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Saturday, December 11, 2021

Tibet, at Drepung Monastery


About 8 kms west of Lhasa, we can find Drepung Monastery, located a slope of Mount Gephel. Surrounding the monastery we will see many houses and building with white walls and roofs scattered along the hill. Because of this the monastery is also called “rice heap” monastery. 

On the way to the monastery we can see a large stone painting on the hill which seems to depict a deity. It is the painting of Tsong Kha Pa, the founder of the Gelug School of thought in Buddhism. In this tradition, the classical Indian treatises are studied with great detail using dialectical method. 

Drepung monastery was founded in 1416 by Jamyang Choge Tashi Palden, one of Tsong Kha Pa main disciples and also known as the second Dalai Lama. Drepung was the largest monastery in the world, and was housing around 7,700 monks during the hey days. Historically, Drepung used to be the seat of political and religious power in Tibet, before the Potala Palace was built, in part due to it being the primary seat of the Gelug School. In 1530, the second Dalai Lama built his palace here, known as the Ganden Palace, which was used until the Potala Palace was built. 

Drepung monastery complex is large, and if we wish to visit all main buildings, it will take you all day. Most of the visitors choose the most important buildings, such as the Grand Sutra Hall, the Ganden Palace and a few chapels nearby. 

The Grand Sutra Hall (Tsogchen)  is the largest structure in the complex and the most impressive. The Grand Sutra Hall is a 3 storey building with the large terrace overlooking the city of Lhasa and the valley. The main statue there is the 3-floors high Maitreya (Future) Buddha. In addition, there are statues of Shakyamuni Buddha (Siddhārtha Gautama) , Tsong Kha Pa, 13th Dalai Lama and protectors in the chapels. 

The middle row of the Grand Sutra Hall contains holy stupa for the 3rd Dalai Lama; the northern one contains the holy stupa for the 4th Dalai Lama; and the southern one contains the holy stupa for Chilai Gyamco.






Sunday, November 21, 2021

Rome, at Castel Sant’Angelo


On the way to Vatican, we saw a huge round building that looked like a cholate tart, on the bank of the river Tiber. It is Castel Sant’Angelo, affectionately nicknamed ‘The Wedding Cake’ by locals due to its appearance. It is now a museum and has a long history which dates back to ancient Rome. Started as an ancient imperial tomb of Emperor Hadrian in the year 138, turned into fortress in the year 401, then functioning also as prison for many centuries.  Among the prisoners were the sculptor Benvenuto Cellini, charged with crime of sodomy; the philosopher Giordano Bruno, sentenced to death as a hardline heretic; Giuseppe Balsamo, known as a conman sorcerer; Beatrice Cenci, a noblewoman sentenced to death accused for having killed her abusive father. The prison was also the drama setting for the third act opera of Giacomo Puccini's Tosca.  In this tragic scene, Tosca, overwhelmed by the death of her lover, jumps to death to escape capture by her enemies from the wall of the prison.

 On top of the castle we can see a statue of an angel holding a sword but not in a brandishing way, rather the angel is depicted to lower his sword to return it to the sheath. Why is it like that?  According to legend, at the end of the sixth century AD, a terrible plague fell upon the city,  named as the Justinian plague, with thousands falling ill and the bodies of the dead choking the street. The disease spread as far north as Denmark and west to Ireland, then further to Africa, the Middle East and Asia Minor. 

Pope Gregory then led a procession through the city, praying to God to spare those who still lived. Looking up to the old mausoleum of Emperor Hadrian, long fallen into disuse and ruin, Pope Gregory had a vision of a radiant figure high atop the massive tomb. It was the Archangel Michael, his outstretched wings, glowing brightly and holding a bloody sword and then lowering it to return it back in the sheath. The Pope saw this as a sign of the end of the plague that had been raging for about 50 years. Indeed, after this vision, the plague ended, therefore the Castle was named as Castel Sant Angelo – Castle of the Holy Angel. The current bronze statue of Archangel Michael on top of the building was created in 1748 by Peter Anton von Verschaffelt, a Flemish sculptor, to replace the marble statue damaged by time.

Photo: Wikimedia

Castel Sant’Angelo was slowly turned into a fortress and in 1277 it was acquired by the papacy. Popes used the castle as a refuge in this fortified structure in times of danger. Living conditions inside the fortress were probably not very comfortable, so Pope Paulus III decorated many of the rooms inside the Castel with beautiful frescoes, mostly done by Perino del Vaga. The most beautiful room is undoubtedly the Sala Paolina, with its lavishly decorated walls and ceiling. In the beginning of the 14th century, the Castle became the summer castle for the Pope. In 1901 it was converted to become a national museum, named the Museo Nazionale di Castel Sant’Angelo.




Saturday, November 6, 2021

Rome, at the Spanish Steps


Walking for about 1 km from Fontana di Trevi, we will reach the Spanish Steps. The walk is only around 15 minutes, however in this place, we can find many interesting buildings in every turn, so it may take longer if you wish to ‘sight-seeing’ too.

