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A Guide to this Website

Japanese names and transcription? Japanese Buddhism?

How to approach this homepage?

In my mind, this website consists of three pillars.

  1. Portfolio - Seasons

    = Spring, summer, autumn, winter: the best of my Kyoto photography to discover in a compact gallery


  2. Discovery - Subjects

    = more to discover and learn by browsing through subject galleries such as moss gardens, festivals,...


  3. Encyclopaedia - A photographic guide to Kyōto and Other Places

    = Temple by temple, garden by garden, shrine by shrine.
    = What to see where, and when?
    = For those who want to go on a virtual journey to Kyōto, Japan, or anywhere else I've been. :)

Tofukuji Jan17.jpg

Stone garden in Tōfuku-ji, a Rinzai-school Zen monastery in Kyōto.

Japanese Transcription: Long vowels: ō, ū etc.

In Japanese, some vowels are long, e.g. the first “o” in Kyōto (written in Japanese as kyo-o-to). Instead of transcribing these as Kyouto, I use the Hepburn romanization system for such cases, i.e. writing “ō” to signify long vowels.


  • Tokyo in English, correctly transcribed as Tōkyō. Speak: Toh-kyoh.

  • Kajū-ji, not Kaju-ji. The first "u" is a long vowel.

  • Jōjū-ji. Both the "o" and "u" vowels are long.


Although it may seem inconsistent, for readability, I do not use long vowels in the menu. Instead of Tōkyō, in the menu I will use Tokyo. This, I believe, makes navigation easier for English speakers.

Japanese (Place) Names: Temples and Shrines?

In general, temple refers to a Buddhist monastery. Names ending in -ji (寺), -in (院) and -an (庵) signify temples. -ji in general is an independent temple, -in and -an means some sort of “sub-temple”, e.g. Tenju-an as a sub-temple within the larger monastery of Nanzen-ji.

On the other hand, by shrine I refer to Shintō shrines. These can be fairly large in size, or just constitute of one small building within a residentials neighborhood. In general, shrines are called -jinja (神社), -jingū (神宮) or -taisha (大社) in Japanese. For readability, I use “Shrine” on this homepage, e.g. Heian Shrine instead of Heian-jingū or Umenomiya Shrine instead of Umenomiya-taisha.

Historically, this distinction into clearly defined Buddhist monasteries vis-à-vis Shintō shrines did not exist, it is a product of institutional reforms during the Meiji period (1868–1912). Historically, Buddhism and Shintō were closely connected entities in Japan ever since the Nara period. Today, while certain places are thoroughly separated, it is not uncommon to find small shrines within most temples.

Buddhist schools: A Very Basic Introduction

Unlike historical Christianity, which tended to be strongly unified as an institution — Catholicism and later Protestantism in Western Europe, Orthodoxy in Eastern Europa — Buddhism consists of a large number of different schools that have been co-existing for centuries, with each school tracing its origin to a certain period of East Asian history.

In English, one way to classify Japanese Buddhism is as follows.

  1. Esoteric Buddhism: Tendai (天台宗) and Shingon (真言宗) schools. Going back to the Heian period, these schools main temples are located deep in two sacred mountains. Monks belonging to these schools often undergo a rigorous training, and once they succeeded, they live a highly secluded live. Examples in Kyōto: Enryaku-ji on Mt. Hiei, Shinnyo-dō.

  2. Pure Land Buddhism: Jōdo (浄土宗) and Jōdo-shinshū (浄土真宗) schools. The most popular schools among Japanese, Pure Land Buddhism teaches that instead of reaching the Nirvana, followers can be reborn in the “pure land” by believing in the mercy of Amida, a Boddhisattva. Simply chanting his name in daily life assures rebirth in the pure land, and achieve enlightenment from there. Pure land Buddhist temples often have very large main and Amida halls on their temple grounds, and worship their founding monks. Examples: Chion-ji, Hyakumanben Chion-in or Higashi Hongan-ji/Nishi Hongan-ji.

  3. Zen Buddhism: Rinzai (臨済宗), Sōtō (曹洞宗) and Ōbaku (黄檗宗) schools. Zen Buddhism was for most of the time a religion of the elite. Unlike pure land Buddhism and its massive, golden halls, Zen Buddhism is highly simplistic. For Zen Buddhists, acts such as caring for a garden itself becomes meditation. Hence, most of the gardens found in Buddhist temples are Zen gardens in one way or the other. In Zen temples, one usually finds more “art” and “nature,” and less sculptures and pomp. Examples in Kyōto: Nanzen-ji, Kennin-ji, Tenryū-ji, Tōfuku-ji, etc.

  4. Nichiren Buddhism (日蓮宗).

Got any comments, suggestions or recommendations? Please hit me with an email!

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