Po Lin Monastery (Lantau Island, Hong Kong)

The author at the courtyard of Po Lin Monastery

After our visit to the Tian Tan Buddha (Big Buddha), we proceeded to the nearby Po Lin Monastery,Buddhist monastery located on level Ngong Ping Plateau, between the lush, green Lantau Peak and Lei Nak Peak.  The wooden bracelets sold near the Big Buddha statue (an extension of the monastery) are made at Po Lin (translated as “precious lotus”).

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View of Po Lin Monastery from Tian Tan Buddha

Founded in 1906 by three monks visiting from Jiangsu Province on the Chinese mainland, it was initially known simply as “The Big Hut” (大茅蓬 Tai Mao Pung) but was renamed to its present name in 1924.

In 1918, three nuns ordained at this monastery established a private nunnery, dedicated to Guanyin (the Goddess of Mercy), called Chi Chuk Lam (紫竹林) on Lantau’s Lower Keung Hill (下羌山). In the 1950s, there were about 20 jushi and nuns residing there but, today, only an elderly abbess remains. On June 2013, the site was inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Hall of the Heavenly Kings

Hall of the Heavenly Kings

We spent some time admiring the architecture of the structures of this orderly Buddhist monastery complex which houses many Buddhist scriptures.

Kyle, Jandy and Cheska at the courtyard of Po Lin Monastery

Its many halls (Da Xiong Bao Dian, the Maitreya Hall, the Hall of Ti-tsang Bodhisattva, the Weituo Hall, the Banruo Hall, the Sutra-Collection Hall) and prominent architectural buildings and structures sit tightly on the north-eastern to south-western axis, overlooking the South China Sea. On the south side of the axis are the Po Lin Hall and the facility for ceremonial and religious activities.

Hall of Bodhisattva Skanda.  On the upper level is the Hall of Great Hero while on the lower level is the Hall of Arhats

San Men (Mountain Gate) leads up to the Hall of Bodhisattva Skanda, the Main Shrine Hall of Buddha, and the Grand Hall of Ten Thousand Buddhas.  In symmetrical arrangements on the flanks are the Bell Tower (houses a 1,000 kg. bronze bell) and the Drum Tower, the Hall of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva, the Meditation Hall, the Dining Hall and the Sangha Hall.

Hall of Great Hero (off limits to visitors)

These edifices enclose and create roomy space and airy courtyards. The Hall of Ti-tsang Bodhisattva houses an approximately 200 kg. (441 lb.) bronze statue of Ti-tsang Bodhisattva.

Hall of Arhats

Hall of Arhats

In its effort in spreading Buddhism and in moving forward towards globalization, the monastery has changed its architectural concept from local southern China to that of Beijing palatial design.  The seven-span Hall of Bodhisattva Skanda, completed in 1970, adopted the architectural design of the Ming and Qing’s Dynasty palaces.

Its double-eaved gable roof, made of yellow-glazed tiles, has a ridge decorated with zoomorphic ornaments, dragons, phoenixes and animal patterns. Coiled granite dragons, carved in the Minnan style, can be seen on the front and the back of the hall.

Hall of Ten Thousand Buddhas

On the other hand, the incredibly ornate Grand Hall of Ten Thousand Buddhas, which went on the drawing board in 2000 and was completed in 2014, adopted the classical architectural concepts of the Song Dynasty.

Koi Pond

Covering an area of more than 6,000 sq. m., it now enshrines more than 100 statues and has a shrine hall, an exhibition hall, a meditation hall, an abbot’s chamber, a scripture library and other multi-functional facilities.

Bell Tower

The Great Hall of Treasure (Da Xiong Bao Diane) enshrines three bronze statues of the Buddha (Sakyamuni, Dipamkarara and Maitreya, representing his past, present and future lives). Many visitors here join in praying and giving offerings at the temple.

Drum Tower

Interior of Drum Tower

For those who fancy typical, good quality vegetarian cuisine, the monastery also has a vegetarian kitchen where a multi-course lunch can cost you up to HK$138.  Dishes are served at the dining hall and at the Fat Ho Memorial Hall. Opposite the dining hall, snacks such as salty dimsum, steamed cakes, spring water bean curd, glutinous rice dumplings with mango filling and noodles are sold.

Fat Ho Memorial Hall

Near the giant Tian Tan Buddha and the monastery is the Ngong Ping Village and Ngong Ping 360, a gondola lift running between Tung Chung and Ngong Ping.

Check out “Ngong Ping 360 and Ngong Ping Village

Deli Vegetarian Cafe

Po Lin Monastery: Ngong Ping, Lantau Island, Hong Kong. Tel: +852 2985 5248.  Fax: +852 2985 5600.  E-mail: info@plm.org.hk.  Website: www.plm.org.hk.  Open daily, 8AM to 6PM. The Vegetarian Kitchen is open daily from 11:30AM to 4:30 PM  (7 PM on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays).

Tian Tan Buddha (Lantau Island, Hong Kong)

Tian Tan Buddha Statue

The majestic Big Buddha statue, sitting atop the peak of 479 m. high Mount Muk Yue, is sited near Po Lin Monastery.  At ground level, the statue was quite a formidable and imposing sight. Together with many other tourists, we were huffing and puffing on our way up, only catching our breath at a number of stair landings. The view of Lantau Island, the 934 m. (3,064 ft.) Lantau Peak and the South China Sea from the top was ’breathtaking.

