How to make the difference between a shrine and a temple in Japan?

24895724500_da5eced8a0_c

According to estimates from the CIA World Factbook, the religious composition of the Japanese society is the following:

  • Shintoism 79.2%
  • Buddhism 66.8%
  • Christianity 1.5%
  • other 7.1%

Yes, the total is above 100% but it is not a typo, as many people will be categorized as both Shintoist and Buddhist.

2013 Year of the Snake-2

Let’s start with a (very tiny) bit of History…

Historically, from the 6th century when Buddhism was imported into the country, until the end of the Edo period, Shintoism and Buddhism remained intimately entwined, during a period of syncretism referred to as shinbutsu-shūgō. During these many centuries, both religions influenced each other, and shrines were built to warehouse the shinto spirits (Kami) the same way that buddhist temples protect Buddha images. The syncretism went so far that you could find shrines-part in temples, while some shrines would warehouse Buddha images, with bettō monks performing buddhist rituals at the shrines. In 1868 the new Meiji government attempted to name Shintoism the “true religion” of Japan, in order to orchestrate a cult of the Emperor, with the shinbutsu bunri law proclaiming the separation between Shintoism and Buddhism. Looking at the statistics above, one quickly realizes that even the imperial law cannot undo centuries of History, but this is a discussion that would deserve its own separate post(s)…

25165778736_b7015838f0_c

Given the deeply-rooted connection between Shintoism and Buddhism in Japan, it is not surprising to find many similarities between shrines and temples. This will often confuse non-Japanese, and brings this question: how to easily make the difference between a (Shinto) shrine and a (Buddhist) temple without being an expert on religions? This is actually easier than you think, if you know where to look.

1) The name

Shrine or temple? The answer is usually easily found in the name.

Jinja (神社) is the most common Japanese word for shrine. However, other names or suffixes can indicate that you are in a shrine, including: jinja, jingu, taisha, myojin, gongen, -gu, -sha.

Similarly for temples, look for names ending in -ji, -dera or -in.

2) The Entrance Gate

If you don’t know the exact name of the place where you are, no panic. There are many other signs, starting with the entrance gate.

A torii gate (if not many) stands at the front of every shrine. It is the easiest way to identify that you are at a shrine. Torii gates are commonly made of 2 vertical posts with 2 horizontal posts at the top , though they can be as simple as 2 vertical posts with a (sacred) rope inbetween. Having said that, torii gates can come under many shapes and sizes. Here are a few examples:

The entrance gates of Buddhist temples almost look like buildings of their own. The most important gate is called the Sanmon, even though it usually not the first gate at the entrance of the temple. Here are a few examples:

If there is a building shaped as a pagoda, it is also a good indication that you are in a temple.

3) The guardians

In the case of a Shinto shrine, you will most of the time find a pair of statues of lion-dogs, guarding the entrance, called komainu. Fox statues (instead of lion-dogs) guarding inari shrines are also very common, but other less common variants such as turtles or wolves for example are also possible.

On the other hand, temples will be protected by a pair of Niō guardians. They usually look like wrathful and muscular demons. The one with the mouth open is called Agyō, while the one with the mouth closed is called Ungyō.

4) The purification ritual before praying

Each visit to a shrine starts with a purification ritual using the water fr the temizuya (small fountain): you rinse your left hand, then the right, and finally your mouth (this water is there to cleanse, not to be drunk).

While you will also find temizuya near many temples, the purification process when arriving at a temple is usually done by burning some incense in a large burner, and fanning the smoke towards you. The smoke is thought to have healing power.

5) Kami or Buddha

An obvious one, but if you see an image of Buddha… then you are in Buddhist territory, meaning you are in a temple.

In most cases, the kami (god/spirit) enshrined in a shinto shrine, is said to reside in a physical object (often a mirror, but could be a sword, a rock or else) called the shintai, stored in the honden (in a few exceptional cases, the shintai could also be a natural phenomenon, such as a peculiar tree, rock or waterfall…). The honden is the most sacred building of the shrine and is not accessible to the public.

6) How to pray

In a Shinto shrine: after you have thrown your coin into the offerings box and rung the suzu bell (if there is one), bow twice, clap your hands twice, and bow once more once you have finished your prayer.

Prayer at the shrine

In a Buddhist temple: the prayer is silent, do NOT clap your hands at the altar like you would in a Shinto shrine.

Conclusion

With just a few handy tips, it is easy to make the difference between a shrine and a temple. Being able to make the distinction is not only important to know how to pray and to whom address your prayer, but it is also a first step in being able to recognize how Shintoism and Buddhism can be entwined in the Japanese society. The first step on a long but fascinating (some would say enlightening 🙂 ) path.

8274362666_ffb13035bc_c

 

 

Geishas and Floating Hina Dolls in Tokyo: Edo Nagashibina

When people think about seeing geishas in Japan, the first thing that come to their mind is probably Kyoto (where geishas are called geikos and their apprentices maikos) with the Gion district or Pontocho. However, that does not mean you cannot be entertained by authentic geishas in other cities. In Tokyo, the main geisha area is the Kannonura street in the Asakusa district. One way to maximize your chances to see them from up close, is to find out the public events or festivals in which they participate. One of this events is Edo Nagashibina, a  ceremony during which children and their parents send into the Sumida river floating Hina dolls made with paper to dispel any potential misfortune waiting for them in the year ahead.

Again this year, 3 geishas from Asakusa were taking part in the official ceremony, and sent their own wishes into the river.

Edo Nagashibina 2017

In a red kimono, we had Rei-san:

In a dark green kimono, Tsugumi-san:

And in a blue kimono, Akane-san:

When you see geishas in the street, they are usually on their way to (or from) a work appointment, so they usually don’t have time to stop and talk to you. However, when they are on “official public duty”, they will let you take all the pictures you want as long as you don’t disturb the overall organization of the event.

Once the usual preliminary speeches are over, the geishas and the city officials joined the rest of the crowd on the Sumida river bank, where they release a flurry of balloons shaped like doves. Everyone can then let go his/her paper hina doll into the water.  Children from the Taito City “Ishihama Hachiba Children’s Center” have the extra privilege to do it from a boat especially decorated for the occasion.

If you enjoyed this article, share the love of Japan with your friends on your favorite social networks. You can also keep in touch with me on Twitter or Instagram if you have any question.

Field test: X-Pro2 + XF 100-400mm F4.5-5.6 – Birdwatching in Tokyo

For my second visit to the bird sanctuary of the Kasai Rinkai park in Eastern Tokyo, I brought with me an X-Pro2with the XF 100-400mmF4.5-5.6 “super telephoto zoom lens” to put them to the test. Below is a summary of my thoughts on the newest and most expensive lens for X-mount cameras. All the sample images used in this post are straight-out-of-the-camera JPEGs (Velvia film simulation), without any additional processing. You can click on them for full size images.

The FUJINON XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR is the long awaited super telephoto zoom lens for X-Series cameras. One of the reason behind the delay of the release of this lens, compared to its first appareance on the official Fuji roadmap, seems to have been a complete redesign of the lens somewhere along the development cycle. As a reminder, the first time I saw a prototype of the “super telephoto zoom lens”, as it was dubbed on the roadmap, it was supposed to be a XF140-400mm f4-5.6 lens, with a shorter size but a wider diameter (86mm). It looked like that (the lens on the right side):

The final design is slimmer but longer, and covers a longer focal range but is slightly slower when zoomed out. I cannot know for sure, but I would bet that the final design is probably lighter than the initial version too.

While the lens got longer, the tripod foot that comes with it became shorter, which seems like a odd decision to me, although arguably I am no lens engineer, as one would think that  a bigger tripod foot would offer a better stabilization once attached to a tripod head. If you don’t have any, Fujifilm sells a lens plate (MLP-75XF) that you can attach to the tripod foot to make it compatible with ARCA SWISS tripods. Personally, I also don’t see the point of having included the 100-140mm focal range compared to the initial design, as this part of the focal range is already covered by so many XF lenses.

Beyond those small reservations, there are mostly positive things to say in terms of design and handling. The smaller filter thread of the final version (77mm) will enable you to use common filters you might already own (I personally buy all my filters in the 77mm size, with a set of cheap step-up rings to use them on smaller lenses). The built quality feels good, with attention to details. There is a lock button to avoid any zoom creep, but the small feature that makes a big difference to me is the lens hood that clips on the lens. The last thing you want when you are on the side of a race track or a football field is for your lens hood to fall over every time you knock something or someone runs into you.

Coupled with the XF 1.4x teleconverter, the lens become a 140-560mm f8 equivalent lens. I shot the sample pictures in this post using an X-Pro2, with the XF 100-400mmF4.5-5.6 mounted on the 1.4x teleconverter, as I was trying to get as tight and as far as possible. All these shots were taken in very good lighting conditions (although between 6-9AM, so still in somewhat soft light), and in these ideal conditions the combo camera + teleconverter + lens was very responsive. The autofocus in particular did a perfect job on relatively still or slow moving subjects, despite of the addition of the teleconverter theoretically making it harder for the autofocus to work (it was much slower and hunted back and forth when I tested it indoor in poor lighting conditions, which is a totally normal thing). The autofocus struggled much more on flying birds, which was mainly due to my sheer inability to keep flying birds for an extended period of time in a tight composition when using such a long lens.

Here is what both extremes of the focal range look like when using the X-Pro2 + XF 100-400mmF4.5-5.6 + XF1.4x teleconverter:

Zoomed out:


Zoomed-in:

When shooting at 560mm with f8 maximum aperture, it can be difficult to obtain a shutter speed fast enough for handholding without raising the ISO setting higher than one might want to. This is when the image stabilisation of the lens kicks in. The image stabilisation of the XF 100-400mmF4.5-5.6 is to be commended for its effiency, in effect improving the quality of the images by allowing to use lower ISOs while still taking sharp pictures. The quality of the image stabilisation can also be seen in action in the video clips included in the video at the top of this post, inbetween still samples.

Additional samples gallery:

In conclusion, I really enjoyed my time with this lens. I usually don’t go birdwatching, so it gave me a good excuse to do so. With the addition of the XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6, X-mount lenses can now cover a huge focal length, and even more when you add the 1.4x teleconverter. It’s a great lens to handle with efficient image stabilisation for handholding and nice finishing touches such as the clipping hood with a small trap to adjust your filter if you are using a polariser. I personally don’t need to own such a long lens for 99% of what I shoot, but for the few times I would need it I will be absolutely confident to rent it – apart for indoor sports for which the faster XF50-140mmF2.8 will be a better option if you don’t want to focus manually.

Mount Fuji behind Shinjuku

24696490450_db957d5d80_c

I have been spending most of my free time working on a personal project about the shrines and temples of Tokyo, which you might have already guessed if you follow me on Instagram. While I was on my way to the Yushima-Tenmangu shrine, I stopped by the Bunkyo Civic Center to capture this view of Mount Fuji (Fuji-san, 富士山). The observation deck of the Bunkyo Civic Center is one of the most well-known spots to capture breathtaking images of Mount Fuji from Tokyo, and has the advantage of being completely free.

Opening hours:  9:00 to 20:30 every day of the week (closed on the 3rd Sunday of May, and between the 29th of December 29 and the 3rd of January)

Access:
1-minute walk from the Korakuen Station (Marunouchi line and Namboku line)
1-minute walk from the Kasuga Station (Mita line and Oedo line)
9-minute walk from the Suidobashi Station (JR Chuo Line and Sobu Line)

DPReview interview with 2 senior Fujifilm executives in Tokyo

After a hectic period of going through the bazillions of first-looks and previews of the newly announced Fuji cameras and lenses, I am going back to basics and simplicity, taking the good old X100s on photowalks with me (you can follow my Instagram feed for some of these pics as I upload them in the coming days). I have also been able to sell my X-E1 and X-E2 (which used to be my back-up camera, currently replaced for that purpose by the X100s… until the X-T2 is announced and the X-T1 becomes the back-up?), and used the proceeds to order the XF90mmF2 (primes are really where the Fuji X-Series shines in my opinion), which is currently on its way home.

img_8406

Meanwhile, DPReview has published a very interesting interview with 2 senior Fujifilm executives (see at the bottom for details) they met in Tokyo during the celebration of the 5th anniversary of the X-Series. You can read the full interview by clicking here.

What stands out is that the Fujifilm executives are not only very ambitious for the X-Series, but there are not shy in expressing these ambitions and discussing the competitive landscape.

We’d like to be at least in the top three companies in the camera business by market share.

Mr Toru Takahashi

The strong domination of the 2 giants Canon and Nikon might come to an end some day, but for the moment they have more than enough room to stay well ahead of the rest in the near-future (to give you an idea, Canon and Nikon combined accounted for more than 75% of the interchangeable-lens camera market by volume in 2014, while Sony came third with 13%, according to data compiled by the market research company IDC).

With Canon and Nikon at least temporarily out of reach, if Fujifilm wants to achieve its ambition of being in the top 3, that means they will first need to win the battle of the mirrorless market, to complement the staggering success of Instax cameras (which are dominating on the market they have created themselves).

Regarding Sony, the executives recognize that the fact that they produce their own sensor gives Sony an edge. However, they also very candidly (and unusually) point out what they think are the weaknesses of Sony.

Sony has a big advantage, they make their own sensors. That is a very big advantage for them, but they are weak in lenses.

Mr Toru Takahashi

They are weakened by having so many formats. APS-C, full-frame, [across both] DSLR and mirrorless.

Mr Toshihisa Iida

While I personally prefer the lens lineup of the X-Series and trust in its future expansion, Sony’s recent effort to tackle the argument of the lack of lenses should not be underestimated. This argument is becoming less true and Sony now also offers some clarity regarding the future with a lens roadmap, similar to what Fujifilm did when they started the X-Pro1 with only 3 prime lenses.

In any case, the Fujifilm executives seem very confident that Fujifilm will win the longer game while Sony will squander because of a lack of focus. I have always been confused by the number of models with different mounts that Sony has been releasing over the past few years, and they would logically benefit from focusing on a single system and lens mount. However, I would not discount as much Sony’s potential as the Fujifilm executives are doing. By experimenting in so many markets, Sony has found one domain in which they are more or less alone and that could be very profitable to them if they were to direct all their efforts into it: full-frame mirrorless cameras. They still haven’t found the magic formula that would allow them to mix their technological advance with some photographic mindset, but if they can find a way to do it…

As far as Micro 4/3 are concerned, they are not discussed in the interview, but I personally hope that a in-body image stabilization similar to the one developed by Olympus would make its way into a Fujifilm body. Also, in terms of video capabilities, Panasonic has a lot to teach to Fujifilm.

Overall, the competition is fierce, with many actors targeting the same market with different strengths. While I am not convinced that Fujifilm will achieve its objective to be in the top 3, the fact that they are trying to achieve it by deliberately focusing on one system thought for everyday photographers, rather than packing a ridiculous amount of megapixels on a tiny sensor, makes me confident that the X-Series is at least the right choice for me. Let me know what you think in the comments below 😉

Mr Toru Takahashi, Director, is Senior Vice President and General Manager of Fujifilm’s Optical Device & Electronic Imaging Products Divison. Mr Toshihisa Iida is General Manager of the Sales and Marketing Group of Fujifilm’s Optical Device & Electronic Imaging Products Division.