4th February: Kyoto – Fushimi-Inari Taisha

Fushimi Inari-taisha

On the way back from Nijo Castle I stopped in at Fushimi-Inari Taisha, a Shinto shrine just south of Kyoto on the railway line between Kyoto and Nara.  It’s very accessible because it’s very close to the railway station.

Fushimi Inari-taisha, Romon Gate

This is the main gate, the Romon Gate, donated in 1589 by Toyotomi Hideoshi.  As you can see, it is two days off the full moon.

Fushimi Inari-taisha, Romon Gate

Here we see two statues of Inari, guarding the main gate.  Inari is a fox and messenger of the god of rice, sake and prosperity.  The temple backs up onto the sacred Inari Hill.  The inari on the left holds a key in its mouth (symbolically, to the rice granary).

Fushimi-Inari Taisha Honden

This is the Nai-Haiden or Inner Hall of Worship, just in front of the Honden or Main Shrine, which was built in 1499 (not sure whether the Nai-Haiden has the same date).  The shrine as a whole dates back to 711 though it was at a different location until 816.  It is the head Inari shrine in Japan, with as many as 40,000 sub-shrines (and with as many as that, most of them must be pretty small).

Fushimi-Inari Taisha

I arrived close to sunset and the light was fading fast.

Fushimi-Inari Taisha

Fushimi-Inari Taisha - Torii Gates

There are thousands of vermillion torii gates, snaking through the hillside.  All were donated by a person or company (at a fixed price by size, these days) and their name will be on the back somewhere.

Fushimi-Inari Taisha - Torii Gates

Fushimi-Inari Taisha - Torii Gates

Fushimi-Inari Taisha - Torii Gates

Fushimi-Inari Taisha - Torii Gates

Fushimi-Inari Taisha - Torii Gates

Fushimi-Inari Taisha - Torii Gates

Fushimi-Inari Taisha - Torii Gates

Fushimi-Inari Taisha - Romon Gate

As I was walking out of the Romon Gate, I passed some commercial photographers taking pre-wedding shots of a young couple.  They were using a flash and a soft box; this is my quick shot as I passed, with available light.

Then I boarded the train and returned to Nara, just in time for a pre-arranged game of Go with Igo, a fifth-dan master.   I used to play competition chess at university and I had also played some Go, though not for thirty-five years.  Go is a very simple game, over 2,000 years old and yet as complex as chess.  Essentially, you play on a board with many intersections and place stones on the intersections in turn.  You aim to win territory by surrounding your opponent’s stones and a formation of stones is safe from surrounding if has two “eyes”, or protected holes.

We played three games.  Igo gave me at first an eight-stone handicap, then seven.  I was improving with each game and got very close in the last.  Very stimulating and enjoyable.

4th February: Kyoto – Nijo Castle

Though staying in Nara, I caught the train to Kyoto and visited Nijo Castle.

No scribbling!

It’s important to pay attention to the signs.  Poets and students who might suddenly sit down on the road with their notepads to finish an essay should beware.

Ninomaru Palace

Nijo Castle was the Tokugawa residence in Kyoto and includes both Ninomaru Palace and Honmaru PalaceTokugawa Ieyasu commenced construction in 1601 and Tokugawa Iemistu completed it in 1624.  This is Ninomaru Palace which includes elegant rooms and impressive wall paintings.

Oh, the No scribbling sign?  If the penny hasn’t dropped, it really means “No graffiti please on this ancient wall”.

Ninomaru Garden Pond

Ninomaru Garden Pond

Eastern Gate to Honmaru Palace

Ninomaru Palace is inside the outer walls of Nijo Castle.  Also inside the outer walls is a moat and another set of castle walls and inside that is Honmaru Palace, not open for visiting at this time.  This is a gate through the inner walls and a bridge over the moat.

Part of Honmaru Palace

Nijo Castle is famed for its “nightingale floors” which squeak as you walk on them and were designed to prevent anyone trying to sneak up on the Shogun.  I didn’t experience that at Ninomaru Palace and I don’t think it is specific to Honmaru Palace, so I assume it’s not a property of the public walkways.

Western Bridge to Honmaru Palace over the Inner Moat

Western Bridge to Honmaru Palace over the Inner Moat

Honmaru Palace from the Donjon (a large stone tower at a corner of the inner castle wall)

Ironically, since the Tokugawa shoguns based themselves in Edo (now called Tokyo), they spent little time in this castle – just a few times at the beginning of the Tokugawa period and a few times at the end, with a gap of more than 220 years in the middle.