Check out “Po Lin Monastery

This large bronze statue of Buddha Shakyamuni, a major center of Buddhism in Hong Kong and a popular tourist attraction, symbolizes the harmonious relationship between man and nature, people and faith.  The statue, skillfully mastered and conceptualized by the artist to shape the perfect design of the Buddha statue that we see today, was a culmination of the characteristics of Buddhist sculptural art of the Sui and Tang Dynasties (when Buddhism was at its prime).

Taking 12 years to plan and build, this bronze Buddha statue, an outstanding piece in Buddhist sculptural art in recent history, is now a major landmark in Hong Kong attracting numerous local and overseas Buddhists and visitors.  It symbolizes the stability of Hong Kong, prosperity of China and peace on earth.

The author at the foot of the stairs leading up to the Buddha

The Big Buddha Statue, combining traditional bronze art with modern science and technology, embodies the harmonious resonance of Buddhist spirit and modern civilization – a solemn epitome of human beings’ continuous and unyielding pursuit of moral happiness and peace on earth.

Grace (near left), Cheska (fifth from left), Bryan (sixth from left) and Kyle (right) making their way up the stairs

Here’s the timeline of the statues construction:

  • In 1974, the government granted Po Lin Monastery 6,567 sq. m. of land in Mount Muk Yue, at a nominal premium, for the building of the Buddha statue.
  • On December 26, 1981, the Committee for the Construction of the Tian Tan Buddha Statue was formally established, by Po Lin Monastery, to coordinate the project, including the artistic design and concept of the statue, building materials and details of construction.
  • On April 1982, the work on the 1:5 scale, 5 m. high plaster model of the statue, fashioned by Ms. Hou Jinhui of the Guangzhou Institute of Fine Arts, was started.
  • On February 1984, the plaster model was completed, the draft of which had been revisited eight times, following discussions and consultations with the artist responsible for the conceptual design of the statue.
  • On September 26, 1986, the plaster model of the statue was shipped to Nanjing from Guangzhou.
  • On April 1989, the bronze pieces were transported to Hong Kong by sea.
  • On October 13, 1989, the last bronze piece of the statue was put in place and a solemn topping ceremony was held on the same day.
  • On December 29, 1993, which the Chinese reckon as the day of the Buddha’s enlightenment, the statue was inaugurated, with monks from around the world invited to the opening ceremony. Also taking part in the proceedings were distinguished visitors from mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, India, Japan, Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, and the United States.

Halfway up the stairs

The project was divided into six stages, with Nanjing Chengguang Machinery Plant of the China Astronautics Science and Technology Consultant Corporation principally carrying out the actual casting, finishing and assembly of the Buddha statue.  During the overall project design stage, over 5,000 drawings and 300 technical documents were produced within less than three months. The daily and monthly work progress for the subsequent three years was mapped out and prepared by system analysis.

The enlargement, carried out by the technical staff through a special “survey-controlled box enlargement method,” involved the use of stereoscopic photography to find out the position of the statue in space.  When over 3,900 coordinate points were established, the computer was then used to calculate the enlargement. At the same time, to form the inner frame of the statue, a traditional method of using boxes which were stacked up in layers was used. Then plaster was applied to the outer surface, producing a 1:1 scale model.

The body of the statue, cast in 202 bronze pieces after careful studies and surveying, was supported by an inner steel framework and fixed by connecting bolts. Auxiliary supports were used to connect the bronze pieces to the main framework.  The bronze pieces had thicknesses ranging from 10 to 13 mm. and the error margin of each cast piece was less than 3 mm..  Precision molds were prepared according to the different shapes of the pieces.

Halfway up the stairs

After overcoming numerous difficulties, the professional staff, in an effort to portray fully the splendor of Buddha Sakyamuni and to achieve a perfect artistic design, managed to finally cast the face of the Buddha in a single piece. To rehearse for the on-site assembly, a trial assembly was carried out in the plant where any problems that might occur on site were detected and solved.

View of Po Lin Monastery

The Buddha statue was trial assembled separately in three sections (upper, middle and the lower) and various necessary adjustments and trimmings were made to the bronze pieces plus initial mechanical finishing was also carried out.

Jandy with the Big Buddha in the background

On arrival at Lantau Island, the very large face piece and two other large bronze pieces were safely transported up to Mount Muk Yue with the help of the Transport Department who provided a large lorry and two large cranes (which sandwiched the lorry in the middle) for this arduous journey up the winding and narrow roads on the island. The arduous task of assembly and welding (the length of weld was over 5 kms.) of the statue was carried out, in open air, from bottom upwards in eight layers.

To ensure that the Buddha statue would not be damaged by strong winds, calculations on the wind pressure, imposed load and material strength of the various parts of the statue were conducted the specialists using computers and the Beijing Institute of Aerodynamics specially created a testing model, utilizing the wind tunnel employed for satellites and rockets, to conduct unidirectional as well as multi-directional wind tests on the statue as a whole and on the various parts.

The Offering of the Six Devas

The optimal coating for the surface coloring of the statue, carefully studied for over a year, was selected from various formulas for surface coloring.  Oozing an air of classical simplicity and solemn dignity, it is not susceptible to fading because of corrosion due to the exposure to the elements.

