My latest Post.

This view,this beauty
A tear unbidden
Creeps into my eye.

My stay is short
But I shall return to this place
If only my life is long enough.

Such beauty
Gazing upon it
I hope my years are many.

Bokusui Wakayama.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

This Piece of Rock.: Off the Beaten Track.

This Piece of Rock.: Off the Beaten Track.:     It was 1993, during the month of June if I remember correctly, and I was sitting at the bar in  "Kytelers Inn" , a popular  watering hol...

Off the Beaten Track.

   It was 1993, during the month of June if I remember correctly, and I was sitting at the bar in "Kytelers Inn", a popular watering hole in Kilkenny. It was the eve of my departure of a month-long cycle-tour of Ireland and I was sharing my plans with a local who, during the course of our conversation (and a few pints of Guinness) offered me the following piece-of-advice - "The best way to see Ireland my friend, is keep off the main road". I took the mans advice and, as a result, I saw, experienced and met parts of Ireland that not many others would. 18-years later, and I am still adhering to that advice. Whether it be back home in Aoteraoa, or here in Japan.
   This post is some of my "off the beaten track" experiences since living in Japan.
Kamocho Ohata.
I will commence with the village of Kamocho Ohata (Map), nestled amongst the hills of Kamo Town, which is part of Kizugawa City. I passed-through here as part of my research for my "Everytrail Trip" - "Kamocho (Kamo Town)" - but, what I was soon to discover, is that this town, and many-others that I have experienced on my travels, have a lot in common - serenity, beauty, scenic, plus a feeling you don't experience when you are wandering through the city. Access to this village is via a narrow lane, that branches-off a narrow road that itself branches-off another road.  
   Then there are the people you meet on your travels. I remember one particular occasion, during my cycle-tour of Ireland, when I arrived in a village - the village consisted of a pub, store & petrol-pumps and a few houses - about 9am. I remember I was a bit low-in-mood and so I stopped to take-in the surrounding scenery - rolling hills, trees, sheep grazing - just as an old man walked-by. As he passed he greeted me - "Good-morning my son, may the good lord be with you on your travels". That one comment perked me up 100% and I was able to continue on my way. 
So, let me introduce you to Motokazu-san. I was out on one of my hiking trips, by myself, when we came-across each other in a clearing ( as seen in the photo), I was exiting the bush, he was about to enter. I was delighted that he was able to speak English, (my Nihongo leaves a lot to be desired) so we were able to chat for some time. Three years, and several hiking-trips later, we still regularly meet and chat. He has a mind of information regarding all things Japanese, and I am always keen to "pick his brain" about this great country.
   Now let me not forget to tell you about those "little surprises". The ones you stumble-upon off-the-beaten-track (check-out this link - "Off the Beaten Track in Japan"). And, believe me when I say, they will pop-up anywhere.
from the road.
up close.
These next two images are a testament to what one can stumble-upon. The path I was on was narrow and in fairly-dense forest. Although it was early (about 9:30am), it was also the middle-of-summer and I was in dire need of a refreshment break. The signpost, in the image on the left, attracted my attention and was my cue to stop. Then I saw it. This huge rock with a carving on it. This is a Magaibutsu, and is known as "Daimonnohotokendani", and there are many dotted-about this area (check-out my "Everytrail Guide" - Touno Sekibutsu no Sato - Pilgrimage to Sekibutsu). From the road it looks small but, when up close, as in the image on the right, it is quite huge (I am about 176cm tall). 
   Before I sign-off, I want to share something with you that is well-off the beaten-track. I was told about this place by a friend who said I should check-it-out. When I came-across this, it was about 8am, I was almost thrown-off my bike at the suddenness of it's appearance. After cycling along a forest track, here was this;
"Togenochaya" is a classical example of a "Traditional Japanese Teahouse" and this one has
Refreshment Break
been here for over 180-years. The owner, seen in the image on the left, is the 6th generation of his family to have operated this establishment. That's me in the image on the right (not the 4-legged one). The really-interesting thing about the isolated location of this "Ochaya", is that Nara City is just over the hill from here (about an hours cycle-ride). Check-out this link from Diddlefinger Maps (clicking-on the "Hybrid" icon will give you a better idea of the location and isolation).
   I have many other "off-the-beaten-track" experiences I could share with you, but I think you get the idea of where I am coming from (no pun intended). But, in saying that, if I happen to have an experience I feel is worthy to be shared, I won't hesitate to do so.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Shogatsu - The Japanese New-Year.

