Category Archives: temples

Japan: Kyoto

Final batch of pictures from our Japan trip, these from Kyoto, the cultural capital of Japan.

On our first day, we went off to Kiyomizu-dera, a temple first built in the late eighth century but whose present buildings date from the seventeenth. On the way, we encountered a hillside full of bedecked Buddhas.

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Before the actual temple precincts, we went into the Tainai-meguri, by which one symbolically enters a boddhisatva’s womb. What this means in reality is that you put your shoes in a plastic bag, then descend a stone staircase into a narrow, low-ceilinged passageway that is completely black. There’s a worn-smooth railing on the left, which you are instructed to hold at all times, as it’s the only way to figure out which way you’re going. And since the passage makes several 90-degree turns, if you let go of the railing you will almost certainly walk face-first into a stone wall.

I didn’t get a photo of the entrance, but someone else did.

The staircase down is in the center. Photo by Elliott Kallen.

It was a bit unnerving, but also genuinely womb-like (I guess). It feels like you are really, really deep underground, but of course you’re not. After a minute or two, you emerge into a small chamber with a dim light shining on a prayer wheel, which you can spin before heading up the stairs back into the light. Pretty awesome!

And here’s the temple itself, along with the requisite cherry blossoms. The day was rather overcast and so the colors got washed out a bit, but even still it’s all stunning.

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There was evidently some kind of ceremony going on while we were there.

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I’m not sure what they’re looking at, but it seems pretty compelling.

There were lots of Japanese there taking advantage of the various fortune-telling options and good-luck rituals.

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We then walked down a couple of charming old streets (Sannen-zaka and Ninen-zaka) crowded with old wooden houses, shops, and people. We also encountered a trio of maiko (apprentice geishas). Cate thinks they were there for the tourists, but I insist, based on wishing-makes-it-so, that they were authentic. (I’m just saying, they weren’t selling anything, or even posing for pictures with anyone, apart from one imperious guy who clearly embarrassed the hell out of them [N.B.: I wasn’t that guy].)

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And now a brief interlude of atmospheric images.

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Noren are traditional Japanese fabric dividers. They hang in most doorways, especially restaurants (even in, say, the train stations) and traditional shops.

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Tea break. Shibumi.

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A stroll in the park.

And some photos of the cherry blossoms.

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The post-work drinking-and-carousing beneath the cherry blossoms is a bit more fancy in Kyoto: more tables than tarps.

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Cherry trees in Shimbashi, which, according to Lonely Planet, is “arguably, the most beautiful street in all of Asia, especially in the evening and during cherry-blossom season.”

Nishiki Market was an unexpectedly cool place: lots of food, crafts, and other fun stuff all under this awesome Lite-Brite roof.

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That’s sunlight streaming in, not artificial light. Festive.

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I’m sorry to say, I did not try one. It might as well have said ‘sushi waffles.’

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Walking into a rice store in Japan is like walking into a wine store. Unless you know quite a bit about the product, you just look for something with a nice label.

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Okay, now a brief foray into food.

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Breaded, fried pork cutlet at a restaurant that serves only breaded, fried pork cutlets. Spoiler alert: it was delicious.

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From now on, of course, we will only ever call potato salad “poteto sarada.”

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The place setting at the tempura restaurant we went to, which seated no more than ten people.

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The snack menu on the express train from Tokyo to Narita Airport. Starts out familiar, then takes a sharp turn into “Whhah?” with item number four.

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There are so many reasons I won’t be shopping in this area.

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In Japan, the vending machines offer wi-fi access.

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Inside, surprisingly, everyone was quite calm.

I will close with another peaceful image, preceded by the warning we encountered nearby. I just love the “and so on” at the end. It’s like the ultimate legal disclaimer. “Look, we covered that clearly in the contract! See Section 1.4, which clearly states ‘in case and so on’.”

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You know that awesome scene in Lost in Translation when ScarJo goes to Kyoto and witnesses a bunch of events and images that clearly illustrate for us, the viewers, just how alienating is the life she is temporarily leading in Japan while waiting for her ambitious-but-clueless photographer husband to stop flirting with vapid celebrities?