One of the halls inside the podium

Here are some interesting trivia regarding the statue:

  • The design of the statue was based on the 32 laksanas (“physical marks” of the Buddha as described in the sutras).
  • The Tian Tan Buddha is one of the five large Buddha statues in China and is the biggest sitting Buddha statue built outdoor.
  • The statue was named The Big Buddha because its base is a model of the Earthly Mount of Tian Tan (or Altar of Heaven), the Temple of Heaven in Beijing.
  • Enthroned on a lotus on top of a three-platform altar, it is surrounded by six smaller bronze statues known as “The Offering of the Six Devas,” symbolizing the Six Perfections of generosity, morality, patience, zeal, meditation and wisdom, all of which are necessary for enlightenment.  They are posed offering flowers, incense, lamp, ointment, fruit and music to the Buddha.
  • Every feature of the Buddha statue has a symbolic meaning of religious significance. The face, measuring 4.3 m. by 5.8 m., with a thickness of 13 mm. and a weight of 5 metric tons, was modeled after the Buddha Vairocana of the Longmen Grottoes for its fullness and serene beauty. The clothes and headgear had their inspiration from the soft and smooth flowing lines of the Buddha Sakyamuni image in Cave 360 of the Mogao Caves.
  • For the building of the Buddha statue, the original idea was to use reinforced concrete. However, due to artistic requirements, structural problems as well as the anticipated difficulties in quality and cost control, bronze was finally chosen as the building material.
  • The Big Buddha is 34 m. (112 ft.) tall, weighs over 250 metric tons (280 short tons) and was constructed from 202 bronze pieces.
  • Reputedly the figure can be seen across the bay from as far away as Macau on a clear day.
  • In addition to its exterior components, there is a strong steel framework inside to support the heavy load.
  • Visitors have to climb 268 steps to reach the Buddha. However, to accommodate the handicapped, the site also features a small winding road for vehicles.
  • The Buddha’s raised right hand represents the removal of affliction while the left hand, resting open on his lap, is in a gesture of generosity.
  • The statue faces north, which is unique among the great Buddha statues, as all others face south.
  • One of the statue’s most renowned features inside is a relic of Gautama Buddha, consisting of some of his alleged cremated Only visitors who purchase an offering for the Buddha are allowed to see the relic, entering to leave it there.
  • On October 18, 1999, the Hong Kong Post Office issued a definitive issue of landmark stamps, of which the HK$2.50 value depicts The Big Buddha.
  • In 2000, the Big Buddha Statue was elected as the fourth of the 10 Engineering Wonders in Hong Kong (the others, all public works projects, are the Lantau Link, the Hong Kong International Airport Passenger Terminal and the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre Extension). Of the projects in the private sector, the Big Buddha Stature came as the first.
  • On May 22, 2012, it was also featured on the HK$3 value of the Five Festival set, this one celebrating the birth of Sakyamuni Buddha. The MTR corporation also issued a souvenir ticket featuring a photograph of the statue.

View of Lantau Island and South China Sea

There are three floors beneath the statue – Hall of the Universe, Hall of Benevolent Merit and Hall of Remembrance.   In the show room, there’s a huge carved bell, inscribed with images of Buddhas and designed to ring every 7 minutes, 108 (symbolizing the release of 108 kinds of human vexations) times a day.

View of Lantau Peak

Tian Tan Buddha: Ngong Ping Rd., Ngong PingLantau Island, Hong Kong. The Buddha (as well as Po Lin Monastery) are open daily, 10 AM to 5 PM. Access to the outside of the Buddha is free of charge, but there is an admission fee to go inside the Buddha.

How to Get There: Visitors can reach the site by bus or taxi, travelling first to Mui Wo (also known as “Silvermine Bay”) via ferry from the Outlying Islands piers in Central (pier No. 6) or to Tung Chung station via the MTR, or via the 25-min. Ngong Ping 360 gondola lift between Tung Chung and Ngong Ping. Visitors may then travel to and from the Buddha via the Mui Wo ↔ Ngong Ping (NLB No. 2) and Tung Chung ↔ Ngong Ping (NLB No. 23) bus routes.

Ngong Ping Village (Lantau Island, Hong Kong)

Ngong Ping Village.  In the background in Lantau Peak while on the right is the Tian Tan Buddha (Big Buddha)

The terminus of our 5.5-km. long Ngong Ping 360 cable car ride  was Ngong Ping Village (Chinese: 昂坪; pinyin: Ángpíng; Jyutping: ngong4 ping4), located on a highland in the western part of Lantau IslandHong Kong. Lantau Peak, the second highest peak of Hong Kong, is at its southeast.

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The arched entrance to Ngong Ping Village

When we arrived at the village, “360 Ultimate Masters Face-off: Shaolin vs Emei” kung fu show (running from September 29 to October 28) was ongoing.

360 Ultimate Masters Face-off

Featuring kung fu masters from Shaolin and Emei, they performed a marvelous mock up of a vigorous battle featuring three new weapons – the meteor hammer of Shaolin and the fans (an offensive and a defensive weapon) and long-tasselled sword (an aggressive but flexible weapon) of Emei.

Long-tasselled sword

The kung fu of Shaolin is said to be strong and powerful while Emei emphasizes softness and flexibility in their moves. Their battle is a fusion of Yin (Emei) and Yang(Shaolin).

