Sanjusangengo Temple Area

三十三間堂

Nestled long and low behind the earthen walls that separate it from the noise of the city, Sanjusangendo is a national treasure temple of unique architectural and sculptural importance. First dedicated in 1164 by Emperor Goshirakawa (1127-92) within his retirement estate, the Hojuji Dono, Sanjusangendo is one of the few architectural remnants of the turbulent era that ended rule by the nobility and brought power to the warrior class, who moved the center of government to Kamakura near Tokyo.

Sanjusangengo Temple Area, Kyoto.

The 12th century was marked by the phenomenon of emperors retiring soon after ascending the throne (Goshirakawa reigned only 3 years), taking with them much of the actual power, which they continued to use from elegant retirement estates. Goshirakawa, a gifted poet and musician, conducted affairs of state for 34 years, even after taking priestly vows in 1169. His living quarters were directly connected to Sanjusangendo, which served as his personal chapel. But of the numerous buildings he constructed within the Hojuji Dono, only Sanjusangendo and the Hojuji Den (small octagonal halls which mark the graves of Goshirakawa and his consort Kenshumonin) exist today.

Although popularly known as Sanjusangendo or the Hall of Thirty-three Bays, officially the temple is known as the Rengeo-in: the Temple of the Lotus King, considered the most powerful esoteric form of Kannon (The Goddess of Mercy) for the bestowal of prosperity, cure of illness, eradication of evil, and insurance of enlightenment.

This 1,000-armed Kannon for which the temple is famous, was Goshirakawa’s special object of devotion in his later years. Although the original hall burnt to the ground in the disastrous fire of 1249, it was reconstructed on the same site and rededicated in 1266. Its name originates from an architectural unit of length: the bay or space between large pillars (each a single tree trunk) that support the roof beams. There are 33 bays because Kannon manifests herself in 33 different forms. Within these bays, the central 3-meter-high image of Kannon is flanked by 1,001 smaller standing Kannons with multiple heads and arms.

The symbols held in each of Kannon’s hands signify the various benefits she bestows on humanity. The unique sculptures of Sanjusangendo provide a comprehensive overview of the realistic imagery typical of Kamakura Period art. One hundred and twenty-five of the standing Kannons are originals saved from the fire of 1249. The remainder were carved in the same style. The softer, more feminine faces of the replacement figures are representative of Buddha and Bodhisattva forms made throughout the Kamakura Period. The sense of motion and emotion seen in the bodies and faces of the Gods of Thunder (Raijin) and Wind (Fujin) at the north and south ends of the altar provide a vivid contrast. Lifelike features, enhanced by glass eyes (an innovation of the Kamakura Period), mark the high point of Japanese portrait sculpture. Fujin with his bag of wind and Raijin with his ring of drums are two of the 28 attendants of the 1,000-armed Kannon, many of Hindu origin, such as the flute-playing birdman Karurao (Garuda). These deities, ascetics, heavenly maidens, warriors and demi-gods give special protection to those who believe in the protection of Kannon. Their facial expressions and form cover every human and inhuman form imaginable and are masterpieces of the art of the Kamakura Period (1185-1333), which was a time of vigorous realism that gave birth to Zen Buddhism and the simple but devoted military life of the samurai class that has been romanticized since.

The great length of Sanjusangendo became an inspiration to warriors in later centuries, with the start of a great archery contest held at the temple twice yearly since 1573. You will have a chance to see this contest on May 2nd, when the best line up to try and hit the target which is 118 meters away (the full length of the building). Shooting along the side of the building, under the overhanging roof, requires the archers to shoot their arrows in a perfect arc to hit the target. It’s quite amazing to see! Outside of the temple, be sure to wander around the large and rather plainly landscaped grounds.

Something that everyone enjoys is feeding the carp in the large pool on the east side of the building near the entrance. Food for these colorful and massive beasts, which bring good luck by the way, is available at the side of the pond for a small sum. Also in the area (just 500 or 600 meters north of the museum) is the remarkably preserved home and studio of the famous Japanese ceramic artist Kawai Kanjiro. His home looks just like the day he last lived in it some 30 years ago. A leading figure of the Japanese folk-art movement, there are many examples of his works and objects he collected or received in his lifetime. The house is open daily from 10 am to 5 pm (closed Mondays).

