Arigatogozaimasu, Kyoto

This is a final posting on my adventures in Kyoto, and I will select a number of memorable images that caught my attention, and therefore warranted me to take out the camera.  It is a cornucopia of food, street art, culture.

Thank you Kyoto.

Nishiki Market is one place to blow the senses.  This market is a long alley, flanked by hundreds of stores selling all sorts of stuff.  It is 5 blocks long, and I trained hard on the treadmill to get my stamina up before I attempted the walk in Nishiki market.

Vegetables – so fresh and appealing that I wanted to be a vegetarian

Seafood – so fresh and appealing that I cannot be a vegetarian

Tsukemono (pickled stuff) – so many varieties that it was mind-boggling.  The pickled stuff I get back home are limited to the salty-to-death, and threats of carcinogenic ingredients in the pickling process.

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Ready-to-eat food – the salt-baked fish (ayu) is truly the tastiest fish I ever had.  I have never seen this in Tokyo, but my first encounter with this fish was in Kyoto.  Ayu, I will always love you.

Cucumber – when the weather gets too warm, and you want to get something to cool the body but not the 6,800 calories of ice-cream.  “Cucumber-on-a-stick.  Looks like ice-cream, but not an ice-cream”

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Dried food – the impact some of them make.  A simple corn starch can beautify a dish.  I forgot to buy this home, to astound and impress my dinner guests, who universally think I am lousy in food asthetics.  My dinner guests would rather die of food colouring than eat bland-looking cooking.

Japanese room dividers – they are called noren, and I loved this one.  But it was so expensive..  It was a toss between allocating budget for cloth, or more uni.  More uni were sacrificed in the ultimate decision made.

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Souvenir knick-knacks.  Japanese love their cats.  Cats have a preferential status in Japan.  I don’t know why, and I don’t understand.  I remember reading somewhere that in 2016, cats are a $25BILLION industry.  I remember falling off the chair because I was reviewing the quarterly business numbers, and our superior, life-altering, die-die must have technology’s revenue didn’t come anywhere close to these grumpy furball.

I believe the colourful balls are Daruma dolls, that are not made of wood but fabric.  You can only find Daruma dolls in Japan; and there is quite an interesting read about them.  Daruma dolls are linked to religion, but this space is not wikipedia, so I won’t go into the details.

Shop shutters that double up as art canvas – calligraphic art on the metal shutters.  How cool!

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Sake shops – it was like stepping into paradise.  And I had tinglings of seizure becos of the excitement building up within..

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I have always preferred wet/fresh markets to departmental stores in whichever city I visit.  The only exception is in Japan.  I easily fall in love with the basement level at the department stores becos that’s where the most beautiful foodstuff (in the entire galaxy) are located.  It’s simply food porn.  It’s where I try to walk normally, but every fiber in my body within screams “I WANT TO BUY EVERY.SINGLE.ONE.OF.THEM”.  And I wish I print money for a living.

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The toilets in Japan deserve a UNESCO Heritage status.  They were so beautiful and clean that my toilet at home looks like a public toilet instead.

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A public toilet at Arashiyama
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A toilet in one of the temples in Kyoto

The Japanese food presentation got me sobbing.  I lunched at Lumiere and ordered salad.  Simple enough?  But when the server brought this plate in front of me, my jaw slacked.  And every bite of every piece of food, I wept a tear.

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And one day when I passed a construction site, I screeched with disbelief..they even put plastic flowers to beautify the bland, temporary walls surrounding the construction site!

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Although tea is traditionally the mainstream drink in Japan, coffee is catching up real fast.  And at those small coffee joints I visited, the baristas/owners were serious about their cuppa.  Therefore one had to be patient waiting for the brew.  It was actually quite fun to browse the shop while waiting for the coffee.  Some of the coffee contraptions looked like the owners just robbed a chemistry lab.

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A friend once told me, Japanese are craftsmen.  Indeed they are..

