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Viewing Topic: Going to Japan! - Page 3
#20: 10-23-2015 @ 10:36:39 pm
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MachVergil Photo.
  • Real Name:Adam
  • Joined:2010-01-22

So Kyoto! 

First, bullet trains!

We activated our JR Passes at this point.  A JR pass is a Japan Rail Pass that only foreigners can buy.   For a little less than $200 it gives you unlimited access to the JR system in Japan, which includes several "Shinkansen" or "Bullet Train" lines.  We would use these throughout the rest of the trip to see the rest of our locations.  The trip looked something like this on Google Maps. As you can see it costs about $140 just to take that trip.  So getting $200 for multiple trips that cost that much is a pretty good deal.

We did take a small stop in Hikone for a walk about.  Hikone is where Grace studied in undergrad, so she wanted me to see some of the stuff there.  Hikone has one of the few still standing, unaltered Japanese castles.  We didn't visit it, didn't have time, but I took some photos of it from the distance.

Here's a photo of the lord of Hikone castle, Naomasa.

Here's some neighborhood shots from Hikone, to establish the difference against the big city.

And here you can see the castle on a mountain in the distance!

You also cannot visit ANYWHERE in Japan without mascots!! Here's Hiko-nyan with Grace!

We then hopped onto the train and finished our trip to Kyoto.  We hopped another small train to get to where in Kyoto we'd be staying.  We walked through streets that looked like this to arrive at the guest house we were staying at.

The guest house was kinda like a hostel. We stayed in a room with just the two of us, but a lot of other young folks were staying in bunk beds in other rooms.  The hosts spoke the best English we'd encountered so far and were very welcoming.  Everything was 'make yourself at home.'

I'm too tired to continue the post so I'll write more later, but here are some photos of our guest house. I have more stories for there, so I hope I remember to share them.

This post was edited by machvergil on October 24, 2015, 1:37 am

We set Wednesdays on Fire!
#21: 10-27-2015 @ 06:28:14 am
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MachVergil Photo.
  • Real Name:Adam
  • Joined:2010-01-22

Alright, Kyoto!

The first major sight we saw in Kyoto was "Nijo Castle" or "Nijojo."  Let me start with a little history.

From about 1467 - 1603 was the "Sengoku" (or "Waring States") period.  During this time the Emperor was still the official ruler of Japan, but his power had been stripped away to the point where the Samurai truly ruled.  Various samurai lords battled for dominance during the period.  This began to reach an end when Odo Nobunaga tried was on the verge of unifying the country under his rule.  He was eventually betrayed, leading to Toyotomi Hideyoshi taking over as Nobunaga's successor.  Hideyoshi ruled for a short time but died before he appointed successor resulting in another war for succession that ended with victory for Tokugawa Ieyasu who would establish the Tokugawa Shogunate which would rule Japan for hundreds of years.   I'm taking the time to go over this because it will be important to the trip again.

So Nijo Castle.  You see, Kyoto one of the older capitals of Japan (Nara was the first capital of unified Japan, but Kyoto was capital throughout the Heian Period before the Shogun started running things).  Kyoto itself means "capital city" and was given that name when it was established as such.  However Tokugawa was of Edo, a city that would someday be renamed 'Tokyo" or "East Capital."  So when Tokugawa came to rule Japan, it was culturally necessary for him to build a castle in Kyoto, and that castle was Nijo Castle.  He wouldn't really use it thought - he'd already established Edo as his fortress, and Edo he would remain.  He supposedly only lived in Nijo a handful of times or less.  It was really there as a standing physical reminder to the denizens of Kyoto of his power, even if he was absent.

You can see all my photos of Nijo Castle here. They sadly did not allow photos within the castle itself but I have several of the grounds.  Pay close attention to any time you see something that looks like a golden flower on the castle.  This is the symbol of the Emperor, the ruler of Japan, and Tokugawa's use of it on his castle is a blatant middle finger extended at the Emperor to remind him who rules now.

