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Irises

Irises*

As I walked through my neighborhood yesterday (one of those cool but not cold, tantalizingly Almost Spring days) I spotted something that immediately took my mind to Ogata Korin, the 17th and 18th Century Rimpa Master (I’m sure this happens to us all).  Here’s what I saw yesterday.  You can see the sidewalk running by on the left-hand side of the photo:

Irises. 7th Avenue South. March 9, 2013.

Irises. 7th Avenue South. March 9, 2013.

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This is a detail of one of Korin’s (1658-1716) six-panel screens (byoubu – 屏風), Irises:

Korin (1658-1716). Irises.

Korin (1658-1716). Irises.

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Last month, in the post immediately preceding this one, I went to town with a homage to and much nostalgia about Kamisaka Sekka (1866-1942), also a Rimpa Master, but who brought the school into and modernized it for and with the 20th Century.  Sekka painted irises, too, in the 20th Century.  Here’s one of his “Irises,” which is a photo of a Sekka post card I bought about ten years ago at the Kyoto National Museum of Modern Art:

Sekka (1868-1942). Irises.

Sekka (1866-1942). Irises.

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Almost five years ago, in May 2008, I guided a group of University of Alabama-Birmingham students, a history class, through Kyoto, Nara, Himeji, Hiroshima and elsewhere in southern Japan.  I can’t take all credit because I merely worked together as a team with the class’s excellent professor.  At any rate, we — the professor and I — took the class to Kinkaku-ji, the Temple of the Golden Pavilion, in Kyoto.  One of those “must see” places in Kyoto.  I had been many times before.  Even though the day was a bit overcast, the irises were bang-on beautiful.  It should be noted:  both Korin and Sekka were from Kyoto and would have certainly seen the irises of Kinkaku-ji, as I have and you are about to  .  .  .

Kinkaku-ji. Kyoto. May 2008.

Kinkaku-ji. Kyoto. May 2008.

If you look at the extremely right-hand side, mid-picture, of the photo above, you’ll see irises.  The photos below are of those same irises.

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Irises at Kinkaku-ji, Kyoto. May 2008.

Irises at Kinkaku-ji, Kyoto. May 2008.

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Irises and Kinkaku-ji.  Kyoto.  May 2008.

Irises and Kinkaku-ji. Kyoto. May 2008.

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*There are both wet and dry-land iris varieties.

Sekka (雪佳神坂) – Ten Years Since Kyoto・L.A.・Bhm

光陰矢のごとし

Time flies like an arrow . . .

Late August 2003  —  Our day started in Birmingham, Alabama.  A flight to Detroit. Then Northwest (back when there was a Northwest) Flight 69 to Kansai International Airport, out in Osaka Bay. Then the Haruka Line:  fifty-five minutes by train from the airport, through Osaka and inland to Kyoto.  That ended our day’s trip.  It was her fourth or fifth visit to Japan, my eighth or ninth (though my first to trips were to live in Japan, years before). We were there on an antiquities buying trip for our business.  We were also there to be on hand at the Kyoto National Museum of Modern Art‘s August 29 opening of the Kamisaka Sekka exhibition.  A retrospective of the artist’s work that would almost mirror the journey we had just made.  In other words, it would begin in Kyoto and wind up in Birmingham.  I was to make a speech at the opening, just some remarks, actually.  On behalf of the Birmingham Museum of Art‘s Asian Art Society, which my then-wife and I served as co-presidents.  I would make my remarks in Japanese.

Sekka Exhibition Poster. Train near Kyoto. 2003.

Sekka Exhibition Poster. Train near Kyoto. 2003.

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After several months in Kyoto the Sekka Exhibition traveled to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and, then it came to Birmingham, where its Asian Art Curator had originated the idea for a comprehensive Sekka Retrospective.

Ticket. Birmingham Museum of Art Sekka Exhibition. 2004.

Ticket. Birmingham Museum of Art Sekka Exhibition. 2004.

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Kamisaka Sekka (1866-1942).  Sekka was a native of Kyoto.  His life spanned four Japanese Eras:  the last couple years of the Edo Period (1603-1867), the Meiji Period (1868-1911), the Taisho Period (1912-1925), and the couple decades of the Showa Period (1926-1989).  The Edo Period was marked by the multi-generational reign of the Tokugawa Shoguns, with a succession of Emperors “ruling” as virtual captives of the Tokugawa Generalissimos.  Japan was almost entirely closed off, isolated from the rest of the exploring and developing world during this 250-plus year period.  But art and artists and artisans thrived.  When the Emperor was “restored” to the throne in 1868 and a new era of Constitutional Monarchy began in Japan, the country exploded with foreign ideas and influences — from political, to technological and industrial, to military, to fashion and design, to social, to artistic.  This was the era, the Meiji Period, Kamisaka Sekka came of age in.  However, he was an artist steeped in 1,000 years of quite Japanese expressive traditions; traditions of form, style, technique, iconography.  Sekka’s was the Kyoto-based Rimpa School (tradition, or style), which flourished during the latter two-thirds of the preceding Edo Period.  Many Rimpa School works define to both Japanese and foreigners alike a great part of the “look” Japanese art.  The Rimpa School often borrowed from both ancient Japanese (Heian Era — 794-1185)  and Chinese styles, then modernized and updated (to the 17th through 19th Centuries) the classic techniques and subjects.  Much of what is considered “classic” Rimpa style is bold, sweeping, dramatic and often near-abstract, though the subject of the painting (whether on screens, sliding doors, fans, or boxes) is never in doubt.

