shapes, and sizes.

The simplest would simply be a length of string with shiden hanging from it such as would be used to line the roads leading to a shrine during matsuri, or to enclose a temporary sacred space.

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Thicker rope is commonly used, usually made of rice straw, but increasingly make of plastic. The long shimenawa used to connect sacred rocks would be of this type.

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When it comes to size and sculptural form, the shimenawa of Izumo rank high, including the largest shimenawa in the world.

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Recently in the Bitchu area (now part of Okayama Prefecture) I found this unusual design at several shrines.

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Shimenawas with fringes I've seen at several places. This one is at one of the shrines on Yoshidayama in Kyoto City.

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There are severak styles that involve the thicker ropes being tightly wrapped to make them smoother. This one is at one of the Munakata Shrines in northern Kyushu.

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There are several styles of shimenawa that are braided. I believe one of these styles is known as Kasuga style. The one above was a common design around the base of Mount Daisen in Tottori.

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Very short shimenawa can often be found on Hokora (wayside shrines) or Kamidana (household altars. This one is up in Higashi Izumo

Part of my continued fascination with visiting new shrines is to discover new variations on such things as the shimenawa, statues and carvings etc.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Santoka Taneda

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Pricks and pussies
Boiling together
In the overcrowded bath.

This is the most common translation of a poem by Yamaguchi born poet Santoka Taneda. The draincover is in Yuda Onsen, and I am informed that the meaning is read nowadays to mean that both men and women are welcome in Yuda Onsen's spas.

He was a very interesting poet, by all accounts an inveterate drunk who came under the influence of the Free Haiku Movement.

After what was probably a failed suicide attempt he became a monk and then spent the rest of his life wandering Japan, begging, and writing poems a la Basho.

His poetry, like much of Japanese "folk" culture is quite crude and earthy, displaying a very human and natural attitude. Those who prefer the sanitized Victorian/Puritan/Confucian version of japanese culture that prevails today may not like his stuff, but its worth searching out.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Vacation 2010 Day2: along the Coventry Oxford canal

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For the second day of my vacation I really lucked out weatherwise. I was out at sunrise under a blanket of fog. My plan was to walk along the Coventry canal until the start of the Oxford Canal and then keep going to see how far I could get.

I've always had good luck with photography along the canals as they offer such perfect reflections.

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I was surprised at how much wildlife there is along the canals, ducks especially.

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A few miles along at Hawkesbury Junction is the start of the Oxford Canal which winds through the countryside to Oxford, 78 miles away. I plan on eventually walking all the way to Oxford, and then along the Thames to London, and this was my second leg of the journey.

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One of the great things about walking the canals is that they are flat.... a pleasant change from Japan where every walk involves climbing. Another great thing is that there are pubs liberally scattered along their length. At 8 a.m. there weren't any open though.

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A lot of people live on the canals, and there are a lot of people cruising them for pleasure in rentals.

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