Monday, October 31, 2016


Hikone is a small town on the east side of Lake Biwa, the largest lake in Japan.  Kyoto is the blue marker at the bottom of the lake, and the giant area around the southernmost blue marker is Osaka.

 Li Naomasa, was a fearsome general and fought hard for Tokagawa and after defeating Ishida Mitsunari was gifted his castle for a job well done.
However, he hated living in his enemies castle and asked to build a new one on the site.  Tokagawa agreed and construction began on what is now Hikone-jo [Hikone Castle].  The earlier castle was dismantled and the parts of it were used to build a new castle. 


Unfortunately he died before the building was completed and it was passed down to his two sons.

This walkway was constructed in such a way as to be easily knocked down making the castle nearly impervious to attack.

 The view while on the bridge.

This is what the majority of the castle looks like from inside.

This is not a good sightseeing experience if you have bad knees as there are 130 some steps just to get to the castle from the ticket gate.  These steps are the long low steps rimmed in stone and filled in with cement. 

Now these steps are doable, as you can just motor up them at your own speed.  However, once within the castle there are two short staircases that lull you into complacency, don't fall for it!  After those two wee staircases of about 6 steps each and a bit of a walk around, you'll find yourself facing 3 stair cases of doom!  These are stairs that in a previous life were ladders and were just faced with stair material.  No, I joke about that, but going up it is remarkably like climbing a ladder due to its extreme steepness of grade, with hand rails.  It's the coming down bit that nearly unnerved me.  With no embarrassment I'll happily admit to being afraid of heights and ladders are an issue for me.  Coming down these ladder steps was a terrifying ordeal for me, where a time or two my terror was barely contained.  The steps on these ladder steps are SLICK and the handrails held no comfort for me.  By the time we regained the ground floor I was in a bit of a quiver and it took me a while to regain my equilibrium.

From the walls of the castle its possible to see for miles, both across a great expanse of Lake Biwa and the the surrounding area.  While there are trees growing on the castle walls, during the time this was an active castle it was stripped bare of vegetation.

The castle and the town have a mascot that is freaking adorable, and everything you could think of has this image either stamped on, or made into stuffed animals.  Grandson scored a stuffed mascot plushie, and it's a darned good thing I adore him or he wouldn't be getting it!

They had a mascot show while we were there and it was cute to watch, isn't he totally adorbs?

So, the Li family had a bell that would alert the surrounding area to invaders, in the 1800's the bell was moved so that it could be heard all over the western side of town.  Today the bell is rung 5 times a day and we hung around to see/hear it rung at 13:00.  Even though we were crazy close to the bell, it wasn't all that loud, but had an extremely long reverberation.  They ring the bell 3 times each time it's rung.  However, unlike western bell ringing, here it is rung at about 30 second intervals, about the same time as the last reverberation has ended is when the bell is rung again. 

Friday, October 28, 2016

Fushimi Inari Shrine

There are 10,000 torii gates in Fushimi!  'Tis an astounding amount of anything, much less torii gates.  They are donated by merchants hoping to get some divine help in making their business thrive, and are removed every 10 years.

The earliest structures were built in 711 before the move of the Imperial family to what would become Kyoto!

The main gate into the Shrine.

Inari is one of the best known kami of the Shinto religion and she/he is the goddess/god of rice and prosperity.  Inari doesn't have a set image nor gender, but is usually shown as an old man sitting on a pile of rice with two foxes or kitsune in Japanese, or that of a beautiful fox-woman.  Many people confuse Inari with kitsune, but kitsune is a messenger for Inari, not a kami.

Fushimi Inari is filled with different kitsune statues and besides the torii, is the image that most people know.

Greg was kind enough to take me to Fushimi Inari not once, but twice, I love it that much.  There is something there that gives me the chilly willies that dance up and down my spine, and I feel as though this is my souls home.

Walking under the torii gives one an interesting feeling, where with the turning of the path new horizons open up, and the past is closed, finished.

 The torii stretch for  a total of 4 miles, and as you climb to other side shrines and areas, you can see the torii from many different angles.

