Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Eye of Sauron Kōbe

Continuing with the theme of city lights reflected off the low clouds, this is the Kōbe Port Tower and continuing with the geekery {insert Lord of the Rings reference here}.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Kōbe Comic Book

The overcast sky is painted orange by the lights of this communication tower reflecting off the 'low celling' in downtown Kōbe. I especially like how this cityscape looks as if it could have come right out of the pages of a comic book, just {insert Bat-Signal here}.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Ten Million $$$ Dollar View

This week I am going to share some night views of Kōbe from various points. The weather has turned both hot and wet, so my touring about the city is somewhat more comfortable under the cover of night - which brings with it a pungent cooling ocean breeze. This vista of Kōbe and the inland sea comes from atop Mount Maya and is dubbed the "Ten Million Dollar View," and is considered to be one of the top three night views in Japan. Most people visit the top via the ropeway located at Sumadera Station at its base. However, I was feeling particularly adventurous so with light in-hand I headed up in the dark. Besides the ropeway was closed and I had made my way into Suma and did not feel like turing back without seeing the view. The way was rather dark and steep but luckily I did not run across any wild beasties of the four legged or two legged variety. The top was quite and dark and view was beautiful and worth the journey, I had visited this view once before in daylight and I am glad that I knew the way. This particular image is two stacked, one overlooking Kōbe and Ōsaka bay far in the distance and the other on the bottom of the Akashi-Kaikyō Bridge.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Nipponbashi 日本橋

While wasps in Japan are large, hopefully they're not quite this gigantic. Nipponbashi, a shopping district in Ōsaka, offers a metallic wasp overlooking the shops - seemingly poised for flight. Known colloquially as "Den-Den Town," Nipponbashi is known for its many shops which specialize in furniture, tools, and "otaku" interests such as electronics, animation, comic books, and collectibles. Here you can find six foot tall Gundam models for sale alongside shops that only sell screws or transistors and there are electronic warehouses full of every type of device known to humankind. The neighborhood is patrolled by socially-awkward-looking fellows thumbing through retro video games or erotic comic books who are totally in their element. Nipponbashi, is often compared to Akihabara in Tōkyō, but unlike Akihabara it hasn't sold itself out to tourists and maid cafes.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Wildstyle Kansai

Collection of wildstyle tags and throw-ups from across the Kansai area. Some street artists have a wider geographical rage then I expected. I primarily focus my hunts in Sannomiya and Motomachi near my apartment, however I now recognize the same artists works in Ōsaka, Kyōto, Suma, as well as across Kōbe. These are from either a team or individual named HCP.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Oyamazaki Museum

Oyamazaki Museum is a former Kyōto villa converted into a museum. The architectural style of the main building, which was completed in 1932, is primarily Tudor Gothic. Architect Tadao Ando designed the dramatic corridor seen here that connects the villa with the underground gallery which he named "the underground jewelry box." This new addition is as much a part of the landscape as it is an exhibition space. In order to avoid overwhelming the existing villa, the tranquil concrete geometric lines of the hall and the cylindrical gallery itself are half buried underground and set close to the existing building so that from the exterior they read more as elements strategically placed to complement the landscape rather set against it. Water-lilies by Claude Monet are exhibited in the annex complimented by the Monet style gardens that surround the building. There is also a circular-shaped skylight which further complements the paintings with natural light that continuously changes and reinvents the paintings.

