Taking advantage of the long weekend in July, I made a short trip to western Japan. One day was spent seeking peace at a zen temple with calming garden in front of its terrace. Entoku-in at Kodai-ji Temple
Inside the front door of the Entoku-in villa of Kodai-ji was a tray with a large square ice cube on it. It is about a cub about a foot long. It is the traditional way of treating guest in the summer in the very hot summer in this city. It may not be anything like the modern air conditioning, but more importantly it looks cool and that was the whole purpose, to visually please the guests.
One of the things that is impressive about those zen temples that were built by very wealthy persons back then is the level of perfection it goes to build that visual experience at perfection. Talking to one of the ladies assisting visitors inside the villa, I realise (to my naive ignorance) that back in the days when these villas were built there was no ceiling made of those shiny timber panels. I was a little annoyed by light fittings that looked out of place; but never had I found myself wishing the room did not have a ceiling panel as well. I was looking at the ceiling and how the reflected light and colours affect how the whole scene played out in front of the audience. But now that I started thinking about the room without the ceiling, I can imagine it would be more direct impact without the foreground that fight for attention.
Checked out the garden at Chion-in Temple a little way up north along Shijo Street. Unfortunately it was not as pleasing to me.
Shoren-In was another villa that I was hoping to check out. It was much warmer and the drizzle has long past so unfortunately the garden looked a bit dry and there were too many people indoors to allow me enough space to photograph the best view.
It would be nice to come back in the coldest part of the winter.
When I visited the beautiful historical town of Sawara, the people in town pointed at the posters on the wall and said I should come back to see the big festival. Arriving half way into the day’s procession, I found local people still as friendly and chatty, not stressed out or anything. I did not know the proceedings and asked people, and they’d still explain it to me so I could get some idea of where I want to be for the next shot. Yet, unlike those people who seem to have photographed the event year after year (and there are some photographers walking around, who seem to be in that category), I am not taking it so seriously. I was just looking for a casual day of capturing what hits my senses.
I stopped by at the bottle shop that I photographed last time. “Oh, the young man from Meguro. Welcome back.” the madam gave me a can of cold soda from the fridge. A welcome on a hot day like this. She smiles at my Osakan accent of Japanese, and yet again (as she did last time) said something about having to ring up the tea making school to renew her membership. Some form of traditional art, including some of tea making culture, comes from the old capital of Kyoto. I thanked for the drink as I headed out into the sun. After a couple of free drinks already I should bring some gift for them when I visit next time.
Like traditional summer festivals in many cities across this country, this festival in Sawara features each town rolling their ‘float’ or mobile shrine, from one shrine to main street. Each float represents a town in the city, pulled by young men and women of the area. Unfortunately, this town is not as affluent as it used to be in the peak years in Edo period, and it struggles to gather enough young people from each area to work on their float.
Each float has a historical character on top. But more than that I thought it was cool each one had a unique theme carved into the side of the stage. I liked this one – looks like those cute characters are pulling something, perhaps a float?
When I got to town, the floats just arrived in the town centre, after departing the shrine in the morning. Each shrine comes to a stop at the designated spot on the main street. After a brief break and some drinks, they start to set things up for the evening. Light fittings go up, screen windows are attached. Some of these is unusual, only happening on the ‘big festival’ that comes every 3 years. The lead walkers will be carrying hand-held lanterns. Nowadays, it’s all LED, they say.
Here, I met young girls who are taking a break with the lunch box provided from their team.
And the ladies who are looking after the McDonald’s take-out food. “Are you serious you’re photographing us like this?” they said when I asked to take a shot here.
Boys take a rare opportunity to get up to the stage of the float. Maybe in a few years we will see them pulling the float, with cotton towel twisted into sweat-stop ring at their forehead.
After a bit of break to let the sake go through their bodies, now it’s time to get back up. With a help of friend, he wraps and ties the belt around tightly.
The traditional dance music plays and only women lined up to dance in front of the float. Then the men get up to pull the first float on the line, comes to the intersection by the river, and make a well-coordinated spin-turn. As the float goes down the street towards where all the others are, the float that was second on the queue has a man standing on its roof. As the moving one passes it, the man on the roof pulled down the scroll, that read, “Thank you for taking the leading float role. We’ll take it from here.”. The moving float kept going till it got to the last of the queue. This is how they take turns of the leading, responsible float role.
