Film Diaries: Temples in Fukuoka

It’s impossible to go anywhere in Japan without happening across a temple or two. They provide both places of worship for the faithful and serene oases for the rest of us. They’re always impeccably maintained and a great show of craftsmanship; naturally lending themselves to photography. I spent half a day during my last trip to Fukuoka visiting some of the temples in the Gion district, and engaging in some slow, meditative photography with the Hasselblad. These images were shot primarily with the 80/2.8 CF on Ilford Delta 100 and scanned with the D800E. Enjoy! MT

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  1. Anatoly Loshmanov says:

    Exelent photography! Overcast light add atmosphere. All in 6×6 unite images Your images remain to me Prague photos by one hand photographer Josef Sudek. Sincerely, Anatoly.

    • Thank you. I’ll be revisiting Prague later this year to give a workshop, but I very much intend to arrive and leave with both hands.

    • stanis riccadonna zolczynski says:

      c`mon Loshmanov, Sudek was a pictorialist, soft and misty and far cry from digital repro.

  2. Tom Liles says:

    Wow. A lot of Japan experts here! I’ve been coming to Japan since I was 15, got my first job here [in fact got my first job before a job here: an internship on a Xylene plant in Kyushu — was in Omuta, Fukuoka — with Mitsui Chemical] and have lived here for over a decade. My wife’s Japanese. My job’s Japanese—I work for a Japanese company in a Japanese speaking office. I can read, write and speak the language…
    [officially government certified, not just saying it!]

    And I honestly have no clue about this country. The more I think about it, the less I understand…
    [I don’t think this is unique to Japan]

    Lovely pictures—the banners behind the dog on a pedestal are advertising Crystar. They say “poka poka crystar—natural mineral… [illegible]” though there is a hot-spring logo on the top-left of the banner –> ”poka poka” is Japanese alliteration for something like nice and warm [it’s the bubbling sound of warm water?]

    Maybe there was a hot spring on site? Either way, worship is not all that goes down in these places!

    • Was Crystar originally meant to be ‘Crystal’? Sometimes things definitely get lost in translation…

      I wonder about the not understanding part: do you think it’s because there are some fundamental cultural differences that will always remain because the society is very conservative and may not necessarily fully assimilate you, or because the Japanese themselves don’t always understand their own countrymen and social behaviour? Some really weird stuff going on there, that’s for sure…

      • Tom Liles says:

        I think they’ve probably just done a portmanteaux of “crystal” and “star.” Very popular thing to do in advertising everywhere; no different over here, except they’ll combine completely unintuitive [to us] words. I love it. They have zero respect for the rules and practices of English. It’s great. It frees them. They can, unironically, call a sports drink: Pocari Sweat. And this’s partly why I can live with being a copywriter for a Japanese Agency. The fun times, I tell you Ming.

        I wonder about the not understanding part…

        What do I know, but perhaps people are just too hard to pin down in any reliable way. You’re always either too general to be meaningful, or too specific to be useful. In the Japanese case, I find my opinions whirling between “they are the shallowest ever!” and “they are the master race!” I’m in a shallowest ever! cycle at the moment.

        I think you’ve got a pretty healthy Japanese residency on here, Ming, so maybe the other guys will chip in with their thoughts—I’d certainly like to heat them. And in the meantime: you’ve been a fair few times yourself, what do you reckon?

        [If we’re permitted to talk about this and get out of depths again? :)]

        • Personally, I prefer Calpis Soda (both the drink and the name) – but yes, I get your point. You could call anything…well, anything, so long as it sounds good.

          I think it’s two sides of the same coin: there’s this huge cultural/social pressure that acts like a weight on most people; it’s full of protocol they don’t fully understand but observe (and know when it is to be observed). To seek relief, they also have a whole load of really weird fetishes and obsessions…in all fairness, I speak purely as an external observer: I actually have no Japanese friends living in Japan. All of the people I know are gaijin. (It might be a language barrier; my Japanese is atrocious, or maybe yet another manifestation of the cultural divide.) Strange, huh?

          • Tom Liles says:

            There are a bevy of hip, ironic choices I could reel off here — especially as I work in advertising — but my favorite Japanese soft [well kind of] drink is Java Tea [“Jah Tea” colloquially]. Ever tried that one Ming? If not, give it a go next time 🙂

            Interesting thoughts on Japanese culture and society.

