Posts Tagged ‘ Toji Flea Market ’

Photo Technique Inspirations: Zen & Shingon Buddhism.

= I admit that the “Zen and Shingon Buddhism” angle on this didn’t occur to me until after-the-fact =

I like to take pictures.  Often I try to take an atypical approach to photographing this or that scene or moment or thing or person or group of people.  Actually, I hope to take atypical pictures most of the time, but only succeed occasionally.  I thought I’d post a few photos here — posted elsewhere on this site, either in one of the galleries or in a previous front page post — that illustrate this attitude and outlook of mine.

Street in Mirrors. Kinosaki, Japan. 2001.

Now I know that I’m not the first one to take a photo of a mirror, but it’s not something that’s commonly done by people snapping pics in Japan.  And, yet, it’s a common thing to see in Japan but which is rarely shared by those who live in or travel to Japan when they’re showing friends and family and colleagues “what I saw” when in Japan.

Perspective and Zen Buddhism.

Here’s a post I did several months ago on Josetsu’s “Catching a Catfish with a Gourd,” a 600 year old riddle and lesson in often-whimsical Zen philosophy and practices.  There’s no single answer to the riddle, but as I mention in that post, to me the most compelling — and sort of obvious — answer is bound-up in perspective.    When the moment’s right, or when I can make the moment, with a photo, I try to give a different or slightly off-center perspective on and with my photos.  That doesn’t necessarily mean that a photo will literally be “off-center” (though that’s often the case), as I like taking “straight-on” shots, too.  But I like a photo, like a good painting or film scene, to be balanced, even if asymmetric.

Sometimes I rotate or flip the photo to — literally — put a “spin” on it that was not there when the shutter clicked.  I like taking “Group Pictures” from the side, where the subjects are not looking at the camera (or, at least not my camera), either just before or just after the “primary” photo’s been taken.  Many times this perspective shift this is not overly dramatic or obvious or overt to the casual viewer . . . just a little off-beat.  See if you catch that in these.  Like a catfish.  Catching one.  With a gourd…

From the Shinagawa Prince Hotel. Tokyo. 2010.


Squid. Tsukiji Market. Tokyo. 2010.


Students. Ryoanji Temple. 2010.


Gallery. Kyoto. 2009.


Astro Boy ("Tetsuwan Atomu"). Kyoto Station. 2009.


A different perspective of and on the Taj Mahal. Agra, India. 2007.


Note:  I took this photo from about 15-20 feet away.  The mask laid in a box which itself sat on a table of brick-a-brack.  I just cropped the photo and enhanced and softened the color a bit to make this into a photo entirely different from a piece of cast-off theater-ware at a flea market.


Yamanote Line. Station. Tokyo. 2010.


One remove's one's shoes before entering. Ryoanji. Kyoto. 2010.

Note:  more traditional photos of Ryoanji Temple tend to look more like this.  Here’s my more comprehensive post on Ryoanji Temple.

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Depth of Field/Focus (and my twist on it) & Shingon Buddism.

In the commentary track to his 1998 film Ronin (a favorite film which, ironically enough, was shot in France, not Japan), late, great director John Frankenheimer talks about his use of and love for “Depth of Field,” (generally, keeping things in both the foreground and background in focus).  Quoting Frankenheimer:

[I use] a lot of wide angle  lenses that give you a great depth of focus. . . It’s particularly effective [in film] when you’re working with groups. . .  I’ve always been an advocate of depth of field.  I love what depth of field gives you.  Which is the fact that you have something going on in the shot at all times….

This also, perhaps especially, works well for still photography, providing the photo’s viewer various ways and options to see the shot.  Different little micro-stories can often be told in such a shot, various interpretations can be made in and of the photo.  Thus the viewer’s invited to be more engaged with the photo and makes a static thing —  a 2-D photo  — into a “world” in which the viewer can enter.  In Tantric/Shingon Buddhism it’s called “Entering the World of the Mandala,” to wit:  “This mandala, like the painted mandalas found on the walls of all Shingon temples, is a symbolic representation of reality. Just as a priest in meditation may “enter” a visualized mandala to venerate the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas depicted on it, priests and laypeople can visit Koyasan and enter the mandala.”

Often, though, I do a slight twist on, a variation on the theme of, Depth of Field in that I’ll leave the background (and sometimes foreground) out of focus, yet will have that scene be just as interesting or engaging to the eye, and sometimes more intriguing, as the presumptively “More Interesting Thing” in focus and in the foreground of the shot.  Again, this compels the viewer to be more engaged, which is what I’m looking and hoping for.  See what you think about “various stories” and how Depth of Field (or variations on it) is used in the following photos:

Tiennamen Square, Beijing 2006. Photo of former Ala Gov Bob Riley (being briefed by our guide, "Charlie"), or Steve in background?


Mumbai, India. 2007. Mixing foreground and background...