5-3 Zenihara, Oyamazaki-cho,
Otokuni-gun, Kyoto-fu, 618-0071

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Sushi 寿司

Some time ago some friends treated me to a very nice lunch at the Diamond Kyoto Society that included sushi which is and, for many years now, has been my most treasured cuisine. I appreciate its relative simplicity, texture, taste and esthetic. This meal provided me with a chance to try a new kind of sushi that was topped with tsukimono (pickled vegetables), that proved to be absolutely delicious. Years ago when I was first told that some Japanese rate the quality of sushi on the rice and or the tomago (egg) I was rather confused, I thought the fish was the primary interest of the dish. However, sushi refers to the cooked vinegared rice, that is then commonly topped with other ingredients or put into rolls - so being concerned with the quality of the rice makes sense, though in the states I feel we tend to focus more on the fish. The most traditional form of sushi is fermented fish and rice preserved with salt and this is where the term 'sushi' comes from; being an archaic grammatical form that literally means "it's sour". The contemporary version of sushi was created by Hanaya Yohei at the end of Edo period and is intended to be a finger food prepared and eaten quickly. As for the importance of tamago, it is such a basic component with so few ingredients that if the chef has mastered it, then all of his or her other dishes are sure to be good. Similarly I have heard the best test of any chefs metal can be found through their competence in the most simple dish. So I hope you get to enjoy some sushi soon and I hope that whatever is on top is your #1 favorite.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Iris at Nanba Shrine 難波神社

Located in the heart of downtown Ōsaka near the business district is Nanba shrine, constructed under the reign of Emperor Hanzei, it is now another example of how the Japanese landscape is a mixture of ancient existing right alongside modern. The large stone temple walls enclose the shrine that is otherwise surrounded by modern 20 story office buildings and the endless traffic noise from the busy street right at its gate - a main artery for transportation in the area. The relative silence coupled with the ancient buildings and gardens inside the walls creates an atmosphere that feels almost otherworldly in comparison to the fast moving city just a few feet away. At this time of year the temple also features large groups of potted iris carpeting the interior grounds.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

JR Namba Station 難波駅

A rather interesting glass wall with a moving light show in the underground walkway of the JR Namba Station in Ōsaka. This route also features a moving walkway with a fiber-optics displays on the ceiling opposite this glass wall. The lights trace the curved walls on-pace with the commuting hordes who traverse the station. In an attempt to capture this kinetic aspect I lowered the shutter speed and held the camera against my chest and took the photograph while waking, which blurred the lights further down the corridor.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Namba Station Routine

Teenagers practice a dance routine outside the JR Namba station in Ōsaka, which is actually a fairly common site in Japan. Usually the dancers claim some less crowded corner of the train station or if later in the evening the shopping arcades host a few groups wherever a reflective surface or mirror offers them some feedback of their performance.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Kuromon Ichiba 黒門市場

Kuromon Ichiba Market, or Black Gate Market, is an enclosed 600 meter market located in the Nippombashi district of Ōsaka. Kuromon has been a marketplace for over 170 years and the vast majority of its stalls specialize in the freshest and highest quality fish, meat, vegetables and fruit. Other stalls feature nearly endless barrels of pickled seaweeds and vegetables, and some household goods. A stroll down this lane is a feast for the eyes as well as a stimulant for the appetite and you are likely to find some unusual edible delight from the sea on display - just try not to become breakfast for the giant ceiling octopus that enacts its swift revenge for its fallen kin.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Tsūtenkaku 通天閣

Tsūtenkaku (103 m), or Tower Reaching Heaven, is a well-known landmark of Ōsaka. The current tower is actually the second to occupy the site, the original was patterned after the Eiffel Tower - however the government dismantled the tower in 1943 believing that it would serve as a reference point for American bombing raids. In 1956 the current tower was completed and soon became associated with the statue of Billiken, which is a popular symbol of good luck (seen in gold in the right corner). The Billiken was a charm doll created by an American art teacher and illustrator Florence Pretz who is said to have seen the mysterious figure in a dream. Today, the Billiken is also the official mascot of Saint Louis University, Missouri being Pretz's home town.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Kyōto Tower 京都タワー