 The giant stone Spanish Steps starts from Piazza di Spagna (the Spanish Square) up to the Trinità dei Monti church. The 135 steps staircase, built in 1725 and designed by Alessandro Specki and Francesco De Santis, is a favourite spot among tourists to sit, relax and enjoy the views of Piazza di Spagna at the bottom. Piazza di Spagna itself was the location of the Spanish Embassy for Vatican in the seventeenth century. So the Spanish name was extended to the square and the steps as well.

 As I climbed the Spanish Steps in a spring afternoon, in a moment I remembered the song “Credo” by the rock group Refugee: 

I believe in constant pauses

Like a Roman holiday

And I often stop for air

As I climb the Spanish stairs

Indeed I often stopped for air, and near the top of the steps I also stopped and looked down to the Piazza di Spagna. This square is an important way to connect to the historic centre of the city and a famous gathering place for locals and foreigners. Some of the city’s most iconic streets branch off the square, such as Via del Condotti, Via del Babuino, Via della Propaganda and Via Sistina.

 At the centre of the square lies the Fontana della Barcaccia, a fountain featuring a half-shrunk stone ship sculpted by Pietro Bernini,  father of Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The name Fontana della Barkaca means “Fountain of the Old Boat” as it has the form of a sinking ship based upon a folk legend. According to the legend, as the River Tiber flooded in 1598, water carried a small boat into the Piazza di Spagna. When the water receded, the boat was deposited in the center of the square, and it was this boat that inspired Bernini's creation.



Sunday, October 3, 2021

An Interview with Martin


Photo: Wikimedia

I had the pleasure visiting Martin's hut, often referred to as “die Hütte", at Todtnauberg, on the edge of the Black Forest, southern Germany. He considered the seclusion provided by the forest to be the best environment in which to engage in his philosophical thought, and here was where he wrote his most famous book Being and Time. 

It is a small ski hut measuring six meters by seven, the low hanging roof covers three rooms: the kitchen which is also the living room, a bedroom and a study. Scattered at wide intervals throughout the narrow base of the valley and on the equally steep slope opposite, lie farmhouses with their large over-hanging roofs. Higher up the slope the meadows and pasture lands lead to the woods with its dark fir-tress, old and towering…This is his work world. 

That day he hiked the way up mountain, then ski back down, he is an avid hiker and an accomplished skier.  I greeted him at the hut front door this short and stout professor with dark piercing eyes, his sun tan face gleaming. We sat at the coffee table, ready to discuss ‘Being and Time’. 

I said:

“According to Plato truth is determined by how it relates to the world and whether it accurately corresponds with that world, true beliefs and true statements correspond to the facts. What is truth according to you?”


Martin, talking slowly and deliberately:

“For Plato, and those that followed, truth meant correctness, a correspondence between knowledge, judgement, and the object.  This view of truth implies that the experience of truth is structured in terms of the relationship between a subject and an object. There is an essential difference between viewing truth as correctness, and truth as unconcealment , Aletheia. Truth as correctness has ignored the experience of truth as an opening that lets unconcealment occur. In unconcealment, truth lies not only in a judgement, but in the human existence itself. To draw real things from concealedness to unconcealedness, Aletheia, requires a certain 'light'. This light is the existence of Being (Dasein) itself, its being-in-the-world. Because of Dasein’s open-stance, which involves engagement to the world as a whole, it is able to unconceal, opening up its world for itself. “


I said:

“You reportedly saw the painting of Van Gogh “A pair of shoes” on an exhibition in Amsterdam  and you were impressed by it. Tell us about your insight on the painting.”

Photo: Wikimedia

Martin, smiling:

“As long as we only imagine a pair of shoes in general, or simply look at the empty, unused shoes as they merely stand there in the picture, we shall never discover what the equipmental being of the equipment in truth is. From Van Gogh’s painting we cannot even tell where these shoes stand. There is nothing surrounding this pair of peasant shoes in or to which they might belong — only an undefined space. There are not even clods of soil from the field or the field-path sticking to them, which would at least hint at their use. A pair of peasant shoes and nothing more. And yet. 

From the dark opening of the worn insides of the shoes the toilsome tread of the worker stares forth. In the stiffly rugged heaviness of the shoes there is the accumulated tenacity of her slow trudge through the far-spreading and ever-uniform furrows of the field swept by a raw wind. On the leather lie the dampness and richness of the soil. Under the soles slides the loneliness of the field-path as evening falls. In the shoes vibrate the silent call of the earth, its quiet gift of the ripening grain and its unexplained self-refusal in the fallow desolation of the wintry field."


I said:

“Your insight on this painting of rugged old shoes is very interesting, it unconceals both the being of the shoes and the peasant women’s world to us.  The painting lets us know what the shoes are in truth, and   it is not separable from the entities in the world, including the one who unconceals the entities and also oneself, Dasein. According to your book Being and Time this is authentic Dasein, authentic Being-in-the world, Dasein’s understanding about the truth”.



“Unconcealment can occur authentically, without a set of predispositions. Entities are initially manifest but nevertheless concealed in what they most authentically are. Authenticity by contrast, consists in Dasein learning to “uncover the world in its own way … this uncovering of the ‘world’ is … always accomplished as a clearing away of concealments and obscurities, as a breaking up of the disguises with which Dasein bars its own way.”