   I was never one who got involved in all the hype surrounding the New-Year celebrations. To me it is just another day - being a shift-worker, where I have worked on the 1st January more that the ones where I haven't - and I couldn't see what all the fuss was about. That was until I experienced my first Shogatsu or Oshogatsu in 2004.
   The Japanese have been celebrating the New-Year for many thousands-of-years, but it wasn't until 1873, five-years after the Meiji Restoration, that they adopted the Gregorian Calendar, and the 1st January became the official and cultural New-Year. Prior to then, the occasion was timed according to the Chinese Lunar Calendar.
   Preparations for the New-Year begin as early as November, with the making, selection and ordering of the Nengajo, or New-Year Postcards.
New-Year Postcards.
The "Nengajo" come in many formats. The personal postcard can be either created by oneself - generally showing a family portrait or drawing by one of the family - or ordered through a catalogue provided by a Department Store, like the one we have ordered in the image on the left. Before mailing them a short message is included for the recipient. Employers often distribute them to the staff thanking them for their loyalty over the past 12-months. Businesses like to show their appreciation to their clients by including them on their mailing-list. You will notice on the card an image of a Dragon. This is one of the 12 Zodiac Animals that make up the Chinese Zodiac System or, what is known in Japan as Jikkan Junishi. 2012 will be the Year-of-the-Dragon.
   It is about mid-December, and time to get those Nengajo into the post so they arrive on the 1st, making sure you haven't included a card to someone who is in mourning. You would have received a "Mochyuu Hagaki", or "Mourning Postcard", informing friends and relatives not to send a Nengajo out of respect for the deceased. Also about this time people are ordering, purchasing and preparing the contents of their Osechi-Ryori. Osechi come in
boxes known as "Jubako" and resemble the infamous Bento. The quick-and-easy, and time-saving way, is to order these through a catalogue but, as I experienced in 2003, they are best made at home. I had the opportunity to assist my father-in-law (a qualified chef) in constructing our Osechi. The result was a five-layered, delicious work-of-art that fed ten. These are consumed on New-Year's day morning, and washed-down with a warm Sake
   It is now New-Years Eve, or Omisoka, the second-most important day in Japanese Tradition, and it's about to get very-busy. First thing on the agenda is the creation of your Osechi-Ryori (that's if your'e making your own) followed by "Osoji", or Spring-Cleaning. This practice isn't just confined to the home. Schools and Businesses also use the day to clean-up so, upon returning after the New-Year Holidays, they can begin the new year in a fresh-and-clean state. At midnight, Buddhist Temples around Japan will begin ringing their bells a total of 108-times to symbolize the 108 Human Sins in Buddhist belief, and to get-rid of the 108 worldly desires regarding sense and feeling in every Japanese citizen. 
   It is now the 1st January, a new year has arrived and time to introduce you to Hatsumode, Hatsuhinode, the "First" of the year. I will begin with "Hatsumode", or the first trip to a Shrine or Temple. Many people will time their "first" visit at around midnight. Braving the winter cold, millions will stand in line waiting for the signal informing the new year has arrived, before moving-on to pay their respects. For the three days, during Hatsumode, the public transport system will be operating 24-hours ferrying devotees to the many shrines in their area. Fushime-Inari Shrine in Kyoto, recorded some 2.8-million visitors during that 3-day period back in 2008.                                                                            
Yasaka-jinja Shrine Gate.