Fans of the Emei

The fairly new Ngong Ping Village, created at the top of the Ngong Ping plateau, was opened in 2005 together with other facilities and tourist attractions that include the Walking with the Buddha (Stage 360), the Monkey’s Tale Theatre and Ngong Ping Tea House, all built to accommodate the influx of tourists now flocking to the Tian Tan Buddha (or Big Buddha) and the Ngong Ping Cable Car.

Monkey’s Tale Theater

This well appointed, 1.5-hectare open-air and culturally-themed village, built at along a “tourist corridor,” serves as the central point for the many highlights and tourist attractions in the area.

Blessing Drums

It has modern facilities, 6,000 sq. m. of shop space and an 18,600 sq. m. piazza between the cable car terminal and the Po Lin Monastery (a youth hostel is located near here), a quick 5-minute walk from the Village. A visit to the Tai O Fishing Village is a short 15-minute ride away from Ngong Ping Village.

Walking With Buddha Show Theater

This tourist trap is complete with a wide array of “themed” souvenir shops, tea houses as well as fast food outlets (Subway, Starbucks, etc.) offering both Western and Asian fare. Monkey’s Tale Theater and the Walking with Buddha Show are short 15-minute audio-visual, multimedia attractions that recount Buddha‘s legends and stories.  We chose to skip these shows and save on the extra ticket costs.

Monkey’s Tale Theater

It also serves as a transportation hub. The nearby Public Transport Interchange has bus lines and taxis for easily getting around to other parts of Lantau.

For visitors who expect to see something more “genuine” and less “commercialized,” it is, by no means, an “old village.” Though built in the old traditional Chinese architectural designs to mirror and uphold the cultural and spiritual veracity of the Ngong Ping area, it has somewhat of a theme park atmosphere and this is what disappoints some visitors. Unless you need to eat (we had a late lunch here), this was an attraction not particularly worth spending time at.

Ngong Ping Village: 111 Ngong Ping Rd, Lantau Island, Hong Kong.cChinese New Year, Christmas and the three days of Buddha’s birthday are among the most crowded days.

How to Get There:  Ngong Ping Village is connected, via the Ngong Ping Cable Car, to the Tung Chung lower terminal which is linked via the Tung Chung Station MTR to the rest of Hong Kong.

 

Hong Kong Cultural Centre (Hong Kong)

Hong Kong Cultural Center

The Hong Kong Cultural Centre (Chinese: 香港文化中心), a multipurpose performance facility, is one of the most iconic cultural buildings in the city.  Together with the adjacent historic historic Clock Tower,  they are tourist favorites for grabbing photos of Victoria Harbor.

The center is located on the southwestern tip of Tsim Sha Tsui, on the former location of the Kowloon Station of the Kowloon-Canton Railway. Adjacent to the centre on the west is the Tsim Sha Tsui Ferry Pier of the Star Ferry, while to the east are the Hong Kong Space Museum and Hong Kong Museum of Art.

Check out “Hong Kong Space Museum

Built and operated by the former Urban Council , its construction was started in 1986 and the venue was officially opened on November 8, 1989, in a ceremony officiated by Charles, Prince of Wales and Princess Diana who unveiled a commemorative plaque.

Auditoria Building

The center opened with the International Celebration of the Arts, a special program that ran from November 5 to December 6.  The program showcased Hong Kong musicians, Kunju opera, Cantonese music and performances by a range of international artists including the Cologne Opera, the Alban Berg QuartettSadao Watanabe, and the first Hong Kong appearance of guitarist John Williams.

Studio Theatre

Since 2000, it has been administered by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department of the Hong Kong Government.  Today, this curved and concave shaped building is the go-to venue for a wide variety of cultural performances such as international touring theatre shows, world-class concerts, opera and performances. The trademark beige bricks of the building also make it a popular background for wedding photo shoots.

The 2,019-seat Concert Hall, the home of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, is an oval two-tiered auditorium.  The acoustics in the Concert Hall are often praised for elevating any musical performances thanks to its high quality oak panels and ceiling.

It includes an adjustable acoustic canopy and curtains and houses an 8,000-pipe, 93-stop pipe organ, the largest mechanical tracker action organ in Asia.  Built by Austrian firm Rieger Orgelbau at the cost of $10 million, it was installed from August to November in 1989.  It has been recorded by Christopher Herrick on Organ Fireworks VIII.

The Grand Theatre, designed for large scale opera, ballet, and musicals, has 1,734 seats in three tiers. The annual Hong Kong Film Award presentation ceremony also takes place there. The Studio Theatre, with 300 to 496 seats (depending upon the set-up), can accommodate smaller-scale theatre and performance works.  The center also has an Exhibition Gallery, 4 foyer exhibition areas and 11 rehearsal and practice rooms.

Hong Kong Cultural Centre: L5, Auditoria Building, 10 Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, Hong Kong. Tel: +852 2734 2009. Website: www.lcsd.gov.hk.

How to Get There: The centre is adjacent to the Star Ferry Pier (you can also take the Star Ferry from Central or Wan Chai to Tsim Sha Tsui and walk to the centre) and the Star Ferry bus terminus served by Kowloon Motor Bus. It is also within walking distance to Tsim Sha Tsui Station (Exit E) and East Tsim Sha Tsui Station (Exit L6 or J), which serve the Tsuen Wan Line and West Rail Line respectively.