Today we had borrowed bikes from our guest house and were riding between our locations.  Kitty was a big fan of this plan but I was not as convinced.  Our bikes weren't the best - my itself had terrible breaks that kept locking up after I let them go which made keeping up with her a pain, and some of the roads we tried to take were a nightmare on a bike.  I'm talking roads that lacked a shoulder or bike lane, and only had a sidewalk on one side of the street with people walking both directions where the sidewalk itself is barely two people wide, and us trying to walk bikes up a tall hill.   Still the bikes gave us incredible freedom to move about the city and when the sidewalks or streets weren't shit, we made pretty good speed.

We next stopped off at the Temple of the Silver Pavilion. I recommend you read that wiki article rather than I try to explain the history as I don't know it very well.

It was pretty baller to see a real Japanese Zen garden rather than all the attempts at it in America.

Here's an example of what I've been saying about sign-age in Japan. This is clearly made to be like an old-style sign with Japanese on it but also English.  You can understand how someone would think that "oh so the Japanese know English so I'll be okay" but you'll find the truth is that English is there for you (and the other tourists), the locals probably won't know what you're saying if you speak English to them unless they are hired specifically for that skill.

The biggest stop of the trip was "Kyomizudera" or "Temple of Pure Water."  This is a massive Buddhist temple built into the mountain-side where a waterfall is broken into three unique streams.  It is said that each of these streams will grant the one who drinks it a blessing.  " Each stream's water is said to have a different benefit, namely to cause longevity, success at school and a fortunate love life. However, drinking from all three streams is considered greedy."  (Wikipedia info)(Kyoto Travel info)  The temple also features a massive sage that overlooks this waterfall.  The Japanese have a phrase which translates to "to jump from the stage of Kyomizu Dera" which translates roughly to our phrase "to take the plunge."   The practice is illegal now but history states the Japanese used to actually do this for luck, and if you somehow survived the fall you should have had success in your goals, and they even had a less than 50% death rate from people who did.

True or not, the temple complex is huge, and was covered with tourists.  This included Japanese school kids doing their version of the "Trip to DC" being lead around in uniform by their teachers and arriving in huge buses.  It also included families of Europeans and Asians.  We saw a number of Chinese families, but I also saw the occasional family who appeared Indian, and a few Koreans.  Most of the Caucasians I saw were European, not American.

Above:  That's the view from the Stage at Kiyomizu Dera.

Above: Sunset over Kyoto in the distance

Above: This is the view of the stage at Kyomizu Dera from the opposite hill.  History tells people jumped from this and lived.  O_O

More Suneset over Kyoto

Below: We did not drink from the waterfalls.  As you can see a massive group of school kids and tourists were already lined up to drink and we had somewhere to be.  That said it was genuinely entertaining watching the school kids freak out about which stream they drank from.  When the little boys and girls drank from the love stream, they made the most noise.

I want to end the post here for fear of losing it.  I have one more big visit from that day... a Meiko performance we saw in the Gyon district!

We set Wednesdays on Fire!
#22: 10-27-2015 @ 08:39:35 am
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Misharum KittumMisharum Kittum

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  • Real Name:Tim
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The kids and the love waterfall water thing is funny!

Justice and Truth
#23: 10-28-2015 @ 07:03:41 am
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MachVergil Photo.
  • Real Name:Adam
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The kids and the love waterfall water thing is funny!

The kids in Japan were one of my favorite parts of the trip for a number of reasons.

  1. The first time I saw a group of two or three middle school aged boys and/or girls bunched together on a train platform in their school uniforms of either white button-down shirts and dark slacks or sweater vests over button down shirts and pleated skirts I had a "OMG they're real" moment.  I know that's not the most revolutionary thing to consider, that we're told kids in Japan wear school uniforms, they always wear school uniforms in anime, and then you show up in Japan and see school kids wearing uniforms.  Of all of the parts of the trip that was one of the biggest ones that was like Holy Shit I'm in the Land where Anime happens

    What was even better about it though is the fact that these weren't anime characters - they were you know, normal school kids.  They did the kinda bullshit we did when we were there age (except you know with newer technology).  They sat on the train and played games (iPhone games more than 3DS, but I saw some 3DS and holy shit did I get spot passes while I was there sweeeeeet Jesus).  They shared photos on their phone.  They played pranks on each other.  We saw one group of boys daring one of them to run out of the train and a stop and get back in using another train car door and then return to them before the doors shut and locked him out. 

