Manhole cover designs in Japan

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Sakura motifs are often featured in Japanese manhole cover designs

 

If you have visited Japan before, you have probably seen the wonderul manhole covers on the pavements all over Japan – it would be hard to miss them! The popularity of these manhole covers has been growing rapidly both locally and overseas, and often the ‘manholers’ would seek, photograph these covers and share them online to websites like Japanese Society of Manhole Covers (日本マンホール蓋学会), and the Manhole lid museum. Meanwhile, Osaka-based photographer S. Morita has been photographing manhole covers around Japan for several years, and there are close to 2000 designs on the site. However, if seeing the photos doesn’t satisfy you, then you could attend the Japanese Manhole Cover Festival or summit in Tokyo where a variety of manhole cover designs are exhibited, along side with souvenir to bring home.

 

Only in Japan: A factory tour of the Nagashima Imono Casting Factory

 

The history of the manhole covers in Japan is mentioned in the book, Drainspotting: Japanese manhole covers by Remo Camerota. In the 1980s, the modernisation of the sewer system in rural Japan was unwelcomed by the local residents, but a civil servant Yasutake Kameda solved that problem by introducing customised manhole covers in every municipality. By enabling each city/town/village to design their own unqiue covers to showcase their specialities or identites turned out to be a huge success, hence it has become a cultural phenomenon over time. Although each cover is designed specifically for the location, it would generally feature elements such as the town emblem, famous landmark, special event, war battle, official bird, local flowers or local mascots etc. The ones with firefighters indicate that there is fire hydrant underneath it.

Although I am not a manhole cover otaku, I have been photographing these manhole covers whenever I came across them over the years during my trips to Japan, and will continue to do so in the future.

 

Floral theme

manhole cover  manhole cover

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manhole cover  manhole cover tokyo

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Local symbols/ specialties

manhole cover nara  manhole cover nara

Deer and nature in Nara

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Nagoya’s Amenbo (or water strider) is the symbol for Nagoya City Waterworks and Sewerage Office as this insect only lives in clean water

manhole cover

Grapes in Furano, Hokkaido

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Washi paper making in Fukui

 

Local lanndmarks

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Osaka castle

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Shiragawa-go

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Nature

manhole cover

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Firefighters

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Toko firefighters

 

 

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Boro textiles at Amuse museum (closed in 2019)

amuse museum Boro – real astonishment exhibition

Boro – real astonishment exhibition

 

After spending so much time in the rural countryside, I found it hard to cope with the hustle and bustle back in Tokyo, and felt slightly dazy and detached from reality. My original Airbnb booking was cancelled by a host in Tokyo at the last minute, (the 2nd Tokyo cancellation on this trip), and at the last minute, I found an apt hotel in Asakusa, which turned out to be excellent and very reasonable.

I usually avoid going to Asakusa whenever I visit Tokyo because it is always packed and very touristy. This time, however, I thought it might be fun to explore an area that I am not familiar with especially while I was staying minutes away from the famous Senso-ji.

One day, I walked past an old building and saw the name Amuse Museum with a shop at the front. It was the poster and indigo textiles that drew me inside. I had never heard of this museum before and had no idea what was exhibiting inside, but seeing the textiles compelled me to purchase an entry ticket. And once inside, I was completely blown away… I couldn’t believe that I stumbled upon this museum right after my Japanese textiles workshop! Serendipity, perhaps?!

 

amuse museum

amuse museum

amuse museum

 

This private museum opened in 2009 and specialises in Japanese textile and ukiyo-e. The amazing collection consists of 30,000 pieces of Boro clothing and textiles (from the 17th and 19th centuries) collected by folklorist and ethnologist Chuzaburo Tanaka, of which 786 items have been designated as Important Tangible Cultural Properties.

Derived from the Japanese boroboro, meaning something tattered or repaired, boro grew out of necessity rather than fashion. Its concept is almost the opposite of what fashion has become in the 21st century – you can even call it the precedent of ‘slow fashion’ and ‘upcycled fashion’.

There are two Japanese terms and concepts that are deeply ingrained into the Japanese culture: Mottainai meaning ‘a sense of regret concerning waste’, and Yuyonobi meaning ‘the beauty of practicality’. In the old days, impoverished rural farmimg families (especially those who live in the north like Tohoku) would mend, repair textiles (clothes and bedding) through piecing, patching and stitching to extend their use. Since the region was too cold to grow cotton, hemp became the most popular choice of material. Later, when old cotton clothing from the south made its way up to the north, scraps of indigo-dyed cotton would be used, and sewn with sashiko stitching (a type of functional embroidery) to reinforce and to quilt layers of cloth together. These ‘rags’ and garments would be handed down over generations, as the testimonies of decades of mending.

