Thursday, 30 October 2008

A Taste of Things to Come

I'm back. I'm exhausted and I don't feel like chatting right now, but here is a little sample of what's to come.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Kyoto Tour in the afternoon

The second half of our Kyoto tour was also awe-inspiring! We had been taken to the Kyoto Craft Center for lunch where we got to look at (and consider buying) the many marvelous traditional crafts of the region. They even had the artists hard at work, so we could see the care and skill involved in producing the many beautiful artifacts.

Floor after floor of objects were on display!

I wanted to buy one representative object form each vendor, but of course I had to restrain myself!

Instead I refused to rein in my desire for the buffet provided on the second floor. We had sushi, spaghetti, bean desserts and all manner of good things!

Our next stop was my absolute favorite place in all of Kyoto San--ju--san-gendo - the largest wooden structure in Japan.


It is filled with 1001 life-sized images of the goddess of Compassion called Kannon in Japan.She supposedly has 1000 arms, although the statues each only have (I believe) 41 arms). We were not allowed to take pictures inside the building, so instead I have borrowed these images from the net.

The statues were made by someone who believed that by creating so many statues of Kannon he could gain his desires, because there is a story that says if you pray to Kannon 1000 times whe will grant you her compassion.

Each Kannon figure has an individual face and they were completed by many different artists.

In between the rows of Kannon sculptures are the 39 (?) Boddhisattivas called Generals. These were based on Hindu myths and many can be recognized as incarnations of famous Hindu gods.

These carvings are also absolutely breath-taking.

Here are a series of images from the Hall. In the center of the hall sits a large gilt figure.

In the back (because the hall is so long, they have practiced for and held archery contests. )

This is absolutely my most favorite spot in Kyoto and maybe even in all of Japan.

Our next stop was the Heian Jingu Shrine. This is an unforgettable shrine in the red/orange style of the Chinese.

The Shrine itself is a relatively modern building complex, having been built in 1895 to commemorate the beginning of the Heian dynasty 110 years before.

The dramatic quality of the architecture makes it an ideal place for exciting photography.

Another view of one of the buildings.

This garden has symbolic islands in the lake representing turtles and longevity. I'm sorry that I can't better remember what each island stands for and how they are represented.

It was a tranquil and inviting place.

Here is a lantern along the lake of the garden.

And of course it is a favorite spot for weddings. No one can resist taking a portrait of a Japanese bride in her long white robe with its hood designed to hide the horns that supposedly will soon make her husband very unhappy.

It doesn't look like the groom cares, but the bride's expression almost seems to confirm the myth. Of course if this is anything like any other wedding I've seen, they are probably both so stressed out that their thoughts are a million miles away.

Our final destination was Kiyo Mizudera, known for its healing waters. On our way to the temple we passed this monk asking for alms.

One enters the famous cliff temple from below climbing dozens of stairs and passing this multi-level pagoda-like building.

The temple was begun in 798 but most of the buildings are from the 17th century.

legend has it that if one drinks from the three sources of water one can have longevity, wisdom and or health, but that one must choose only two of the three.

We saw many people seeking the therapeutic value of the spring. There are also used to be the belief that if one jumped off the platform and survived the 13 meter drop that one would get one's wish. Supposedly some 85% of people survived, but they have now made it illegal to tempt fate in this way.

Finally tired but happy Chris and I were deposited by our bus driver near the river that leads to our Ryokan. here an egret pursues an evening dinner before the night completely settles in.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Seeing the Mountain

This is not a real post, but after many efforts including a long train ride to a place almost guaranteed to give us a glimpse of the infamous Mt Fuji, my Aunt Chris had still not seen the mountain. Well, what do they always say about your own back door? Yesterday we were able to look out the window on the back side of the school and guess what we saw!!

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Maps of Our Location

A relative was asking where we were and trying to find us via satellite picture. Since I can't post links to Google maps I thought I would post images instead. (Check out Bunkyo Gakuin University on Google Maps to find these images: (Since everything is labeled in Japanese it is hard to find unless you know what you are looking for. Here is the map of Hongo dori. (Hongo street - the big one that goes north and south. The University is the building marked C (they also own a and B).

In this picture the University is the building in the bottom left corner.
We live in a gray roofed building to the right and up a bit. (It is almost on the edge at the top about 1/3 of the way toward the center from the left and is next (to the left of a white building that really stands out to the eye.)

You can see it a bit better in this picture.

Friday, 3 October 2008

First Morning in Kyoto

For our first day in Kyoto we had signed up for a bus tour of the city, so we had to get up and find our way back to the train station. We were quite surprised when the way back only took us 20 minutes (since it had taken us more than an hour the night before when we wandered around lost in the dark.)

Our neighborhood was a lovely traditional one just south of the famous medieval entertainment district of Gion. This is the building across the street from our hotel room.

We crossed the river and saw birds having their breakfast

and also this interesting garden being.

We stopped in a Starbucks and met some nice American women who worked for Microsoft (notice the Seattle connection) and then met our tour group at the hotel. Our first stop was Nijo castle. This was a moated castle built by the Shogun essentially to demonstrate his power over the feudal lords and emperor.

(This image courtesy of

Here you can see the moat that protected the castle from casual invaders.

These walls are of huge stones all joined without any mortar.

The castle is a double walled affair. First one enters through this gate.

and eventually makes one's way to the actual castles.

Unfortunately many of the buildings have been destroyed by fire and the vagaries of time, but what is left is still quite lovely and impressive.

We were not allowed to take pictures inside the castle, but I found this shot of one of the ceilings at

The castle is famous for its security measures including non-hidden rooms for Ninja body guards so that they could be called immediately and the famous Nightingale floors, or uguisubari (鴬張り). These were floors with nails that hit metal jackets below the floor whenever weight was applied. They sang to warn of an intruder.

Outside there is a lovely garden in the Japanese style with 7 islands or rocks each with symbolic significance.

Our next stop was Kitano Ten-Mangu shrine. Here are some images from our stop there:

Here is Chris appreciating the beauty of the shrine.

The carvings were absolutely wonderful!

The weather had begun to clear and it was becoming a beautiful day (which was nice because our next stop would be enhanced by the addition of sunlight.

Our next stop was the incomparable Kinkaku-ji - the golden temple of Kyoto.

My last visit to Kyoto had been on an overcast day and it was of course still lovely, but there is no comparison to seeing the Temple lit up by the beauty of the sun.

Here is our guide - who had a marvelous sense of humor and kept us well entertained and informed.

And here is one last glimpse of the temple.

Okay, maybe two...

...and then we headed to the Kytoto Crafts center for lunch.