    I can't fully explain why but there was something magical about finally getting to see the inspiration for the loads upon loads of anime that star school kids and finding out they are just school kids.  
  2. The younger school kids, like elementary and middle school aged, are all at this point in their lives where they are being forced to learn English and it's something that is a curiosity to them as opposed to this terrifying subject they have to pass an exam on to get into the college they want to go to.   While this did not happen in Tokyo (because honestly I don't think a pair of Americans together in Tokyo is that rare to the locals), once we arrived in Kyoto we kept running into school kids who noticed us.  They'd glance in our direction and smile.  They'd whisper to each other after looking at us.   It never seemed hostile though, like they were judging us, but more excited - like "Holy shit, are those Americans?  Do you think they speak English?  Takeshi go say hi!"  "What, NO, YOU say hi!"
  3. Kids, in general, are sometimes just cute and a fun to observe.

Some of my favorite moments form the trip were when the brave ones did try to interact with us. Most of the time the exchange would go like this:

Nihonjin School kid(s): *wave emphatically*  "Hello!" (to their credit "Hello" not "Herro" - whomever is teaching them actually is teaching them "L" at least for use with the word "Hello")
Grace & I:  *Wave Emphatically back* "Hello!"

Nihonjin School kids(s): *still waving, one or two more join in* "Hello!"

Grace & I: *Wave again, bow a little* "Hello!"

Nihonjin School Kids(s): *realizing they have reached the end of their functional conversational english stop waving, and then start waving again*  "Good bye!"

Grace & I: *Wave back*  "Good bye!"

Sometimes we'd just get waves.  We had one group of kids on a tour bus leaving Kyoto who would not stop waving at us until the bus started to move. 

The most interesting case of this was as we approached Nijo Castle we walked passed an entire class of probably 8th graders.  This group was the most friendly in that they not only waved and said "Hello" but we also got "Good Morning!" and "Are you Americans?!" Then, as the rest of the class stopped, one of the girls said "Hey!" and I looked back at her.  She had an arm extended and in them were two little red berries she'd just picked from the bush we were walking passed and had a big smile on her face.  I wasn't sure what the procedure for "Japanese Middleschooler offers you strange berries" and the smart part of my brain was saying "Do not accept those," but I also didn't want to appear rude in front of this group of kids.  Thankfully the situation was disarmed when her classmate looked away from her phone saw what she was doing and slapped the arm holding berries at the wrist with a loud "Yamero!" (or "Knock it off!" in English).    I smiled and said "Thank you" in English and then kept walking. 

It's also worth noting that most of our "Locals trying to speak English with us" experience came from kids like this.  It wasn't like we were seeking kids out specifically, it was that adults, and really starting with High Schoolers, do not appear interested in you as a foreigner unless you are in some sort of business transaction.   We had several shop owners who seemed pretty excited that of all the stores on the street we picked theirs to come hang out, but this excitement was always in Japanese, and since I haven't had a ton of time in the country, I'm still figuring out how to tell the difference between it and normal Japanese service industry politeness.  Kitty and I spent an entire crowded Tokyo subway ride once sitting next to two high school kids and they spent the whole time making big effort to ignore us and not make eye contact.

That is something worth noting as well. Life in Japan, or at least specifically Tokyo, felt very procedural.  It wasn't just that the locals were ignoring us, they were ignoring each other too.  Everyone kept quiet, got on their train, sat or stood, read their book, checked their phone, played games, got out and then kept walking.  Everyone moved like they were in a hurry, ignoring conventions on what side of a sidewalk you should walk on regularly, and would cut around you without a word.  The only time they spoke was if this procedure failed and bodily contact was made, then you'd get a "Sumimasen" (sorta "excuse me") and that's it.  While we were on the move in Tokyo, I felt the pressure to assimilate into this machine, to not be a noisy cog in this process of moving people efficiently and silently.   It really wasn't until we left Tokyo that the locals seemed more lively and friendly to each other, let alone to visitors.

