Sunday, June 29, 2014

Rainy season scenes

This is just a short post with some photos that I took in June, featuring rainscapes around me.

The rainy season has set in and we have had quite a lot of rain. However, we are now in a break in the season so it is sunny, hot, and humid. Usually we have more localized downpours here and there around the country in the middle of July, and then, the rainy season that lasts more than a month will finally be over. This year it is a pity that I haven't had time to go to some iris vantage points to see them in bloom just as I did in the past several years. Have a nice week, friends and readers. I'm going to write a longer post in July.


Whenever I see spider webs, I was impressed by how sophisticated and beautiful they are. 
Laden with dew, they look like galaxies shining and floating in the universe. 

Naotan usually takes a nap on this chair, which is his favorite. 
Here he is basking in the sunshine during a break in the rainy season. 

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Prince Pujie's small summer cottage

This humble wooden house was used by Prince Aisin-Gioro Pujie (1907-1994) and his wife Hiro (1914-1987) as their summer cottage. They lived in it only for half a year in 1932, shortly after they married. Pujie was the younger brother of the Last Emperor of China Puyi (1906-1967) and Hiro was a daughter of Marquis Saga and a distant relative of the Japanese Emperor Showa. They spent their honeymoon months at this small house.

photo:source: Wikipedia

The building stands in a seaside town, Inage in Chiba Prefecture and has a small, lovely Japanese garden. You can take a stroll around it. When I went there, irises were beginning to bloom and a big chinaberry tree was filled with light purple blossoms. It was the first time I'd ever seen chinaberry blossoms. The couple would often take a walk to the shore that back then was much closer to the house than it is today.

I think their lives were unusually tough, toyed with by fate and buffeted by the turbulent seas of their time. However, the prince and princess were really a loving couple though their marriage was originally a political one. Throughout their married life, they were forced to live separately for 16 years before fate brought them together again. If you are interested in their love story, you can learn a little about it in the youtube video below.

This little timeworn house has a lovely atmosphere, but apart from feeling warm and cozy, I felt that there was something more. I wondered what it was while looking around the rooms. I felt their love still lingered and harbored where they once lived. I wondered if it was the memory of their love permeated through the whole house. I have no idea what I really sensed, but do you think places have memories just as we do? Does love as powerful as theirs leave its traces and remain with the place where it was born? Or do you think the strange feeling I had there came from my mere imagination? Anyway, it is a bit of mystery why I was deeply moved in the old humble cottage. 

Pujie was excellent at calligraphy. 

chinaberry blossoms

Monday, May 19, 2014

Old camphor trees in Kasamori Kannon with black lucky cats

I think most of you like looking up huge old trees and enjoying their beauty, wondering how old they might be.  I'm sure the sight of these trees often inspires feelings of awe in you.  Generally, very ancient trees have always been regarded as sacred in this country and have usually been bound up with Shimenawa, a sacred rope.  This camphor tree is one of the sacred ones I found on the site of Kasamori Kannon (Buddhist temple which belongs to the Tendai sect) in Boso peninsula. Camphor trees are evergreen trees of the laurel family, which are native to Japan.

This tree has a natural hollow that passes through its trunk and beyond it you can see a Kannon (Kuan Yin) statue standing. Legend has it that if you can go through the hollow, you'll be blessed with a baby. I think this is because the hollow has been likened to a womb. Because of this, a lot of women who want to have a baby try to go through it and happily, most of them are successful.

main gate

In April I made up my mind to go somewhere during what we call "Golden Week". I wanted a destination that was lovely and at the same time not crowded during the "Golden Week". Golden Week or GW, -it, which usually starts on April 29 and lasts to around May 5, has a series of national holidays within it and many workers take about a week off during this time. In the past, I often went to Kyoto, Kamakura, and even Tokyo Disneyland during this period, only to get exhausted as these places are so crowded with people in high seasons. In fact, there were unbelievable numbers of people there.

Kasamori Kannon by Utagawa Hiroshige II, Edo period

Located in the center of the Boso peninsula and a little difficult to reach either by car or by train, I thought the Kasamori Kannon would be least crowded during the week. Bingo! There were few people.

The Kannon-do hall stands on a cliff. It is the only example of a temple built in the Shihoukakezukuri style, and it is raised on 61 large stilts on all four sides. It was first built in 1028, and after a fire, it was rebuilt in the 16th century. From the highest floor, you can see green Boso mountains in every direction.

Another giant camphor tree stands just behind the hall on the cliff, and it looks like it supports the building. The air was clear with a bit of camphor aroma and breezes rustled the leaves on the day.

The temple is also famous for black clay lucky cats.  It is said that they beckon good luck, particularly to those who want to have a baby.