Here’s Korin’s “Irises,” a classic Rimpa work:

Irises. Korin Ogata (1658-1716).

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Working within the general Rimpa style, Sekka took that Rimpa “look” and made it his own, updated it again, often gave it a touch or whimsy, irony or humor that was rarely employed by earlier Rimpa Masters (but, in fact, harkened back to an artistic mindset not uncommon back in the 12th and 13th Centuries — see, for example, the “Chōjū-jinbutsu-giga”).  Whether in painting, woodblock carving, screens, textiles, ceramics, furniture or other media, Sekka took a style that was of  17th and 18th Century Japan and made it accessible to and of the 20th Century.  And that’s what made Sekka so important as a master, perhaps the Master, or at least, as the exhibition called him, “Pioneer,” of modern design in and for Japan.

Sekka’s Puppies and Snail (1920):

Puppies and Snail. 1920. Kamisaka Sekka.

A few more Sekka images .   .   .

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Kyoto Opening, August 29, 2003 —  The exhibition’s first stop was the Kyoto National Museum of Modern Art (京都国立近代美術館). Along with the Birmingham Museum of Art’s Curator, I and my then-wife represented the BMA and City of Birmingham at the opening.  According to my contemporaneous notes, the opening crowd numbered 534 Sekka enthusiasts.  According to this article in ArtDaily.com, the exhibition “opened to record crowds” that night in Kyoto.  I had been asked to offer a few remarks to the crowd during the short opening ceremony, which I did in Japanese, although I’m ashamed to say that it was one of my less-stellar performances.  Still, the crowd was polite and they came for the art, not to test my Japanese speech-making skills.  What was sort of funny was that about nine months later, when the exhibition opened at the Birmingham Museum of Art, my wife and I were just two people in the crowd; our “VIP” status long gone.  Immediately below is a photo featuring several of the six people (myself included) whom the Kyoto National Museum of Modern Art treated to an exceptional dinner follow the August 2003 opening.

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Post- Exhibition Opening Party, Kyoto. August 29, 2003. faces purposefully cropped-out.

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Kamisaka Sekka Exhibition Poster. Yanagi Antiques, Kyoto. 2003.

Kamisaka Sekka Exhibition Poster. Yanagi Antiques, Kyoto. 2003.

Edo-Kyo (江戸京)

Edo-Kyo (江戸・京) is a sushi-sashimi restaurant tucked down at the bottom of some off-street stairs along San-Jo street in Kyoto.  To get to it begin at the several-storied CD & DVD store at the corner of Kawabata and San-jo. Walk down San-jo past The Pig & Whistle. Edo-Kyo just a couple dozen steps further, on the same side of San-Jo as the CD store and Pig & Whistle.  Look for the sign on your left, then go down the stairs, through the split curtains (“noren“) and through the door into the restaurant-proper.

Top of the stairs Edo-Kyo sign and entrance.

Top of the stairs Edo-Kyo sign and entrance.

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Down the stairs. . .

Down the stairs. . .

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Master sushi chef, Jun-san, welcomes all patrons. . .

Master sushi chef, Jun-san, welcomes all patrons. . .

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Featured in a chapter of my upcoming book:

Edo-Kyo combined Tokyo’s old name “Edo” with the first half of “Kyoto”, designating a wide-ranging cuisine of sashimi and sushi and lightly grilled seafood.  It’s a single, white room with one long bar to the left and a with a contemporary calligraphic work spanning the entire, long wall to the patron’s right as they enter, having come down a set of stairs and through a door from the street above.  Cool jazz plays low and all chefs, servers and patrons speak in equally low, reserved voices – because you want to, not because you have to.  It’s a Comfortable Place, friendly and not pretentious.  There’s no fresher sushi in town.  It’s expensive, though.  I always had the vinegared octopus salad.  We both enjoyed the various cuts of tuna sashimi.  The flame-grilled scallop, with sea salt and lemon, is worth a trip to the other side of the world. . . .

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And while, yes, the scene painted in the excerpt set out immediately above was one I shared with my former spouse, I’ve visited EdoKyo many times over the intervening years with Japanese friends, with the Chair of the Department of Criminal Justice at Texas Christian University, with the Executive Director of the Jackson County (Alabama) Economic Development Authority, the (now retired) President of Nippon Steel & Sumikin-Intercom, and various other friends and acquaintances.  EdoKyo’s simply a favorite spot and I’ll oh-so-lament the day I go and find out it’s no longer there.

2013 ~~ Happy Year of the Snake! (へび年)

Happy New Year . . .

