Friday, October 17, 2014

Nagoya Castle : Honmaru Palace

Nagoya's most popular attraction is undoubtedly its castle, Nagoya-jo. I have already covered information of the castle along with pictures in a separate post- Click here to view. As such I will not repeat the same. This post is entirely about the Castle's Honmaru Palace. The palace was under reconstruction and entry was restricted during my previous visit and hence I could not cover it in my previous post on Nagoya Castle. 

Few days back, we had a friend visiting us in Nagoya and we visited the Nagoya Castle with her. This time we could visit the Honmaru Palace. While parts of the palace are still under reconstruction, we could view the beautiful screen paintings that Honmaru is well known for. The construction began in 2009 and are scheduled to be completed in 2018. In 2013, a part of the palace including the main audience hall featuring the replicated paintings were opened to public. 
The original Honmaru Palace was constructed in 1615 and was the home of the lord of Owari province. The building was built in a traditional Japanese architecture style called "shoin-zukuri". The current reconstruction has been aimed at restoring the palace to its erstwhile glory. 

The Honmaru Palace is reputed for its ornate decorations and beautiful painted screens. The most popular of the painted screens are the one's featuring the tigers. 

Many other animals and birds are also painted on the screen doors.

The metal fittings are also carved and show influence of Western and Islamic art. 

The most formal room the Omote Shoin is also the largest room in the palace.

 This room was used for official audiences. 
The Jodannama room is where the lord was supposed to sit and its flooring is at a raised level. 
The Jodannoma room is also furnished with luxurious wooden furniture. The shelves and ornamental sliding doors are particularly spectacular.
The lattice design of the ceiling of the Jodannoma is also notable.  

Several rooms of the palace were accessible only to certain classes of society and people from lower ranks were forbidden to enter. 

A visit to the Honmaru Palace is a must to experience the grand lifestyle of the feudal period. 

Official Website: Click here

Address: Aichi Prefecture 460-0031, Nagoya, Naka Ku, Nagoya Jo Honmaru,1-1 

Entrance Fees: 500 yen (Castle Entrance fees only; Fees are not charged separately for Honmaru Palace)

Closed: Every Monday; Closed on Tuesdays when Monday is a Public Holiday.

Meoto Iwa : The Wedded Rocks

On our recent visit to Ise Grand Shrine, we also visited Meoto Iwa. 
A 15 minute car ride from the Ise Grand Shrine is the the Futamigaura Beach. The biggest attractions here are the Futami Okitama Jinja and the Meoto Iwa. 

The Meoto Iwa are two rocks considered to represent Izanami and Izanagi , the patron gods of Japan. The larger rock with a small wooden torii at the peak is considered as the male rock while the smaller rock is considered to be the female rock. 
According to Shinto, the rocks celebrate the marital union of man and woman. Together they are referred to as the Wedded Rocks and are said to have special powers particularly to ensure harmony in marriage and ward off evil.  

The offshore rocks have been joined in matrimony by sacred straw ropes called Shimenawa. The ropes weigh over a ton  and are replaced several times a year. Many young couples believe that watching this ceremony with their loved one will strengthen their bond. 

The view of the rocks is said to be spectacular especially at sunrise between May and July. No wonder the spot is a popular place for Hatsu Hinode, the ritual of watching the first sunrise of the new year. Similarly the moon rising between the rocks between October and January is also said to be a spectacular sight. 

In clear weather, even Mount Fuji can be viewed in the distance. We didn't get to see it though, our visit was on a day before the super Typhoon Vong Fong was supposed to arrive in the region !
The Futami Okitama Jinja is built overlooking the Meoto Iwa. 

The shrine is dedicated to Goddess Miketsu, the goddess of food. 
Numerous statues of frogs are scattered around the shrine.

People offer small ropes at the shrine.
The Shrine's Votives also feature the Meoto Iwa.  

Address: Mie Prefecture, Ise, Futami Cho e, 575

Phone: 0596-43-2020

Closing Days: Open 365 days

Parking: Available 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Ise Grand Shrine: Japan's most sacred Shrine

The Grand Shrine at Ise, or Ise Jingu as it is known locally, is the most venerated Shinto Shrine in Japan. Dating back to the 3rd century, this Shrine is a large complex comprising 125 shrines. The Shrine occupies a large area in Ise city, Mie Prefecture in central Japan. The shrine attracts about 8 million visitors annually.  The locals refer to the shrine as "O-Ise san" or "Dai Jingu san".  

The Shrine's main two shrines are the Naiku and Geku. Both shrines are located several kilometers apart. The Naiku is believed to have been established in the 3rd century while Geku is said to have been established in the 5th century. 
Naiku, also called the Kotai-jingu, is the Inner Shrine. The Shrine is dedicated to Shinto's most venerated deity Amaterasu Omikami, the Sun Goddess. Amaterasu is also believed to be the predecessor of the Imperial family. The Deity is also regarded as the nourisher of all life. In Nihon Shoki, the Chronicles of Japan, dating back to 720 AD, it is mentioned that Amaterasu Omikami descended from the heavens and selected Ise as the place for her enshrinement. The Naiku's main sanctuary, is referred to as the divine palace of Amaterasu Omikami. The Holy mirror, a symbol of the deity, is enshrined inside.

