Thursday, 30 June 2016

Kyoto Research Trip - Kamigamo Shrine and Fushimi Inari Shrine

Today was all around fantastic, but now I'm trying to write while I'm exhausted and paying for two days in a row of too much walking.  So this will be short.

I started today at Kamigamo Shrine with one of my friends.  We met up to watch a ceremony called nagoshi no harae  (名越の祓).  It looked like a purification ritual for the first half, then the priests moved into the main shrine building and I had a hard time following what was going on.  It looked like they were passing plates of food, but I couldn't see well.  I will be looking more into what this ceremony is.


My original plan was to continue to follow the Kamo River north, since I was so close to where I left off, but that didn't happen.  For one, my knees and hips are shot from yesterday, and for two, it was threatening rain and I didn't want to get stuck in a downpour two days in a row.


So my friend and I went to Fushimi Inari instead.  It's the famous shrine with all of the gates.


And foxes.


And far too many people.  There was a really cool oku no in off the trail though.  Oku no in are the innermost part of a shrine, apparently where founders and such are enshrined.  It would be interesting to spend more time back there reading the plaques, but it was really hot and full of mosquitoes.  


There's a "waterfall" named after Kobo Daishi, but the waterfall must be long built over.  In the back it's just wet and there is a pipe with water gushing out of it on the ground.  There is a shrine to Kobo Daishi though!


After that we went to Kyoto National Museum.  Bonus, this time they actually let me use my student ID to get the college student discount!  It was really fun to walk around the museum with someone else interested in and knowledgeable about the same kind of stuff I like.

Some of today's highlights:
I fed a sacred horse tiny slices of carrots... from a plate.


I found another bird I can't identify.


And another cormorant (maybe?).


And these little guys may have been the most exciting part of the day.  There were two nests of baby swallows (燕)on the approach to Fushimi Inari.  The parents were zipping around over our heads.  I've been trying to get a picture of a swallow since day 1, but they're so fast and so small all I've gotten are blurs.



They're big enough to fly (they shoved one of their siblings out of the nest right before I took this picture).  Gorgeous birds.

Here's the other nest, because we need to end on more cute.


Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Kyoto Research Trip - Mt. Hiei


I am very excited about the fact that this happened.  I wasn't entirely sure my joints would let me do it, and at some points I had to stop every few steps because my hips hurt, but I made it!  Three hours up the mountain.  I don't have pictures of the climb because it was literally a climb in a lot of places.  I needed both hands quite frequently, especially near the beginning around Kirara.  It was a great experience though.  My adviser suggested I make the hike to see what it was like for the premodern monks who went back and forth.  The trails are definitely more maintained, but they're still very rough.  They don't always look as much like trails as narrow ruts.  Some of it is bare rock, which was tough because it was slippery, but most of it was dirt.  Some places had terraces built in with support beams or old blocks of concrete.  I'm still not sure if that makes climbing any easier or if they're just there to reinforce the trail so it doesn't give out.


This is as close to a view from the top as I managed because right around this point it started raining.  It wasn't too bad at first, but it started pouring right around when I reached the temple, which, well, let's just say I'm thankful it didn't do that before because the trail would have been a lot more dangerous and unpleasant.  It was still really cool to look out over the city.  I didn't get to check and see if Kurama was visible though because, well, I was inside a cloud and not much was visible.

Mt. Hiei is home to Enryakuji, probably the most notorious temple of the medieval period.  It's monks were numbered among the proverbial three uncontrollable forces in the 14th century military chronicle The Tale of the Heike, up there with the waters of the Kamo River and the fall of the dice.  They had a habit of protesting as a means of influencing the court and seem to have quite frequently gotten their way.


The pagoda in the picture is the East Pagoda was originally built in the 8th or 9th century by the monk Saichō, who brought Tendai Buddhism to Japan.  The compound is very conscious of its architectural history, and signs in a couple of places mentioned that this was one of the buildings burned down near the end of the Warring States.  Oda Nobunaga leveled the compound and chased the monks into another part of the mountain.


Enryakuji is still a very active temple, so it was an interesting mix of old a new.  They had these billboards along the walkway showing historical scenes.  This one is a reproduction of a Kamakura era painting of the East Pagoda,.  There were others showing famous figures and saints like Hōnen and Ippen.


