Monday, May 4, 2015

Izumo 33 Kannon Temple 31 Manganji


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Located on the north shore of Lake Shinji. the grounds in front of the main hall of Manganji seem unusual to me.

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It is a Shingon temple and claims quite a heritage. According the temples founding legend Kukai (Kobo Daishi) stopped here after visiting Izumo Taisha in 824.

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He also took the time to carve the statue of Kannon. According to historical records this was a very busy time for Kukai, in 824 he was given control of To-ji in Kyoto, built Zenpuku-ji in what is now Tokyo, and was appointed to several government positions.

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The grounds were pleasant, but there were not a lot of statues.

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Sunday, May 3, 2015

Deep Kyoto Walks



The editors of the new e-book Deep Kyoto Walks subscribe to one of my basic tenets, ie that the best way to learn about somewhere is to get out and explore on foot. They have collected together 20 walks around the former capital Kyoto and its vicinity. It is no mere guidebook though. The 16 writers are, with a couple of exceptions, non-Japanese who, by chance or design, have made Kyoto their home. I haven't done the math, but for sure their collective experience of the city must be at least  200 years. With 16 different writers you get a mixed bag of concerns. Some focus on history, some on nature, some on food, and a few do include some of the  well known tourist attractions, but they are all very personal walks, so  it is as if you have your own personal guide along with you pointing out things you may not notice or that locals would take for granted and not mention to you. Some of the writers will appeal to you more than others. From some of the pages there is a distinct odor ( I would not go so far as to use the word "stink") of Zen, and there is a bit of pretentiousness to some, though to be fair it would be hard to write about Kyoto without pretentiousness as the city was founded on the pretensions of the rulers and has been fueled by the pretensions of its inhabitants ever since, especially since the capital moved to Tokyo. The focus of the walks and the styles of the writing are varied enough that everybody should find more than enough interesting and enlightening. My own personal favorite was the piece by Michael lambe whose walk delved into some of the more modern history of Kyoto. Each walk has enough detail to be easily followed but each also has its own map. I would recommend the book to anyone planning on visiting Kyoto, anyone who plans to revisit Kyoto, and even anyone who doesn't plan to visit.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Hinase Hachimangu


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Hinase, the small port town on the coast of Okayama near to the border with Hyogo, is where I began my walk along the Chugoku 33 Kannon Pilgrimage. There are several shrines in the town but I only passed by one, the Hachimangu.

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Located on a small hill overlooking the harbor, it is a fairly standard, small Hachiman Shrine

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However, being in the former province of Bizen, the Komainu were made of Bizenware ceramic, a very popular style throughout southern Okayama.

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There was no signboard and nobody around to ask, so I have no more details other than there was a small secondary shrine, an Inari, though there were no little kitsune statues....

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Monday, April 27, 2015

Well of Beauty


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Just below Kongo-ji, the thirtieth temple on the Izumo Kannon Pilgrimage, is a pond-well known as the Well of Beauty. The story dates back to the 15th Century and the time known as "Warring States".

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A local warlord, Saiga Yoshitomo, came to the temple and asked that the monk there  serve in his army. The monk refused. In retaliation the warlord gathered up all the statues of the temple and set fire to them. All the statues were destroyed except for one, a statue of Bato Kannon, the Horsehead Kannon.

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The warlord had a beautiful, young daughter, and after her fathers sacrilegious act she suddenly became cursed with a disfiguring skin disease. The daughter came to the temple and for 7 days and nights prayed in front of the surviving Kannon statue but received no relief. An old hermit, with a long white beard, approached the girl and gave here a red cloth. He told her to take the cloth to the well below the temple and using the water there to bathe her skin.

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She did as she was told and as she wiped her skin great blisters arose and then burst and underneath fresh, beautiful skin appeared.

 Small bottles of the water are on sale in a cabinet beside the well, but judging by the cobwebs I would say that sales are no longer brisk.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Fudo Myo at Ryusho-ji


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At a tad under 14 meters from the ground to the tip of the flames, its not the tallest Fudo Myoo statue by any means but it is still quite impressive.

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It's located in front of Ryusho-ji, a Shingon temple, number 64 on the pilgrimage I walked around Kyushu. Its on the lower east slope of Mount Unzen, the active volcano in the center of the Shimabara Peninsula in southern Nagasaki.

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Two smaller Fudo statues, with quite distinctive faces, flank the main statue.

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Miniature Fudo's left by worshippers are lined up at the base.