 

Heritage of Cebu Monument (Cebu City, Cebu)

Heritage of Cebu Monument

The Heritage of Cebu Monument, a visually and contextually interesting tableau of concrete, bronze, brass and steel sculptures in the historic Parian District, shows scenes of significant and symbolic events in the history of Cebu back from the time of Rajah Humabon to the recent beatification of the Cebuano martyr, Pedro Calungsod.

Battle of Mactan

It was built on the site of the St. John the Baptist Church which was demolished in 1875 by the diocese of Cebu.  This work of art stands on a traffic circle, with narrow streets flanking the sides. Across the street is the Yap-Sandiego Ancestral House.

Check out “Yap-Sandiego Ancestral House

Galleon Trade

The late, multi-awarded Cebuano sculptor Eduardo Castrillo designed and conceptualized the monument and, with the late Senator Marcelo Fernan, together with donations from other private individuals and organizations, funded the construction of the monument.

Plaque

Construction began in July 1997 and, after three years, the monument was inaugurated on December 8, 2000.

Magellan’s Cross

The structures carved into the huge monolith are the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño, the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral, the St. John the Baptist Church, the Magellan’s Cross, and a Spanish Galleon while scenes depicted are the baptism of Rajah Humabon and his followers to Christianity, the local revolution against the Spanish rule, a procession of the Santo Niño, a Roman Catholic mass, and the April 21, 1521 Battle of Mactan between Lapu-Lapu and Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan. The persons depicted in the monument include the late president Sergio Osmena Sr. and St. Pedro Calungsod.

Spanish Galleon

Heritage of Cebu Monument: Sikatuna St., Plaza Parian, Cebu City, Cebu.

How to Get There: Jeepneys along Colon Street, with the signboard showing “SM” and “Pier,” pass by the monument. You may also take a taxicab as most drivers are familiar with the place. From Ayala Center or SM, it is a 15-20 min. taxi ride.

Nakamise-Dori (Tokyo, Japan)

Nakamise-Dori

After our visit to Senso-ji Temple, we proceeded to the approximately 250 m. (880-ft.) long Nakamise-dōri (仲見世通り), the best place in Tokyo to buy souvenirs.  One of Japan’s oldest streets, this shopping street leads, from the gorgeous Kaminarimon (“Thunder Gate”), to Sensō-ji temple itself.  Items sold here range from outrageously cheesy items to authentic and useful souvenirs.  For centuries, Japanese pilgrims and tourists who visit Sensō-ji every year flock here to shop at its small stores.   This stone-paved pedestrian street, retaining the feeling of old downtown Edo and the cultural florescence of the Meiji era, started during the Genroku and Tempo periods of the Edo era when horse carriage operators were granted the right to set up shops next to the east side of Niomon as compensation for cleaning the temple compound through forced labor.

Shops near the Kaminarimon Gate of Senso-ji Temple

In the early 18th century, Nakamise-dōri (translated as “inside street”) was said to have come about when neighbors of Sensō-ji were granted permission to set up shops on the approach to the temple. However, on May 1885, the government of Tokyo ordered all shop owners to leave but, on December of that same year, the area was reconstructed in Western-style brick. During the 1923 Great Kantō earthquake, many of the shops were destroyed.  In 1925, the shops were rebuilt using concrete, only to be destroyed again during the bombings of World War II.

The surrounding area had around 89 small traditional shops, many of them run by the same family for many generations.  I admired the shutters painted with different seasonal vistas. Stores sold traditional Japanese items such as chopsticks, yukatageta, wooden combs, maneki neko cat statuettes (a traditional good luck charm), hair accessories, elegant fans of all colors and sizes; handmade umbrellas; geta (traditional footwear), masks, folding fans, ukiyo-e (woodblock prints); kimono and other robes; samurai swords; and Buddhist scrolls.  You can also shop here for Godzilla toys, t-shirts and mobile phone straps. The shops at both sides of the last stretch near the temple sell official Senso-ji merchandise – omamori amulets, scrolls, incense to burn at the huge burner in front of the temple’s stairs, books about the temple (in Japanese) and o-mikuji fortunes.

 

Nakamise-Dori is a good place for visitors to try tabearuki (“walk-and-eat”) and enjoy Japanese street food such as tempting traditional kibi dango (sweet and soft rice cakes in a stick covered with millet flour), oden, (a winter snack), imo yokan (sweet potato jelly), odango (a sweet snack), kaminari okoshi (sweet puff rice crackers), colorful candies sold in beautiful traditional patterned cases; ningyo yaki (little sponge cakes filled with red bean paste and shaped like dolls, birds and the famous Kaminarimon, Asakusa’s symbolic lantern), deep-fried manju (a bun stuffed with red-bean paste), kibidango (a millet dumpling), freshly toasted sembei crackers, juicy fried meat croquettes, sweet melon pan bread, cooling matcha green tea ice cream and other green tea-flavored treats.

Trying out vanilla ice cream in a melonpan at Asakusa Sakura

Vanilla ice cream in a melonpan bun

There are also eating places that feature traditional dishes (hand-made noodles, sushi, tempura, etc.). For lunch, we dined at Tatsumiya Restaurant. Here, we were seated in a traditional Japanese setting – no shoes and on low tables with mats.