I saw some rice-straw brooms at Takashimaya.  Wait!  They were being steamed..you know, like a face steam to ensure sufficient moisture.  What sort of broom gets this “spa treatment”??!

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Actually, these beautifully hand-bound ones.  And they weren’t cheap at all!  Those tiny brooms (left pic) that were just the right size to sweep the nostrils, costs US$10++++.  Yes, a full size broom, like the ones hanging over the steamer, could costs ~ US$100+++++.  My mom would faint at the price-tag.

But I could imagine why they were priced that way..after I saw this master at work.

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Thank you Kyoto, for a memorable adventure.

1-Cent Western Food

It started raining when I was walking along Shijo Street in Gion.  A gloomy day + the sight of rain always make me hungry.  So I sniffed like a bloodhound, and found myself standing across this interesting looking shop.  I was attracted by the big, bold signboard, the colours, the lights and..the mannequins – one being chased by a dog, one standing at the kitchen, and one sitting at the entrance.

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I don’t know what’s the story of the dog biting at the pants of the boy, and the pants were down at the knees.  I walked around the mannequin..y’know, to see what I could see..

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Then I went to survey the cooking area.  Open kitchen concept, and I could see what they were cooking.  I saw 3 round batter topped with chopped ingredients, cooking on the iron griddle.  I was more intrigued by the colourful traditional art posters that decorated the wall above the cooking area.  I looked at the mosaic of art, but at the same time I couldn’t help getting the whiff of what was cooking.  Smelled really good.

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The 1 and only offering in this shop was issen-yosyoku, Kyoto’s way of cooking okonomiyaki.

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What they looked like:

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What they looked like when served to me:

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I am not a big fan of okonomiyaki, but since I was already at this cute and kitschy shop, I might as well try it.  It wasn’t so much about the food; it was more of enjoying the atmosphere of this rather unique outlet.  And the interior surprised me even further.

There was a signpost that promised there would be 5 beautiful girls in kimono waiting in the restaurant, and I thought, huh? what are they waiting for?

There she was.  Sitting at a corner, the smiling but unable to talk beautiful girl in kimono.  The 5 “girls” were mannequins..they wouldn’t be interacting anytime soon.  One can eat his/her okonomiyaki in peace, without having to partake in any conversation.

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And then I took a closer look at the “wallpaper” of printed envelopes.

They were probably famous people or characters.

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But these looked like..erotic art.

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On another wall, there were wooden plaques.  These were”wish plaques” i.e. one writes his/her wish on the plaque and pray to the gods for their wishes be fulfilled.

All those plaques in this restaurant looked like the wishes were sex-related.  If only I could read Japanese..it would have been a hoot.  One of the plaques had a woman kneeling down, and milk squirted from her breasts into a bowl.  Is she asking for abundance of milk, or is she competing in a milk-long-squirt Olympics?  And a man had a dick for a nose.  One can only imagine what this particular wish is about.

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Memoirs of an Unsuccessful Geisha

I’ve always been fascinated by the geisha culture; although the truth is I understand very superficially of this culture.  My knowledge of the “what/why/who/how”of a geisha was limited to what I learned from the media..and pop culture like Memoirs of a Geisha. Disclosure: I watched Memoirs of a Geisha becos of Ken Watanabe.  He was so dashing and imposing and impressive in the Last Samurai.  Those are moments when I would gladly be a damsel in distress, and he sweeps me off my feet.  Ahhh Kennnn..

So after having visited Kiyomizu-dera, I made my way to Gion.  I cycled on a quieter alley, and soon, I passed by this superbly colourful hanging pouches.  I braked hard and cycled back to this shrine –  Kongoji temple.  After having just visited Kiyomizu-dera, this was one small temple.

It’s a monkey-themed temple, and the bunches of colourful pouches are meant to ward off evil spirits.  I saw this trio of the No-Evil monkeys supporting the base of an urn at this temple.