Kyoto, to its credit, felt like a city populated by people who understood that being a host to tourist was their task just by living there.  The people of Kyoto seemed to live a more laid-back and outgoing lifestyle, and were certainly more patient and welcoming to foreigners than they were in Tokyo.   I still couldn't escape the sense while we were there though that what I was seeing was Kyoto's "face" - as in some part of itself that it works hard to present to me as a foreigner, while keeping its true identity hidden.   This is probably not an uncommon feeling for a tourist to have when visiting a tourism driven city.  I'm sure if a Japanese with poor English skills visited Washington DC they'd see all the monuments and the museums and probably be guided by a tour and feel like they'd see all these people walking by or riding the Metro they can't talk to and get the sense they are only seeing half the story of that city - that there is this whole other city that the folks going to work, or asking for money, are living that is not reflected in the Lincoln Memorial.   Kyoto's the same way - you know these people are not all living the lives of Geisha and temple priests and priestesses, you know they live and work in the area, but that's all they show you, and without leaning Japanese to conversational proficiency and making new friends, that's all you will know.

By comparison, Sendai and Shiroshi, which I will get to in a later post, felt like visiting just a town where people live, like I'm sure visiting Chicago and Lansing (respectively) would be like for a Japanese with basic English skills.    Neither of those cities really have a strong enough tourism identity to speak louder than all the folks going to work, cheering on their local sports teams, caring about local politics, getting upset about local concerns, and having unique statues to their local historical heroes.   I loved visiting both of those towns because for some reason they felt more real and less on display.  It felt more natural.  

It's really hard to explain what I'm getting that but I hope I've accomplished it on some level.

This post was edited by machvergil on October 28, 2015, 10:04 am

We set Wednesdays on Fire!
#24: 10-28-2015 @ 08:26:04 am
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  • Real Name:Nate
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Makes sense to me. 

Thanks again for writing up all the different things from the trip!  I have enjoyed it. 



If bananas have potassium, do potatoes have banassium? 6th graders are like sentient balloons. Drifting in any direction, at any speed when given any provocation.
#25: 10-28-2015 @ 10:55:29 am
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Misharum KittumMisharum Kittum

Misharum Kittum Photo.
  • Real Name:Tim
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Yeah, it has been fun to read about. And I'm amused at how much we see Grace posing in the pictures, but how little we see Adam in them!

Justice and Truth
#26: 10-29-2015 @ 02:02:35 pm
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MachVergil Photo.
  • Real Name:Adam
  • Joined:2010-01-22

Thanks again for writing up all the different things from the trip!  I have enjoyed it. 


Yeah, it has been fun to read about. And I'm amused at how much we see Grace posing in the pictures, but how little we see Adam in them!

Thank you for posting such!  These posts take me a bit of time to put together  so it's good to hear people are reading and enjoying them :)

All of these these photos were taken when with my Google Nexus 6 and were more or less unplanned.  So we didn't get someone to take a photo of both of us, and Grace often ended up on screen.  I'm sure if I had access to her photos and used them too we'd see a little more of me.  I might ask her to share some photos with me and see if I can do that.

Next up! Maiko!

So while we were at Kyoto train station

There was a tourist center that mentioned that during the day we happened to be in the Gion District (made famous by the book Memoirs of a Geisha) there would be a Maiko (Geisha in training) performance with first-come-first served tickets sold.  Geisha still exist in Japan but they are wicked rare and expensive so foreigners aren't likely to see a performance by one.  So to get to see this performance by those in training is as close as we're likely to get and the price was actually super reasonable.  So we figured we'd head down there, see if we could get tickets and see it.  Sure enough after we left Kyomizu Dera we were able to get there in time and see the show!

The performance was a lot more than just Maiko though.  It had multiple parts and was used as a chance to show off multiple Japanese traditional performance.

The performance kicked off with a Tea Ceremony which was performed off to the side.  Kitty actually got picked for this, as a volunenteer.  She tried to get me to go but I wasn't confident I wouldn't botch the instructions if they weren't in English.  Of course they had a cue card in English I could have followed along with but oh well.

Then they had these two play Koto for us while we watched live Flower Arrangement. 

I'll be honest with you, before this trip I never understood why "Flower Arrangement" was a performance.  It always struck me as something you did you know, in private in your studio, and then bought a finished bouquet or something.   Watching this while the Koto music kinda sucked you in though was impressive.  With only what was provided they built nice looking arrangement, clipping extra length on the stems, cleaning up leaves, setting angles.  It was pretty calming to watch.

