We'll start at the Phoenix Hall of the Byodo-in, which can be found in Uji - a short trip from Kyoto (and en-route to/from Nara). We were recommended to make a stop at Uji by Hisako at Hotel Mume (the BEST hotel in the world...at least that I have visited). To be fair, we were tired after a long day wandering around Nara but we were so grateful we stopped. Uji seemed to be a little off the tourist trail but the temple was amazing. We didn't go into the Phoenix Hall (you need an extra ticket) but we were astounded by the museum. This is found in a really modern building, and is definitely worth visiting. You won't be able to make pictures in the museum, but some good images can be found on the temple's website.
We didn't visit any of the other temples or shrines in Uji, but did take a really nice walk along and across the river. You'll notice the red wooden railings. To the untutored, and likely uncultured eye, these very much reflect the Torii (shrine gate) you can just see poking through the trees. My guess is that this reflects some sacred meaning but as mentioned previously I am both untutored and uncultured. It is, however, a great example of how faith can be seen permeating daily life.
Continuing the theme of faith coming into daily life, we can see that even on a short walk the signs will be everywhere. All the above images were taken on the same day, as we walked from Ueno to Asakusa via Kappabashi-dori. Not only was it a great walk but seeing shrine between two high rises, a golden demon, or a dragon will only enliven your stroll.
Talking of strolls, on one of our first days we revisited a temple that we had been to during our first visit to Japan. As expected, Kiyomizu-dera was packed with tourists. This was despite it tipping down with rain, and despite that some of the buildings are being restored. For this visit we whisked ourselves fairly rapidly through the main part of the temple, barely lingering on the Kiyomizu stage (a highlight for most visitors, and for us the time before). We descended down towards the Otowa no taki (Otowa Waterfall) to be greeted by really long queues. We didn't join, but I spent many happy minutes watching the crowd take the waters. Long-handled ladles are provided, with each flow having a different property (wisdom, longevity or health) - of course no-one drank from all three as that would be bad luck.
I left A sitting on a bench near a cafe and returned to the waterfall and the crowd, now packed with a school trip. Much excitement and squealing ensued as the kids watched their peers choose which stream to drink from, there was even one smattering applause for someone who clearly chose wisely. You'll be pleased to hear I pinholed the hell out of that...but that's for another post (so you'll just have to come back).
I shall take a short break in this post the share the image of Aso shrine again, just as a little reminder that you can help restore the shrine and grab yourself a print in the process - I may have mentioned this before.
I mentioned above that we visited Uji on our return from Nara. Nara is famous for its Daibutsu (big buddha) and I can confirm it is huge and impressive. Somewhat frustratingly, I don't have many images of the buddha, or of the people crawling through a pillar for luck...at least not that I wish to share. The area around the Daibutsu was packed, and so we enjoyed getting off the beaten path (a little) which is when I snapped the above.
Nara is also famous for the many deer that inhabit the park. These deer are both sacred and more than a little cheeky. Given half a chance, these deer will mug tourists for food, particularly the special deer biscuits sold throughout the park. The deer are quite focussed on this task, and so completely unperturbed if you stick a lens in their face. At their most aggressive, we saw deer surrounding one poor gentleman (who seemed to be happy enough, even when there was mounting); there are some great videos of these types of attack.
We'll finish this post in one of my favourite places in Japan, Kagurazaka. After having an excellent coffee and breakfast on the walk up from Edogawabashi station we returned to Akagi shrine. Its fair to say in prior visits to Akagi we hadn't really paid sufficient attention to the shrine, after all when you've seen one you've seen them all...right?
In this case not. Akagi shrine was recently renewed in a very modern style to produce a building that feels very different to other Shinto shrine we have visited. The building is light and open and makes great use of natural materials and glass. It really suits the area and is a wonderful spot to visit. Again, the shrine seems to form a seamless link with its surroundings, and we saw many people visit as we sat and watched the world go by. We then headed back down the Kagurazaka slope, calmed by the experience, passing another shrine on the way to other places. Its hard to escape this type of experience in Japan, and although I am generally agnostic, I am very grateful for that.
Yes, this images were once again made on Kodak Portra and developed and scanned by Canadian Film Lab.