Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Zen Rock Garden at Ryoan-ji

Temple of the peaceful dragon, better known as the Ryoan-ji Temple is in the northwest section of Kyoto, not far from Kinkakuji.

When we entered the temple grounds, we strolled past the beautiful Kyoyochi ("mirror shaped") Pond. This pond was created in the 12th century. It is home to many waterbirds, and until recently to many Mandarin ducks - so much so that the pond was generally known amongst Japanese as "Oshidori ike" - the pond of mandarin ducks. They say that Oshidori ducks only choose one mate during their life so if the partner bird dies, the duck never mates with other birds. How romantic!=)

Kyoyochi Pond

posing as ducks in the pond =P

leading to the rock garden

Ryoan-ji is famous for its Zen Garden. It is actually a very simple rock garden, consisting of nothing but white gravel, sand, and 15 rocks. This rock garden, however, is considered to be one of the absolute masterpieces of Japanese culture.

Why? The garden is constructed in the "dry landscape" style called Karesansui. The garden contains 15 rocks arranged on the surface of white pebbles in such a manner that visitors can see only 14 of them at once, no matter what angle the garden is viewed from. It is said that only when you attain spiritual enlightenment as a result of deep Zen meditation, can you see the last invisible stone. Interesting,eh?

When Nunu and I were there we didn't know this fact so we were wondering why a lot of people were staring so intently into the rock garden! I wasn't able to take pictures of it too.

Check out this link for a photo of the rock garden:

I learned later on that it can't be photographed in its entirety, the dimensions would drive any photographer mad! To my untrained eye at that time, it was just a simple, charming rock garden. I should have paid more attention.

The Kuri or monk's quarters in Ryoanji is also interesting. It is attached to the Hojo by a wide wooden corridor. The Hojo is the Abbot's quarters.The Hojo has 6 tatami matted rooms each of which open onto the wide veranda that surrounds the building.


Next: more of Japan!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Trying out the Japanese nightlife

When traveling to another country, we make sure to check out one of the most important activities in modern history - the nightlife! A city is not really a city without one, right? And the best people to show you around are the locals, of course!

And so we met up with friends of a friend; two pretty and exciting Japanese girls to help us paint the town red ;)

the gang

bar entrance


We had to ask the waiter for a picture with him!

outside the bar

looking for another bar

uhmmm...too much saki? or beer?

After A-bar, we can't find another bar to go to as they were all crowded. And since we were in Japan, we had to try the karaoke bars! So we went karaoke bar hopping instead. We had so much fun, thanks to the girls! =)

you won't believe this - there were tagalog songs in the list!

Kagarii rocks!


Nunu and Kumi

Tokyo, Ryoan-ji

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Kyoto Imperial Palace

Kyoto Imperial Palace (Kyoto Gosho) used to be the residence of Japan's Imperial Family until 1868, when the emperor and capital were moved from Kyoto to Tokyo.

The palace complex is enclosed by a long wall and consists of several palaces, gates, halls and gardens.The Sento Imperial Palace is one of them.


Nunu and I chanced upon this castle while looking for another castle; I don't remember anymore which castle we were originally looking for though. We were arguing while entering the complex and I was blaming him for making me walk for miles just to go to the wrong place!

We made an old Japanese guy (sitting in one of the benches) take this picture

This place is huge with several gates. Nunu and I got lost and eventually found Macdonalds outside the complex, where we stayed for a long time just to rest and eat. =P




Next: night-out in Kyoto

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Nijo Castle - shoguns and ninjas

When I first saw the Nijo Castle, images of ninja's and shoguns played in my mind. The Nijō Castle has two concentric rings of fortifications, both consisting of a wall and a wide moat - making it the perfect venue for hollywood action movies showing life in imperial Japan.


The Ninomaru Palace (literally means second castle) inside the Nijo Castle is famous for its Momoyama architecture, decorated sliding doors, and floors that squeak like nightingales when someone walks on them - obviously a security measure against intruders.



When the floor is trod upon, the cramps under it move up and down, creating friction between the nails and the cramps which hold them in place,causing the floor to squeak, thus the name Nightingale Floor.



Next: Imperial Palace

Friday, March 7, 2008

The Golden Pavillion

One of my favorite temples in Japan is Kyoto's Kinkaku-ji or The Golden Pavillion Temple.

The Golden Pavillion is a three-story building on the grounds of the temple. The top two stories of the pavilion are covered with pure gold leaf because it functions as a shariden - housing the relics of the Buddha. The pavilion is set in a magnificent Japanese strolling garden (kaiyū-shiki)and there's a beautiful pond in front of it called Kyōko-chi (Mirror Pond). It is said that the many islands and stones on the pond represent the Buddhist creation story.

