Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Kinkakuji Temple - Golden Pavilion Kyoto Japan: The Golden Pavilion (Kinkakuji) is literally covered in gold - gold leaf. The Golden Pavilion is World Heritage listed and surround by beautiful gardens.
Golden Pavilion History

Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion) is a popular name for one of the main buildings of this temple, which is properly called Rokuon-ji Temple. In the 1220’s it was the comfortable villa of Kintsune Saionji.

Kyoto history - brief overview of the history of Kyoto the former capital of Japan.

Although archaeological evidence places the first human settlement on the islands of Japan to approximately 10,000 BC, relatively little is known about human activity in the area before the 6th century AD. During the 8th century, when the powerful Buddhist clergy became involved in the affairs of the Imperial government, the Emperor chose to relocate the capital to a region far from the Buddhist influence. Emperor Kammu selected the village of Uda, at the time in the Kadono district of Yamashito Province, for this honor.

The new city, Heian-kyō (平安京 "tranquility and peace capital"), became the seat of Japan's imperial court in 794, beginning the Heian period of Japanese history. Later, the city was renamed Kyoto ("capital city"). Kyoto remained Japan's capital until the transfer of the government to Edo in 1868 at the time of the Imperial Restoration. (Some believe that it is still a legal capital: see Capital of Japan.) After Edo was renamed Tokyo (meaning "Eastern Capital"), Kyoto was known for a short time as Saikyo (西京 Saikyō, meaning "Western Capital").

An obsolete spelling for the city's name is Kioto; it was formerly known to the West as Meaco or Miako (Japanese: 都; miyako "capital"). Another term commonly used to refer to the city in the pre-modern period was Keishi (京師), meaning "metropolis" or "capital".

The city suffered extensive destruction in the Ōnin War of 1467-1477, and did not really recover until the mid-16th century. Battles between samurai factions spilled into the streets, and came to involve the court nobility (kuge) and religious factions as well. Nobles' mansions were transformed into fortresses, deep trenches dug throughout the city for defence and as firebreaks, and numerous buildings burned. The city has not seen such widespread destruction since. Although there was some consideration by the United States of targeting Kyoto with an atomic bomb at the end of World War II, in the end it was decided to remove the city from the list of targets due to the "beauty of the city" (See Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki), and the city was spared conventional bombing as well.

As a result, Kyoto is the only large Japanese city that still has an abundance of prewar buildings, such as the traditional townhouses known as machiya. However, modernization is continually breaking down the traditional Kyoto in favor of newer architecture, such as the Kyoto Station complex.

Kyoto became a city designated by government ordinance on September 1, 1956. In 1997, Kyoto hosted the conference that resulted in the protocol on greenhouse gas emissions that bears the city's name

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

CHERRY BLOSSOMS AT Expo 70 Commemorative Park

Expo 70 Commemorative Park

Expo 70 Commemorative Park (Banpaku Kinen Koen)
April 6, 2009 - full bloom

The former site of the 1970 World Exhibition in Osaka was turned into a large public park with over 5000 cherry trees along its paths and around its large lawn areas. There is an admission fee of 250 yen and light up in the evenings.

Many trees in the park have reached full bloom, while others need another day or two. Because it took the trees exceptionally long this year to develop from kaika (opening of first blossoms) to mankai (full bloom), some trees have already started to lose some of their petals while barely having reached full bloom. However, this does not currently impact the beautiful sight of the trees, at all.

Cherry Blossom at OSAKA

Osaka Castle
April 6, 2009 - full bloom

Over 4000 cherry trees are planted on the spacious grounds of Osaka Castle, one of Japan's 100 best cherry blossoms spots. A particularly nice place for a picnic is Nishinomaru Park (350 yen) in the castle's western citadel with wide lawns, views of the castle tower and light up in the evenings.