Sanjusangendo is at the eastern end of Shichijo Street (just walk east along Shichijo from Shichijo Keihan Station).

Courtesy of Your Japan Private Tours (YJPT). Ian Ropke, founder and owner of YJPT (since 1992), is a Japan destination expert for travel and tourism. He specializes in private travel (customized day trips with guides / private guided tours) and digital guidance solutions (about 25% of our business and growing!). Ian and his team offer personalized quality private travel services all over Japan. To learn more, visit www.kyoto-tokyo-private-tours.com or call us on +1-415-230-0579.

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Japan News This Week 13 August 2017

今週の日本

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Atomic Bombing of Nagasaki Anniversary 2017

長崎, 原子爆弾

Today, August 9th, is the 72nd anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki.

Three days earlier on August 6th, Hiroshima, became the world’s first city to be attacked by a nuclear weapon when a bomb was dropped on the city by the US Air Force at 8.16am.

Nagasaki Atomic Bombing Anniversary, Nagasaki.

A solemn prayer is held at 11.02am, the exact time of the bombing and the mayor of Nagasaki, Taue Tomihisa, will repeat his annual pleas for a nuclear-free Japan.

The Nagasaki bomb ended the Pacific War, which had begun with the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor by Japanese forces on December 7, 1941.

The Japanese PM, Shinzo Abe, is also expected to mark the day with a statement expressing Japan’s determination to remain free of nuclear weapons.

Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima Anniversary 2017

広島

This year’s anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima will take place as always on August 6th.

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.

This year is the 72nd anniversary of the bombing at 8.16am on the morning of August 6, 1945. Solemn ceremonies take place on the day in Hiroshima Peace Park and throughout Japan to remember the approximately 140,000 victims of Japan’s first but not only nuclear disaster.

The bombing of Nagasaki by the US Air Force was to follow just 3 days later and then again in Fukushima in 2011, another nuclear disaster was to occur. This one caused by a natural disaster aided by human error and institutional incompetence.

Another nuclear threat also hangs over Japan, namely North Korea. The rise of the nuclear threat posed by its rogue neighbor has resulted in an increase of sales of nuclear shelters in the weeks heading into this year’s anniversary.

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.

Public transport has come to a halt in some cities during North Korean missile tests and commercials have appeared on Japanese TV giving instructions on what to do in the event of a nuclear attack: seek shelter in strong buildings or underground shopping malls and if outside in the open, drop to the ground and cover your head.

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Japanese Fiction

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Nebuta Festival 2017

ねぶた祭り

The 2017 Aomori Nebuta matsuri in Aomori city in the far north of Japan runs this year from August 2 until August 7. The festival kicks of with a children’s parade on August 2 from 7.10pm-9pm.

Nebuta Festival

On the final day of the festival there is a day time procession with the festival concluding with a parade of boats in Aomori Bay. Seven floats are loaded on to boats followed by an impressive fireworks display from 7-9pm.

Nebuta Festival, Aomori, Tohoku

The nebuta floats are large wire frames (previously they were constructed from bamboo) covered with Japanese washi paper, which have been beautifully illustrated with a range of motifs from fierce samurai warriors to more contemporary manga and anime characters.

Nebuta Festival, Aomori, Japan

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Prizes are awarded to the best floats and onlookers are encouraged to purchase or hire a haneto costume and join in the chayashi dances.

Nebuta Festival Official Site

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Tenryuji Temple Arashiyama

天龍寺

Tenryu-ji Temple, in the lush Arashiyama district, is one of Japan’s most famous and influential Zen temples.

Originally, Tenryuji was the opposite of a monastery: it started as an imperial villa built by Emperor Kameyama, and was intended for the extravagant pastimes of a decadent court. Here Kameyama’s grandson, the great Emperor Godaigo, grew up to become the erudite statesman and connoisseur that history remembers.

Tenryuji Temple Arashiyama Kyoto.

About 1340, the powerful general, Ashikaga Takauji, worn down by the noisome and continual attacks of the warrior monks of Mount Hiei and Nara, sought to exploit the rising influence of Zen and establish Tenryuji as the headquarters for what he hoped would be a network of compliant Zen temples.