The men are all up at floats and ready for the action. Visitors are taking spots along the street waiting to witness the action and photograph. I turned the corner and found a spot by the river where I could capture the float with traditional buildings in the background. While we’re waiting for the floats, more photographers came around. Among them was a small group of rather aged local photographers. Maybe they are from a local studio or working for a local publication and tourist information centre. They’re carrying a step ladder and one of them looked like an experienced photographer. His company, a senior lady with an SLR, however, does not seem to have a very good command of her equipment, as she kept turning up her head-mounted flash to full blast. Once it went off when my head was turned that way, almost blinding me! I wonder what kind of image she has in mind with such a flood light.
Unfortunately, my last train home departs as early as 8:40pm, with the next train 90 minutes later and not having connecting trains all the way home, I could not stay until the very end of the evening. Once away from the main street, it was calm and quiet, just another summer evening in the rural town. Next time, I should book a bed in the local inn and make the best of the long journey.
I stopped by at the popular soba noodle restaurant where I had a bowl, and got to the station.
On this sunny Saturday in the monsoon season, I headed out to one of the places I have been hoping to check out – the historical town of Sawara in Chiba prefecture. This city was established during Edo period when the samurai class ruled the nation from Edo (Tokyo) as its capital. Sawara was a town without a local warlords, or an autonomous city. Without the ruling class that only consume and do not produce, the city flourished as one of the most important provider for the populated capital down the river. So wealthy that it was described to exceed that of Edo.
As always, I did very little research before going, so as to keep my perception fresh and open. Google Maps gave me pretty inaccurate and confusing directions, taking something like 4 hours plus from my flat. But looking further into it, I found a high-way coach that departs from Yaesu Minami exit of Tokyo terminal, which costs only 1,750 for a non-stop expressway journey into the region in just about 1.5 hours. A few stops after leaving the expressway and passing the Katori shrine, the bus stopped at the centre of the historical area, where I jumped off. The town does not look like it was overly modified for the tourists. Some buildings had relatively new-ish look about them, with fresh kawara roof tiles and fresh white plaster wall, but peeking into the back street around the corner, it looked pretty promising for an authentic experience. Without a visitor guide in my hand, I just zig-zagged the back streets and came back out to the main street, in front of the old liquor warehouse/store. I was looking at the building square-on, trying to decide how I want to frame it, when from the open sliding glass door in the front stepped out the madam of the store, a senior lady, who invited me to come in and have a look inside as well.
This Kogo Saketen (liquor store) is used to visitors coming by with their cameras all the time, especially with the shop sign carved out of timber, and some more antique-value signs they have hanging inside the shop. The couple are really friendly people and offered me a glass of juice as soon as I walked in. They would tell me a lot of stories about how they are one of the only few store buildings that date back over all years – the city was mostly destroyed by the fire on the 25th year of Meiji (1892 AD) and some of the old buildings currently standing date back to the reconstruction after the fire. More recently the massive quake that hit the Eastern Japan dropped roof tiles (kawara tiles) and destroyed facade of some of those traditional architecture, which explains the new-ish look of the town when you walk by. This liquor store was a wholesale business, and those antique signs hanging inside with various liquor brand logos were the kind only authorised retailers of those drinks have after the signs were made and given to them by the liquor brands. They also used to make miso paste in a warehouse in the back, and the master remembers being a young man in his early teenager how the military would send young men to their factory, take plenty of miso they made there with them, into the base they didn’t know exactly where. The landing of the American forces were considered imminent and the military were preparing for it. Young students before the age of joining the military, like himself back then, would be collected to dig trenches behind the shore line in the darkness of the night. Now one of the only handful of really old business in town, the town’s office and history-obsessed academic students who come to town would ask them to keep the business going, instead of turning the old building into a history museum like similar businesses in other historical towns across the country do. For them who would call other 75-year-old liquor business owner ‘young’, it is no longer a practical business, and they only operate in a very small scale. They are happy to wake up and open up the shop to the public every day; they feel that would keep their mind clear. But delivering those heavy carton of drinks is not a realistic option for them now.
They were one of the few authorised retailer for Asahi Beer (formerly Sakura Beer). The old photo on the wall shows the front of the shop with a big Sakura Beer sign (I’m sure carved out of premium timber!), with more than a dozen staff standing around. The current master in front of me is the baby held in the arms of the man in the centre. In the same frame is another photo of a warehouse where they used to make miso paste. Asahi was not a popular choice when it comes to beer in Kirin-dominated market for a long time. How times have changed.
College kid from this region brought a few local high-school kids to hear the story of the couple who have lived through the war years.
They still sell miso by weight. This was how miso was sold for generations, but now everyone buys plastic-packed portions at supermarket. Just the other day some famous actors came with TV crew to interview them. I bought some, too, of course.
Tiger Calculator is a manually controlled billing typing machine of a sort. The lady has been using it for over 3 decades and it is still what she uses to finish her book.