I didnt hang around too long at this temple; I had to reach Gion before it starts raining.  I started to cycle to Gion, but I came down from my bike and pushed it instead.  I was admiring the neighbourhood of Kongoji temple.  I loved the traditional architecture of the houses, and how well-preserved they were.  The houses were primarily wood, bamboo and rice paper.  The influence of the Kongoji temple was strong; almost every house in that area had pouches hanging outside the entrance door.

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I knew I had arrived in Gion when I saw almost all women in whatever skin/hair colour wearing kimonos.  I felt like I had just landed at a Geisha Cosplay event.

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This is entrance of the Yasaka Shrine, also known as the Gion Shrine.

It i s one of the most famous shrines in Kyoto.  As this shrine sits at the t-junction of Shijo Avenue, and very close to the Hanami-Koji Street, this shrine is frequented by denizens of Gion enclave, and of course tourists alike.  This is also the temple to see the Gion Matsuri, the most famous festival in the whole of Japan.

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I walked around the temple grounds quickly; after having seen so many shrines and temples, they have pretty much the same thing: the honden, other worship rooms, big compound of gravel, stage, lanterns and the customary commercial corner selling many types of omamori (Japanese amulets).

Then I saw this old wooden building that had ancient-looking paintings that adorned the walls like wallpapers.  Unfortunately I couldn’t read Japanese; it looked like a hipster art gallery that decided to put the art in the outside instead of inside (the building).

Some of the paints were already fading.  I guess that shouldn’t be a surprise, given that this temple is 1,350 years old!  One THOUSAND..three hundred….  Respect.  Even if the arts weren’t the same age as the temple..they’d probably still be older than me.

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The rain was impatient and couldn’t wait till nightfall when I would have done all the sightseeing !@#$.  I didn’t let the rain deter me, and  I went to visit the famed Hamani-koji area.

The street and the side alleys were lined with traditional wooden machiya merchant houses.  These houses functioned as restaurants, teahouses, shops, and this is where you find geishas and maikos entertaining guests.

I was feeling lethargic that day; and instead of having the gusto to discover this part of Gion, I was looking forward to a cup of coffee, and sitting on my bum.  I walked Gion without discovering Gion.  I even missed the Kenninji temple *sigh*, and I didn’t get to watch this cultural performance, altho I would not have a clue about the conversations nor the storyplay.  I’m guessing this is a story about the Japanese Beauty & the Beast.  This character with the big hair looked like Disney’s Beast.

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And then I caught sight of a maiko.  She was without make-up, but she had the sweetest face I had seen since I stepped into Kyoto.  We exchanged eye contact for the briefest moment, and she hurried away.  I wanted to call out, “Watashi wa not papparazzi-o desu!”   And then she disappeared behind one of the wooden doors.

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When I first planned for this 6-days Kyoto trip, I thought that I might try to learn the ways of a geisha and be a daily 2-hour apprentice.  That plan didn’t happen.  And it couldn’t anyway.  This is an art that requires time and devotion to be a performing geisha.  It’s not about wearing a 2kg wig, with copious clothings and flicking the paper fan.  Apparently, training to be a geisha takes as long a time for one to be a doctor – 6 years.  6 days would probably get me to just drawing my eyebrow right.

I got the photo below from Wikipedia.  Being a geisha is a whole elaborate affair.  From the head to the toe, the geisha looked like an immaculate well-adorned package.  I admit that was probably the attraction of dressing up like a geisha.  Such a make-over that I would probably not even recognise myself!  A bit of interesting trivia; the nape of the geisha is considered an erotic part of the body.  Luckily I don’t have a hairy nape..

Important note: a geisha is commonly thought as a Japanese word for prostitute.  It’s not.  It’s a traditional Japanese (female) entertainer.

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Pontocho, Kyoto

I was cycling back from Gion, when I paused at the bridge and look at the Kamogawa River.  I had been doing shrine-hopping since I came to Kyoto, and it was about time I put some attention on the neighbourhood which I’m staying in Kyoto.