That said I think the Koto music had more to do with it.  What I find amazing about listening to the Koto is during the performance the players would occasionally shift their weight onto the instrument on purpose and it would create a discordant or atonal sound.  This was not an accident though - it was part of the performance. It made me think how often such stark sounds are avoided in traditional western composition, but here it is used on purpose and creates a real flow to the overall piece.  It felt like going on an emotional journey.   I dug it, but I can understand how someone would form the opinion that these atonal or minor key parts are unpleasant to hear (and they are) and sour the performance instead of giving it more depth.

Next was the Heian Court music, which was something only the nobles during the Heian period would have seen in the past.  In it, the musicians (on the left) are playing drums and flutes at the direction of their conductor.  The conductor is the guy in red in the middle who is dancing as he conducts.  Rather just a director of the music, his stomps are part of the music, adding to the noise and the beat.  It was really something different, but musically kinda hard to follow.

Next up we had had "Kyogen" which was a sort of comedic performance that was used as an intermission to Noh Theater.  What makes Kyogen different is that Noh is a very serious performance that is so steeped in tradition that it relies on now dead versions of the Japanese Language.  Modern Japanese themselves aren't entirely sure what all the words mean.  The result is it's hard for even the Japanese to follow, and has been for some time.  Kyogen, which means "wild speech" was a comedic performance  that was spoken in common vernacular.  They were light hearted and often relied on physical comedy. Of all the performances we saw, this was the one you could get the most out of even if you didn't know one lick of Japanese.

In this particular story a Lord (the guy in the back with the flower pants) is about to go on a trip, but he doesn't trust his vassals (the other two guys) to not drink his Sake while he's gone.  So he tricks both them, tying one vassal to his staff and the other with his hands behind his back.  Once the Lord is gone, the two conspire to drink his Sake anyway, which results in a lot of physical comedy since they cannot untie each other.  They succeed but the Lord catches them, and they never do get untied before the performance is over.

Next up we had the Maiko dances.  There were two performed by two dancers.

The woman in purple wore make up and an expression always of sadness.

While the one in pink looked more happy. 

The two did not speak themselves but off-stage music and singing accompanied their dance. 

Sometimes they moved in unison, and other times they did not.  It was not uncommon for one to place her back to the audience while the other moved, or for one to kneel while the other stood.  Along side the music it seemed to communicate the idea that each dancer represented the mood of the subject of the performance, and when one was the focus, she would have a bigger part of the performance.  Their movements were smooth, small, but well practiced, and with the static painted faces it gave the dancers a sort of inhuman elegance.  All and all really glad we got to see it.

The last performance was a kind of puppet show from Osaka.  This was in contrast to the exclusive nature of the Kyoto-based performances so far which were for exclusive persons of privilege.  This puppet show was made to entertain the merchants of Osaka and was focused on being entertaining but also cheaper to put on while still being a display of skill.  In it, three people control one highly complicated puppet.  The one puppeteer who shows his face is in charge of the puppet's head, while the others control arms and legs.   I don't have very good photos from this because they moved around a lot and unlike the other performance they were not all subtle movements.  Before the end though they had this puppet opening letters, crying, praying, climbing ladders, ringing temple bells, it got pretty involved.

That wraps up our time seeing Kyoto.  The next day we got on the train for short trips to near by locations while still staying in the general Kyoto area.

Before I go though... They were advertising TERA at 7-11!

This post was edited by machvergil on October 29, 2015, 5:03 pm

We set Wednesdays on Fire!
#27: 10-30-2015 @ 11:17:50 am
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MachVergil Photo.
  • Real Name:Adam
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So fun Japan note before I move on:  While this was my first trip to Japan, Kitty has been several times.  The first time she went was back in the 2000's and she noted how Halloween wasn't a thing there.  Her thinking was that in a country that has accepted cosplay as a "whenever" thing in some places, why would you need a holiday dedicated to it?

Well when we were in Japan this year it was clear that Halloween had become a thing.  Between all the ads we saw selling Halloween themed snacks and goods, to the Disneyland Japan promotions, to seeing costumes like the ones we buy here in America for sale at Don Quixote, it's becoming a thing now.

