Noilly Prattle: 2013

Friday, December 13, 2013

Orange and Blue Aurae

   One thing leads to another and I recently got into a discussion of auras with a friend of mine who is also interested in the phenomenon of energy waves emanating from, for want of a better expression, the spirit body. 

       I once had an interesting experience on a beach in West Africa. It was late afternoon and the setting sun was at just the right angle to create a field of sparkling light and shadow on the surface of the sea. I was relaxing with some friends and smoking some pot when I noticed a man walking along the water's edge and, as he passed between the sun sparkle and my line of vision, he seemed burst into a bluish glow that enveloped his entire body and seemed to flame over his head; it was a little something like watching a campfire--mellow and mesmerizing. I assumed it was an effect of the the pot and the sunlight and I expected it to die out as the man's silhouette moved out of the sun sparkle field of bright back lighting, but, instead, the aura held steady as he walked down the beach and eventually out of sight. 

        I recently ran across a little test that purports to tell you the color of your aura. I took the test expecting my aura to be blue, my favorite color, but to my surprise it turned out to be orange. That got me thinking that maybe we don't just have one aura, but that it can change according to different variables instead of being something fixed and unchangeable. Who knows what mysterious things we are capable of?

        This is the link to the aura quiz if you're interested in trying on the color of your own aura.

What's the color of your aura?

        Here's an impression of my own aura--as I thought it would be and as it actually turned out.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Getting Reacquainted 3 - Miyajima the Second Day

 the Great Torii and Itsukushima Shrine from our ryokan room at dusk

     By way of introduction, Japan's original “religion” is a kind of nature worship wherein everything has spirit or, if you like, soul. It resembles the animism of more primitive groups that I had the very good fortune of witnessing during the two and a half years I lived in West Africa. There the ceremonials appealed to the gut, with the throb of drums and wild dances and drugs, whereas here it is more refined, with the headier music of the flute flowing above the beat of the drums.

      Around the 6th Century A.D., Buddhism was introduced into Japan through the Korean Peninsula and a syncretism of Buddhism and the more primitive Shinto occurred over the next few centuries. Writing was also introduced into Japan from China at this time and an amalgam of the two cultures evolved that created the Japanese society that we witness today.

      Miyajima is an excellent of example of this merging of Shinto Shrine and Buddhist Temple. I devoted the previous post to the Shinto Shrine of Itsukushima with its colorful exuberance on a beautiful sunny dance when the shrine almost literally appeared to sparkle upon the waves.

tatami mat room of the inn
view of the torii from our inn room
      The next day, after spending the night in a ryokan 旅館 (Japanese Inn) with a terrific view of the shrine complex and torii both from our room and the rotenburo 露天風呂 (outside bath), waxed rainy—prefect weather for visit to a Buddhist Temple nestled in the misty and foggy mountains. Consistent with the dual nature of Japanese worship, Miyajima is intermixed with Buddhism and Shinto. Set up on the slope of Mt. Misen, to the east northeast of 厳島神社 Itsukushima Shrine, is the 大書院 Daishoin Temple of the Shingon Buddhist sect.

me and my trusty crutch
      I was having some trouble with my left leg (I broke it in February) and, knowing I would have to climb stairs, both up to the inn and the temple, I brought my forearm crutch to help support my bad leg on the stairs. So, holding an umbrella in one hand, the crutch in the other and trying to take pictures in the rain, I'm sure we looked like the circus had come to town. Be that as it may, there is a unique atmosphere about a temple in the mountains in the mist and the rain that made our visit there as enjoyable as the previous day's sunny wanderings about the shrine precincts. 

Sanmon (Main Gate) of Daishoin Temple

The guardian gods of the temple symbolize the beginning and ending of all things. The statue on the right is called Agyozo and his open mouth symbolizes the birth of all things while the one of the left, Ungyozo, with his closed mouth symbolizes the ending.

why I decided to bring my crutch

pilgrims will climb the mountain draped in fog

two pilgrims blowing on a conch shell horn that
makes a haunting eerie sound as they climb
through the fog and mist

the Maniden - a two-step pagoda

mani guruma - prayer wheels leading up to the Maniden

 beautiful woodwork and fantastic wood carvings

1000 Bodhisattvas - but you can't see them all in this photo

unusual white paint tipping the ceiling beams

red maple

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Getting Reacquainted 2 - Miyajima Day One

the Great Gate (torii) and Itsukushima Shrine
    Things seem to come in threes in Japan. The Korakuen garden in Okayama is one of Japan's Three Great Gardens 日本三名園 Nihon Sanmeien while Miyajima in Hiroshima is one of the Nihon Sankei 日本三景 (Three Views of Japan), the three most celebrated scenic sights in Japan. For those who prefer precision and detail, the other two great gardens are Kenrokuen in Kanazawa and Kairakuen in Mito (the three Ks); the other two scenic spots are Amanohashidate (the bridge of heaven—think of Bifrost, the rainbow bridge in Richard Wagner's opera Das Rheingold) in Kyoto Prefecture and Matsushima (Pine Island) in Miyagi Prefecture.

the Setonaikai - the Inland Sea

         As I mentioned in my previous post, we decided to get reacquainted with Japan since we are not going to travel abroad for a while. Accordingly, we visited Miyajima not far from the city of Hiroshima recently. Miyajima is one of Japan's three celebrated beauty spots and a visit to this World Heritage Site will show you why. The site is not only one of a rare natural beauty, it is also a sacred place appropriate to the animism that inspires Shintoism, the ancient religion of Japan. The site is an exuberant celebration of the spirit that imbues the natural world with supernatural overtones. At high tide, and especially during the monthly lunar flood tides, the 厳島神社 Itsukushima Shrine and its attendant Torii seem to float in the space where sea and mountains meet.

