Kanagawa #5: Kawasaki Daishi (川崎大師)

Well hello there! I’m back from vacation, and plan to resume posting once a week at least, starting with a temple I visited during my travels, Kanagawa Prefecture’s Kawasaki Daishi!

The real name of this temple is Heiken-ji, and it is the headquarters of the Chizan School of Shingon Buddhist. It’s especially famous for hatsumode, the first shrine visit of the year, which is pretty impressive since most people visit a shrine, not a temple. It is nevertheless always extremely crowded New Years Day and the following few days.

I visited it when I had a chance to stay at a hotel close to Kanagawa Prefecture recently. It was late in the evening and hardly anybody was around, but it is a really nice place, and a pretty easy shot from Tokyo for those looking for a nice temple to visit, but don’t want to go as far as the temples and shrines of Kamakura. Check out information about it, and how to get there, here.

The sign for the temple in Kawasaki JR Station.

Map of the temple area

The main temple itself, plus postcard

And a close up!

I found the pagoda especially beautiful in the afternoon sun

And a close up.

I’m not a fan of crowds, so I’m glad to get the chance to visit the temple without anyone there! I was still able to get my calligraphy, however, even though it was after closing time.

I hope you get a chance to go again as well. Enjoy!

Nagano #7: Zenko Temple (信州善光寺)

Nagano’s 7th postcard features Zenkoji, one of the most important and most popular temples in Japan. It stores the first ever Buddhist statue brought to Japan, and a replica of that statue is shown once every 6 years. This year happens to be the year the statue is shown to the public, and besides releasing 2015’s Nagano postcard of the temple, postacollect has also released a few other special postcards I’ve blogged about here and here. You can read more about the temple and current events here.

I’ve never seen the statue, but I’ve been to Zenkoji a few times. As the weather is currently beautiful, I may start campaigning my husband to head out there on the motorcycle on some of our free days this month! If I manage that, I’ll update this entry with some new pictures! Meanwhile, here are a few from my previous trips there:

Niomon Gate leading into Zenkoji

Zenkoji’s main temple building. The sacred statue is housed below, and visitors can navigate the pitch-black corridor it’s stored in to walk by it… without seeing it, of course!

A line of Jizo Bodhisattva

Zenkoji Goshuin or calligraphy, another thing I collect!

The area around the temple has many shops, restaurants, and lodgings to choose from. It is a fun area to explore!

Iwate #3: Chuuson Temple’s Konjikido (中尊寺金色堂)

Chuuson Temple is Hiraizumi City’s most famous attraction, and was etablished in 850 AD as a temple in the Tendai Buddhist sect. Konjikido, the subject of Iwate’s third postcard, is one of the two original temple buildings still remaining from that era. The entire building is covered in gold, and is actually inside another building behind glass windows for protection. The building in the postcard is actually the outer building, and the stone steps leading to it. The gold-leaf covered Konjikido is inside.

Unfortunately, photography of the building is prohibited, but Chuusonji’s Official Website provides pictures and more information on Konjikido as well as the rest of the temple buildings in several languages. For those interested in learning more, I highly recommend watching this video, which provides a tour and information on the temple, and its World Heritage Site status, in English. It is very informative and interesting, and provides not only the history of Chuusonji, but also of the surrounding area.

I got the chance to visit Chuusonji on my way from Miyagi to Yamagata on the We Love Japan Tour 2015. I enjoyed the temple, but ended up not going inside to see Konjikido since it was a bit expensive, and you can’t take pictures anyway! But I did get my postcard picture of course!

postcard and picture

The steps up

Chuusonji’s main temple hall

A replica of the golden hall done in bright yellow chrysanthemums!

Shiga #2: Hikone Caste, Lake Biwa, & Chikubu Island (彦根城・琵琶湖・竹生島)

Most postcards just depict one place or feature of a prefecture, but a few are more ambitious. Shiga’s second postcard depicts three famous places in Shiga Prefecture: Hikone Castle, Lake Biwa, and Chikubu Island.

These three can definitely be seen altogether (on a clear day anyway), so it makes sense to put them together. I’ll give a little background on each before posting a few pictures.

Lake Biwa is the largest freshwater lake in Japan. It too is featured in the “Eight Views of Oumi” which I talked a tiny bit about when I introduced Tsukimi and Shiga’s 6th postcard. Chikubu Island is on Lake Biwa, and is a nationally designated Place of Scenic Beauty and Historic Site. There are both a shrine (Chikubushima Jinja) and a temple (Hougon-ji) on the island. Hougon-ji is a really interesting place and definitely worth reading up on. Finally, Hikone Castle is one of only 12 left in Japan with the original keep, and one of only four listed as a national treasure.