The warrior monks were not having it. In fact, it was only through the brilliant diplomacy of Ashikaga that the warrior monks abandoned their designs to disrupt the inauguration ceremonies of the new temple, and returned to their pastoral retreats.

From that time on, even though Ashikaga’s dream of a Zen network never materialized, Tenryuji served as one of the eight chief temples of the Rinzai Sect of Zen Buddhism, and has continued to baffle the intellect and feed the soul ever since.

Most foreigners know Zen through Thomas Merton’s writings, or through the enormously popular Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Abroad, Zen is renown for its spiritual practicality, its wit, and, well, the axle grease on your hands. So what to do when confronted with staggering beauty and obvious wealth? Where is the Zen in an arrogant monk, or in a meditation garden invaded by 250 hollering junior high school boys? How are you supposed to feel when you bow down on your knees before a Buddha, and find a statue of a wealthy emperor where the Buddha should be? It’s better not to ask questions. One distinguishing feature of Zen is its total rejection of reliance upon the intellect. Enlightenment, or satori, comes only through a sudden burst of insight which, defying explanation and reason, joins one with all the workings of the universe, and reveals the purpose of the Ancient of Days in the simplest object–“wisdom in a grain of sand”.

The garden of Tenryuji is one of Japan’s great gardens, the end-product of many periods in gardening history, and like a Byzantine icon leads the ardent soul to contemplate reality and find its place in the universe. Because rational processes are eschewed by Zen, the garden became the prime means of sublimating the self and advancing the soul.

Tenryuji’s garden is a hybrid of the large, sunny leisure gardens of the distant past, and the more austere, symbolic gardens of the religious eras. Its center is a large pond in the shape of the Chinese character for spirit, kokoro. Behind it and lifting it to the skies is a wooded mountain. Its murmuring hillsides stretch the lines of the garden until they blend seamlessly into God’s own handiwork. The mountain range itself reaches its apotheosis in lofty Mount Atago. Thus, the pond becomes a metaphor for the soul, and the garden a microcosm of spiritual reality placed securely in the bosom of the natural world.

In the pond of spirit, are three jagged rocks representing the tribulations of life. They can be viewed as means of growth through suffering, to be hurdled through selflessness. A half-hidden waterfall centrally supplies an endless infusion of power.

The rhythm of the shifting foci and the quality of the diffused sunlight at the base of the mountain invite a meditative mood. As I gazed upon the serene surface of the water, a sudden chilling gust of wind swept down and transformed the pond into a shimmering, radiant mirror of sunlight. A space had opened inside me, and before a single astonished breath could expire, a vermillion carp leapt into the air from the depths of the pond. It was, to be sure, a Zen fish, for I have not been the same since.

Tenryuji means “The Temple of the Celestial Dragon”, and the ceiling painting of the Celestial dragon in the first temple is awe-inspiring. Done in enormous strokes of ink, it is reminiscent of European early-modern art. This same strikingly modern quality is apparent in the standing screens depicting Daruma, an ancient Indian Zen monk who meditated for nine years and realized that he had meditated his legs away. Wherever you turn at the Temple of the Celestial Dragon, your expectations won’t be met. Rather, they will be tempered by the unexpected, the spontaneous, and the well-planned. You may walk away knowing something real about Zen, and having very little to say.

Courtesy of Your Japan Private Tours (YJPT). Ian Ropke, founder and owner of YJPT (since 1992), is a Japan destination expert for travel and tourism. He specializes in private travel (customized day trips with guides / private guided tours) and digital guidance solutions (about 25% of our business and growing!). Ian and his team offer personalized quality private travel services all over Japan. To learn more, visit www.kyoto-tokyo-private-tours.com or call us on +1-415-230-0579.

© JapanVisitor.com

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Japan News This Week 30 July 2017

今週の日本

Japan News.
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GSDF chief to resign over alleged coverup of activity logs
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Statistics

Soft power rankings 2017:

1. France
2. Britain
3. United States
4. Germany
5. Canada
6. Japan
7. Switzerland
8. Australia

Source: Japan News

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Ikuokaya Kyoto

幾岡屋

Ikuokaya has been doing business in the world-famous Gion district (home to maiko and geiko and high-culture nightlife) for more than 150 years. They specialize in kanzashi hair ornaments, fans, bags and accessories.

Kanzashi, Ikuokaya, Kyoto

Stepping into the shop, one enters the world of accessories that add to the exotic charm of the geiko: splendid, colorful kanzashi (hair pins), exquisitely designed handkerchiefs, little richly patterned silk bags with draw strings, sandalwood combs. Many of the patterns and designs express the seasonal elements for which Japan is so well known: flowers, bushes, and important symbols like the moon, pine trees, cranes and rabbits.

In a short interview a few years ago, Hiroshi Sakai, the 6th generation owner of Ikuokaya, gave us a peak into the private world of the geiko and maiko, and the world that his shop, the oldest of its kind in Japan, is an important part of.

JV: How did Ikuokaya first get started in this business?

HS: We have only been running the shop for the last two generations. The shop was founded by a Gion geiko. The second generation owner, also a geiko, was the junior partner of a famous geiko called Ikumatsu. She was the celebrated mistress of Katsura Kogoro, who played an important role in the founding of modern Japan during the Meiji Restoration (1868). Ikuokaya, which means “the teahouse of Iku,” is named after her. The next owner, in the early Showa Period (1926-1989), almost went bankrupt and that was when my grandfather decided to take over the business and its debts. Since that time our family has managed the shop well.

JV: How has your business and the geiko/maiko world you are part of changed over your lifetime?

HS: Kyoto has changed a lot over the last 35 years. Many traditions have changed or been strongly influenced by modern lifestyles and convenience. For example, in the old days funerals were organized by and involved all the members of the family and many relatives. Today, there are companies that have taken over this role, probably because it is so much more convenient.

What has changed in this shop is not what we sell but who we sell to. When I was a little boy, the people who came to Ikuokaya were only people intimately involved with the world of the geiko. There were no tourists from far away places that wandered in. Today, there are less and less people of the geiko world, and more and more tourists from distant places, even distant countries.

JV: Why is your shop so popular with foreigners?

HS: Over the past 30 to 40 years, my father, the 5th generation owner of Ikuokaya, made a great effort to attract foreign visitors to our shop. He also told the people in our neighborhood that more and more foreigners would be entering our world, the world of the geiko that had been almost a secret society since the very beginning.

One of the things that I really admire about my father is that he tried so hard to interact with foreigners even though he does not speak English especially well. He feels that we can communicate with anyone, if we try to speak sincerely, from the heart. He says something to every foreigner that enters our shop, and has invited many foreigners to sleep over in our house. I saw those people when I was little. Now he is over 70 and he continues to speak with every foreigner that enters the shop. I think it is interesting, and I my father does too, that the Japanese government has started the “Visit Japan” campaign, which is what he has been promoting for so many years.

Ikuokaya is located on the south side of Shijo, east of Hanamikoji. Open 11am-7pm (closed Thursdays). Tel: 075 561 8087

Gion-Shijo Station is the nearest station.

© JapanVisitor.com

Ikuokaya
577-2 Gionmachi Minamigawa
Higashiyama-ku
Kyoto-shi
605-0074

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Kyoto Butoh-kan: One Year Anniversary of the Worldʼs First Butoh Theatre

舞踊館

Japan’s only Butoh dance theater has recently celebrated its first anniversary.

Yurabe_Masami_04
Yurabe Masami Perfoming

The theater is located in central Kyoto in an intimate and historical setting.

For more information, click here.

Coordinators: Ms. Takabatake Rino / Abel Coelho
info@butohkan.jp
ART COMPLEX 1928
ZIP 604-8082 56 Benkeiishicho, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto City 1928 build. 3F
Tel: 075-254-6520
Hours 10:00-19:00
www.butohkan.jp

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Japan News This Week 23 July 2017

今週の日本

Japan News.
From Hiroshima to Tule Lake, Films About Japan and America
New York Times

Japan ‘black widow’ Chisako Kakehi retracts confession
BBC

Japan hangs 2 inmates, including one seeking retrial
The Mainichi

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Guardian

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Statistics

Soft power rankings…..

Source: This Week in Asia

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