Interestingly, this concept is similiar to the robes worn by Zen Buddhist monks in ancient times, when monks used to collect rags and sew them up to create their one-of-a-kind patchwork robes.

 

amuse museum

boro textiles

amuse museum

amuse museum boro

amuse museum

 

For many centuries, Japan was a relatively poor country, and it was around the Meiji period (from 1868 to 1912) that the overall living standard started to rise. This meant that much of the Boro textiles were discarded, and new clothing was bought as fixing or mending became a tradition of the past.

Thanks to the effort of one ethnologist – Chuzaburo Tanaka – we are now able to admire this intricate and fantastic ancient craft and art form, and appreciate its unqiue value.

The special 10th year anniversary exhibition: Boro – Real astonishment showcased a collection of boro textiles along with 34 photo images published by Kyoichi Tsuzuki (the photographer and author of “BORO Rags and Tatters from the Far North of Japan”). This is a touring exhibition, and will be touring until 2020, so people outside of Japan can learn about this outsider art/craft form.

 

amuse museum

amuse museum

amuse museum

 

Besides the temporary exhibition, the permanent collection also showcases a rotating collection of 1500 pieces of boro clothing and textiles, alongside with other antiques and folk arts from Mr. Tanaka’s collection.

I was particularly glad to see the indigo-dyed firefighter’s jackets hikeshi banten often mentioned by Bryan at the textiles workshop. Made in the Edo period, these reversible jackets often feature a plain side and a decorative side. Firemen would expose the plain side while fighting the fire, but after the fire had been extinguished, they would reverse their jackets to display the decorative side to a cheering crowd. Hence, many firefighter’s jackets were decorated with tsutsugaki (a resist dyeing technique that is similar to Katazome) symbolic images that were meaningful and important to the firefighters. Indigo dye was chosen for its antibacterial and flame-resistant qualities, as well as its resistant to ripping and tearing, cutting and abrasion due to impact. With roots dating back to the 1600s, indigo-dyed fabrics were worn under the armour of samurais to keep bacteria away from wounds and to repel odor and dirt. Therefore, the indigo dye was used not for aesthetic reasons but for its excellent practical properties.

 

amuse museum  amuse museum

amuse museum

amuse museum

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amuse museum

 

Although I saw Akira Kurosawa‘s “Yume” or “Dreams” years ago, I could barely remember the costumes featured in that film (I watched it again after seeing the exhibition). It was fascinating to learn that the costumes featured in the film were lend to the director by Chuzaburo Tanaka himself. The folk clothing was beautifully showcased in the last segment of the film, Village of the Watermills, and the scene where the villagers all paraded down the village was heartfelt and memorable.

 

yume costumes kurasawa  yume costumes kurasawa

yume costumes kurasawa

The folk costumes featured in Yume/Dreams

 

The museum also has an interesting collection of woodblock prints, and it houses an indigo-dyeing studio where visitors can take part in workshops.

 

woodblock print amuse museum   woodblock print amuse museum

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Woodblock prints and Indigo-dyeing studio

 

After my inspiring tour of the museum, I went upstairs to the rooftop and spent some time admiring the panaromic view of Asakusa and watching the sun set behind Senso-ji (there was literally no other visitor there!). Spending a few hours at the museum made me forget that I was in Tokyo; while watching the sunset was the icing on the cake, it was a perfect end to my day.

 

senso-ji asakusa

 

N.B. Sadly, I learned that the Amuse Museum closed in March 2019, but hopefully it will revive again in another venue somewhere in the city. Fingers crossed.

 

 

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Japanese textiles workshop (Part 2): Katagami & Katazome

Ise-Katagami Artisan Isao Uchida

katagami  katagami

Top: a visit and demonstration of katagami by the Ise-Katagami artisan Isao Uchida

 

Like I mentioned in my previous entry, my knowledge on traditional Japanese textiles techniques was quite minimal before the workshop. I have done some shibori techniques like itajime and pole wrapping, but I have never done any stitch shibori nor Katagami and Katazome before, and so when I received a stencil cutter and some stencil paper from Bryan in the ‘homework’ box before the workshop, I had to google frantically to get some ideas on how to create three unqiue patterns.

So, what is Katagami? It is an ancient Japanese paper stenciling craft that dates back to the 6th century. The specific paper required is made up of several sheets of washi (Japanese mulbery paper) pasted together with kakishibu (a tannin-rich persimmon juice), resulting in a strong and flexible, brown-coloured paper. Patterns can then be cut out with a razor-like cutter or punched out with various tools. It is also possible to overlap multiple stencils to create intricate and beautiful patterns.

