Sunday, January 30, 2011
Thursday, January 27, 2011
Monday, January 24, 2011
Saturday, January 22, 2011
Visiting Todai-ji that houses the Great Buddha of Nara during the New Year festivities, a group of Buddhist monks stop for a photograph in the gate on their way to the shrine. The leader of the group in the center had been walking impatiently toward the shrine, having to gesture repeatedly for the other monks to follow. They had stopped several times to take in the scenery, and to feed the deer. You can see a piece of deer biscuit lodged in the monk's thick wool scarf, second to the right. I suspect it might have become the subject of great amusement after looking at the photograph, taken by a woman who accompanied the group. Incidentally, the two monks on the right are looking into my camera, perhaps curious about the Western tourist taking their picture.
The high-ranking monk is walking with determination toward the gate and the road that leads to Todai-ji, and even the deer seems to sense that its usually aggressive begging is futile in this case.
Sunday, January 16, 2011
Tōdai-ji houses the Nara Daibutsu, or Great Buddha of Nara, and it is one of the must-see places in Japan. From 710-784, Nara was the capital of Japan, lending its name to the Nara period. Today, the ancient part of Nara consisting of many temples in the large imperial gardens, appears little changed. The Great Buddha towers calmly over all other manmade things in the large hall, and despite the massive dimensions, the place exudes intimacy and spirituality. Without reference objects in the picture, it is hard to get the enormity of this sculpture, suffice to say his ears measure 8 feet.
The imperial gardens of Nara invite to a stroll among the Sika deer that have been living there for over a thousand years. Regarded as messengers of the gods, their status is similar to that of cows in India, and they are nearly domesticated.
Saturday, January 15, 2011
Kyoto, Chion-in temple, December 31, 2010, 11:22 pm, the ringing of the bell.
Just a split-second before the tree-sized ramrod hits the second-largest bronze ringing bell in the world (at 74 tons), the monk on the left is preparing for the sonorous and nearly deafening sound waves emanating from the bell's hollow space. The sound lasts for several seconds, and it physically reverberates for even longer throughout your body. The bell is rung 108 times (the juzu, Japanese prayer beads, also have 108 beads), matching the 108-digit circle of the universe. The ringing of the bell at New Year's clears all the sins committed in the old year, preparing you to enter the new year without the weight of your sins. The 17 monks chant while swinging the ramrod ever closer toward the bell using ropes, and one of them is pulling it horizontally toward the bell in a last forceful movement that is suspending him below ramrod and bell at the time of impact.
Friday, January 14, 2011
At the bottom of the hill leading up to Chion-in, a gate with lanterns is illuminating the night on New Year's eve. It is difficult to analyze why exactly these simple lights convey a warm and almost magical atmosphere, but they are a good introduction and preparation for the sight of the traditional yearly ringing of the bell, performed by 17 Buddhist monks.
Thursday, January 13, 2011
New Year's is Japan's biggest holiday, lasting about 3 days during which most people stream to the many thousands of shrines and temples to ring in the new year with bells, prayer, and buying good luck charms. The paths and roads leading up to the shrines are lined with street vendors, providing the enormous crowds with food. The mood is cheerful, though in a quiet and reflective way.
Sunday, January 9, 2011
New Year's Eve at the Chion-in temple in Kyoto. After a 14 hour flight I had arrived in Tokyo at 4:30 pm, and a Shinkansen Nozomi bullet train got me to Kyoto by 8:00 pm. Ignoring the jet lag, I dropped off my bag at the hotel, the Kyoto Tower Hotel, and started walking to Maruyama Park. The Chion-in temple is probably one of the best places in Japan to see the traditional bell ringing. The entrance to Chion-in is the massive San-mon gate, the largest wooden gate in Japan, built in 1619, designated a Japanese National Treasure. To catch a glimpse of the 17 Buddhist monks ringing the heaviest bell in Japan at 74 tons, is not an easy feat. There are literally thousands of people lining up to experience this amazing sight, and you have to be very, very lucky. While waiting in the sheer endless line that winds up through a tree-lined path up to the temple, people are relaxed and patiently waiting for their -not guaranteed- turn. Looking up toward the sky, you are surrounded by beautiful trees decorated with fresh snowfall.
Saturday, January 8, 2011
Room with a View.
On clear nights the view from the rooms of the Yokohama Royal Park Hotel can be breathtaking, with Mount Fuji looming in the distance. The hotel in Yokohama occupies the top floors of Japan's tallest building, the Landmark Tower, and one might at first feel slightly queasy at the idea of sleeping at cloud level. With every elevator ride your ears tell you that they would prefer a decompression chamber, but it is something one gets used to rather quickly. Mount Fuji is not always visible, but in the morning and at sunset it can be spectacular. The Landmark Tower is located in a planned city within a city, Minato Mirai 21, consisting of a cluster of tall buildings surrounded by an amusement park, malls, and the Yokohama Museum of Art.