Many trees in Osaka Castle Park have finally reached full bloom thanks to the warm and sunny weather of the recent days. The whole week should provide great cherry blossom viewing opportunities around the castle.

Osaka Castle

Osaka Castle - full bloom

Osaka Castle - Nishinomaru Park

Thursday, April 2, 2009

New Year's Holidays in Japan

In Japan "shogatsu (New Year's holidays)" is a time when everybody takes a few days off to celebrate the arrival of the new year. It is often called "oshogatsu" with the prefix "o" to make it sound polite. Many people who are away from home, return to spend time with their family. Just like Christmas in West, the Japanese are looking forward to "oshogatsu." Here is the song titled "Oshogatsu."
Mou ikutsu neru to oshogatsu Oshogatsu ni wa tako agete Koma o mawashite asobimashou Hayaku koi koi oshogatsu
もういくつ寝るとお正月 お正月には凧あげて こまをまわして遊びましょう 早く来い来いお正月
How many more nights to sleep until New Year's Day In the New Year's holidays, let's fly a kite Let's play with a spinning top Come, come quickly, New Year's Day
To prepare for "oshogatsu," everybody gets busy doing a big year-end cleaning (oosouji), setting New Year's decorations (kadomatsu or shimekazari) and preparing New Year's dishes (osechi-ryori). On New Year's Eve (oomisoka), it is customary to eat "toshikoshi-soba" and wait up to hear the watch-night bell (joya no kane) rung at the temples. It starts ringing at just before midnight on New Year's Eve and continues into the early hours of New Year's Day, 108 times in all. According to Buddhism, a human being has 108 troublesome desires. The ringing of the bells is to expel these troublesome desires.
During New year's holidays, most people visit a shrine or a temple (hatsumoude) to pray for health and happiness. The famous shrines or temples get very crowded. Although kimono are not worn in daily life any more, many people wear them on "oshogatsu."
Flying kites (takoage), spinning tops (koma-mawashi) or playing Japanese battledore (hanetsuki) are traditional games for children, though it is now less popular. Children are given "otoshidama" from parents and relatives. In most cases, it is money placed in special little envelopes (otoshidama-bukuro).
"Kakizome (the first calligraphic writing)" is a traditional event held on January 2nd. People write auspicious words or phrases with a brush. Elementary schools and junior high schools have "kakizome" competitions annually.
"Hatsuyume" is the first dream of the New Year. It is said that good dreams are "Ichi-fuji, ni-taka, san-nasubi (Mt. Fuji at the first, hawk at the second, eggplant at the third)." It is believed that if you have these auspicious dreams, you will have a good year.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Japanese tea ceremony, also known as Chanoyu

There are several schools of Sado, or Japanese tea ceremony, also known as Chanoyu. Tea, in this case O-cha (green tea), is as integral to culture in Japan as coffee is in the US (more so, in fact) or 'a cuppa' is in the UK. Also, its health benefits are widely touted and generally accepted worldwide. And study of the tea ceremony is still considered part of the 'proper' education of any aspiring young 'lady'. All these factors ensure that this ancient art form thrives even in modern-day Japan.

Sen no Rikyu
Sen no Rikyu

The Shokintei teahouse
The Shokintei teahouse

The earliest rituals involving tea came to Japan as a part of Buddhist meditation in the 6th century. Later, in the Kamakura Period (1185-1333), a Japanese priest named Eisai introduced tea seeds which became the source of much of the tea grown in Japan today. A century later the priest Eizon and the monk Ikkyu further promoted the tea ceremony. Shuko, a pupil of Ikkyu, became tea master to the Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa at whose villa (now known as Ginkakuji or the 'Temple of the Siver Pavillion' in Kyoto) the first purpose made tea room in Japan was built.

