Sunday, August 28, 2005

Kyoto Temples & The Fires of Obon

Kyoto lays claim to some of the oldest temples in Japan. The ancient city was one of the few spared bombing in World War II. Every year the Japanese celebrate their ancestors memory through Obon. Most businesses and schools close down for the week allowing everyone to visit temples and the local festivities. We traveled to Kyoto, which took about an hour, on the final day of Obon.

The first temple we came across was guarded by these ill-tempered fighting flying monks. Actually they were quite pleasent Buddhists, I think I could takem. They were going about there daily routine, which consisted of walking in groups and bowing at every shrine on their way. Must find out more about these flying monks.

One of the many shrines was dedicated to Buddha statues. Judging by the weathered stone these sculptures must be hundreds of years old. Some had been reduced to nothing more than a stone. Now you may be asking yourself "Hey Jeff, why is Buddha wearing a bib?" What a good question. The only explaination I have heard on the topic is that the red bib is supposed to `de-feminize` Buddha. Apparently, someone developed a complex that Buddha was looking to girly and decided to throw a apron on him. Lost yet...yeah ok good me too.

Also in celebration of Buddha they have dressed up the shrine in brilliant silk tapestries. The flowwing silk is meant to represent Buddha`s aura upon becoming enlightened. Very beautiful.

To the left there is a interesting shrine of feet engraved into the stone. I haven`t a clue on this one but, apparently people leave some yens for fourtune or prayer.

On the roof of most shrines you are likely to see these demons gaurding from evil spirits.

The Buddhist Temple was also the final resting place for many souls. If I had to guess I would say these grave markers were only for the Buddhist monks. They were very modest and tightly placed.

Just wanted to show you these photos of shrines being wheeled through the narrow streets of Imazato. This ritual is also apart of Obon.

They wheeled up to 10 shrines down the market ducking signs and dancing on top. Each shrine was equipped with drums and their own song or chant. When they approached another shrine they would stop and clap in unison as a sign of respect.

And now on to the main event. One of the main attractions of Obon takes place in Kyoto. Fires are set ablaze on the side of surrounding mountains in the form of enormous Japanese characters. This event marks the end of Obon. The first fire, and the most famous one, is daimonji (big character). This is the one I was able to get a good shot of. It is lit high up the slopes of Mount Daimonji on the east side of town, above Ginkaku-ji Temple. The other fires are myo (life), ho (Buddhist law), funagata (ship), and hidari daimonji (the left daimonji fire).

At the top of the mountain (Mt. Daimonji) in the background you can make out a clearing that has the character for `BIG`.

Below is the same mountain around 9 o`clock at night. The fires only take about 5 minutes to lite before you can make out the character miles away.

It seems the fires were first set by a monk for reasons that are still under speculation. Some accounts believe they were set to rid the area of disease by burning the bodies of those affected by the plague. Others say the fires are set to provide the dead with helpful roadsigns on their way back to the afterlife since all the partying of Obon is concluding. Lanterns were also set adrift down the rivers to guide the spirits along. Many other fires were set but, because of the sheer size of the event we were only able to see a few of the fires. Crowds filled the banks and spilled out onto the streets once again. We made it home safe and sound. The Obon fires were certainly an impressive sight. I have a feeling we will be returning to Kyoto to visit the many shrines and temples that populate the area. Check out Erin`s site to see photos of our daytrip to Kobe, a harbour town just West of Osaka. Til next time...

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

So this is Heaven...

So this is Minoh. We were drawn to this beautiful place with promises of wild monkeys and a 100ft waterfall. Minoh is perched far upon a mountain. A town with a constant incline. Children here come well equipped with extendable nets for catching crawfish and yes minnows. The narrow road toward the waterfall snakes along the river it feeds into. The path is lined with family homes, the occasional shrine and a temple. Many paths branch off from the main road and lead to hidden shrines or treasure of sorts but, the all end at the waterfall.

The waterfall stands 100ft before you and you become silent. Many people are there...all lost in their own thoughts...
losing themselves. Perhaps thinking back to the awesome power of an ancient earthquake ripping apart the river to make such a beautiful sight to behold. I visit there often day to day.

There`s Erin taking in the sights. If you look to her left you will see a sign there that must say STAY OUT or something to that effect. I know because I crossed the point of no return and was told to go back by the patroling peoples. This is a most beautiful place and I plan to return not just in my mind.

Then just as we were leaving, satisfied having taken in the waterfall, we come across a family of wild monkeys. This is the first time I had ever seen monkeys outside of a zoo. Aparently it would be comparitive to seeing a deer in the U.S. They just sauntered out of the wood and sat by the river eating anything that was green. Amazing!

And now for another monkey not too far removed from those above.

I had Erin catalog my camera`s long awaited arrival. There it is in a box that looks like it had been thrown from one side of the World to the other. The wonders of duck tape never cease to amaze! I am right in the middle of saying `Hai` like a ninja blade ready.

Hey! Cheez-Itz! And my hat, a bit crushed but here for the stylin. Ahh Cheez Itz a very hot commodity around here since they don`t exist. It kinda makes me feel like flexing........

And then there she eyes and the viewfinder met and it was love at first sight. The Nikon D70s how I will strive to know her ways. My first digital SLR could not have come at a better time. My Minolta basic lens decided it was time and konked out with grace. I can`t thank you guys enough. It is the perfect gift for a place that everything I lay my eyes upon is new. Thank you so much!

But do you work this thing?

I have been reading the manual and learning all the amazing things it can do and I have literally taken hundreds of pictures already. I will be posting them soon. Episodes to come Japanese graffitti, Me becoming a true Osakan by eating octopus balls, Kyoto Festival for Obon (its like Halloween) and our new apartment. Check out Erin`s blog to see more fotos! Til the next episode...Happy Obon!

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Meeting with a Whale Shark and assorted fisheries

Osaka Aquarium boasts the largest marine creature on display, the Whale Shark! I`ve only seen footage of this guy on the discovery channel before now. It was about 25ft long with a posse of lesser fish following him around. The tank they eld him in was ginormous. It took up three floors and was filled with numerous rays, sharks, tuna, and schooling fishes. Amazing! Yet still more exciting exhibits lay right ahead...

Next we approached a very dimmly lit habitat. What ever you do do not turn on the light....AHHHHHHh!!!!

Check out that creepy crawller>>>

It was like looking upon aliens for the first time. Feasting on something toward the center, moving in slow motion, the smaller ones getting the hell out of the way of the larger ones. What do I mean larger ones? Let me show you...

Look at the size of that thing! IF it streached out its claws I bet it would have a 10ft reach. Imagine that thing tapping you on the shoulder 100ft down. Lastly I have a couple of photos from the jelly fish exhibit. Sometimes you can click on these photos to enlarge. Its hit or miss.

These guys are just beautiful. There is no other way to put it.

Couldn`t elp but get abstract with the luminiscent tenticles...

After the aquarium Erin and I went to a swanky curry place and had a great meal followed up by tea and these things. The owner, a sweet woman, leaned over and just said "Japanese snack"

It`s great to have snacks that have a sense of trepidation that they are about to be eaten.

So that was our trip to Osaka Aquarium! I hope you enjoyed it as much as we did. On an unrealated final note, here is a shot of the four of us enjoying our first home cooked meal at our new apartment. On the roof, baby!