 

katagami

katazome  indigo fujino

katagami

 Botom: a vintage katagami stencil from Bryan’s collection

 

We had the prilvilege to meet the Ise-Katagami artisan Isao Uchida who demonstrated a skill that he has practiced for several decades. He had just been named as the ‘Living National Treasure (Ningen Kokuhō)’ by the Japanese Government, and he came to pay Bryan a visit before attending the ceremony with the Prime Minster that eveing.

The craft of katagami is often accompanied by katazome – a traditional craft of stencil resist-dyeing using a paste made from rice husks, lime and water. Using the katagami paper stencils, the rice paste is brushed onto the cloth and when dried, it is immersed in the dye, like indigo. In the old days, katazome was used primarily on kimono fabrics, but now it has become a dying art form as the demand for kimonos have decreased significantly in modern Japan.

During the workshop, we spent a full day working at the katazome paste maker and dyer’s home/workshop, Hiroshi Noguchi, in Hachioji. Mr Noguchi is the a sixth-generation paste maker and dyer who specialises in indigo katazome. He works with his son, and his young grandson (the eighth generation), who showed immense interest and enthusiasm with the family bsuiness.

 

Hiroshi Noguchi  paste maker

indigo vat

paste maker  indigo dyeing

Hiroshi Noguchi

katazome paste maker

paste maker

paste maker  Hiroshi Noguchi

paste maker

  

At Mr Noguchi‘s workshop, we watched him making the rice paste from scratch, and his son preparing the paste for us to use. When the paste was ready, we applied it onto the cotton cloths laid out on long boards through the stencils we had each designed. Since it was a very hot day, the paste dried fairly quickly in the sun. These long cloths were then hung horizontally outside and we all had a go at applying a special grey dye onto them.

Aside from the long strips of cloths, we also cut up some shorter ones and dipped them in the indigo vats. Since the paper stencils are very strong, we could easily wash them and reuse them over and over again.

 

paste maker

Hiroshi Noguchi

katazome paste maker

katazome

katazome paste maker  katazome

 

The experience of working at Mr Noguchi‘s workshop was novel and humbling. It was encouraging to see that this craft has been passed on for so many generations, and that he was generous enough to let us use his workshop. I highly respect Bryan for trying to protect these traditional Japanese arts and crafts from disappearing by bringing his students here in order to support these artisans. With so many anicent arts and crafts vanishing globally due to our ‘fast culture’, it is time to review our lifestyle and support artisans who have spent their entire lives dedicating to one specfic craft or art form.

 

Shibori & indigo dyeing textiles workshop in Fujino (Part 1)

indigo textiles workshop

 

Lately, I have beein trying to recall when I first became interested in textiles, initially I thought it was after seeing a Japanese textiles exhibition at MOMA years ago. But then I remember how I used to draw/sketch historical costumes after seeing them on TV drama series, and this made me realise that my interest in textiles and fashion began long before I was even consciously aware of it.

After running a solo business for over 6 years, I was feeling mentally exhausted and unispired. I was desperate to take a long vacation. I also wanted to go back to creating and making things – which I have missed after starting a business. I have done many short textiles courses on and off for years, but I have always considered them as my ‘hobby’. When I finally decided to take my 6-month sabbatical, I wanted to learn crafts that I have always been interested in, and shibori was high on my list. After some research on the internet, I found Canadian textiles artist and teacher Bryan Whitehead‘s blog and I contacted him to enquire about his textiles workshop. Originally, he told me that all his workshops were fully booked until next year (!), but then about a month later he informed me that some people have dropped out and there were spaces available.

The 10-day indigo dyeing and shibori textiles workshop turned out to be the most intense, eye-opening, overwhelming and yet satisfying experience. Even though I have done some shibori before, it was pretty basic, hence I felt quite out of my depth at the beginning. I felt like I have jumped into the deep end of the ocean but somehow survived. I have never done so much stitching in my life and was shocked by how much I managed to achieve in such a short period of time. Looking back now, I can say that this workshop has led me to a new path, and it was the beginning of my indigo dyeing and shibori journey.

 

fujino  fujino

fujino

fujino

fujino

 

Bryan and his partner, Hiro (an ikebana artist and amazing cook), live in a 150 year-old traditional farmhouse surrounded by mountains in Fujino, Kanagawa (about 1.5 hour from Tokyo). This area used to be known for its silk farming, but this has ceased and now it is more notable for its tea plantation and art village.

About one month prior to the workshop, I received a box of ‘homework’ with instructions, materials and tools to be completed before the workshop. I was busy planning my 5-week trip and I completely underestimated the amount of work that was required. I also misread the illustrations and ended up stitching on bullet trains and in ryokans late at night trying to complete the rather long piece of textile.