My first Hatsumode experience was in 2004 when I accompanied my family to Yasaka-jinja Shrine in Kyoto. We arrived at the Keihan Gion-Shijo Station and began making our way along Shijo-Dori Street towards the main gate (image on the left) amongst a crowd that would have numbered in the hundreds-of-thousands (the street, from one side to the other, was one long queue of people). Once inside the  main gate, we were greeted 
Yasaka-jinja Shrine.
by this quite magnificent structure (what you could see of it) where we approached the main shrine and prayed. When completed we then turned-around and departed. This intrigued me, especially after all we had been through leading-up to this moment but, as I was informed, this is all we came here to do. Yasaka-jinja is well worth the visit when in Kyoto and can be combined with a walk through the Gion (Geisha) District that surrounds the complex.
   It wouldn't be until 2006 before I celebrated Hatsumode again. On this occasion it was be a very-solemn moment. In early 2005 Otaasan (Father) died, and this was our first Hatsumode without him. He was a man that I loved and respected very-deeply. And, as a result, the New-Year celebration took-on a new meaning for me. I came to appreciate the occasion and, from that day onward, I take the opportunity to remember those who cannot be with us, think-back over the past year and say thank-you to all those in my life, and think of the year ahead. On this occasion we chose to visit Iwashimizu Hachiman-gu Shrine in Yawate City. We arrived at the complex just on midnight and, already by then, there were thousands of people queuing-up to pray.
Iwashimizu Hachiman-gu Shrine
The history surrounding Iwashimizu Hachiman-gu dates-back to the Heian Period with it's connections to Kyoto and the Imperial Family. Construction of the Shrine commenced in 859 (Jogan ). The Shrine is also a popular destination with families coming here to celebrate Shichi-Go-San.This  wasn't the first time I have visited this complex. In 2003, when we were in Japan on holiday, we spent the day strolling-around the shrine and taking-in the scenery surrounding the area below us. The complex sits-atop a hill, with access via the Otokayama Cable-Car, or the many paths that surround the hill. 
   Hatsuhinode is another "first" that the Japanese like to participate in - the First Sunrise of the Year - and they will go to any extreme to do that. Some will drive to the coast or climb a mountain and some will sit at home and watch it live on television. On the mornings of the new decade and the new millennium, a Japanese television company broadcast live from Kahuitara Point (Map) on Pitt Island. Why. Because it is the first populated location on Earth to observe the new sunrise. The popularity of another "first" doesn't become evident until about October when statistics from the maternity wards are made public.   
Kagami Mochi.
   One more tradition, related to Shogatsu, before signing-off. Kagami Mochi first appeared in the Muromachi Period (14th to 16th Century) and is said to have originated from it's resemblance to an old-fashioned round copper mirror, which also had a religious significance. The Mochi is made up of  two round cakes made-out of rice and decorated with a Bitter Orange. The Mochi are usually  placed in the Kamidana (Shinto Altar) or the Tokonoma (a small decorated alcove in the main room of the home) when, on the second Saturday or Sunday of January, the cake is broken and eaten in a Shinto ritual called Kagami Biraki.
   This post has, I hope, given you a brief outline of how the Japanese celebrate the New-Year. When I say "brief", there are many more activities that are celebrated over this period which I haven't included. The activities covered are the more-important ones. As you will have noticed, it's a hectic time but, when it is all over-and-done-with, most will hit the motorways, the train-stations, the airports, whatever, for a well deserved holiday. But that's another post.
   Oops, I nearly forgot. May I take this opportunity to wish you all a great New-Year, and all the very best for 2012.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Autumn in Japan.

Autumn Colors along the
Biwako Canal.
    Or, more precisely, the colors of Autumn. I remember my first experience of the Autumn colors in Japan. It was 2003 and my wife and I were here on holiday. It was the Eastern hills surrounding Kyoto City, the ones with Daimonjiyama and Fushimi-Inari on them, and we were on a hiking expedition with my family-in-law. And, to this day 8-years later, the sight still impresses me.
       This post will be images taken over the seven-years of living in Japan.
Yours Truly
Kyotango,Kyoto Prefecture.
Katsuragawa River
Kyotango is an area in the north of Kyoto Prefecture on the Japan Sea coast. Map.
The Katsuragawa River runs through the very-popular tourist destination of Arashiyama. But it's not just the Autumn colors that are abound here, the Sakura are also a spectacle to see/experience.Map.
Hydrangea Flowers

 During my research for my "Everytrail Guide" -
Canal Boat
Takasegawa Canal.
"Chushojima - the Sake Capitol of Japan" - I was fortunate to have visited when there were plenty of colors.
Choken-ji Temple Gate.
Chushojima is a lovely spot to visit which should include a tour of one of the many Sake Breweries. Then,what better way to enjoy that bottle you purchased, with a cruise on the Takasegawa Canal on one of the many canal boats.
 Directly opposite your boarding-point, is the Choken-ji Temple with it's red earthen walls surrounding the complex.Map.
Jizo-in Temple.

Just up the road, or rail-line, from Chushojima, is Uji City, one of my favorite cities in Japan.
Not too touristy, but popular none-the-less.The city was made famous by the novel "The Tale of Genji" where the final chapters are set.
Mountain Road.

Autumn Colors
   Now for something completely different.The above three-images are from a weekend I spent mountain-biking with four others in Shiga Prefecture ("Weekend in Shiga). It was very difficult to concentrate with all the magnificent scenery about but, with some gentle persuasion, I managed. Not only were the colors and scenery a delight to the eye, but the wildlife were something to behold too - wild monkeys, beers and deer.

On the pond
Kaga-Onsen (Map) is set amongst the mountains bordering Ishikawa and Gifu Prefectures. The area is abound with many Onsen, which makes it popular with those wanting to escape the hassles of city life, or whatever, and come and soak-away their troubles. My Wife and I came here for a weekend and found it a delightful wee town with some great scenery. 
Konzo-ji Temple.

You like isolated places?
Gardens, Konzo-ji temple.
Well, if you do, then check the Map. The area is popular with the outdoor enthusiast, like yours truly. I like places like this, especially if I am on foot or bike, as access is through forest and there many options how to get to-and-from here.

Banpakukinenkoen, or the "Osaka Expo Commemoration Park", was created in 1970 to house the "Worlds Fair". Today, the 264ha grounds are used for recreational and educational purposes, with ample lawn and forest for people to picnic, exercise and relax in. Access to the park is via the "Osaka Monorail" which, for those who haven't ridden on train of this type, can be quite an experience. Map.
Gate, entrance
Kontai-ji Temple.
Kontai-ji Temple (Map) is worth a visit at any time of year. If visiting this complex, don't be in a hurry. There is plenty to see. Also many tracks in the area.

   Well I think that just about covers "Autumn in Japan". I will sign-off with one last image that encapsulates all that is Japan, two Maiko amongst the Autumn foliage in Kyoto.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Japan, and it's Tourism Dilemma.