This Japan Times Article talks a bit about the growing popularity of Halloween in Japan.

Moving on to the trip!

Our last day in the Kyoto area was two major stops.  The first was to visit the Fushimi Inari shrine, and the second was to go to Nara.

Now I am going to take a few moments to explain why we went to Fushimi Inari.

Inari, is one of the "Kami" of Shinto.   Inari is a kami of foxes, but also rice, fertility, tea, saki, agriculture, industry... overall and in general "prosperity."  Inari has been portrayed as male, female, and androgynous, but I like to think of Inari as a she.   Inari was known for sending "Kitsune" (which is the Japanese word for fox) as her messengers, these being pure white foxes. 

Now I'm a pretty big fan of foxes, so I find Inari immediately appealing.  Inari and the Kitsune are also where the Japanese nine-tailed fox comes from, inspiring such things as the Pokemon Vulpix and Ninetails, Shippo from Inuyasha, and of course,  Ahri from League of Legends.

At this point I've probably shared photos with you of some of the random shrines we encountered throughout our travels in Japan.  Many of the small ones just kinda tucked away were Inari shrines.  So I think you understand now - Inari is important to Japan.

Fushimi Inari is the mother of all Inari Shrines.  Built into the side of a mountain, the shrine is where Inari is believed to live when he/she is not out being a Kami.  This thing is massive, was crawling with people, and was amazing.

I want to begin, as all visits to shrines do, with purification.  We'd seen situations like this outside of many shrines on our travels, but this was the first one with instructions in English. 

Then you have your entrance to the shrine.  As always it is guarded by two foxes, and then guardians in the back.

One fox holds a ball... I forget what it signifies.

Another holds a scroll.

Both look mean because they are protecting the shrine.

The human guardians in the gate:

This is where offerings are displayed.  That is almost all Sake and other consumer goods donated by various companies to show their faith and support for the shrine.

As you go further into the shrine, you have more steps guarded by yet more foxes:

This is where one actually prays.  Past this crowd of people is a place to toss yen into, and large bells with ropes attached. 

Procedure here is to toss in your yen and ring the bell, then clap your hands.  You make all this noise "so that the Gods will hear you."  Then you make your prayer, bow and walk away.  You have probably seen this procedure followed in Anime several times, and it's a legit thing that crowds of people were doing while we were there.  I'm glad Kitty was there to encourage me because I wanted to try it but was too afraid I'd offend someone by doing so.  She handed me a coin and said "How many times are you going to be at Fushimi Inari?" and we did it.

Past that point you begin the hike which leads to the thing Fushimi Inari is famous for.  This is me excited to begin the climb:

Better view of that Tori gate and its pair of guardians

THIS is what Fushimi Inari is famous for:

Tori Gates

ALL of the Tori gates

Not some of them.

More Tori Gates than you knew could exist in one place

This continues up the mountain, all along the hiking path.  Each gate is a donation by a family, or a company.  Written upon it is when the offering was made and by whom.  As we visited, gates were being repaired or added, and new offerings carved and painted upon them.

This should help paint a picture of what Fushimi Inari is like.  Everything you saw before was at the bottom of the mountain.  We are now in the hike up the mountain, through the gates, where further shrines await us.

Along the way you will see many interesting things, like shrines within the shrine.

THIS VIEW in particular... I am convinced an environment artist who worked on Ashenvale in World of Warcraft visited this shrine, or saw photos of it, because the resemblance is uncanny.

As we walked and the crowds died down the experience became increasingly spiritual. The gates and the path became the only sign of human hand, otherwise we were surrounded by nature and the mountain.

It took forever but I finally managed to get two shots of the path without people:

During promotional advertising for the next Star Fox game, Shigeru Miyamoto said that he grew up near Kyoto and visiting the Fushimi Inari shrine was something he did as a kid for fun.  The experience of walking through all the gates was something that inspired much of the level design of Star Fox.  When he said this it blew my mind because the games to tend to be full of plenty of moments where you can fly through a gate of some description and get a power up for it.  One of the levels in the original Star Fox is basically an endless journey under gates as you fly down an expressway.  The inspiration is clear and it was amazing to be here.

