The Grand Gates

It was not long ago, perhaps 8 or 9 years ago that I saw images of a place that appeared to be different. Not quite unworldly, but even through this set of images being shown somehow spoke to me in a strange way – difficult to put into words. It spoke of peace. It told me that the simplest things are often the most rewarding, void of too much going on in our often chaotic scenes we see in everyday life and this was had by just a few photographs!

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Entrance

The scene is simple. Simple structures with just 2 colors – orange and black set amongst a sea of green. Was this a carefully planned use of the ancient primary/complementary color  scheme or just a random selection? I tend to guess the latter as zen-like properties likely played an influential role when constructed some time in the mid-900’s … yes, that was 900, not 1900. Now, I’m sure its gone through several iterations over the centuries, but the basic idea was there … in fact, it is said that the earliest structures started showing up around the early 700’s! Location? Inariyama Hill in present day Kyoto, Japan.

Today, Fushimi Inari-taisha plays host to thousands upon thousands of Torii Gates. Torii Gates you ask? That’s what I asked those years back when I first saw them. Typically found at the entrance of Shinto-shrines that signify the same (as opposed to a Buddhist shrine). It’s origins are unknown, but thought to be Japanese versions of like gate entrances found all throughout Asia (China, SE Asia, India, etc.). Here at Fushimi Inari, special homage is paid to the Fox. Seen as messengers to the Gods of Rice. Rice is believed to bring prosperity. Today, these grand Torii gates are donated by local Japanese businesses to bring good fortune and prosperity to their respective businesses. Each gate is inscribed (in both Kanji and some roman lettering) by their benefactor. Kanji, which is largely derived from Chinese characters look authentic – even if you can’t read what it says (when in reality it’s just stating the company name and such), but amongst this sea of characters, you see a recognizable grouping of letters like the The Toyota Group – it kinda’ ruins it for me!

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Even blurred, it gives a sense of peaceful calm.

On the day I visited, it was after spending most of the day out west in peaceful Arishiyama. Wanting to experience Fushimi Inari before the heavy rains (forecasted for the next day), I decided to get a jump on the weather. Upon alighting the train station by the same name, it puts you right across the street from the entrance for easy access. Arriving around 3:30pm upward into the shrine area it was. As expected, it was crowded. Testing both patience and creative angles to obtain shots sans people was a constant challenge, but it was all a part of the experience as I’ll soon, and unexpectedly, understand … climbing, pausing, waiting for opportune moments of distance between others, it became apparent that nightfall was fast descending. As such, the crowds began to dissipate as well giving me more unobstructed photo ops of the gates. As my unplanned (now) evening visit gave rise to another challenge. Lighting – or lack thereof, that is … and no tripod on hand to help steady the camera. That’s like trying to paddle upstream in a boat without a paddle – it’s virtually impossible without using what you’ve got with you.

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Dream-like

So, as the sun began to set quickly, the sparse trail lighting helping a bit, up goes the ISO in the camera. Then, finding what’s available to lean up against while settling for the best camera setting combinations to allow a chance at getting sharp images. Even controlled breathing techniques were employed. With every section ascent, a map was given to us telling your position on the mountain. When it seemed that you’ve made good distance progress, the map showed differently – barely any. Upwards and onwards … as near complete darkness set in, it was apparent completing the loop wasn’t going to happen on this visit. Finally resolved to turning back, completely void of people at this point, scaling down the hill soon turned into questioning familiar surroundings. Even in the darkness, things didn’t look familiar … and they weren’t. Onward. Nothing recognizable. Pause. Then thinking … oh crap what now? The only reference was peering over a set of low trees to see the city below. Heading towards the city is a good bet, where it’ll end up is certainly better than going the other way – which way that was? I didn’t know.

Soon caught up with another wayward solo visitor who apparently did the same. I thought … go it alone (aka backtrack my unsure steps) or stay together? I (we) did the latter figuring getting lost in greater numbers was probably better than smaller ones. Torii gates no more as we entered into a residential area until about 10 minutes time hitting the main street near the train station. Phew.

Cool part: less people, evening presence

Not so cool part: not knowing where the #$ll you were. No tripod.

Lemonade out of lemons.

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