Thursday, August 17, 2017

Shitennoji Temple; Obon Candles

Shitennoji Urabon-e Mantou Kuyo 
四天王寺 うら盆会 万燈供養
10,000 Candle Memorial Service for Obon
Paper candles being burned with the five story pagoda in the background.
You can see Harukasu, Japan's tallest office building, in the background.
Tsuri-dor0, hanging lanterns.
Notice the emblem of the 8-spoke wheel.
Lanterns with paper streamers.
Ropes covered with paper prayers and lanterns reflecting in the turtle pond.
Reflection in the turtle pond.
Nice colors in this one-second-exposure. Set up with a tripod and timer delay.
Incense burner in front of Shitennoji Temple.
The Obon lanterns are a temporary feature. The floodlights continue to illuminate the pagoda in the inner courtyard for some time after the doors are closed.
A rope connects the shakujo of the statue with the heavy shakujo in the forground.
Shaking the shakujo (metal staff with rings) can can cause ringing in both staffs.
Temple patrons purchase miniature figures of a Buddhist monk which sit on this shelf with the name of the sponsoring patron underneath.
There is time after sunset when the temple is only lit by candle light.
Temple visitors pray for their ancestors during Obon,
A graveyard with a chinowa, purification wreath, setup in front of a temple building.
In the foreground there is a stone post mark "hyakku dou mawari" which have a spinning wheel meant to be turned 100 times.
Long rows of lanterns ring the inner courtyard of the temple.
The flood lights are only lit from 8:30-10pm.
Lanterns hung under the eaves of the temple.
The inner courtyard of Shitennoji Temple.
The heat from all of these candles feels intense.
Paper prayer candles that burn quickly and intensely.


Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Nara Tokae 2017

Nara Tokae 2017

Since 1999, Nara Tokae has been an annual event that is held in Nara City across several venues in which 20,000 candles are used to illuminate the landscape. The event last for 10 days in August.
The city orders about 300,000 candles (accounting for the candles that need to be relit during the event).
The city needs about 200 volunteers each night to staff the event. This year I joined the event as a volunteer. You can sign up to be a volunteer at the supporter section of the Toukae web page. I noticed that I was the only foreign name on the volunteer list and the volunteer group seemed a bit confused when I arrived (they seemed to think I was a wayward tourist).
Preparing the event consisted of two phases; first was placing the putting water in the cups (for ballast, light refraction and to later extinguish the candles). Before the second phase the volunteers are given a bento lunch/dinner. As sunset approaches the volunteers place candles in the cups and light the candles. During the course of the event volunteers patrol the grounds to relight candles.

A herd of deer pass by as volunteers prepare the candles
A large group of deer in front of one of Nara's museums.
There are about 1200 deer roaming Nara; they have been revered as messengers of the gods at Kasuga Shrine, respected by the passive monks at the many large temples and treated as a National Treasure by the Japanese government.

This asymmetrical deer is chewing on someone's map.
Please don't feed maps to the deer.
Deer relaxing on the stone monument in front of Kofukuji temple.
I like the way that these deer make the monument look like a stone throne.

Visitors wearing yukata pose for photos. As the sun sets, volunteers will begin lighting the candles..
There are several locations that each have their own groups of volunteers. This was at Kasuga Field Parkgrounds, next to Todaiji Temple.

Nara Park with lanterns and artistic bamboo decorations.
The bamboo lantern holders look like a model of a molecule and electron orbit.
Different cameras and settings give the lanterns an amber ambiance that matches the relaxed feel of being there in person.

Extended exposure for more bright and vivid night photos.
Candles arranged on the ground at Kasuganoen, a large open field next to Todaiji Temple.
Sarusawa Pond with the Kofukuji pagoda in the background.

Kasuga Taisha

A fountain at the entrance to Kasuga shrine.
The Kasuga Shrine Treasury.
The newly remodeled building has added a lot of room for artistic light displays, a special room for the huge taiko drums and a cafeteria.
The treasury houses a large number of historical artifacts, many of which are important cultural properties or national treasures; including swords and armor.