Designed by Makoto Tanahashi, Kyōto tower is a steel observation tower which is also the tallest structure in Kyōto, with its observation deck at 100 meters (328 ft) and its spire at 131 meters (430 ft). The tower was completed to correspond with the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo and features a unique interior structure that consists of many stacked steel rings covered with lightweight steel sheets, setting it apart from most towers which are lattice frames (such as Tokyo Tower). The tower was designed to resemble a Japanese candle, so the steel sheets were welded together and painted white to create this effect. The Tower has been the subject of controversy since it was in its planning phase, in part because of its hefty price tag but also because many believed the needle-shaped spire was too modern looking for the ancient capital. Some visit Kyōto seeking an elusive sense of old Japan and are surprised by the modern glass and steel station and the neighboring steel tower. Others, including myself, believe they add a touch of modernity to a city otherwise in danger of becoming foreign to the rest of contemporary Japan. View is from an observation deck in Kyōto station overlooking the tower.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Skyways of Kyōto Eki

The enormity of the engineering challenge necessary to erect Kyōto station is entailed within its giant escalator system, which moves passengers up nine-stories from the 60m high atrium over the main concourse and up to the roof - where there is an expansive view of the city. The structure has a fluidity of space, intriguing discontinuities of scale, open roof lines and a dark futuristic quality. The station building is certainly very imposing and definitively modern in style, setting a stark contrast against the classical feeling of this cultural capital.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

京都駅 Kyōto-eki

Designed by Hiroshi Hara, this 15-story glass-plated monolith is Kyōto Station. Opened in 1997 to celebrate the anniversary of the foundation of the city as the former capital of Japan it updated and replaced the previous 1950's era concrete station; which was necessary to usher the nearly 50 million tourists Kyōto receives each year - most of them Japanese commuters and visitors on day-trips. It comprises a huge 60 meter tall atrium, measures 470 meters from east to west, with a total floor space of 238,000 square meters. The building includes a department store, the Granvia Hotel, a theater, exhibition space as well as numerous shops and restaurants.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Ema 絵馬

Ema are small wooden plaques on which Shinto worshippers write their prayers or wishes. The ema are then left hanging up at the shrine, where the kami (spirits) receive them. Ema come in various shapes and sizes and usually bear pictures, often of animals or other Shinto imagery, representing that particular shrine and also many have the word gan'i (wish) written along the side. These are from Fushimi Inari Taisha so they are understandably in the shape of the kitsune - each person who purchases one draws in the face and inscribes their wish on the back. Common reasons for buying a ema might include success in work or on exams, marital bliss, to have children, and health. Some shrines specialize in certain types of ema and their sales help support the shrine financially.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Fushimi Inari 伏見稲荷大社

One of Kyoto's oldest (711 BCE) and most revered Shinto shrines, Fushimi Inari Taisha serves as the headquarters for all the 40,000 shrines dedicated to Inari across Japan. While predominantly the deity of rice and sake, Inari has also grown to govern the modern capitalistic concepts of success and prosperity in business and consequently the shrine draws thousands of businesspeople and tradespeople seeking blessings for their enterprises. The many Torii or gates that adorn this mountain shrine are dedicated by prominent families or business and each has the name of the benefactor inscribed upon it.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Bitter Almond Kit Kat

I have already told you more than you need to know about Japanese junk food, especially Kit Kat, however this new Bitter Almond flavor is worth mentioning. The flavor combination is not exotic, instead it stands strictly on taste not notoriety. According to the box it does have a rather odd cross-promotion with TBC, Tokyo Beauty Clinic, though I'm not sure what Kit Kat has to do with beauty. A great balance of dark bitter but semi-sweet chocolate (44% cacao) and crushed almonds that surrounds the classic Kit Kat wafers with more dark chocolate cream between the wafers.