I said:

“You further described that authentic Dasein means being something of its own, not someone else, the Dasein that does not bow to assertion of the mass, the public, which you call as ‘das Man’, or the ‘they’. The authentic Dasein does not choose to follow tastes, interests, fashions, pop culture that are made as consumer goods. Authentic Dasein is thereby opposed to inauthentic, public Dasein, which is what Dasein is when submitting to the control of a not-oneself, the public, the ‘they’, das Man. Authentic Dasein chooses its own possibilities and acts on them, shutting out the voice of das Man and with it the public understanding of the world.”


“Yes, Dasein is authentically itself only to the extent that, as concernful Being-alongside and solicitous Being-with, it projects itself upon its ownmost potentiality-for-Being rather than upon the possibility of das Man. Becoming authentic requires a process of self-assertion and self-initiated liberation from the temptations of inauthentic understanding. In its normal, everyday way of living in the world, Dasein is under the dominion of inauthentic understanding. Dasein has a tendency to become absorbed in the concerns and possibilities that the world presents to it as valuable. 

Das Man comforts Dasein by hiding the truth from it, an act that Dasein is complicit with. As a result, the particular Dasein in its everydayness is disburdened by das Man. Not only that; by thus disburdening it of its Being, das Man accommodates Dasein if Dasein has any tendency to take things easily and make them easy. And because das Man constantly accommodates the particular Dasein by disburdening it of its Being, das Man retains and enhances its stubborn dominion. Inauthenticity is a “tranquilizing” way of existing.”


I said:

“What do you mean inauthencity is “tranquilizing” way of existing?”



“In utilizing public means of transport and in making use of information services such as the newspaper, every Other is like the next . . . . We take pleasure and enjoy ourselves as they, de Man, take pleasure; we read, see, and judge about literature and art as they see and judge; likewise we shrink back from the ‘great mass’ as they shrink back; we find ‘shocking’ what they find shocking.”


I said:

“In ‘The Question Concerning Technology’ you viewed technology negatively. Technology, despite its contribution to humankind in this modern era, you described it as a major threat to the authentic Dasein.”



“The coming to presence of technology threatens revealing, threatens it with the possibility that all revealing will be consumed in ordering and that everything will present itself only in the unconcealedness of standing-reserve. Human activity can never directly counter this danger. Human achievement alone can never banish it. But human reflection can ponder the fact that all saving power must be of a higher essence than what is endangered, though at the same time kindred to it.”


I said:

“In what way does technology is dangerous to human existence?”



“Our current modern age is the epoch of technology which manifests a specific way of understanding and interpreting the world, machination, just as das Man manifested the public understanding of the world.

 Machination, as technology’s mode of understanding, is a “swaying of being”. Machination expands its sway as coercive force. By securing power, this coercive force develops as the immediately eruptible and always transformable capability for subjugation . .. . To the extent that in the epoch of machination that is empowered to its unbounded coercive force man also grasps himself as animal living-being, the only thing that remains for man himself . . . is the appearance of self-assertion vis a vis beings. 

But ‘the epoch of technology’ is far more than the control or enslaving of man by technology. The dominant understanding of reality in the epoch of technology is largely encompassed by the term ‘calculability,’ meaning that everything that is real is understood in terms of discrete, calculable, orderable units, of what can be produced or used for production. 

Machination fosters in advance the completely surveyable calculability of the subjugating empowering of beings to an accessible arrangement. Machination fosters in advance a particular understanding of beings such that they are accessible because calculable. Access to beings is defined by calculability; to grasp what a being is, one must be able to understand it in a calculable manner. Reality is organized, ordered, something counted and assembled from parts. 

What it is to exist, according to the epoch of technology, is to be calculable; the world is understood as calculable, goals and purposes are understood in terms of calculability and producibility, i.e., as discrete entities consisting of potential forces that can be harnessed for ends.”


I said:

“That being said, if anything, can one do? “



“Wherever man opens his eyes and ears, unlocks his heart, and gives himself over to meditating and striving, shaping and working, entreating and thanking, he finds himself everywhere already brought into the unconcealed.

 Man’s proper stance is to slow down, take a breath, and observe the world around. Man is always in a world full of meanings that come from beyond him, and the most important step to realizing that, by drawing away from the modern rush and allowing the world itself to show itself as it is, without trying to master it.”


I said:

In ‘The Origin of the Work of Art’ you said that the nature of art is poetry and the nature of poetry, in turn, is the founding of truth. A work of art has the ability to set up a world. World is a self-opening openness of the broad paths of simple and essential decisions in the destiny of a historical people. Art creates meaning by allowing letting truth arise, by means of which Being becomes comprehensible. The meaning of a work of art cannot be considered separately from the conversation that the work initiates and which the artist anticipates. Can you explain this please.”



“What poetry, as illuminating projection, unfolds of unconcealedness and projects ahead into the design of the figure, is the open which poetry lets happen, and indeed in such a way that only now, in the midst of beings, the open brings beings to shine and ring out.


I like to cite the poem ‘Autumn’ by Friedrich Hölderlin:


Nature’s gleaming is higher revealing,

Where with many joys the day draws to an end,

It is the year that completes itself in resplendence,

Where fruit come together with beaming radiance.


Earth’s orb is thus adorned, and rarely clamours

Sound through the open field, the sun warms

The day of autumn mildly, the fields lie

As a great wide view, the breezes blow


Through boughs and branches, rustling gladly,

When then already to emptiness the fields give way.

