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Archive : Japan

In September 2010 I was lucky enough to be able to travel to Japan (日本). One could write whole essays about the first journey of a Westerner (so steeped in European history) to the Orient, but suffice to say that I was delighted, stupefied, astonished, seduced, inspired, and utterly humbled.

As usual, clicking makes the photos bigger, and more information is hidden in the captions.

Tokyo (東京) is a great city - on a par with London, Paris and New York - full of all the contradictions of Japanese culture: modernity versus tradition; industry versus nature; conformity versus liberation.

Shinjuku. Tokyo. Traffic.
Shibuya. Tokyo Tower. The one in Paris is a little better somehow. Shibuya.
Shinjuku. Akihabara. Shinjuku.
Land Of The Rising Sun.
God finger. God knows. A glass of Tory's whiskey! Intestines.
In Japanese department stores you can find all sorts of wonders. These are socks for furniture. Go ape! Padded walls.
Somewhere in Roppongi. Women-only carriage. A very friendly café in Akihabara.
In Europe you cannot smoke inside. In Japan you cannot smoke outside. Vaguely reminiscent. The Aldgate Pub, Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan.
Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu. Somewhere in Asakusa. Midnight sushi.
Unsexpig? Design Festa Gallery, Harajuku. Drinking from a sea urchin.
A shop in Harajuku. Harajuku. The freak's store.
NTT Docomo Yoyogi Building, Shinjuku. Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. Cocoon Tower, Shinjuku.
Sumo wrestlers! The Kokugikan (sumo arena). Hachiko the loyal dog at Shibuya.
Sumo nobori (banners). The Kokugikan (sumo arena).
The aim is to push the opponent outside the circle. Each rank of wrestlers performs a ceremony (dohyo-iri) upon entering the arena. The yokozuna (the highest rank of wrestler) performs a special dohyo-iri wearing shide (zigzag paper strips used in Shinto).
Sumo (相撲) seems less like a sport and more like a competitive ritual, being so related to Shinto. That made it even more surprising to see a few European wrestlers, who might have started their careers as Mancunian bouncers.
Moat surrounding the Imperial Palace.
Gate to the Imperial Palace gardens. A similar view exists in the City Of London. He surveys the Imperial Palace from his tower.
The Imperial Palace, site of the Chrysanthemum Throne, occupies the centre of Tokyo. The Imperial Household was transferred from the old capital Kyoto in 1868. Unfortunately much of the historical fabric of the palace, and much of Tokyo, was obliterated during bombing in the Second World War.
The monument marking the site of the house of William Adams, near Nihonbashi. He was the first Englishman to visit Japan (in the era of Tokugawa Ieyasu), and the only European ever to become a samurai. The National Diet (parliament). The plaque on Nihonbashi from which all distances in Japan are measured. The Tokaido, the road to Kyoto, starts here.
The shinkansen. Mitsui Bank. Nihonbashi.
Ueno Park is home to several museums, largely dating from the Meiji era, when Japan was exposed to Western styles of architecture.
The National Museum Of Science, Ueno. The National Museum, Ueno. The National Museum, Ueno.
An example of ukiyo-e (a woodblock print). The Realm Of Hungry Ghosts, part of Buddhist hell (roughly). The monument for Jan Joosten, who arrived in Japan with William Adams, working for the Dutch East India Company (VOC).
A samurai helmet. The Ministry Of Justice. The Orthodox cathedral.
On TV. The natives. The gaijin.
Kanda-myojin (a shrine). Kanda-myojin.
Yushima-seido (a temple). Ebisu, the god of fishing. Daikoku, the god of prosperity.
Meiji-jingu is hidden in a wood near Harajuku. It commemorates Emperor Meiji, who ended the Tokugawa shogunate and Japan's period of isolation from the rest of the world.
Sake barrels. A torii leading to Meiji-jingu (a shrine). The gate of Meiji-jingu.
Meiji-jingu. Meiji-jingu. Hunting the raven.
Kaminarimon (thunder gate) at Senso-ji. Senso-ji (a temple including a shrine) in Asakusa. The doctor.
Senso-ji. The pagoda. Senso-ji.

Kyoto (京都) was the capital of Japan for around a thousand years and consequently has an overwhelming wealth of monuments, shrines and temples. I had to visit twice to begin to get a reasonable sense of the place.