This is a long river; at least that’s how I felt when I was cycling on the track that ran parallel with the river.  I checked some trivia about the Kamogawa.  According to Wikipedia, it has its source in the mountains of Mount Sajikigatake in the northern ward of Kyoto, ……………………<such a long description of where it bends southeast and flows northwest, joins this and that river..>.….and finally, becomes a tributary of the Yodo River.

Frankly, I should have just skipped the whole river info-trivia thing.  It’s not that I have a clue where Mount Sajikigatake nor Yodo River are in Japan.

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It’s about 30km in length.  I saw locals sauntering or running by the river.  Anglers would stand by the bank of the river with their long rods.  And across the river, where Gion is, it was also common to see geishas sitting by the river in a small group, and walking back together when dusk arrived.

One morning, I woke up early and cycled to the river.  It was quieter in the morning; there were lesser people, and occasionally a runner or two breaking the solitude.  I came to this bridge and sat under this historical artifact.

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This is the ancient Shijo Ohashi Bridge; first built in 1142, but had a few re-constructions to what it is right now.

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It was peaceful sitting under the bridge, by the river.  The air was cooling and the the sound of the rushing water masked the sound of vehicles that were crossing the bridge above me.  The rapid and constant flow of the water sounded meditative, and I felt a sense of serenity as I closed my eyes.  And then, I started to get worried that I would get too comfortable that I would fall asleep on the sloping embankment.  And what if I rolled into the water..?  As much as I’m almost an Olympic swimmer (hardly), I was pretty sure I could not compete with the strong currents.  I fretted about falling asleep that I ended up not relaxing (retrospectively, how dumb..!).  Anyway, the whole river-to-myself moment was short-lived.  This elderly man came to collect rubbish by the river.

I hardly saw any rubbish, save for some ciggie butts.  This is one of the highly admirable traits of the Japanese.  The cynics would call them OCDs, but I’d rather look at them as people who show their appreciation for their country by looking after their country.  This elderly man put one leg into the drain to pick up whatever he deemed should belong in a dustbin.  And I thought of my own country, where we have beautiful streams and waterfalls, but the locals lack basic civic duty to pick up trash after their berkelah (picnic).

After almost saluting this elderly trash picker, I continued cycling.

These are restaurants that overlook the Kamogawa River.  The restaurants built platform on stilts above a narrow strip of flowing water.  I thought they looked utterly cool..and also expensive.

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Anyway this is Pontocho after all,and it would be laughable to think that one can get cheap food there.

This was what they looked like on the other side of the building.  Traditional Japanese buildings were built close to one another, and a long narrow alley running through.  The photos below were taken at about 8am+ and it was quiet.  Pontocho’s patrons had all gone home and 8am would have been too early for most of them who had spend the evening into the night.  I had spent an evening eating sashimi and sushi in one of the restaurants, and walked across this alley to a whiskey/sake bar.  Weekdays were relatively quiet but Pontocho would become all raucous on Friday evenings and weekends, becos locals come out to play too.

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Pontocho at night.

The pictures are rather misleading; it wasn’t devoid of people; I stood long and patient for those moments where there was lesser human traffic.  There were restaurants, bars, teahouses and “gentlemen clubs”.  Pontocho comes very much alive at night.

I surveyed the shops and establishments from the road.  Some of them looked rather dodgy….  But I wasn’t afraid of no yakuza kidnapping me to do unsavoury activities.  I was more worried the yakuza saying, “Gomen-nasai, we kidnap you wrong.  You too old for customer”.  That would be depressing.

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Cycling back to the apartment..yes, Pontocho is really a lovely place.  I’d love to own a small piece of property there.

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If You Are Short Of Vermillion In Your Life..

Voted top tourist landmark in JAPAN (not just Kyoto!), 3 times in a row.  So, I suppose I should stab myself if I didn’t visit while in the neighbourhood.

And this is one place were one gets an overdose of vermillion.

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Fushimi Inari shrine is the most important shrine that’s dedicated to Inari, the god of rice. This is the Honden (main building), where religious Shinto rites were conducted by the priests (known as kannushi).