For some unknown reason, its now become wildly popular to rent kimonos and visit shrines and temples, even if the lady dressing up isn't Japanese.  Today we saw a sweet faced young woman wearing a kimono and a Muslim headscarf!  But no matter the why or reason it became popular, it just seems fitting to see young ladies dressed in the style of the past in old shrines and temples.  Off to the right of the photo are school kids in their uniforms.


 If you'd like to see bamboo without fighting the hoards of folks at Arashiyama, and in a quiet peaceful setting, that is free to boot, come to Fushimi and the trail breaks to the right and left.  To the left is a shrine area that looks like this,

 to the right is a sign pointing up, take that and walk past the first shrine and you will find the bamboo.  You can hear the wind play and sing in the tree tops, listen to birds adding their joyful trills, and only a stray voice floats up from the main path.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

A Shrine a lunch and a Temple

Hirano-jinja Shrine is a very small shrine established in 794 by Emperor Kammu when the capital moved to Kyoto.  The shine has enjoyed Imperial visits and patronage through the eons.  The shrine is best known for its cherry blossoms of which there are 40 different varieties.  Each year since 985 the city of Kyoto has walked under its alley of cherry blossom and marveled at the beauty.

In October there are zero cherry blossoms, sigh.  The description of the shrine sounded interesting and the bus we were taking to a temple was making a stop there, so we de-bused and took a look!   [yes i know that de-bused isn't a word, but it should be!  if you can de-plane, and de-camp, why can't you de-bus?]

A pleasant walk lined with trees covered in leaves rusty with the beginnings of fall.  The grass grows long under the trees off the path and the city street noise seemed to funnel into the shrine.  The path gradually took a bend to where there was a tori, and the most amazing thing occurred when we stepped through the first tori. 

The sounds of the street were gone!  Replaced by bird songs and breezes playing with the leaves.  Hirano-jinja is a small shrine, but houses so much peacefulness that it floods every pore and cell.  A few people came by to do a quick prayer before continuing with their day.  The grounds not only hold an amazing amount of cherry trees, but one of the oldest camphor trees in Kyoto, around 400 years.

We have no idea the significance of this tree, damn us for not being able to read, or speak Japanese!  But this cherry tree is a well cared for tree.

Jumping onto bus 205 we continued north to  Kinkakuji Temple better known as The Golden Pavilion, one of the most famous landmarks in Kyoto, if not in all of Japan.  As we walked up the path into the shrine we saw bus after bus after bus of tourists and school kids.  We were having a leisurely stroll up the long path when we saw ahead of us people running to the entrance gate.  

The crowds were unruly, noisy and out and out rude, pushing and shoving and yelling back and forth to each other about who knows what, as nearly every language on earth was available to our ears. 

When we finally got close enough, by dent of being pushy, we were remarkably underwhelmed.  Yes, the building on the upper half is covered in gold leaf, and yes the reflecting pond did it's job well by reflecting the gold shine into the water, but the whole experience left us with a giant, meh.  Could it have been the crowds that left us being less than impressed?  Or maybe it was the fact that it was just another temple in a long line of temples?  There has been only two temples that we felt a presence at, and it wasn't this one.

If you do ever go to Kyoto, and want to experience Kinkakuji for yourself, be there at 9 am when the gates open, the tour buses don't show up until 10 am. 

Just an arty pic of a water grotto...

Wandering around for several hours left us starving.  Fresh air and elbowing your way through crowds will do that.  Leaving us to wander around the main street looking at all the displays of "plastic food" that are so helpful to tourists who don't read Japanese. 

Noodles, no....shrimp! oh hellz no.  For those of you who are reading this and don't know, I'm a celiac who carries around epi-pens due to a severe shellfish allergy. Eating out has been extremely difficult, most restaurants when I give them my allergy info sheet will read it, re-read it, and then give the "no" hand sign.  They are sorry they can't accommodate my food needs, and are very kind about it, but have spent a great deal of time being hungry while out and about and cooking nearly every dinner at the apartment.