Incidentally, many crime & punishment stories feature a person who has died unexpectedly having been the victim of cyanide poisoning. The first, best and only symptom of cyanide poisoning in television is that it leaves the smell of bitter almonds on the victim. One interesting thing about this trope is that it is self-reinforcing; the trope itself has raised awareness such that it is increasingly likely that even a layperson would recognize the significance of the smell, but does anyone know what it actually smells like? Well it smells like Bitter Almond Kit Kat . . . tasty and informative.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

もしもし Moshi Moshi

"Moshi moshi" is a greeting used when answering a telephone or trying to get someone's attention, used both by the receiver and the caller. This greeting is uttered an average of 125 million times a day. The term itself apparently stems from Japanese myths of the shape-shifting Youkai, 妖怪 bewitching apparition, which are traditional Japanese monsters of supernatural origin; grotesque, diverse, and often as comical as they are terrifying. Youkai were popular subjects in ukiyo-e prints depicted as oni, tengu, kappa, kitsune and tanuki (the last two are real animals unto which supernatural powers were attributed). The magic behind the phrase "moshi moshi" lies in the Youkai's ability to only say "moshi" once, kinda like the repetitive power of the name Beetlejuice in the Tim Burton film. The weary fellow who answers the single "moshi" called out by a Youkai will have their soul stolen and devoured. Be diligent, add that oh-so-important second 'moshi' to prove you aren’t a soul hungry ghoulie on the other end of that line. Images are Sannomiya graffiti; Oh and it's for you . . .

Friday, June 11, 2010

Kemushi 毛虫 Caterpillar


Caterpillar transforms
and flies away . . .
morning moon
- Kobayashi Issa

Not able to identify this particular species of caterpillar, it is much easier to find information on butterflies and moths then their respective larval forms. Many caterpillars are cryptically colored and resemble the plants on which they feed and may even have parts that mimic plant parts such as thorns. This caterpillar has long fine hair-like setae with detachable tips for self-defense, some caterpillar even have venom glands associated with these setae or spines. This fellow might look tasty to a bird or another bug, but the coloration and furry texture leave me perfectly content to let it be on its merry way.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Rice Paddy Field 田

Sunset over a crop of recently planted rice - fields flooded to protect the seedlings from insects and the coming rainy season will keep the fields full of water without the need of further irrigation. Rice can also be grown in dry-fields, but Japan has been using irrigated - wet-rice culture from around the Yayoi era (300 BCE to CE 250) and in the twentieth century paddy field agriculture has became the dominant form of growing rice throughout the world. The acidic soil conditions common in Japan, due to volcanic eruptions, have made the paddy field the most productive farming method. The character 田, which originally meant 'field' in general, is used in Japan exclusively to convey the meaning 'rice paddy field'. Rice consumption in Japan has been steadily falling for the past 40 years, as many rice farmers are increasingly elderly - a fact that is readily apparent to any observer driving through the Japanese countryside. The government has subsidized rice production since the 1970's and is protectionist regarding cheaper imported rice.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Kawara Senbei 煎餅

The folks that were kind enough to provide entrance into the Royal Grand Hall of Buddhism also gifted Kawara Senbei in the likeness of the famous onigawara from the Main Hall building. Kawara are roofing tiles made of fired clay and are a type of roof ornamentation found in Japanese architecture. Onigawara are most often found on Buddhist temples, generally manufactured on a style similar to that of kawara but are statue-like depicting Japanese ogre (oni) or a fearsome beast much like a gargoyle. Kawara-senbei, roof tile cookie, are a traditional sweet that has its origins in the Kansai area. This was my first kawara senbei and the flavor was mellow - sweet but not overly so and they have a very pleasing almost smoky flavor. The texture is nice and crispy making for a very delicious treat!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Royal Grand Hall of Buddhism - Pagoda

Visible from along the ascending pathway leading to the Main Hall of the Royal Grand Hall of Buddhism and nestled among the richly green trees and foliage of the surrounding mountains is the Five-Story Pagoda, a striking 32.7m wooden structure richly painted in a vibrant and traditional Korean style. Pagodas were originally built to house Buddhist relics and the remains of prominent Monks. On top of the pagoda you can see an antenna like structure. It is a finial or sourin that combines many symbols of Buddhism, it also has the very practical purpose of preventing the pagoda from leaking where all the roof elements are joined and also functions as a lightning rod.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Royal Grand Hall of Buddhism - Main Hall

