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Temples & Shrines (How to) February 7, 2012

Posted by Dru in Japan, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Temples & Shrines (How to)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-IE

Visiting a temple or a shrine in Japan is a very common thing.  It is very cheap as they usually don’t charge you any money to visit.  The biggest challenge comes in what to do when you do visit a shrine, and learning the differences.  The first thing to learn is the differences between a temple and a shrine.  The basic difference is the religion.  A temple is generally associated with Buddhism and a shrine is associated with Shintoism.  Shinto is a Japanese religion that worships various deities and people.  Buddhism and Shintoism had been intertwined since Buddhism was introduced to Japan in the late 600s.  In the 1800s, during the Meiji Restoration period, the two religions were split and Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines were no longer allowed to function as one unit.  This split can easily be seen in various locations around Japan where you will see a major Buddhist temple and a small Shinto shrine next to it.  The opposite also occurs.  This makes it very difficult to differentiate between the two and even scholars can have a difficult time if all the information was removed.  The easiest way, aside from reading the name, is to look inside the main hall.  If you see a Buddhist statue, you are in a temple.  If you see an elaborate room with gold leaf or other things scattered about, you are probably in a shrine.  This is not to say all temples and shrines are like this, but it is an easy way to guess which one is which if you don’t know the name or kanji to differentiate the two.

Before entering a temple or shrine, you are greeted by a large font of water and ladles.  This is the purification, or washing, font.  It is a simple task where you must wash yourself to become pure.  It is akin to dipping your fingers in the holy water and making a sign of the cross as you enter a Christian church.  The process is a little different.  The strict rules state that you grab a ladle by your right hand, fill it with water and proceed to rinse your left hand followed by the right.  Be sure to pour the water into the trough and not back into the font.  I’m sure I must have done this by mistake the first time.  Put a little water into your left hand and slurp it up.  You don’t have to drink it if you don’t want to, and you can spit it out into the trough next to the font.  Afterwards, rinse your left hand again and place the ladle in its original location.  It is a very simple process that takes seconds to do but can mystify people who have never seen it or prepared for it before.  I remember my first time doing this and I had no clue as to what to do.  Even Japanese people don’t know the “proper” way to do it.  The best thing to do is just rinse your hands and finish up.  I don’t recommend drinking the water, although it is usually safe to do so.  I do put the water in my mouth but I never drink it.  There is also no obligation to doing this every time.  Think of it as if you enter a church.  If there is holy water, you don’t have to dip your fingers in it, but to be respectful to the religion, you should.

The prayer is where things get more complicated and diverse.  In a temple, you generally only have a prayer offering box.  When you go to a shrine, things can change a little.  Shrines tend to have a type of noise maker over the offering box.  It is typically either a gong or a rattle of some sort.  The gong and rattle are located near the roof and a large rope is connected to it.  When praying, the first step is to throw your money into the box.  To be lucky, you should use a coin that has a hole in it.  In Japan, 5 and 50 yen coins are lucky.  500 yen is good too, but I feel it isn’t as lucky as there is no hole in the actual coin.  Once the money is in the box, you can shake the rope and make some noise.  If there is no rope, you can skip this step.  Take a step back if necessary and bow 2 times, followed by clapping 2 times.  After the second clap, keep your hands together and make a prayer or wish.  Bow one more time and you are finished.  Most Japanese people aren’t religious, rather they are more superstitious than anything else.  They tend to pray for luck and money but most people don’t actually believe in the religion they are praying to.  It’s similar to having a lucky doll when writing a test.

Japanese people can act very superstitious about religion.  You can purchase a variety of lucky amulets from temples and shrines that will protect you on a journey, bring you good health, or help you with a test.  While some temples will offer lucky amulets, the amulets are almost always exclusive to shrines.  Most of these amulets are good for one year, after which they need to be “recharged”.  Many people will purchase one each year and return it to the shrine they purchased it from.  If you want to recharge it, you must go to the original shrine you bought it from, which can make things a little difficult if you are just visiting Japan or you purchase it from a small shrine in a remote location.  Some people do return to the original temple but the majority don’t.  If you don’t want the amulet anymore, especially if the power has run out, you can return it to any shrine, especially during the new year’s festivities.  They usually have large boxes where you can toss your lucky amulets in for recycling or ritual burning.  Be sure that you don’t open the amulets or the power can either run out or turn to bad luck.  I have heard stories, first hand, of people having their amulets opened as they travel through airport security.  Think of asking a Hindu to take off their turban.  Opening a lucky amulet, in a religious sense, is similar to taking off a turban or even a hijab.

Both temples and shrines have “omikuji” or fortunes.  These are pieces of paper that tell you if you have good or bad luck, and to what degree.  There are roughly 9 levels.  There are 3 each for good luck, bad luck, and mixed luck.  The most interesting way to get your luck is a sort of lottery system.  There is a large container that is either cylindrical or hexagonal in shape.  You shake this and try to get a stick through a small hole at the top.  Once you get a stick, it will have a number on it.  That number will tell you which fortune you can receive.  Sometimes they have a letter instead.  Put the stick back into the container and pick up your fortune from the corresponding drawer.  Unfortunately, most fortunes are in Japanese only, but a few places such as Sensoji in Asakusa have Englilsh fortunes.  The other way to get a fortune is to dig around a box.  Some shrines have boxes where you can dig through many fortunes and hope you get a good one.  You can also get them from vending machines, but there isn’t much fun in that.  Once you get your fortune, you have to tie it somewhere in the temple or shrine.  There are usually racks where you can do this or a tree where many others have done the same.  You can easily find the location by looking around the temple or shrine.  For those who have the best luck possible, you actually put it in your wallet and keep it for a year.  The reasoning for leaving the fortune at the shrine is to prevent the bad luck from following you home, although with any good luck, I don’t see the point in leaving it there.

Leaving the shrine is much easier.  Look at the exit and walk that way.  There are actually a lot of things you can do at the temples and shrines that most people don’t know about.  Most temples and shrines offer personalized writing and stamps.  It is relatively unknown but you can buy a special stamp book from any temple or shrine and pay a small fee for one of the priests to write the name of the shrine and put the official stamp inside the book.  This book is a record of your pilgrimage to visit various temples and shrines around Japan.  It makes a great souvenir as well, even if you can’t read it properly.  Making notes of this is good enough.  You can also buy are prayer beads or rosaries.  These are available at Buddhist temples only.  Unfortunately I am not familiar with how they work, but they are a nice accessory.  As I said, there are many other things you can do, and even I am constantly discovering new things about temples and shrines.  For a typical tourist, the information here is more than enough to keep you satisfied.  For a resident, just enjoy the adventure.

Shrine and Temple Information:

General Information:  http://www.onmarkproductions.com/html/pilgrimages-pilgrims-japan.html
Another account into Stamp Books:  http://japanlifeandreligion.com/2010/04/12/tales-of-a-buddhist-pilgrim-me/

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

Kochi June 23, 2009

Posted by Dru in Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Kochi” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/s2liAm-kochi

Kochi is a small city located on the south coast of Shikoku.  It is well known throughout Japan that the people of Kochi drink the most out of any other Japanese area.  Due to the location of this city, very few people ever visit this town, and most people are either locals, or Japanese people.  Tourists tend to be few and far between.  In fact, most cities in the south of Shikoku can be considered difficult for any foreigner who cannot speak Japanese; like any other non-English speaking city, you can always get by with hand signals and gestures.

The first thing you will notice about Kochi is the low skyline, fresh air, and lack of transportation.  It is very much a car centric city.  Public transportation relies on buses or trams.  The downtown core is where most people will want to spend their time.  It provides a great place to find good restaurants and do a little shopping.  Being well known for drinking, you will probably find more pubs and restaurants than anything else.  The downtown core has three main attractions.  Going to the main intersection, where the two tram lines meet, you can be entertained every hour by a clock.  Every hour, you can watch a special show where figures come out and dance to a tune.  Adjacent to the clock is a small park with a man made stream.  It is a very nice place to get away from the hustle and bustle of the main street.  It is also the location of Harimayabashi.  It is a wooden bridge that is the title of the 2009 movie of the same name, “The Harimaya Bridge”.  This will probably provide a lot of tourism dollars for Kochi itself, and the bridge will also become a major tourist attraction.  Unfortunately, it may no longer be the tranquil place it once was.

The main attraction within the downtown area is Kochi-jo.  It is Kochi’s white castle, located on the western edge of the downtown core.  The grounds of Kochi-jo are not as magnificent as Himeji, but they are still very beautiful.  Unfortunately, I visited Kochi in May, and the flowers and shrubs hadn’t started blooming yet.  I have heard that it is more beautiful during the summer months than in the spring.  Upon reaching the main courtyard, you will be graced with a nice view of the city, but it isn’t the best view of the city.  Instead, head for the inner courtyard to see the main building.  It looks relatively small and simple.  It is a very simple castle that can be explored very quickly.  You must pay to enter the castle, but I thought it was worth the entry.  It is very cool inside and there aren’t too many people.  You can essentially get parts of the castle to yourself.  At times, there are volunteers explaining how the castle was used in the past, but do note that they tend to be retired people who probably don’t speak any English.  If you have ever visited Himeji, you will remember how boring the inside of the castle was.  Kochi realizes that looking at a castle can be boring, so they added several dioramas.  These range from depictions of Kochi in past times to how Kochi was a whaling city.  They provide an interesting snapshot into the history of the people from Kochi.

Godaisan is a small mountain located within the city, but too far to reach on foot or bicycle.  There are some busses that do go up the mountain, but they are infrequent.  The easiest way to reach this area of Kochi is to drive.  When you reach Godaisan, you will have to drive up a steep and narrow road.  This road, thankfully, is only one way.  The first place you can stop is the Godaisan Park.  It is a very nice hillside park that gives great views of Kochi city.  I would highly recommend a quick visit and climb to the lookout point.  The lookout point is easy to find.  It is atop the main building in the park.  You can also look back to the mountain and see the peak of the pagoda of Chikurinji.  Walking to Chikurinji from the park is very easy, but the path can be a little difficult to find if you aren’t looking in the right area.  You can also walk along the street, but because it’s so narrow, I don’t recommend it.  Chikurinji is the 31st temple along the 88 temple pilgrimage of Shikoku.  It is a very nice temple that feels very secluded.  The entrance near the park is the back entrance.  From here, you will be able to see some of the disused areas of the temple, and some of the graves.  The main attraction of this temple is the pagoda.  It is a typical Japanese style pagoda.  The temple and other areas of the temple are not particularly special either, but it is a significant temple in Kochi.  Next to the temple is the Makino Botanical Garden.  It is a very nice garden, but be aware that many schools in the Kochi area visit this garden on school trips, so it may not be as peaceful as you’d like.

My overall impression of Kochi is of a small city with a small town feel.  It is very beautiful and a place I could return to.  It is easy to relax, and there is a beach that isn’t too far away.  If you ever have a chance, I would recommend heading to Kochi to get away from everything in Japan.

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

Route 55 (Tokushima to Kochi, via Muroto) June 16, 2009

Posted by Dru in Japan, Shikoku, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Route 55 (Tokushima to Kochi, via Muroto)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-c1

For the first full day of my motorcycle adventure, I travelled down from Tokushima to Kochi.  It was over 200kms for my first day of riding.  The first part was very boring.  When you drive in Japan, the cities are places you want to skip.  There isn’t anything to really see.  You just go from light to light seeing nothing new.  It took about an hour to get outside of Tokushima and its surrounding suburbs.  Once out of the city, things got smaller, yet more scenic.  Things didn’t become interesting until I reached the small town of Hiwasa.  This is a very small town located about two hours along route 55.  It is so small that you will be in and out of this town in less than 10 minutes.  There are only a few things to do in this town.  The main point of interest is to visit Yakuouji Temple.  This is built right next to the highway, and up a mountain.  There are many steep steps to reach the temple.  I found it to be an interesting temple for its location and how it was built, but the art and basic design wasn’t any different than any other temple in Japan.  There is also a small castle in this town and a few beaches where you can relax and enjoy yourself.  It is a good place to stretch your legs a bit if you are travelling this way.

From Hiwasa, I would recommend leaving route 55 and heading down route 147.  This is a very small road, and the entrance is very easy to miss.  It is just past the temple, which can’t be missed.  This road follows the coastline more than route 55.  There are several mountains along this part of the coast making road construction difficult.  Route 55 heads to the north side of these mountains making it easier to drive.  However, the views from route 147 are wonderful and you’ll be graced with various types of corners.  This is more for drivers to enjoy.  There are also several different lookouts, but after one or two, they tend to look the same.  Heading further along route 55, there isn’t much to see.  However, there are many beaches, dams, and other things to see.  If you are travelling along anywhere in Japan, there is one easy way to know if there is something interesting to see.  The government tries to help local communities attract more tourists by promoting local attractions.  On the road, you will see a large white sign with blue lettering.  This is almost always something of interest.  Unfortunately, it isn’t always really interesting, so if you are driving around in Japan, beware that some sites may be worth a pass.

The main tourist attraction along route 55 is Muroto.  It is the southern most point of the highway.  Shikoku has two capes in the south.  Muroto is the western one.  It is very easy to drive in and out of Muroto.  There isn’t much to this cape.  However, it is a great place to stop and spend at least an hour.  There are a few places to take pictures, and the seawater is extremely clear.  The first thing you will see, coming from Tokushima, is a giant statue of a Buddhist monk.  Once you pass this large Buddhist monk, you will soon reach the tip of the cape.  There are a few places to park, but once you park, it’s a short two minute hike to the waterfront.  The waterfront if full of rocks that can make it difficult to walk around.  However, because of the remoteness of the cape, it is extremely peaceful.  There are only a handful of people around at any time.  I would highly recommend a dip in the water, but beware that you’ll need your bathing suit at the cape.  There are too many people around to go skinny dipping.  If you have time, you can also head up the mountain at the cape and take a look at the lighthouse.  It is the largest lighthouse in Japan and it can be seen from over 50kms away.  The views from the lighthouse must also be very nice.

After passing the cape, there isn’t too much to see.  The road follows the entire coastline up to Kochi.  The coast is very beautiful and worth the drive, however, there isn’t too much to do along this part of the road.  If you have a chance to rent a car and travel down this way, I highly recommend that you should do it.  You will have a wonderful day trip.

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

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