I tugged at the large rope to sound the bell, and made a silent prayer.  While I am religion agnostic, I have respect for such traditions that have been older than 10 of my ancestors combined.  I contemplated – in my prayer, should I ask for 4D numbers?  I pondered, hesitated, and finally, refrained.  Might seem disrespectful to ask for lottery numbers, and a torii gate might just fall on me when I’m walking up the mountain.

My silent prayer..will remain a silent one.

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Shinto is a Japanese religion that worships ancestors and nature spirits, and believes that there is sacred power in both animate (you, me, the dog) and inanimate beings (rocks, trees).  The kannushi is garbed in what is called a joe (pronounced jo-air, not Joe).  The kannushi’s attire is quite elaborate – there is the black, peaked hat, an outer tunic, an outer robe, undergarment (with its own special name), pants that look a white palazzo, girdle, and there is even a ceremonial wand.  A wand!  Stuff of wizards and fairy godmothers!  The shoe is not Under Armour.  No contemporary brands have penetrated this market segment.

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This is a regal-looking fox statue that was standing at the temple ground.  Foxes are considered to be Inari’s messengers, and therefore there were plenty of fox statues – of different sizes – at this shrine, as well as the trail up Mount Inari.

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The #1 attraction of Fushimi Inari shrine is the thousands of vermillion torii gates that start at a trail behind the shrine buildings, and straddle (almost) the entire network of trails up to Mount Inari.  I looked at the map; ok, the trail looks like an adventure..it’s like walking thru a magical forest, and climbing the path that leads to a shrine atop a sacred mountain.  And there might even be fox spirits hitching a ride on the floating white clouds..  I was also relieved that there are toilets along the way.  Japanese toilets are more than 1st World Country standard.

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These are the impressive Senbon Torii (thousands of torii gates).  At moments like this, the brain stop ticking, and the senses (especially the sight) get aroused.  How not to?  I remembered standing transfixed, just taking in what I was seeing ahead of me.

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Of course other people re-act differently.  Some do selfies, some lightly hug pillars, some walk nonchalantly..

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Steps leading up to Mount Inari.  Easy climb as the incline was really gentle.

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Enroute to the summit, these were what I encoutered:

Japanese inscriptions on the torii gates were given a fresh coat of paint.  The inscriptions are the names of the donors (individuals or corporations) and the date of donation, of the torii gates.  A small torii costs 400,000 yen (~ US$3,500), and a big one will be over 1M yen (under US$10K).  Inari is the god of fertility and industry, so grateful devotees donate in the form of the torii gate.

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In case one gets too bored with the torii gates, fear not!  The trail is punctuated with a number of smallish shrines.  And the shrines would be accompanied by multitude of stone foxes.  Some looked friendly, some looked even cute, while some looked so menacing that you hope they stay in stone forever.  There were also many stray cats darting around the stone inscriptions in the shrines.  I’m not sure why the statues have reddish bibs around their neck.  The bibs somewhat enhanced the feel of ferocity..as if the foxes are saying, “I’m really hungry now”.  At some of the shrines, I did feel uneasy, and I’d quickly walk away.

I finally reached the top of Mount Inari.  I was expecting to feel something magical in the air.  I was hoping to see white clouds floating serenely, and the atmosphere is so electrifyingly divine that you could hear the crickets meditating.

Instead, just as I took my last few steps to reach the peak, I saw 2 kids who were more interested in the smartphone.  It’s probably Pokemon Go.

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This is the abode of Inari, the Shinto god of fertility and business.  I must say I was a bit disappointed.  Aside the shrine, the summit was just packed with different type of rocks, many more foxes, and plenty of small torii gates.  It was like a grey rock garden with pigments of vermillions.

Well, I did visit the #1 most visited site in Japan (according to TripAdvisor). Tick.

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Pure Water Temple

Kiyomizu-dera (Pure Water Temple) was relatively near the Air BnB place where I was staying.  So one very early morning, I cycled there.