   This article, "Japan after Fukushima", in today's edition of  "Yahoo News" has prompted me to offer an opinion regarding the present dilemmas facing tourism in Japan.
   One has to feel some sympathy towards the Ministry that is responsible for tourism here. After years of declining numbers of tourists to Japan, the powers-that-be, back in 2003, decided to invest millions of Yen to improve the situation, with an aggressive marketing/promotion campaign. Then, in 2010, the investment began to pay off, with some 8.6-million tourists visiting the Japanese Archipelago. The Ministry felt that it was well on it's way to their target of attracting 25-million tourists by 2020. That was until 11th March 2011, when the "Forces-of-Nature" (sorry I couldn't find anything more descriptive to add), and it's aftermath (the Fukushima Nuclear Power-Plant), stepped-in and all that changed. Since that day tourist numbers have taken a nose-dive and the Ministry are scrambling to find answers to turn the trend around.
   I am not going to pour scorn on those who have decided to stay away from Japan, for whatever their fears. I respect their right to make that choice. I too have fears, especially regarding the affects of Radiation Sickness, but I am just as likely to be run-over by a cyclist while walking along a footpath. Which raises the question; Whereabouts on this planet is it safe to travel to? The people on Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on Christmas Day 2009, would never have thought that a fellow passenger had plastic explosives in his underwear. Same as the people on the Double-Decker Bus in London on 7th July 2005, would never have thought that they would become victims of a suicide attack. And then there were the tourists standing on the balcony in the spire of Christchurch Cathedral at 12:51pm on 22nd February 2011. There is risk attached to everything we do, I know that more than anyone.
   The present Minister in charge of Tourism in Japan, has come-up with a scheme, where some 10,000 tourists from different parts of the Globe, will have their flights to Japan paid for them in the hope of improving the situation. This comes with a price-tag of ¥1.8-billion and has yet to be approved by the Japanese Government, sometime near April 2012. This is crazy and is throwing good money after bad as their is no guarantee that the scheme will be successful. Already scams are afoot throughout the world to abuse this scheme, as reported in this statement from the Japan Tourist Agency. Also, people who had no intention of visiting Japan, will now do so because their "Mates" living here, have encouraged them to apply. They will come here because it's a "freebie" and not come and appreciate what Japan really has to offer - beauty, fantastic scenery, history, culture.
   If you are considering Japan as your next holiday destination, may I invite you to connect with the "Japan National Tourism Organization", via their "Facebook" page, for information and regular updates.
   So, in the mean time, check-out these photos
Matsuo-dera Shrine, Yamashiro Town.
Kyoto Prefecture.
which shows some of the hidden beauty of Japan.

Konzo-ji Temple, Nagaokakyo City.
Kyoto Prefecture.

Pagoda, Kaijusen-ji Temple.
Kizugawa City.
Kyoto Prefecture.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Four Seasons of Japan.

   People often ask me "When is a good time of year to visit Japan"? My answer is always " Any time of year is a good time to visit Japan, but some times are better than others". The " ....some times...." I am referring to are Spring and Autumn. I will explain why later but, in the mean time, check-out Kigo - Japanese Seasons.
   Different people have different reasons why they visit a country at a certain time of year. The cold months of Winter (7th November - 3rd February) may not suit most but, if you're into Skiing and Snowboarding, then Nagano and Hokkaido Prefectures will be where your little piece of Paradise will be found. If it's the weather extremes you're trying to avoid, then the same could be said of Summer (6th May - 7th August). The Summer months here add new meaning to the terms, hot & humid. And that just leaves Spring (4th February - 5th May) and Autumn (8th August - 6th November). 
   I will now take you through the seasons and, what better way to begin, than with Spring, or what is known as Haru in Japan. This is my favourite time of year. Why? To me Spring represents life. After months of dormancy, plants, along with many other lifeforms, come to life. And the best way for me to express this, is to share with you photos of the Sakura
Himeji Castle.
Gassho-zukuri Minka
                                                Himeji Castle  is in itself a sight to behold, and that is regardless of what time of year you visit. But, when the park surrounding the Castle is in full bloom, the Castle takes-on an even bigger magnificence. On a bus-tour through Gifu Prefecture, back in 2006, we called-into an isolated village (so isolated I can't find the name). It was here that I managed to photo this Gassho-zukuri Minka with a Sakura in full bloom.
Sakura and Torii.
Celebrating Hanami.
   My pride and joy, when it comes to Sakura photos, is this one in the Uji area of Kyoto Prefecture. I was on a hike through the area for my "Everytrail page", when I stumbled-upon this sight. The Sakura were vivid white.
   Before we move-on to Summer, there is one event I want to tell you about that is celebrated here in Japan during Spring - "Hanami". This is where, for a few brief days, millions-of-people throughout Japan will set-up their picnic gear under the Sakura trees, and celebrate the occasion with copious amounts of food and alcohol. The first time I celebrated Hanami I was quite overwhelmed by what took place and it is something I look forward to each year.                                                                                                                                                                                   Now time to tell you about Summer, or Natsu in Japan. Or maybe I should warn you about Summer. There are two ways to describe Summer in Japan - very-hot and extremely-hot. Back home in Aotearoa, if it reached the temperatures it does here, we would all be as Red-as-Beetroots. The overnight temperatures rarely dip-below 25c. Then, during the day, it can top 40c. Outdoor activities require copious amounts of water and short excursions.
Your's Truly
Refreshment Stop.
But, I came up with a way-around cycling on those hot Summer days - get up at 2am and go for a ride.
In the photo on the left, I have arrived at a Japanese Tea-House nestled amongst the hills surrounding Nara City. The establishment has been here for over 180-years. It is 8am, I have consumed 3-liters of water and the temperature would already be 30c+. Further on, on the same trip, I found the heat quite unbearable and I had to take-a-break at this old bridge. By then it was about 10am and getting hotter.
Cooling Down.
As luck would have it, I discovered this water spring that I was able to cool-down under. I was still a long way from home, and it wasn't getting any cooler, but the chance to refill my bottles with clean-fresh water added some relief to my overheating. Heat-exhaustion claims many lives throughout Japan each year, and I am wary of being one of those statistics.
Hanabi Festival.

