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Friday, June 11, 2010

Heian Shrine, Kyoto, Japan

Yesterday I went on a marathon walk around Kyoto, a city full of shrines and their gardens.  Unlike nearly every other city in Japan, Kyoto was fortunate not to be firebombed to ashes by the U.S. during WW2 (they don't teach us that in school).  The Shinto Heian Shrine is relatively young, built in 1895 to commemorate the 1100th year since the founding of Kyoto.  It has numerous buildings all painted vermilion, a color that was apparently first derived from the application of clay (see more about vermilion below).  It also has a garden so beautiful you walk around in a daze of blissful revery---it was designed by Ogawa Jihei (1860-1933), one of Japan's great gardeners. 

the main gate

Had Monet been here he would have called for his paints.

Note all the Japanese women carrying parasols!  It was in the high 80's. 

a prayer "shrub"

Stepping stones that form the tail of a dragon.  The island forms the dragon's body.

These rope decorations hang over doorways in many of the shrines and are called shimenawa (the rope) and shime (the strips of white paper).  They are meant to ward off evil spirits and the white paper symbolizes purity in the Shinto faith.  DIY?

the inherent duality of life?

From wikipedia:  Vermilion, when found naturally occurring, is an opaque orangish red pigment,  used since antiquity, originally derived from the powdered mineral cinnabar. Chemically, the pigment is mercuric sulfide,  HgS, and like many mercury compounds it is toxic. Its name is derived from the French vermeil which was used to mean any red dye, and which itself comes from vermiculum, a red dye made from the insect Kermes vermilio.  Today, vermilion is most commonly artificially produced by reacting mercury with molten sulfur. Most naturally produced vermilion comes from cinnabar mined in China, giving rise to its alternative name of China red.

Heian's Torii, one of the largest in Japan, is the traditional gateway to a Shinto shrine marking the transition between the sacred and the profane.