Scotland: sunsets and other wonderful things

Living is a wonderful thing.

A couple of months back, in the short space of four days, I was able to rekindle that warm, soulful realisation.

With friends, I travelled to one of the many western peninsulas of Scotland, to a small cottage overlooking Loch Sween: a narrow stretch of water outlining several inlets. There was a jetty; from the rocks there I watched the tide come in, and absorbed the painted, raging colours of the ephemeral sunsets that soon enough, faded away into a deep midnight blue. Before the light faded each evening, for what seemed like a fleeting moment, everything in view was etched with a delicate, golden lining of light. Everything in those moments was still.

We swam in the freezing cold sea, saw seals, went on long walks in wellington boots, laughed in the rain, found an abandoned boat shed hidden in the overgrown verdure of early summer, ran and stumbled on rocks, saw the mountains of Jura (the island where Orwell wrote 1984!), got left on an island travelled to by boat; it was pure wonder, and I would not have changed any of it for the world. And for that, I am most grateful.

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All photos were taken with my trusty Nikon D7000

 

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Houkokuji Temple: Princess Kaguya

In my last post, I introduced some recommended temples, shrines and tourist attractions in Kamakura (which if you’d like to read, you can here!). I mentioned that Houkokuji Temple was quite special to me, and this is why.

The following would probably be best described as an anecdote which I can’t quite seem to shake off.


 

I can’t help but think after precious moments like these that, some things are meant to remain in our memories for a very long time.

My friend and I had just finished taking photographs in the small bamboo grove that we planned to circle for the second time (because, well, we couldn’t get enough of its beauty). I slung my camera on my left shoulder along with my unnecessarily heavy rucksack which I seriously regretted bringing with me that day, and we began to walk back towards the entrance to the small wood.

As I looked towards the light streaming past the bamboo canes, I lowered my gaze to the shaded area which the bamboo trees began, when something small and pink caught my eye. It was a girl. She was probably about three, and had somehow managed to wander into the forest alone.

It wasn’t long before her seemingly angry parents noticed and called for her to return to them, but in those few moments I was overflown with such nostalgia that I couldn’t help but be fixated.

Flashes of pictures from Studio Ghibli’s 「かぐや姫の物語 」(Kaguya-hime no Monogatari) appeared in my mind; beautiful streaks of watercolour and traditional Japanese-inspired brushstrokes. The scene before me was stripped into a simple drawing with dashes of green and the girl’s pink figure was replaced by the similar-looking main character, Kaguya-hime, as a child.

e7a2b1b8481d7edc6583df5febf2210cKaguya-hime no Monogatari, meaning The Story of Princess Kaguya (also known as The Legend of the Bamboo Cutter), is an extremely well-known legendary folk tale in Japan, which is also considered to be the oldest known Japanese prose narrative. Studio Ghibli presents the story a little differently to the original, but it is wonderful.

Centred around Kaguya-hime, the mysterious protagonist who was found by a bamboo cutter in a glowing bamboo stalk, her life quickly unfolds in a series of wonderfully illustrated scenes. She encounters love, but also sadness; the narrative is compelling, with many implicit denotations that possess such rawness and beauty. There’s just no way my explanation can do the story or movie justice! If you haven’t seen it already, please do.

The music is also so beautiful, just like every other Studio Ghibli movie. Here‘s a link to the theme song, 「命の記憶」(Inochi no Kioku), directly translated as ‘Memories of life’.

When I saw the girl, after the scene had transformed into a series of watercolour illustrations, this music started playing in my head. And I just can’t seem to forget it.

Kamakura: Travel

Recently, I travelled to Kamakura, which is situated a short distance from Tokyo. From Tokyo it can be reached by the Yokosuka line, and from Shinagawa Station it takes around 50 minutes to reach, costing roughly 920 yen.  More travel information can be found on this website!

For those of you who are interested in staying for a longer period of time there, I was recommended that you get one of the day bus/train tickets that are available to purchase. You can travel to Enoshima, located west of Kamakura which is especially beautiful in the summer season.

Some brief information about the various passes:

  • Kamakura-Enoshima Pass (adults: 700 yen , children: 350 yen)

The pass allows unlimited rides in the Kamakura/Enoshima area on JR, Enoshima Electric Railway and the Shonan Monorail for one day. They can be purchased at a JR ticket office at Ofuna, Fujisawa, Kamakura or Kita-Kamakura Station. More information can be found here.

  • Enoshima-Kamakura Freepass (fees dependent on where the ticket is bought. e.g. from Shinjuku, adults: 1,470 yen, children: 740 yen)

The round trip has to be done by Odakyu Railways. Odakyu’s main station in Tokyo is Shinjuku Station. The free pass can also be bought for usage from other Odakyu Railway stations. Valid for one day, it allows you unlimited stopovers within a specified area. You can also receive discounts, even gifts (Hase Temple) at various places including the Kamakura City Kawakita Film Museum, the Enoshima Lighthouse Observation Tower and much much more! More information can be found here.

  • Kamakura・Enoshima Afternoon Pass (1000 yen)

This pass can only be used after 13:00. It comes with tickets for Enoshima Samuel・Cocking Botanical Garden and Sea Candle, and some other coupons which you can use in Enoshima. More information can be found here (I’m afraid I could only find this website in Japanese!)

More information about all the passes above can be found here.

