Saturday, 18 December 2010

Japanese names

I have had a great interest in the names of Japanese people for years, in fact, since meeting my friend Sayaka in high school the sound of their names has always been fascinating. The Japanese, like most people, have meanings behind each name, though it is often not very clear as they come from odd readings of obscure Chinese characters. Each name often embodies some sort of quality the parents want for their children. Most often they have the obvious meanings: Esteem excellence, Firm and Gentle, Powerful Warrior, Faces the Sun, Generous and Prosperous, Great Command, Sweet Fragrance and other such hopes of parents. The meanings I do not find so interesting it is the sound of the names here is a list of great names Japanese people have, many of these are students and friends others just gleaned from life here on the island...

  • Aina 愛菜
  • Airi 愛莉
  • Yoshi 義
  • Hikari 光
  • Yoshiko 芳子
  • Keiko 慶子
  • Kiku 菊
  • Hiroshi 寛
  • Izumi 泉
  • Kazuki 和希
  • Honoka 和花
  • Yoshiro 義郎
  • Haruki 晴輝
  • Haruna 春菜
  • Akiko 秋子
  • Yukiko 雪子
  • Shojiro 宗次郎
  • Hideyoshi 秀良
  • Hideki 秀樹
  • Akira 明
  • Daiki 大輝
  • Sayuri 小百合
  • Midori 緑
  • Takeshi 武
  • Shinta 新太
  • Wakana 和奏
  • Tomoko 智子
  • Natsumi 夏美
  • Takahiro 貴大
  • Shizuka 静夏
  • Taichi 太一
  • Ryuu 龍
  • Sakura 桜
  • Ayaka 彩花
  • Yuki 由貴
  • Haruki 晴輝
  • Manami 愛美
  • Kiyoko 清子
  • Sayaka 沙耶香
  • Yukari 友加里
  • Kaito 海翔
  • Kanon 花音
  • Kasumi 霞

Friday, 17 December 2010

Last trip to Kyoto

We have been lucky to be within a short drive from Kyoto: the most important historical city in Japan, some say the "Paris of Asia". Nearly every month we ventured to this amazing city, seeing it's sights and taking in the temples, shrines and shopping districts. But on all our journeys we never saw two of the most photographed and storied locations in the city. Last week we headed out to see what all the fuss about The Golden Pavillion and the torii gates of Fushimi Inari. Both places took our breath away, and I would say if in Japan you need to see both of these.
The Golden pavillion was first on the agenda. It's name is Kinkaku-ji (金閣寺 Temple of the Golden Pavilion) being covered in gold leaf from shingle to foundation, this Zen temple was first a pavillion built for the relaxation of the wealthy Saionji Kintsune in 1397 and later willed to the monks. The architecture is simple yet exquisite like much of Kyoto's grandeur. On top is perched a phoenix and the whole pavillion seems to be floating on a reflecting pond, a nice feature in the full sun. When we saw this place we were kicking ourselves for not going out to check this one earlier, certainly one of the top sights in the country.

Our second spot to hit was the Fushimi Inari Taisha, a large complex dedicated to the Inari, the god of rice, sake, and business. This massive shrine complex is the head of all Inari Jinjas across Japan, making it possibly one of the most important shrines the country has. Being the god of business, sake and rice is no small matter in an Asian country like Japan, imagine American's venerated the cow they eat, that would be some big shrine! When you arrive here the streets are marked with torii gates and you pass loads of restaurants and shinto religious shops selling more torii gates. We had a lovely cafe lunch, possibly the best in Japan (the coffee was to die for) and headed on our way to the 1300 year old shrine.
There were hundreds of people bustling around, clapping and praying. Shinto priests were washing hands and doing ceremonies and it all looked like a very fancy but typical Japanese Shrine, until we walked a little further up the hill. Behind the main shrine is a path that leads to 8km of trails through the mountain leading to 32000 small shrines and most of these are lined with back-to-front torii gates. I had never seen so many of these until I came here. There is an ethereal feel walking through miles of repeated red gates with odd glimpses through to the forest around you. Also, you can see hundreds of metal and stone foxes around the shrine grounds as the fox is the guardian and messenger of the Inari, seen holding keys to the granary in his mouth he is a spectacular work of art and probably a good messenger.
Many of the torii gates are new though some are quite old and collapsing giving a neat generational effect. All of these are donated by businesses wishing for prosperity and to look back and see names like Nikon, Toyota, Yuki`s Hair Salon and others really is quite funny. Each torii is said to purify you and represent a transition from the profane to the sacred, having this mountain lined with them must really get the job done, I mean I wouldn`t want to offend Japan`s rice god, they take him quite seriously.
So, a golden temple and a mountain lined with red gates was certainly a visually striking experience and one memory that we will always keep from this land, not to mention the delicious sandwich and coffee. We ended the day strolling our favourite streets in Gion taking it all in for the last time. The best thing you can do to end your day is to sit along the river with the couples watching the city go by and that is just what we did. Sayounara Kyoto!

Monday, 13 December 2010

Amano-hashi-datay: The bridge to heaven

Last month we took a little jaunt up the highway to the sea of Japan for what was to be one of the prettiest spots we have yet seen in Japan: Amanohashidate. This thin isthmus on the sea is a paradise of sorts, sandy beaches, beautiful green mountains, azure sea and cobbled streets lined with cute inns. I had heard that this was a must see, listed as one of the "three most beautiful scenic sites of Japan", but is quite crowded in the summer and early fall. Luckily, we arrived on a monday in the "off-season" and were treated to a pristine and quiet, yet still lively scene.
Amanohashidate is a thin ribbon of sand and pine dividing the Wakasa Bay from a smaller bay on the sea of Japan. There are many poems and paintings of this long beach, though the most hilarious aspect is that the Japanese take a gondola up the nearby mountain to look at it upsidedown through their legs, apparently it appears like there are two horizons and the Japanese line up for a while to do this! You have never experienced Japan until you see rows of Japanese bent over looking through their legs.
There are a series of great Japanese styled bridges joining the isthmus to the mainland.

Although difficult to get a view of if you do not want to take the ten dollar gondola, we managed to see the overview from this small clearing in the forest.

Wooden sandals lined up for guests at a local inn. Adorable eh?
The monks of the local temple live in this fortress-like building, probably built to keep out the prying eyes of millions of tourists.

This temple sells fans which which you write wishes on and hang in the temple-yard trees, although they are tiny they are the same as normal Japanese fans, really should have brought some to bring home, but ah well.

The streets of the local town are immaculate and house loads of craft vendors, inns and restaurants.
Amanohashidate temple has a very big paper lantern in the gate, look how little I am compared to this massive lamp, I wonder how many sheets of paper it takes to make.

Japanese fortune cat, bigger than usual and beckonning customers to come buy strange snacks to bring home to family.

And here are the strange snacks that every town in Japan sells. They are usually some kind of bland, overpackaged cookie which costs a fortune for a dozen. These shops are located anywhere Japanese tend to visit and each town has it's own variation on the boring Japanese snack, here it is a bland rice flour cookie with black sesame seeds or dried crab meat in crackers.

Overall this was certainly the most scenic place we have seen in Japan and one that I wish we had have seen earlier on so we could have gone swimming. If you are ever in Japan you should make a trip up to the Sea of Japan side of the country and see the bridge to heaven, incredible place, but just don't try the snacks.

Moonrise over Amanohashidate...