 We walked further and further down the street and I was about to call it quits and go and get shio eggs and some fruit and chips when we saw a doorway with stairs leading up, up, up.  Deciding to take a chance we climbed those very steep stairs, a common architectural feature of Japan, hoping for a safe delicious meal.  Turns out the man who owns the bar was raised in Oregon for a while as a child, spoke passable English and was so eager to feed me he served me something off the dinner menu, and then refused to allow us to pay for it!! He charged us only for Greg's burger, both times we stopped there he charged us less than the prices on the menu. The bar is decorated with an old west theme, and a tv over the bar plays American adventure movies with the sound off. 

He served Greg a mountain of a hamburger that he said was one of the best burgers he had ever eaten, it came with potato salad, fries and salad.

 I was served duck medallions that had been grilled and had a sauce made of balsamic vinegar.  It was smokey and flavorful, one of the best duck dishes I've ever eaten.  I was so hungry and it smelled so divine that I ate a piece or two before I remembered to snap a photo, sorry.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Forest, shrine, and a temple

 Shimogamo Shrine is one of the 17 Historic monuments of Ancient Kyoto and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  This has been the site of a Shinto Shrine for over 2,000 years, and is one of the oldest in all of Japan. 

While many Temples and Shrines have lost their connection with the neighborhood throughout the centuries and are no longer a part of daily life, that is not the case with Shimogamo.  While we were there we saw two wedding parties with the lovely brides wearing traditional wedding outfits and an infant blessing.  Along with several people praying in the inner shrine areas.

A Shinto bridal couple.  This image is a google borrow, we didn't want to intrude upon their day by snapping their photo.

One thing that sets this shrine apart is that Tadasu no Mori is a sacred grove which is part of the shrine grounds.   Forest of Correction or Tadasu no Mori is a 12.4 hectare preserved primeval forest that is not pruned nor planted but left to grow wild. 

However, they do work to keep the large trees alive by wrapping the trunks to keep them from rotting, and many of the largest trees have branches or entire trunks that are supported. 

When nature finally wins the battle of death these monster trees are allowed to lay and rot and give back to the land.  The caretakers from the shrine will cut the trees into large sections and will often encourage their rotting by putting earth on them.

The shrine grounds are alive with water, in the form of creeks and a spring, water tumbling and murmuring ebbing and flowing, it is one of the most peaceful places we have visited.   Birds sing in the trees, the trees add to the forest song with their leaves ruffling in the breeze.   Modern life with its concerns and worries retreats in this ancient  place and peace steals into the soul, refreshing and revitalizing.

While standing creek-side watching leaves swirl and race away from us, I looked down and shrieked and jumped AWAY from the creek!  Greg thought I had gone mad, until he saw this monster clinging onto the bottom...  Yep, tis a poisonous centipede.

Upon entering all Shrines and Temples you are supposed to pour water over you hands, and rinse out your mouth.  It is a purification ritual, one that I often performed.  It somehow is relaxing and the water is always cold and tastes of minerals.

We don't know the why of this tree, except possibly its incredible age, but this tree is obviously revered.  There are living trees in Japan that have been aged between 1,500 and 3,000 years.  This tree is certainly an age giant.  Interesting side note, the railing surrounding this tree is made of concrete! 

There is a long lovely peaceful walk between the city and the shrine.

These are all taken within the Shrine.

Then we jumped into a taxi and rode to Ryoanji Temple.  Now, except for To-ji there hasn't been a Buddhist Temple that we felt anything at.  That was not the case for Ryoanji.  There was a presence there that was powerful and yet gentle and calm.  This temple started life as an aristocrat's villa and was converted to a Zen Buddhist Temple in 1450.  The gardens are extensive and are arranged as "rooms" where you can only see one room at a time, and at no time can you see into another room from the one you are in.  The paths wind around opening vistas of beauty and calmness.  There were very few people visiting that day and it was nice not to fight the crowds.

The statue of Buddha

With a stone lantern

Yet another Rock friend.

This Temple has a rock Zen garden.  It was so large that we had trouble photographing it, so you get just two pieces of it.

Here is a very famous stone water basin, a tsukubai,  

Around the outsides of the stone are 4 Chinese characters,

This impressed me enough to buy a trinket with this on it.

We stood for the longest time trying to figure out the why of these trees.  All we know is there were signs everywhere telling one not to touch!

A beautiful vista of the forest and the reflecting pond