 

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ikebana

fujino

fujino

cat  dog

 

Bryan has lived in Japan for almost 30 years, and since he moved to Fujino, he got to learn silk farming from the local villagers, but sadly he is the only silk farmer left in the area now. Besides silk, he also grows and harvests tea and indigo. I am amazed by how he manages his time – he weaves, dyes, and teaches, yet he was always full of energy during our 10-day workshop.

 

fujino  fujino

fujino

shibori  shibori

shibori  shibori

 

I had no idea what to expect before the workshop, and to spend 10 days with 10 women from different parts of the world could have been quite challenging. Luckily, we all got on pretty well and even set up a whatsapp chat group after the workshop.

Over the 10 days, we stitched and dyed endlessly. We even had to go to the river to bash the textiles like people did in the ancient times, but then I woke up the next day with a sore and stiff neck. Luckily, Bryan‘s excellent acupuncturist was called in and cured me from my textile-bashing injury!

 

fujino textiles workshop  fujino textiles workshop

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shibori  fujino textiles workshop

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fujino textiles workshop

 

One thing that struck me at the workshop was how time-consuming it is to do stitch shibori and dye with indigo. Everything we did required time, patience, and focus, and we could not rush anything. I honestly was a bit clueless before. My final piece was dipped 16 times, and I was working on it until midnight on the last night… I must have spent more than 50 hours making that piece from scratch! The experience totally changed my view on shibori and indigo dyeing, and I now understand the true value of handmade and handdyed textiles.

 

fujino  fujino 

fujino

fujino

fujino

 

Another highlight of the workshop was the amazing food freshly prepared and cooked by Hiro. He applied his flower arrangement skills to his food presentations, and every meal felt like a journey of the senses. Not only does he grow vegetables in the garden, he also goes foraging nearby. One day, he took us up to the hill at the back of the farm house to look for bamboo shoots, and hours later, we got to taste the freshest bamboo shoots on our plates!

On the last day, Bryan invited his 99 year old Japanese neighbour/student to make udon from scratch for us, and it was the best udon that I have ever tasted. Although Bryan and Hiro live in the rural countryside, they are never short of visitors, and there seems to be a a strong sense of community spirit. To me, their way of living and ideal, and I hope that I can live like that one day.

 

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salad

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udon  udon

udon

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To be continued…

 

 

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Hiroshi Sugimoto’s masterpiece: The Enoura Observatory in Odawara

Japanese rail

Japanese rail

Japanese rail

The cute Nebukawa Station first opened in 1922 but was swept away (along with a train full of passengers) by a landslide a year later. Hundred of people were killed during this disaster, and there is a memorial at the station that commemorates this tragic incident

 

After I left Atami, I took the train to the nearby Nebukawa Station as I had booked a tour to visit The Enoura Observatory, created by contemporary artist and the founder of Odawara Art Foundation, Hiroshi Sugimoto (who was also responsible for the renovations of the MOA in Atami). All visitors have to book the tour online, which includes a free return mini bus rides between the observatory and the train station.

Since it opened in the autumn of 2017, the observatory has been receiving international coverage and praises for its merge of nature, art, history and architecture, and it was highly recommended to me by a Japanese friend.

 

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

 

Like both places I visited earlier in the day, this site occupies a hilltop position that overlooks the Sagami bay. The site comprises a reception area, a gallery space, two outdoor stages, a revived Tensho-an tea ceremony room, a restored Muromachi Period (c. 1338-1573) Meigetsu Gate, and rock gardens featuring various rocks and stones collected from all over Japan by Sugimoto .

At the long gallery space, visitors can view Sugimoto’s photography work titled seascape. The artist has had a long fascination with the sea, and he explained: “my earliest childhood memory is of the sea seen from the window of the Shonan train, running on the old Tokaido line from Atami to Odawara.” And this memory was the inspiration behind the project.

 

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory  Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

 

Drawing ideas from ancient cultures and their relationships with nature, the 100-metre gallery is also a viewing platform where sun ray would reach the gallery space on the morning of the summer solstice.

On the morning of the winter solstice, the optical glass stage would glow as it catches the light on its cut edges. Its auditorium is a full-size recreation of a ruined Roman amphitheater in Ferento in the Lazio region of Italy, with the glass stage designed to look like it is floating on the surface of the sea.

 

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory  Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory  Enoura Observatory

 

The winter solstice also sends light through the 70-metre light-worship metal tunnel to illuminate a large stone at the other end. An aperture has been built into the tunnel to admit light, with a well beneath it. The chisel marks on it suggest that it dates from medieval times. The bottom of the well is covered with pieces of optical glass, where the individual raindrops can be seen as they fall into the well when it rains.

 

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory  Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

 

As you walk around the maze-like site, it is hard not be to awe of what you see or encounter. It gives you a sense of anticipation and appreciation for nature and beauty. Every element here is precisely positioned to lead you somewhere and to make you look. In a way, it is like being ‘manipulated’ to see the nature around you through architecture and landscape design, which is quite ambitious and bold.

