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Fukuoka Sunset

Fukuoka Sunset

I went to Fukuoka to see a friend who was returning to the U.S. the next day off. Before meeting him I was walking around a bit and there was a beautiful, orange, sunset. I only had my little point-n-shoot camera, but I used it’s manual controls to capture it as best I could.

Fukuoka Sunset Streetlight by William Milberry
Fukuoka Sunset Streetlight by William Milberry
Fukuoka Sunset Fisherman by William Milberry
Fukuoka Sunset Fisherman by William Milberry

 

南無妙法蓮華經

南無妙法蓮華經

I’ve always been a fan of Buddhist art.  I would often go on long scooter rides through the countryside and every time I saw a temple I’d stop to explore and photograph it.

(c)2013 - William Milberry

The Temple Gate

The Temple Gate

To the southwest of the town I lived in there was a Buddhist temple that always caught my attention when I passed it.  The side of the road dropped off steeply and about 2 stories down was the temple with a cemetery next to it.  The day I took this photo I stopped by with one of my vintage cameras (I can’t recall which one, it might have been my Super Ricohflex).  While walking around the temple grounds, an old Japanese lady saw me.  I politely asked her if it was OK for me to be there and shoot photos?  Rather than asking me what country I was from as so many from my rural area impulsively did, the old lady smiled at me and started telling me about the history of the temple.

According to her the temple burnt down a long time ago and was rebuilt.  The gate was the only original part that survived.  She suggested that I take a picture of the gate, which turned out to make a nice photo:

The Temple Gate - William Milberry
The Temple Gate – William Milberry
Class is out

Class is out

One of the schools I taught at in Japan was large (~1,000 students) and old.  The decades had worn on the main classroom building quite a bit.  Students were moved to temporary buildings as the main building was scheduled to be demolished and rebuilt, adhering to new earthquake resistence standards.

The number of memories held by these walls must be uncountable … first loves, best friends, fights, successes, failures.  No matter what memories one winds up carrying away from their high school experience, it is an extremely rich time in our lives in terms of memories, experience, and development.  Japanese, who culturally have very strong group identity, seem to feel particularly strong about their schools.  I wonder how the graduates of this school feel about it’s demolition?  Is it the end of an era,or the rebirth and continuance of it?

Given the native Japanese religion of Shintoism’s views on renewal, my guess is that most would look upon it positively.  The main national Shinto shrine, located at Ise, actually has it’s main building torn down and rebuilt every 20 years.

My guess is that while the buildings wall’s seem full of memories, the actual holding place of the memories is in the existence of the school.

(Shot on film – Kodak 400tx @ HC110)

Engrish

Engrish

You might come across humorous photos of “Engrish” (misspelled or misused English in Asia), on-line.  But unless you’ve been there (Japan in particular), you might not know how truly abundant it is.  Everywhere you turn you find English on signs.  It’s not so much because people understand English, but because it’s trendy to use.

When used in this fashion, it seems that limited effort is put into forming good English (which is surprising because the Japanese are very meticulous and capable people who study English as a regular subject in Jr. and Sr. high school.)

Japanese cemetery – Infrared composite

Japanese cemetery – Infrared composite

In my last post I commented on how the Japanese follow both Shinto and Buddhist traditions at the same time.  One place where you see Buddhist beliefs is in funeral and death related rituals.  The Japanese cremate their dead and places the ashes into family tombstones.  I’ve been told that in Buddhist beliefs cremation is a way to free a person’s soul or karma.

This is a photo of a Japanese cemetery.  The color is not a digital effect, but rather the result of a technique that combines infrared and color light to make the photo.  Plants strongly reflect infrared causing them to stand out dramatically in infrared photos.  A normal color photo is made by combining red, green, and blue light.  What I’ve done here is combine infrared, green, and blue.

Religion in Japan

Religion in Japan

I lived in Japan for a long time and religion there is somewhat different from the typical western idea of religion.  In Japan the simple, native, nature based, Shinto religion co-exists with Buddhism.  On some special holidays and festivals (Setsubun, 7-5-3 Festival, and New Years for instance), the Japanese go to Shinto shrines and pray or partake in Shinto rituals, and for other events.  On other special times, such as the Obon Festival and funerals, the same people go to their Buddhist temples to partake in Buddhist traditions.  The two religions co-exist and are not mutually exclusive.  If I had to describe how this works I would say that Shinto takes care of people’s daily spiritual needs and focuses on this world, while Buddhism takes care of their soul’s spiritual needs and gives them a larger philosophy about things such as the afterlife.  This dual belief system doesn’t conflict, but rather compliments very nicely.   It some ways it seems as if it can address more topics than some mono-theistic religion such as Christianity, which often have difficulty in saying clear things about this world, often requiring the practitioner to simply rely on faith and focus on the next world or afterlife.  This of course is only my perspective.

There are Shinto shrines EVERYWHERE and people visit them often to pray.  But if you ask Japanese people, they will tend to say that they are not religious.  Shinto and Buddhism seem to me to be very personal religions where practitioners often visit temples or shrines on their own time to pray individually and as needed as opposed to many Western religions which focus more on services that groups attend at set times.  I often found this a little perplexing as the Japanese are an extremely group oriented culture while western (Christian) cultures tend to me more individual.

This is but one of many Shinto shrines in the small town where I lived.  This was on the outer edge of town, along a river, a very pleasant 25 minute bicycle ride from my apartment.  Typically on the path or road leading to the shrine you’ll find a big cement arch called a “torii.”  The shine will have a rattle or a bell that you ring by shaking the rope hanging from it to get the attention of the deity you are praying to, then you pray while standing at the steps at the front of the shrine.  Often a holy object is protected inside in an alter in the back.  A common holy object is a mirror which I believe symbolizes the deity enshrined.

Hina Matsuri (Hina Doll Festival)

Hina Matsuri (Hina Doll Festival)

March 3rd was one of my favorite festivals in Japan – Hina Matsuri.  Hina Matsuri is otherwise known as the Hina Doll Festival and celebrates Girl’s Day.  It is a day to pray for the health and wellbeing of young girls.  It’s celebrated through displaying a set of often very ornate and beautiful dolls which portray the royal court of the Heian Period (794 to 1185).

It has it’s origins in the Heian period and the belief that dolls can entrap bad spirits.  Usually in the weeks leading up to the Hina Matsuri storefronts, historic buildings, and families put the dolls on display which traditionally inclues the dolls sitting on a tiered shelf resembling steps draped in red fabric.  My town has a very old looking historic street/district where some historic buildings are opened and have large displays of dolls including some antique ones.  I have a lot of fond memories of going to see the doll displays with my wife while we were dating.  She is the youngest daughter of her family and thus she never got her own set of dolls, so I bought a small set which I put out for her.  I want to buy a proper set some day, but they can be expensive easily passing the thousand dollar range for a finely crafted set wearing many layered kimonos.

Here are a few photos I took during last year’s Hina Matsuri.