Doorway at Honmaru Palace

Western wall and inner moat around Honmaru Palace

Western wall and inner moat around Honmaru Palace

South-west corner of inner moat

Gable decorations at Ninomaru Palace

30th January: Kyoto to Kanazawa

It had been snowing in Kyoto each day, but only for a few hours each day and melting when it hit the ground.  Almost as soon as I left Kyoto on the train heading north for Kanazawa, there was snow everywhere.  Here are a couple of shots out of the window of the train:

Not far out of Kyoto, from a moving train

Here, we were stopped at a station. Note the giant Buddha in the background.

When I got to Kanazawa, it was snowing heavily and the back streets of the city were a kind of eerie wonderland.

Young businessmen, perhaps. Suits and ties and umbrellas for the rain.

Waiting for passers-by

... Found one!

The young woman here is giving away free small packs of tissues on the street corner with some kind of commercial information on the wrapping, written of course in Japanese.

Some of the local boys ...

Municipal sculpture

A corner of a small shrine in a city street

Kanazawa escaped bombing in World War 2, so the old city survives.  This kind of snow was not typical for this time of the year.  In three of the previous four years, there was no snow at all for the equivalent days to my visit.

(All images with my “pocket camera”, a Fujifilm X100).

29th January: Kyoto – The Philosopher’s Path – Ginkakuji (The Silver Pavilion)

Finally, at the end of the path, I reached the Silver Pavilion.  This was built by Ashikaga Yoshimasa, the grandson of the shogun who built the Golden Pavilion (Ashikaga Yoshimitsu).  It was planned in 1460 but due to the Onin Wars was not completed until the early 1480s.  It was Yoshimasa‘s residence from 1484 and became a Buddhist temple after he died in 1490.  It was originally intended to be clad in silver, though that never actually came about.  According to one source, it is best viewed by moonlight (when of course the gates are locked and it is not accessible).

The most magnificent thing about the Temple is actually the garden.  Here are details from the zen garden flanking the path on the way in.

Zen dry garden detail

Zen dry garden detail with bonsai

Ginkaku ("Silver Pavilion") and Kinkyo-chi ("Brocade Mirror Pond")

Many of the elements in the view from the image above date back to the time of original construction by Ashikaga Yoshimasa.  The Silver Pavilion itself never burned down though most of the other original buildings do not survive.

Ashikaga Yoshimasa (1435-1490) was shogun 1443 to 1473.  He was a great patron of the arts but not so successful politically.  In 1464 he adopted his younger brother Ashikaga Yoshimi and persuaded him to leave the priesthood  so there would be no contention over his succession.  However, the next year he unexpectedly acquired a son, who was then his favoured successor.  This led to the Onin War of 1467-1477, though it was partly merely an excuse for conflict between two leading daimyo, Hosokawa Katsumoto and Yamana Sōzen.  Both had armies of 80,000 men, encamped in eastern and western Kyoto respectively.  By the time the war fizzled out, with both leading daimyo dead and no advantage to either side, most of Kyoto was devastated.

Yoshimasa is said to have quietly take refuge in meditation and artistic pursuits while the war raged around him, perhaps rather like Nero is said to have fiddled while Rome burned.  However, at least in Nero’s case, this is not now generally seen as an accurate depiction.

The Ashikaga shoguns after Yoshimasa had little power and were the effective captives of powerful clans.  The end of the Onin Wars didn’t bring peace, either.  Instead, general conflict spread across the country in what became the Sengoku or Warring States period until stability returned with the Tokugawa period at the beginning of the seventeenth century.

Ginshanden ("Sea of Silver Sand")

The sand sculptures were not present in the early years of the temple and date to the early seventeenth century.

Ginshanden ("Sea of Silver Sand")

The Hondo or “Spirit Hall” lies beyond the Gishanden or “Sea of Silver Sand”.

Kogetsudai ("Moon-Viewing Platform"), often said to depict Mt Fuji

Ginkaku ("Silver Pavilion") and Kinkyo-chi ("Brocade Mirror Pond"). A view that may be little changed from the late fifteenth century.