The pavilion was burned down by a monk in 1950, who then attempted suicide on the hill behind the building. He survived but during the investigation his mother was called in to talk to the police. Strangely, on her way home, she committed suicide by jumping from her train into a river valley. The monk was sentenced to seven years in prison and eventually died of illness in 1956. The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, a book written by Yukio Mishima's (in 1956) recreates the story behind these events.

book stall within the temple grounds




Here you have to throw a coin into the offering box, bow deeply twice, clap your hands twice, bow deeply once more and pray for a few seconds. If the coin lands into the bowl in the center, your prayer is granted!


Purification fountain. You're supposed to take one of the ladles provided, fill it with fresh water and rinse both your hands and transfer the water into your cupped hand, rinse your mouth and spit the water beside the fountain. This is a ritual we didn't know then so we skipped it. Haha!

Next: Ryoan-ji Temple, famous for its Zen garden

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Kyoto Part 2

Our next stop in Kyoto is one of the oldest shrines in Japan, Shimogamo.

Within Shimogamo is a famous sub-shrine called Kamomioya - jinja. It literally means the “Shrine of the Meeting of the Rivers,” as it stands near the confluence of the Kamo and Takano rivers. It is dedicated to Tamayori-hime, the mother of Japan’s first mythic emperor, Jimmu. She is revered for her naijo no ko, the fact that she helped her son with his great endeavor of establishing the dynasty (naijo no ko, helping husband or son along, was the highest position women could aspire for in old Japan).

Structures typically found at Japanese temples are the main hall, the lecture hall, pagodas, gates, bells, and cemeteries.

It was New Year's day when we visited so there were a lot of preparations going on - and a lot of tourists too.

temple's gate

the main hall

near the main hall

I think this is the lecture hall

There were a lot of stalls just right outside the temple. They sell all sorts of stuff, from saki to okonomiyaki to traditional Japanese clothing to strange toys. The air was very festive as this is where most Japanese spend New Year's eve.Of course, Nunu loved it so much because the entire place smelled like food!


Nunu looking for more food



It was getting too cold for us so we decided to go back to our hotel and rest for a bit. I'll show you more pictures later! =)

Next: more shrines and temples! I just can't get enough of them =P

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Kyoto - the most beautiful city in Japan

We're back!!! As promised, here's the continuation of our Kyoto adventure! Thanks to Vicki for inspiring me to write again =)

Kyoto is just the most beautiful city I have ever seen. I loved it so much that we had to go there twice.

Formerly the imperial capital of Japan, it is now the capital of Kyoto Prefecture, as well as a major part of the Osaka-Kobe-Kyoto metropolitan area. It is nestled among mountains in Western Honshu and if you fly straight to the Kansai/Osaka Airport, it is very easy to reach. It is less than 30 minutes away by train.

With its 2000 Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, as well as palaces, gardens and architecture intact, it is for me, the best preserved city in the world. It is also modern, chic, and urban. Kyoto Station is proof of that - the second-largest in Japan, it has a shopping mall, hotel, movie theater, department store, and a lot of restaurants under one steel and glass roof. Kyoto's municipal bus network and subway systems are extensive and confusing.

Kyoto Station

We got one-day/two-day bus pass when we were there but a combined unlimited train and bus pass are also available. There are English buses for tourists everywhere though, so it is easy to go around. You can even rent a bicycle if you want.

There are also a lot of hotels and budget inns for tourists with low budgets like me and Nunu! Econo Inn Discount Hotel (for backpackers) has Western-style private rooms and all of them have bathtubs (tiny but okay), air-conditioners and TV. They also offer discounted room rates if you stay for more than 1 night. Nunu and I loved it here because it's cheap and clean! =)

Our modest hotel room in Kyoto

Our view

view from the other side

Temples and Shrines

The walk through a forest of bamboo to Nonomiya Shrine and Okochi Sanso (a traditional house) in Arashiyama Park is something that Nunu kept on talking about months after we have arrived home.



bamboo forest


some picture Nunu took while bicycling around

Japanese shop inside the park

Japanese cemetery

Sanjusangen-do is one of a kind. It was founded in 1164 and became famous for its 1001 beautiful wooden and gold-leaf covered statues of Kannon, goddess of mercy, housed in thirty-three bays (sanjusan = thirty-three, gendo = bays) in the main hall. Unfortunately, they don't allow cameras inside the temple. But I'm telling you, the statues inside were simply breathtaking! Check out this link for pictures inside the temple:

don't be fooled; it looks sunny but it's actually neg 5 degrees!

Don't move yet, taking another picture!

My turn ;)

Thanks to Aves' mom for telling us about Sanjusangen-do, it is beautiful.

drinking station

still in Sanjusangen-do

Nunu's tired and cold already

You know what, I'm getting tired too. Maybe we can walk again tomorrow? We still have to visit a lot of temples so we have to conserve our energies. =P

I promise, I will post more pictures soon! I promise! =PPP

Next: Shimogamo, Golden Pavillion, etc...