Saturday, October 30, 2010

Hello World... Douzo Yoroshiku, Onegaishimasu

May, 2007 - The arrival of L-kun. Well we arrived back from Japan in November 2006, and some 6 month's later... a long 6 months... our son came into the world. This is the point at which all parents have a wont to expound endlessly about the joys of parenthood... and we're little different. However, I'll try and keep this to a minimum...

Listening for signs of anything happening...

Firstly, T-chan's inability to taste (or smell) had continued right up until (and even immediately after) our son was born. The first thing to say is that this is a horrible, horrible fate for anyone - but especially I suspect for my wife. She loves her food, and to not taste (whilst wanting to eat 2-3 times as much as normal) was painful for her. However, it would seem that I also ate 2-3 times as much as normal to make her feel better. Sometimes I thought I was pregnant (and started looking like it around the middle).

We had chosen the Ashford private hospital here in Adelaide... they have a good record when it comes to their birthing unit. Anyway - the one thing that we hadn't expected was that our obstetrician was going on holiday... she neglected to tell us that; and as a result she recommended an induced birth. This had one advantage that we then knew exactly when (at the latest) that he would be born... except that now T-chan's parents were due to come in 1 day after the birth.

We arrived at the hospital at around 12 midnight for the induction to start... 10..9..8..7..6..5..4..3..2..1..

The other thing that I discovered was that they have (or at least the mid-wife that we had) a particular practice where the husband becomes the right-hand side stirrup, holding the mother's leg and offer encouragement. I'd given up smoking since coming back from Japan, and I have to say that now more than ever I wanted to start up again (but resisted... thankfully). Needless to say, I had a very involved view of T-chan's birth. The birth itself lasted about 15 hours, but the pushing phase lasted a gruelling 2 hours. It was, my friends, the scariest moment in my life.... when you watch the love of your life struggling with all that she has... We discovered after the event that our son had turned and was being birthed facing the wrong way!... and it was a mere matter of minutes before she was to be whisked off for an caesarean. As luck would have it, our obstetrician (whom had suggested the induction), arrived from performing another caesarean about 20 seconds before he was born . Whew!

Oh, I should remind people that T-chan's a very private person, so she doesn't like putting photo's of herself in the blog (even her own blog)... so I'm not being completely insensitive by cropping my wife out of the photos...

Now babies come in two types... yours and someone else's. When it comes to your own baby, you can and will do anything for them for they are sweetness and light in your eyes. To other people (I suspect the miracle of childbirth aside), they are generally wrinkled funny looking creatures that looked like they may have once featured on a Jim Henson drawing board, and sound like they aren't too happy about leaving. 

To be honest - we had no idea of a name for our son... ok, we had a short-list but no real firm favourites. So for the first day or so he was known Baby.... then the day after he was born and I was going home to look after our cat, it struck me what his name was. And from that instant it stuck, and he became...well... . It wasn't on our shortlist at all... but once I suggested it to T-chan, we knew that was his name.

I have to say - that whilst the fear of childbirth itself is intense - in other ways, the feeling you have as a parent for the first time is no less so. Except this feeling doesn't have an end... as you are always a parent. You just get used to it. This doesn't mean that doing things for the first time like changing nappies, swaddling, or even a first bath are particularly easy things to do. They're not. I can still remember thinking that the whole bathing experience was just as traumatic for me as it was for L-kun... head at right angle (no that's the right angle, not at right angles you idiot!), water not too hot, not too cold, and don't forget the dangly bits. Who would have thought it could be so complicated... and that babies could weigh so little.

The Ashford hospital also offers a very different post-natal care option - where women having natural birth can spend a couple of nights at the local Hilton hotel in the city instead of in the hospital. Sounded grand! And even though T-chan was pretty badly off in terms of the birthing itself, after one further night in the hospital for observation, we were able to go to the Hilton. And that's where T-chan had her first proper meal in over 6 months... and miraculously she could taste. And Dad could stay the night as well. Sweet.

The only problem with the Hilton option is that you only have a single nurse to look after the whole floor (of babies and mums)... and that means you don't quite get the attention that you got in the hospital. It also means you don't have someone coming around every other hour to check up on you. But most importantly, it also means that you have to start looking after baby by all yourself. Without support. For the first time. 

The second night we were there - T-chan was in a fair amount of pain from the... well... perhaps I'll spare you  the gory details... needless to say she was struggling. And L-kun was also struggling - to sleep. He didn't like it. Not one bit. So like any Dad would do, I stepped up to the plate and took L-kun into my arms and soothed him through the night (when he wasn't feeding that is) allowing T-chan to sleep a little. This most probably sounds sappy, but those hours were some of the happiest in my life. To be holding my baby boy to my heart was something that always comes back to me - normally when I feel like strangling him when he's being particularly difficult.

And so, as the days passed, and we become more used to the new life that has come into the world that is our son... he takes on angelic qualities...Even our cat (er... let's call him T-kun) was getting used to the presence of this little being in our house. Though he kept his distance.

One of the differences between Western and Japanese birthing rituals is the fact that it's quite common for Japanese to keep the umbilical cord of their baby as an heirloom throughout their life. We had asked our obstetrician to make sure that she left enough on there to collect. We never actually knew however what really happened to umbilical cords... the fact that they sort of just shrivel up was a mystery to us back then. I still remember the shock one morning when we were changing his nappies, and we suddenly realised that he was missing his cord. It had fallen off. Somewhere. Our thoughts immediately turned to our cat T-kun... he wouldn't of... would he?... About 20 minutes later, I found the cord lying on the carpet... a small contortion of colourless tissue. Hard to believe that we had almost vacuumed it up!

One of the things that are always a magical thing to new parents - the hands of a new-born baby are beautiful. 

 At once they are immaculately carved, a minature of what they will become...

But when you hold them in your hands, you know just how small and precious they really are.

Now of course - as all parents out there realise - babies are not all angels and harp-music. There are times when well let's face it... they just don't want you to get any peace at all! And it's at those moments, sleep deprived, that you really know what love is.

Trust me... I sometimes had a very similar expression on my face as well... though often it was on the inside.

Anyway... this introduces the next chapter of our tale of Japanese Ties... 

Kyoto Travel Books

I had mentioned somewhere earlier on that I was going to include some references to books that I used before (and after) my travels to plan the trip to Kyoto. And here they are. They certainly aren't an exhaustive list of books for Kyoto, but they're not a bad start. I've sourced all of the book details from Amazon... but haven't included costs etc.

Kyoto A Cultural History
John Dougill

This is an excellent book that gives a great background to the history of the city - and with, much of the rest of Japan through the ages. It's largely text, with a few hand-drawn images. As a scene-setter, it's very readable and enjoyable... however, it's structure is that of different slices or perspectives of Kyoto life... roughly equating to the different epochs of the Japanese history. As such, it's chronological structure makes it hard to relate to the sites around Kyoto without knowing a fair bit about the history of the city. Still, recommended for a general overview.
Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA; 1st edition (February 23, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195301374
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195301373

Kyoto A Cultural Guide (Revised Edition)
John H. and Phyllis G. Martin

This is a somewhat strange book - once again, largely text-based with a few crude maps interspersed. There's a fair bit of detail on each of the sites... but more importantly the structure is that of a series of set tours. This is great for stringing together a number of different day trips if you have the time... and there's a fair bit of detail here to keep you interested... with plenty of history thrown in to describe each of the locations. Would have been perfect if it had been a little more graphical in nature... or if they had provided maps of the sites themselves. Great for planning a large trip.
Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Tuttle Pub; Revised edition (June 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0804833419
  • ISBN-13: 978-0804833417

Seeing Kyoto
Juliet Winter's Carpenter

This is one of the quintessential tourist books that deals with Kyoto and fits within a series alongside Seeing Japan, and Seeing Tokyo. It's a great book to get enthused about Kyoto, but lacks detail to get a real picture of the city (and can't really be used as a way to structure a tour). Having said that it's most popular due to the large, beautiful photos... but then again... there are plenty of beautiful photos of Kyoto on Flickr these days.
Hardcover: 96 pages
  • Publisher: Kodansha International (November 15, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 4770023383
  • ISBN-13: 978-4770023384

The Temples of Kyoto
Donald Ritchie and Alexandre Georges

This is perhaps the most unusual of the books... as it deals specifically (as the title suggests) with the temples of Kyoto... which, let's face it.... are 90% of the tourist sites. There's a fair range of temples included, and they go into a good level of detail for each. The photos are nice, but have a slightly dated feel these days. Still a good read if you're into temple viewing. Plenty of history to keep you culturally aware... interestingly however, there's not that much background on the Buddhist beliefs or traditions - but focus is squarely on the buildings and the history.
Hardcover: 152 pages
Publisher: Tuttle Publishing (October 15, 1995)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0804820325
ISBN-13: 978-0804820325

Kyoto - City Guide (Lonely Planet)
Chris Rowthorn

If you're planning a trip to Kyoto, then this is a fantastic resource. It's very small (almost pocketable), and yet covers a wide range of areas in and around Kyoto (as well as nearby  locales such as Osaka, Nara and Himeji). Thoroughly recommend this - and I understand the author Chris Rowthorn is available for personal tours throughout Kyoto as well. The book contains great maps, and the level of information is superb for getting you started.
Paperback: 220 pages
  • Publisher: Lonely Planet; 4 Pap/Map edition (July 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1740598458
  • ISBN-13: 978-1740598453

Nara A Cultural Guide to Japan's Ancient Capital
John H. and Phyllis G. Martin

This is a relatively densely packed book on nearby Nara... and has a similar feel to their other book on Kyoto (above). The book's a little dry for my liking... but then again, I picked it up at a book bargain bin in Adelaide. There's a reasonable amount of coverage, but you'll most likely find yourself wanting to know more detail. At least I did.
Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Tuttle Publishing (January 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0804819149
  • ISBN-13: 978-0804819145

Well - these were the main books that I have used for gathering information... I know... it's somewhat ironic that I've used books as my primary source of info, when there's a whole internet out there waiting to stream into my consciousness with information. At the end of the day, there's something very nice about having a book with you... especially a small one like the Lonely Planet guide which you can shove in your jacket pocket and read whilst on the subway.

I spent quite a long time preparing the trip to Kyoto... and had read, and re-read many of these books. Some of the books I purchased in I just couldn't resist. We have generally gone for the full-on holidays where we push ourselves pretty hard. You see a lot when you do... but it takes a fair bit of preparation, and a whole heap of patience and determination. If you're going to Kyoto for 2-3 days, then I wouldn't recommend anything other than a Lonely Planet guide (or equivalent).

Hope this has been a little helpful... and if you want any further info, just give me a bell. Also - feel free to tell me about your own favourite books on Kyoto!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

On Our Way Home... Our New Family Home

For me this was a sad time... as I'd not experienced so much of Japan's history in our previous three trips as I had in the previous 14 days in Kyōto, Nara, Himeji, and Osaka . It was sad to see it end...  and scary... and a relief. We were very much aware of the looming unknown of parenting that was about to engulf us - and yet we were relieved that we had made it through a very hectic and tiring itinerary in our Kansai trip (without mishap). 

 However, for T-chan it was yet another departure from her home and family. It's always a hard time for us, leaving Japan - but for her in particular. This time however - there was something different to previous times. We were now on our way to being parents.

After a night of flying (about 9-10 hours to Australia), we found ourselves flying over familiar dry landscapes... so different to the lushness of Japan...We knew that our home of Adelaide was rapidly approaching. Normal life was about to return - but nothing would be quite normal again.

Before T-chan  had departed for Japan (how long ago was it?), we had just been a couple (+ cat). Now we were coming home to our small rented unit, knowing that in the space of about 6 months we would be joined by another little soul.

Australia is a big, wide country... and yet now it felt so small and fragile - and so distant from T-chan's home and her parents.
Murray River - about 100km from Adelaide

For those of you who, like me, enjoyed the experiences of Kyōto and Kansai in general, then you may notice a definite change in the tone of this blog... as we suddenly take a very wide (lifelong) detour to the district known as parenthood. I hope you stick with the blog, even if you're not that family oriented... as I'm sure that there will still be things of interest along the way.

If however, anyone wants to jump ahead in the story (kinda like watching the sequel first), then I'm starting a new parallel blog about our family life in Adelaide from a current-day perspective, called somewhat mysteriously... "Raising Adelaide". It will still have a distinct Japanese flavour to it, as we journey through our own perspective of how to grow up a Aussie-Japanese family here in Adelaide, Australia.

See you all soon.

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Sunday, October 24, 2010

Osaka-jo. The Fate of the Toyotomi and Tourists

3rd November, 2006 - With a heavy heart we set out, our last day in Japan - though we didn't know how long. After a short side trip to Yodobashi's to pick up some last minute deals (actually Sapporo was better for prices than Osaka), we arrived at the last stop on our journey. Osaka-jo. The great white shark of Japanese tourist attractions. When you come out of the subway station, it stands high above the surrounding landscape... dominating the skyline.

Yet the outer defences have a feel of quietness as compared to the main keep's brashness. In spring the cherry blossoms define the perimeter, but there were no falling blossoms to greet us this afternoon.

The castle of Osaka was constructed in on the site of Ishiyama Hongan-ji (constructed in the 11th century), next to the ruins of the former capital Naniwa-kyo. The powerful temple was surrended to Oda Nobunaga in 1580, and Toyotomi Hideyoshi started construction of the castle proper in 1583.

Rokuban yagura...

After the death of Hideyoshi in 1598, Tokugawa Ieyasu (one of Hideyoshi's chief supporters) was given responsibility to look after Hideyoshi's son, Hideyori. Following Ieyasu's success in the Battle of Sekigahara in which he established his domination over all of Japan, he was given the title of Shogun. Ieyasu had other plans that did not include the possibility of a competing Toyotomi claim on the prize of a unified Japan; and psuedo-kingship. That right would surely be better placed in a Tokugawa lineage - and that meant no room for doubt. The time had come for Ieyasu to grasp history by the throat. Hideyori, as the living embodiment to Hideyoshi's greatness, had to die. Whilst Hideyori had no desire for ruling Japan - this did not mean that his supporters would go quietly, and in the space of 15 years, Japan would once more be pushed into civil calamity. During the final chapter, in which the pro-Toyotomi forces faced off the pro-Tokugawa forces, Osaka-jo was to be the fateful backdrop.
The Main Keep

By the time that Ieyasu struck, he had already abdicated his role of Shogun to his son (in 1605), thus commencing the Tokugawa reign over Japan...The first campaign in 1614 failed to be decisive, but it lead instead to a begrudging compliance by the Hideyori's followers. As part of that cease-fire agreement, the moat of Osaka-jo was filled in - thus providing a fatal chink in it's protective armour. Yet tension once again rose in 1615 and the two armies once fired into action, culminating in the battle of Tenno-ji in which the 70,000+ strong army of Hideyori took on the 165,000 strong army of Hidetata (Ieyasu's son and current shogun). The wheel of fate turned and in the end the Tokugawa army prevailed and in the resulting retreat the castle was destroyed. Hideyori at the age of 22 commited suicide, along with his mother Yodogimi,  rather than be captured. The remaining family members were captured - and they suffered the fate often meted out to the losers... they were killed. This included Hideyori's 8 year old son, Kunimatsu, who was beheaded. His daughter was the only survivor, who went on to become an abbotess at Tōkei-ji in Kamakura.
The action of Ieyasu was to cement the power of the Tokugawa for the next 250 years.
The castle was almost completely destroyed during the 1615 siege, and then reconstructed in 1620 – only to be destroyed again in 1655 by lightning. The castle again featured in history of the demise of the Tokugawa's when it was razed rather than fall into the pro-imperial forces in 1868. It was then rebuilt in 1931... and we all know how that turned out. Not well for Osaka-jo.

What was left of the castle was destroyed in WWII and the building today is an external replica only (the interior being a small windowless bunker-of-a-museum). And a busy museum at that. The line up to enter can be long... and once your in, you realise that the line-up doesn't stop at the front door. The real queue is for the elevator that takes you direct to the observation deck. We took one look at the queue and decided to take the stairs (and enjoy the museum as we went). Unfortunately no camera's aloud inside the museum... but my honest opinion is that unless you're really into the history Osaka-jo, you might be a little disappointed. That doesn't mean that there not interesting things there - just don't have high expectations. There's little sense (at least for english speakers) of the real history that infuses the stones and timber (and now concrete) of Osaka-jo.

The view from the observation deck is quite startling however, and you can start to appreciate just how important these castles were. Not necessarily for their fortress-like protection (aka European castles)... because clearly they didn't provide much protection at all... but rather as a symbol of power and dominance. To sit perched above the rest of the domain must have been an impressive feeling. Whilst the castle stood.

Shachihoko ornament atop the observation level of the Osaka-jo
Nowawdays, this power is manifest in different ways, and by different people. Yet still we hold to the belief that height gives a commanding position over those that surround us. Now however, we build our castles out of glass.
The view from Osaka-jo
Ah - if I was shogun for a day, things would be different. Free Mister Donuts for all, and cherry blossoms all year round... and while I'm about it, how about an extra 12 months on my holidays.

There's no doubt that Osaka-jo is a must-see attraction in Osaka... but if you've seen the real thing (like Himeji-jo) you might be a little disappointed. Still, that's part of the fun of holidays - and different cultures - it's not what is disappointing, but the fun and excitement of discovering new things (good or bad). And there was a great festive atmosphere to the castle that made it an extra enjoyable experience.

As the sun sank slowly closer to the horizon, we knew that it was setting also on our holiday. With heavy hearts, bodies weary from two weeks of constant adventure, and heads full of amazing memories we made our way back to the hotel - and then on to the airport.

Osaka-jo is a strange symbol of Japan... history fused with the modern. Japan is rarely what it appears from the outside - and every time you feel you know it, and it's people, a bit better... you discover you only know a bit more of the mystery.
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Friday, October 22, 2010

Dotonbori or Bust...

2nd November 2006 - After our visit to Sumiyoshi Taisha, we made our way back into the city... our first stop was Amerika mura. And you might think that with a name like that, we were there to enjoy a vibrant pop culture. And you'd be partly right. It's great walking around Amerika Mura... and yes, it's reputably the centre of youth culture in Osaka... great cafe's, great fashion shops (OK, I don't even pretend to be fashionable, but my wife is a little more so inclined) - and it's great even for the ambience alone.

It was also - and I feel somewhat embarrassed to say it - the location of one of the best Takoyaki stalls in Osaka... possibly Japan... maybe even the world. Beyond that, the universe is a thin veil of atmosphere away. The shop is known as Kougaryu, and was highly recommended by my brother-in-law (H-kun)... but is apparently also quite famous in it's own right... even having a write-up in the NY Times of all things...Note: Takoyaki is predominantly pieces of octopus in a batter (made up of lots of goodies) that's been deep fried; the thing on top is Katsuobushi... (often called bonito)... that is amazing when it heats up (wriggles around like it's still alive).

Google Streetview of Kougaryu in Amerikamura
Now - once again.. imagine what life would be like for a homesick Japanese (recently pregnant) bride having returned home after too long away, and visiting world famous eating establishments - without being able to taste a thing. If the camera that took the photo below had turned around at the moment, I suspect a lone tear would have been making a silent protest as it made it's way down T-chan's cheek.

So how was the Takoyaki? Actually, it was... not surprisingly... very yummy. It was also very hot. I suspect I cooked off several layers of skin from the inside of my mouth eating these little babies. The good thing about this shop is that whilst it has no seats, it's located just across from the park (check here for a better map) that acts as one of the main gathering places in Amerika mura...

Not far away to the east is Shinsai-bashi Suji... one of the main shopping areas in Osaka... and a good place to get lost. However, there is no shortage of other people who are likewise lost, so it's quite convenient for meeting people who share some of your interests.

To the south, about 600-700m, is another of the famous locales in Osaka.... Dōtonbori (pronounced Dotombori). This area is named after the street that runs down the canal by the same name. It's origins apparently (according to Wikipedia) stem from a local entrepreneur by the name Dōton Yasui... hehehe... in Japanese, yasui can mean cheap... but it's also a surname. He started the project to artificially extend one fo the local rivers as a way of developing commerce traffic.. but died in the Siege of Osaka-jo (hint... we might be seeing that sometime soon) in 1615. It then was turned into one of the pleasure/cultural districts. Anyhow, now the street is famous for it's canal... but only at night.

Dōtonbori Canal
Dōtonbori is indeed best enjoyed as the sun sets, and the neon rises. It's often been described in terms of the Blade-Runneresque street cacophony of light, sound, people and cultures. However, it's best not to go there with any pre-conceptions. It's a great place to grab a meal (and there's a lot of competition out there). More importantly, it's a nice place to enjoy a quintessential Japanese nightscape.

Ebisu- why are you so happy? Ah that's right, coz your rolling in the money. Fair enough. T-chan looks around for somewhere to eat. Sometimes, you can have too many options....

After much though, and considering T-chan's pregancy... we decided to eat a plate of meat. yakiniku style. Hmmm... grilled meat.... Yummy (appologies to any vegetarians out there...)

There are a few sights that greet the visitor in Dōtonbori... and the running Glico man is one of the most famous. It's an advertisement for... isn't it obvious... candy. And it's been shining it's sweet light upon the canal since 1935.

And now we come to the moment in any trip where we need to pause, and reflect on those that have passed before us - but are no longer with us. Kuidaore Taro. Well - he's not quite gone for good... but it was a close run thing. Now Osaka is known for kuidaore... the act of gorging yourself silly, and generally falling over dead... and this somehow came to be symbolised by good ol' Kuidaore Taro who drummed his mechanical drums out the front of a local tourist trap restaurant known as Cuidaore - a restuarant that is now defunct (for good reason, it's food sucked). An ex-restaurant.

Still Kuidaore Taro came to be one of the symbols of Osaka; patiently drumming whilst horde after horde of tourists and clown-fetishists alike stopped to have their photo taken with the icon.
Kuidaore Taro... and another clown

As the restaurant to which he belonged (but had long since outgrown) finally closed it's doors in the late 2000's... there was a good chance that our Dorian Gray-like bespeckled clown was going to find himself destitute and on the street, selling himself instead of a second-rate restaurant. Times were looking hard indeed. Thankfully, the city of Osaka came to it's senses (and found enough cash to pay the likely exorbitant asking price) to relocate Kuidaore Taro to a healthier home. So if you were in the market for a mechanical clown (who, let's face it would have been up for anything) then you've unfortunately missed your chance.

Not far away is an amazing Don Quijote store- or Donki for short. This is a discount chain store that sells a lot of different things. Yes.. a lot of crap... but also a lot of interesting things at a good price. In this case, the thing that really defines the shop (and I think that I mean this literally) is the Ebisu Ferris Wheel that actually does physically define the shop. We saw the god Ebisu above - but not sure why he's come to be installed as a Ferris Wheel. And yes... the 32 gondolas do actually go around - and do take passengers.

And with that, we bid "fare ye well" to Dōtonbori, with it's crazy night-lights, it's Canal to no-where in particular, and it's overall vibe and pulse.  It was fun whilst it lasted... but now we're off to sleep... our last night in Japan for this trip.

Sweet dreams... and don't forget to pay the electricity bill.
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Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sumiyoshi Taisha...When Grand Had a Different Measure

2nd November, 2006 - We didn't have too many plans for Osaka... other than to gradually wind down from the amazing 12 days we spent in Kyōto. Osaka has not really held on to the architecture of it's past. There are a few exceptions to this, including the Sumiyoshi Grand Shrine - or more properly Sumiyoshi Taisha (note link is in Japanese only).

To get there, at least by train, you need to make at least one stop. Catching the subway line to Namba station, you then change over to the Nankai Main Line, and then about 10 mins later you get off at... well you guessed it... the Sumiyoshi Taisha Station. Be careful as express trains don't stop there.

View Larger Map

Approaching the shrine, you will come across a very small number of shops selling goods - where we bought some traditional bekkouame candy. It was surprisingly quiet (perhaps because it was a Thursday)... a distinct contrast to the subways in Osaka which even around 11am-ish were packed sardine tight).

The approach to the shrine passes under a stone torii, guarded by a pair of guardian komainu...lion dogs. A fairly understated entrance.

One of the things that sets Sumiyoshi Taisha apart from other shrines is the Taiko-bashi, the curved vermilion bridge that was famous even in the time of Murasaki Shikibu, who authored one of (if not) the first novels in the world, known as the Tale of Genji
Taiko Bashi with komainu

One of the things that surprised me was that you can actually cross the bridge... most other things like this that I've seen  are well and truly blocked off from real use. Here's T-chan... looking wistfully out, wondering what the future of parenthood had in store for us... either that, or she was wondering how we would cope when we stop walking between 10 and 20 km a day (thanks to our trusty pedometer, which we now had a love hate relationship with). I suspect relief would be the way she would describe it.
Taiko Bashi
Sumiyoshi Taisha is one of the oldest Shintō shrines still surviving today, dating from the 3rd century. There are four deities enshrined here: Uwatsutsuo-no-mikoto, Nakatsutsuo-no-mikoto, Sokotsutsuo-no-omikoto and Jingu-Kogo. The first three are known as sea gods, and are responsible for the protection of Japan (I am assuming from external invasion by sea, or Godzilla-style attack). You might be wondering (from the above map) why Sumiyoshi Taisha houses sea gods... well... the neighbourhood used to be on the coast before the massive land reclamation in Osaka. Clearly the gods didn't see that one coming....

The fourth spirit at the shrine is that of the Empress Jingū (who lived in the 3rd century AD, and according to Wikipedia made it to the ripe old age of 100)... actually, she was officially taken off the list of Japanese sovereigns during the Meiji era - perhaps due to her questionable historical accuracy (i.e. she may have been entirely fictional). That didn't stop her portrait being added to the Japanese currency in 1883 even though no picture of her existed (and  hence she took on a very Western appearance... perhaps as the artist responsible was an Italian). Needless to say, her status is somewhat mysterious... even though she was credited with leading the Japanese armies across the seas to successfully invade Korea. History is always so... malleable.

This shrine is unusual in that the architectural style can be said to be almost entirely predate Chinese influence (excepting the Taiko-bashi  which is very Chinese). Little else remains today in Osaka dating from that time. The honden (where the kami are housed) are in a particular style known as the Sumiyoshi-zukuri... one of three original (pre-Chinese) styles that have been retained in Japan. There are four of these honden, each dedicated to it's own kami. 

Not sure if this is typical - but the honden shown here are all numbered... not named... so the one on the left is #3...belonging to Uwatsutsuo-no-mikoto (you need to research that... they don't tell you).

 And here's #4 (the one on the right)....the home of Empress Jingū herself.

And here's a view looking through the doorway in the first honden (that belonging to Sokotsutsuo-no-omikoto)...behind the door lies the kami's house, and that's not for public viewing. As far as I know, there's no little light that comes on to indicate whether the gods in at the moment, so it might be a bit of hit and miss as far as communicating directly with the god. The bell out the front does however act somewhat like a door bell... so give it a ring, and say hello.

Interior entrance of honden

Here's the reverse view of the 3rd and 4th honden...which clearly shows the gabled design, crossed beams, raised floor, and thatched hinoki cypress bark roof

Shinto has a reverence for nature that is inextricably tied up with the concept of the spirits (kami) manifestation in the objects of the real world. That's why objects such as mountains, rivers, and even trees can become sacred. The shimenrwa (rope) identifies the boundary between the normal world and the sacred... just in case you missed it.

In this case, the aged tree looks unmistakably if it has formed by pouring itself from some fissure in the Earth's crust...

And here we find another representation of the Sumiyoshi torii,,, which is actually quite a distinctive design unlike other in Japan.

Within one of the shrine's buildings we found this odd arrangement... complete with maneki neko (waving good luck cats). I have to admit that we kinda felt a little disappointed that in the heart of Shinto belief in the Kansai district, in the holiest of holies, we would find an almost cliche tourist shrine. Still...this shrine is famous for worship for the coming rice festival, and I understand that this sub-shrine is for that purpose.

Some of the smaller shrine buildings show an interesting fusion of the Japanese raised floor architecture with the Chinese influenced roof design. Haven't been able to work out what these buildings are for as they don't rate in the official shrine building list. I'm kinda hoping that they weren't toilets...

Every year on the 14th June, an ancient Shinto dance is held, known as Otaue-shinji, which accompanies a rice-planting ceremony – a prayer for good harvests in the coming year. Alas...6 months too late... or is that 6 months too early? Either way, it's a nice shrine that's worth visiting... and quite different from the Buddhist-centric view that is common in Kyōto.
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