The roots of today's major schools can be traced to tea master Sen No Rikyu (1522-1591). Over the course of later generations, the tea ceremony was refined and acquired a more Japanese rather than Chinese aesthetic. The sons of Rikyu's grandson Sotan founded their own schools: Ura Senke for commoners, Omote Senke for aristocrats and Mushanokoji Senke, which highly values the principle of wabi. (Wabi can be described as a moral and aesthetic principle which emphasises a quiet life free of worldly concerns). The Ura Senke school continues to thrive today and encourages cultural exchange abroad through the tea ceremony.

The chaji, or tea ceremony is usually held in a cha-shitsu (tea-room). In grander times, this would have consisted of a seperate, small building set in a picturesque and tranquil corner of a traditional garden. These structures can most often be seen today in parks or castle and temple gardens. The Shokintei teahouse at the Katsura Detached Palace in Kyoto is a good example.

Guests enter the tea-room through the nijiriguchi, a tiny door which forces them to crouch, thereby foregoing their worldly status. In a formal chaji many factors are considered to celebrate the uniqueness of the moment: the guests invited, the season, the calligraphy scroll hanging on the wall, the flowers on display, the utensils, the food served before the tea and so on. The chaji itself has several stages, each with a depth of meaning difficult for the outsider to grasp but ultimately based on a reverance for nature and the creation of a perfect moment in time.

The following is a message from Sen Soshitsu, Ura Senke Grand Tea Master XV:

"Chado, the Way Of Tea, is based upon the simple act of boiling water, making tea, offering it to others, and drinking of it ourselves. Served with a respectful heart and received with gratitude, a bowl of tea satisfies both physical and spiritual thirst.

The frenzied world and our myriad dilemmas leave our bodies and minds exhausted. It is then that we seek out a place where we can have a moment of peace and tranquillity. In the discipline of Chado such a place can be found. The four principles of harmony, respect, purity and tranquility, codified almost four hundred years ago, are timeless guides to the practice of Chado. Incorporating them into daily life helps one to find that unassailable place of tranquility that is within each of us.

As a representative of this unbroken Japanese tradition of four hundred years, I am pleased to see that many non-Japanese are welcoming the chance to pursue its study. This growing interest in Chado among peoples of all nations leads me to strive even harder to make it possible for more people to enter the Way of Tea."

A chasen A celebrant of the tea ceremony holds a chasen (bamboo brush) used to stir and mix the tea.

Other utensils used during the ceremony include: the cha-ire, a ceramic container used for the powdered tea; the kama (kettle) used for boiling water over a charcoal fire; hashi (chopsticks) made of cedar wood used for eating the simple food; the cha-wan (tea bowls) and many others.

Koicha (thick tea) is served first and later usucha (thin tea). During the course of the ceremony, a kaiseki light meal, sake and higashi (dry sweets) are also served.

Japanese Culture

For many people, the mention of Japanese culture conjours up images of weird masks and extravagantly made-up actors twirling red umbrellas on a stage and elegant, kimono-clad ladies demurely pouring cups of tea in tranquil cherry-blossomed temples. Well, even today you can still experience all that kind of stuff, if you know where to look.

The traditional arts of Japan offer an opportunity to experience something truly exotic or find inner calm. For the serious practitioner, solemn awareness of the history and intimate knowledge of the past-masters of your chosen form of expression are essential if you wish to practice at the highest level. These ancient 'ways' are not for the faint of heart, but many foreigners come to Japan each year to enlighten themselves through their study. For the rest of us, just a nibble at this great banquet of culture will be more than enough.

The Japanese do know how to kick back and have fun, too. You might be surprised by just how wild a Japanese festival can get! Snow festivals, fire festivals, fertility festivals - you name it, they have it. When it comes to food, the Japanese are as enthusiastic as anybody on earth - the changing seasons bring new delicacies and an excuse to travel the length of the country to sample local dishes. Spring also brings the cherry blossoms - symbol of life's all-too-brief span and a good excuse to get drunk and dance around in a cemetery! The beauty of summer fireworks and autumn's spectacular changing leaves can also take the breath away.