Priests at Kurodani Temple. Kyoto. 2009.


From the Taj Hotel Business Center. Mumbai. 2008.


Middle School Student. Hiroshima Peace Park Museum. 2008.


My homage to both dualing points of focus and to a oft-used technique of John Frankenheimer’s:

Dan Rather. Denver. August 2008.

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To-ji (東寺) Temple Flea Market ・ Updated

=  First posted June 2010.   To-ji’s Flea Market is held on the 21st of every month.  =

To-ji temple covers many leafy, beautiful acres, busting with ancient halls and other buildings in South Central Kyoto.  It figures importantly into my life and Japan experience.  I first immersed myself in the To-ji Flea Market scene in the autumn of 1984 when I was 21 years old.  I went again and again over the years.  On September 21, 2001, I took my then-wife to the Flea Market and both of our lives changed dramatically as a result of that visit. . .  More, much more, on that in Part III of my book, Dancing Over Kyoto. In 2008 I took a group of U.S. college history students, Japanese History Students, to To-ji’s Flea Market.  It blew their minds.  Please read on.

Note:  Photos below from May 2008, going back to 2003 and 2002.

Approaching To-jis Southern Entrance from the west.

I first experienced To-ji as an undergrad, an exchange student, back in the 1980s, when I went a couple of different times to its 21st-of-every-month flea market.  Bursting with people, food (yakitoriokonomiyakitakoyakioden, yakisoba, taiyaki — with either custard or azuki bean filling — etc., etc.), treasures, junk, memorabilia, used kimono, knives, scrolls, incense, brass, wood, stoneware, sights and smells the like of which is unparalleled anywhere in Japan.  That’s no exaggeration: the monthly To-ji flea market is the largest in Japan.  Since those first couple of occasions I’ve been back again and again, in ’90, ’91, ’01 and many times since.  Two years ago, in May (May 21st, in fact) 2008, I took a group of UAB (University of Alabama-Birmingham) students to To-ji and, by all accounts, they had a good time.

A small fraction of the crowd on Flea Mkt day. May 21, 2008. (also called “Kobo-san”).

To-ji goes back to the year 786, when it was founded two years after Emperor Shomu moved his court from the even more ancient capital of Nara to Kyoto — then called “Heian-kyo.  Some of its images and relics date back almost as far.  Its iconic, 5-story pagoda is the tallest in Japan, some 180 feet high.  Its founder was the celebrated Tantric (Shingon) Buddhist priest Kobo Daishi.  To-ji’s flea market is thus affectionately known to and referred by locals simply as “Kobo-san.”

A former acquaintance checking the porcelain. To-ji. 2003.

And this under the food tents, To-ji in May 2002.

And this under the food tents, To-ji in May 2002.


1 of 88 Prayers. Toji Temple. May 21, 2008.


Local Ladies at “Choir Practice.” To-ji.

To-ji Market Hours: generally, dawn to dusk.  As with any flea market or variant thereof, better deals can be done in the late afternoon when the dealers are looking for cash-flow and desirous of diminishing their pack-up and loading time.  This is a general rule of thumb, but, of course, not a “hard and fast” rule. Oh, and Caveat emptor.


The Knife Man. To-ji. 2008.


     1.  From Kyoto Station exit out of the Shinkansen (“Bullet Train”) Central Entrance. This is on the South Side of Kyoto Station. If you’re on the side that exits out to Kyoto Tower, then you’re on the North Side and need to go back up the stairs (or escalator) to the 2nd Floor Pedestrian Walkway and walk back over to the opposite side, go down the steps and keep walking straight towards the (South) exit. You’ll pass the Kintetsu Railway (inside) Central Entrance on your right just before you walk out of Kyoto Station.  

     2.  After you get all the way out of Kyoto Station take a right and follow the sidewalk which runs along Hachijo-dori ・八条道り(Hachijo Street), keep going straight, leaving Kyoto Station receding behind you on your right. About two or so city blocks after Kyoto Station’s behind you, you’ll cross a major intersection, where Hachijo-dori crosses Aburanokoji-dori. Keep going straight.

     3.  About 3 blocks after crossing the big intersection (remember, you haven’t turned and you’re still on Hachijo-dori), you’ll come to another largish intersection, where Hachijo-dori meets Omiya-dori・大宮道り. Turn left onto Omiya-dori (you’re almost there).

     4.  Walk just a few blocks down Omiya-dori and you’ll see To-ji Temple on your right. You can either go into the first entrance you come to, on your right, or — as I recommend — walk to the end of the street and take a right on Kujo-dori, keeping To-ji on your right hand side as you walk down the sidewalk. Now you’re walking along To-ji’s southern (main entrance) side and you’ll be among throngs of people. After a couple hundred yards you’ll arrive at the Southern Large/Main Gate (Nandaimon) and you can enter there.

Total Time from Exiting Kyoto Station to the Main Gate: 15 minutes+/-.