I read, very briefly, that Kiyomizu-dera is like the Kinkaku-ji: must visit if one is in Kyoto.  But I had gotten lazy, and didn’t read up about the place before I made my way there.  I told myself  – I will take notes of what I noticed, and learn about them after my visit.  So I went with no checklist.  If I missed some key spots, then..too bad, I guess.

This is the bee-yoo-ti-ful temple.  I didn’t take this photo – this was taken by Agustin Rafael Reyes, when I googled for “really beautiful Kiyomizu-dera”.  Autumn had not swung in fully yet, so I missed this gorgeous view.  But this is what the temple truly looks like when you get great photographers (Mr Reyes: great job!)

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It must be about 7.30am then, and the crowd was missing.  Love it when no bobbing bodies and heads block the views.  The only problem with an early morning visit was, the shops that line the road towards the temple, were still closed.  I think it would have been a promising window-shopping experience: delightful local knick-knacks, and not the run-of-the-mill Uniqlo, Muji, H&M…

A bright, orangey-vermillion coloured entrance gate greeted me, after huffing and puffing uphill for some 10 minutes.

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A bright, orangey-vermillion coloured pagoda.

Quiz: why is this colour popular?

Answer: nothing about economic pragmatism (a more sophisticated phrase for: we bought too much vermillion paint, let’s not waste ’em).  Apparently, vermillion protects against evil spirits, misfortune and calamity.  On a more positive note, the colour is bright and lively.  So, why not?   I’d say yes to vermillion over pink.

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I think this stone statue of angry dragons is supposed to be the protector of this temple.  I imagined them at the door of my apartment.  Fierce!  But that’s probably the last time my neighbours come around with their baked cookies.

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The main temple is featured in the 1st picture above, which I did not manage to take (the photo).  The interesting feature about this temple is the wooden platform that juts out from the main hall.  Below is the view of the “jutting platform” from the ground, looking up.  The wow-factor of this temple: it’s built without a single nail!  Not sure what is the name of such a construction, but it is mighty marvellous.

 

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Standing on the jutting platform, one can see this view below.  It was like standing on trees.  Imagine when the leaves respond to autumn’s arrival.  It must be breathtaking!

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I took walk down these long steps, and right at the base I saw a few people busy cleaning this interesting looking water-spouts.

Actually, they aren’t water spouts.  This is the Otowa Waterfall, where the water is divided into 3 separate streams.  Each stream of water offers it’s own blessing: longevity, success at school, good love life.  And worshippers can drink these waters to: become centurions-plus, to pass exams without studying, and no more dependence on Match.com.

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Walking the temple ground, I came across this army of Jizo stone statues.  They looked a bit..creepy.  There were just too many of them.  I walked away quickly.

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And I came to Jishu Shrine..the shrine for luuuurve.

This statue is called “Okuninushino-Mikoto” – Cupid’s Japanese counterpart.  The biped rabbit is the messenger of the god.

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I spent some time at this shrine.  Quite a number of interesting things to see.  Eg: this “amazing” trouble terminator.  Costs only 200 yen per sheet!  And it’s not even 200 yen per trouble.  I could write really small.   Now, if only it were that easy……………………

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So I walked between the 2 stones which were placed 18 meters apart.  I had to walk with my eyes closed between these 2 stones, and…I will find true love.  I did!  And that means I will find my Prince Charming without having to kiss any frog, nor any poison apple stuck in my throat.  A good deal indeed!

P.S. Kiyomizu-dera is 1,000+ years old.  No mistake in the zeroes.

15 Shades of Grey in Zen Temples

Relax, your PC hasn’t gone analog.  This is not static display, but raked gravel in a zen temple, also known as a Japanese rock garden.

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I learned more about zen garden this trip.  But that’s because I was in Kyoto, and almost every turn and corner, there was a temple/shrine.  And almost every temple/shrine would have a zen garden, the only differences were the size and the design of the garden.