明けましておめでとうございます

Ah*ke*ma*shi*te    Oh*meh*de*toh    Goh*za*i*mas

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According to the Chinese calendar, 2013 is the Year of the Snake.  This ancient calendar runs in 12-year cycles.  2012 was the Year of the Dragon and 2011 was the Year of the Rabbit.  2010, the Tiger.  Below you’ll see a photo of a snake, a young cottonmouth, I took in the U.S. Deep South Alabama earlier this year.

Cottonmouth.  In the Deep South piney woods.

Cottonmouth. In the Deep South piney woods.

Positive and negative attributes of persons born in a Year of the Snake (2001, 1989, 1977, 1965, 1953, 1941 . . .) -

 *  Positive: The Snake can be amiable, compromising, fun-loving, altruistic, honorable, sympathetic, philosophical, charitable, a paragon of fashion, intuitive, discreet, diplomatic, amusing and sexy.

*  Negative: The Snake can also be self-righteous, imperious, judgmental, conniving, mendacious, grabby, clinging, pessimistic, fickle, haughty, ostentatious and a very sore loser.

Quoted in toto from this site.

More characteristics (which I quote from the same, above-linked site) of persons born in a Snake Year:

The person born in the year of snake is the wisest and most enigmatic of all. He/she can become a philosopher, a theologian, a political lizard or a wily financier. Such person is a thinker who also likes to live well. The snake – person loves books, music, clothes, and fine food; but with all his fondness for the good things of life, his innate elegance gives him a dislike for frivolities and foolish talk.

They like communicating and like interesting conversations, although if the conversation becomes repetitive their attention may soon wander. It is almost impossible to fix their attention for long talking about the weather. They prefer to focus on new interesting unusual ides and intelligent discussion in general.

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Your author actually has a little, recent, history with snakes in Japan.  Below is a photo of yours truly, taken at the City of Hitachi’s Kamine Zoo in 2008.  They thought I’d be all scared and freaked out by having a snake hung round my shoulders.  They had little idea that I spent much of my childhood in the woodsy wilds of South Alabama .  .  .

Yours Truly, at Kamine Zoo. Hitachi, Japan. 2008.

Yours Truly, at Kamine Zoo. Hitachi, Japan. 2008.

Here are a few ways the Year of the Snake is being commemorated and celebrated in Japan:

“It’s a great year, you know!”

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So, Happy Year of the Snake and Best Wishes for Health and Prosperity in 2013!

One Roll of Black & White Film in Kyoto

The eleven photos below come from one roll of film.  I shot it in Kyoto in mid-February 2003.  As the receipt (see very bottom) shows that I turned the roll in on February 18th, I suspect I shot this roll earlier that same day, beginning very early in the morning, when it was still dark (note that the the pick-up time says 6:00 p.m. the next day, the 19th).  Or I may have shot this roll over the course of two or three days.  I’m not sure.

Note that it was rainy and overcast.  Kyoto’s beautiful like that, too. (click pic for larger image)

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Yasaka Shrine.

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Gion.

Gion.

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Gion Shinhashi. Shirakawa.

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Gion Shinhashi 2.0.

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Elvis, Yamamoto & Takayama: Love and Politics.

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Fence and Pine.

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Lake Biwa Canal.

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Dai Torii at Heian Shrine.

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Gion. 5.0.

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Kurodani Temple.

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Kamogawa (The Kamo River).

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My receipt for the roll of film.

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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.

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Okazaki Shrine, Kyoto. 2007.

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Todai-ji, Nara. 2008.

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Yasaka Shrine, Kyoto. 2008.

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や。き。と。り。Restaurant, Tokyo. 2005.

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

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Gift Shop, Kyoto. 2005.

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Ryoan-ji Temple, Kyoto. 2010.

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Along Marutamachi, at Okazaki Shrine. 2009.

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

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Fushimi-Inari Taisha, Fushimi. 2008.

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Yurakucho “Gahdohshita” restaurant, Tokyo. 2007.

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

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Gion - Kyoto - Chochin. 2007.

Gion – Kyoto – Chochin. 2007.

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

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

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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.

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Priests at Kurodani Temple. Kyoto. 2005.

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Fence. Near Okazaki-Marutamachi. Kyoto. 2009.

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Hang On. Subway handles. Osaka. 2003.

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Rice Paddies. Between Kyoto and Kameoka. 2004.

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Fushimi Inari. 2003.

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

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

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

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B o n u s  .  .  .

In May of 2002 Celia and I walked 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)

Bodhisattva
Would you take me by the hand
Bodhisattva
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
Bodhisattva . . .

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China

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

Japan

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.

Below I offer a few newly-found, but certainly not “new,” autumn photos taken over the years  (from 1984 and 2009). 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.

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

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Mist in Kurama.  October 2003.

Mist in Kurama. October 2003.

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Looking towards Shinnyo-do Temple. Kyoto. November 2009.

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Tea Break During Rice Harvest. Tsuda. 1984.

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One of the more popular places from which to photograph Kiyomizu-dera. Fall 2001.

Kiyomizu-dera. Kyoto. Fall 2001.

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

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Ladder. Kurama. November 2003.

Ladder. Kurama. November 2003.

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

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

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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.

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One, more recent, additional photo:

Facing North on Kawabata Street, Kyoto. November 2009.