TEMPLE BY THE NULLAH, Pak Tai Temple (灣仔北帝廟), Wan Chai, Hong Kong
For a city with 1,113 sq.km of land, Hong Kong has an astonishing 1,178km (some say 733km depending if all 261 outer islands are counted) of coastline. From a fishing village to a global trading port, Hong Kong’s relationship with the sea is the most essential character for the city. Before the arrival of the British, the city was no more than a scattered collection of fishing communities across the territory. Where there were fishing villages there would also be shrines dedicated to guardian deities of the sea. Many of these communities were made up with diasporas from different regions of China, where each has their unique customs and guardian deity, thus bringing a wide range of temples to the city. Popular sea deity in Hong Kong includes Tin hau (天后), a Fujianese sea goddess also named Mazu in Taiwan and Southeast Asia; Hung Shing (洪聖), god of the southern seas originated from a Guangdong official in the Tang Dynasty; Pak Tai (北帝), a Taoist cosmological god from Northern China; Tam Kung (譚公), a sea god common in Huizhou of Guangdong; Lung Mo (龍母), another sea goddess from Southern China known as the Dragon Mother, etc.
In Wan Chi, 500m from the Hung Shing Temple (洪聖古廟), Pak Tai Temple(灣仔北帝廟) stands as a much bigger temple complex hidden under the shadows of an imposing old Banyan tree in a public park at the upper end of Stone Nullah Lane. Hidden at the tranquil end of the Stone Nullah neighbourhood, visiting the temple feels like entering a distinct world from the commercial district of Wan Chai, despite the iconic 78 storey Central Plaza and the waterfront skyline are just 800m to the north. Built in 1863, Pak Tai Temple is the largest temple complex on Hong Kong Island, and home to a 400 year old bronze statue and a 160 year old antique bell. Also called Yuk Hui Kong (玉虛宮), Pak Tai Temple is mainly dedicated to Pak Tai (北帝), a Taoist god from Northern China that is also called Xuanwu (玄武) or Xuantian Shangdi (玄天上帝). Pak Tai is a powerful god related to the Northern Star and one of the 28 constellations of the north, controlling the power of water in the five elements, and thus he is also considered as a sea god. Apart from Pak Tai, the temple also serves as an one stop worshipping hall for a number of traditional Chinese deities, such as Ji Gong (濟公), Eight Immortals (八仙), Guan Yu (關公), Bodhisattva Guanyin (觀音), City God Shing Wong (城隍), God of Wealth Choi Sen (財神), constellation deities Tai Sui (太歲), Dragon Mother Lung Mo (龍母), etc. Perhaps of its central location, Pak Tai Temple continues to attract worshippers from across the city even in the 21st century. It is definitely one of the busiest temples we have visited in Hong Kong.
KHAN EL-KHALILI SOUQ, Cairo, Egypt
If not the summer heat, wandering in Islamic Cairo around the huge Khan el-Khalili market would be the most ideal way to enjoy Old Cairo. Even without entering mosques or museums, just strolling around to feel the bustling activities, hearing the calls of prayer mingled with the yells of merchants, smelling the shisha smoke and Arabian coffee from open cafes, and searching for the highly decorative details on centuries old building facade was just a pure delight.
As the largest and most famous souq in the region, it is understandable that Khan el-Khalili has been developed into a major tourist attraction in Cairo. It was precisely the souq’s popularity among tourists that made it falling victim as a target of terrorist attacks. In 2005, just one year prior to my visit, a suicide bomber detonated an explosive device near the market, killing two French and one American tourists. In 2009, another bombing incident took place at the souq and killed a 17-year-old French girl. These incidents did make some temporary impact to tourism in Egypt. But judging from the tourist crowds that I saw in 2006, just one year after the suicide bombing, the impact was rather minimal. Of course no attacks would make a greater impact to tourism than the Covid 19 pandemic that we are experiencing right now.
