Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year of the Dragon


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This is a detail from Twin Dragons on the ceiling in Kennin-Ji in Kyoto. It was painted in 2002 to commemorate the 800 year anniversary of the temples founding. The artist is Koizumi Junsaku and the painting measures 11.4 by 15.7 meters.

I wish all of you a great new year. In a few days I will be back home and can start posting more regularly again.

Friday, December 30, 2011

The White Rabbit of Inaba


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The year of the rabbit is coming to a close, so time to tell the story of the white rabbit of Inaba.

Hakuto Shrine is located near the beach a little east of Tottori City. The old province name for this area was Inaba. The kami of Hakuto Shrine is Hakutojin, the kami name for the white rabbit of Inaba.

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The rabbit was on one of the Okis islands, about 50kms offshore (now a part of Shimane). He wished to travel to the mainland so he a devised a plan that involved tricking some crocodiles. Incidentally, the story is often told nowadays with sharks instead of crocodiles, but the original story quite clearly does not involve sharks.

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The rabbit suggested to the crocodiles that the rabbit clan was much bigger than the crocodile clan, and to prove it he would need to count all the members of the crocodile clan so he suggested that they all line up and as he stepped on them one at a time he would be able to count them and come to a definitive answer. The crocodiles agreed and so the rabbit began to make his way to the mainland using the crocodiles as stepping stones.

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The rabbit was just about to the beach when he rather foolishly decided to shout out "Hah! tricked you..." upon which the last crocodile lunged for the rabbit and while not able to kill it managed to strip the fur from the rabbit. The story now intersects with another legend, that of Okuninushi, his eighty brothers, and Princess Yakami.

Okuninushis brothers, the Yasogami, were coming along the beach on the way to see Princess Yakami to see which of them she would choose as a husband. The Yasogami were quite cruel, and seeing the poor suffering rabbit they suggested that it would find relief by bathing in seawater and then standing in the wind. Of course this just caused more pain and suffering for the hapless rabbit. Following along in the rear carrying the baggage for his brothers was Okuninushi. He told the rabbit to bathe is freshwater and then roll in sedge pollen, which he did and was then healed. In gratitude the rabbit told Okuninushi that even though he was just the bagggage carrier he would be the one chosen by Princess Yakami.

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Myths, like people, travel great distances. There seem to be several possible sources of this myth. In Indonesia there is a famous story involving a small deer that tricks crocodiles into lining up across a river on the pretense of being counted but really so the deer can cross the river. Also, the Koguryo and Puyo peoples of what is now northern Korea had foundation legends that involve a hero crossing water on the backs of turtles that seem to be derived from older stories from further south in China that had crocodiles fulfilling the same role. There are several more myths from Koguryo that mirror Japanese myths, and all along the Japan Sea coast are shrines dedicated to a variety of kami who came here from what is now Korea.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Kawara in walls


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Kawara, ceramic rooftiles originally introduced from Korea for early temple roofs gradually spread to palaces and other major buildings.

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In the Edo period they began to be mass produced and came to be more widespread. By the twentieth century they had become the standard rooftile.

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Old rooftiles abound. Piled in stacks against collapsing buildings there must be millions of them lying around. A lot of people use them in gardens, to make paths and raised beds.

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Traditionally they have been recycled and used in the construction of walls.

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Kawara fascinate me. They make great photos. More galleries on kawara can be found here

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Suwa Shrine, Itano


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Suwa Shrine in Itano, Tokushima, is located between temples 2 & 3. It is one of the approximately 10,000 branch shrines of Suwa Taisha up in Nagano.

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The grounds were pretty unkempt and it looked as if the shrine was not used by people much.

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The main kami enshrined in Suwa shrines are Takeminakata and his wife Yasakatome. According to the legend he was a son of Okuninushi who did not wish to hand over the land to the emissaries sent by Amaterasu. he challenged one of them to a trial of strength and was defeated. This is considered to be the mythological origin of sumo. He fled to Suwa in what is now Nagano.

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The legend would seem to indicate that there was resistance within the confederacy of tribes/clans/countries that centered on Izumo to the takeover by the Yamato.

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Monday, December 19, 2011

Vacation 2011 Day 9 to the highest point

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On the third morning in the Jebel Sahro the dawn and sunrise were well worth waking early for.

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The first few kilometers of the days hike was through a narrow canyon. We had come here yesterday afternoon to take advantage of the running water to bathe.

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As the year progresses the water, originating as melted snow in the high country, will slowly decrease. There probably wont be any more running water till we come out of the jebel sahro.

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We had lunch at a small trading post at the foot of a golden escarpment we would climb in the afternoon.

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I headed off ahead of the group and started the climb to tonights campsite. Its not that I am unsociable, but for me its hard to enjoy the landscape with people chattering. Also it allowed me to climb at my own pace and not have to keep up.

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The views from on top were sublime, so I plonked myself down and sat for the next few hours and watched as the vista laid out in front of me changed with the passing of the sun and clouds.

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I knew I would be up before dawn to take in the dawn and sunrise.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Many rivers to cross

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The 88 temple pilgrimage route on Shikoku pretty much follows the coast all the way round the island, and as all rivers head to the sea there are an enormous number of rivers, large and small, to cross.

