Nagasaki – reborn

In going through the few photos I have of Nagasaki, the other major bunch are of the hypocenter or peace park. That post will be a long one on history, with a lot of the photos from the park and my thoughts on the museum. However, today is just one shot. I came across this photo and I was shocked I had it. This is at the hypocenter. I had to go back and look it up, I was in Nagasaki in April of 2004. So this is Nagasaki in the Spring, 59 years after a nuclear weapon exploded right above this location. I’ll leave any conclusions and thoughts to you.

Nagasaki – Confucius Shrine

Not sure why I ended up at this Shrine, it’s not entirely popular but I’ve got pictures of it so I guess I went there for a reason. I guess?

Constructed in 1893 by Nagasaki’s Chinese residents the place has 72 statues of Confucius. It’s a reminder that Nagasaki was always the ancient gateway into Japan.

Note the differences in architecture from Japanese shrines from some of my previous posts.

Osaka – Shitennō-ji

I just didn’t take as many photos back then, I guess. Go to a temple, take only two shots? I’ve talked about how this can be a good thing. But when I don’t remember all that much about the visit, I guess it can also be a bad thing.

About an hour’s walk from Sumiyoshi-taisha is Shitennō-ji, another very old temple with a long history. It’s beyond my memory, but this is an excellent summary.

Shitennō-ji is said to be the oldest Buddhist temple in Japan but sadly all the buildings date from a 1960’s rebuild. Still worth a short visit.

Osaka – Sumiyoshi Taisha

If you’re in Osaka, you kind of just have to. Osaka’s most famous shrine, seat of all Japan’s Sumiyoshi shrines, and the subject of many legends, Sumiyoshi Taisha is said to have been originally built in 211. Founded by Empress Jingu it’s a shrine to the sea, dedicated to the Sumiyoshi Sanjin or the sea’s three gods. Back then, the shrine was right against the sea itself whereas today it’s somewhat inland.

The appropriately, galactically famous Sorihashi Bridge, one of the most beautiful and quintessential of Japan’s taiko bashi or drum bridges. This is one of my most favorite shots of all time, it was done with my old bad camera, and has its flaws but I still dig it.

The shrine’s west entrance, looking from west to east, with the gate up front, and the bridge in the background.

One of the rarest things I ever saw in Japan, a legit memorial for World War II. The shrine being dedicated to the sea, this of course makes sense. This was tucked away in a corner area and I kind of stumbled into it. I sadly don’t read Japanese in any form anymore, but this is a heavy cruiser. I don’t know the ship name or class, but the painting is an older version of the ship, I think, since the heavy cruiser has only two forward turrets instead of the later installed three.

The secondary temple.

If I’ve got my bearings right, this is the north side of the trio of the three main sanctuary structures. I always love the candid shots I get of just ordinary people happening along their daily lives, unaware or uncaring that this weird dude is taking very serious (bad amateur) photography.

Ōsaka-jō – and why building expensive castles usually doesn’t work

So you want to build a castle. You’re a powerful man but you have a boss. And his castle is awesome. So you want to build one that’s even better than his. So your tower is taller, you throw some gold leaf on there, and you probably think you’ve done an awesome thing.

Problem is, your boss dies, and you’re left hanging with this big, huge, expensive castle while your enemy instead has a massive killing machine of a mobile field army. Oh, and sorry, fixed defenses are generally of only limited value during a long running military conflict. Just ask China how well the Great Wall was at keeping out those dastardly Mongols.

Ōsaka-jō was built from 1583-1597 by Toyotomi Hideyoshi who wanted to mirror the digs of his boss (at the time, everybody’s boss) in Oda Nobunaga. But then Oda died. And soon the son in Toyotomi Hideyori gets Ōsaka-jō.

Then one day in 1600 this ordinary, average, nondescript guy named Tokugawa Ieyasu wins arguably one of the devastating and decisive battles in military history at Sekigahara. Toyotomi loses badly, but it takes Tokugawa until 1615 to acquire enough balance of power to finally settle the score. Tokugawa’s army of several hundred thousand men overpowers Ōsaka-jō, burns it to the ground, Toyotomi dies by his own hand, and Japan’s history is essentially written for the next two hundred years.

Tokugawa rebuilds the castle, because of course. In the subsequent centuries it does what a lot of wooden buildings do throughout history, it burns repeatedly. Gets rebuilt. Then burns again. Then the castle is rebuilt with public contributions. Then during the Boshin War it’s taken and burned again. Then it’s rebuilt, but this time as an arsenal. And so the the Americans carpet bomb the place into oblivion in August 1945.

Only in the late 1990’s is the castle itself restored. But in typical Japanese fashion, it’s done in concrete and not wood. Every time, it still gives me a lack of understanding chuckle at the lack of authenticity and reverence the Japanese have for historical sites and buildings. Nothing quite like the calm, religious experience of a glorious temple, when you can buy hello kitty right inside the door from one of my merchant stalls.

This was a neat visit, it’s cool to look at and the ground themselves are beautiful more as a garden or a park. The tower is interesting, but it feels stale and not real. Probably because it’s concrete and not real. It’s not one of my favorite Japan locations, by far, but it’s worth a short trip if you’re in town.

And also, if you have a Bond style villain demi-god level of power in your future somewhere, don’t build a castle or a god-like evil lair. Building expensive castles usually doesn’t work, see Ōsaka-jō. Or Bond will blow up your lair. Focus on mobile field armies or goons instead.

ordinary average gentlemen escapes from evil claw via jetcopter, supermodel in tow

The interesting thing is despite what you read in the news I’m going by the assumption that Carlos Ghosn escaped from the evil claw death room with relative ease.

– Oh, his home was under surveillance?  I love Japan, but the Japanese have a reputation for a stoic, detail oriented nature that is often unearned and comically missing: see Fukushima, the incessant problems with the Tokyo Olympic building projects, and Death Stranding.  Ghosn’s home wasn’t likely under anything approaching the level of surveillance he’d have received in Mr Takashima’s subterranean volcano fortress.  Ghosn probably just slipped out the back while the cop was asleep or watching the Giants destroy the Tigers, again.

– He certainly didn’t escape in a music case.  For you see, what he did is his mercenary handlers drove him to an airport in the dark.  Then they went to the civil aviation terminal side and boarded a private jet.  For those who are unaware, civil aviation security and immigration checks are a flat joke compared to what folks go through in the steerage terminal.  Ghosn may or may not have been required to present a passport and undergo a minor security check.  My guess is he did neither, at least in any serious manner, and then they took off.  They didn’t even have to break one guard’s neck, so boring.

– So now our hero is in the air, and on his way to Lebanon via Turkey.  He flies from Osaka to Istanbul.  Turkey is easy, so easy, Ghosn just paid them all off in gold doubloons.  Next.

– And finally to Lebanon where he’s well known to the elite and without an extradition treaty.  Japan can’t touch him there.  Game over.  Takashima screams at his giant video board and slams his claw down atop a mostly full brandy glass, shattering it into numerous pieces.  Kitty squeals.

Hey man, I’d run too.  Japan has a Stazi-like 99% conviction rate for federal charges.  A man got a fairer trial in Nazi Germany.

But hey, isn’t the USA’s federal conviction rate also 99%?  Why how interesting that you ask, because yes, yes it is.  Damn, maybe we all better move to Lebanon while we still can.

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Takashima:  “I’ll get you next time Ghosn!  NEXXXT TIME!  [pets kitty]

Japan – Niigata: when my camera was terrible

Today’s smartphone cameras have become so capable it’s hard to remember that carrying a camera was once a conscious choice. Once upon a time I had a camera in my pocket that was five times the size of a smartphone and it was complete garbage. Times have changed, have you noticed?

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On this blog, we are very, very slowly making our way through my past travels. Lots of Japan to go. Wanted to do a complete, worthwhile post on Niigata, but can’t. Nearly every one of my shots from that trip are absolute, grainy, garbage.

Most of that was me. I’m not the expert photographer I am now (cue laugh track including laughing by drunken hyenas). But also, at the time my camera was pathetic. I don’t even have it anymore, or remember what it was.

Here are the only shots worth posting. Enjoy. Who gardens better than the Japanese? Not me. Not you.

Uh, Niigata’s great. Go.

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Kamakura – Engaku-ji

Lost amidst the fervent nationalism that’s now the norm in the Western Pacific is how longstanding and deep the ties are between peoples.  From 1274 to 1281 the Mongols, alongside their Chinese and Korean vassals, conducted a series of invasions against Japan.  All failed for a variety of reasons, not least of which was a series of typhoons and the emergence of what would become the samurai warrior class.

In 1282 to commemorate the victories, honor the dead on all sides, and to push forward Zen Buddhism in Japan, the then shōgun Hōjō Tokimune ordered the construction of Engaku-ji.  He enlisted the help of a Chinese monk in Mugaku Sogen.  Zen became a huge part of the ruling culture’s psyche and was integral in the emergence of the samurai and what they were.

In the sense, Hōjō got exactly what he’d wanted.  He’s buried there.  And while the days of the Kamakura Shōgunate long passed it remained a key feature in Japanese Buddhism throughout history.  It’s a must see if you’re anywhere near Kamakura and it couldn’t be easier to get to via JR East’s Yokosuka Line which essentially drops you right at the temple entrance.

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The Sanmon, two story main gate, looking from it’s back towards the entrance.  As is typical for just about any ancient Japanese structure, fire constantly requires rebuilding.  The current version was reconstructed in 1785.

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Now walking up from the front of the Sanmon.

