Chochin (堤灯) – Lanterns

Chochin ( 堤灯 ) — pronounced “cho・cheen” — lanterns.  Of course back in the day they were all candlelit.  I have an old one somewhere, one that used a candle.  Years ago, I so often expressed my fascination with them during my stint working at a middle school in rural Hyogo Prefecture that, as part of a “going away” load of gifts given to me by the town and teachers, I was presented with red lantern (akachochin・赤堤灯) with my name written on in in akachochin restaurant style (click the link just provided and look at the top photo, just over the fellow’s shoulder; in that style).  Chochin are, as mentioned, used to advertise restaurants, as store “billboards,” at shrines and temples (often all lined-up, on display, with shrine or temple donors’ names prettily painted on them), for festivals and holidays, or just general, around-town decoration.  Below are just a few of the very many chochin photos I’ve taken over the years.  Most are recently taken, from just the past five or six years and the photo quality varies. Click for larger image.



Okazaki Shrine, Kyoto. 2007.


Todai-ji, Nara. 2008.


Yasaka Shrine, Kyoto. 2008.


や。き。と。り。Restaurant, Tokyo. 2005.


Kabuki Theater, Shi-jo・Kawabata-dori, Kyoto. 2005.


Gift Shop, Kyoto. 2005.


Ryoan-ji Temple, Kyoto. 2010.


Along Marutamachi, at Okazaki Shrine. 2009.


“Akahige” – “Red Beard.” Restaurant on Kiyamachi. Kyoto, 2007.


Fushimi-Inari Taisha, Fushimi. 2008.


Yurakucho “Gahdohshita” restaurant, Tokyo. 2007.


“Takoyaki” (octopus fritters) hole-in-the-wall. Kyoto. 2007.


Gion - Kyoto - Chochin. 2007.

Gion – Kyoto – Chochin. 2007.


Kyo[to] Udon, Soba. Near Heian Shrine. 2003.

Kyo[to] Udon, Soba. Near Heian Shrine. 2003.


Just one more . . .

This is an “old one,” from 2003, out front of Nanzen-ji Temple in Kyoto -

Restaurant on way to Nanzen-ji Temple, Kyoto. Late Summer, 2003.

Black & White, and reflective all over . . .

Going through old and recent Japan photos lately.  This “gallery” has no theme, other than these are black and white photos that I’m fond of, or which remind me of places or times (usually both) that I’m fond of.  Enjoy.


Priests at Kurodani Temple. Kyoto. 2005.


Fence. Near Okazaki-Marutamachi. Kyoto. 2009.


Hang On. Subway handles. Osaka. 2003.


Rice Paddies. Between Kyoto and Kameoka. 2004.


Fushimi Inari. 2003.


Old Pine Limb Support. Near Kiyomizudera. Kyoto. 2008.


Kura (old storehouse). Between Maruyama & Ninenzaka. Kyoto. 2003.


From the Sagano (train) Line. Heading west from Kyoto. 2004.


B o n u s  .  .  .

In May of 2002 I and someone I used to know were walking down Kawabata-dori in Kyoto looking for a Korean barbeque place the proprietress of our inn had told us about.  We had just crossed Shi-jo — which, to our left, lead to the heart of the Gion District and to our right crossed over the Kamo River — and were walking down the sidewalk alongside side of the large, almost daunting, Minamiza Kabuki Theater when we looked up and saw a sort of blue-green light coming from the corner window of the top floor of a nondescript office building, which stood next to the kabuki theater.  It looked like a bar.  We walked on past and, sure enough, there was the restaurant we were looking for.  We went in an were immediately disappointed:  it was a huge, industrial-size, bright, cacophonous, jam-packed place.  It was not the intimate little spot we were hoping to find.  We walked right out again and back up in the direction from which we came.

As we passed back in front of the office building we glanced at the sign showing the various businesses and their corresponding floors housed there.  The bar we had spotted was called “Motown.”  We decided to check it out.  We rode the elevator up to the fourth, fifth?, floor and went it.  There may have been one or two people at the bar.  Otherwise, we were the only ones there.  The bartender was young and greeted us warmly.  The place interior was painted black, but not morosely so, more in a Gatsby-esque way.  Some Motown song, I forget what, was playing.  From the entrance you could see past the bar on your left and out the long, continuous window that faced west, looking out towards and across the Kamo River, and wrapped around the right side, giving you a view north, upriver, too.  And just outside the side window, but not obstructing the river view, was the hipped and gabled tile roof of the Minamiza Theater.  We decided to hang out there a while, have another drink, enjoy the view of Old Kyoto, watch the people below, have listen to The Temptations, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Smokey Robinson, and the like (you know, the way people do in Kyoto).

We ordered a couple very dirty vodka martinis and sat on tall stools that looked out the wrap-around part of the windows, looking down at the cars and pedestrians at the intersection of Kawabata and Shi-jo, and just past, up and down the Kamo River, and just past that, into Kyoto-proper the yuka restaurant decks that lined the west side of the river.

We visited Motown several times over the next couple years.  The photo below is from 2003 and shows the reflection of the Theater in the window that we first looked out a year before.  Motown’s not there anymore.  At least it wasn’t there last year, in august 2011, and I haven’t seen that strange but inviting light there over recent years and recent visits to Kyoto.  But I always look.

View & Reflection from Motown. Kyoto. 2003.

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A Quick Break from Bad Blood Between China & Japan.

I preface this by saying that before anyone gives me a hard time for  “not understanding the complexities and historical dimensions” of the China-Japan feud (attempted invasions, actual invasions, shocking atrocities, arrogance, real or feigned rage over historical events), please, I do get that.  I just want to do my infinitesimal part in creating more positive vibes . . .

Kobo Daishi, a/k/a Kukai

First, let’s go back 1200 years . . .

Since Esoteric Buddhism was relatively unknown in Japan, Kobo Daishi knew he must go to China in order to gain a better understanding of the Esoteric teachings.  Fortunately, Kobo Daishi was able to join a Japanese envoy in 804 that was traveling by boat to Xi’an (the capital of China at the time) to visit the Tang Dynasty. After spending some time in China, Kobo Daishi was given the opportunity to learn the essence of the esoteric teachings under a priest Huiguo, an authority on Esoteric Buddhism. Master Huiguo then initiated him into the Esoteric Buddhism tradition. It was truly remarkable that Kobo Daishi was able to master the complex esoteric teachings and be selected to be the eighth patriarch of Esoteric Buddhism in such a short period of time.

In spite of Kobo Daishi’s initial 20 year directive to study Buddhism in China, he returned to Japan after only two years with the mission from Master Huiguo to spread the teachings of Esoteric Buddhism throughout Japan.

Kobo Daishi returned to Japan in the province of Tsukushi (Fukuoka Prefecture), with a great number of religious textbooks and artworks. However, having disobeyed the 20 year directive from the government, he was not allowed to enter the capital city. After several years had passed, Kobo Daishi was finally permitted to enter the capital city. Immediately after being welcomed back into the capital city he proclaimed his devotion to propagating of the supreme doctrine of Esoteric Buddhism.

Kobo Daishi is also known as the father of Japanese culture. He is renown for his talents as a teacher, engineer, inventor, poet, calligrapher and creating the first public school in Japan. . . .

Read more here on the history and influence of China in Japan through Kobo Daishi

Bad relations between China and Japan suck.  I mean, they really rot (the bad relations, not the countries).  Makes me, and American, cringe.  I like both countries.  A lot.  But they’re both freaking out over each other now.  Here’s a recent piece on the latest Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands kerfuffle.  And today I just read where China’s refused to grant visas to three Japanese members of the Taiwanese National Symphony Orchestra on the eve of the Orchestra touring Mainland China.  Gad.

So, while it will do absolutely no good, I still feel compelled to offer-up this, an American tribute to both China and Japan, to Japan and China.  It may be silly, it may be naive, it may be superficial, but it’s still a really hep song, and it demonstrates that in other parts of the world lots of people think both countries are really cool and celebrate them both.

Bodhisattva – Steely Dan (1973)

Would you take me by the hand
Would you take me by the hand
Can you show me
The shine of your Japan
The sparkle of your china
Can you show me
Bodhisattva . . .



Prayers at the Temple of the Jade Buddha. Anshan, China. July 2008.


Over 1200 years ago Kobo Daishi — yes, the same guy who would go to China — founded To-ji Temple in Kyoto . . .

Prayers at Toji Temple. Kyoto, Japan. May 2008.

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Autumn in Japan ・日本の秋 — through the years.

A few years ago I posted an extensive, personal Autumn in Japan photo essay, updated here and there.  Instead of updating that piece again, I’m just sharing a few newly-found, but certainly not “new,” autumn photos taken over the years  (from 1984 and 2003). I’ve taken more recent ones, in more recent autumns in Japan, but I thought these would suffice for this year.  I may update if or when I run across more share-worthy photos.



Kinkaku-ji, the Temple of the Golden Pavilion. Kyoto. 1984


Tea Break During Rice Harvest. Tsuda. 1984.


On Jingu no michi, looking towards the Higashiyama. Kyoto. 2003.


Along Tetsugaku no Michi (“Philosopher’s Path”). Kyoto. 2003.

For much more on, and more photos from, Philosopher’s Path, click here.


Evening “light up” at Eikan-do Temple. Kyoto. 2003.

Eikan-do (see photo immediately above) is one of my favorite temples in Kyoto.  I highly recommend checking out Eikan-do’s website.  In May 2008 one of the head priests granted a group I was guiding an hour-long audience to discuss Eikan-do and some of the basic tenets of Buddhist theology and philosophy.  Disclosure:  I had a hand in editing one of Eikan-do’s web pages.

.          .          .

One, more recent, additional photo:

Facing North on Kawabata Street, Kyoto. November 2009.

Japan, China, the Senkaku Islands, & Ginned-up Rage.

Several of the Senkaku ・Diaoyu Islands

= 19 Sept 2012 Update:  as quickly as they began, China’s raging protests end. Beijing pulls the levers on both . . . =

= 25 Sept 2012 Update:  Now Taiwan, feeling ignored it seems, has gotten into the act. See photo below . . . =

So what’s going on between China and Japan and the Senkaku (Diaoyu to the Chinese) Islands?  Where are these islands and what’s behind all the rage and sabre-rattling?  This is no scholarly report, just a little update and primer for the casual reader who wants some background on this stormy  (and potentially very dangerous) controversy.  While looking at the information below, please keep the following things in mind:  1)  Virtually no protests — certainly not in front of foreign embassies — occur in China without government approval and, in matters such as this, organization; 2) China’s going through a Communist Party / National Government transfer-of-power drama which, if the populace were to pay a whole lot of attention to it, would no doubt showcase cronyism and ineptitude; 3) Japan has elections coming up, too, and no Japanese politician wants to be seen as “bowing” to Chinese demands.

From the Wiki:

The Senkaku Islands dispute concerns a territorial dispute on a group of uninhabited, the Senkaku Islands, which are also known as the Diaoyu by China or Tiaoyutai Islands by Taiwan.  The archipelago is administered by Japan, while also being claimed by both the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China [Taiwan] (ROC).   [Following World War II] The United States occupied the islands from 1945 to 1972. . .

After China lost the [first Sino-Japanese] war [in 1895], both countries signed the Treaty of Shimonoseki in April 1895 that stipulated, among other things, that China would cede to Japan “the island of Formosa together with all islands appertaining or belonging to said island of Formosa (Taiwan)”.

The treaty, however, was nullified after Japan lost the Second World War in 1945 by the Treaty of San Francisco, which was signed between Japan and part of the Allied Powers in 1951. The document nullifies prior treaties and lays down the framework for Japan’s current status of retaining a military that is purely defensive in nature. 

There is a disagreement between the Japanese, PRC and ROC governments as to whether the islands are implied to be part of the “islands appertaining or belonging to said island of Formosa” in the Treaty of Shimonoseki.

Map of the Disputed Islands.

Thousands of Chinese Protesters Besiege Japanese Embassy (Japan Today — September 15, 2012).  Excerpt:

“Return our islands! Japanese devils get out!” some shouted. One of them held up a sign reading: “For the respect of the motherland, we must go to war with Japan.”

Protester Liu Gang, a migrant worker from the southern region of Guangxi, said: “We hate Japan. We’ve always hated Japan. Japan invaded China and killed a lot of Chinese. We will never forget.”

Japan and China:  Ghosts of the Past (The Guardian — September 17, 2012).  Excerpt:

Left to their own devices, relations between Japan and China are bound to improve. Both economies need each other. China is Japan’s single largest trading partner and bilateral trade hit a record $345bn last year. But things in the East China Sea are rarely left to their own devices. A move by the Japanese government to defuse an attempt by nationalists to buy disputed islands in fish- and gas-rich seas, by buying them itself, has led to six days of demonstrations in China. Japanese cars and car dealerships have been attacked, factories have been torched or broken into. Hundreds of Japanese companies and offices have been forced to suspend operation.  And the biggest wave of protest since the two countries normalised relations in 1972 – there were demonstrations in 70 Chinese cities – is not over yet.

SEPTEMBER 25, 2012:

AP/Taiwan Central News Agency Photo [25 September 2012] — Japanese Coast Guard boats shoot water cannons at Taiwanese Coast Guard boats in the waters off the disputed islands. About 40 Taiwanese fishing vessels and 12 Taiwanese Coast Guard boats took part in the action, finally pulling away after the water cannonade.


North Korea: It’s Starting… A news round-up

Joyful North Korean Soldiers dance in April 2012 for now-ousted General Ri Yong Ho.