Tree in late afternoon near the Silver Pavilion

29th January: Kyoto – The Philosopher’s Path – Honen-In

On the way from Nanzen-Ji to Ginkakuji along the Philosopher’s Walk, I also dropped into Honen-In Temple which does not allow photographs inside the buildings.  However, I was particularly taken with the thatched gate leading to the temple past two sculpted sand mounds maintained by the monks.

Honen-In is a small Jodo-shu temple, founded in 1680 to honor Honen (1133-1212), the founder of Amidism or Pure Land Buddhism, which was a faith-based rival to Zen.  Jodo-shu is a subsect of Amidism.

Honen-In Gate

Facade of Building at Honen-In

Honen-In Gate, sand sculptures and people

Honen-In Gate

Pathway to Honen-In Gate

29th January: Kyoto – The Philosopher’s Path – Nanzen-Ji

Today I walked the Philosopher’s Path from south (Nanzen-Ji) to north (Ginkakuji, the Silver Pavilion).  Eminent Kyoto-based philosopher Nishida Kitaro used to walk it every day in the early 20th century.

First port of call is the delightful Tenjuan Garden, off the avenue to Nanzen-Ji Temple and part of the complex.

Tenjuan Garden

The monk is walking up a path to the nearby cemetery. He then conducted a ceremony there with a few people.  The cemetery, though not open for public access, includes some graves of eminent people dating back to at least the sixteenth century.

Tenjuan Garden

There was originally an imperial villa on this site dating back to 1267.  In 1288 the Emperor Kameyama was so impressed by Zen priest Daiminkokushi ridding him of a troublesome ghost that he converted the villa to a Zen temple for the benefit of Daiminkokushi.   

Kameyama was 10 when he became Emperor in 1259 and he abdicated in 1274 in favour of his 7-year old son.  This was a common practice.  He retained effective power as cloistered Emperor though real power rested with the Hojo clan at Kamakura.  For example, he favoured submitting to Kublai Khan as a vassal but was overruled by Kamakura.  Late in life he lost an imperial power struggle to his elder brother and retired to a Zen monastery.  His choice of Zen rather than Classical Buddhism was influential in changing the preferences of the aristocracy.

The Tenjuan Temple burned down in 1447 and again during the Onin War of 1467-1477.  It was not reconstructed until around 100 years later.

Tenjuan Garden

Tenjuan Garden dates back to 1337 though parts seem to have been remodeled in later years.  These steps across a pond probably date back to 1337.

Through the Sanmon Gate

Here we are looking through just the central opening of the massive, two-story Sanmon Gate, which has a famous association with the outlaw Ishikawa Goemon.  Though a historical figure, much of his life is effectively mythical.  He was said to be a kind of Japanese Robin Hood, stealing from the wealthy daimyo and giving to the poor.  He hid in this gate after an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate Toyotomi Hideyoshi (the shogun in all but name) but was discovered in 1593 and executed by being boiled alive.  The current gate is said to have been built in 1628 and dedicated to those who died in the civil wars so there must have been a different version in the late sixteenth century.


This is beside the main entrance to Nanzen-Ji, an alternative entrance way not currently in use for the public at least.

Like Tenjuan Temple, Nanzen-Ji was founded by the Emperor Kameyama and Zen priest Daiminkokushi.  It was originally built as an imperial villa in 1264 and donated as a temple in 1291.  The original buildings were destroyed by fire in 1294, 1448 and 1467 and the current buildings were rebuilt between 1570 and 1600.  It is the head temple of Rinzai Zen.

Toranokowatashi Garden ("Young tigers crossing the water")

One of the delights of Nanzen-Ji is Toranokowatashi Garden, also known as Leaping Tiger Garden, created about 1600 by Kobori Enshu.

Detail of Toranokowatashi Garden

Pedestrian bridge over a pond near Eikan-Do

I also visited Eikan-Do Temple but no photography is allowed there.  Here is a bridge in the area between Eikan-Do and Nanzen-Ji.

28th January: Kyoto – the Gion.

There were quite a few young women wearing kimonos amongst the crowd at the Kiyomizu-dera temple and in the Gion district below. They might have been Geisha, or Maikos (apprentice Geisha) or probably just young women wearing traditional dress. The area north-west of Kiyomizu-dera and between the river and the hills has many charming streets preserved with traditional buildings.

Scene in traditional street 1

Scene in traditional street 2

Scene in traditional street 3

Two people descending the stairs from the gate of the Shoren-In Temple

Lanterns outside a small museum after dark, probably a Shinto shrine.

More lanterns, nearby