Check out “Restaurant Review: Tatsumiya Asakusa

Dining, Japanese style, at Tatsumiya Restaurant

During the holidays, the arcade is decorated with seasonal trappings – silk plum blossoms and kites during New Year’s Day, bright foliage during fall and cherry blossoms in spring. Running perpendicular to Nakamise-Dori is Shin-Nakamise (“New Nakamise”), a covered shopping arcade lined by various shops and restaurants.

Shin-Nakamise (New Nakamise)

Nakamise-Dori: 1 Asakusa, Taitō-ku, Tokyo, Japan. Open daily, typically from 10 AM to 7 PM but hours depend on the individual shops.

How to Get There: Nakamise-Dori, a 2 minute walk from Asakusa Station, is served by the Tokyo Metro Ginza Line, Toei Asakusa Line and Tobu railway lines. It is also a 10-min. walk from Tawaramachi Station on the Ginza Line. Take A3~A5 exit for Nakamise. This shopping street is traditionally approached via the Thunder Gate.

 

Asakusa Shrine (Tokyo, Japan)

Torii (Japanese gate) leading to Akasusa Shrine

The Asakusa Shrine (浅草神社 Asakusa-jinja), one of the most famous Shinto shrines in the city, is also known as Sansha-sama (Shrine of the Three gods, san means “three” and sama means “shrine”). The shrine. popular among the public, stands only a few dozen meters to the left of the main hall on the east side of Sensō-ji Temple, down a street marked by a large stone torii.

Akasusa Shrine

Part of a larger grouping of sacred buildings in the area, the shrine honors the three men who founded the Sensō-ji. According to legend, on May 17, 628, two fishermen brothers, named Hinokuma Hamanari and Hinokuma Takenari, picked up a bosatsu Kannon statuette of Sensoji Temple caught in a fishing-net in the Sumida River.  Hajino Nakatomo, the third man, was a wealthy landlord who, upon hearing about the discovery, approached the brothers.

Shrine Pavilion

He delivered an impassioned sermon about the Buddha to the brothers who were very impressed and subsequently converted to the Buddhist religion and devoted their lives to preaching the way of Buddhism. Nakatomo consecrated the Kannon statue in a small temple. These three men are worshiped here as Sanja Gongen.

The shrine, commissioned by Tokugawa Iemitsu, the third shogun of the Tokugawa dynasty, was built in 1649 during the Edo Period.  It was integrated with Sensoji Temple until the Edo period.  However, when the Gods and Buddha separation ordinance was promulgated in the Meiji period, it was separated from Sensoji and renamed Asakusa Shrine. Its beautiful, vermillon-lacquered shrine pavilion was built in the same style as the Nikko Toshogu, in the gongen-zukuri style of Shinto architecture.

Statue of Lion-Dog (Kumainu)

Unlike many other structures in the area, including the Sensō-ji Temple, the shrine, along with the Nitenmon Gate, where the only two buildings in the area to survived the  World War II Tokyo air raids of 1945.  In 1951, because of this rich and long history, both were designated as an Important Cultural Property by the Japanese Government.

Nitenmon Gate

The Niten-mon Gate, located to the east of the main hall and to the right of Asakusa Shrine, was erected in 1618 (the current gate was said to have been rebuilt in 1649) as a shrine gate, with statues of Toyoiwamado no Mikoto and Kushiiwamado no Mikoto placed on either side.

Ablution Fountain

The gate was left standing after the deity enshrined in Toshogu was moved to Koyozan, inside of Edo Castle. After the separation of the Buddhist and Shinto religions during the Meiji Restoration, Shinto deities were removed to Asakusa Shrine. In their place, a statue of Tatenmon was enshrined, but this has subsequently been lost. This massive, 8.13 m. wide (at the beam) structure has 8 pillars and was built in the mitsumune zukuri style with a tiled roof in built in the kiritzuma zukuri style.

Prayer Wall

The shrine‘s annual,  popular Sanja Matsuri festival, one of the Three Great Festivals of Edo (the old name of Tokyo), is held in late spring for 3 days (Friday to Sunday) every third weekend of May. which takes place over 3–4 days .  During the festival, the surrounding streets are closed to traffic, from dawn until late evening.  Well known for the “soul swing,” the festival vividly demonstrates the traditional Edo style, depicted in the old saying “fights and fireworks are Edo’s flowers.” During the festival, portable shrines called mikoshi are wildly swung around in a wild parade, reaching a climax when three mikoshi called ichi-no-miya, ni-no-miya and san-no-miya leave and return to Asakusa Shrine.  The procession includes 120 mikoshi from a total of 44 parishioner associations affiliated with Asakusa Shrine, making it Tokyo’s most spectacular festival.

A mikoshi (portable shrine) on display at Asakusa Station

Asakusa Shrine: 2-26-1, AsakusaTaitō-ku, Tokyo 111-0032, Japan. Tel: 03-3844-1575.  Website: www.asakusajinja.jp/english/

How to Get There:  The shrine is a 7-min. walk from Asakusa Station (Toei Asakusa Line, Tokyo Metro Ginza Line, Tobu Isesaki Line, Tsukuba Express.