The whole meaning of this bright image lives

As an image, golden splendour hovering all about


This poem of Hölderlin is capable of awakening us the ‘astonishing’ and to the wonder of the ‘extraordinary’ in ‘the ordinary’.  We think of the images of the landscape which are resplendent. Yet the landscape is not yet nature itself, ‘being’ (sein) is not ‘Being’ (Dasein) itself. Nature lets shine forth everything that belongs to the landscape. In the look of landscape, which nature grants, the gleaming of nature is higher revealing, that is to say, of divine essence. “




This is an imaginary interview in memory of Martin Heidegger



Derek R. O’Connell- Heidegger’s Authenticity


MJ Geertsema - Heidegger’s onto-poetology: the poetic projection of Being › download

Rome, at Fontana di Trevi


Wherever we go, grandeur monuments are usually located in a spacious popular plaza to enhance the monument’s grandeur presence and importance. We can easily navigate these monuments as the location must have been popular and we can see the place from a distance. But this monument that we are going to visit is different, it is stuck in a narrow square surrounded by buildings, restaurants, shops in the middle of the city. There are many streets leading to this place, they are narrow streets passing through ancient buildings, restaurants, shops. Surrounded by building, while walking we cannot see what is a head of us in a distance. Thus, coming from via del Lavatore, as we turned the corner, the suddenly monument emerged in front of our eyes with its grandeur, with a distinct sound of gushing water. Statues of ancient Greek mythological figures stand out in the fountain, presenting a drama in the green water. The crowd admire the monument from the side of the fountain, and trying to figure out what the display is telling us.

It is Fontana di Trevi, the grand fountain depicting Oceanus, the Sea God, the divine personification of the ocean, standing in a shell chariot to tame the water.  The shell chariot is drawn by winged horses led by Tritons, one Triton struggles with a wild horse whilst the other Triton hold a tamed one. The theme “Taming of the Waters” is presented in grandiose baroque style at the backdrop of Palazzo Poli. Designed by Italian architect Nicola Salvi in 1732 and completed by Giuseppe Panini in 1762 after the death of Nicola Salvi, and was decorated by artists from Bernini School.  Its facade and reef were constructed using Travertine, an elegant natural stone formed by hot springs near Tivoli.

In ancient Rome, water was worshipped as divine substance and the availability of huge water supplies was considered a symbol of opulence and therefore an expression of power. The Fontana di Trevi water is supplied by the Aqua Virgo duct, an aqueduct originally completed in 19 BC by Marcus Agrippa.  Aqueducts serve to transport freshwater from water source in highland about 13 kms away through ducts on top of arcades and underground. Gravity alone was utilized to transport enough water for most of the civilization, yet the aqueducts had very small gradients to do so. The design and construction to create aqueducts transporting high volume of water over long distances and varying terrains demonstrates the wealth of the civilization constructing it.  In this context, the theme “Taming of the Waters” portrays in dramatic way the Greek Sea God Oceanus taming the waters, like the way the ancient Roman aqueduct arranged the water and the civilization’s amazing ability to control and manipulate water.

The 11 aqueducts of ancient Rome ensured enough water supply into the city to provide for more than a million inhabitants, but the Aqua Virgo duct terminating at Fontana di Trevi is the only aqueduct still being used in modern times as it mostly ran underground. Today, most of the water is recycled for environmental reasons, but the source is still from the ancient Aqua Virgo duct.

In the crowd we can see some people throw coin into the fountain over his opposite shoulder. This habit  root back thousands of years BC, whereby valuable items were tossed into water sources to keep the water gods happy. In modern times, we still do that with a wish to return to Rome. Around 3,000 Euro is tossed into the fountain every day, the money is collected each night and given to a charity that supports the needy.

Fontana di Trevi is really a dramatic fountain that scathed an wonderful memory of Rome, so when we leave Rome this time saying “Arrivederci Roma”, Goodbye Rome, we wish to hear “Bentornato a Roma”, Welcome back to Rome, the next time…..




Saturday, August 14, 2021

Narita, at the Airport


I must confess that I like Airports, to experience the atmosphere, to observe the architecture, to see people travelling and the unformed air crew walking like on a catwalk, the decorations, the spacious and clean toilets, and not to mentioned good stuffs in the souvenir shops not found in the city. 

So, I like to leave our hotel early, apart from to get enough time to travel in case there are traffic jams  on the way, or in case I board the wrong bus or train, or get on the wrong terminal, I just like to come to the airport early.  Arriving early also give us enough time to check-in, considering that sometimes the queues are very long, to go the faraway tax refund counter, then going through the lengthy security check, and passport check. Depending the country, the security check could be slow and annoying, and so is passport checking. So, allow time for that. 

The travel from downtown Tokyo to Narita is about 60 km, if we take the non-stop express train it will take about one hour depending on our hotel location, the door-to-door journey takes between 90 and 120 minutes. Many train stations in Tokyo are huge, have confusing layouts, the direction signs are not so clear and most of them do not speak English, so it is hard to find your train if you are not familiar with the train station. So learn first the train station though the website, and even better if you come before your travel to familiarize the layout. 