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In former times there would have been some bridges to use, but for many of the rivers it would have been necessary to wade across or use a ferry boat. Now we are just whisked across on ribbons of concrete and steel and so do not really get encounter what a barrier they often were.

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The first photo is of the great Yoshino River which must be crossed to get to temple eleven from temple 10. It is 194 kms long, the second longest in Shikoku, and passes through all 4 prefectures on its way to the sea. It is one of the "three great rivers of Japan".

Ther second photo is of the Akui River which you have to cross after temple 12. The bridge is some stout planks connecting concrete supports. Like many rivers in japan this one is very popular for ayu fishing. The Akui runs into the Yoshino.

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The third photo is the Tatsue River you must cross via a vermillion bridge to get to temple 19.

The fourth is the Nakagawa between the two mountain temples 20 and 21. It was on the banks of this river that I spent 2 days riding out the typhoon.

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After temple 22 the route takes you right along the coast. There are many small rivers, most too small to be names, like this one at Tainohama beach. Its nice to see a river lined with stone rather than concrete.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Meoto Iwa husband and wife rocks

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Meoto Iwa are pairs of rocks joined by a shimenawa. They are known as husband and wife rocks or wedded rocks, and are generally considered to represent Izanagi and Izanami, the primordial brother/sister husband/wife kami pair that created the Japanese Islands and the kami.

The draincover of Yasu, now a part of Konan City, in Kochi, shows a Meoto Iwa found on its coastline, though it is off the henro trail so I didnt make the detour to see them.

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However, a few days before, down near Cape Muroto there was another set.

The most famous Meoto Iwa are near Ise, but in fact there are many all over Japan.

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These were on the coast a little south of Fukuoka City.

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And these were on the Yamaguchi coast a little north of Shimonoseki.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Inside Kamo Culture Hall

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Here are a few shots on the inside of the bizarre Kamo Culture Hall up in Kamo, Izumo.

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It was opened in 1994 and was designed by Toyokazu Watanabe.

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Unfortunately the auditorium itself was locked so I couldnt get any shots of it

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Photo of the outside can be found here

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Saturday, December 10, 2011

Shikoku 88 Temple 4 Dainichiji

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Dainichi-Ji is located in Itano Town, Tokushima Prefecture, and is the 4th temple on the henro route.

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According to legend it was founded by Kukai and he carved the main deity sculpture of Dainichi Nyorai. It belongs to the Shingon sect.

The architecture is nothing special, but in a covered corridor connecting the main hall with the Daishi hall are a collection of nice statues.

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One thing you will see at every temple on the route is a red statue of Kobo daishi himself.

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The corridor contains 33 statues of kannon that were donated by someone from Osaka in the mid eighteenth century.

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There is a fine statue of Shomen Kongozo, and interesting deity with daoist overtones and a link to the three monkeys. he is known as a deity to pray to for relief from diseases caused by demons.

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There is also a nice statue of Benzaiten.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Benkei mask

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I have finally got round to finishing some new masks. This one is of Benkei, the archetypal sohei (warrior monk) and famed sidekick of Yoshitsune. The dance he appears in is Tsuzuki Dannoura, which is based on a story in the Heike Monogatari. Popular in kabuki, it is an uncommon dance in the Iwami kagura repertoire, and it has been quite a few years since I have seen it performed.

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Benkei is always depicted wearing a cowl and this signifies his status as a sohei.

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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Kanzui matsuri 3


The third dance at Kanzui's annual all-night matsuri was the first theatrical piece of the evening, Yumi Hachiman. The dance is very common and most matsuris will perform it. the first part of the dance sees Hachiman introduce himself and strut his stuff....

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Hachiman, also read as Yahata, was originally a kami from northern Kyushu but grew in influence and became associated with the legendary Emperor Ojin. Eventually adopted as the tutelary deity of samurai he is known as the god of war. Hachiman shrines are now very common, and by one method of calulating are the most common shrines in Japan.


The second part of the dance sees the demon make his entrance, strut his stuff, and then hachiman and he begin their combat.

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There are two versions of the demons identity, the first simply has him as a demon from a foreign country plaguing the local villagers in north Kyushu. The second has him as a demon from the lower levels of Buddhist hell. As much of the buddhist content was purged from Iwami Kagura in the late 19th century, It would suggest that tghis version is older.


Not surprisingly, the demon is defeated by Hachiman using a bow and arrows, weapons especially associated with Ojin.

The young junior-highschool boy dancing hachiman did a good job. In larger kagura groups hachiman has an aide.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Art of Manidera

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I have often heard it said that if you've been to one temple, you've been to them all, but as time goes on I have found quite the opposite to be true, every temple (and indeed shrine) is quite unique.

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One of the intriquing aspects of temples for me is the art. The statues, carvings, paintings, and sometimes even masks.

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japanese buddhism includes a massive array of a sometimes bewildering number of buddhas, deities, and other figures. Sometimes a single piece of art can be quite exquisite, but for me it is more interesting searching for and finding original expressions of the same figure or buddha,

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here are just a few of the artpieces at Manidera, a mountain temple near Tottori City.

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Two previous posts on Manidera can be found here

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