Meiji Jingu Shrine (Tokyo, Japan)

The Meiji Jingu Shrine

As we delved deeper into Yoyogi Park, we soon came across the entrance to the Meiji Shrine. Located directly in front of the entrance to the shrine was the temizuya (font), a cleansing station where visitors used wooden ladles to spiritually cleanse themselves by pouring water over their hands (left before right) and rinse mouths with their left hand.

The temizuya (hand wash pavilion)

The Meiji Shrine (明治神宮 Meiji Jingū), the largest and one of the Japan’s most popular Shinto shrines, is dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji (the shrine, however, does not contain the emperor’s grave, which is located at Fushimi-momoyama, south of Kyoto) and his wife and consort, Empress Shōken.

Torii (Japanese gate) at the entrance of the Meiji Jingu Shrine.  Devotees usually bow once here upon entering and exiting the shrine.

After the emperor’s death in 1912, the Japanese Diet passed a resolution to commemorate his role in the Meiji Restoration, choosing an iris garden, in an area of Tokyo where Emperor Meiji and Empress Shōken had been known to visit, as the building’s location. The building of the shrine, a national project, mobilized youth groups and other civic associations from throughout Japan, who contributed labor and funding. In 1915, construction began under Itō Chūta.

The Minami-Shinmon Gate

The shrine, built in the traditional nagare-zukuri style, primarily uses Japanese cypress and copper. On November 1, 1920, eight years after the passing of the emperor and six years after the passing of the empress, it was formally dedicated and completed in 1921.  Its grounds were officially finished by 1926. Until 1946, the Meiji Shrine was officially designated one of the Kanpei-taisha (官幣大社), meaning that it stood in the first rank of government supported shrines.

The author at Minami-Shinmon Gate

During the Tokyo air raids of World War II, the original building was destroyed and the present iteration of the shrine was funded through a public fund raising effort and completed in October 1958. The shrine has been visited by numerous foreign politicians, including U.S. Pres. George W. Bush, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.

Kyle, Grace and Jandy in front of the Honden (Main Hall)

The entrance to the shrine complex, marked by a massive torii gate (one of the largest in Japan) in the Myojin style, constructed from a more than 1,500 year old hinoki (Japanese cypress from Taiwan), leads through the Jingu Bashi bridge. Upon entry into the shrine grounds, the sights and sounds of the busy city are replaced by a tranquil forest and Meiji Jingu’s buildings, at the middle of the forest, that have an air of tranquility distinct from the surrounding city.

A lady worshiper praying at the Main Hall. In front of her is an offertory box where coins are dropped

Visitors to the shrine can take part in typical Shinto activities – making offerings at the main hall, buying charms and amulets, writing out one’s wish on an ema (piece of paper) and tying them on a prayer wall, etc. On the first days of the New Year, Japanese usually visit a Shinto shrine to prepare for the Hatsumōde (初詣), the year’s first prayers, and the shrine is the most popular location in Tokyo for this, regularly welcoming more than three million visitors. During the rest of the year, traditional Shinto weddings can often be seen taking place there.

Visitors shopping for omamori (lucky charms, talismans and amulets for all kinds of occasions) or ofuda (emblems bearing the name of the shrine or enshrined deities distributed by the shrine)

The shrine itself is composed of two major areas – the Naien and the Gaien. The Naien, the inner precinct, is centered on the shrine buildings, dating from 1958. The buildings, all great example of Japanese Shinto architecture, are made from Japanese cypress wood from the Kiso region of Nagano (regarded as the best in Japan) with green cooper plates used for the roofs.

Interior of the main hall

It consists of the honden (The Main Hall, the main shrine building proper and the innermost sanctuary of the shrine), noritoden (The Prayer Recital Hall where Shinto liturgy is recited), naihaiden (The Inner Shrine Hall), gehaiden (The Outer Shrine Hall), shinsenjo (the consecrated kitchen for the preparation of the food offerings) and shinko (The Treasure House).

A prayer wall where ema are hung on hooks. An ema is a wooden tablet, obtained at the juyosho (amulet offices), where wishes are written.  There are two main types of ema – Kigan-Ema (bear the crest of the shrine on their front and the word Kigan on their back) and the Eto-Ema (depicting this year’s Eto  or zodiac).

The Treasure House, at the northern end of the shrine grounds, was built in the Azekurazukuri style one year after the shrine was opened.  It displays many interesting personal belongings of the Emperor and Empress, including the carriage which the emperor rode to the formal declaration of the Meiji Constitution in 1889. The Museum Annex Building, just to the east of the main shrine buildings, displays temporary exhibitions.

Kaguraden (Hall of Shinto Music and Dance). Goshuin (Meiji Jingu Memorial Seal), to remind you of your visit to Meiji Jingu,  are stamped and hand-painted here.

The quite beautiful, simple and classic Minami-shin Mon, the main shrine gate to the inner precinct, was built in 1921.  Made entirely of Japanese cypress, it has a copper plate roof. You reach it upon passing the final myojin torii gate. This gate and one of the amulet offices (shukueisha) were the only constructions in Meiji Shrine not destroyed by the World War II raids.