Like other travel writers, I have to frequently fly solo, I generally arrive at the airport more than two hours before my flight. This way I get time to wander around the airport corridors, looking at the fabulous design of luxury brand shops, hearing the crispy announcements, watching various airplanes  landing and taking-off. At the Narita Terminal 1 and 2 observation decks, we will have a perfect view of the planes landing and taking off, and from the corridor windows we can see the parked and taxiing planes. 

The airport is also great for people watching, I think every one like to do that, to look at the excitement on the face most of the travelers, the cool frequent travelers, the worried face of the late travelers, the honeymooners, but there are also sad faces. In Narita most of them are trendy upper middle class people, the older dressed neatly ironed clothes with hats, the younger more hip hop and bright. I also saw a couple of lovers, the woman looked like in the early 30’s wearing very boutique like clothes, shoes, bag and colored hair while the man much younger in the early 20’s wearing red black checkered shirt loosely and baggy pants. They looked so much in love. 

If you missed a meal before travelling to Narita, the Airport has many restaurants decent to good food, a wide variety of Japanese food, tempura, yakiniku, tonkatsu, sushi, ramen, and soba, but also Western, Chinese and vegetarian food. Unlike any other airports, food here is also not much more expensive than in central Tokyo. If you are in a hurry go for the ramen noodles, you fill full enough and have more time to wander. In one of the ramen noodles shop I saw a teenage girl with a teddy bear backpack, eating her ramen thoughtlessly, she seemed to miss someone left behind in Tokyo. 

If you still have time, try the Japanese specialty snacks, dried foods, crackers, tea, jams, and the like. There are many types of rice crackers flavoured with various taste from garlic, miso to seaweed.  There are also chocolate-covered wafers flavoured like matcha tea, wasabi, plum, sake, melon, peach, grape.

But hurry-up grab your snacks, your plane is waiting!



Saturday, July 31, 2021

A train from Tokyo to Narita Airport


As Tokyo is such a big city and Narita Airport is located about 60 km from downtown Tokyo, we have to travel about one hour from Tokyo train station to the Narita Airport. There are many ways to go from Tokyo to Narita Airport, we can choose train, bus or taxi. I choose to travel by express train, it is not the cheapest, but it is most comfortable and the travel duration is certain. If we take bus or taxi, we never know whether there is traffic jam on the road, and we could be stuck for hours on the road. 

With the ticket price of around 3,000 yen one way and 4,000 yen round trip, the Narita Express train offers comfortable seats with spacious leg room, large toilets. Not to mentioned the very clean and quite atmosphere found in most of the trains in Japan. We can only hear the monotone clacking sound of the train railway which is soothing and tranquilizing. 

The train departs every 30 minutes and always on time, so we can rely on the travel plan based on the train schedule. But as the layout of train station in Tokyo is complicated, we must first familiarize with the train station layout to avoid getting on the wrong train or wasting time searching for the right platform. We can search in the internet or survey it ourselves before the departure. 

The journey from Tokyo to Narita Airport will pass urban towns, it is enjoyable to watch the scenes of Tokyo passing by the window, the concrete buildings of the city gradually disappear as the countryside of Chiba appears. The dreamy journey ends as we hear announcement that the train is approaching the airport. 

We need to get ready to disembark if our flight is located in Terminal 2, and pick-up our luggage. The train will only stop for a while as it will continue to Terminal 1. Therefore it is more convenient not to lock-up your baggage at the storage rack, because if you forget the code to unlock it then you have to ride the train till the end terminal, Terminal 1, to get it unlocked by the officer. Not to mention that you have to convince the officer the luggage is yours. It could really mess-up your well planned journey. 

I saw this Japanese lady went pale and breathless as she forgot the code, nervously asking in Japanese how to get it unlocked. Her young daughter also looked helpless. I hope their flight didn’t say ‘sayonara’ to them on take-off.


Saturday, June 26, 2021

Tokyo, at Meiji Shrine


Entering the Meiji Shrine ground from Harayuku station we will find a huge wooden torii gate which marks the beginning of this Shinto shrine. Like other Shinto shrines, a visit to this place is like a pilgrimage which gradually transforms the world from the mortal to the sacral. The torii gate serves as the entrance dividing the profane human world from the sacred home of the divine spirit (Kami). We see people bowing when they pass under the torii, to show respect as they enter into the sacred site.

Then we follow the winding gravel path approaching the shrine, called sando. The pathway is surrounded by huge trees, like a deep tranquil forest.  It doesn’t feel like we are in the middle of Tokyo, in Shibuya district, one of the busiest commercial area. In this serene forest we can only hear the sound of birds chirping and the visitors’ footsteps on the gravel.

The shrine is dedicated to the divine spirit (Kami) of Emperor Meiji and the Empress Shoken. Emperor Meiji laid the foundation of modernization of Japan, known as the Meiji Restoration, ending the Tokugawa shogunate influence. Under his leadership Japan adopted Western ideas and production methods to industrialize the country. Japan opened the country to the world and emerged from a closed society to one of the most modern societies in the world, in less than 40 years. After the Emperor died in 1912, the parliament decided to build a memorial site in the area near Yoyogi Park, this shrine site, because the emperor and his wife liked to walk through the gardens here.

Photo: Wikimedia

In Shinto, something divine is regarded as Kami (divine spirit), it can be found in mythology, in nature, and in human beings. Japanese people are amazed and have gratitude towards such Kami and enshrined them. In this way the Meiji Shrine is dedicated to honouring the Kami of Emperor Meiji and his wife. We can feel the whole site as an awesome home for the Kami, reflecting how the Japanese people honour and feel grateful to their emperor and empress.

The gravel pathway leads us to a number of sake and wine barrels stacked up along both sides of the pathway. More than 200 sake barrels were displayed as offering to the Emperor, donated by famous sake breweries in the country. As the Emperor loved French wines, wine barrels were imported from France and displayed along with the sake barrels. 

Photo: Own Work

Passing the Ootori (Second Torii Gate),  we reach the Temizusha (water font) at the entrance to the main sanctuary, to wash your hands and cleanse mouths. Wooden ladles are provided at this water font so we can wash our hands and cleanse our mouths. This is a ritual to purify ourselves before entering the main sanctuary.

Before entering the main sanctuary we can also go to the Juyosho, Amulet Kiosk, to buy charms and amulets or writing our wish on an ema, a wooden tablet. People wrote everything from wishing good luck, passing exams, to get a child, love and broken hearts, forgiveness and gratefulness. There are also omamori (protective amulets) for traffic safety, health, or success in education. Omamori are usually attached to or put into a bag, purse or pocket, and kept until they have fulfilled their purpose.

Photo: Own Work

Then we approach Minami Shinmon, the main entrance to the main shrine complex. The gate is a two-story building, made from Japanese hinoki cypress, and copper roof. We can see small heart-shaped patterns carved into the wood work as ornament. When passing through the gate, we must step over the wooden beam under the gate, and not step on it, and bow our head to show respect while passing through the gate.

Photo: Own Work

On the east side of the main shrine complex there is the Kaguraden, a building where the Shinto people pray and participate in the special ritual (Kigansai). During the special ritual a kagura, or sacred music and dance, Yamato-Mai, is performed as an offering to the Kami. This sacred dance is based on a poem by Emperor Meiji saying that we should not forget paying respect to the Kami, as we owe our existence to the them.

Next to the the Kaguraden, is the most sacred building, the honden, where the Kami are enshrined. The main shrine is built in the nagare zukuri style, a common style of Shinto shrine architecture. In this style, the roof at the front of the shrine is extended covering the steps up to the building. The honden includes the noritoden (prayer recital hall), the naihaiden (inner shrine hall), and the gehaiden (outer shrine hall). The gehaiden is at the front of the main shrine, and is where visitors pray. 

Photo: Abrahami -Wikimedia

On the way-out we pass through the Iris garden, a beautiful garden designed by the emperor for his wife. In summer, many types of irises, the empress' favorite, blooming in violet, blue, and white colors. Further down there is the Kiyomasa’s well a pure spring. It is named after a military commander who dug it around 400 years ago. The well was visited frequently by the emperor and empress while they were alive.



Sunday, June 13, 2021

An Interview with Deng


Photo: Wikimedia

When I visited Huangshan in Anhui province, my guide showed me the place where Mister Deng often sit during his leisure time to enjoy the scenery of the magnificent mountains, floating above the clouds. This place seemed to be Mister Deng favorite spot and he chose this mountain area to deliver his 'Huang Shan Speech' to promote this place as a key site to revitalize the tourism industry, and to address the future direction of Chinese tourism. Years later, the Chinese tourism market has transformed into one of the world's most-watched tourist markets, the number of domestic trips reached six billion in 2019, indicating an exponential increase compared to the number of trips made in China ten years ago. 

Known as China’s “father of reforms” Mister Deng in 1978 announced a new policy, the “Open Door Policy”, to open the door to foreign businesses that wanted to set up in China. The policy of “reform and openness” (gaige kaifang) laid the foundation for a successful transition from a planned economy to a market economy, achieving unprecedented high growth rates. Average annual growth rates of 9.7 percent pulled hundreds of millions of Chinese out of poverty. The policy of reform and openness also led to a fundamental departure from norms in Mao’s China, replacing collectivism and group conformity with individual performance and diversity. 

Enough said about him, I desperately wanted to interview this man and made an application through the CPC (Communist Party of China) office in Beijing. Knowing the tight bureaucracy of this office I wasn’t expecting approval soon and might be never ever get the approval, I was just trying my luck. I knew there were not many foreign journalists that got the chance to interview him personally, Mike Wallace, Oriana Fallaci, Ezra Vogel to name a few, who else? 

Then after 4 months, I found a red envelope in my apartment letter box, it was from the CPC office indicating an appointment in the next month meeting Mister Deng. Wow , really? It made my day!  It was my first interview with a political leader, and from China! 

So on a Saturday, at the CPC Office at Chang’an Avenue in Beijing, I met a small man in a gray Mao suit, white socks and black Neiliansheng shoes. I didn’t expect that he was Mister Deng, he looked so humble for such a paramount leader. For sure, he didn’t look like as what once pronounced by Henry Kissinger, a ''nasty little man''.