Mantou candle memorial services at Kasuga Shrine.
During the last day of Nara Tokae you can see the stone lanterns lit with candles.
This is a rare chance to see Kasuga lit like this, so expect to see huge crowds at this World Heritage Site.
People passing by combined with the flash photography of other people creates ghost-like outlines in this photo in this one second exposure.
The stone lanterns and candle-lined path near Kasuga Shrine.
Todaiji Temple
The pond in front of Todaiji temple is surrounded by candles.
The great hall holding the giant Buddha statue, the butsuden, is reflected in the pond.

The great Buddha statue is 15 meters tall (49ft.). It is flanked by two smaller (but still huge) statues of Bodhisattva.
Note the halo set as a backdrop to the Buddha statue which is ringed with 11 small (about the size of an actual human) Bodhisattva.  
During the mantou (many candles) event the windows of the butsuden are open to reveal the face of the Buddha statue to people outside.
Note the large bronze lantern (kondo-doro) in front of the temple; it has been declared a National Treasure.

The map below shows a walking guide to optimize your time when visiting the various candle venues. From Kintetsu station to the Prefectural Office, to Sarusawa Pond, to


Sunday, August 13, 2017

Kyo no Tanabata; Kitano Tenmangu

Kyo no Tanabata at Kitano Tenmangu Shrine
京の七夕 北野天満宮
Kyo no Tanabata is a city-wide event in Kyoto held in August to celebrate the star festival (usually held on July 7th).

During the Star Festival, visitors write their wishes on colorful stripes of paper (tanzaku) and hang them on bamboo branches.

Kyoto has a number of artistic displays at popular tourist destinations including; Okazaki Park, Nijo Castle, the canal next to Nijo Castle, the riverside near Sanjo station, Umekoji Park and Kitano Tenmangu Shrine.

One venue for Kyo no Tanabata is the Kitano Tenmangu Shrine in northern Kyoto. This shrine is dedicated to the god of scholarship and is also famous for the plum-blossom festival in early spring.

The main shrine building (honden) of Kitano Tenmangu shrine.
You can see various types of shrine lanterns in this photo.
The treasure house at Kitano Tenmangu shrine. The national treasure, Oni-Kiri (devil cutter) sword is housed within.
The garden beside Kitano Tenmangu Shrine has a beautiful arched bridge.
Tanzaku (wish papers) and colorful lights give the forest a colorful atmosphere.
The shrine entry way at night, with Tanabata trees lining the path.

The entrance to Kitano Tenmangu. During golden hour the stonework has a nice color. The lights are already on, giving extra light to the colorful tanabata trees.
Some of the stone lanterns have electric lights installed.
Paper decorations are popular for Tanabata. There are wish strips (tanzaku) and paper chains.
You can see people wearing yukata in the background.
Some small girls admiring the decorations.
The shrine gates often have placards which inform visitors of when the annual festivals will be held.
Mitarashi; a foot blessing stroll
The Shimogamo shrine has the original version of this ritual. Kitano Tenmangu has recently built their own mitarashi pond; turning a specialized event into a new attraction for this shrine.
A new landscaping project has given Kitano Tenmangu a new Mitarashi pond.
The lighting and stonework is very beautiful.
The site is an imitation of the famous mitarashi festival site at Shimogamo Shrine, a short distance away in Kyoto.
The mitarashi at Kitano Tenmangu has fewer visitors giving this site a much more subdued atmosphere.
Kitano Tenmangu offers a colorful range o candles for the mitarashi.
The brightly lit bridge offers a picturesque thresh hold to cross.
The main building of Kitano Tenmangu Shrine. Note the sake barrels stacked by the shrine.
Kitano Tenmangu has beautiful woodwork.
Note the table here, with wooden cylinders from which omikuji (lucky fortunes) are drawn.
The brass lanterns carry the plum-blossom insignia of the shrine.
Note the 6-circle plum blossom insignia of the Tenmangu shrines; it is the same seen at Osaka's Tenmangu shrine.
Bamboo arches over the garden bridge.
You can see bamboo stalks with bamboo on the bridge. In the distance, under the bridge you can see string of tanzaku paper.
You can see the giboshi, ornamental knobs, on the bridge.