 

Enoura Observatory  Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory  Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

 

After spending some time here, it felt quite peaceful and contemplative. I think the project has succeeded in merging nature, architecture and design together harmoniously. It would be wonderful to revisit the site on the days of summer/winter solstice for a more enchanting experience.

 

Houkusai & Hirashige’s ukiyo-e exhibition at MOA Atami

moa museum of art

 

After my visit to Kyu Hyuga Bettei, I headed back to the train station to take a free shuttle bus to the MOA Museum of Art situated on the top of hill that overlooks the sea. Like Miho Museum in Kyoto, this private museum was opened in 1982 by the Mokichi Okada Association (MOA) to house the art collection of the multimillionaire and religious leader (Church of World Messianity) Mokichi Okada (1882–1955).

There are 3,500 paintings, calligraphy works, sculptures, lacquerware and ceramics focusing on Japanese and Chinese art. The museum reopened in 2017 after a major renovation by contemporary artist Hiroshi Sugimoto and architect Tomoyuki Sakakida.

 

moa museum of art

moa museum of art

moa museum of art

 

Interestingly, in order to reach the entrance of the museum, visitors have to go up a series of long escalators in a tunnel-like setting with colour-changing lighting. And when visitors reach the top, there is a dome showcasing some projected imagery with sound installations. The whole experience (before you even reach the museum) is immersive and uplifting, which makes you anticipate and look forward to what is to follow.

 

moa museum of art

moa museum of art

moa museum of art

moa museum of art

moa museum of art

 

Finally, after I left the first building, I was out in the open with the sky and sea on one side, and a massive pinkish contemporary building on the other. And before stepping onto the the long and wide staircases, I was greeted by Henry Moore’s bronze work, “King and Queen”. I was incredibly lucky with the weather, and the view of the sky and sea was spectacular on the day of my visit.

I was also fortunate enough to have been able to see the special exhibition: “Hokusai and Hiroshige―The Thirty-six Views of Mt. Fuji and the Fifty-three Stages of the Tokaido“. Although I have seen several exhibitions on the ukiyo-e by Hokusai and Hiroshige, I have never seen the two complete series side by side, so I was really excited about it.

 

moa museum of art

Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji by Katsushika Hokusai

Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji by Katsushika Hokusai

Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji by Katsushika Hokusai

Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji by Katsushika Hokusai

Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji by Katsushika Hokusai

 

Published in 1831 by Nishimura Eijudō press, Katsushika Hokusai’s (1760-1849) 36 woodblock print designs were published initially, with 10 more added later on. The two most famous prints are “The great wave of Kanagawa” and “A mild breeze on a fine day” or The Red Fuji”, and they both depict the power and calmness of nature. In every print, the revered Mount Fuji can be seen from different angles, sizes and colours.

 

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“Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido” by Utagawa Hiroshige

 

The Hoeido press published Utagawa Hiroshige’s (1797-1858) “Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido” in 1833-4 after his expedition with the Shogun from Edo to Kyoto the previous year. The series of woodblock prints feature the landscape of the 53 post stations along the The Tokaido route, which connected Edo with the then-capital of Kyoto. If you want to learn more about this, you can check out this map that features the locations and prints by Hiroshige.

The compositions, the use of colours and tones, and most importantly –humanity– are expressed vividly by the two great masters. It was a real treat to be able to see the complete sets at this exhibition.

 

Nonomura Ninsei  MOA

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MOA

 

Besides the temporary exhibitions, there are some exquisite National treasures that can also be found at the museum. One of them is Ogata Korin‘s masterpiece from the Edo period “Red and White Plum Blossoms,” painted on a pair of two-panel folding screens. The other is another Edo period Tea-leaf jar with a design of wisteria by Nonomura Ninsei. And in another room, there are also some photographic works by Hiroshi Sugimoto of the sea shot from Atami.

There is even a Noh theatre inside the museum where performances and concerts are held regularly.

 

MOA

MOA

MOA

MOA

 

One you step out of side of the building, a path would lead you to the Japanese tea garden, Ippaku-an and Shotei tea houses and the reconstructed Residence of Ogata Korin (a famous Japanese painter, lacquerer and designer of the Rinpa school) based on the documents from the Konishi Archive.

It was incredibly calm and meditative to walk around the garden, and I only wish I had more time to spare here. I would recommend a visit to this stunning museum especially if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo. Although Tokyo offers many world-class museums, it is the beautiful nature and environment that makes this museum stands out from the crowd.

