Friday, December 31, 2004

Fall Colors

Half of the Kiyomizudera complex was covered in these gorgeous trees.

Prayer Plaques Close-Up

Prayer Plaques

At most temples you can buy these plaques and have whatever prayer you want engraved on them by the monks (usually by burning the words into the wood). They write whatever you dictate, in whatever language. Many of the ones in English seemed to be from students praying for good test scores.

The Pagoda

This was impressively huge and very brightly painted. Unfortunately the sun was behind the structure so the photo didn't turn out well.

Kiyomizudera Gate & Me

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Temple building

Its hard to know what to call these buildings and complexes - I don't know the words for them in Japanese and I'm not sure exactly what purpose they serve. This building was the second thing you saw after the Gate. Everything in this complex was beautifully restored and kept up - I think they repainted every year or two because the colors were so bright. Officially that orange is called vermillion I think.

Entrance Gate to Kyomizudera complex

This is the enormous entrance gate (Shinto) to the temple complex. The complex consisted of several buildings, shrines and one huge pagoda plus the temple itself and all the grounds and gardens. Frankly it was huge. I think it also housed a monastary - we saw a monk chanting and holding out an alms bowl.

A street in Kyoto

Masks along the fence

The pagoda had a fence around it and these masks were hanging on the fence. I have no idea what they mean but they were cool.

Close up of Pagoda architecture

Kyoto Neighborhood Pagoda

M and I found this randomly while navigating our way toward the Kyomizudera. It had a fence around it and was locked up, but I took a few photos of it anyway. We have no idea what the name is though for a while we were convinced it was the famous pagoda of Kyoto (the name of which escapes me now) and even now we're not sure it wasn't.

Shrine next to vending machine

This is a regular photo - not a composite. More of that blending of old/traditional and new/modern. This particular juxtaposition really caught my eye though - the vending machine and the shrine. Ancient relgion and modern conveniences.

Riverbank in Kyoto

There are a couple of river forks in Kyoto - this is the main one (I think) along the North (? - M had the compass) side of the city. We had amazing luck finding things in Kyoto though we did a lot of stopping, consulting the maps, searching for street signs (they don't really exist except at major intersections) and consulting the compass. This river was immensely helpful in the orienteering process. So was the large building at the end of this bridge called the Oriental Hotel. The water level was pretty low and the river was very wide with lots of birds (and even one or two cranes!) standing around on the islands in the center of the water.


M on the way to the Kyomizudera (Water Temple) with the streets of Kyoto behind her (and the big pagoda thing). Kyoto was beautiful. I think it was my favorite city. This is apparently a good "Kodak Moment" spot because we came up a group of high school girls who, working up thier courage, asked us in English to take thier picture in front of this pagoda. It was a group photo and M ended up taking the same photo over and over again so they could each have a copy in their own cameras. After all that, M didn't want to take a picture of her own of the same spot but I figured one of us should if only to remember the girls.

Stop Sign

This adorable little girl was standing in the middle of the pedestrian street warning cars not to go down there. Everything in Japan is cute or has something cute associated with it (like the ramen shop with the large pictures of kittens and puppies all over the walls). Anyway, I found this thing particularly intriguing because I can't figure out what those dots are on her forehead. Any ideas?

The back of the castle

I was sitting in the park (that used to be the palace) looking up the hill at the back of the fortress.

Original lord's seal

The butterfly is the seal/signature of the orginal owner of the castle. I don't remember his name but these round butterflies are all over. Subsequent rulers would replace broken ones with thier own symbol so the edges of the roof have several different round symbols on them.

Corner of the wall

I am standing at the base of the wall looking up at a corner. The walls were sloped and the edges seemed to curve. I'm sure there was a good defensive reason but it made the whole place look very graceful.

Casket in wall

When they restored parts of the walls around the castle, they found a couple of stone caskets embedded within the wall structure. The square blocks you see here were put there to replace the stone caskets when they were removed. I don't have a photo of the caskets themselves but they looked really heavy. I wonder if they buried these people in the walls for luck or to keep thier bodies from being dug up by an invader?


These "windows" are partially for keeping a lookout and partially served as gun holes or spots from which to pour boiling water onto invading armies. The whole place is covered with these windows at regular intervals.

Replica of Himeji's internal structure

This is a small scale version of the internal structures of the castle used for restoration. They had to figure out where all the beams and supports were so they could take apart some of it without the whole thing falling down. Its a dark photo but you can see how complex it is - designed by someone in the early 1600's to withstand earthquakes, invasions and typhoons the whole thing rests mainly on two center pillars which are HUGE.

"Stairs" at Himeji

Ok, these were not stairs - they were ladders diguised as stairs! And this wasn't the only place I discovered this phenomenon. While I can understand wanting the stairways to be as defendable as possible in a military fortress, I do NOT understand why the trend seems to have caught on elsewhere. I nearly broke my neck on these things!

View of defenses from top of Himeji

THis is a partial view of the walls and buildings surrounding the castle.

Shrine at the top of Himeji Castle

On the small top floor is a raised platform with this elaborate shrine. Its one of the most colorful I saw in Japan.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Pretty tree.

Beautiful fall colors in December in Takarazuka. The sun shone most of the time and the temperature was about 60-65 the whole time I was there. Coming home to Seattle was tough.

Squat Toilet.