I remembered the first time I visited a zen garden; I was as excited as a hibernating bear.  It was many shades of grey, except for the occasional patches of moss.  I love vibrant colours, so staring at a grey landscape was not exactly mood-lifting.  Oddly enough, after a few more visits to similar grey gardens, they started to grow on me.

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Zen garden is a stylised landscape of carefully composed rocks, moss, pruned shrubs (I think that’s where the bonsai was born), amid a sea of gravel.  A landscape could symbolize mountains, seas, flow of great rivers, and even represent philosophies of life.

This is no easy maintenance garden.  While the garden appears minimalist, there is a lot of effort to make it look minimalist.

The rocks are carefully selected and arranged.  There are rocks which are “flat”, “low vertical”, “high vertical”, “reclining”, “arching”; rocks that resemble animals or unusually not like rock.  And they are rules for arrangement.  Break the rules and the owner of the garden will have misfortune.  So stressful!  I think there is a manual just for rock arrangement..probably, “Rock Arrangement For Dummies”.

Shrubs are constantly pruned, to maintain the height and shape.  Not a single branch nor leaf is out of place.  When I took a look at my own reflection, I wept that my less-than-immaculate mane could not compete with a stunted plant.  Even with strong mousse hold.

I believe the Japanese must have invented the moss trimmer.  And they must have been used in zen gardens.  And the patch of moss is pristine.  No weed could survive on the mossy knolls – it would be yanked out by the monks who maintain the garden.

The gravel represents the “water”, and in famous zen temples, the gravel are raked daily.  They are raked in circles or waves to represent the ripple or flow of the water.  The raking of the gravel is a form of meditation; one has got to be totally immersed in the work of raking, or they won’t look like what they are in some of these highly-acclaimed gardens.  So, even if a mosquito buzzes near your ear or suck the blood from your ear lobes, you got to just..Keep Calm and Get On Raking.

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Etiquette of appreciating a Japanese rock garden: sit on the viewing gallery, normally a veranda outside a hojo.  No shoes allowed so you’d either be bare-footed or with your socks on. Walk gently; don’t aspire to be a baby elephant across the wooden flooring.  Speak in hushed tone.  No negotiating business deals when everyone else is absorbed staring out silently, at the sea of gravel, studded with rocks and moss.  And, the single biggest no-no is, don’t jump onto the gravel.  You could be hanged and quartered by the monks for doing that.

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Daisen-In is one of the well-known zen gardens.  I wasn’t allowed to take the photos in there.  There are a number of grand rock gardens within this garden; chief among them “The Ocean” i.e. the 2 big mounds of gravel.

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Ryoan-ji is one of the most prominent zen gardens, and it is a UNESCO World Heritage.  The highlight of this garden are the 15 rocks sitting on the gravel.  And the interesting activity is to try to count all 15 rocks within position of viewing.  Not possible.  The placement of the 15 rocks are intended that no 15 rocks can be viewed all together at the same time.  The Buddhist philosophy of “completeness” is linked to 15.  But in this imperfect world, we don’t get “completeness”.  Therefore, at any point of location, one can see only up to the max, 14 rocks.  1 will be hidden from view.  Quite profound!

Another famous zen garden is the Tofuku-ji.  These 4 photos are the south garden of the Hojo (main building of the Tofuku-ji).  This vertical piece of gravel-covered land consists of vertical/horizontal rocks that represent islands, and 5 moss-covered mounds that tell of sacred mountains in Japan.  The acutely visibly circular rings in the gravel are the “great seas”.

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Work of master gravel-rakers
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These rocks have names.

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Astronomy also has a role to play in the design of the Northern Garden in Tofuku-ji.  These cylinders represent the constellation of stars of The Great Bear.

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And finally a garden where grey is not the dominant colour!  Moss are grown in square tiles in the left photo.  The picture on the right has azalea shrubs that are pruned and trimmed into squares.  They look like big checkerboards.

Since raking the gravel is a form of meditation, I’ve looked up a zen garden starter kit.  Found this on the website officeplayground.com.  Might be fun to start raking..

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