I said:

“Good afternoon Mister Deng, you are known to be the de facto leader of China, in the way that although you are not the chairman of the CPC and neither are you the President of China, but you are the chief policy maker and reformer of China throughout the decades leading to China’s great development. You are a member of Standing Committee of the Political Bureau, and the chairman of the CCP’s Central Military Commission, but it seems you avoid to be the top leader of China.”


Mister Deng:

“See, we must remember that chairman Mao for most of his life, he did very good things to China. Many times he united China and saved the party and the state from various crises. Mao Zedong Thought lead us to victory in the revolution and it will continue to be a treasured possession of the our country, and we will always remember him as a founder of our party and state. 

Because of his leadership he was treated like an emperor reminiscent of the country’s imperial past. The people created Mao Zedong’s cult of personality, fueled by fanatics, mass media, propaganda and books, elevating his status to that of an infallible heroic leader. The whole nation mimicked his style of drab clothing, memorizing his quotations from the little Red Book and living under the gaze of his imposing portraits. 

He then became authoritarian and led the country in patriarchal ways, one-man rule, which are feudal in nature. He became unwilling to listen to other comrades, did not listen to differing opinions. We can’t say that all criticisms were right, but neither was he ready to listen to many right opinions put forward not only by me but by other party members. At this time, he increasingly lost touch with reality. For instance, he did not consistently practice democratic centralism and the mass line, and he failed to institutionalize them during his lifetime. Democratic centralism was impaired and so was collective leadership. 

I opposed the notion of lifelong terms, of personality cult, and of one-man rule and desired to prevent the emergence of a Mao-like strongman. I promoted ideological pragmatism and emphasized above all the necessity of a fundamental reform of the party, especially by reviving the inner-party discussion and decision-making processes, known as collective leadership.”


I said:

“The world can observe the great progress that China achieved in economic development in past decades, but many Western scholars believed that China’s reform and opening-up policy only achieved great success concerning economic modernization, with no significant progress in political democratization. Some even went so far as to claim the reason for the successful Chinese economic modernization was precisely because China did not have any accompanying democratic reforms.”


Mister Deng:

“In this century China has been a land of warlords, invading armies, floods, famines and revolution. Tens of millions have died violently, or wretchedly from starvation. I told President Bush in 1989 that if all one billion of us undertake multiparty elections, we will certainly run into a full-scale civil war. Taking precedence over all China's problems is stability, therefore to avoid disorder and the violence we  opposed political pluralism. 

However, as I told Oriana Fallaci of the Washington Post, I can tell you that after the overthrow of the Gang of Four we emphasized very much the promotion of the socialist democracy. Without giving up, of course, the dictatorship of the proletariat. Democracy and dictatorship of the proletariat are the two aspects of one antithesis, and I should add that proletarian democracy is far superior to capitalistic democracy.”


I said:

“I guess with proletarian democracy you mean the key concept of democracy held by the Chinese elites who sought to combine democracy with authority, dictatorship and centralism. “


Mister Deng:

“The essence and the core of socialist democracy is that the people are the masters of the country, and it is the system of multi-party cooperation and political consultation under the leadership of the CCP. We practice democratic centralism, which is the integration based on democracy, with democracy under the guidance of centralism. Democratic centralism is an integral part of the socialist system. Under this system, personal interests must be subordinated to collective ones, the interests of part to those of the whole, and immediate to long-term interests.”


I said:

“ John Naisbitt, a well-known American scholar of future studies, predicts that a new ‘vertical democracy’, which combines the bottom-up mass participation with the top-down central command, emerging in China, and is likely to become an alternative to the Western style of ‘horizontal democracy’.

We can observe that this ‘vertical democracy’ worked well in achieving fast economic development in China.  The world is impressed by the striking economic reform under your leadership, but through the eyes of many Western observers there has been slow progress toward political reform. Despite some random democratic free speech, as in the ‘Democracy Wall’ period during the late seventies, political freedom has shown almost no progress.”


Mister Deng:

“I deeply understand this point. If we fail to do political reform, we shall be unable to preserve the gains we have made in the economic reform. Without political reform, economic reform cannot succeed … So in the final analysis, the success of all our other reforms depends on the success of the political reform.

We do allow political reform, but on condition that the three elements of China’s socialist democracy are upheld:  first, the people’s rule over the government, which is the main principle of democracy; second, the CCP’s leadership and centralism, which are necessary for democracy; and third, collectivism, which is also the major principle for resolving the conflicts of different interests in practice.”


I said:

“I think while there is general agreement that democracy literally means ‘rule by the people’ the Communist Party concept of ‘the people’ differs from the Western concept. The Western liberal view of ‘the people’ is all-inclusive, referring to all members of society and viewing society as an aggregation of individuals and a plurality of diversified social groups and interests. By contrast, in the Communist Party view, ‘the people’ is a collectivist concept. The emphasis was on the pursuit of collective interests, rather than being based upon, or even recognising, individual autonomy and expression of interests.” 


