Temples, Gardens, Space, Light

May 31, 2009 - 5:57 am

For the past week or so we have been traveling in Kyoto and Takayama. During our time we have visited many shrines, temples and gardens. The thing we have noticed about the architecture of these places is their consideration of space and scale. Perhaps because of Japan’s large population and small land mass they have been forced to consider space in a way that we don’t in Canada. When something is scarce more value is placed upon it. When we visited a 100-year-old merchant’s home today, the Yoshijima House. The room sizes just felt right, the light filtering through the screens made the rooms peaceful and reflective. You can see how the lines of these traditional buildings influenced modern architecture. Even though they evoke a minimalist aesthetic, there is a softness and esteem for nature in the material chosen, using raw wood left unpainted and uncut in the exposed beams and posts.

 Around most of the temples there are gardens, some of them are Zen gardens composed mostly of stones and gravel.  The names can be a bit obscure and we have struggled to decipher “the young tigers crossing a stream” in the shapes, perhaps more contemplation was needed…. The other gardens have largely centered around ponds and I realized that they have been carefully pruned to create a composition, so that when you look at the garden your eye moves around it like it would a painting or photograph. The lushness of the landscape enables nearly every plant to be bonsai’d and survive, I think if I tried to prune the trees in our yard the way they do here, they would just pack it in. 

































Hospitality Japanese Style

May 30, 2009 - 7:00 am

I have mentioned in past blogs the amazing hospitality here in Japan. I should probably say the hospitality we have received is mostly due to Masahiro and his wife Shiho, they really went out of  their way to make sure we were comfortable staying with them.  Because of them we can now say we are fans of unagi (eel) and Shinto shrines.

Although we came to Nagoya to work with Masahiro in his studio he took time off from his busy schedule to tour us through several important shrines in the area. We were fortunate to visit the Atsuta-Jinga  shrine in Nagoya while marriage ceremonies were being performed. The bride and groom and many of the family members were attired in traditional kimonos that were stunning. We have discovered that most women own kimonos and that these silk robes often cost over $2000 . The quality of the material and patterning has stopped me in my tracks and I have spent some time with my nose pressed up to kimono shop windows. We often see women wearing them and they seem to imbue the wearer with a calm gracious air. 

We went  on a  road trip with the Sasaki family and visited Ise – Jingu Shrine south of Nagoya on the peninsula. This shrine seemed to embody what we understood of Shinto beliefs, a reverence for nature, and the presence of gods in all living things. What struck me the most was the enormous cedar trees that are  surrounded by the shrine walls, they were not cut down to create the shrine but instead were protected by it.  Although Japan is a crowded , industrial country, I felt  within the forest in the shrine a sense of  awe.

The other thing we learned during our shrine visits is that even though a shrine may have existed since the 15th century, they are reconstructed every 25 years. Most of the shrines are created with wood, so they need to be replaced to deal with rotting. The other benefit of this practice is that the knowledge of these traditional building techniques and craftsmanship has endured.

 Since leaving Nagoya our diet has become less diverse and this is largely due to our limited Japanese and the absence of Shiho’s (Masahiro’s wife) cooking. She created each meal in order that we try local specialties, if we had stayed in a 5 star hotel we would not  have been better cared for. It was nice to not only get a chance to see how Masahiro creates his pieces in the studio but also to get to know his daughters Shii and Yu. They practiced their English with us and we communicated with cats cradle and piggybacks. Although we were eager to tour the rest of Japan, we were sad to leave our friends and the comfort of their home that they offered to us. Below are some images from Nagoya. The first photo is of the Sasaki family, Masahiro, Shiho, their eldest daughter Shii, and Yu. The first photos are from Atsuta-Jinga shrine, some shots of home-life and the tasty food. The final photos are from our road trip to Ise – Jingu Shrine and Futami on the coast.  


Family Sasakiimg_4059img_4138


Tasty BBQ Eel



Shiho's Soba Tempura Delight