I visited Hikone Castle and Lake Biwa during Golden Week a few years ago, but unfortunately it was too cloudy to see Chikubu Island from the castle. Here are a few pictures nevertheless:

Hikone Castle from the back side

Looking out onto Lake Biwa. On a clear day we could’ve seen Chikubu Island.

The Castle has some nice garden areas around it not shown in the postcard, but which were very nice.

If you’ve in Shiga during the end of October/beginning of November, there’s a festival at and around the castle that looks really neat! The main event is November 3rd and you can read about it here. If you go, say “hi” to Hikonyan for me!

2015.01.20: NHK’s Fudoki program, which are short 5 minute videos on various Japan-related topics, has two videos uploaded, one about Hikone Castle’s Architecture (a short 5 minute video), and the other on Lake Biwa. There’s another NHK Program, BEGIN’s Japanology series, which has a much longer video on Lake Biwa here as well.

Moon-viewing Festival (Shiga #6: Ishiyama Temple (石山寺))

My goodness, sorry for the long wait for a new post! I usually have a queue going for Mondays but didn’t schedule correctly… whoops! Let’s go right into my second Postcard Element Post, this time about that bright round thing in this postcard… the moon!

This Monday (September 8th) was a autumn holiday called Tsukimi (“Moon-viewing”) here in Japan. The moon is big, bright, and easy to see this month, and it is coming into harvest time for the rice and other crops, so Tsukimi is a festival to not only enjoy the beautiful moon this time of year, but also to give thanks and prayers for a successful harvest.

It isn’t an official holiday, but there are some traditions associated with it that some people celebrate. For example, many people make Tsukimi dango (Tsukimi dumplings), decorate their homes with fall harvest foods such as persimmons or chestnuts, and decorate the home with bush clover and pampas grass.

I didn’t get any good moon pictures this year (its been rainy and cloudy a lot recently), but I did take a picture of the moon a clear night a little before, and also made Tsukimi dango and decorated last year, so here’s two pictures for you:

Can you see the rabbit?

Happy Tsukimi!

By the way, the postcard is Shiga’s 6th postcard from the Otsu area of a temple called Ishiyama-dera. It is part of the Kansai-Kannon Pilgrimage, and the famous ukiyo-e artist Hiroshige featured it on a famous print called “The Autumn Moon at Ishiyama” (石山の秋月) from his series “The Eight Views of Oumi”. It is also where the world’s first novel, “The Tale of Genji”, was begun by Murasaki Shikibu one full-moon night in August in 1004. So the moon features highly in this postcard! Although I’ve been to Shiga before, my last visit was in 2011, so I don’t have this postcard. I would love to go back and see the prefecture again, though!

Hydrangea Flowers (Kanagawa 6 – Hakone Mountain Railway (箱根登山電車))

This post is going to be a little different from the others I’ve posted so far. Instead of talking about this postcard as a whole, I want to focus on a smaller element of it. But since I’ve never introduced the card before, I’ll give some background about it:

Kanagawa’s 6th postcard features the Hakone Mountain Railway (Hakone Tozan Densha), which travels from Odawara to Hakone-Yumoto, where it switches to a small mountain train, then continues on to Gora, which gives access to the Lake Ashi Cablecar.

Although the train is popular in general and runs year-round, the most famous time to ride it is during June and July, when thousands of Hydrangea (ajisai in Japanese) bloom along the tracks. These rainy season flowers are lit up during the night, and special night trains are added to the schedule during this time. You can read more about the train here.

A poster detailing the train times and ticket information in Shinjuku Station

Right now is the perfect season to ride this train and see these beautiful flowers. Although I’ve never ridden that train, I have ridden Enoshima’s Enoden (the subject of Kanagawa’s 2nd postcard in fact!) and the hydrangea along that line are beautiful as well.

So let’s talk about these flowers. Hydrangea range in color from the lightest pinks, blues, and purples, to the darkest of these colors, depending on acidity of the soil. Because of their bold colors, they are very striking! They are also one of my favorite seasonal flowers, and are currently in full and spectacular bloom here in Japan.

I could have sworn that postacollect featured these flowers on a number of postcards, but as I looked through, I only saw the one. Kanagawa is certainly famous enough for them; the temple of Meigetsu-in in Kamakura is one of the most famous places to see hydrangea in Japan, along with the Hakone Mountain Railroad. I hope next year’s set of cards has a few that feature hydrangea too!