These pictures are so terrible... but this is the Kaidan'in, originally built in the 828 for ordaining Tendai priests, which I was excited to see.

By this point my shoes were soaked through and I was freezing, so I spent some time in the museum, ate my lunch, and then headed back.  I would love to explore the western area and Yokawa, but that will have to be on a day when it's not raining cats and dogs and probably won't happen this trip.

Getting back was another mini adventure.  I was so done being on the mountain that I didn't want to walk the 2-3 km to the Yase cable car, so I took the closest one, which dropped me off in Shiga, next to Lake Biwa (on the opposite side of the mountain).  


Apparently the Sakamoto cable car is the longest in Japan, and when it's not going through a rain storm it's supposed to have a fantastic view of the lake.  I had fun looking for the waterfalls and wooden animals.  I do not recommend this if you're afraid of heights!


This is an awful picture, bu it's the only clear-ish one I managed.  They have wooden animal statues along the whole course.  They're so fun!  They even have a popularity ranking board in the Enryakuji Station.


The station buildings are neat too!  They're also registered as cultural properties.  Both were built in 1925-26.  They're two story concrete, and you can actually go up to the second floor of the Enryakuji Station building.  There's a small exhibition on the history of the station and the cable car.




The yellow building is Enryakuji Station, the white one is Sakamoto Station.  The insides are so fun!  Definitely not your normal train station.  


The car is also pretty neat.  It's a very smooth ride, and an audio guide tells you about the different stations along the way, bits of history associated with the view you're looking at, etc.




Then, for a totally unexpected find, I was going to take the bus to the train station because of the rain, but I'm a twit and watched it leave because I don't even know why.  The station attendant looked at me ten minutes later and was like, "You didn't get on the bus!"  Yeah... I don't have a good excuse for that one.  So I walked.  He said it was only about ten minutes and gave me directions.  I'm so glad I did!


Hiyoshi Shrine, didn't know it was on that side of the mountain, and I clearly pay really close attention to maps when I'm out wandering...


Hiyoshi Shrine is mentioned in Japan's first national history, the Kojiki, written about 712.  It had imperial patronage during the Heian period and became one of the country's protector shrines.  It also had the only monkey I saw on this whole trip.


Yeah... sad, right?  I'm cursed to never see wild monkeys!  The only non-human mammal I saw on the mountain was a very surprised deer.   I also saw this really awesome crab in Shiga.  I nearly stepped on him.  He was about the size of a US quarter and I almost didn't see him while I was walking.


Another really cool find from today was this abandoned house near the Eizan cable station.


I really, really wanted to get closer to check it out, but I didn't want to risk it.  The old steps looked stable enough, but I would have had a really hard time getting up, and who knows what condition the ground around the building is in.

All in all, I would really like to go hiking there again, or do the trail around the city.  Hopefully next time I get the chance my body is healthier and my joints can keep up with me.  There are so many branches you can step off and explore.  There were a lot of small shrines or historical markers.  Once you're on the trail, it's pretty clearly marked.  The hiking map I bought had the main trails on it, but the markers have a lot of the smaller ones, and they tell you if the trail is a dead-end or not.  

As a final, parting thought for the day, jellyfish is surprisingly crunchy.


Monday, 27 June 2016

Kyoto Research Trip - Higashiyama Temples

Today I reached my limit for dealing with tourist spots, but I saw some really cool stuff!  My first stop was Kiyomizu Temple, which wasn't much different then I remember it except too many people had selfie sticks... 


Kiyomizu Temple is another World Heritage Site.  The current building I believe dates from the Edo period some time, but the temple itself is from the 8th century.  It's one of the temples I'm interested in because it maintained one of two bridges across the Kamo River in the medieval period for pilgrims.  It's one of the 33 sites on the western pilgrimage route, which I need to look into more cause I don't know much about it other than it stopped happening for a while and then the route changed when it started back up in the Edo period.

