Kyoto: Kiyomizudera

The Buddhist temple Kiyomizudera on the eastern side of Kyoto is a designated world heritage site and one of the main tourist attractions of the city. It was founded in 798 and is dedicated to the Eleven-headed Kannon, as well as serving as a symbol of the unification of Buddhism and Shintoism. The view from the temple’s balcony is said to be breathtaking at the time of the cherry blossom, as well as in the colourful autumn season and back in the Edo-period it was said that he who survives a jump from the balcony will be granted a wish. The practice is outlawed today, but the saying ”to jump off the stage at Kiyomizu” is still used from time to time to describe a foolhardy action.

Other note-worthy sites at the temple are the small springs next to it and the two lovers stones a bit further up the hill. The first one is also the reason for the naming of the temple, as ‘kiyomizu’ stands for pure water. There are a few versions of the effect of the spring going around, from granting wishes to healing powers, but in the end it can probably be summarised as granting good fortune. The lovers stones are two stones standing 20m apart from each other. If one can walk blindly in a straight line from one to the other the wish for a partner will be granted.

So with this small introduction I wish you much fun with the pictures I took on our trip there :)

Kyoto: Fushimi Inari

Fushimi Inari Taisha is the main shrine of Inari, the Japanese god of fertility, rice, agriculture, industry and worldly success and located in Kyoto on the foot of Mt. Inari. The shrine is very famous for its trails across the mountain, which are mostly covered with countless Torii gates (each donated by a Japanese business) and dotted with many small shrines on the sides. While most people go there in the daytime, Yannik and I decided to visit the shrine in the late evening, to get a special experience that not many people see in person.

Getting there was no problem, as there was a train station nearby and we only needed to walk for 10 minutes from there to reach the main shrine building. But walking the sparsely lit ways up the hill with only few maps in between was a really interesting experience. To me, the area was so full of underlying spirituality that I couldn’t help but marvel at all the things to see.

I hope you can catch a glimpse of that feeling by watching the pictures below – enjoy! :)

Kyoto in late December

Kyoto is one of the most famous tourist locations in Japan, if not the most famous. Japanese as well as foreign visitors go there every year in huge numbers to get a glimpse of what is often considered to be the cultural heart of Japan, where a lot of the old traditions and atmosphere is still alive and preserved. Needless to say that I had to go there as well and I finally got around to doing it just about two weeks ago together with a friend who is studying in Osaka right now, as well as meeting up with two Japanese friends :)

The pictures below are a general overview of our trip and I’ve added descriptions to all of them, to tell the story of these 3 days I spent there. Still, there are a few things that I want to highlight a bit more, so they’ll be getting their own articles one of these days – so stay tuned and pay a few more visits!

 

Shimane Sightseeing

Last weekend I went on a fieldtrip to Shimane prefecture in the north of Hiroshima with my “Radiation in the environment”-class, to visit the nuclear power plant, which is located there. While the teacher was quite excited about the primary goal of the trip, we students were much more interested in sightseeing and food and had therefor already begged quite a lot to visit a few places in the area too.

First of those was the Izumo Grand Shrine (or Izumo Taisha), which is said to be one of the oldest in Japan according to our teacher and was close to the highway anyway. One of the most distinct buildings of the shrine was sadly undergoing restauration work, so we weren’t able to visit it, but the area was beautiful nonetheless.

After passing through the gate, the way went on through a small pine forest, until we reached the shrine itself and the prayer hall. The latter is the place for worship and prayers and there was a steady flow of people who were giving their prayers to the enshrined god – in this case the goddess of marriage if I’m not mistaken.

One of the dominating features is definitely the big rope hanging above te entry. But if you think this one’s big, wait for the next one, which was hanging above the Kagura hall, which is dedicated to the performance of traditional ceremonies and rituals.

The rope, which is made from rice straw, is supposed to protect the shrine from evil spirits and smaller versions can be found in shrines all over Japan, where they also mark sacred ground or trees inhibited by forest spirits for example. Variations are also used in sumo wrestling, to denote the rank of the wearer.

And yes, it was really this big! :D

Another thing I noticed were the huge amounts of omikuji (small papers, which tell you about your fortune and you can buy at every bigger shrine) that were tied to the trees. Usually, if you’re not really pleased with the fortune written on your paper, you can tie it somewhere and pray to the gods for help. But usually you don’t see that many omikuji at one place – at least I didn’t.

Later we went to Matsue, which is the main city in Shimane prefecture, because we also had our hotel booked there. After some complaining about the first room, which really had a strong smoker smell in the air, we got a far better room with a nice view over Lake Shinji. The lake has a circumfence of around 48 km and is the 7th biggest lake in Japan. Also the sunset is supposed to look really nice, but the weather was a bit cloudy sadly. The view in the morning was still really beautiful :)

Matsue is also home to one of the few castles in Japan, which haven’t been reconstructed in concreet. Still, although the castle never saw an actual battle, only the main tower and some walls have been kept. Below you can see the moat and some of te walls, with the main tower in the background.

The main tower itself is clearly a purely defensive structure and lacks the decorations and other more slender elements that other, more living-orientated castles feature.  Just compare the following picture with one of the other  castles that I talkes about already, Hiroshima Castle for example. You’ll surely notice a difference in appearance .

And last but not least (ok, maybe least in this case), we did of course visit the Shimane Nuclear Power plant on the coast of the Japanese Sea. While we weren’t allowed to enter any of the buildings of course, we got a tour at the area and got everything explained. Right now, they’re building their third reactor, so no big stopping due to the Fukushima accident sadly. On the other hand, they have to improve their defences against natural desasters and are going to strenghten their tsunami walls soon due to this new decree (the whole place looked like a construction site). But still, beeing there felt weird somehow… interesting for sure, but a place you just don’t want to be at…

Iwakuni in late Autumn

At the beginning of December I happened to visit Iwakuni with a few international friends from the university, which I had wanted to do for some time but never actually managed to pull off so far. But it was nice weather and Autumn was starting to loose its colour, so it was a now or never deal for me.

Iwakuni itself is a city in the neighbouring prefecture of Yamaguchi in the West of Hiroshima. It’s easily accessible by local train, which only takes around 1 hour between the two cities and from the train station you can take a bus to the main sightseeing spots. The first among these is probably the Kintai Bridge, whose 5 arches span the breadth of the Nishiki river. After that, the reconstructed castle and the Kikko park, where you can find beautiful trees, flowers and remnants of the old samurai district. And if you’re especially lucky you might even stumble upon one of the white snakes of Iwakuni.

We  had a lot of fun and visited all those places, which I hope you’ll see in the uploaded pictures. Enjoy them and feel free to leave a comment :)