Around the temple, water-laden rice paddies were beautiful, reflecting the sunlight in them.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Wadokei (Japanese clock) -when time varied with the seasons

I now and then feel that time is tricky and funny. It is about a 15-minute walk from my house to my nearest station, but I sometimes feel that I've reached the station in less than no time. When this happens, I'm usually deep in thought which makes me lose track of time. On the other hand, it sometimes seems like a long way when I'm in a hurry. Nowadays, time-based on Universal Time, is absolute and objective on earth, however, I think that how you perceive it is relative and subjective to your consciousness.

A lot of countries have adopted daylight savings time and I'm sure that it has already started in many parts of the world this year. Japan, however, has no daylight savings time. In ancient Japan, however, including during the Edo period (1603-1868), had a very unique and flexible timekeeping that I'm sure helped the people then make the most of the daylight.      sundial →


Traditionally, this country used unequal temporal hours for timekeepers: six daytime units from local sunrise to local sunset and six nighttime units from local sunset to local sunrise.  Since the length of the day and night differs as seasons change, the length of the unit varied with the seasonal changes. What if you used this system of timekeeping? I'm sure you would feel very strange about it.

by Utagawa Kunisada, Edo period 

Recently, I found a lot of interesting old timekeepers in the Seiko Museum. Seiko is a Japanese watch maker. This is one of the Japanese old devised mechanical clocks called Wadokei (和時計)which were made about 350~150 years ago. 

It has interesting components such as weights ↑ that enable it adjust to the seasonal complex changes of the daylight hours. When you wind it up, it starts working and still chimes the hours according to Edo time. I sometimes imagine that the ancient people who woke up with the sunrise and went to bed with the sunset might have been happier than us. 

As for the daylight savings time, it has been discussed a lot but it looks most unlikely to be introduced to the country. I wish I had it!

some of the old timekeepers in the Seiko Museum ↓

right: portable sundial

GPS watch


April flowers were beautiful in my town. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

2014 Sakura, cherry blossoms

Hi everyone. I'm back to blogging. Sakura, otherwise known as cherry blossoms, were in full bloom last week and the week before last in many parts of Japan. At present winds are sending lots of petals fluttering down. It is a really beautiful sight. I like watching the falling petals.

If you ask Japanese people, "What do you like about cherry blossoms?", I'm 100% sure that many of them would answer, "I like the way the blossoms fall down." You can see pretty pink patches of fallen petals here and there now.

I'm always a little bit crazy about sakura. This year I went to several places to see the blossoms. What you see below are some of the photos I took in Tokyo, Boso peninsula in Chiba prefecture, Kobe, and Yoshino in Nara prefecture.

There are in fact many types of sakura -probably more than 100 types in this country. Generally, the first bloomer is Kawazu-zakura which starts blooming in early March. Its pink color is deeper and brighter than other types of sakura blossoms.

Kawazu-zakura blossoms ↑↓

Kawazu-zakura blossoms ↑↓

weeping cherry blossoms

Somei-Yoshino blossoms ↑↓

And then, usually in the middle of March, Somei-Yoshino cherry trees begin to bloom along with other types such as Oshima-zakura and so on. The petals of the Somei-Yoshino are white with a hint of pink in their center. It is the most popular and numerous variety now in Japan. 

The Somei-Yoshino is in fact a crossbred cherry, the origin of which is obscure, however, a lot of people say that it is a hybrid of Oshima-zakura and Edo-higan cherry trees. 

Oshima-zakura blossoms

The Somei-Yoshino was first cultivated in the Edo period by gardeners in a village called Somei in Edo (Tokyo). It takes its name from this village, and also from Mt. Yoshino, the most famous place for cherry blossoms in this country. 

The ones in Washington DC are also Somei-Yoshino. As the Somei-Yoshino cherry trees all over Japan and in other countries are supposed to come from cuttings originally taken from a single tree in the Edo period, all of them are in fact the clones of the original tree. 

Somei-Yoshino blossoms ↑ ↓

When I was in Kansai recently, I had a chance to go to Mt. Yoshino in Nara prefecture. Located in the deep forests of the Kii Mountains, Yoshino is one of the three sacred sites in the Kii Mountains range, which have been designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Surprisingly, there were few Somei-Yoshino cherry trees there.  Instead, mainly Shiroyama-zakura, a type of mountain cherry (yama-zakura) native to Japan, were in bloom there. ↓

cherry blossoms cover the whole mountain in Yoshino. 

Yoshimizu Shrine ↑↓

In the 14th century the shrine served as the temporary seat of Emperor Go-Daigo after he set up a competing imperial court (the Southern Court) at Yoshino. 

I ate sakura-flavored ice cream in Yoshino.

there were lots of tourists and hikers.

This year I saw sakura in bloom in cities and fields and on mountains. I think wherever they are, they always brighten up my heart. I'm sorry that cherry blossom season is almost finished leaving pink petal tapestries on the grounds. Oh I forgot -Double-flowered cherry trees are going to bloom soon. They are beautiful too! 

coming soon!