There are plenty of temples and shrines in Japan — more than 1,000, actually — and each has a story as rich as the next. However, seeing a few in succession, especially in an afternoon wandering around Kyoto or Nikko, can numb the uniqueness of each individual one.
Definition: The feeling after one sees a large number of temples and shrines, particularly in short succession. Often followed by the consumption of beer or nihonshu.
Usage: After seeing five Shinto shrines this afternoon, I’m definitely shrined out.
The cure for this condition is quite unpredictable, but effective. When coming upon the next shrine or temple (here’s the difference between the two), you enter a setting that’s truly unique or hard to describe. It re-centers you, and renews your interest in learning the history and folklore embedded within.
Here are a few of those re-centering moments for me (clicking on each photo brings up more information about the location):
As is being reported in the news and across Twitter, a massive sandstorm from China is making its way across Japan this weekend. The thickest part just crossed over Tokyo, plunging the city into a strange yellow-colored darkness.
Below is the normal view from my apartment (photographed December, 2012), and then below that is the sandstorm and pollution-induced view as of 14:00 JST on March 10, 2013:
Update: Despite conflicting information, the Japan Meteorological Agency confirmed the origin of the aeolian dust storm was China as shown in this fairly convincing graphic:
If I mention “Mt. Fuji” to someone in Japan, the immediate response is often one of smiles, favorable gasps, and expressions of elation. Indeed, Fuji-san, as the Japanese affectionately call it, is a true legend.Mt. Fuji is the subject of many works of art, including the internationally-recognized “Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji” woodblock print series by Katsushika Hokusai. According to a journalist at Modern Tokyo Times, Hokusai-san believed “Fuji was symbolic of eternal life, a goddess having deposited the elixir of life on the peak“; a quote which may inspire you to view the whole collection of prints. And, of course, Fuji-san appears on many souvenirs, dishware, postcards, t-shirts, and even on the package for the special sakura green tea I buy for my family around the holidays. Actually seeing Mt. Fuji is an entirely different challenge, however. The top quarter is often shrouded in clouds, as the very cold temperatures at the summit mixing with the moisture in the prevailing winds creates a unique weather pattern. Since moving to Japan, I have tried repeatedly to see the symmetrical volcanic rim clearly, often to be disappointed by cloud cover, haze, building obstruction, or some other reason getting in the way. On any given day, hundreds of thousands will try to catch a view of Fuji-san, from as far away as downtown Tokyo to as close as the surrounding Five Lakes region formed from previous volcanic eruptions.
Thus begins Operation Finding Fuji:
Upon arriving in the slightly elevated city of Gora (500 meters above sea level) just outside Hakone around noon, the sky started to fill with clouds and the sun virtually disappeared. (This is generally how afternoons around Mt. Fuji end up.) The scenic train and cable car rides through the mountains made the journey well worth the time, and we decided to adjust the itinerary and see if the next morning yielded a better viewing result.
On Sunday, fueled with a belly full of tamagoyaki, shirauo, and tea, we rode a ropeway gondola and ascended to Owakudani (1,044 meters above sea level) while the morning air was still clear and crisp. The air had the distinct smell of sulfur dioxide being released into the air from the surrounding volcanic fumaroles. The conditions were perfect for accomplishing our goal. Upon walking to the crest of “Great Boiling Valley”, we struck gold. Victory!
Presenting the almighty Fuji-san, photographed yesterday:
Happy New Year!
Yesterday marked the beginning of year 4711, the Year of the Snake, and ushered in a 2 week-long celebration in China and other countries who observe the Lunisolar calendar like Vietnam and Korea. [If you want to practice your higher math skills, the creation and maintenance of the Chinese calendar should do the trick.]
Since Chinese New Year is not a holiday in Japan, a little travel is required to join in the revelry. Just south of Tokyo is Yokohama, home to Japan’s (and Asia’s) largest Chinatown and the epicenter of the New Year celebrations outside of China.
The streets were decorated with lanterns and filled to the brim with people trying to watch the ceremonial lion dance (“Cai Qing”) weaving through the neighborhood. In short, the lion does a dance in front – and oftentimes inside – of each shop and blesses the shopkeepers and onlookers. He collects the gifts of money hanging over the doorway in traditional red paper envelopes in his mouth and swallows them down. Firecrackers are set off and the crowd erupts in applause amidst the smoke and merriment. It’s a truly fun and amazing scene.
Below are some photos capturing the atmosphere: