Hikone Castle, overlooking the eastern shore of Lake Biwa, is one of only 12 original castles in Japan. But how original is a castle said to be made largely of materials recycled from other, earlier castles? The answer is, pretty darned original. Hikone castle was completed in 1622, after nearly 20 years of construction. It … Continue reading Hikone Castle: a recycled original
My love of kimono is really a love of the amazing fabrics used to create the garments. Traditionally silk (though inexpensive polyester versions are also available these days), the patterns on the cloth are sometimes woven in, sometimes stamped or hand painted on, sometimes embroidered, and sometimes dyed. Some very complex designs are a combination … Continue reading A Dyeing Art: Kyoto-style Shibori
Pirates! These days the word evokes various images from Captain Hook and Long John Silver to Johnny Depp and Captain Phillips. Asia, too, has its pirates, both ancient and modern. Since September 19 is "International Talk Like A Pirate Day", this seems a good time to talk about pirates in Japan. Oh yes! Japan has … Continue reading Avast! There be pirates in these waters!
It's easy to see where this rock formation near the southernmost tip of the Kii Peninsula gets its name: the Bridge Pier Rocks. The straight line of craggy points of rock heading offshore toward Kii Oshima island looks like the remnant piers of a long-lost bridge to the island. So much so that it's hardly … Continue reading Hashigui-iwa: rocks that are the stuff of legend
It all started in the middle of the 9th century. Summer was always the season for increased disasters: illness, floods, and devastating fires. So the emperor ordered people to offer prayers for relief at Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto's Gion district. Before long, the prayers were being offered with such regularity that the people made an … Continue reading Gion Matsuri – centuries-old purification rites (and a great summertime party)
Kyoto was the imperial capital of Japan for over a thousand years (although there are locals who say Kyoto is still the capital and the emperor is just on a business trip to Tokyo). It is this long history, and in particular, the religious and cultural sophistication that developed over the centuries, that still attracts … Continue reading Murin-an: a glimpse of fin de siècle Kyoto
Dorokyo Gorge is a deep valley carved by the waters of the Kitayama River. The gorge sits in the Yoshino-Kumano National Park at the point where Wakayama, Nara and Mie prefectures meet on the Kii Peninsula. The vertical cliffs at the deepest part of the gorge make it difficult to access...unless you go in by … Continue reading Amazing Scenery in Dorokyo Gorge
It is a few seconds past midnight. The temple bell rings once, its low sonorous tone echoing across the heads of the people in the crowd gathered at the foot of the belfry. The priest who had rung the bell steps out of the belfry, bows to the crowd and says "akemashite omedeto gozaimasu" (happy … Continue reading Magic at midnight: Seeing in the new year Japanese style