Today’s featured photo was taken at Enryakuji which is a Temple up Mt.Hiei bordering my end of north east Kyoto with Shiga on the other side. The monks are seen burning amulets/charms from last year, the smoke takes them up to the gods. Mt Hiei is one of the barriers which keeps evil from seeping into Kyoto city, which is sort of bowl shaped – a lip of mountains absolutely surrounds us. Thousands of warriors have lost their lives on these mountains, but it’s not just human and amulet remains which lurk here.
Here lies an abandoned ski slope. This is the closest I’ve ever been to a ski lodge, and this one has apparently been closed for about 12 years. The story goes that one year they closed just for the summer period but simply never reopened. Skis hang mouldy under a caved in roof – you can still make out designs and colours through dusty windows. The old ski lift chairs are laid out waiting and crumbling.
This is was my first taste of ‘urbex’. Japan has many abandoned buildings due to it’s affluence of the bubble era and the subsequent burst of the last twenty or so years. It’s not just buildings which are left but their contents which remain largely untouched, they show us the history of people who lived and worked and played there. It’s such an interesting and haunting experience. On this occasion we (Kansai Photo walks) were lead by writer and explorer Florian who posts his regular expeditions online. His adventures include my favourite, Nara Dreamland – an abandoned theme park which reminds me of Ghibli’s Spirited Away and Satoshi Kon’s Paprika. Have a look around the website and discover abandoned Sex Museums, Hotels, and Schools. It is advised that it is dangerous and sometimes illegal to enter abandoned buildings – so please do some research before jumping in.
One reason I came to Japan was because I’m enamoured with Japanese culture and traditions. I love the history, the shrines and temples and kimonos and ceremonies.. Among a hundred other things. But it can feel so hard to tap into Japan past a thick crust of language and cultural barriers. It has always been through reading other blogs, and pestering friends, that I’ve managed to find events/places I’d otherwise miss out on.
Deep Kyoto is one such place I go to to find out what’s going on and why. It is written by Michael Lambe who I actually met through a friend I worked with at Cambridge University Press! Small world etc etc etc. Together with Ted Taylor; Michael has edited a collection of 18 tales written by 16 authors (including our very own lonely planet writer John Ashburn) who all give their own accounts of walking about Kyoto – Deep Kyoto Walks. Deep Kyoto Walks has been my guide for the last three weeks.
My first walk was my favourite for a couple of reasons. Firstly it involved finding ghost scrolls, I bloody love ghost themed stuff. I might not believe in them but I enjoy freaking myself out. Secondly it was an exploration of the area of Kyoto I actually live in. Bridget Scott takes us up into the mountains by Ichijoji and Shugukuin, in particular we visit Manshuin Temple. This is where, in a dark corridor by the ornate peacock room, one is faced with two barely lit scrolls with a woman painted on each. Emaciated she disappears into the ground, clutching thick and torn hair. There is no mistaking that she’s a ghost and I’m sure I spent an awkwardly long time gaping at these depictions of horror. Another highlight was time spent reflecting over rice fields along the way.
Jen Teeter wrote a passage about Gojo. Another haunted area filled with a history of debauchery and organised crime spanning back hundreds of years. I could fill a complete blog just called ‘things that Jen does’ brimming over with Ainu organisations, teaching, song writing, and Eco charities. But in this case we will concentrate on her writing. Jen tells us of a sweet shop visited by the ghost who takes candy and leaves a leaf, a wood block print museum (pictured belowe), and a hill made with the ears and noses of fallen enemies. Luckily Jen is a friend of mine so I got her to take me to some of the places featured in Deep Kyoto Walks.
In the last week I’ve climbed Daimonji 4 times. This is party due to Miki Matsumoto’s chapter about taking her young daughter to scale the half an hour climb. If a two year old can do it..I thought…then I should jolly well walk up. And I did, and I met a wonderful group who meet at 6:30 am every day to do radio calisthenics (a Japanese daily stretch which has aired since 1928).
So far Deep Kyoto Walks has been a great tool for discovering the city I moved across the world to see. Actually the anthology itself is a storybook of other people’s experiences, but, also makes places more accessible to those who’d like to make their own mark and see these things for themselves. There are chapters based on a Kyoto which doesn’t exist anymore, some of the history there is more of an expat’s bubble playground. But definitely the highlight for me has been in walking around today’s Kyoto. Deep Kyoto Walks is available as an ebook on amazon.
Thank you to Florian and Michael for showing me around.
Ta ta for now, Love rach Xoxox