 

The architecture of Kanazawa

kanazawa station Tsuzumimon   kanazawa station Tsuzumimon

Tsuzumimon at Kanazawa station

 

As soon as you arrive at Kanazawa train station, the “Motenashi Dome” (Welcome Dome) made up of 3,019 glass panels is likely to catch your eye. This train station is thought to be one of the most beautiful train stations in the world, and it is designed by Ryuzo Shiroe. And when you walk out of the conservatory-like space through the eastern part of the station, you would encounter the stunning and gigantic wooden structure called Tsuzumimon (drum gate). This 13.7 meter-high gate is supported by two twisted pillars, and the design resembles the tsuzumi, the drums featured in Noh theatre and Kaga Hosho (the style of Noh traditionally performed in Ishikawa prefecture) performances.

Walking around Kanazawa, it is hard not to notice the mix of old and new architecture, and since it was spared from the air raids during the war, I think the architecture here is more varied and interesting than many other cities in Japan.

 

kanazawa

kanazawa

kanazawa

kanazawa

kanazawa

Kanazawa

Traditional houses

 

Although I did not have time to visit many sights, I did enjoy wandering around the city while stumbling upon some interesting buildings. There is a conspicuous Western style red brick building at the bottom of the castle that really intrigued me, and it is The Shiinoki Cultural Complex, a government building built in 1924. While the front of the building has kept its original facade, the back of the building has a modern glassed facade. There are two amazing-looking 300 year old Chinquapin trees standing symmetrically in front of the main entrance and they are designated as Japan’s National Natural Monuments.

 

kanazawa The Shiinoki Cultural Complex

Kanazawa The Shiinoki Cultural Complex

kanazawa The Shiinoki Cultural Complex

kanazawa

kanazawa The Shiinoki Cultural Complex

kanazawa

The Shiinoki Cultural Complex

 

The Owari-cho area not far from the Omi-cho Market used to be a bustling merchant district during the Edo period, and so you can find many fascinating Edo period architecture here.

One of them is Gallery Mita, an art gallery housed in a Western-style building constructed in 1930, which has been designated as a Registered Tangible Cultural Property because of its rarity. The gallery sells mainly ceramics dishes, and it has a cafe next door. I especially love the stained glass designs here.

 

kanazawa

Kanazawa

kanazawa  kanazawa

kanazawa  Kanazawa

kanazawa

 

When I took a route away from the main street, I came across a derelict building/house in an alley that has many art deco elements and seems to be from that period. Even though the house has fallen into disrepair, you can still see the architectural details and appreciate the fine design elements like the railings and tiles. It is a shame to see that it has been abandoned.

 

kanazawa   kanazawa

kanazawa

kanazawa

kanazawa

 

As for contemporary architecture, The 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art and D. T. Suzuki Museum (see my other posts) are good examples, but there is also the Kanazawa Umimirai Library designed by Kazumi Kudo and Hiroshi Horiba in 2011, which I didn’t get to visit.

If you want to learn more about the architecture of Kanazawa, there are some suggested walking/cycling routes that encourage visitors to explore the city’s diverse architecture:

https://www.kanazawa-kankoukyoukai.or.jp/course/architect/web/en/

 

kanazawa   kanazawa

kanazawa

kanazawa

kanazawa

 

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Kenrokuen – is this the most beautiful landscape garden in Japan?

Kenroku-en

Kasumiga Pond

 

Kenrokuen is considered one of Japan’s three most beautiful landscape gardens alongside Mito’s Kairakuen and Okayama‘s Korakuen. Located in central Kanazawa, the once-private garden covers an area of 11 hectares (almost 25 acres) next to Kanazawa Castle. The original garden named Renchitei is said to have been created by the 5th Maeda lord, Tsunonori Maeda around 1676. The garden was burnt down in 1759, but was restored in 1774, and in 1822 the garden was renamed Kenrokuen. This name can be translated to “garden of six elements”, which refers to the six features mentioned in a classical Chinese poem for a perfect garden: spaciousness, seclusion, artifice, antiquity, flowing water and panoramas. The garden was not opened to the public until 1874, and now it is one of the most popular sightseeing spots in Kanazawa.

 

Kenroku-en

Kenroku-en

Kenroku-en

 

There are two main entrances to the vast garden and it costs 310 yen to get in. It is easy to feel disoriented here because of its size, but if you are not in a hurry, you can easily stroll for a few hours while admiring the nature and landscape here.

There are roughly 8,750 trees, and 183 species of plants at this garden. The garden offers something different for every season, but it is particularly popular in spring because of cherry blossom.

 

Kenroku-en

Kenroku-en

Kenroku-en  Kenroku-en

Kenroku-en

 

Some of the main features at the garden include the artificial Kasumiga-ike Pond; Yugao-tei tea house on the Hisagoike pond which dates from 1774 and the oldest building in the garden; and a bronze statue of a legendary hero, Yamato Takeru was erected in 1880 to commemorate the deaths of 400 soldiers from Ishikawa Prefecture who died helping to suppress a rebellion in Kyushu. 

