Anaïs Nin, Hong Kong

HK

It’s late, and I’ve got an early day tomorrow, but these thoughts seem to be swimming in my head like carp in an endless pond.  I recently took a vacation to Hong Kong, and I’ve been flooded with ideas; and the world changed in a day, or maybe it was a day and a night and a day, I honestly don’t know.  We’ve been rocked over here with the disaster in the Philippines and somehow everything is both the same and different.

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I met up with a friend in Hong Kong this past week and was finally afforded the chance to visit a place I had always wanted to go.  And it doesn’t diappoint–the garish neon signs, the crowded night markets, the smell of noodles cooking in the street–it’s like the dirty underbelly of Singapore, international and gaudy and full of alleyways teeming with dealers beckoning tourists into their backrooms of illegal goods.  I made it a point to see the Temple Street Night Market, the Ladies Market, acquire good dim sum, and visit the Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Garden.

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The Temple Street Night Market is located in Kowloon, where we were staying.  If you take the MTR to Jordan Station you will be very close.  You can buy cheap goods such as watches, sunglasses, t-shirts, scarves, food, antiques, and more.  It’s quite crowded, and a definite MUST is haggling with the dealers; although don’t go too low or they will begin to heckle you.

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The Ladies Market is located in Mong Kok, and is largely the same sort of merchandise.  However, I thought it to be a bit larger and, as the name suggests, a bit more geared toward women (I bought a lovely pashmina scarf and mint skirt).

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Switching gears a bit, we ventured out after experiencing the crowded markets into a more serene part of the city, but not before finding some delicious dim sum.  I did a bit of research beforehand and found Tim Ho Wan restaurant in Mong Kok.   Not only is it Michelin rated, but it’s SUPER cheap!  We ate plates of dim sum for no more than $20 and walked out feeling more than full.  Afterwards, we hopped on the MTR and headed toward Diamond Hill to walk around the Nan Lian Garden and Chi Lin Nunnery.  

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The garden is fairly new, having been commissioned in 2006, and is a nice break from the urban setting.  The Chi Lin Nunnery was founded in 1934 but rebuilt in the 1990s.  The buildings are built in the style of traditional architecture from the Tang Dynasty, which uses the interlocking of the wood to keep the structures in place and contains no iron nails.  One can see statues of the Sakyamuni Buddha (actual Gautama Buddha), Guanyin, and other bodhisattvas.  I recommend for anyone wanting to see a bit of traditional culture and needing a break from the usual hustle-and-bustle of the city.

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I recently discovered writer, Anaïs Nin, who kept journals spanning 60 years, starting at age 11 and up until her death.  I think of the first journal I kept, around age 8, and how I’ve kept them (or these blogs) through the years.  I love looking back and reading through, seeing what my concerns were at the time, seeing who I loved, seeing what I found it worthwhile to write about.  I kept two journals through Japan, writing almost every day.

A few of Nin’s writings strike me particularly:

“You can not save people.  You can only love them.”

“We travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls.” ― Anaïs Nin, The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 7: 1966-1974

“If you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out in writing, then don’t write, because our culture has no use for it.”

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Ghosts of Kyoto

torii

This past weekend we traveled down to Kyoto.  It is an absolutely ancient place, with human civilization having been established there as far back as 10,000BC.  The prosperous city that we see today is the modern-day version of Heian-Kyo (peace and tranquility capital), seat of the Imperial Court in 794.  It is absolutely full to the brim with culture–tourists are numerous.  Kyoto is magnificent because one can truly see so many different cultural aspects converging; the city itself was built as a scale replica of the Tang Dynasty’s capital, Chang’an.  I will do more features in this blog on Japanese history and the significance of the Chinese and Japanese relationship over time, but for now, just a brushing on Kyoto.  It is very Nihon-rashii (Japanese-like), and another interesting thing is that the people in the region speak Kansai-ben.   I recognized it instantly as I heard a few older gentlemen conversing in the train station.