I’ve been watching the news coming out of North Korea rather closely since the last dictator, Kim Jong Il died last December.  Over the past week or so things seem to be moving (by North Korean standards) at light speed.  Here are recent headlines (with the kicker at the end):

+ July 13, 2012Who is North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un’s “Mystery Woman?”

+ July 15, 2012Is Kim Jong Un Opening Up North Korea?

+ July 16, 2012Top North Korean General Loses Job.

+ July 20, 2012Kim Plans Economic Reform in North Korea.

. . . and, in late-breaking news:  Kim [Jon Il's] Ex-Sushi Chef — “Kenji Fujimoto” — Invited Back to North Korea ( ! ).

My guess:  1. Jong Un went to school in Switzerland and didn’t want to look like a dork dictator in front of all his old classmates.  2. He’s got a hot, pop-singer girlfriend who’s just dying to make it big in South Korea and the West.  3. He wants to crawl out from under his dad’s and grandpop’s shadow.  4. He sees how the West turned on a dime with Myanmar/Burma once it began reforms.  5. Certain People in China told him it would be in his own best interest. Some combination of all that.

In 2005 I was in North Eastern China, not too awfully far from its boarder with North Korea.  Various adventures were had.  My last night staying in that part of China, though, I spoke with a local government official with some degree of frankness about the mood in China about North Korea.  This tale tells something of those several days in Anshan, China, with the payoff at the end, in re:  a “Practical North Korea.”


Philosopher’s Path, Kyoto ・京都の哲学の道.

Philosopher’s Path —  (Tetsugaku no Michi ・哲学の道), Kyoto.

It’s a walking path, a pedestrian trail, that runs about along a small canal (part of the Lake Biwa Aqueduct system) at the base of Kyoto’s East Mountain (Higashiyama ・東山).

Looking south along Philosopher’s Path. Autumn 2003.

Professor Kitaro Nishida (1870-1945) taught philosophy at Kyoto University from 1910 until 1928.  He famously strolled this Higashiyama canal path during his daily commute to the university and as he meditated reconciling Japanese and Western religious and philosophical tenants.  His most famous, and original, work was An Inquiry into the Good.*

Philosopher’s Path. Autumn 2003.

I enjoy all seasons, but autumn’s my favorite.  That said, with so many cherry trees lining Philosopher’s Path springtime and cherry blossom-viewing is perhaps most other people’s favorite time to walk the Path.  On some summer nights you can find yourself in virtual clouds of fireflies (hotaru・ホタル).  I haven’t walked Philosopher’s Path in the snow, yet, but can imagine the sublime beauty (and having it mostly to myself).

Philosopher’s Path on a warm May day, 2010.

Also along the path (especially as you get closer to Ginkaku-ji, the Silver Pavilion), you’ll find more than a few tea houses, coffee shops, souvenir shops, small boutiques and galleries.  On the southern end (right-hand side as you’re facing the eastern mountain) there’s Eikan-do temple, a beautiful place.  Philosopher’s Path also runs through some of Kyoto’s most expensive properties.  The photo below shows a garden entrance to one of the Houses of the Wealthy.  The view, though, is free . . .

Home. Along Philosopher’s Path. May 2010.


Map of Philosopher’s Path (and views of / links to nearby sites)

Just below this map click on “View Larger Map” and you’ll see it all much more clearly.  As you walk, this takes you from the east end of Marutamachi Street (丸田町道), across Shirakawa Street (白川道), up to Philosopher’s Path.  Note the other nearby sites, and some photos (click on the icon) to help you get your bearings:

.               .               .

Coming next:  Ginkaku-ji (銀閣寺), a/k/a  “The Silver Pavilion” (that’s not really silver):

The “Silver” Pavilion. May 2010.


* Excerpt from an review of  An Inquiry into the Good:

“Nishida’s approach to metaphysics, however, is unique.  Nishida was personally influenced profoundly by zen.  Zen is often suspicious of abstract, rational conceptions of reality and instead favors a method of “direct seeing” in approaching reality.  This is in direct contrast to the Western method of approach to questions about the nature of reality which rely primarily on logic and rational argument in attempting to determine or uncover the nature of reality. Nishitani Keiji summarizes these different approaches well in his book on Nishida. Nishitani writes, ‘The sense of quest…as it appears in Plato’s dialogues entails a spirit of inquiry aimed at the gradual discovery through dialogue of something new, something not yet known to the participants.  This spirit appears as the standpoint of pure reason that seeks to uncover something new and completely unknown, to discover according to the laws of logic.'”


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