Along with the Hakone Mountain Railroad and Kamakura’s Meigetsu-in, there are numerous other places in Japan to see these flowers, especially around Tokyo. Here are just a few of them:

Ohirasan, Tochigi City, Tochigi
Hasedera, Kamakura, Kanagawa
Mimurotoji, Uji, Kyoto

Let’s enjoy these beautiful flowers now!

Gunma #1: Daruma Dolls (だるま)

I’d be an awful Gunma-ite if I didn’t start posting any postcards from my adopted prefecture! And where better to start than with the postcard that started it all and my very first one, Gunma’s Daruma Doll. This is the postcard that first caught my notice in my local post office. I bought one or two as gifts, and didn’t think anything of them, until I saw another one in another prefecture’s office while traveling, and grew curious. So you can thank this guy for this site!

Daruma dolls are “okiagari” dolls, which means they have rounded bottoms which allow them to stand back up if pushed down. I’ve already written about Fukushima’s Okiagari Koboshi dolls here, and will get to Ishikawa’s Okiagari dolls eventually.

Gunma style dolls are modeled after the Buddhist Bodhidharma, and are sometimes also called “Dharma” dolls. They are traditionally red in color, though these days come in many colors and styles, and are considered a symbol of good luck. The Gunma-style dolls are said to originate at the “Daruma-dera” Temple in Takasaki. Priests were overwhelmed with the parishioners need for charms, since all charms in Japan have a one-year expiration date, so they set the parishioners themselves to making the dolls to save them the work. A few major families around Takasaki still make these today, and sell them at Takasaki’s “Daruma-dera”, actually Shorinzan, on the “Daruma-Ichi” Market on January 6th every year.

Daruma are usually painted with the symbol for “luck” on them, and are bought with both eyes blank white. The buyer then paints in the right eye while making a goal or wish for the year. When the goal or wish comes true, the other eye is painted in. This makes them very popular with businesses, which wish for a successful year. Therefore large Daruma are often seen in offices around Kanto and Gunma especially.

The main temple associated with Daruma is Shorinzan in Takasaki, which holds the annual Daruma-Ichi Market on January 6th every year. I visited this temple for the market before I even knew of these postcards, so I didn’t have one to take pictures with at that time. I hope to update later with some new pictures featuring the postcard, but meanwhile, enjoy a few pictures of the Market!

There is a large Daruma statue on the temple grounds, but they are featured everywhere… along the roads, on the bridges, all over the station… Takasaki holds a lot of pride for their famous goods!

Piles and piles of Daruma for sale, in all different sizes…

…and all different colors!

Even the “ema” for the temple are Daruma-shaped!

The original Daruma himself! Can you see the resemblance?

Before buying new daruma, you give the old one back to the temple to be burned later. Giant piles of daruma result when everyone brings theirs back!

I’ve never attended a burning at Shorinzan, but I have gone to a local one, which we call “Dondoyaki”.

Finally, even for those unable to attend the Daruma-Ichi Market at Shorinzan, you can still enjoy Daruma around Takasaki!

Even the drink machines are Daruma-themed!

In Takasaki station, there is a store that sells a large amount of Daruma of all different sizes and colors, including themed Daruma, such as painted for the Zodiac year, or featuring Gunma’s cute character Gunma-chan. I like collecting the different styles almost as much as I like the original.

Saitama 5 – Kangiin Shotendo (歓喜院聖天堂)

Saitama postcard number 5 is the building called “Shotendo” at the temple Kangiin in Kumagaya City, Menuma area. Although it is a well known shrine in and around Saitama, it is difficult to get to and is far away from other popular sights, and therefore is relatively unknown to Japanese living outside the general area, and completely unknown to tourists visiting Japan. As such, it is hard to find good information on it in English. Luckily Saitama’s tourist info site has a good English description of it. You can read about it in English here, and the official site of the temple is here (Japanese only).

Kangiin is nicknamed “Little Nikko” because of the beautiful and ornate craftsmanship of the inner building. It is truly reminiscent of Nikko to those who have visited both, and was declared Saitama’s first “National Treasure Structure” (最初の国宝建造物) in 2012.

Unfortunately, when trying to find this temple, I was sidetracked by a different one very close to it, and as a consequence was too late to take the tour to see the building up close. So these pictures are very bad ones! I will have to go back when I can (earlier this time!) to take better pictures to post here, but meanwhile, here is what I have:

Gate at Kangiin

The main shrine area; Shotendo is attached to the back of it.

Since I was too late to get in, I had to content myself with peering behind the fence at it

This was the best I could do… oops!

Around the corner… still can’t get a good view!

Oh well, it’s only an hour from me, I’ll go back for better pictures another time!