Nestled in a valley in Kato City, the Royal Grand Hall of Buddhism is a sprawling architectural splendor measuring 148ha or 366 acres. I recently had the rare chance to tour this complex touted as the largest Buddhist temple edifice in the world; the many modern temples within its grounds utilize traditional architecture and took nearly half a century of endeavor to complete. The imposing Main Hall atop the slope is adorned with 10,450 carvings and 320,000 gold chasings, and in the center sits the gilded Golden Shrine. At 51.5m in height (equivalent to an 18-story building), the Main Hall is the largest temple in Japan. Outside, in the temple grounds, the extensively landscaped gardens are laboriously kept immaculate - more natural than nature - and are dotted with rare species of trees including the 800-year-old podocarpus tree. The complex is the vision of Dr Kyuse Enshinjoh and 82 priests of the Nenbutsushu Buddhist sect, one of 60 Buddhist sects in Japan, who imagined building a temple that would serve as the spiritual center for the 370 million Buddhists in the world. The Royal Grand Hall of Buddhism was built at a cost of 60 billion yen.

Such a grand-scale Buddhist temple has never been built in the history of Japan since the erection of the main temple of Obakushu Buddhist sect in Kyoto 350 years ago,”
-Shinku Miyagawa (Nenbutsushu High Priest).

It is the founders hope that the center will serve as a meeting place for the Buddhist leaders of the world to overcome any differences in nationalities or traditions and unite them.

Royal Grand Hall of Buddhism - Lanters

A pair of guardian deities on either side of the Main Gate urge people to do good and refrain from evil, these lacquered statues are the largest of their kind in the world. The one on the right has its mouth open - symbolizing un (breathing in), while the other has its mouth closed -symbolizing ah (breathing out). The pair of huge stone lanterns (12m in height) in front of the Main Hall, made their way into the Guinness World Records as the largest stone lanterns. The temple also has the largest onigawara (ridge-end tile) stretching 9m in height and 8.8m wide, installed on the roof-top of the main temple building. Final image is of the very informative monk who guided our small group through the complex; he like many buddhist who carry o-juzu 御数珠, or counting beads, use this traditional tool to count time while meditating using mantras even while holding conversations or guiding tours. Most of the people who go to this complex are on a pilgrimage and entrance into the complex is kept rather official with forms and badges required. The presence of security is also felt throughout the complex and, aside from the monk, our group was also flanked by 4-5 other assistants/guides/guards - difficult to tell what purpose they ultimately served. The site being almost encased in the eight surrounding mountain ranges coupled with its imposing gates, security, wealth and quietly powerful presence give the complex an imposing if not holy atmosphere.

Royal Grand Hall of Buddhism - Main Gate

The 141m-long Tathata Bridge crosses over Moonlight Pond which leads visitors to the main gate (35.6m high and 34.5m wide), seen here from behind and already having passed through an impressive front gate with heavy fortified doors just visible through the doorway of this image.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Nunobiki Falls - Medaki

In Japan, Nunobiki is considered one of the great"divine falls" along with the Kegon Falls in Nikko and the Nachi Falls in southern Wakayama. A well-known section of the Tales of Ise describes a trip taken to the falls where a poem by Ariwara no Narihira is quoted – inscribed on a monument near the falls:

White cascading gems
scatter down
as if someone has unstrung a necklace
I desire to hold them all,
Alas, my sleeves are too narrow

There are actually two falls that make up Nunobiki, the Medaki (Female Falls) and the larger Odaki (Male Falls) higher up the mountain. Aside from poetry the falls are also the subject of legends and tales, including the two falls being considered as male and female deities with all the ensuing romance and drama. Upon revisiting this area I found that what I previously believed was the largest of the falls is actually the smaller, the Odaki was higher up the mountain and the area truthfully contains four waterfalls - the last two being considerably smaller - hence my previous confusion.

