Valley of the Temples Memorial

JAPAN: Kyoto (Seimei Shrine / 晴明神社)

The city of Kyoto was the Imperial capital of Japan for more than one thousand years and is perhaps one of the best places to get a flavor of old Japan.  In preserving Japan’s old traditions, Kyoto is the city of quiet temples, sublime gardens, colorful shrines and geiko. But, perhaps the most interesting temple among Kyoto’s vast collection is the one that deals with the darker elements of Japanese culture.

The Seimei Shrine, founded in 1007 is dedicated to the onmyoji, Abe no Seimei. It is said that the shrine was constructed on the site of his house just two years after his death. An onmyoji is a person who practices the traditional Japanese esoteric cosmology known as onmyodo (陰陽道) or “The Way of the Yin and Yang.” Based on the Chinese philosophies of Wu Xing (Five elements) and Yin and Yang, it is a mixture of natural science and occultism.

Onmyodo was introduced to Japan during the early 6th century and was accepted as a practical system of divination.  It came under the control of the Imperial government and later the Tsuchimikado family where elements of Taoism, Buddhism and Shintoism were incorporated.  Onmyodo was practiced until the middle of the 19th century after which point it was classified as superstition and its practice prohibited. Interestingly, the mid-19th century was also the time when Admiral Perry came to Japan demanding that Japan open its ports to foreign trade and when the Meiji Restoration came into existence.

Abe no Seimei was a Heian era (794-1185) astronomer who served the Emperor by performing divination and various ceremonies.  To his contemporaries Seimei was a genius with second sight, able to perceive an invisible world of demons and spirits.  He could also see star constellations others could not. He continues to be the subject of a variety of colorful legends including one which claims that he was able to instantaneously cure the Emperor of an illness. Further, Seimei himself enjoyed a long and healthy life which led people to believe that he actually possessed magical powers. Although Seimei’s life is well documented, his lineage remains unclear. Abe no Seimei’s two sons,  Yoshihira and Yoshimasa were also onmyoji, like their father.

It is said that the famous well (Seimei-i) located on the Seimei Shrine grounds were Abe no Seimei was buried retains Seimei’s divine power.  Anyone who partakes of its water will receive a blessing for good health.  The well is in the shape of a 5-pointed star known as the Seimei star (Pentacle in the Western world) and one of its vertices acts like a water intake.  This water intake points in a lucky direction and each year during the beginning of spring (February 4th), the orientation of the well is changed. Abe no Seimei reputedly designed the star in the 10th century to symbolize the Chinese Five Elements. You will find its image throughout the shrine.

There are two gates (torii) which lead up to the relatively small shrine.  The main building (honden) was restored in 1925. Within the shrine grounds, you will find pictures and text relating the legend of Seimei. There is a bronze statue of a peach which visitors are invited to stroke to ward off evil. The ancient Chinese believed that peaches were talismans to guard against evil. Today, many Japanese people know the story of Momotaro (A boy born from a peach who conquered the land of demons.) which was derived from this belief. There is a small bridge said to be a replica of the original Ichijo Modori Bashi.  The actual bridge located just south of the shrine is said to be a gateway between the human and the spiritual realms.

The shrine draws many visitors who view it as a potent “power spot.” Each year during fall, there is a Seimei Matsuri.

So the next time you are in Kyoto, why not include the Seimei Shrine as a potential stopover and get to know Japan’s Merlin!

Web page:         http://www.seimeijinja.jp/

Address:             806 Horikawadori Ichijo agaru Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto 602-8222, Kyoto

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New Book: A Blogger’s Guide to JAPAN

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Hawaii: Honolulu/ Oahu

If you have never visited Hawaii before, I would highly recommend that you begin visiting the islands with a trip to the island of Oahu first.

Called the “Heart of Hawaii” Oahu is the third largest Hawaiian island and home to 73% of the state’s diverse population, a melding of eastern and western cultures rooted in the values and traditions of the native Hawaiian people.  Honolulu is the capital and largest city of Hawaii.  The city’s name derives from the native words “hono”, meaning a bay, and “lulu”, meaning sheltered.

Honolulu had a chaotic early history as one of the last areas on the globe to be explored and exploited by Europeans.  Hawaii itself was subject to strong pressures from many forces, including American missionaries, and opportunistic whalers.  On December 7, 1941 Pearl Harbor, which is west of Honolulu and the headquarters of the U.S. Pacific Naval Fleet was bombed in a surprise attack by the Empire of Japan.  This action catapulted the U.S. into World War II.

Pearl Harbor

Pearl Harbor

Battleship row

Floral petals float over the sunken ships at the Pearl Harbor Memorial

Floral petals float over the sunken ships at the Pearl Harbor Memorial

USS Arizona Memorial

USS Arizona Memorial

Hawaii became a state in 1959 and that along with the viability of commercial air travel to the island brought an explosion of tourists to Honolulu.  Today, tourism is the city’s principal industry, followed by federal defense expenditures and agricultural exports.

Oahu is a place where timeless beauty blends with the modern luxuries of today. Here visitors can swim in the warm waters of world-famous Waikiki Beach one moment then enjoy the dramatic mountain views of the Nuuanu Pali Lookout another. By day you can watch the surfers on the legendary North Shore and by night immerse yourself in vibrant nightlife spots around Honolulu.

No visit would be complete without a trek to Diamond Head which sits prominently near the eastern edge of Waikiki’s coastline.  Encompassing over 475 acres, Hawaii’s most recognized landmark is known for its historic hiking trail, stunning coastal views, and military history.

DIAMOND HEAD

Located in downtown Honolulu is another must see, Iolani Palace.  As the former official residence of King Kalakaua and Queen Lili’uokalani, the palace is a marvel of opulence, innovation and political intrigue. It was built in 1882 and became the government headquarters after the overthrow of the monarchy.  Government offices vacated the palace in 1969 as restoration of the palace was undertaken.  Iolani Palace opened to the public in 1978 after the structural restoration was completed.

palace

Located across from the palace is Ali’iolani Hale, the current home of  the Hawaii State Supreme Court. In the building’s courtyard you will find the famed gold-leaf statue of Kamehameha the Great ( 1758 – May 8, 1819).  The construction of the building was undertaken in  1872 by Kamehameha V.  Unfortunately, he died before the building was completed, and it was dedicated in 1874 by one of his successors, King David Kalākaua.  Until 1893, the building held most of the executive departments of the Hawaiian government as well as the Hawaiian legislature and courts. It was from Aliʻiōlani Hale in 1893 that Queen Liliʻuokalani was deposed by public proclamation. Shortly after the Hawaiian provisional government and the Republic of Hawaii were established. Some of the offices in Aliʻiōlani Hale were moved to Iolani Palace, including the Hawaiian legislature. As a result, Aliʻiolani Hale became primarily a judicial building.

court house 2

court house

A nice scenic drive from Honolulu to the foot of the Ko’olau Mountains will take you to the Valley of the Temples Memorial.  Here you will find Byodo-In Temple, a non-practicing Buddhist temple which welcomes people of all faiths to worship, meditate or simply appreciate its beauty. The temple grounds are often used for wedding ceremonies for Hawaiians or visitors from Japan.  It was commissioned and built to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the first Japanese immigrants to Hawaii. The temple is a smaller-scale replica of the 950-year-old Byodo-in Temple, a United Nations World Heritage Site in Uji, Japan.  Inside the temple you fill find a nine-foot tall wooden Lotus Buddha covered in gold and lacquer.

Temple

Temple 2

Golden Budha

About a 40-minute drive from Waikiki is the present day Dole Plantation.   Originally operated as a fruit stand beginning in 1950, Dole Plantation opened to the public as Hawaii’s “Pineapple Experience” in 1989. Today, Dole Plantation is one of Oahu’s most popular visitor attractions and welcomes more than one million visitors a year.  Here visitors can ride the Pineapple Express for a whistle stop tour through Hawaii’s pineapple story, walk the grounds, sample the delicious pineapple ice cream and pick up a Dole souvenir to bring home with you.

Dole

Pineapple express

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Who would think of finding a garden in the midst of busy downtown Honolulu?  Foster Botanical Garden is the oldest of the Honolulu Botanical Gardens.  Its beginning can be traced back to 1853 when Queen Kalama leased a small area of land to William Hillebrand, a young German doctor. A botanist as well as a physician, he and his wife built a home in the upper terrace area of the present garden. The magnificent trees which now tower over this area were planted by him. After twenty years in Hawaii, he returned to Germany and the property was sold to Thomas and Mary Foster who added to it and continued to develop the garden. Upon Mrs. Foster’s death in 1930, the 5.5 acre site was bequeathed to the City and County of Honolulu as a public garden. The Foster Botanical Garden opened to the public on November 30, 1931, with Dr. Harold Lyon as its first director.  Over a span of 27 years, Dr. Lyon introduced 10,000 new kinds of trees and plants to Hawaii. The Foster Garden orchid collection was started with Dr. Lyon’s own plants. Through purchases by the City and gifts from individuals, Foster Garden expanded to over 13.5 acres. Today the garden welcomes more than 75,000 visitors annually. Guided tours are given to thousands of school children as well as visitors from around the world.

Daibutsu (Large Buddha) statue at Foster Botanical Garden modeled after the larger version in Kamakura Japan

Daibutsu (Large Buddha) statue at Foster Botanical Garden modeled after the larger version in Kamakura Japan

The original Daibutsu statue in Kamakura, Japan

The original Daibutsu statue in Kamakura, Japan

Foster Botanical Gardens Map

Foster Botanical Gardens Map

Finally, a  visit to Hawaii would not be complete without a luau. Paradise Cove located at the Ko Olina Resort is one of the largest luau shows. Here visitors can casually stroll through the Hawaiian Village, learn the arts & crafts of the islands and test their skills in various Hawaiian games prior to the Royal Court Procession and the Imu Ceremony. Afterwards you can feast on traditional Hawaiian dishes and enjoy the songs and dances of Hawaii and Polynesia performed by Paradise Cove’s performers.

Paradise Cove

Luau

Hula Dancer

Not to forget, Oahu offers a full line-up of water activities including Parasailing, Jet skiing, Scuba diving, Wakeboarding, Water-skiing and Surfing lessons.  There is so much to do and usually not enough time!

Parasailing

Sunset

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Oahu’s Official Tourism Page: http://www.gohawaii.com/oahu