 

Kenroku-en

Kenroku-en

Kenroku-en

Kenroku-en  Kenroku-en

Kenroku-en

 

There is also stone with a poem inscribed on it by the haiku poet Matsuo Basho who visited Kanazawa in 1689. The poem reads:

bright red burning
bitter sun…
but autumn in the wind

Since I am no expert in traditional Japanese landscape garden, I can’t say whether this is the most beautiful landscape garden in Japan or not. However, I was very impressed by the ancient pine trees at this garden, and I think they are definitely some of the most beautiful trees I have ever seen. The tallest one is called “Neagarimatsu”, meaning “a pine tree with its roots going up”, is about 15 m in height and it was planted by the 13th lord Nariyasu about 200 years ago. It is an absolutely magnificent and stunning tree (see the third one below).

 

Kenroku-en

Kenroku-en

Kenroku-en

Kenroku-en

Kenroku-en

Kenroku-en

 

Although the garden was quite busy during my visit, but due to its size, it was easy to avoid the crowds and enjoy some tranquil spots. The garden also offers a panoramic view of city, so I guess these are all the elements that make this one of the best landscape gardens in Japan.

 

Kenroku-en

Kenroku-en

Kenroku-en

 

 

The D.T. Suzuki Museum in Kanazawa

D.T. Suzuki Museum

 

Out of all the sights I visited in Kanazawa, my favourite was the tranquil and minimalist D.T. Suzuki Museum, a small museum commemorating the life and works of Suzuki Daisetz Teitaro (1870-1966), a prominent Buddhist philosopher and writer.

Suzuki received his Buddhist training at the Engakuji Zen monastery in Kamakura and later became a professor of Buddhist philosophy at Otani University in Kyoto. Aside from Japanese, Suzuki was proficient in English, Chinese and Sanskrit, and he translated numerous religious texts and scholarly articles. He was also the author of more than 100 works on Zen and Buddhism in both Japanese and English. I have read one of his most popular books: “An Introduction to Zen Buddhism(1934), which is considered an influential book that brought the teachings of Zen Buddhism to the Western world esp. to the United States.

 

D.T. Suzuki Museum   D.T. Suzuki Museum

D.T. Suzuki Museum

 

The museum opened in 2011 and it was designed by well-renowned Japanese architect, Yoshio Taniguchi (also known for his redesign of the Museum of Modern Art in New York). The architecture and landscape is so serene and calming that it is hard not to want to slow down when you enter the museum. There are only a few exhibit rooms showcasing the writings and some photographs of Suzuki, but it is sufficient for visitors to learn about his dedication to Zen Buddhism.

Outside of the main building, there is the Contemplative Space, where visitors can sit in a large room with benches, take time to meditate or contemplate while enjoying the view of the Water Mirror Garden outside.

 

D.T. Suzuki Museum

D.T. Suzuki Museum

D.T. Suzuki Museum

D.T. Suzuki Museum

D.T. Suzuki Museum

 

The Water Mirror Garden outside also embodies the same Zen and tranquil quality found inside the museum and in the Contemplative Space. There is much harmony between the architecture and nature, and in many ways, I think this museum can be seen as a modern ‘Zen temple’.

Here is a quote from “An Introduction to Zen Buddhism” by Suzuki on Zen:

The idea of Zen is to catch life as it flows. There is nothing extraordinary or mysterious about Zen. I raise my hand; I take a book from the other side of the desk; I hear the boys playing ball outside my window; I see the clouds blown away beyond the neighbouring wood: — in all these I am practising Zen, I am living Zen. No wordy discussions is necessary, nor any explanation. I do not know why — and there is no need of explaining, but when the sun rises the whole world dances with joy and everybody’s heart is filled with bliss. If Zen is at all conceivable, it must be taken hold of here.

 

D.T. Suzuki Museum

D.T. Suzuki Museum

 

The back exit of the museum can lead you out to the top of the hill where you can get a view of the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art. And as you follow the path, you will reach Kenroku-en, one of the Three Great Gardens of Japan.

 

kanazawa

kanazawa

kanazawa

 

 

Eiheiji Temple & Zen Master Dogen

eiheiji

eiheiji

eiheiji

eiheiji

 

A large 13th century temple complex located in rural Fukai is considered to be an important pilgrimage site by most Soto Zen practitioners (including Steve Jobs), and this temple is Eiheiji, founded by Master Eihei Dogen (1200-1253) in 1244.