Things to consider before going:

  • Kamakura may seem small, but there are so many things to see! I would advise you to plan out a route before heading there. This website is particularly useful with recommended model courses! If you happen to get there and don’t have a plan, there are very helpful volunteers outside Kamakura’s main station who can help. When my friend and I visited, they helped us to form a route and provided us with some helpful information packs and a map.
  • If you would like to learn more about the culture and true meaning of Kamakura, you can participate in a free guided tour of Kamakura, held by volunteers of the Kamakura welcome Guide Association. There is a regular Friday tour and also those which can be booked. The tour guides speak mainly Japanese and English, but there are a number of other languages that can be spoken. Although they are free, you are expected to pay for food, travel etc. More information can be found on their website.
  • If you happen to be vegetarian/vegan, food could be difficult to find, so I would recommend packing some lunch (who doesn’t love a good convenience store onigiri?) However, if you don’t mind planning your route around food (whihc most Japanese people do), here is a list of vegetarian/vegan restaurants there!
  • Is it worth lugging your camera all the wa— Yes. Just do it.

Must-sees…

  • The Great Buddha of Kamakura (鎌倉大仏, Kamakura Daibutsu)

Just reopened from refurbishment on March 10 2016, this is a must-see. It is a bronze statue of Amida Buddha, located on the grounds of Kotokuin Temple. With a height of 13.35 meters, it is the second tallest bronze Buddha statue in Japan, surpassed only by the statue in Nara’s Todaiji Temple. (Entrance fee: 200 yen)

  • Hasedera Temple (長谷寺)

Beautiful in all seasons, this is a traditional temple of the Jodo sect most renowned for the statue of Kannon, the goddess of mercy. Hasedera is located a five minute walk from Hase Station, the third station from Kamakura along the Enoden railway line. (Entrance fee: 300 yen)

  • Tsurugaoka Hachimangu (鶴岡八幡宮)

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As Kamakura’s most important shrine, this is also a must-see. The shrine is dedicated to Hachiman, the patron god of the Minamoto family and of the samurai in general. It is a short walk from Kamakura’s central station.

  • Hokokuji Temple (報国寺)

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My personal favourite shrine! Also known as ‘The Bamboo Temple’, Hokokuji Temple has a beautiful bamboo grove which you can enter for a small fee. It has a stone path which guides you through a small forest of roughly 2000 bamboo stalks.There is also a small tea house you can drink matcha tea in for a small price and enjoy the beautiful surrounding views.

I’ll write more of my thoughts in a future post, as this temple was very special to me.


 

For more information on good places to go, visit this amazing website. It’ll tell you everything you need to know about each of the sights in Kamakura.

I’ll be posting more on some of my favourite places in Kamakura soon. I hope you enjoyed this post, and thank you for reading!

All photos taken by me. Nikon D7000.

Drawings of my Secret Garden

 

Olive trees and lemon trees were painted across a rustic landscape as I made my way to the secret garden. As I drove, the summer-coloured fruits of the many thousands of fruit-bearing trees streamed past my vision, like vivid dashes of watercolour on the pages of my sketchbook.

I really miss those views. Sometimes, I think that all I have left of them are old pictures and the paintings in my crumbled notebook that I took with me so often upon visiting.

When we arrived, I sat in my usual spot: under the aged, now withering grand olive tree. He had looked over me for almost two decades growing up. I dug out my sketchbook and started, as I always did.

I can never quite forget my last glimpse at him. There was a sense of betrayal. His impenetrable resistance to my attempt of conciliating his anger pained me.

As time went by, I had produced pages filled with oblong leaves, dotted with its ovular fruits. Splashes of rich green and yellow hues, and flecks of gold coalesced to create its form.

I one day wish to return there, to my secret garden. But for now, I will relive those moments through my drawings.

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Mediums used: watercolour, pencil

Reading Khaled Hosseini’s ‘And the Mountains Echoed’, I was reminded of the symbol of my childhood – my olive tree. It rests in my old countryside home in Sicily, and I wish to draw it once more.


 “Out beyond ideas
of wrongdoing and right doing,
there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.” -Rumi

 

Travel Memoirs

I found myself rummaging through one of my mom’s old boxes, when I came across some of her travel memoirs from two decades back. Packed in a grey, dull looking box, I initially put it aside. I eventually opened it, and I found photographs. They were in the form of slide pictures – the kind that are inserted into a projector, so they can be displayed for the world to see.

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_DSC3730They were beautiful; a hundred photographs from the unknown land of Petra, Jordan – a place I long to visit. Rustic, sandy and arid colours were exposed, with a wave of reticence. These photos were concealed away in the depths of her memories. I sat qualmishly for a moment, hesitant, wondering whether I should have seen these pictures of her travel memoirs.

That's me. I'm marvelling at one of my favourite photographs.
That’s me. I’m marvelling at one of my favourite photographs.

_DSC3627I don’t think my photographs or words will do them justice, but here are some of my favourites with a collection of my thoughts.

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A portrait of a boy. A nameless boy, lost in the abyss of oblivion in my mom’s memory. “I wonder where he is now; what he looks like, how he is…” she says as we stare at the small image together. I wonder the same. And that’s what I write in my journal. I wonder if this is how fictitious characters are created: from lost memories and a portrait. Bringing back to life what once was lost, perhaps. His gaze tore straight into my heart; I could feel the captured emotions running through his face, though indiscernible to me.

The boy in the photograph reminds me of a young character in ‘And the Mountains Echoed’, by Khaled Hosseini. (I’ll be writing more about that marvellous book soon!)

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My mom standing by the towering landscape, leading into a two thousand year old city of the past.
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Though slightly blurred, the deep hues of gold pigmented in the landscape caught my eye. I yearn to see them for myself.
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Carvings and ancient construction in rocks that once overlooked a civilisation of the past.

Photography – sometimes considered a menial and an all-too-common pastime, but there’s something about the reveries and pleasant thoughts that something so small can leave you in. I can only wish to capture photographs with so much meaning and emotion, as my mom did.