"Hanabi" or "Fireworks Festival"  is one of the major festivals celebrated in Japan during the Summer. Throughout the country thousands-upon-thousands gather at a venue and, for the best part of an hour, be entertained by the awesome display of fireworks. In Otsu City,  Shiga Prefecture, some 10,000 fireworks will be set-off.                                    
Autumn Colors.
The photo on the left introduces us to Autumn, or Aki to the Japanese and, what better way to introduce this season, than with photos from Komyo-ji Temple in Kyoto prefecture. I came-across this complex quite by accident when I was homeward-bound from a ride in the hills surrounding this area.
   The colors of Autumn continually astound me, and that is after 7-years of living here. This is so picturesque and even the one tree, regardless of the color of the leaves, is still a sight to behold. So, in saying that, can you imagine what a whole hill looks like in Autumn colors? 
Suzumushi-dera Temple.
Sugoi! Suzumushi-dera Temple, in the photo on the right, is a small complex and is famous, apart from other things, for their triangular-shaped Bamboo. But it was the Autumn scenery that drew me to this Temple. November is a very-important time of year for the children of Japan. "Shichi-Go-San", or the "Seven-Five-Three Festival" is a delight to see/experience as parents bring their children, all dressed in brightly-colored Kimono, to a Shrine for the ceremony that drives-out evil spirits and wish for a long-healthy life.
   "Brass-Monkey" Weather, is the term we use down-under to describe this next time of year (you won't hear the expression used much in Japan). Winter, or Fuyu to the Japanese, means snow and icy conditions and can be scary for some - I had a bad car-accident on Black Ice many years ago, and it still haunts me when I drive on ice to this day - and bring great joy to others. Here, in the Kansai Region, we are fairly sheltered from the "heavy" falls-of-snow - in the 7-years I have been here, there have only been two occasions when snow has fallen in a large amount - unlike those living in the mountainous areas further north.
Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route.

The "Snow Corridor in Muroda", here on the left, is a very-popular Winter destination. I have travelled this route, albeit in the cooler Autumn months and, even at that time of year, is a magnificent experience. But, as you can see, the snow hardens so that a corridor is carved-out allowing vehicles to travel-through.
In November 0f 2008 I accompanied four other outdoor enthusiasts for a Weekend in Shiga mountain-biking amongst the Autumn colors but, a few weeks later, Return to Shiga was a very different scene. The area is fairly mountainous and close to the Sea of Japan where the winds from the North Pole turn the moisture in the atmosphere into snow.
   The "Japanese New-Year"  brings with it many festivals. "Hatsumode" - the first Shrine visit of the New-Year - being the most important. Over the three-day period during the New-Year, most Japanese, and Gaijin, visit a Shrine where wishes for the new year are made (in 2006, some 3.5-million people visited Fushimi-Inari Shrine over that three day period). "Omisoka" , will find people very busy preparing for the New-Year, which  includes "Osoji" (I doubt if many of the feminist-movement would consider this "chore" a festival) and "Osechi-ryori", where topics such as Heart Disease, Obesity, Over-Indulgence and Dieting are the least of our concerns. The Osechi-ryori are a work of art and a delight to eat, and are made even more tastier when washed-down with a warm glass of Sake
   Well, there we have it folks. The four seasons of Japan through the eyes of an "Outdoorholic" (that's me just in case you didn't realize).

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Sekibutsu - Stone Carvings of Buddha.

   In my post Shrines and Temples, I commenced with the comment "....will notice a common denominator in most of my reports. That is, I have included a visit to a Shrine and/or Temple". But, what I omitted to include, were Sekibutsu  and Magaibutsu. Both Stone Carvings of Buddha.
   So, what is the difference? Well not very much really.It's a bit like asking, what is the difference between a canoe and a kayak? A Sekibutsu is described as a free-standing Buddhist Image carved in stone whereas, a Magaibutsu is a Buddhist image carved on large rock outcrops, cliffs or caves.

The Sekibutsu in the photo on the left, is "Warai", which means laughing/happy/smiling in Japanese. The image is of Buddha sitting in the Lotus Position on a Water Lilly. This is one of the most famous of the stone carvings in the area and, for obvious reasons, attracts a lot of visitors.

The photo on the right is a magnificent example of Magaibutsu and is situated just below the summit of Mt Kasagi, in Kasagi Town, Kyoto Prefecture. It is so tall it is difficult to photograph the whole rock.
   This brings me to their purpose. Which, for some reason, I cannot find any information explaining why. One could say they are a form of Tagging, (please don't quote me on that) as they can be found throughout Japan, with Kyushu having the greatest concentration of these carvings, including the famous stone Buddhas of Usuki, estimated to have been carved in the 12th century. Another theory is that they are a place of worship, which is evident by the small vase and Offerings found at some sites. In some cases caves were carved
with Buddha Images, as in the next photo, large 
enough for worshipers to enter and be used as Temples. These were called Sekkutsu jiin or Cave Temple. This one is located just outside Nara City. There are about three caves like this one in close proximity.

Then there are the Shintou bijutsu, in the image on the left, which were produced and placed at the outskirts of a village to ward-off evil and sickness. On my travels I quite often come-across these. This particular one, on the outskirts of the village of Kasagi, I came across quite by accident. I was on a hike from Kasagi to Kizu when I stopped for a refreshment stop and, there it was.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     
Just as I was about to sign-off, I nearly forgot to tell you about these fellas. The Jizo is one of the most loved of all the Japanese Divinities and you will come-across them everywhere and they come in all shapes-and-sizes. Their main aim is to ease the pain and shorten the sentence of those serving time in hell as-well-as to answer the prayers for the living for health, success, children and all manner of partitions.

Often cute and cartoon like, as in the image on the right, the Jizo can be found dressed in a red apron, bib and cap.
   What is it that make the Sekibutsu appeal to me? As-much-as I appreciate the fact they are religious icons, and places of worship, I regard them more as a work-of-art. Although I don't know the first thing about art - I can't tell the difference between a Monet or a Constable - but, what I do know, is that I appreciate what I am looking at. I am continually fascinated at how someone can take an image, consign it to memory then, at a later date, reproduce this on whatever medium, in this case, rock 
   During my travels I have come across many Sekibutsu (my photo-album of Sekibutsu contains over 60 images) and, as much as I would like to share my images of them with you, this post wouldn't have the space to show them all. So instead, I will share an "Everytrail Trip" I composed.