Japan diaries 2.0. Shrines and temples. A note by an absolute beginner

Japan diaries 2.0. Shrines and temples. A note by an absolute beginner

Memories and notes of an European, first time in Japan, written or rewritten one year after the trip.


Japan is famous for its specific religious system combining Buddhism and Shinto. Buddhism that roots in India came to Japan from the continental Asia. It is based on the teachings of Gautama Buddha and his successors. Shinto on the other hand is originally a Japanese ‘traditional religion’ based on ancient believes in ancestors and deities. For centuries, the two confessions overlapped. Japan had times (XIX century, the so called Meiji Restoration) of intensive politics to split the Buddhism from Shinto or even disroot Buddhism as not originally Japanese religion. Those efforts finally failed. Shinto and Buddhism coexist in the Japanese culture. Many Japanese declare even being tied to both confessions. This religious coexistence is however not easy to tackle for an outsider.

On our Japanese journey we saw numerous shrines and temples. I cannot say that I fully understand that what I saw, particularly that we traveled without a professional guide. Below I will sum up all that I realised on spot and later at home digging a bit in the Internet resources.


A SHINTO SHRINE VS A BUDDHIST TEMPLE. THE BASICS

A Shinto shrine may be a very small spot marked by a torii (Japanese gate to a sacred place). It can however be a bigger complex of buildings, as well. A shrine is devoted to a specific deity. Even if in the Western nomenclature we would call it a temple, it will still be called a shrine in Japan. (This is of course an English description. Japanese have many different names describing different kinds of shrines.) The most of the bigger (sometimes quite huge) religious building complexes we visited in Japan were however Buddhist temples. Buddhist temples belong to and are run by different schools of Buddhism (sects), and simultaneously play a role of a monastery, with interiors accessible only to few. This is possibly why I had an impression that temple complexes are somehow bigger (more widespread) than shrines, which is of course not a thumb rule.

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Entrance to the Yasaka-jinja shrine, Kyoto, well widespread, located at the eastern edge of Gion, the famous Geisha district. 

At the first sight, those bigger temple or shrine complexes, seemed to us quite similar in construction pattern – widespread premises with many buildings and more or less complex gates of comparable design. Now sitting at home comparing the pictures, recalling memories and reading information available in the Internet, I realise that they were not that similar at all. Some had statues inside, like those of the Buddha, or just gods or goddesses (deities), and the whole temple seemed to be organised around them. The others however, were just sanctuaries with some objects inside, the figures (statues) even if present did not play a central role. It turns out that these are the basic difference between a Buddhist and a Shinto temple or shrine. Continue reading

Japan diaries 2.0. Late hours in Shinjuku

Japan diaries 2.0. Late hours in Shinjuku

Japan, already a year ago. But looking through my original photos I still discover petty memories that summed up changed for good my initial comprehension of Japan and the Japanese society.

During our two weeks trip, we spent four nights in Tokyo. Each of those days sooner or later in the evening we went to Shinjuku, that is a special ward (kind of a district) of Tokyo known for its night life. In popular language, Shinjuku is the area in the neighbourhood of the Shinjuku railway station (considered the biggest in the world), where people enjoy the nightlife or to be precise late evenings as the most commuter trains depart around midnight. People come there straight after work.

THE LIGHTS OF SHINJUKU

The first thing that attracted out attention as we arrived there for the first time was the street views full of colourfull neon advertisements and the atmosphere, the noise, the crowds and the party feeling. Below some pictures.

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JMA_Shinjuku_008 Continue reading

Japan diaries 2.0. Transport

Japan, already a year ago. But looking through my original photos I still discover petty memories that summed up changed for good my initial comprehension of Japan and the Japanese society.

As professionally I deal with transport and infrastructure economics, one of my special interests all around Japan was its transportation system. And already on our first day in Japan I got quite a nice experience pack.

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A photo made a couple of days later. The very impressive entrance to the Kanazawa railway station.

A JUMBO JET ON PILED PIERS

My first ‘wow’ happened as our aircraft was rolling alongside the taxiway at Haneda, the Tokyo airport. Haneda is ranking the fifth busiest airport in the world. I was aware that because of increasing traffic the airport had to be extended several times. At a certain point this was possible only by additional land reclamation. That what I did not know, was that the airport runways/taxiways were built on a combination of reclaimed land and piled pier sections. Our jumbo jet indeed moved on a taxiway constructed upon piled piers!

THE JR PASS

The first thing we had to do after we cleared the airport closed area was to claim our Japan Rail Passes (or shortly JR Passes). (We paid for them earlier at home.) The JR Pass is a document that for a lump sum paid upfront allows travelling by most Japanese trains without limits within a certain period of time, for which the pass was bought. Only a couple of times we had to pay some additional amount to use a Shinkansen (high speed) train.

As I understand, the concept of the JR Pass is about making the railway transport affordable to those, who come visit Japan. Almost all of us traveled on a tourist visa. Only our guide/interpreter was supposed to stay longer upon a working visa. This excluded him from the JR Pass system. Each time he had to pay the full ticket price.

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As a tourist with a JR pass issued on your name you can use all Japanese Railways (JR) lines for a lump sum up-front payment. However, you must be prepared to pay additional fee in some Shinkansen (high speed) trains. You must also reserve a sitting place. The JR pass is not valid in metro trains.

THE EXPENSIVE RAILWAY TICKETS

The tickets were expensive even if compared to Western European standards. The railway prices in European countries differ. But two months later I paid less for the Eurostar ticket (from Paris to London) than he paid for even shorter Shinkansen trips in Japan. Continue reading