            Even though I speak the language more or less seamlessly [I’m just below the level — grammar and diction — of an 18 year old school leaver] I’m squarely an outsider here. So speaking the language, or not, doesn’t make too much of a difference. It does count for being able to keep up with culture: read the latest novels, watch the latest films, etc… but this is surface culture. Actual sociological dynamics, I don’t think I [or you] can ever be a part of that. Not just because I’m clearly not a member of the group [let’s say it plainly, I’m a 6ft2in white guy]; I think even you’d have a problem blending in to the group, Ming. This shouldn’t be construed as me inferring that all Asians look alike. I’ve been out here long enough to be able to notice Koreans and Chinese people, for example, a mile away. And, what do I know about SE Asians, but you don’t strike me as having the typical Malaysian appearance, Ming. All Asians certainly do not look alike; but you’re still WAY closer to the Japanese than I am. But even you would never get “inside” the culture, as it were, Ming.
            I don’t think, though, this is a racial thing—it’s just a matter of passage. There’s a football player in the Japanese national team: Mike Havenaar. His dad is Dutch, but Mike was born in Japan, grew up in Japan: is culturally Japanese. While Mike looks quite Japanese, you could just as easily say “this is a dutch guy” and no-one would bat an eyelid. I don’t know Mike’s life inside out or anything, I barely know anything about Mike, but it seems to me like he’s “in.” Anecdotal—but feels truthy, to me.

            So this is the only route, in my opinion: born and raised here. Otherwise you’re an outsider [ultimately].

            Definitely full of protocol here. Lot’s of weird fetishes and obsessions, yes—but this from the guy who can’t stand people pawing his M9-P viewfinder window is a bit much 😉 I’m joking with you, of course.

            I would add that they are VERY musical people; and concurrently have some of the worst tastes in music ever.
            That they are ANAL about cleanliness; but are FILTHY in other ways [lots of households wash up the dishes without any washing up liquid].
            Are deft, delicate, careful…
            Extremely smart, but infuriatingly THICK at times
            And the big one…

            Amazing that you don’t have any Japanese Japanese pals yet, Ming. That will change, you can count on it.

            • Iskabibble says:

              Japan filthy in some ways? Wow…..Go to China. Go to India. Your perceptions of filth will change dramatically. Japan is sparklingly clean compared to these other places.

              • Tom Liles says:

                Hi Iskabibble,

                Of course that’s the case. These are third world countries though [or are in my book]. Japan, I’d hope, is a bit better than that.

                Quick anecdote:

                When I get my plastic bags at the supermarket, I lick my fingers to get a bit of stick so I can open up the bag. My wife, like all Japanese friends when they notice me do this, says “oh! that’s awful use this instead” and what she means is “ugh! that’s disgusting.” What she is referring to by “this” is: a communal wet towel that Japanese supermarkets lay out for all customers to dampen their fingers on and open up their plastic bags.

                I’m a reasonably clean guy. I know where my fingers have been, whether it’s a good idea to put them in my mouth or not—and obviously I make sure to keep them clean so I can put them in my mouth if need be…
                Now, I can think of things less hygienic things than communal wet towels [changed every… who knows when?] but the idea of using them seems stupid and certainly NOT clean to me. No way I want to paw a rancid old towel that God knows who has had their mits all over.

                Japan is mostly sparkling clean on the surface; probably in the same way your refrigerator is, at home. Pull that sucker out and have a look at the back.. the top… the sides… not so sparkling.
                [caveat: who’s perfect!?]

              • You don’t even need to go that far, Malaysia is pretty filthy too.

                • Steve Jones says:

                  Ha Ha! i liked your last one Tom. THE WORST SPACIAL AWARENESS EVER. So true! and one of the most infuriating things is the number of times, when I’ve been out walking, that a motorist will drive out of a parking lot RIGHT INTO ME all the time bowing and apologizing from inside the car, but they don’t put on the brakes. They keep on bowing and apologizing as they are almost running over me with the car as though that makes everything OK.!

