The World Around the Shrine

(The intersection just outside the front of Kamigamo Shrine in Kyoto.)

I may have lived in Japan for most of my 20s now, but when I take pictures, they are still mostly touristy shots of shrines, temples, nice houses, and flowers that I see while traveling. (I only post a small selection of the photos I take.) And although I live in Yokohama, I feel in some sense like a tourist in this city and in Tokyo, where I go almost daily. But I think a tourist can have a kind of openness that a resident might not have, because a resident is familiar with their world and takes a good chunk of things for granted.

That is not to say, however, that a tourist doesn’t take anything for granted. They see the foreign world as it fits with cultural stereotypes. A common tourist’s photo of a Japanese shrine will show a red tori gate or the main shrine building with maybe a few Japanese people praying in front of it. These pictures show the quiet and calm within the shrine, a quiet calm that may or may not be because of a lack of people in these places. When shrines are full of people for festivals, for example, the atmosphere is completely different.

But how does a shrine fit into the cultural fabric of life around it? I don’t think I can answer that now, but that is the question that came to mind when I saw this picture again. It seems to give some answer, but I can’t seem to be able to put it into words yet. . .

Speaking of shrine festivals and the relationship between shrines and the world of the neighborhoods around them, I’m now reminded of a post I did a long time ago of a festival at Shimo-Goryo Shrine near where I used to live in Kyoto. The atmosphere there was very different from the atmosphere in the picture above. . .

In the near future, I’ll post a picture of the student art exhibition that was going on within the precincts of the Kamigamo Shrine during this visit. And the recent picture of children playing in the water was taken on the same visit.


2 thoughts on “The World Around the Shrine

  1. How does a shrine fit into the cultural fabric of life around it ?Well, from my limited experience it does not “fit” at all. But who knows, what fit means. I found the surrounding of many shrines in Kyoto terrible, lots of ads and ugly stuff. Because
    we want the shrine to be in a somehow matching surrounding.
    I sometimes thought leaving a shrine or temple and looking back, it disappeared as soon as one stepped away from it.
    The environment just seemed to swallow it. Back to “Ugly” again ….
    Hanna, that you still feel like “a tourist” after all those years in Japan, does this make you feel sad as well sometimes? Don’t we all want to fit in, be a part of it ?
    Where is your “home”, Germany, USA, Japan ?? What is home ??
    Which brings me to the “bloodline”topic of the photographs we were talking about.
    I have to think more about it – and no, I did not meet the photographer in Venice. Just saw her pictures for the first time.
    Hope all is well and you are working on your master thesis with joy
    Thanks for posting again.

    1. Dear Christiane,

      I have to admit for a long time I thought modern buildings in Japan were simply ugly and nothing fit together. Japanese neighborhoods so often have a feeling of temporariness about them or of quick decay. But then, just as traditional homes were built to last maybe a few decades and no more, contemporary buildings are the same. There’s such a big turnover in buildings, and I think it has a lot to with with structure stability in this environment where every now and then nature seems to want to destroy human existence.

      But slowly, and I really have a hard time explaining why, I think shrines do seem to fit in their environment. There comes a point when it’s not a matter of seeing the stark contrast between the Japanese shrine and Western influences in residential buildings, but seeing the similarities between the different styles of structures. To begin with, Western-style buildings in Japan are very different from buildings in Europe or North America. I have a hard time thinking of them as Western-style now. . .

      And your last point, where is home? I really don’t have an answer for that. That is something that has long been an issue for me. I guess the best answer I can give is where the people I love are. . . and that is scattered all over the world, far away from me, but not too far away that we’re out of touch. Maybe I’ll have to write a post about that. . .

      Thanks as always for commenting!


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