The reception and registration area of the Kaguraden Hall

The Kaguraden (Hall of Shinto Music and Dance), built to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the establishment of Meiji Jingu, was started in 1990 and completed in October 1993. This 3-storey building (one floor is above the ground and the other two floors below ground level) follows the traditional Irimoya-Nagarezukuri architectural style The front entrance, with the reception and registration area, is slightly below ground level. One flight of stairs leads down, and another flight of stairs leads up to the waiting area and the hall for ceremonies.

The Gaien, the outer precinct, includes the Meiji Memorial Picture Gallery (housing a collection of 80 large murals illustrative of the events in the lives of the Emperor and his consort); a variety of sports facilities, including the National Stadium (Meiji Jingu Gaien Stadium and later, since 1956, on the same site, Tokyo Olympic Stadium); the Meiji Kinenkan (Meiji Memorial Hall).  The latter, originally used for governmental meetings (including discussions surrounding the drafting of the Meiji Constitution in the late 19th century), is now used for Shinto weddings as well as meeting rooms for rent and restaurants services.

The Meiji-jingu Gyoen (Inner Garden), a large area of the southern section of the shrine grounds, becomes particularly popular during the middle of June when the beautiful irises here are in bloom. Kiyomasa’s Well, a small well located within the garden visited by the Emperor and Empress while they were alive, was named after a military commander who dug it around 400 years ago. The well has become a popular spiritual “power spot.”

Meiji Shrine: 1-1, Kamizono-chō, YoyogiShibuya-kuTokyo 151-0053.  Open daily, from sunrise to sunset.  Admission to the shrine precinct is free. The Inner Garden, open from 9 AM to 5 PM, requires an entrance fee of JP¥500 to enter.

How to Get There: From JR Tokyo Station, get on the Yamanote Line and get off at the busy Harajuku Station on the JR Yamanote Line or Meiji-jingu-mae Station on the Chiyoda and Fukutoshin Subway Lines. It is about a 25 minute train ride. The approach to Meiji Shrine starts a few steps from Harajuku Station.  The main complex of shrine buildings is a 10-min. walk from both the southern entrance near Harajuku Station and the northern entrance near Yoyogi Station.

The Kabuki-sa (Tokyo, Japan)

Kabuki-za (Kabuki Theater)

The fifth building on the site, it was first built as a wooden structure in 1889 but this was destroyed by an electrical fire on October 30, 1921.  Reconstruction began in 1922 but had not been completed when it again burned down during the 1923 Great Kantō earthquake.

Rebuilding was finally completed in 1924. Destroyed once again by the 1945 Allied bombing during World War II, the theater was restored in 1950, preserving the style of 1924 reconstruction.  It was, until recently, one of Tokyo’s more dramatic and traditional buildings.

The author

In the spring of 2010, the 1950 structure was demolished, due to concerns over the building’s ability to survive earthquakes as well as accessibility issues, and rebuilt over the ensuing three years. The new theater complex was opened on March 28, 2013 and staged its first performances on April 2, 2013.

Grace and Jandy

The new structure, designed by Japanese architect  Kengo Kuma (whose works include Tokyo’s Suntory Museum of Art and the Nezu Museum), kept the style of the 1924 structure which was in the Wafu-Momoyama style (with its signature extravagant façade), an ornate Baroque Japanese Revivalist style meant to evoke the architectural details of Japanese castles as well as temples of pre-Edo period.

The Kabuki-sa Tower looming over the theater facade

While the theater still looks much the same as in 1924, it now has the attached 29-floor Kabukiza Tower office block looming over it. The office building’s fifth floor gallery displays Kabuki costumes and props that have been used in actual performances as well as other culture-related exhibitions.

The theater’s ticket booth

The theater, consisting of three floors, has 1,808 seats, three height-adjustable stages, of varying sizes, as well as an even larger height-adjustable stage and a new revolving stage. Performances are held most days of the month.  If you aren’t sure about committing to an entire show, you can purchase single-act tickets (Hitomaku-mi) for  ¥1,000-¥2,000.

Kabukiza Theater: 4 Chome-12-15 Ginza, Chūō, Tokyo 104-0061, Japan. Tel: 03-3545-6800.  Website: www.kabuki-bito.jp.

How to Get There: The theater is a short walk from Higashi-Ginza Station Exit 3 on the Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line or the Toei Subway Asakusa Line.

Church of St. Isidore the Farmer (Labrador, Pangasinan)

Church of St. Isidore the Farmer

The town’s first church and convent, built with wood, was started in 1771 by Fr. Domingo de San Joaquin and finished in 1776. By 1865, after renovations, it measured 57.4 m. in length and 16.5 m. in width. In 1952, the church underwent repairs of World War II damage.

The church’s interior

AUTHOR’S NOTES

The church’s single level, Baroque facade, topped by a plain triangular pediment, has a semicircular arched main entrance flanked by massive square pilasters topped by urn-like finials, and semicircular arched windows.

Above the entrance is a small niche with the statue of St. Isidore the Farmer flanked by semicircular arched windows.  The square bell tower, on the church’s left, is probably a modern addition.

The main altar and retablo

Church of St. Isidore the Farmer: Lingayen-Labrador Road, Poblacion, Labrador 2402. Tel: (075) 549-5055. Feast of St. Isidore the Farmer: May 15.

How to Get There: Labrador is located 359 kms. from Manila.  Within the province, it is located 12.6 kms. from Lingayen, 10.5 kms. from Bugallon and 7.3 kms. from Sual.