Mister Deng:

“What China needed is socialist democracy, for this is people’s democracy, and not bourgeois democracy, individual democracy.  We practice democratic centralism, which is the integration based on democracy, with democracy under the guidance of centralism. Democratic centralism is an integral part of the socialist system. Under this system, personal interests must be subordinated to collective ones, the interests of part to those of the whole. The purpose of socialist democracy is not, after all, to validate individualism or pluralism, but to unify the people for the pursuit of common interests and objectives. “


I said:

“According to Western media, you ordered to use military force through martial law in order to squash the protests that had erupted in the Tiananmen Square in 1989, despite resistance from some leaders. The result was bloodshed and within 48 hours Tiananmen Square was cleared. According to intelligence estimate about 1,000 people died and several dozen of soldiers and police were killed by protesters. Did you order the bloodshed or was it a military blunder, Mister Deng?”


Mister Deng:

“I praised the army as ‘the bastion of iron of the state’ and stressed that China would continue the basic policies of economic reform and openness to the outside world. This incident has impelled us to think over the future as well as the past sober-mindedly. It will enable us to carry forward our cause more steadily, better and even faster and correct our mistakes faster. 

We cannot tolerate turmoil. We will impose martial law again if turmoil appears again. Our purpose is to maintain stability so that we can work on construction, and our logic is simple: with so many people and so few resources, China can accomplish nothing without peace and unity in politics and a stable social order. Stability must take precedence over everything. 

We can't handle chaos while we're busy with construction. If today we have a big demonstration and tomorrow we have a great airing of views and a bunch of wall posts, we won't have any energy left to get anything done. That's why we have to insist on clearing the square.” 


I said:

“There was a dramatic incident during the Tiananmen Square crackdown that captured the whole world attention. The Western media called it ‘The Tank Man’ incident, a lone man holding a grocery bag was photographed and videoed standing in front of a column of tanks leaving Tiananmen Square via Chang'an Avenue. As the tank driver tried to go around him, the ‘Tank Man’ moved into the tank's path. He continued to stand defiantly in front of the tanks for some time, then climbed up onto the turret of the lead tank to speak to the soldiers inside. After returning to his position in front of the tanks, the man was pulled aside by a group of people. The fate of "Tank Man" following the demonstration is not known and for the world the ‘Tank Man’ remained faceless and nameless. 

May I ask you Mister Deng, who is this man that stopped the tanks, and what happened to him?” 


Mister Deng sat motionless on his overstuffed chair, his feet barely touch the floor. Suddenly an officer came approaching him and whispered something in his ear, Mister Deng nodded and then declared that he had other appointment in his schedule and must go now. So the meeting was over….



This is an imaginary interview in memory of Deng Xiaoping



Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Tokyo, at Omotesando


Walking the one kilometer Omotesando street is a great experience. Known as Tokyo's Champs-Elysees, it is a zelkova tree lined avenue,  featuring numerous fashion flagship stores. Omote being ‘frontal’ and Sando being ‘approach’, it has been serving as the main approach to Meiji shrine since the Taisho era. Nowadays the broad avenue stretching from the Meiji shrine entrance all the way to Aoyama Street sees millions walking its pavements to shop at the luxury brand stores. 

The narrower, winding back streets of Ura-Harajuku on either side of Omotesando are also interesting. In these streets, we find many not so branded stores yet charming clothing stores, themed cafes, and some of the best Japanese restaurants in Tokyo. 

But even if we are not in Tokyo to shop, just walking along Omotesando is refreshing, enjoying the atmosphere, and observing the distinct architecture of the buildings designed by Japan superstar architects such as Tadao Ando, Toyo Ito, Jun Aoki, Hiroshi Nakamura and Norihiko Dan. 

Tadao Ando designed the shopping mall Omotesando Hills, with 250m facade made along the street, each floor was built along a slope to create a continuation from the street, giving additional public space. A garden was made on the rooftop, to continue the atmosphere from the zelkova trees along the street.

Photo: Wikimedia

Toyo Ito designed the building especially for Tod’s, famous Italian shoe and handbag brand. With the L-shaped and  a narrow frontage, the concrete wall gives the impression of a row of zelkova trees in relation to environment in Omotesando.  Where many luxury brand boutiques have been built, by selecting concrete as a material the designer daringly proposed a substance and strength in contract with the surrounding glass buildings.

Photo: Wikimedia

Jun Aoki designed the Louis Vuitton building in the image of a stack of trunks, as Louis Vuitton is famous for its luggages and bags . The trunks, each representing a unique room, are connected with corridors between trunks. The building with the soft texture of the metal fabric on the facade representing fallen leaves from the zelkova trees in front of the building.

Photo: Wikimedia

Norihiko Dan’s Hugo Boss eight-story building is surrounded by Tod’s L-shaped building. Thus, he designed it trying to loosen the influence of the Tod’s building by creating vertical shapes combined with circular floors. This seems to accentuate the adjacent Tod’s building, and creates a symbiotic harmony. The building’s structure is composed of columns made from steel with a wood-like texture.

Photo: Wikimedia

Another shopping mall, Tokyu Plaza, has emerged as a fortress of fashion. The unique structure was designed by Hiroshi Nakamura, an award-winning architect. It officially becoming the home base for big fashion retailers, as well as a host of smaller domestic Japanese brands. The front elevator walled with mirrors looks attractive from far, but when we climb the elevator it is quite dizzying to see all the reflections on the mirrors. It is like walking inside a tunnel with walls of discotheque glittering ball. Fancy, but not something for the minimalists.

Photo: Wikimedia




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