This art-deco or whatever retro looking cash register has a number display at the top. That’s right – this is an electronic cash register, the kind that used to be at every shop front before the POS system, just having a fancy skin on it. It is an American product, and they show me an envelope with ‘NCR’ logo, full of English and translated user manuals. Initially she was a bit embarrassed about this and placed this behind a wall so it won’t be seen by many customers, but occasionally people would ask if they’re selling this. It can even work out the 8% GST. Easy!
This was my first visit to this historical town of Sawara. But I was immediately at home with lovely people talking to me. The town will host the first of early-summer festivals from the 10th to the 12th. Perhaps I could book a bed in a traditional ryokan hotel and enjoy the quiet street after dark and the view to the main street in the morning mist. Maybe…
I haven been rather lazy with my blog updates of late. I’ve been posting my photos from overseas trips on my travel blog as well as the facebook page. I got up on Sunday morning and decided I wanted to sit in a temple and look out to a view to the garden. I would know where I might find one in Kyoto, but here in Tokyo, I am still a little lost. Half an hour of playing with iPhone and I decided that Kamakura may have the best chance for what I was after. Quickly packing a couple of Fuji’s and a tripod, I walked to the train station. Kamakura turned out to be a very popular destination, especially now in the monsoon season when the flowers bloom around town.
The temple I was hoping to see was not open to public today due to some irregular maintenance work. Nearby at Kenchoji temple I came across this display of flower arrangements and spoke to the senior lady who is the teacher of the group. She kindly allowed me to photograph her works. Soon I was seeking permission to move the display tables around, opening screen doors to let in more light. I couldn’t say I had the most appropriate gear for this kind of setup, but when you are given a situation with limited equipment, you improvise.
They had another of such self-standing screen with calligraphy works; that became my white bounce to let in some more light around the side of the flower work. That was fun!
I said thanks to the flower teacher and this young lady for letting me photograph her up close while she was making tea for the guests, and I was on my way.
It is a town with plenty of history. The first shogunate government was formed in this town back in 1192, I learned in history class. There are signs of rich culture and the religion that went with the rise and fall of those families. I’ve only been here a few times but I feel there is so much to discover about Kamakura and certainly capture in my photographs in different times of year.
It’s been pretty busy winter but as it got a little warmer, I started photographing again. Yokosuka Navy Base was open to the public on their spring open day, but I skipped the long queue and walked around town. What is there to see? It is just a base right? Yokosuka itself is an interesting town.
I also checked out the cherry blossom for the first time in many years. When was the last time I was in Japan in spring time?
In the evening, towards the end of that week-long cherry blossom period, the petals blown away in the wind covered the surface of the river.
Just stepping out, not more than 10-minute walk away. But grab a camera anyway. It is there, waiting for you. The visual inspiration, the thing that touches on your string somewhere, the shock of the contrast, the beautiful melody of flowing movement, or just a cold statement of what it is. So grab a camera. Always have it handy with you. Doesn’t matter if you came home without a single shot clicked. It is also ok you take 200 frames and find none of them was presentable. The main thing is that your partner is always there with you. Your right hand holding the grip. It is enough to make sure your mind’s eye is open, aware or even looking for, things that you respond to. And when it does, stop your pace and look. What was that, just now? What did I see? Why did I feel something? See if you can condense it down to the crystal of it.
So I was just heading out for a hair-cut before going home to see my family in the other part of the country for the new year’s. It is a short walk to the hair salon. But I would be walking through this park next to my flat. OK, why not?
Sure autumn is long gone. I have leather gloves on even when I’m shooting. The beanie keeps my head under freshly trimmed hair warm. I am surprised so much autumn is still in town on the last days of the year. Maybe it was a bit of bonus to me after working long hours throughout the year. Well done, I kept a bit of autumn aside for you to remember. It is the favourite season of yours, it is the season you were born in. It is yours. For a moment I felt something was telling me that. That’s why I brought my camera up to my eye, to remember what struck me.
Happy new year, everyone! Grab your camera, keep your eyes open. The world is full of amazing inspirations.
Just looking for a place to kill the time for half the Sunday, I looked up Tokyo Art Beat for some ideas. This one came up, a former residence of a royal, full of Art Deco details. Unfortunately photography inside the building was not allowed on the weekend as it will block up the visitors’ path. Shame. It sure is a beautiful building. You got to check it out. 700 yen admission. Most photos are details taken from my table in the cafe. Still pretty good!
Check out some pretty images of the Art Deco building, and their hours on their website.
8 Dec: Fixed the typo in the title.