You know, where she walks from stone to stone at a temple? Here are the actual stones. Whoa.

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Japan: Tokyo

So we recently got back from Japan, which was stupendous. Here’s Bunch of Photos, Part 1.

We went when we did because I had some time off due to Easter and, of course, Ching Ming. It happened to coincide with the cherry blossoms, though, which made for an extra-awesome visit since we got to take part in some serious hanami (cherry-blossom viewing). We had a heck of a time finding hotel rooms, even though we booked months ago, but when all was said and done it wasn’t nearly as crowded as we had expected. So, first off, some images of the cherry blossoms in Tokyo.

Japan is, as we are not the first to observe, a very fastidious place. Every public transportation station has a bathroom, and it is immaculate. And yes, they really do have these awesomely fancy toilet seats. (Which aren’t cheap, by the way—they are upwards of $500.)

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Our hotel room had one of the simpler models. Thank god.

Japan is also filled with vending machines. They are everywhere. The vast majority of them sell beverages (both hot and cold).

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See, the drinks on the left (with the red stripe below them) are hot; the right-hand (blue) ones are cold. The Suntory Boss hot coffee in cans is surprisingly good.

It’s rare to encounter one that sells snacks (like candy bars), though on a subway platform we did encounter this one that sells fresh apple slices. Three different kinds of fresh apple slices, mind you. We tried them, and they were awesome.

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And yeah, at some noodle shops you really do buy the ticket from a machine before approaching a server. This is very handy when, hypothetically, you need some time to figure out what the heck each dish is.

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Here are some photos of Tokyo at its Tokyoist.

And a few others.

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Cambodia: Siem Reap, Angkor Wat, and other awesome things

So here, finally, are some photos of temples and other excellent stuff that we saw during our six days in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Siem Reap is about a 5- to 6-hour bus ride north of Phnom Penh or, if you’re really fancy like us, a short 40-minute flight on Angkor Air (Cambodia’s flag carrier!). Would you like to see a map? I will show you a map.

Angkor Wat—the most famous of the temples in the area, and for good reason—is but one of 200+ temples, so there’s lots of exploring to do. While most of the famous and most worthwhile temples are quite close together, they’re too far to walk to, so we did all of our exploring and traveling via tuk-tuk. Here’s a map of the major temple sites, in French as a nod to their still-visible colonial influence.

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A short film

As promised/threatened in my last post, I offer for your enjoyment a short video of worshippers at Wong Tai Sin Temple. You will be shocked to learn that I made this all by myself. That ridiculous Chicago-to-Hong-Kong globe animation at the beginning? That took nearly 30 seconds of work in iMovie, 20 of which were devoted to deciding between the regular map and the old-timey map.

I note that Koyaanisqatsi came out in 1982, and Baraka in 1992. That means we’re 10 years overdue for a follow-up. Once I get, like, 90 more minutes of footage like this, I’m going to commission a minimalist soundtrack and go for it.

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Fortune-telling at Wong Tai Sin Temple

Another weekend, another trip to a religious site. Hooray!

Last weekend we took another short jaunt on the MTR to Wong Tai Sin temple (黃大仙祠), a very popular shrine just east of us [Wikipedia entry, official site]. We had originally planned to combine a visit here with our trip to Nan Lin Garden and Chi Lin Nunnery, but I’m glad we didn’t. There’s enough at each of these places to merit a trip of its own.

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So it’s pretty impressive just approaching, yeah. Continue reading

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Sheung Wan and Man Mo Temple

Last weekend we explored a bit around Sheung Wan, on Hong Kong Island. Sheung Wan is one of the old neighborhoods of Hong Kong Island. While the British were developing Central (just east of Sheung Wan), the Chinese population of 19th-century HK were developing Sheung Wan. Here’s a little map for you.

In Sheung Wan is Possession Point and Possession Street, which mark (you can probably see this coming) the spot where the British formally took possession of Hong Kong in 1841 near the end of the First Opium War. Behold:


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