         We took the bullet train from Okayama to Hiroshima and transferred to a local line from Hiroshima to Miyajima Guchi and from there by ferry to Miyajima Island. The weather was perfect as we sailed past the torii* (shrine entrance gate) that is unique in Japan in that it sits on the sea floor and is surrounded by water at high tide and appears to float. Behind the gate the shrine itself glides by behind the torii also appearing to float between the blue of the sea and the green of the mountains behind it. Shortly after leaving the torii behind we landed at the ferry port and walked the short distance to the shrine.

          The road along the waterfront is well tended and landscaped and full of deer. The deer are wild but do not fear people and can be quite bold. As I was taking a photo one rather large fellow came up behind me and started chewing insistently on my backpack and had to be persuaded to reluctantly take a hike. As you walk along toward the vermillion colored torii a breathtaking 5-story vermillion colored pagoda appears above the houses on your left. But, soon, you round a bend and the full glory of the torii and the shrine precinct come into view. The rest is just point your camera almost anywhere and take far too many pictures, of course.

大鳥居 [Great Gate]
           A bit of historical context about the (Itsukushima Shrine) complex. It was built in the 12th Century by Kiyomori, a local warlord of the Heike clan which is famous for its feud with the Genji clan in that period. At that time the Heike were in the ascendant and wanted the Emperor (who was thought the be a direct descendent of the sun goddess Amaterasu in Japanese mythology) to move the capital from Kyoto to his own home territory. (The Emperor is to Shinto as the Pope is to Catholicism, except that he is considered [or used to be] divine as well.) This would have been a fine feather in Kiyomori's cap, so he married his daughter to the Emperor and built the Itsukushima Shrine on the site of an older shrine in hopes of inspiring the Emperor to move. Things didn't work out, the feud erupted anew and the Genji clan defeated the Heike, but today we have this colorful breathtaking shrine complex fit for an Emperor.

* The original torii was built in 1168, but the current incarnation of the gate was refurbished in 1875. Known as the 大鳥居 [Great Gate] it is about 16 meters high and made of decay-resistant camphor wood. The gate is not embedded in the sea bottom, but rests of its own weight and balanced by its supports on the sea bottom.

wedding party

shrine buildings and torii at low tide -
during the lunar neap tides (low lows)
the torii is completely high and dry


the harmonious and contrasting colors make the scene look like a painting

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Getting Reacquainted

Korakuen -- one of Japan's Three Great Gardens

autumn chrysanthemums
     Road Buddy and I have been, for the past several years, globetrotting; that is to say we have been traveling away from where we live—Japan. Although Japan is a “foreign” country to me, it is the country of her origin, yet we both had developed a kind of been-there-done-that attitude towards traveling around Japan.

our municipal auditorium
near Korakuen Garden
           It was all new to me some 30 years ago and I used to travel around on my motorcycle visiting castles, Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples, to be joined, after we met, by Road Buddy when we traveled around together on the bike. But, little by little, ordinary life intervened and the goings and comings dwindled as the demands of child and family and making a living grew in importance and priorities. And, so, the beauty and culture of Japan faded in the white noise of daily living and soon got forgotten as a place worthy of our attention.

cake shop along our
walking tour
           Things are different this year. Our focus on international travel is undergoing a metamorphosis dictated by new priorities such as aging and physical injuries—I broke my leg and she has eye concerns involving the retina. We traveled to Europe this past autumn and decided not to go to Europe again for the winter opera season this year, opting to stay home instead.

Asahi River and autumn pampas grass
crow sitting on the
roof of Ujo (Crow Castle)
           There happens to be a well-known garden 後楽園 [Korakuen] right here in our town where we sometimes like to walk around for exercise. It sits on an island in the Asahi River across from Okayama Castle, known as the Crow Castle 烏城 [U-jo] because of it's black exterior. The construction of the garden was begun in 1700 during the Edo Period by the local Daimyo of the Ikeda family as a place of serenity and quiet and to entertain important guests. The garden, however, was open to the public on certain days. Korakuen was designed in the Kaiyu ("scenic promenade") style which presents the visitor with a new view at every turn of the path which connects the lawns, ponds, hills, tea houses, and streams. The garden with its man-made pond is said to be a miniature replica of the Setonaikai 瀬戸内海,--Japan's Inland Sea. 

teahouse garden
           Recently, it being fall and the leaves are colorful, I decided to take my camera with me on one of our walking tours of the area. It was a beautiful sunny day around the magical hour of late afternoon when the low angle of the sun filtered through a thicker layer of the atmosphere renders a soft golden tone to the out of doors. It's a wonderful time for landscape photography.

main gate of Okayama Castle
secondary gate
           As a result of that experience I suggested to Road Buddy that, since we weren't traveling to Europe this winter, we should take advantage of the time to get reacquainted with Japan. She readily agreed and soon came up with the suggestion of visiting Miyajima near Hiroshima city of atom-bomb fame. That trip will be the subject of a future post. But, first, a few new impressions of our own old home town.

a poem by the Emperor on a visit to the Ujo --
the Kanji 烏城  can be seen at the top of the
3rd column from the right

the castle view from the Main Gate area

Okayama Castle 岡山城 aka Ujo    烏城   on the Asahi River

Monday, November 18, 2013


The magnificent 5-step pagoda at Kokubunji Buddhist Temple near our home.