What in the world is Kansan-ben? you might ask.  In Japanese, many different dialects are used; with the exception of the extreme north (Aomori, Akita) and Okinawa, most dialects do not largely differ.  The standard on television and the news, of course, is the Tokyo dialect, “Tadashii Nihongo.”  Kansai-ben changes some words and emotion-enhancers, and is super noticeable to Japanese people (and for some reason, really entertaining to them).  So Here is an example of standard vs. Kansai dialect:

Standard: “Hontou ni?” (Really?)

Kansai: “Honma ni?” (Really?)

Standard: “Kyo, hontou ni samui da ne.” (Today is really cold, isn’t it?)

Kansai: “Kyo, honma samui ya ne.” (Same meaning as above)

I don’t know why, but this sounds really funny to Japanese people.  Most big comedians are from the Kansai region.

Friday evening we tooled around Gion and were able to spy a few Geisha running here and there to appointments; sadly, as I frantically tried to snap photos with my camera, I didn’t realize I had turned it off and somehow couldn’t manage to turn it on.  My friend was able to steal a lovely photo; I’m honestly surprised we saw so many (2 or 3), considering there aren’t many left.

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We sung karaoke, walked around, visited a temple in the snow (too dark for good photos), and ate at a delicious ramen spot called Ippudo.  

The next day we headed out early so we could get in as many sights as possible, starting with the famed Fushimi-Inari shrine.  

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The shrine is dedicated to the deity, Inari, who is sometimes male, sometimes female.  Merchants pray to Inari for wealth; hence the famous “thousand torii gates” (they are dedicated by businesses and merchants).

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After we left the Shrine, we made our way toward Ryoanji Temple.  Ryoanji is known for its zen rock garden, which may imply a deeper meaning behind the arrangement of the garden.  You can read more about it–> here.

ryoanji

Finally, after Ryoanji, we headed up to the Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Pavilion complex.

kinkakuji

kimono

Kinkaku-ji originally served as a villa for a wealthy statesman, and eventually was purchased by the Ashikaga Shogunate and transformed into the complex.  It has a somewhat odd history; in the 1950s a mentally unstable novice monk burned down the pavillon and unsuccessfully attempted suicide.  The structure that stands today is from 1955 (the original was not actually gold).  The gold was added to the current temple as a physical symbol of purification from any negative thoughts toward death.

Visiting Kyoto felt like going through an old photo album; I was there in 2005 with my classmates from Johoku High School on our class trip.  At first it seemed like an unfamiliar place, and then slowly, as I went to these same places–through the streets of Gion, in front of a school for young Geisha, walking on the cool wooden floors of the Ryoanji Temple, standing before Kinkaku-ji with the sunlight illuminating its golden walls, the memories came flooding back and it was familiar once more.  There is an imprint with everything we do; these ghosts that roam the streets remind us of who we once were and how far we have come.

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Hisashiburi! (It’s been awhile!)

It has been quite some time since I’ve written.  I’ve been busy traveling for work (not in any way glamorous) , so it’s been a bit difficult to update.  The weather has also been repeatedly bad on the weekends, but we  finally got two nice days this weekend.  Today I went up to Enoshima Island, which is connected to the mainland by a bridge which you can drive or walk over.

Enoshima Bridge

Before I go, I should note that this week is “Golden Week,” which is essentially a week full of holidays.  It’s like spring break for the entire nation.  What this means for the rest of us is that transiting becomes more difficult as the volume of people traveling drastically increases; malls flood out.  It’s insane–I forgot all this as I made my way to the Enoden line out of Kamakura and was greeted by a massive crowd on the platform.

Somehow I finally get on the train, and it is by far the most packed train ride I have ever experienced while living in Japan.  The Enoden line is an older railway, and it’s electric.  On days when not packed in the three cars like sardines, travelers can enjoy the scenic ride down to Enoshima along the coast.  I reached Enoshima station and started my trek to the island, along with a throng of people.

Enoshima torii

The island is entirely dedicated to Benzaiten, also known as Saraswati in Hindu mythology.  She is goddess of knowledge and arts, representing the free flow of wisdom and consciousness.