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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Izumo 33 Kannon Pilgrimage Temple 30 Kongoji


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There were a couple of Fudo Myo statues at temple 30, Kongoji. the 4th temple of the day on this my penultimnate day walking the Izumo Kannon Pilgrimnage. They were surprising because Kongoji is a Rinzai Zen temple and Fudo is most often found at Shingon temples.

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Of course it may well have been a Shingon temple before becoming a Rinzai temple, but it is hard to find any history of the temple.

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There is a well just below the temple known as the Well of Beauty, and the story associated with it says there was a temple here in the 15th Century.

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The main deity enshrined here is Bato Kannon, the Horsehead Kannon who wears a hat that represents a horses head. This kannon is particularly known for looking after animals and so livestock owners pray to her/him. The bato kannon statue is part of the well story and I will post that next...

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Monday, April 20, 2015

Sacred Islands


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There are thousands of small uninhabited islands and islets  in Japan, many of them sacred and with small shrines on them. One hears often of sacred mountains, the places where the gods descend to, but sacred islands get mentioned much less.

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There are many myths and stories of the gods coming from under the sea and from across the sea, the Japanese themselves arrived here by water, so its perhaps not surprising. The most famous sacred island is probably Miyajima, home to the Itsukushima Shrine, and it was for a long time kept uninhabited as an abode of the gods.

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On my recent walk along the Japan Sea coast of Yamaguchi I encountered some of these sacred islands. Nowadays many of them are said to enshrine Benten, or Benzaiten, a syncretic deity associated with the sea. Small islands in lakes will often enshrine her. She was also conflated with the Itsukushima goddess.

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The first photo is the tiny Megashima, which means Doe island. You can make out the torii on the right under the biggest tree. The next two photos are the larger Ogashima, 200 meters away, which means Stag island. Being a male/female pair they are considered Meoto (married) islands. As you can see in the third photo the shrine has buildings. No-one I asked could tell me which kami were enshrined there or if there was a story....

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Further along the coast, the fourth photo is Noshima. You can just make out the torii on the beach to the left and a small honden behind it. Again no-one could tell me which kami is enshrined there. Further along in Susa Bay is Nakashima. A gentleman walking his dog told me Benten is enshrined there. As you can see it has buildings.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Birds along the Yamaguchi Coast


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This past Spring while walking the Chugoku 33 Kannon Pilgrimage I took a walk along the Japan Sea coast of Yamaguchi,  It's a particularly fine stretch of coast with azure seas, outcroppings and cliffs, small islands and a lot of small fishing villages. Here are some of the birds I saw. The first is a heron. Sagi in Japanese, maybe its a Grey heron, maybe a Great Blue......

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Lots of cormorants. I am guessing that they are Temmink's Cormorants, the most common kind, known as Umi-u in Japanese, though there are some other species which visit during migration. The difference among the onbes in the photo may be due to age and gender.

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Lots of Kites, Black-eared Kite being the common species here. Known as Tombi in Japanese.

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More cormorants.

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This is, I believe, a Blue Rock Thrush, but I have no idea what it is called in Japanese.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Gyokusendo Cavern


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Gyokusendo is the largest cave system on Okinawa, and the second largest in Japan after Akiyoshido in Yamaguchi.

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It is located in the southern part of the island and is part of the Okinawa World Theme Park.

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Formed over 300,000 years, there are about 5 kilometers of cave in total, though only less than one kilometer is open to the public.

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There are lots of stalagmites and stalactites as well as running water and pools and the whole thing is illuminated with colored lights.

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Sunday, April 12, 2015

Fukusai-ji Kannon


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Built originally in 1628, Fukusai-Ji was the second of the temples built by Chinese in Nagasaki. After the founding of the Obaku Zen sect it became an Obaku Temple. It burned down in the fires that followed the atomic bombing of the city in 1945.

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The current structure, shaped like a giant turtle, was constructed in 1976 and as well as being a zen temple is also a mausoleum to 16,000 war dead. It is popularly known as Nagasaki Kannon Universal temple. The temple bell rings at 11.02 am, the time of the atomic blast.

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Standing atop the turtle is an 18 meter tall statue of Kannon, like the giant turtle head protruding from the building it is made out of aluminum alloy.

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The main hall is home to possibly the second largest Foucault Pendulum in the world. Used to show the rotation of the earth, a 25 meter long cable begins in the head of Kannon and  passes through the main hall down into the basement where a weighted sphere swings over the remains of the war dead.

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In the above photo you can see the cable coming down through the opening in the ceiling before descending into the opening in the floor surrounded by guardrails.

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