Tokyobling's Blog

Taishakuten Lotus Sutra Wood Carvings

Posted in Places by tokyobling on September 7, 2015

Maybe the most outstanding feature of the famous Taishakuten are the wood carvings covering the sides and the back of the main temple buildings. There are hundreds of meters of carvings in total, all from huge corbels of dragon heads to tiny patterns in tiny brackets. Most famous of all the carvings though are the ten giant keyaki-wood boards featuring scenes from the Lotus Sutra. The first of these boards were carved in 1922 by a master wood carver, and the idea was to send out nine more boards to other master wood carvers around Tokyo. In 1923 the Great Kanto Earthquake struck Japan and the nice boards sent out were all destroyed. Board of this size of this kind of wood are extremely valuable and very hard to find, so it was not until 1926 enough boards had been found to have the work restarted and the last board was delivered in 1934.

To see these carvings you need to enter a special glassed in gallery section, divided into two floors and the entrance fee is 400 yen, which also gives you entrance to the attached temple gardens. It is really a must see, the skill of these old wood carvers is simply unbelievable!

Naturally photographing wood carvings attractively is not an easy task, and I was in a hurry to see them all before closing. Next time I visit I will try to do a better job of it!








Taishakuten Temple Beam Ends and Corbels

Posted in Places by tokyobling on September 2, 2015

One of the most interesting details when it comes to traditional Japanese architecture (or indeed worldwide traditional architecture) are the highly decorated and carved wooden beam ends and corbels at temples and shrines. At the Taishakuten Temple in Katsushika Ward, which is famous specifically for its wooden carvings (more on that in a post later this week) I found these excellent lion (shish) and dragon’s head carvings. Usually these are painted in bright colors or even gold laminated, but in this temple they are bare wood, and it is easy to see the craft that is necessary to form these carvings!

All Japanese structures were traditionally made of wooden beams, and it is the end of the wooden beams sticking out of the wall that makes these beam ends, a perfect place to add some extra decoration. Corbels are solid pieces of material that are designed to rest on the base wall, supporting weights and structures jutting out of or from the wall (such as roof overhang, second floors, statuary etc.). Sometimes corbels are made to look like beam ends for the purpose of symmetry. In most modern western architecture beam ends are hidden inside the walls or undecorated altogether even if left visible. As Japanese temple architecture often has very heavy roofs (to protect against typhoons and rain) it was necessary to create several layers of wooden beams, and you can see beam end carvings on top of beam end carvings (or corbels) in some places. At corners the crossing beams will create a perfect opportunity to have two carvings at right angles sticking out from the wall!











Shibamata Taishakuten Temple

Posted in Places by tokyobling on August 31, 2015

The famous Taishakuten temple in Tokyo’s easternmost Katsushika Ward has a host of beautiful details and additions, like the gorgeous lotus flowers growing in porcelain pots, or the amazingly long branches of the pine tree growing in front of the main temple building. It is easy to miss since it looks more like a garden feature than anything else. I wonder how many centuries it has taken to grow so long? This temple really is the kind where you would want peace and quiet to explore in your own time, but the popularity of it makes sure that it is anything but peaceful with lots of tourists, locals and worshippers dropping in all throughout the day. I recommend rainy days for your visit!








Yakiri – Edo River Crossing

Posted in Nature, Places by tokyobling on August 28, 2015

It is easy to forget, but until quite recently, historically, Tokyo was a city built on water: reclaimed lands, great moats, canals, rivers, streams, inlets, marshes just about anywhere and the sea constantly present. In the era before reliable road transport the humble push-boat ferry crossing was the daily staple of hundreds of thousands of people all over Tokyo, and remarkably, one of those ferries have survived to this day. There used to be ferry spots at or near almost all major bridges in Tokyo, but as the bridges went up, the ferries went in decline of were actually banned by the Meiji government outright.

The last remaining ferry crossing in Tokyo is on the edge of a little field on the Edogawa-river, connecting Shibamata and Shimoyakiri Matsudo, which is technically in Chiba Prefecture. Operating these ferries was by government appointment only, and the present and last operator is a fourth generation ferryman. The ferry system was made semi-public by decree in 1740, and its has been a special operation involving both the city of Matsudo and the families of the town for the last 255 years. The boats were traditionally made from a kind of wood which is excellent in sea water but rots rather quickly in the fresh water of the river. Back in the old days the revenue would be used to keep new boats coming in and it is said that the river here is littered with old ferry boats having sunk during the centuries. The present boat is operated by paddle when leaving Tokyo but an engine is usually engaged for the return trip, depending on the number of passengers, the weather, the current etc.

The reason this crossing has survived is because of the bank on the Chiba side of the river used to an uninhabited island with extremely fertile lands for farming, so plenty of Tokyo farmers would need to cross here to get to their fields. If you look at the area from a satellite image you will see instantly the huge difference between the Tokyo side which is densely populated and the very sparse Chiba side. In fact, the Chiba side is so empty (just fields and tiny farms) that no tourists ever bother to get off. The trip is 100 yen, but everyone just pays for the roundtrip at once, so it becomes 200 yen per adult. Half price for kids I think.

As a tourist attraction, well, it depends on what your idea of fun is. What you see in my photos is just what you get and nothing more, nothing less, plus the sometimes interesting banter of the ferryman of course. There is no reason to get off on the other side and the ferry ride itself is over in a matter of minutes, still, to me it was fantastic. As a fan of economic history, and the history of Tokyo in particular, it was a huge event to experience first hand exactly the same thing that hundreds of thousands of Tokyo farmers, samurai and merchants had as part of their daily routine for hundreds of years. It was a brief but fantastic window into one tiny part of life in the old days. Virtually nothing has changed, apart from some of the taller buildings sticking up by the horizon. There are birds watching the boats, now as in centuries past, there is fish in the river and probably a bit of garbage as well. Where humans are, garbage will accumulate. From half a meter above the water, this is quite possible the only place in the entire city of Tokyo where nothing visible to the naked eye has changed in three centuries. If you narrow your eyes and listen carefully on quiet Sunday afternoon, it what you see and hear and smell will be exactly the same as any peasant farmer in 1755 or 1815 or 1855. These places are quite valuable I think, and apparently the government agrees with me because a few years ago it was selected to be part of the 100 Soundscapes of Japan, a government initiative to identify and preserve a variety of unique and vulnerable soundscapes, in order to fight the ongoing noise pollution of the country.

To most tourists, this ride and the walk to and from it would be a major pain in the behind and boring as nothing else, but for this Tokyo lover, it was a little piece of heaven. Explore at your own risk!















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