Benzaiten

Enoshima

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Ring

The straw ring is called a chinowa, and shrine-goers walk through it as an act of purification.

Enoshima

People offer prayers and wishes to Benzaiten to strengthen their love and relationships.  This ema has spots for literally, “boyfriend” and “girlfriend.”

Love ema

Omikuji (fortunes) offered to Benzaiten.

Omikuji

man feeding cat

Enoshima view

Enoshima also hosts botanical gardens brimming with vibrant florals.

Flowers

Flowers

Wandering around, I came upon a young man performing tricks with a yo-yo and caught this shot as he caught it behind his head.

yo-yo

Monkey

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Enoshima is a fantastic spot to visit for those traveling in the Kanagawa area, though without a doubt, spring and summer are the best months to go.

Revisiting Kamakura

We’ve been having a recent string of fantastic weather during the weekends, so it’s been quite conducive to travel.  The lighting has also been lovely as well–the only problem is that once the sun begins to set it turns chilly very quickly.

A local favorite spot of ours is Kamakura, which is littered with shrines and temples.  During the Kamakura Period (1185-1333), it was the former de facto capital of Japan, and the seat of the Shogunate and of the Regency.  The center of the city is the Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu Shrine, but there are a smattering of other spiritual landmarks.  Plum blossom season is upon us here in Japan, but it’s still a bit early to see fully blossomed trees.  The buds are still in their early stages, but most likely within a few weeks we’ll see some beautiful pinks and reds filling the grounds of these complexes.

The first stop on our “Temple Tour” as we dubbed it (there was a senior citizen walking tour we inadvertently ended up joining at one point), was Egara Tenjin-sha.  One of Japan’s three famous shrines dedicated to the deified spirit of Sugawara Michizane, god of scholarship.  In 1104 legend has it that this shrine was built because a picture of the Tenjin god, or the deified spirit of Sugawara Michizane, fell to this place from the sky during a rain storm.  As a result, much like Yushima Tenjin in Tokyo, students from all around flock to pray for success on their school examinations, as hundreds of wooden ema hang with wishes inscribed on them.

Omikuji, “fortunes,” tied and offered up

 

I can’t wait until the trees are filled with these.  Following the Egara Tenjin-sha we made stop number two, at another small shrine, although I can not remember the name.  But pictures to follow:

We made our way towards Zuisen-ji Temple, which was the site we had ultimately been going to see.  Because it is so early, the plum blossoms were still just buds, so we need to come back in a few weeks, but a few flowers had already bloomed.

Our friend M. looking very thoughtful

Our final stop brought us to a temple up a considerable amount of stairs.  Again I will have to look up the name of the temple, but we had a clear view of Mount Fuji at the top.  This was yet another temple dedicated to the goddess Kannon.

The goddess, Kannon

Night photography in Kamakura and Kurihama

Just a few more days before I am off on holiday back to the states for a week and a half.  Tonight we decided to ride the train into Kamakura looking for last minute goodies for the families; naturally we made our way over to Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gū (鶴岡八幡宮).  This is a large Shinto shrine (note: shrines are Shinto, temples are Buddhist), and arguably Kamakura’s most important shrine.  However, this shrine is notable because it was ORIGINALLY started as a Buddhist temple and stayed as such until 1868 when it was converted to a shrine.  In Japan Buddhism and Shinto have a very unique way of mixing together, such that if one were to visit either temple or shrine there would be elements of both in each.  There is a saying in Japan, “Born Shinto, die Buddhist,” and it truly embodies just how intertwined both are in the lives of the Japanese.  Unlike in the West, religion is not inflexible; rather, is it fluid, flowing with the harmony of society.

 

Afterwards we headed back for a well-deserved meal of hot udon, considering we couldn’t feel our hands at one point.

We made one final stop in Kurihama before heading into our nice, warm apartment.  There is a small shrine dedicated to safe birth for expecting mothers, and it has lanterns leading all the way up.