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Engaku-ji is still a functioning temple.  I didn’t get too close but there were folks practicing archery.  Note the target in the distance.

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Note the guy on the right with a typical Japanese longbow, as tall as a man (he is kneeling).  Despite the reputation of the katana, I suspect the real killers on most Japanese battlefields were the archers.

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I love the contrast in light on this shot.

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Find the fishy.

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The monk’s quarters.

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The Great Bell, Ogane, cast in 1301.  The largest temple bell in the wider Tokyo area.

Mount Fuji, Part Two – Fuji stick

You’re supposed to bring home at least one item from every country if you can, or at least every trip.  How does one do this though if you’re constrained to one backpack?  For this reason and many others, I don’t really have too many corporeal possessions from my travels.

But sometimes you pick up an item that you find a way home any darn way you can.  I think I shipped my Fuji stick home via 1912 British Imperial tramp steamer.  I made it happen.  It cost me 13 pounds, 6 shillings, and a bottle of my finest barley swill.

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If you ascend Fuji, you have the option to take the wooden Fuji stick.  Not everybody does so.  Those who’ve been up multiple times have no need.  Some folks consider it a vicious tourist trap kind of thing.  But I just think it’s too cool.

The idea is you start out with this bare piece of wood.  At various way stations on your journey up, they use a hot brand to burn logos into the stick.  Here’s a shot of mine of a local carrying one up where he’s taken the flag off.

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Of note, whereas I left my Japanese flag on my stick, see how the local has taken his off.  I attribute this to the difference in patriotism between your average Japanese and say an American.

For example, my Parents have always had the Stars & Stripes flying outside their front door.  Always.  You would not see this type of behavior from almost any normal Japanese family.  Patriotism is a very different mindset between the two countries.

The Fuji stick takes this concept into overdrive as the flag that adorns it is not just any flag, but the older Rising Sun Flag of Imperial Japan.  I don’t know why Fuji chooses this over the modern and less controversial single red circle?  But anyways, a lot of locals took their flags off their stick.  Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t matter to me either way, I just find the concept interesting.

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Here’s a close up of one of the stamps.  A torii gate with the year I climbed, 2005.  Man, I’m getting freaking old.

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A few more stamps, one with 3,400 for 3,400 meters.  Then, above it again the year 2005, and 11,000 feet.  Note feet, not meters.  I think that guy must have had two stamps.  One that did meters, and one that did 11,000 feet for the gaijin.

My Fuji stick sits right next to my home desk, always.  You can actually catch it in the background of an old shot I had for a previous post where I talked about beer.  Win.

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Mount Fuji – only once?

It is said that a wise person will climb Fuji once, but only a fool will do it twice.  Well, what if you’re not wise to begin with?  And what do you do when you climb it the first time, and it’s a fog filled mess?

I think the answer is you have to climb it again.  Even if that throws my soul out of alignment and curses me.  Then I’d need to enlist the services of Shōki The Demon Queller to cleanse my spirit.  But I’m down with that.

Shōki only takes payment in fine sake.  So he and I can get ripped on it after he’s done slaying the cursed demon that’s bugging my dogs while they troll around the basement looking for crickets.

So I’ll be climbing Fuji again someday.  Just to do it again.  And because I couldn’t see anything when I reached the summit because of all the fog.

Besides, when climbing Fuji I constantly got passed by folks who were probably 73 years old.  They were kicking my ass.  I’m betting (other than the fact that these people are awesome) that this was not their first dance with Fuji.  If they can do it multiple times, so can I.

IMG_1018This shot is actually in the early afternoon at the end of my climb.  It’s the only decent shot I have of Fuji that day.  Note the clouds that still owned the summit.

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Nobody should climb Fuji unless they’re in decent shape.  There are no training wheels.  You get a stick, you get the assist lines, and that’s it.  In some cases the path is a total mess.  You’re walking directly on volcanic rock.  I loved it.

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The climb is a series of switchbacks.  At the choke points it can get a bit crowded, but I suppose there is room to slide by if you’re in a hurry or are timing yourself.

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Foooggg.  I did somehwat regret the fog, but honestly, since I know I’m going up again it was actually a lot of fun.  It added to the mystery of Fuji.  It’s like walking on a mystical moon.

Looking Up4Unrelated photo of climbers who are better than I.

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I don’t have any shots of the summit.  There some shops and such.  But we couldn’t see anything up there.  Here is a shot right below the summit upon beginning descent.

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Descent is just as much a challenge as ascent.  You’re using different muscles and the switchbacks are over different ground which is looser.  Note in this shot the slow descent from volcanic wasteland until it’s ultimately the greenery of lower altitudes.

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Nature begins to return with some green here and there.

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One of my ubiquitous random forest shots at the end of the descent.  I’ll also go back to hike the forests around Fuji itself.  They’re beautiful, and a sharp delightful change from the overwhelming concrete of urban Japan.