Geku, also called the Toyouke Dai-jingu, is dedicated to Toyouke Omikami, the provider of sacred foods and companionship to Amaterasu. The deity is also the guardian of well being and the provider of food, clothing and shelter. People pray to the deity for a good rice crop, the staple food of Japan. The deity is considered the guardian deity for any industry. Traditionally pilgrims pay their respects at the Geku before proceeding to pray at the Naiku.

The Shrine buildings are built in simple style. 

They are not ornately decorated or painted like the Shrines at Nikko

They are surrounded by green trees and visitors have to walk past tall trees to reach the shrine structures. 

Photography is not allowed near the main shrine buildings. Most of the innermost buildings are hidden from the view and are off limits to common people.
Only the priests and members of the Imperial Household can enter the main shrine buildings. As per ancient tradition, the chief Priest was a member of the Imperial Household. In the past, emperors have held this position. In recent years the position is held by former members of the Imperial family or their descendants.    

Occasionally visitors are treated to the sight of a wedding procession in the shrine complex. 

An unique tradition of the Ise Grand shrine is the Shikinen Sengu, a ceremony held every 20 years. As per an ancient tradition, some of the Shrine buildings, including the Geku and Naiku are required to be rebuilt every 20 years. The tradition is said to have been started about 1300 years ago on the orders of the Emperor Tenmu. The shrine buildings are reconstructed on adjacent sites according to ancient construction styles. The Uji Bridge at the entrance to the Naiku is also reconstructed. Ceremonies and preparations for the rebuilding commence few years earlier. The ceremonies for the 2013 Shikinen Sengu commenced as early as 2005.  Upon completion of the new buildings, the god of the shrine is ritually transferred to the new home in a ceremony called Sengo No Gi. The old shrine building is then deconstructed and the wood from the old shrines are sent to other Shinto Shrines around Japan for use in rebuilding their structures.
The Torii at the Shrine's entrance is also reconstructed using wood from the old shrines. The site of the old shrine , now called as Kodenchi, is left vacant and is covered with white pebbles. At the time of the next reconstruction, the Kodenchi becomes the site for the new shrine. The 62nd Regular Removal of the Grand Shrine of Ise (the formal translation of Shikinen Sengu) was held in October 2013 and the next will be held in the year 2033. The Shikinen Sengu is considered the largest and most important ceremony performed in Japan. 

Visitors have been coming to Ise Jingu since ancient times. 
The manhole cover in Ise features pilgrims to the Shrine, apparently from the Edo period. 

Naiku : Mie Prefecture 516-0023, Ise shi, Ujitachi-cho 1

Geku : Mie Prefecture , Ise shi, Toyokawa-cho 279 

Phone: 0596-24-1111

Parking: Paid parking available. 

Timing: 5:00-18:00 hrs ( Timings vary as per season)

Visitors can also visit Meoto-Iwa, the wedded rocks as a side trip when visiting the Ise Grand Shrine. 

Sandankyo : The Hidden Gem of Hiroshima

On our trip to Hiroshima, we had half a day to spend before we started our return journey. Having already visited Miyajima and Iwakuni, both popular day trips from Hiroshima, we were looking for something different to do. Sandankyo was the perfect choice for us- we just love being in the midst of nature.  
Sandan-kyo is a hidden gem in Hiroshima Prefecture. Most tourists wind up their Hiroshima trip with a visit to the city's attractions, Miyajima island and at the most a visit to Iwakuni's Kintai Kyo Bridge. Very few tourists end up visiting Sandan-kyo, a beautiful ravine that can be reached in an hour's drive from Hiroshima city. 

Sandan-kyo is a beautiful 16 km long gorge which is designated a National Scenic Beauty and is the only such gorge in the Chugoku, Shikoku and Kyushu Region. Only 5 gorges are designated as National Scenic Beauty in Japan. Sandankyo is part of the Nishi Chugoku Sanchi Quasi National Park.   
Sandankyo is located along the Shibakigawa River, a tributary of the Ota-gawa river. 
The area has a peaceful and refreshing atmosphere, surrounded by dense forests, steep rock walls and waterfalls. Visitors can walk through the gorge along the flowing river which at places passes through narrow gaps in the rocks. 
We started our walk from the Sandan-kyo front gate.
The Nagabuchi bridge is built over the Nagabuchi pool at the entrance of Sandankyo.
We walked past the Shimaidaki waterfall and Ishidoi on our way to the Kurobuchi pool. The Kurobuchi pool is known for its beautiful emerald green stream. 
Visitors have to ride the ferryboat to cross the river at Kurobuchi pool. Unfortunately, on the day of our visit, the boat rides were suspended in anticipation of rain. The other popular spots in Sandankyo Gorge are Sarutobi, Deai Bashi Bridge, Nidan no taki and Sandan no taki waterfalls. 

The Nidandaki waterfall is located in a secluded area and can be accessed only by boarding the Sarutobi boat which passes through a two meter wide gap between rocks. This boat ride was also not operating on the day of our visit ! The entire gorge walking course takes about 5 hours but visitors can choose one of the many walking courses. We walked from the main entrance to Kurobuchi pool in about 50 minutes.   
The gorge is a popular spot for viewing Autumn foliage. Overnight stay options are available at the Sandankyo Hotel. The hotel also has an onsen facility. 

On our way to Sandankyo we had passed by some beautiful terrace fields.


Address: Hiroshima Prefecture 731-3813, Yamagata gun, Akiota cho, Yokogou, Sandan Kyo

Parking: Paid Parking available.