Nunobiki Falls - Odaki

Nunobiki means “cloth-pulling” and the falls inspired some poets to liken the strands of white-water to cloth being stretched to bleach, producing a dress for the mountain goddess. Other poets write of clouds on the mountain slope which on closer inspection proved to be the thundering waterfall. One sentimental poet was driven to pen an association between the countless water-drops and his own tears.

Which, I wonder, is higher-
This waterfall or the fall of my tears
As I wait in vain,
Hoping today or tomorrow
To rise in the world.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Tokusatsu or The Return of Kamen Rider Cider

The Kamen Rider series of ciders taps the nostalgia of retro pop culture alongside the recent resurrection in popularity of Japanese cider that presents an 'old hometown' taste. Cider, in this context, refers to a clear Japanese carbonated soft drink created in the late 1800's with a tart citrus flavor. I spotted my first can back in March and recently on a late night coin-based-convenience binge decided to get another. Tokusatsu, literally special effects, is a Japanese term that applies to any live-action film or television drama that usually features superheroes and makes considerable use of people in rubber monster costumes. The most popular types of tokusatsu are kaiju monster movies like Godzilla, superhero TV serials like Kamen Rider and Metal Hero Series like Himitsu Sentai Goranger (Power Rangers). Tokusatsu remains a popular form of entertainment in Japan inspiring a rabid fan-base that, alongside anime, has spawned all manner of toys, collectibles, fans and cosplay. The cider itself is quite tasty and refreshing, but sadly it is non-alcoholic, it can be a bit heavy on the sugar - one can really satisfies the sweet-tooth.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Shinkawa Canal Floodgate

Floodgate at the branch point of Shinkawa river from Hyogo canal. The Hyogo canal is the largest canal in Japan and was excavated to make a water way that links the Suma area to the Hyogo Port without having to take a roundabout route that passes through the treacherous Cape Wada.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Kagami 鏡 Mirror

First autumn morning:
the mirror I stare into
shows my father's face.

-Murakami, Kijo

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

At The Foot of Hyogo Daibutsu

"I see rising out of darkness, a lotus in a vase. Most of the vase is invisible; but I know that it is bronze, and that its glimpsing handles are bodies of dragons. Only the lotus is fully illuminated: three pure white flowers, and five great leaves of gold and green, an artificial lotus. The reason that I see the lotus, one memory of my first visit to a Buddhist sanctuary, is that there has come to me an odor of incense. Often when I smell incense, this vision defines; and usually thereafter other sensations of my first day in Japan revive in swift succession with almost pain acuteness."

- Lafcadio Hearn (Koizumi Yakumo 小泉八雲)

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

兵庫大仏 Hyogo Daibutsu

Bronze Hyogo Daibutsu at Nofuku-ji in Kōbe. Although Nofuku-ji suffered extensive damage during the Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake and underwent drastic repairs, the Buddha was not disturbed. The original bronze Daibutsu was put in place in 1891, sadly it was melted down during WWII to make weapons and the present statue was cast in 1991. The bronze has developed the smoky green patina that comes from exposure to the idiosyncrasies of ocean air and stands 18 meters (on a 10 meter pedestal) weighing 60 tons, making it one of the largest in Japan. The more celebrated Kamakura Buddha and the Nara Buddha are only centimeters taller and while they are also impressive they are also quite remote and difficult to access. The location and the steps leading up to the lotus flower where the Buddha sits makes the Hyogo Buddha very approachable and on weekdays the temple is virtually empty. I had some trouble finding it at first, but eventually while I was wandering around I looked-up to see this large curious head just peering over the nearby houses, buildings and walls. I was surprised to find him actually sitting in somewhat unceremonious surroundings common in the semi-urban/industrial area of modern Hyogo but ultimately this contrast serves the statue, accentuating its impressive size and beauty.