Kitty and I also posed

Once we came back down there was also of course all the fox merchandise and it took a ton of willpower from me to not buy everything.

That was Fushimi Inari.  I'll leave you with these photos of offerings.  It is normal in a Shinto Shrine to have wooden objects you write prayers on which are then burned by the shrine as part of a large offering.  You pay money to get one of these wooden offerings, write your prayer on it, and then leave it hanging.  Fushimi Inari had a special version of that with these fox-shaped offerings you could draw faces on.  It was pretty neat to see.

Next up, Nara, with a stop along the way.

EDIT: I cannot express how happy I am that this post was not lost in the site hiccup earlier today.

This post was edited by machvergil on October 30, 2015, 2:26 pm

We set Wednesdays on Fire!
#28: 11-03-2015 @ 08:13:35 am
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MachVergil Photo.
  • Real Name:Adam
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And we're back.  Continuing adventures near Kyoto!

Our next stop after Fushimi Inari was something called the "Phoenix Hall." 

Now I'm going to confess, when we arrived at this site I was extremely hungry and rather than getting food, we visited here first.  This site was something Kitty wanted to see because it's on the 10 yen coin and was always curious what it was making a reference too.

My understanding of this period of history is kinda weak.  I'm going to try and give a TL:DR but you might be further ahead reading the wiki article on Byodo-in.

So as the Heian Peroid was coming to an end, the warrior class (that would eventually become the Samurai lords we would know later) began seizing control of the country, but for most of it, the fighting was no where near Kyoto, so the lords of Japan were able to keep on going on, assuming this little issue would settle itself.  When the fighting came to the streets of Kyoto, many started to believe that the world was ending, and lost faith in the old religions.   At this point, "Pure Land Buddhism" took root.  If I remember right (and I may not be) Pure Land says you cannot achieve enlightenment alone - you must placate Buddha and his Bodhisattvas (think of them as angels or saints) to aid you.  The denizens of Kyoto began to flock to this faith, including the powerful, before whatever end these dark times were portending came to pass.

So, built in 998 by a Minister, Byodo-in was built for the Pure Land and Tendai Buddhism. All of it's original buildings have burnt down, except this central Pheonix Hall.  It gets its names because of the beautiful statues on the roof, but also because of the two walkways leading to the hall look like extended wings. 

Within the hall is a very old statue of Buddha and all of the Bodhisattva that make up his retinue. The old walls had beautiful painted (and honestly gilded) depictions of Buddha visiting people and sending them to the Pure Land.  Unfortunately, photography was not permitted within the walls of the Hall or the museum.  This is a common thing in Japan by the way - some of the most impressive history you aren't allowed to photograph.  One of my college professors told me that it's so that they can make sure people like you and I actually come to Japan to see this stuff instead of just seeing photos somewhere and calling that good enough.   This is also why you'll see I don't have very many photos inside shrines and temples or why I have no internal photos of Nijo castle.  They let us into Nijo Castle, but I couldn't take any photos.

With that in mind, that's why I consider all the photos they permitted for the Maiko performance to be a huge deal.

Anyway that's really all i can say about the Pheonix Hall.  I was starving and honestly in a bad mood because of it so I waited through this as much as I was but I was in a hurry to eat and go to our next stop.

Which was Nara.

Ah Nara.  Home to the local mascot Japan has voted worst/creepiest many many times.  They are replacing him with this little guy (see the lower right poster)

Nara, you see, was one of the first capitals of Japan. I was just talking about the Heian period, which was when the Japanese capital was in Kyoto.  Well before then, during the Nara period.  Even though the capital has moved away from it twice now, Nara remains a prefecture (state) capital, and a popular place to visit due to its history.  We only stuck around for an afternoon to see something truly awesome. 

We had to get past these guys first though.