DAY 7 (6/7): THE SUBTLE BEAUTY OF A WARRIOR’S REFUGE, Nomura Samurai House (武家屋敷跡 野村家), Nagamachi Samurai District (長町), Kanazawa (金沢), Ishikawa Prefecture (石川県), Japan, 2018.05.31
We wandered around Nagamachi (長町) on narrow lanes flanked both sides by yellow earth walls. We slowly found our way to Nomura Samurai House and arrived at the house’s forecourt about an hour before its closing time. Once we took off our shoes, we were free to walk around the former samurai house. It was hard to imagine that such a tranquil complex with a picturesque garden and tea house was actually the home of a powerful samurai (warrior official who served the feudal lord) in the Edo Period. In the 16th century, Nomura Denbei Nobusada, an official of the first feudal lord of the Kaga Domain Toshiie Maeda, was assigned with the Nomura Family House. 12 generations had passed until the 19th century when the Nomura lost their property during the Meiji Restoration. It was the historical moment of transition when the samurai system quickly became obsoleted against rapid modernization of Japan. A business man and shipowner named Kubo Hikobei bought the house in mid 20th century. He restored the garden and house and was responsible for several alterations, which included adding a tea house. The focal point of the Nomura Samurai House was undoubtedly the small garden at the back of the house. Stone lanterns, stepping stones, pine trees, a small waterfall, a tranquil water pond, and several curious koi fish form a beautiful picture to welcome visitors and exemplify the essence of traditional Japanese gardens. Journal of Japanese Gardening even claims that the small Nomura garden is one of the top three gardens in the entire nation. While judging beauty is purely subjective to the eye, the layering of natural scenes and careful arrangement of the verandas, pathways, stepping stones and stone bridges would definitely slow down the pace of visitors. Only with patience and a peaceful heart could one fully appreciates the carefully configured beauty of the garden at Nomura.
After a path made of large stepping stones, a humble entrance welcomed all visitors at the entrance garden.
Prominently displayed at the foyer was a samurai armour.
The painted screen doors at the tatami drawing room were quite eye-catching.
Japanese cypress wood, rosewood, ebony, paulownia wood, etc were used for different functions inside the house.
The family altar is lavishly decorated with gold paint and leaves. Kanazawa has been a famous place for gold leaf manufacturing for over 400-years.
The Japanese is almost a synonym to fine craftsmanship. All nails in the Nomura House are carefully kept out of sight.
At the back garden, trees and shrubs of different sizes provide a layered backdrop to the stone lantern.
The boundary of garden and architecture almost disappears. Walking or sitting at the wooden veranda would make one forget all the troubles.
Irregular stepping stones, rectangular stone bridges, and the smooth wooden veranda allow spectators to appreciate the beauty of the garden at his/her own pace.
A plinth like water basic reveals a certain contemporary charm of minimalism. Gentle ripples and the sound of the dripping water create an almost spiritual effect to the visitor experience.
At the end of the veranda, we found our way into another small outdoor space and a stair up to the tea house.
The transitional space between the garden and the stair to the tea house is another masterpiece of landscape design.
Before one reaches the stair up to the tea house, a small water feature reminds visitors of the purity and vitality of water.
The outdoor spaces at Nomura Samurai House are full of beautiful surprises.
A large variety of bamboo, timber and stones have been used to create a rich palette of textures.
Just like many tea houses in Japan, the tiny tea house at Nomura Samurai House is an artwork in itself.
From the tea house, the lush-green vegetation of the garden defines the ambience.
Before leaving Nomura Samurai House, a display bonsai reminded us the beauty of many traditional Japanese art did require tons of patience, techniques, care and imagination to maintain. What might seem to be a simple pot plant was in reality had gone through decades of care and subtle alterations.
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CHUBU (中部地方) 2018, Japan, 2018.05.25 – 06.03
Day 1: Tokyo (東京)
1.1 TSUKIJI OUTER MARKET (築地場外市場)
1.2 TSUKIJI INNER MARKET (築地中央卸売市場)
1.3 MORI ART MUSEUM (森美術館), 21_21 DESIGN SIGHT & CAFE KITSUNE
Day 2: Matsumoto (松本)& Kamikochi (上高地)
2.1 MATSUMOTO CASTLE (松本城), Matsumoto (松本)
2.2 “ALL ABOUT MY LOVE”, Yayoi Kusama’s Exhibition at Matsumoto City Museum of Art (松本市美術館), Matsumoto (松本)
2.3 MATSUMOTO PERFORMING ARTS CENTER (まつもと市民芸術館), Matsumoto (松本)
2.4 FROM MATSUMOTO (松本) TO KAMIKOCHI (上高地)
2.5 ARRIVAL IN KAMIKOCHI (上高地), Chūbu-Sangaku National Park (中部山岳国立公園)
Day 3: Kamikochi (上高地)
3.1 MORNING WALK IN KAMIKOCHI (上高地), Nagano Prefecture (長野県)
3.2 DAKESAWA HIKE (岳沢), Kamikochi (上高地)
Day 4: Kamikochi (上高地) & Shirahone Onsen (白骨温泉)
4.1 TAISHO POND (大正池), Kamikochi (上高地)
4.2 RETREAT IN THE JAPANESE ALPS, Shirahone Onsen (白骨温泉)
4.3 MOMENTS OF ESCAPE, Tsuruya Ryokan (つるや旅館), Shirahone Onsen (白骨温泉)
Day 5: Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.1 CITY IN THE MOUNTAINS, Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.2 HIDA BEEF (飛騨牛), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.3 SAKE (日本酒) BREWERIES, Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.4 YOSHIJIMA HOUSE (吉島家住宅), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.5 HIGASHIYAMA WALKING COURSE (東山遊歩道), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
Day 6: Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山), Shirakawa-go (白川郷) & Ainokura (相倉)
6.1 MIYAGAWA MORNING MARKET (宮川朝市), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山), Gifu Prefecture (岐阜県)
6.2 OGIMACHI IN THE RAIN, Shirakawa-go (白川郷), Gifu Prefecture (岐阜県)
6.3 SOBA, TEMPLE & LOOKOUT, Shirakawa-go (白川郷)
6.4 RAINY AFTERNOON IN AINOKURA (相倉), Gokayama (五箇山)
6.5 GASSHO MINSHUKU, FLOWER BEDS & RICE PADDY FIELDS, Ainokura (相倉), Gokayama (五箇山)
6.6 CROAKING FROGS AND MOONLIGHT REFLECTIONS, Gokayama (五箇山)
Day 7: Kanazawa (金沢)
7.1 DEPARTURE IN THE RAIN, Ainokura (相倉) to Kanazawa (金沢)
7.2 A SEAFOOD PARADISE – OMICHO MARKET (近江町市場)
7.3 D T Suzuki Museum (鈴木大拙館)
7.4 Kenroku-en Garden (兼六園)
7.5 Oyama Shrine (尾山神社) and Nagamachi Samurai District (長町)
7.6 Nomura Samurai House (武家屋敷跡 野村家), Nagamachi Samurai District (長町)
7.7 Sushi Ippei (一平鮨), Katamachi (片町)
Day 8: Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture (金沢, 石川県)
8.1 Iki Iki Tei (いきいき亭) and Higashide Coffee (東出珈琲店), Omicho Market (近江町市場)
8.2 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art (21世紀美術館)
8.3 Kazuemachi District (主計町茶屋街)
8.4 Higashi Chaya District (東山ひがし茶屋街)
8.5 Kaga Yuzen Toro Nagashi (加賀友禅燈ろう流し), Asano River (浅野川)
8.6 AFTERMATH OF KAGA YUZEN TORO NAGASHI (加賀友禅燈ろう流し)
Day 9 & 10: Tokyo (東京)
9.1 Marunouchi (丸の内) & Nihonbashi (日本橋)
10.1 OEDO ANTIQUE MARKET (大江戸骨董市), Tokyo Forum (東京国際フォーラム)
10.2 FARMER’S MARKET, United Nations University (東京国連大学), Aoyama (青山)
DAY 4 (3/6): KASUGA TAISHA (春日大社), Nara (奈良), Japan, 2016.12.06
It was a short walk from Todaiji to Kasuga Taisha (春日大社), the most famous Shinto shrine in Nara. The main path to Kasuga Taisha was a pleasant walk in the woods. First there were just old trees along the path, but soon came the stone lanterns. As we get closer to the shrine complex, more and bigger clusters of stone lanterns appeared. Over three thousand lanterns dotted in and around Kasuga Taisha. Every year, during the festival of Setsubun Mantoro (February 2-4, Spring Festival) and Obon Mantoro (August 14-15, Bon Festival), thousands of lanterns at Kasuga Taisha would be lit up at once.
Atmospheric stone lanterns and old trees lined the path leading to Kasuga Taisha.
Deer is considered to be messengers of the gods. They could be seen all over Nara Park, including the grounds of Kasuga Taisha.
There seemed to be never-ending rows of stone lanterns on our way to Kasuga Taisha.
We passed by the Treasure Hall before entering the main shrine complex. The Treasure Hall houses a number of relics from the old shrine.
Before entering the complex, we passed by a huge wall filled with names of donors.
From the lantern lined path, we walked up the stair to enter the main vermilion complex of Kasuga Taisha.
Close up of the moss-covered stone lanterns near the main entrance.
Many lanterns were written with prayers from donors who made contributions during the 60th renewal of the shrine. Traditionally Shinto shrines in the Ise Jingu would be demolished and rebuilt every 20 years to celebrate the concept of impermanence. Since the Meiji Era at the turning of the 20th century, only the damaged parts of the shrine would be repaired instead of replacing the entire building.
After the entrance, we passed by the wooden pillars that supported the Heiden and Buden (幣殿・舞殿, Palace of Offerings and Dance Palace).
Then we came to a gravel courtyard dominated by the Great Cedar Tree (社頭の大杉). The ancient cedar was about 800 to 1000 year old.
Next came the most prominent building in the courtyard, the Chumon and Oro (中門・御廊, Central Gate and Veranda).
Spreading both directions beyond the Chumon, the Oro Veranda is full of suspended lanterns.
The 10m tall Chumon is the central gate in front of the Main Sanctuary of the shrine. Many visitors line up to come in front of the Chumon to pay their respect.
Vermilion is the dominant colour at the shrine, while green, brown and beige are also used in the ornaments.
Each metal lantern along the Oro Veranda and East and South Cloister looks distinctive.
The small shrines near the South Cloister blend in perfectly with the natural surroundings, especially during autumn times.
There were so many lanterns in Kasuga Taisha. How nice if we could visit the shrine again during Setsubun Mantoro or Obon Mantoro Festival when they were all lit up.
Even the shadow of the lanterns look amazing under the afternoon sun.
After the main shrine at Kasuga Taisha, we headed into the adjacent cedar forest to check out some of the auxiliary shrines.
One of the auxiliary shrines we visited was Meoto Daikokusha (夫婦大国社, couple shrine). Dedicated to the Shinto deity for couple relationships, Meoto Daikokusha is popular for visitors hoping for happy relationships and successful match-making.
Some local visitors and even tourists came wearing traditional kimono dresses.
There were many quiet shrines in the forest, each had its devoted supporters.
We visited several of the auxiliary shrines. The last one we saw was Golden Dragon Shrine.
It was late afternoon and we were a little tired and hungry. Following the two rows of moss-covered stone lanterns, we slowly walked out of Kasuga Taisha.
Near the exit of the forest path, we saw a herd of deer outside the forest right by a beautiful grassland.
Our posts on 2016 Kyoto and Nara:
OUR FIRST KYOTO STORY, Japan
DAY 1: ARRIVAL AT HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: RYOANJI TEMPLE (龍安寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NINNAJI TEMPLE (仁和寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KINKAKUJI TEMPLE (金閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KITANO TENMANGU SHRINE (北野天満宮), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NIGHT AT KIYOMIZU-DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: MORNING STROLL IN SOUTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA to KENNINJI, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: ○△□ and Chouontei Garden and Ceiling of Twin Dragons, KENNINJI TEMPLE (建仁寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: SFERA BUILDING (スフェラ・ビル), SHIRKAWA GION (祇園白川), KAMO RIVER (鴨川) & DOWNTOWN, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: YAKITORI HITOMI (炭焼創彩鳥家 人見), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: MORNING IN NORTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (北東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: NANZENJI (南禅寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: PHILOSOPHER’S PATH (哲学の道), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: HONENIN (法然院), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: GINKAKUJI (銀閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: CRAB AND SAKE, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 4: HORYUJI (法隆寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: TODAIJI TEMPLE (東大寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KASUGA TAISHA (春日大社), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KOFUKUJI (興福寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: NAKAGAWA MASASHICHI SHOTEN (中川政七商店 遊中川), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: RAMEN & CHRISTMAS LIGHTS, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 1, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 2, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 5: FAREWELL KYOTO, Kyoto, Japan