For a fun reference, here's a 16th century version of Ushiwaka and Benkei fighting on the Gojō bridge, from the Kiyomizu Temple Pilgrimage Mandala:


I decided to go through the tainai meguri, since I've read about it and heard about it in the context of other temples before.  The concept, as I understand it, is an enactment of death and rebirth by going underneath the temple's main image in a dark tunnel.  Under the image is a seed syllable, which in the context represents salvation.  Seed syllables are Sanskrit letters that are used to represent a deity.  To my knowledge, Japanese seed syllables look a little different from continental ones.  From what I can figure out, this one represents Yōe Kannon (Skt. Parnashavari).  As a side note, the tainai meguri at Kiyomizu has been open to the public since 2000.  I don't know if that was one of the temple's older practices or not.  No, I did not take this picture, it's from the temple's website.


I'm always a bit uncomfortable participating in temple and shrine activities, because I'm doing so only as a researcher and not a believer, but it's a practice that has existed since the medieval period so I really wanted to experience it.  It was actually quite unnerving.  The tunnel is completely dark, as in you can't see your hand in front of your face dark, and all you have is the railing on the left side that you can feel.  I was nervous there would be steps or a big slope, so I pretty much shuffled the whole way through (you take off your shoes to go in).  The only light comes when you reach the seed syllable, which is on a stone that you can touch.  There are a lot of curves, and because of the dark it's really disorienting.  Depending on if you go with a group of high school boys behind you (yeah, that happened partway through), you also have no idea where anyone else is relative to you.  There is also no way of knowing how wide the "tunnel" is, unless my arms are just too short, or if it is a tunnel and not an open room.  It sounded close, but the seed syllable was set off to the right and I couldn't see a wall behind it.  I wasn't about to let go of the railing to figure it out either.

I also stumbled across Rokuharamitsu Temple, which I didn't even know existed.


This is also on the Kannon pilgrimage route.  And, it's home to this famous beauty:


Again, not my picture.  I follow the rules, but I'm not above nicking pictures from a Google search.  This statue comes up fairly frequently in Buddhist art.  It's from the Kamakura period and depicts the monk Kūya who promoted Amida (Skt. Amitabha) worship in the 10th century.  The cool thing about this statue is that instead of seed syllables, there are actual Amidas coming out of his mouth, which I believe represent the practice of nenbutsu.

I also found out more about the cow!  I'm not entirely sure if it's the same as at Kitano Tenmangū, but at Rokuharamitsu the practice is to rub the cow wherever you have maladies.


I also visited Kenninji, the oldest Zen temple in Kyoto.


There were a few things that were really cool about this place and how it is being run.  First, you actually get to go inside and wander around pretty much freely.  You have to pay to get in, but it's definitely worth it.  There are a few places that are blocked off, but it's pretty open.  You take your shoes off at the entrance, and then there are slippers you can wear to go over to the Dharma Hall (pictured).  The rooms are more open partly because the screen paintings are replicas, so you can walk right up to them.

Another really awesome thing is they let you take pictures and video.  They actually tell you this at the front desk specifically.  I appreciate that temples and museums make a lot of money off of image copyrights, but it's still cool to be free to take your own pictures, because you find cool things like this, that aren't in the photo books they sell:


The third thing I really liked is that, in spite of the fact that the temple's fame comes from it being "the oldest Zen temple in Kyoto", they had new art on display alongside the really old art.  I thought that was really great.


Also, the ceiling of the Dharma Hall was apparently painted in 2002, and it is awesome. I grinned like an idiot when I walked in.


It goes with the art theme of the temple.  I'm not entirely sure why dragons, but it's on my list of things to find out.


I spent the rest of the day walking up the Kamo River from where I left off.  Looking at my map, I didn't have too much farther to go until I reached the mountains, but my knees and hips were done.


Some of the other cool things I saw today:
A gray heron catching his lunch.


I can't figure out what this bird is.


A rather pretty dragon fly.


There are a bunch of kites where the two rivers meet.  I thought it was a bit odd since there are still a lot of people around there, and I'm used to seeing hawks and eagles alone, never in groups like that.



I realized I didn't have any pictures of the crows.  They're so normal to see, but they're kind of hard to get pictures of around the river.


Mama and baby ducks.


A little ringed plover (子千鳥 - I really like the Japanese name for these guys!)


A falcated duck (葦鴨 - I really don't understand the English name for this.... apparently "falcate" means "hooked"...)


Lotus flowers at Kenninji.


And a lot of other pretty flowers that I have no idea what they are yet.