The photo you've all been waiting for.....the SQUAT TOILET!!! Instructions: face the hood at one end, squat down (westerners are advised to remove pants completely first), aim, etc. flush. Bring your own toilet paper (westerners are advised NOT to keep thier toilet paper supply in the pocket of the jeans that have just been removed and slung over stall door). This is quite an experience - one I was not very successful with. I used two of these things before I decided to just hunt for a western toilet anytime I had to go. M&C have a western toilet (thank goodness) and I was generally able to find them in any public restroom. The restrooms, like everything else in Japan, were spotless except for the immediate vicinity of the squat toilet (I guess many people still have that aim problem).

Another Random Sign.

I found this amusing, I have no idea why.


These little tiny cars were everywhere! Almost everything in Japan is smaller than here though they do seem to be in the throws of an SUV craze just like us. I didn't see any Hummers or Suburbans but I saw lots of Jeep Cherokees and even some Range Rovers. I have no idea how they managed to make it down some of the tiny streets (we would call them alleys).

Berlitz Ad in train station

This is an ad for the local berlitz in the Sanomiya Train Station (at least I think it was Sanomiya - it might have been Nishinomiya-kitaguchi, I tended to get those mixed up, but sound them out - they're fun to say!).

Random Sign

This is a random sign on a building in the town of Himeji. Everywhere I went I saw signs in English that were either spelled wrong, had wrong grammar or just plain didn't make any sense. "For your happy life" is a popular catch phrase.

Anoterh view from the top of the castle.

This is taken looking a different direction over the city. The outbuilding you can see is part of the castle grounds - all of the walls and outbuildings match the main structure.

Corner of Himeji Castle

I am standing at the foot of the wall and looking up into one corner of the roof. The castle tower had several levels and this is one tiny piece but you can see how intricate the work was. The entire thing was built that way - with lots and lots of supports and flexible joints to withstand earthquakes and typhoons. The design of this place was simply amazing.

View from the top of Himeji.

This is a view of the town of Himeji from the top of the castle. Way back when the castle was built, this city was inhabited mostly by the personal army of the feudal king. The palace where the royal family lived (at the foot of the fortress) has long since been demolished but a park has been established there now. Being there I could imagine watching an invading army cross the valley while the soldiers loaded thier muskets and prepared the boiling water and oil. This fortress is NOT one I'd be inclined to attack - its defenses were clever and thorough.

Himeji roof decoration.

This is a decorative bit on the top of the castle. The top floor is about 20' by 20' and has small windows for keeping watch in the surrounding countryside. It also has a large Buddah shrine in the center of the room. This picture was taken at grave risk to life & limb as I had to lean WAY out the window to take it. Of course it doesn't come very close to doing any kind of justice to the actual architecture.


This is a gate within the castle grounds along the winding, circular entranceway.

Himeji Castle

This is one of the most beautiful castles in Japan. It was originally built in 1609 as a fortress. It was never used as living quarters - it is made up of levels and rooms full of armour and weapons. The grounds and castle design are strictly for defense though they are also very beautiful.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Wild cat stalks wild pigeons

At the temple we watched two little girls feeding the pigeons and then we watched this orange cat stalk the feeding flock. All at once the cat rushed forward into the middle of the feeding frenzy, the birds flew up out of harm's way and the sudden commotion scared the two little girls into fits of giggles. This process was repeated three or four times before we left.

Ancient tablet

The old things in Japan are very, very old. The sense of age and tradition and timelessness is embodied in the buildings, cemetaries and shrines in the temples. There is also a blending of Buddhism and Shintoism in most temple complexes - two religions living peacefully together for hundreds of generations.

Dragon faucet on temple fountain

Many of the buildings in the temple complex had thier own purification fountains in addition to the large main fountain. This one stood near the entrance of the large main building near the top of the hill. I took this picture with Andrea in mind. :)

Another statue in the park

These statues were in a park on the other side of the hill from the Children's Temple (where we did, in fact, see a whole bunch of children - especially new babies). The park had the stark look of winter and it was very peaceful. This statue was in the center of a wide circle of grass surounded by Momiji (Japanese maple) trees.

Statue in the park behind the Children's Temple


All temples have fountains for purification - you are supposed to rinse your hands and sometimes people rinse their mouths out too before entering the temple to pray.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Prayer thingies at the Children's Temple.

These are bits of cloth tied to the outside gates of the temple complex. Each one represents the prayer of a person. Behind the fence is the Guardian of the temple - all the temples I saw had Guardians at the gates - usually fierce-looking, armor-wearing and weapon-weilding statues. A lot of them looked alike so I'm not sure if there is one Guardian likeness or if that was just me not paying enough attention.

Entrance to one section of the Children's Temple complex.

Most of the time the buildings/entrances were not white so this one was unusual. And remarkably beautiful.

Outdoor shrine @ Children's Temple.

The temple complexes usually had many buildings, shrines and fountains. They smelled really nice because of all the sandalwood incense and were generally very peaceful places to visit.

Temple archictecture.

This is a random shot of the top of the entrance to one of the temple building/shrine things where people would light incense and pray to the particular Buddah statue inside. The architure on these buildings was intricate and often painted bright colors (not this one).

The neighbor's balcony.

Note the laundry hanging next to the satellite dish. Much of Japan is an interesting blend of old/traditional and new/modern.

More view from the balcony.

This is the view of the Osaka valley on a clear day. Most of the time it was beautiful and blue skies and you could see the water in the distance.

The balcony is a decent size and functions as the clothes dryer (no one has electric dryers - imagine if it rained all the time there? No one would have any dry clothes!)

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

M & Me overlooking Takarazuka.

View from the apartment

View of the Osaka plain from M & C's apartment. 5 floors up and no elevator but the view is worth the climb. And hey - firm thighs in 10 days! The city in the photo is the metropolis made up of several suburbs, Osaka, Kyoto and even Kobe.