I had been interested in Buddhism since I was in my early 20s, but I only started to practice properly in 2008. It was not plain sailing for me as I had to ‘shop around’ to find a non-dogmatic practice that suited me. I knew little about Master Dogen until I met my Zen teacher over more than four years ago. Since then, I have been practicing zazen regularly, and studying the writings of Dogen from his Shobogenzo (Treasury of the True Dharma Eye). And to my surprise, Dogen‘s writings from over 800 years ago are still pertinent today. However, Dogen advocated that the core of the practice is not about the writings, but the practice of zazen or Shikantaza (just sitting).

 

eiheiji

eiheiji

eiheiji

 

I had wanted to visit Eiheiji for some time, but due to its rural location, I did not make the journey until this long trip. Although the temple offers a sanro programme allowing foreign visitors to stay overnight, the stay has to be accompanied by an English-speaking guide and a written letter from your zen teacher (they got rid of this requirement recently). I was slightly put off by these requirements as I dislike bureaucracy, hence I opted for a day visit instead of staying overnight.

What struck me when I got off the bus at Eiheiji was the fact that I had to walk past numerous souvenir shops selling ‘zen’ items and restaurants specialising in ‘zen’ cuisine for about 10-15 minutes before reaching the site of the temple. It all felt quite commercial and not very ‘zen-like’.

 

eiheiji

eiheiji

eiheiji

eiheiji

 

The enormous temple complex is located deep in the mountains, and consisted of 70 buildings, as well as a cedar tree forest and a cemetery. The temple had been burnt down by several fires over the centuries (this seems to be the case with many of the temples in Japan), and the oldest structure on the current site dates back to 1794. Since Eihei-ji is a training monastery with more than two hundred monks and nuns in residence, there are many rules that visitors have to follow to minimise the disruption on the practicing monks and nuns.

 

eiheiji  eiheiji rules

eiheiji

eiheiji

eiheiji

eiheiji

eiheiji

One of the main temple attractions is Sanshokaku (Reception Hall) and its ceiling covered with 230 paintings of flowers and birds by 144 different artists completed in 1930.

 

As a visitor, it is hard not to be impressed by the beautiful architecture and the maze-like complex, but I did find the ambience to be quite austere and the temple more polished than I imagined. After I started to study writings by Master Dogen and other prominent Zen teachers like Shunryu Suzuki, Kodo Sawaki, Kosho Uchiyama, and Gudo Wafu Nishijima for the last few years, I couldn’t help but feel that the temple is almost too grand and immaculate. Perhaps my preconceived ideas have let me down, and I probably would have been more in awe of the complex as a sightseeing visitor.

 

eiheiji   eiheiji

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eiheiji   eiheiji

eiheiji

eiheiji

eiheiji

eiheiji

eiheiji

 

Having said that, there are several buildings that are forbidden for visitors to enter, including the monks’ quarters (Sodo), where the monks eat, sleep and meditate; the kitchen (Daikuin) where the meals for the monks is prepared every day; and the baths and toilets (Yokushitsu and Tosu). And after watching a NHK documentary on the monks’ daily lives at Eiheiji, I gathered that the monks’ quarters are more modest and simple than the halls in the main buildings.

 

eiheiji

eiheiji

eiheiji  eiheiji

eiheiji

eiheiji  eiheiji

 

After my visit around the temple, I followed the path and walked up the mountain along the river. There are many amazing giant cedar trees on the temple grounds, and some are around 500 years old. This was my favourite part of the complex, and I thoroughly enjoyed the tranquility and nature here.

 

eiheiji

eiheiji

eiheiji

eiheiji

eiheiji

eiheiji

eiheiji  eiheiji

eiheiji

eiheiji  eiheiji

 

It was lucky that I arrived early, because I saw coaches of Japanese tourists arriving as I was leaving the temple complex. I find it hard to imagine how the practicing monks here can cope with the infux of tourists that the temple receives daily (apparently, it can reach up to 6000-7000). And in order to attract more tourists especially from the neighbouring China and South Korea, the temple and the local authority has started a redevelopment programme. Not only a new 18-room hotel will open in 2019, there will also be a new tourist information centre, and the restoration of the temple road according to the maps from the 1600s. I can’t help but wonder how the temple can maintain a balance between tranquility and tourism in the future. After my visit to Shirakawa-go, I am starting to fear the worst… It would be a shame if tourists are visiting just for photo opportunities rather than trying to learn more about the practice and the teachings by Dogen.

As my teacher keeps emphasising: the practice of zazen and Zen is about balancing our body-mind (body and mind is considered as one in the East). And in this day and age, I feel that all of us need this ‘balance’ more than ever – it probably explains why the teachings of Buddhism and the practice of Mindfulness are becoming more popular in recent years. Hence I certainly hope that the temple that advocates this philosophy/ practice will demonstrate that it is possible to achieve the balanced state.

 

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