The Golden Pavilion. The belfry. Kinkaku-ji (a temple).
A tree growing on a wooden support. Kinkaku-ji. Notice the phoenix statue atop the pavilion. Kinkaku-ji.
Kinkaku-ji (The Golden Pavilion) is a Zen Buddhist temple dating from the 1390s.
A girl in a kimono! Some beautiful ladies in kimonos. Strange fruit on the shinkansen.
Shoren-in (a temple).
Shoren-in. Roof detail. Shoren-in.
The extant structures of Chion-in (below), including the largest bell and largest gate in Japan, were built under the orders of shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu.
Sanmon, the gate to Chion-in. Chion-in (a temple).
Chion-in. Chion-in. Chion-in.
Alone in Kyoto. Until the 20th century, the bell at Chion-in was the heaviest in the world (5 times as heavy as Big Ben). It remains the heaviest in Japan. Chion-in.
Pond at Chion-in. Yasaka-jinja (a shrine). Yasaka-jinja.
Yasaka-jinji is close to Gion, the famous geisha district.
Yasaka-jinja. Yasaka-jinja.
A monumental torii. The pilgrim. The gate of Heian-jingu (a shrine).
Heian-jingu. Heian-jingu.
Heian-jingu. Omikuji (prayers written on strips of paper). Sake barrels.
Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu ordered the construction of Nijo Castle (below).
The museum of art. Nijo Castle. Nijo Castle.
Gion, the geisha district. Gion. Sign in Gion.
Roof detail. A statue of Jizo, the guardian of deceased children. Going all-out every day.
Sennyu-ji (a temple). Sennyu-ji.
A street at night. A street at night. The wife hunt (妻狩り).
Fushimi Inari-taisha (a shrine).
Fushimi Inari-taisha is dedicated to Inari, the god (kami 神) of - amongst other things - foxes (kitsune 狐), and is the sixth imperial shrine of Japan. Paths arched over by thousands of donated torii lead deep into the forest above Kyoto.
Fushimi Inari-taisha. These computers can be found everywhere in Japan, even in the forest. A torii marking the way to Fushimi Inari-taisha.
Fushimi Inari-taisha. The pair of kitsune. Fushimi Inari-taisha.
The roof finials are called chigi. Statues of tanuki (raccoon dogs), notable for their huge testicles. Fushimi Inari-taisha.
Thousands of torii. A collection of miniature toriis. Fushimi Inari-taisha.

Nikko (日光) is probably the one place in all the world where I have been awestruck the most - partly because of its undeniable, sublime beauty and partly because I had so little in the way of preconceptions. Indeed, there is a Japanese proverb that says "until you have seen Nikko, you should not say 'magnificent'".

Traditionally only certain people could only cross the Shinkyo bridge which leads from the town of Nikko to the shrines in the forest.
An old shop. The vernacular. Spot the kimonos.
The Sanjunoto pagoda. Photographer. Otabisho (part of Tosho-gu).
Rinno-ji (a temple). The ornamental garden at Rinno-ji. A sorinto.
Gojunoto, the five-storied pagoda. A torii.
The (original) three wise monkeys: hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil. They adorn the stable of the sacred white horse. The gate to Tosho-gu.
Tosho-gu (a shrine and mausoleum).
Tosho-gu was built for the famous shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu. He moved the de facto capital to Edo (Tokyo) and restricted European influence to the Dutch East India Company. His remains were moved here with great ceremony in 1617.
An elephant carving, apparently by a left-handed artist, or one who had never seen an elephant (depending on which version of the legend you believe). A statue of an archer. Tosho-gu.
Tosho-gu. Yomeimon, the gate.
The drum tower. Yomeimon, showing a profusion of brackets (dougong). A lantern (a gift from the Dutch).
The candelabra is apparently another gift from the Dutch.
An unexpected echo of Europe can be found in a baroque candelabra, which was a gift from the Dutch, along with a bronze lantern.
Futarasan-jinja (a shrine). Futarasan-jinja. Stone lanterns (toro).
Taiyuin-byo (a shrine and mausoleum). Some toro. Some toro.
Nitenmon, a gate at Taiyuin-byo. Taiyuin-byo. Taiyuin-byo.
Taiyuin-byo was built for another shogun, Tokugawa Iemitsu, not long after Tosho-gu.
Taiyuin-byo. Taiyuin-byo. Taiyuin-byo.