Saturday, September 27, 2014

Mt Ontake Volcanic Eruption - September 27, 2014

On 27th September 2014, a little before noon, a volcano erupted in Central Japan, injuring some hikers. The JMA raised the alert to level 3 which implies Do not approach Volcano. Few hikers were injured and some were stranded. Some videos were uploaded by hikers who were caught unaware. 

Mt Ontake had last erupted in 2007. 

BBC website has aerial photos and videos on this link. 

Early footage shot by hikers have been uploaded on the following link:

Living in Nagoya, we do not see any immediate threat but few websites had suggested that Nagoya could get some acidic ash over the next few hours. 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Miyajima : Daisho-in Temple

Most visitors to Miyajima, focus on a visit to the Itsukushima Shrine and the Senjokaku. Very few visitors explore the island's other attractions. One such place is the Daisho-in temple. 
Located at the base of Mt Misen, Miyajima's highest peak, Daisho-in temple is an important temple of Shingon Buddhism. Kobo Daishi, the founder of the Shingon sect of Buddhism, had proclaimed Mt Misen as a holy place for the Shingon sect, thus beginning the practice of Buddhism on Miyajima. Kobo Daishi is said to have founded the Daisho in temple in 806 AD.
The Daisho-in temple complex is a spread over a large area on the slopes of Mt Misen. Various statues and buildings are spread over the temple complex. 

At the centre of the stairway leading up to the temple, is the Dai-hannyakyo Sutra, a row of spinning metal bells with the Buddhist sutras inscribed on them. 

Turning the bells while walking is considered equivalent to reading the sutras. 

Along another stairway are Rakan statues. They represent the 500 disciples of Shaka Nyorai. 

The statues have different facial expressions.
Various cute jizo statues are spread throughout the temple complex. 

We also came across a few statues that displayed Buddhism's link to Hinduism.
These statues feature the Buddhist versions of the Hindu gods, Ganesha, Saraswati and Shiva. 

The temple's main buildings are the Kannon-do Hall, Mani-den Hall and a tea room. The Maniden Hall enshrines the three main deities of Mt Misen. 

Reihokan is a hall where treasures of the Daisho in temple are exhibited. 

Henjokutsu is a cave filled with 88 icons that represent the temples of the Shikoku Pilgrimage, an important pilgrimage to Japanese Buddhists. 

It is believed that walking in the cave is equivalent to taking the difficult Shikoku Pilgrimage.  
The Hakkaku Manpuku is an octagonal hall where Shichi Fukujin, the Seven Deities of Good Fortune are enshrined.
A reclining image of Shaka Nyorai is  housed in the Shaka Nehan Hall. 
The statue is surrounded by statues of 16 disciples of Shaka Nyorai.  

We also walked through a dark underground tunnel with dimly lit Buddhist icons on the walls.  

Several interesting statues can be seen in the temple complex.

A hiking trail from the temple grounds leads to the summit of Mount Misen. It takes about 90 minutes to reach the peak from the Daisho-in temple. 

A narrow street from near the exit of the Itsukushima Shrine takes visitors to the Daisho-in temple. 

Official Website: Daisho-in (Japanese only)

Miyajima: Senjokaku

On a small hill overlooking the Itsukushima Shrine is the Hokoku Shrine. The Shrine is well known as Senjokaku, which means "Pavilion of 1000 mats", a reference to the spaciousness of the building. It is also referred to as the Toyokuni Shrine.
Construction of the hall began in 1587, under Toyotomi Hideyoshi's rule. Toyotomi Hideyoshi was one of the three persons credited with unifying Japan. When he died in 1598, the hall was still under construction and was never completed. The reason could be that Tokugawa Ieyasu gained control instead of Toyotomi Hideyoshi's heirs. 
The Senjokaku is Miyajima's biggest building. The building just has a spacious hall, the size of 1000 tatami mats (857 mats to be precise). 

The hall has neither a ceiling nor a main entrance. 
In 1872, the hall was dedicated to the soul of the founder Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who had intended the hall to be used for chanting Buddhist Sutras.

Adjacent to the Senjokaku is a 5 story pagoda - Goju No To. This vermilion colored pagoda is over 27 metres high and was built in 1407. 
Visitors can enjoy a  good view of the Itsukushima Shrine and the surrounding area from near the Senjokaku. 
Opening Hours : 8:30 am to 4:30 pm

Closing days: Open 365 days

Admission: 100 yen. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Miyajima: Itsukushima Shrine

For centuries, Miyajima Island has been considered as the island of the Gods by the Japanese. The island has been mentioned in the Nihon Shoki, the earliest chronicles of Japan's history. 

In the 806 AD the Buddhist monk Kobo Daishi proclaimed the island's highest peak, Mount Misen as a holy spot for the Shingon Sect of BuddhismThe island has been a holy site for the Shinto faith since the 6th century. In 1168, Taira no Kiyomori, Japan's most powerful man towards the end of the Heian period established his family's shrine on the island and built the Itsukushima Shrine. 
The island is called Miyajima - which means Shrine Island - for this reason. The island's formal name is also the same as the name of the Shrine- Itsukushima. 
 The Shrine and it's floating Torii gate are a symbol of the region. The Shrine has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage. The island is considered as one of the three spots that make up " Nihon Sankei", the three scenic views of Japan; the other two being Matsushima in Miyagi Prefecture and Amanohashidate in Kyoto Prefecture. 

Japan is a country with many islands and shrines and temples. So what makes Miyajima so special ?  The uniquity of Miyajima is that the shrine and the torii gate are built over water and during high tide, they appear to float in the sea.
Visitors are advised to check the tide timings before planning their visit because the water drains out to the bay during low tide. High tide is when the shrine complex is at its picturesque best. 
The Shrine complex consists of numerous buildings connected by board walks supported by pillars in the sea. 

A number of the shrine buildings and monuments have been designated National monuments. 

Due to its wooden architecture and proximity to water, the shrine buildings require frequent maintenance and upkeep. In more recent years, the shrine suffered considerable damage during typhoon but has been restored.   
The hanging lanterns along the shrine's walkways add to the beauty of the views. 
The giant Torii gate is the gateway to the Shrine. The first Torii gate was constructed as early as in 1168 and was located 200 meters offshore. The current Torii was built in 1875 and is the shrine's eighth Torii. It weighs 60 tons and measures about 16.6 meters in height. The main pillar is made of 500-600 year old camphor trees which make it resistant to decay. The sleeve pillars and the roof are made of cedar and cypress trees. The architecture of the Torii differs from the Torii at most Shinto shrines - the main pillars are supported by 4 smaller pillars. The Torii is not buried the seabed , rather it is supported by its own weight.The box shaped upper part of the Torii is said to be filled with stones weighing 7 tons ! No wonder, the Torii is able to withstand typhoons and storms without toppling over. 
During high tide, few cruise boats pass beneath the Torii. We saw some people kayaking underneath the Torii. 
During low tide, people can walk beneath the Torii.

The shrine and the Torii gate are illuminated after sunset and make a pretty sight, especially when viewed from the cruise boats.

The deer roaming on the island technically belong to the the Itsukushima shrine. in the Shinto faith, deer are believed to be the messengers of God. 

In August, the Miyajima Fireworks attracts thousands of visitors. The colorful fireworks in the backdrop of the floating shrine and torii gate make it a pretty sight. 

Opening Hours: 6:30 am to 6:00 pm. 

Closed: Open 365 days

Admission: Adults- 300 yen; ( Combination ticket including Treasure Hall - 500 yen) 

The Daisho-in temple and Senjokaku Hall are located close to the Itsukushima Shrine.