                  • Wait, you mean it doesn’t? I’ll have to try to bowing thing sometime. It beats oblivious idiots just cutting you up without so much as a signal or an inch to spare…

                  • Tom Liles says:

                    Thank you Steve 🙂

                    Yes, the creepers! Put them in with the zebra-crossing straddlers and junction blockers—traffic is only moving at 2mph and they still manage to judge the distance all wrong [did they even judge?] or maybe it was that they forgot people want to do things like turn in/out of a side rode, or, for example, here’s a novel one, cross the street, etc. Or both.

                    They are the driving equivalent of those people who walk backwards waving goodbye to their friends COMPLETELY OBLIVIOUS THAT OTHER PEOPLE EXIST!

            • Paul Stokes says:

              This idea of being an outsider reminds me of a conversation that was related to me by a friend studying at Tokyo Medical and Dental. His Japanese was quite good especially in his specialised area and was doing translation of his professors work into English. One question he was asked quite often was when he was heading home. He found that many people simply believed that as much as you enjoyed Japan you could never really be happy there and would prefer to live in your own country.

              I wonder how the ‘Japanese’ from the diaspora to South America that were either granted work visas in Japan or Japanese citizenship [I’ not sure which] feel and are treated in Japan.

              If you want worst spacial awareness try Shanghai.

              • Tom Liles says:

                This is a great question Paul. I’m not equipped to answer, but perhaps someone on here may have an insight. I’d love to hear too.

                The closer in your story about your friend [sounds like a SMART guy/girl!] feels so so right. I think it touches with some of what Ming thought (or what was implied there); that there is quite a melancholy dimension to the Japanese soul/psyche. Maybe these things reflect more on us than those we’re talking about?

                In true cowardly fashion, I think I want to crawl back under my rock of no clue, more I think less I know

                Cheers Paul 🙂

              • Or driving anywhere in Southeast Asia. I swear it’s like doing battle.

            • I actually rather like ‘The Pungency’ (tea) – not sure if you’ve ever seen that one, I think it’s a Kirin concoction in a bottle with a royal blue label.

              Actually…I don’t think I’d have a physical problem blending in; when I speak to most random strangers they assume I’m local and just start rattling off like I understand them. It’s only when I say ‘chotto mate kudasai, boku no nihongo wa mada heta desu’ with a slightly blank/ confused look that they start looking at me oddly. I get mistaken for being Japanese in my own city; I suppose the camera and me shooting everything/ random things doesn’t really do anything to change that stereotype. Doesn’t matter anyway, people leave me alone and just let me be – which is exactly what I want.

              That said: I don’t think I’d get inside the culture, either. Maybe it’s a familial thing.

              I can’t stand people pawing my RF finder windows either; they’re a pain to keep clean, especially the eyepiece. I see so many people with dirty/ smeared RF windows who seem to be completely oblivious, I wonder how on earth they focus…

              Why do you say ‘worst spatial awareness’ ever? You would have thought that sense would have to be extremely acute given how small their parking bays are…

              • Tom Liles says:

                Why do you say ‘worst spatial awareness’ ever? You would have thought that sense would have to be extremely acute given how small their parking bays are…

                Yes, Ming, yes! I thought, before I came to live in Tokyo, that if anyone on planet Earth has good spatial awareness, just from first principles, it’s going to be the residents of this city…

                BUMP! oh, excuse me
                BUMP! oh, I’m sorry
                BUMP! aghh…
                BUMP! seriously!?
                BUMP! hey! you!

                The last line is where you get to after a year or so, here 🙂

                [this is probably the same in most densely packed cities going on what Paul said re: Shanghai]

                Don’t get me started on driving here = probably the quickest way to a funeral before you’re 40 that there is…

                Interesting re: you being able to blend in. Cherish that. I don’t think it’s this, but on a related note: there are many many more immigrants from Asia, in Tokyo at least, these days; at last the government relaxed the immigration laws [and tightened them in other areas to satisfy the voters who are mostly about as hard-right conservative as you can go before wearing uniform, to liberal western tastes]. A portion of the the immigrants are economic, filling the jobs that some young Japanese have become to decadent to bother with [familiar story]; another portion of them are cultural—these tend to be Chinese students here to study Japanese… I have a feeling Chinese corporations are going to be doing, or trying to do, a lot of business here over the next decade or so. And likewise, Japanese corporate is becoming quite pro-active in China.

                I can’t stand people pawing my RF finder windows either

                Haha. Yes, I was talking about you MT! I am the same though—no respectable technical reason, I’m just a stickler. I bought the dedicated lens-pen, just for viewfinder windows, for this precise reason. I have the Epson R-D1s, so at least I can avoid nose smearing on the rear screen: I keep it folded shut. Always. For some reason, with this camera only, I never feel the need to chimp. And usually it all turns out OK. Certainly a little more exciting in the shooting!
                I recall Duane and some of the guys were talking about “what does a left eye shooter do with a DRF?” a while back. I should have chipped in then, but here, weeks and weeks after the fact—I’d recommend getting an R-D1 or R-D1s [but not an R-D1x, obviously]. Fold the screen away — it’s more or less useless anyway — problem solved.

                I haven’t shot the R-D1s for almost two weeks now: need to get it away for service and calibration. Top patch doesn’t line up at infinity. I’ve read you can do this yourself, and I’m a trained engineer… but perhaps I’ll save it for next time, when I’m a bit more confident about my equipment! Plus, I feel it’d be like opening Pandora’s box, once I knew how to fiddle, I’d be at it all the time 🙂

                • Tom Liles says:

                  Oh.. bit of text clipped there. In the BUMP! series, the last line should have been:

                  BUMP! (numb silence)

                • Still not as bad as South Asian cultures where personal space doesn’t exist, and people will just barge and push their way in to stare. I found out that they weren’t being rude or aggressive, it was just the done thing. Still, from a culture where body contact of any sort is considered rather intimate, it made me extremely uncomfortable.

                  Re. Japan/ China: Money overcomes all in the end, not love.

                  Re. DRF windows: it’s technical! If you can’t see, you can’t focus. End of story. I like the Hasselblad because there’s nothing for people to stick their fingers into, especially if you’re running a film back and the waist-level finder. Most people can’t even figure out how to open it. 😀

                  Re. R-D1s: not all RF calibration is the same, though the principles should be if it’s a Leica-compatible system. This means the vertical adjustment is likely not easily reachable without a serious amount of disassembly. Not recommended for you to fiddle with yourself, especially if you only have one camera.

                  • Tom Liles says:

                    Yes, the RF patch is aligned by the rotation of three screws located beneath the flash hot-shoe. You have to get the shoe and contact plate off first, then twiddle the uncovered screws [in conjunction with looking at your calibration target, etc] until you’re happy. Get some loctite or something on there to lock the adjustment in, replace hot shoe assembly. Done.

                    But from the experience of switching out the finder window in my wife’s D60 for a katzeye screen a few months back, I KNOW I’m not suited to these fiddly, delicate tasks. I’m a bang on the valve with a 14 inch spanner broad stroke, foot up on the bonnet of a 4×4, hairy forearm type. All round clumsy—though my personal view of myself is that I’m a dextrous whiz with anything 😉

                    Probably best left alone…

                    Know Thyself eh! 🙂

                    • Paul Stokes says:

                      Tom I’ve only just got home and you and Ming have developed the Bump theory well. Two different incidents: persons of quite different ages riding their pushbikes along the footpath in Kyoto and one from Shanghai where another two friends were walking down a mall to the Bund. There is a Disneyland type train driving up and down the centre and tooting to get the crowd out of the way, but that’s not the tale. My non-Chinese friend kept smiling and trying to avoid the bumps while my Chinese friend just strode into the oncoming pedestrian traffic. Finally girl one started doing the same thing [it is really impossible otherwise] and girl two gave her a smile and a thumbs up for doing things the Chinese way. You just have to not be upset or offended. Its not always easy.

                      I have some friends here who are always off to Japan for a driving holiday. That’s right. Have you done a driving holiday Tom? They just turn up, pick up a car with an English language sat nav and off they go, straight out of Narita.

                      The Epson R-D1s passed me by I’m afraid and I am only learning about it in retrospect. Too many new cameras to buy at the moment though I might look when I am in Tokyo in November.. I don’t think I have the courage to tackle camera maintenance and was much in awe of Ming pulling about that Nex5 and getting it back together and working.

                    • I thought driving in Kuala Lumpur was bad until I went to Bangkok…and then Jakarta was even worse than that. At least Japanese roads aren’t full of enormous potholes that would be classed as sinkholes, cenotes or impact craters in other parts of the world.

                      As for that NEX5: turns out the 5N and 5R have completely different construction to the original 5, so it was learning process again…somehow the Sony assembly line manages to put together the camera with ribbon connectors on both sides of a board – either they have a lot of very, very small people working there, or some incredibly dexterous robots…

                    • Tom Liles says:

                      No, to be fair—Japanese roads probably have NOTHING on what’s Ming’s seen. Ditto the drivers!

                      Never been on a driving holiday in Japan, Paul. I’m envious of your friends who sound like the go-getting type. I love driving and cars, but am a stone cold obsessive-compulsive when it comes to driving; and the idea of just getting in a car without any (preformed) clue of where I’m going is a hard one to contemplate. I also can’t stand sat navs, HDD navs, DVD navs—any kind of nav! I’m the type of guy who wants a paper map on hand, but I’ll research my route the night before as though it were my finals. I want it all in my head, down pat. Otherwise I’ll get stressed out trying to keep an eagle eye on everything on the road, the sidewalk, in front, behind, on both sides, AS WELL AS deal with some lady telling me to turn right in 100m, but there are three rights ahead and I can’t be sure on the nav’s GPS signal timing so what it thought was 100m away was really on my coordinates from 10sec ago and is now only a few meters away, or is the timing spot on and she really does mean that right about 120m away? But that one there is about 80 or so? That one? This one? That one?… Like this, I can’t trust the nav—but I trust me! Since I can accept nothing other than AAA safe driving, I don’t use a nav. This isn’t a comment on your friends! As I say, I’m envious. Though I’m hopeless with navs, I know I’m in a minority; normal people don’t seem to have any problem. And I can see how some people are actually safer with a nav. I think it’s because my default assumption is that I’m a bad driver [translation: I think I know it all] and won’t push the envelope ever => “I was distracted by the sat nav” wouldn’t hold up in court, but it’d also be a morally unforgivable line God forbid there was an accident and someone got hurt. Or worse. That’s what I think about. Not the law; someone’s daughter, someone’s uncle, etc. I’m a real fun time tonight, aren’t I? 🙂

                      Long day, bit scattered…

                      After all that’s said—would you believe I skateboarded from the ages of 12 to 29 and was about as easy going a free bird as there was. Still am. Promise! Back then, well it’s only a few years ago, I wouldn’t think anything of taking the board out with NO IDEA of where I was going… pretty much standard operating procedure. Just choose a direction and go. Bit like that with a camera, now I think about it. I ended up camping for three nights in Kamakura once just because I skated to the convenience store. Literally, me, board, wallet and the clothes on my back; that’s it. Long story but you get the picture. I bet there’s people on here — yourself included Paul — who’ve done REAL stuff that’d make this look line peanuts. My personal best is getting a rentacar to 160mph on a rain slicked autobahn—business trip from 5 years ago. That might sound like it doesn’t jibe with the above spiel about safety driving. But it was the autobahn, it was reasonably empty, and I was IN THE ZONE. Like, 3hrs deep into Zelda gameplay trance-like dialed in, THE MACHINE AND I ARE ONE levels of concentration. Amazing how everything slows down when you go fast.

                      But I couldn’t handle sat-naving a Prius through the Japanese countryside!

                      I get your story on BUMPING. They are so kind and trusting here that bumping into someone just isn’t a thing to get worried or apprehensive about. I suppose very safe streets has something to do with it. A general worldview maybe involved too. But I think there’s also a refusal to take responsibility wrapped up in there. Maybe an attitude that it’s out of their hands. The amount of passive voice (grammar: “it was said,” “it was decided,” etc., compare: active voice) in Japanese parlance is not coincidental, I think. It’s almost like they live their lives in third person. What do I know, maybe we all do.

                      R-d1s is a little gem. I wouldn’t recommend buying one unless you have an insatiable need for digital rangefinding. No, strike that: I bought one so who am I to recommend not buying one! I actually think they’d destroy what they have if they brought out an R-d2. Though half of me wishes they would: there is NO affordable entry into DRF except for Epson. You get 6Mpix, IR contaminated blacks, insanely annoying “EPSON camera image” tag BURNED into every exif and no macro known to man knows how to automate getting rid of it. The AA filter is quite aggressive, the ISO dial markings are tiny! And the image review system was designed by aliens.

                      But it’s great.

                      It’s a Sony CCD sensor in there; it wasn’t even new when the Epson was—but B&Ws? Beautiful. Careful with the blacks but color shots too, just kind of… hard to put: somewhere between disposable film camera and serious. I love it. And I’m a beginner—when I know what I’m doing, this nutty little camera is going to deliver GOLD. I know it.

                      OK, my train’s getting close to home now. I tapped this whole thing out on an iPhone!

                      Now that is dedication 😀

                      But not quite on Ming’s NEX 5n level!

                    • There’s something to the way CCDs handle monochrome and highlight to give more visually pleasing tones than CMOS, but they’re a lot less forgiving. I think it’s to do with linearity vs nonlinearity of tonal response, dark current noise and so on. For instance – the CFV-39 digital back I’ve now got for my Hasselblads is capable of some absolutely stunning results if exposed perfectly, but it’s utter garbage if you underexpose. There is zero latitude for error: either you get it right, or you bin it. And it doesn’t help the LCD is rubbish, too – it’s too contrasty, not bright enough, and the only useful information you can get out of it is a) did you clip any corners and b) the histogram. Good thing it shoots fully tethered from Lightroom. Can’t believe how much these things cost when they were new…

                      FWIW, I’ve already taken it apart partially – the locking latch that keeps it mated to the camera was sticking and needed a clean and a re-stretching of the spring…

  3. Iskabibble says:

    What happened to the “When Film Goes Bad” post? It seems to have disappeared.

  4. I travel with you all the time around the world in your pictures.Great work as always!

  5. Paul Stokes says:

    Once again stunning b&w shots that really evoke the tranquility of the sites. Providing you don’t go on the weekends or in golden week or November. Then I remember many of then being quite crowded. I had absolutely no problem getting vegetarian food but vegan might be more of a problem. Most of the major department stores: Isetan, Takashimaya for example carried an enormous variety of food. Certainly there is an unfortunate profusion of not very good western food there as well. There is always a nice and often Izakaya [small themed bar] about. If I remember rightly, its Buddhist temple and Shinto shrine and they are often found together. One of my Japanese friends told me that 78% of Japanese are Buddhist and 85% follow Shinto. It is a fascinating country.

    • Thanks Paul. I actually wanted a few more people to give the places some context and life, but hey, we work with what we’ve got 🙂

      78% Buddhist and 85% Shinto? Presumably they are not mutually exclusive?

      • Paul Stokes says:

        No, not at all. In fact it appears almost the opposite as many people simply join together the aspects they like and those are their beliefs. Indeed many of the ‘new’ religions in Japan have a blend of the two. Last year in Japan we went up to visit the Miho Museum. This was funded and built by the daughter of one of Japan’s richest industrialists. It was designed by I M Pei and built into an excavated mountain. The mountain was then to restored. Her ‘new’ belief system incorporated aspects of Buddhism and Shinto and focuses on the contemplation of beauty in nature and man-made objects as the path to enlightenment. [Whoops this is straying into the last post.] Generally where you find a Buddhist temple you will find a Shinto shrine, though you can find a small shrine almost anywhere. Mind you Buddism has been as troublesome in Japan as any Western belief system.

  6. As always – simply beautiful. I really like the way you slightly underexpose your shots.

  7. Herb. Kral says:

    Scanned with a D800E. How did you do it?

  8. Mr. Ichiro Sony says:

    Reviewing the photographs, only the 1st one (Guan Yin/Kannon) indicates a Buddhist temple. The last image clearly is from a Shinto temple, with the middle ones undetermined.

    • I just said they were ‘temples’ – not being sure myself, I didn’t want to make any secular distinctions…

    • Yes, indeed, much like the Christian churches .. and the Crusades .. great buildings/ churches/ temples don’t necessarily correlate with great deeds ( cf Japanese behavior during war times . massacre of Nankin, widespread torture etc. ) .. other factoid maybe not so well known, Canon’s name originated from Kwannon aka Guan Yin in Buddhism lore ;D

    • stanis riccadonna zolczynski says:

      Ichiro san, the first pict looks like a Japanese Madonna, the one with kid at her lap. Do you have in Japan a pendant to our Madonna?
      Devout catholic.

  9. Mr. Ichiro Sony says:

    I love Buddhist temples but seriously question either many people’s understanding of Buddhism or commitment to it. Anyone who has been to Japan knows what voracious meat eaters they are. Vegetarians such as myself, have a seriously difficult time eating no meat in Japan. I have been to Japan 4 times and always find eating quite hard.

    Buddhism’s central tenant is do no harm, have compassion for all beings.

    The Buddhists I see in Japan, as well as China seem totally oblivious to this concept. I would love to learn more about how they can justify killing sentient beings for mere taste.

    Korea seems somewhat better in that the temples teach vegetarianism as a daily life practice. It was a Korean monk who pointed me in this direction.

    At least some Buddhist temples operate vegetarian restaurants in China. I didn’t find many of those in Japan.

    Wonderful photography as usual.

    • Steve Jones says:

      There are certainly places to eat in Japan where you can eat vegetarian and some of them are actually annexed to Buddhist temples at popular tourist sites., Nikko is a good place to start, Kamakura if you want to be close to Tokyo, and Kyoto has plenty of possibilities. As with anywhere in the world you just have to know where to go which means local intel. This applies to anyone ( vegetarian or not ) wanting to eat when they fly into a city they are not familiar with, How does one find the good places to eat?
      I happened to go to India on a personal photo trip for the best part of three weeks and almost everywhere I went the food was just awful, especially in the hotels. i had imagined delicious curries and all kinds of delights. Alas, I don’t remember one delicious meal from that trip. Yet there must be good food in India right? My problem. you see, was that I didn’t actually know anyone there to point me in the right direction.A mistake i will not make again.
      Japan, like everywhere else, has been invaded by pizza, fake Italian food and hamburger restaurants with ‘family’ meals. To find the tasty, healthy restaurants that create wonders from tofu and vegetables, you have to dig a little deeper, but they are there.

      • If anything, Japan probably has the greatest number and variety of restaurants in the world – there are more Michelin stars in Tokyo than there are in Paris, for instance. Every time I visit I too have no clue where to go – sometimes you get burned, sometimes you get lucky. Often the least promising places tend to be the best…competition means that there must be a reason they survive.

        I did a little digging and found there is quite a long tradition of vegetarian temple cuisine – shojin-ryori – just because not everybody observes/ understands 100% of a religion’s teachings doesn’t make them heretics. In any case, religion is a choice…you cannot ‘force’ somebody to believe something. Quite frankly, I know people from all faiths who have good and noble intentions…and an equal number who are completely hypocritical a**holes.

      • Iskabibble says:

        India…best food I’ve ever eaten. A pure paradise of absolutely wonderful food. I gained 5 pounds during my 7 day trip to India. I ate and ate and ate and ate.

        Being a Buddhist and eating meat is more than a bit like being a Christian but not believing in Jesus. It just doesnt make sense.

        • Steve Jones says:

          Happy for you. The food poisoning i got ( even though I was sensible where I ate) had me, and my partner on that trip. on anti-biotics for about six months afterward. At one point I feared I would never fully recover.Our flight back to Japan had a stopover in K.L. and I can’t begin to describe how good it felt to eat tasty, safe food again. I think back to all the people i saw living in the grime at the side of the road as you drive into Mumbai central. If I were living with them in those conditions, I think I’d survive less than a week. I should add I’m well traveled and don’t have an especially sensitive stomach, but of all the places I’ve been India very nearly killed me.Thank goodness the pictures I got were good enough for a small exhibition but I didn’t feel it was worth the suffering! An experience to be sure.

          • Errr…our food isn’t always that safe, either. There’s a reason you’re recommended to avoid ice and tap water in Malaysia.

    • Although many people in Japan may still participate in some of the ritual aspects of Buddhism/Shinto (i.e. Hatsumode), very few claim to actually be religious or believe in a particular religion, hence the lack of consideration of things like vegetarianism.

    • I may be mistaken. But the Sake and the Priest seem to suggest that this is a “Shinto” temple, not a Buddhist one.

      • How does one tell the difference? I was formerly Buddhist and still honestly have no clue when I walk into one of these places because so many of the attributes are cultural as much as religious.

        • Tom Liles says:

          My rule of thumb — very rough and imprecise, I’ll grant you — is: has hair? = Shinto; does not have hair = Buddhist.

          As you don’t need me to tell you now, I never really went in for this aspect of Japan—visiting temples, shrines, etc…
          [And shame on me for it. I mean that.]

        • One dead give away is the Oni Mask in the last picture in the temples.

    • Jorge Balarin says:

      I’m not vegetarian, but somebody told me that in Japan he saw shocking things. He said that in Japan the cooks treat animals as if they were vegetables. He watched as they placed live crabs on hot surfaces. The crabs were walking towards the edges trying to escape, then the cook pushed them back to the middle, and continued chopping onions or something else.

  10. Wonderful shots, shapes and tones, thank you. I so want to go there. The gate in the wall makes me wonder if they still like to ‘borrow’ such landscapes… The one before it (storehouse?) is such a great composition. Best wishes, Nick

  11. Fabulous temple shots. The B&W (and grey) tones convey the temple aesthetic of simplicity and natural elements. The traces of Buddhist architecture and artistic motifs in Japan has been so thoroughly swallowed by modernity and urban utilitarian design.

    • Thanks!

    • Paul Stokes says:

      Yet the Japanese seem to work tirelessly to maintain what they have and both temples and shrines appear well attended. In terms of current architecture there does seem a greater vibrancy in much of their design for high rises and their own homes by comparison with the dreck that is foisted upon us in the west. Their old buildings and areas are generally preserved. One cannot help but think this comes from their different aesthetic which must surely come from their beliefs.

      • Tom Liles says:

        Hi Paul,

        My Tokyo experience: most apartment blocks — that regular people live in — look like Soviet era prisons. In my opinion, this is just my opinion!, the Japanese, generally speaking, have the worst architectural sense ever. This is a recent occurrence. Their old buildings are as you say well preserved, and are MAGNIFICENT, don’t you think? What happened?

        Well, we can certainly turn this question on ourselves in the West too. But sorry, we’re not as far gone—when we foul up [and don’t we! I’m from the UK, we have the “Millennium Dome” = tantamount to a crime against humanity] it’s because of some hideous aesthetic philosophy: see most of the 1970s architecture for more. I feel like there is just a void in the Japanese case. Or… no, I don’t want to think about the alternative [that there is actually an aesthetic at work there!].
        If you live in Japan, try and find 10 buildings near where you work that aren’t painted battleship grey, or, oh God, beige. That don’t, do not, have shiny stainless steel entrances, or little lego brick facias. When you do find one—something colorful, something with a bit of character, I bet you it’s old. Not a perfect rule—but mostly on the money.
        [And all the modern architecture is just done to death tropes: “uchi-ppanashi” — raw — concrete, girders, exposed steelwork, etc]

        Curtis LeMay firebombed Tokyo to ashes, to the ground, in WWII. Terrible story; but they had a blank slate, could have done anything. This is what they did.

        That said, a Dutch friend came out to visit me in Tokyo the other month. His first time. He’s an architect. He said it’s the best architectural city he’s ever been to 😦

        So I think that means you’re right and I’m wrong Paul!


        • Their modern stuff isn’t bad – look at Kyoto station, for instance. The apartments you’re referring to were probably built in the 70s and 80s, which was not an architectural zenith for anybody.

        • Paul Stokes says:

          I think its a bit of both Tom. Having always been a traveller or at most a short term resident I have probably pursued the architecture that impressed me. Certainly Japan like any nation has an unfortunate blend of the best and the worst, but as Ming says much of their modern stuff is very nice indeed. The Kyoto railway station is quite breath-taking, especially when you photograph right up the top. Wandering the back streets of Kyoto brings you in contact with some beautiful old homes and some quite exciting new designs as well. I was photographing one house when a man and his son appeared. They waited for me to finish. I though that was very polite then watched them walk into their house. Maybe they thought I was from Architectural Digest. Unlikely though. With the older houses I’m sure it is the different aesthetic that appeals so much to me.

          Unfortunately lost opportunities exist in every great city. After the great fire of London, Wren evidently had a plan for rebuilding the entire area of London affected by the fire. At least he completed St Pauls.

  12. Simply beautiful. The meditative quality comes through in quiet and stillness. Thanks, Ming.


  1. […] It's impossible to go anywhere in Japan without happening across a temple or two. They provide both places of worship for the faithful and serene oases for the rest of us. They're always impeccably…  […]

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