I'll just quote Wikipedia on this one:

According to local folklore, deer from this area were considered sacred due to a visit from Takemikazuchi-no-mikoto, one of the four gods of Kasuga Shrine.[2] He was said to have been invited from Kashima, Ibaraki,[3] and appeared on Mt. Mikasa-yama riding a white deer. From that point, the deer were considered divine and sacred by both Kasuga Shrine and KĊfuku-ji.[3] Killing one of these sacred deer was a capital offense punishable by death up until 1637, the last recorded date of a breach of that law.[3]


In order to get to our destination we wandered through the Nara Deer park.  Never in my life have I ever seen Deer so openly interacting with humans.

You're supposed to go "oh!  A deer!" because as soon as you recognize each other that deer is gone.

Not Nara's deer.  They will walk to you, follow you around until you feed them.  You actually need to be kinda careful around the things!

They make these special 'cakes' you can feed to the deer during your visit.  We bought a pack and Kitty took photos while I fed some deer. 

It started out pretty neat!

It's around about here when I felt that deer behind me start nibbling at my back pocket and I started to wander if I was about to pull too much deer aggro...

The answer was yes, yes I had pulled too much deer aggro.

As I got down the last cakes I repositioned so I wasn't surrounded anymore.  You can see I've gotten wary and defensive at this point, but don't let my narrative fool you, feeding the deer was fun, would do again.

With the deer visit done it was time to travel to our destination, where we were once again joined by school groups.   Where were we going?  Why to see Todai-ji, home of the largest wooden building in the world and within it, a 50 foot tall statue of Buddha.

This massive wooden gate marked the end of the Deer Park and the start of temple grounds.  Not that the deer noticed until you make it to the actual admission gate.  Keep looking for them!


Guardian of the outer gate:

On approach to the wall around the inner structures.

Guardians of the inner walls:


After paying admission to get past the outer wall you walk out and see it.  The largest wooden building the world.

Everyone, I want to make a point before I share the following pictures.  It is unbelievable to see this thing.  You know how in video games they use parallax scrolling to try and establish how huge something is?  Like you'll move to the right so fast but the background will barely move?  This was like that except in real life.  Everything I'm about to show you is my desperate attempt to convey how huge this thing is in static image and I just don't think it's possible. Sure it's no skyscraper, but the way it stands alone in like this just gives it such a grander size.

I also made this video of me walking backwards from it, in the hopes that motion would help better convey the size.

Within the structure?  Why a 50 foot tall Buddha of course!

Disclaimer:  it was very dark inside the building, so some of the lighting in these photos might be tricky.

They surround the thing with additional statues of bodhisattva and guardians.

Here's the big guy from the side:

One of the inner guardians

This is the view when you're next to him.

Now this building has burnt down and been rebuilt a few times.  Here is a model of what we believe the original temple was like:

Models of other versions

Oh so yeah again, just because I fear scale didn't translate in the photos, they had a spare hand to scale laying around so you could get close to it and understand how big this statue is.

More statues within the structure

Some last random Nara stuff as we leave

We saw this really cool Jizo shrine on our way out too that I felt was worth sharing.  Jizo watches over children, so it's very common to see little jizo shrines like this in neighborhoods to watch over the local children.  If you have time you're supposed to pour water on the statue's head to keep him cool/purify him.

This will be one of the last posts from Kyoto before we leave the region.  We saw this really neat old map of Kyoto in the station that night that I'll share as well

I want to talk a bit more about the guest house in Kyoto in my next post (probably no new photos in that one, but great stories) before we move on to Miyagi-Ko, Sendai, and Shiroshi. 



We set Wednesdays on Fire!
#29: 11-03-2015 @ 10:31:29 am
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  • Real Name:Nate
  • Joined:2010-01-25

I swear I've seen/heard of that big Buddha before!  At some point in school there was some mention of cultural differences and how if you asked an American which was bigger - the Buddha or the building - the American would of course say that the building was bigger, because you know - Buddha's inside the building.  If you asked a Japanese person they would say the Buddha was bigger though - because it was sitting down.  So of course if it was standing it would be the bigger between the statue and the building. 

I might be getting some stuff mixed up - I think that this was in high school - but I swear I've seen pics of that Buddha with someone telling me that at some point.  Hopefully it's not just sound and fury, signifying ignorance. 

Anyway, thanks again!  I'll be quiet now. 


If bananas have potassium, do potatoes have banassium? 6th graders are like sentient balloons. Drifting in any direction, at any speed when given any provocation.

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