Kanda Shrine

Kanda Shrine in Chiyoda-ku close to the electronics district of Akihabara is a shrine, first established in 730 AD, dedicated to two gods of fortune and a Heian period samurai by the name of Taira no Masakado who rebelled against the government and lost his head in the year 940 thus earning the respect of ordinary citizens ever since.

The main gate, Zuishin-mon, reconstructed in 1995:

The main shrine was rebuilt in 1934 after the Great Kanto earthquake of 1923 that levelled much of the city:

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Kinugawa

Taking the Tobu Line from Asakusa in Tokyo north towards Nikko, the train branches at Shimo-imaichi station – the left takes you to Nikko while the right goes to Kinugawa. Kinugawa is an onsen hotspring town that inevitably became over-developed during the Bubble years of the 1980’s/90’s. Now, twenty years later, it has settled down into a quiet getaway from the tourist-bustle of Nikko itself with wonderful onsens, some stunning autumn foliage (although we went in Summer!) and boat rides down the river.

The name, 鬼怒川 Kinugawa, means devil or ogre river, which of course is reminded to visitors with all the subtlety one might expect in an ogre:

The Kinugawa river runs through the centre of town and down out to the rock formations of the Ryuou-kyou Ravine, which you can take a boat ride down:

You can do that, but we decided to hike it down. Following the left bank along the river affords some spectacular views of the ravine:

After a while you pass a small shrine with a waterfall:

Further along there is a bridge that crosses the ravine (with a soba noodle shop on the other side!):

From there you can hike back to town along the opposite bank. The path is dotted with summer wildflowers and even the occasional wildlife. After that, it’s time to enjoy a rewarding soak in an outdoor onsen over-looking the river.

Miyajima

Not far from Hiroshima by ferry is the island of Miyajima, containing the world-heritage listed shrine of Itskushima. The island itself was first established as a holy site by professional holy-site founder Kobo Daishi in 806AD. Itsukushima shrine, with its famous ‘floating torii-gate’, was then founded in 1168 by Taira no Kiyomori about whom this year’s NHK Sunday evening drama and an excellent 1955 Mizoguchi Kenji film is based.

The park has been nicely preserved with deer free to roam:

The floating torii:

Stone guardian lion and the shrine complex with pagoda:

The main hall:

Looking out from the main shrine:

Shrine maiden:

Stage where Noh plays are performed:

At sunset the tide moves in and begins lapping around the base of the shrine:

Until the torii stands poised on the silver water floating between worlds:

Okinawa Pt 4 – Tamaudun

Just next to Shuri Castle is Tamaudun, the Ryukyu royal family mausoleum used since the 16th century. The Okinawan burial traditions are quite different from mainland Japanese – the bodies were stored in stone chambers for several years after which the bones were ritually cleansed and placed in mausoleums. The buildings here were extensively damaged during the war but have been restored.

Approach to the front entrance:

The main mausoleum. The left chamber was for kings and queens, the right one for princes and princesses, and the central one was where they stored the bodies:

Door:

Okinawa Pt 3 – Shuri Castle

Before the central government decided it had strategic value and annexed it 1879, Okinawa had its own local culture – the Ryukyu Kingdom. The seat of the kingdom is Shuri Castle in Naha, now the capital of Okinawa, which was originally built in the 1300s but completely destroyed in WWII. The buildings here are a reconstruction built in 1992 but they did a very good job of it and you get a splendid sense of the uniqueness of Ryukyu culture.

The approach to the front gate:

The main gate to the castle, Shureimon:

Stairs leading up to the main castle entrance give some idea of the power that the kingdom once held as a main point on the trade routes between China, Korea and Japan:

There are wonderful views from the castle out over Naha city to the ocean in the distance:

The main hall of Shuri Castle:

The throne of the Ryukyu Kingdom: