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Garden of Eden » Origins

Definition and Origins

Author: Benjamin T. Laie

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The Garden of Eden is the biblical earthly paradise created by God to be inhabited by his first human creation - Adam and Eve. Some claim that the name “Eden” derives from the Akkadian term edinu, which means ‘plain’. In the biblical tradition, the garden is often alluded to by the biblical authors as a luxuriant place, which is why it is sometimes called the “Garden of God.” However, it is the biblical definition of the garden that is our concern here. Adam was the first man created by God in his image. After God saw the loneliness of Adam as "not good," God caused a deep sleep on Adam and created Eve (the first woman) out of Adam's rib as his helper (Genesis 2:20-23). To properly understand what the garden is to the narrator of Genesis, it is important to discern its location, the characters playing roles in it and what took place in it. All these contribute to our understanding of the biblical definition of the “Garden of Eden.”

The Eden narrative is narrated in the Bible's book of Genesis 2:4b-3: 24, which places the garden at the east side of Eden. Commonly, translations have the “Garden of Eden” with the construct element “of,” but the Hebrew text has ‘gan-beeden’, which is not in the construct form, and that the preposition “be” in ‘beeden’ is to be translated as “in.” Therefore, it is grammatically incorrect to translate ‘gan-beeden’ as “Garden of Eden,” but the “Garden in Eden.” The actual location of Eden is disputed amongst scholars, but a number of them have concluded that the garden is an extraterrestrial place – where the gods resided. The water from the garden was the water-source for the two great rivers: Tigris and Euphrates, which are well-known in ancient Mesopotamia for the production of irrigation systems in the surrounding area. Its location then should be placed somewhere in Mesopotamia.

LOCATION & FEATURES

The description of the garden in Genesis 2:10-14 states that the water from Eden watered four important areas: Pishon, which flows into the land of Havilah; Gihon, which flows into the land of Cush; Tigris, which flows into the eastern side of Assyria; and the fourth is Euphrates. The garden is also said to have “every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food.” Yet, two trees are singled out: the “Tree of Life” in the middle of the garden and the “Tree of Knowledge of good and evil.” However, the Genesis account is inconsistent at some point, Genesis 2:8-9; 3:1-3 has both trees in the midst of the garden, whereas Genesis 3:22-24 gives the possibility that both trees were planted on the east side of the garden where Adam was originally placed.

LIKE COSMOGONIC LITERATURE OF THE ANCIENT NEAR EAST, THE EDEN LEGEND IS DESIGNED TO SPECULATE ON THE ORIGINS OF HUMANITY & ITS FIRST RESIDENCE.

Even more, the description of the garden in the Genesis account is not identical with other biblical texts alluding to the garden. For example, in Ezekiel 28, the luxuriant materials found in the garden are not mentioned in Genesis 2:4b-3:24. For some of these reasons, the concept of a “garden” of a god(s) was a very common metaphor in the ancient Near East of where the god(s) resided. For the narrator of Genesis, the “Garden in Eden” was imaginatively constructed for an etiological (origin or cause of things) purpose, not as a divine residence, but of the first man and woman on earth – Adam and Eve. As generally accepted in modern scholarship, Genesis 1-11 is labeled as the “Primeval History,” which includes mythologies and legends that were very common not just in Israel, but throughout the ancient Near East. These myths and legends are not Israelite in origin but were adapted by the biblical writers for either polemical or rhetorical purposes.

Some of the crucial questions readers ought to ask to properly discern the “Garden in Eden” are: What is the purpose of the Eden narrative in the book of Genesis? What did the narrator seek to achieve? Importantly, to reach this goal, readers should not treat the “Garden in Eden” exclusively from the characters playing roles in the narrative, such as God, Adam, Eve, the serpent, the singled out trees: tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and especially the narrator’s overall purpose. To focus exclusively on the "garden" without acknowledging these characters would only disrupt the plot of the narrative.

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The Garden of Eden by Thomas Cole

ANCIENT INFLUENCE

Employing symbols and metaphors in ancient literature was very common; they contain rhetorical elements in order to persuade readers to accept what has been transmitted. In other words, ancient literature is not aimless. Works provide full expression of something or things. Myths concerning the residence of a god(s) in the ancient Near East are usually in gardens, according to the earliest discovered literature attributed to the Sumerians. In the book of Genesis, instead of God residing in the garden in Eden, God places Adam and Eve in it. This suffices to inform readers the re-adaptation of the garden concept by the narrator of Genesis, which is easily left out by interpreters.

The most celebrated discovered account concerning the garden as a luxuriant place and where gods reside is found in a Sumerian literature called “Enki and Ninhursag”:

The land Dilmun is pure, the land Dilmun is clean;

The land Dilmun is clean, the land Dilmun is most bright…

In Dilmun, the raven utters no cries…

The lion kills not, the wolf snatches not the lamb,

Unknown is the kid-devouring wild-dog…

Its old woman (says) not “I am an old woman,”

Its old man (says) not “I am an old man.”

(in Pritchard, 38)

The Sumerians are considered a highly gifted non-Semitic people of unknown origin who settled in the lower Tigris-Euphrates Valley around the 4th millennium BCE. From the brief description of the idyllic island of Dilmun, it is apparently similar to Christianity’s concept of paradise where life never ends. The island or land is described as a “pure,” “clean,” and “bright” and where there is no old age. According to Sumerian literature, this island/land was brought up from earth by the sun-god Utu and turned into a veritable garden of the gods. Apparently, from the garden (Dilmun) in Sumerian myth, it was a place created by god(s) for gods.

THE GENESIS VERSION

The notion of a garden as an extraterrestrial place in Sumerian literature was obviously borrowed by the narrator of the book of Genesis for theological and etiological purposes. To understand Genesis’ version of the garden, one must take into consideration the place and characters playing roles in the narrative: God, Garden in Eden, Adam, Eve, the Serpent and the two trees (tree of life and tree of knowledge). The narrator of Genesis clearly refined the Dilmun Island to meet its agenda for his/her/their audience. However, in the Genesis version, the occurrence of death and problems between God and humanity were only pronounced by God as a result of Adam and Eve’s deliberate act of eating the fruit from the forbidden ‘tree of knowledge’. Apparently, the Garden in Eden, like the land of Dilmun was a place of everlasting joy without death. The securing of the ‘tree of life’ by God placing the cherubim with a flaming sword in it to prevent access to it was also a result of Adam and Eve’s disobedience by seeking to be a god. One other major refinement by the Genesis narrator of the Dilmun Island is that instead of the garden being God’s residence, God places Adam and Eve in it. The theological reflection here would be, unlike foreign gods, the God of Genesis is not a selfish god, but a god who sought to establish a relationship with humanity.

DISOBEDIENCE LED TO DISRUPTION IN GOD’S RELATIONSHIP WITH HUMANITY BECAUSE OF ADAM & EVE.

Briefly, the purpose of the Eden narrative in the book of Genesis could be interpreted in two ways. First, since the Eden narrative is preceded by the creation story in Genesis 1:1-2:4a that ends with the statement: “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, a sixth day,” the Eden story presents a contrasting picture of the completed creation as “very good” with disruption (Adam and Eve’s disobedience in Genesis 2:4b-3:24). What readers may easily forget is that God had placed two special trees in the midst of the garden: “Tree of Life” and the “Tree of Knowledge.” More attention has been given to the “Tree of Knowledge” over the “Tree of Life.” The mentioning of the “Tree of Life” has an important function in the narrative as well. God only forbade Adam and Eve from eating a fruit from the “tree of knowledge.” The critical question is, why did God not forbid Adam and Eve to eat from the “tree of life”? God commanded that they are to eat from any tree except for one: the “Tree of Knowledge” (Gen. 2:16-17).

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Adam & Eve

The narrator of the Eden narrative has a motive to reveal that the “tree of life” was also opened to Adam and Eve to eat, however, Adam and Eve, rather, chose to disobey God’s command. To the narrator, it is because of Adam and Eve’s pride to become gods that evil has entered the world that was created “very good.” For the narrator’s intended audience, they must choose life (obedience) rather than death (disobedience). This disobedience led to disruption in God’s relationship with humanity because of Adam and Eve. Death or evil (concept) has entered the world that was created “very good” by Adam and Eve, not God. Evil is a human product.

Second, the Eden narrative also functions as an etiological legend seeking to answer questions about human origin. The creation story in Genesis 1:1-2:4a has already confirmed questions concerning the cosmogony, which was God’s work. As for the Eden narrative, Adam and Eve were the first humans who were also the first parents who gave birth to humanity. Like cosmogonic literature of the ancient Near East, the Eden legend is designed to speculate on the origins of humanity and its first residence. Apparently, what one finds in the ‘Primeval History’ section of Genesis are legends about the beginnings of human science, which of course would contradict to 21st century CE scientific discoveries.

CONCLUSION

The Garden in Eden was the first residence of humanity given by God himself. Unlike Sumerian mythologies, the Garden in Eden was created by God not for himself, but for Adam and Eve. The narrator’s depiction of God is obviously not a selfish, but a loving God. Genesis apparently elevated God’s divine status as not needing a physical residence because it would only disrupt God’s omnipresent character. From the above analysis, the Garden in Eden is not the garden “of” Eden but a garden “in” Eden. This presupposes that this particular garden was perhaps not the only garden in Eden based on the Hebrew translation of ‘gan-beeden’ provided above.

Theophilos » Who was

Definition and Origins

Author: Mark Cartwright

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Theophilos was emperor of the Byzantine Empirefrom 829 to 842 CE. He was the second ruler of the Amorion dynasty founded by his father Michael II. Popular during his reign and responsible for a lavish rebuilding of Constantinople’s palaces and fortifications, Theophilos is chiefly remembered today for a major defeat by the Arab Caliphate in 838 CE and as the last emperor who supported the policy of iconoclasm, that is the destruction of icons and their veneration being treated as heresy.

SUCCESSION & POPULARITY

Theophilos was from Amorion, the city in Phrygia which gave its name to the dynasty begun by his father Michael II (r. 820-829 CE). Michael’s reign, tarnished right from the beginning by his brutal murder of his predecessor Leo V (r. 813-820 CE), continued its downward spiral with a serious revolt led by Thomas the Slav and significant defeats at the hands of the Arabs in Sicily and Crete.

THEOPHILOS WAS POPULAR BECAUSE OF HIS EXUBERANT PERSONALITY, EVEN PARTICIPATING ONCE IN A CHARIOT RACE IN THE HIPPODROME.

Inheriting the throne in 829 CE aged 25, Theophilos was seen as a new hope for the empire to get back on its feet again. A return to former glories was not to be but at least Theophilos was popular because of his exuberant personality, even participating once in a chariot race in the Hippodrome of Constantinople (which he won, of course). The emperor also enjoyed a reputation as a lover of learning and justice, especially when he introduced the tradition of the emperor riding to church on Fridays and permitting any commoner to throw questions of justice or appeals his way. The historian J. Herrin recounts one such episode:

On one of the occasions a widow complained to Theophilos that she had been defrauded of a horse by the city eparch. Indeed, she claimed it was the vey horse he was riding! He ordered an investigation and discovered that her story was correct: the eparch had taken her horse and given it to the emperor. Theophilos immediately returned the horse to its rightful owner and had the very high-ranking official punished. (75)

Another eccentricity of the emperor was the habit of walking about the streets of his capital in disguise asking the people what they thought of the problems of the day and checking if the merchants were selling their goods at fair prices. Theophilos’ reputation for learning stemmed not only from his own education but his endorsement of everyone else’s - he increased the faculties of the university at the capital, increased the number of scriptoria where manuscripts were duplicated, and ensured that teachers were paid by the state.

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Follis Coin of Theophilos

BUILDING PROJECTS

Theophilos’ other domestic achievements included a lavish restoration of the royal palace and its gardens, which, over the centuries, had become something of a hotchpotch architectural mess. Buildings were ripped down and new homogenous ones with connecting corridors were built using white marble, fine wall mosaics and columns in rose and porphyry marble. Best of all was the throne room, here described by the historian L. Brownworth:

No other place in the empire - or perhaps the world - dripped so extravagantly in gold or boasted so magnificent a display of wealth. Behind the massive golden throne were trees made of hammered gold and silver, complete with jewel-encrusted mechanical birds that would burst into song at the touch of a lever. Wound around the base of the tree were golden lions and griffins staring menacingly from beside each armrest, looking as if they could spring up at any moment. In what must have been a terrifying experience for unsuspecting ambassadors, the emperor would give a signal and a golden organ would play a deafening tune, the birds would sing, and the lions would twitch their tails and roar. (162)

Other projects, all probably funded by the discovery of gold mines in Armenia, included the building of the Bryas summer palace in the capital, adding the bronze doors to the Hagia Sophia which are still there today, extending the city’s harbour fortifications, and introducing a new copper follis coin. Theophilos’ reputation for extravagant spending was epitomised by the bridal show he organised to find himself a wife. The winner was an Armenian girl named Theodora who received as her prize, besides the emperor himself, of course, a magnificent golden apple just as in the judgement of Paris story from ancient Greece. If ever an emperor knew how to market to his people the good times were here again, it was Theophilos.

DEFENDING THE EMPIRE

In foreign affairs, Theophilos benefitted from Leo V’s defeat of the Bulgars in 814 CE and the sudden death of their leader, the Khan Krum. A 30-year peace allowed both the Bulgars and Byzantines to concentrate on other threats. Theophilos strengthened the empire’s defences, notably building the Sarkel fortress at the mouth of the Don River c. 833 CE to protect against invasion from the Rus Vikings who had formed the state of Kiev. In a similar vein, new provinces or themes, were established: Cherson (in the Crimea, and protected by the Sarkel fortress), and Paphlagonia and Chaldia (both intended to better protect the area south of the Black Sea). Smaller military districts (kleisoura) were created at Charsianon, Cappadocia, and Seleukeia in central and southeast Asia Minor to protect the mountain passes most likely to be used by invading armies.

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The Byzantine Empire in the mid-9th century CE

Elsewhere, although in the East the Arab Caliphate had previously been kept quiet by its own internal problems, the Byzantines lost the initiative to the western Arabs in Italy when Taranto fell in 839 CE, splitting the Byzantine territory there in two. Theophilos concentrated on meeting the Arab threat closer to home in Asia Minor and he made inroads into Cilicia in 830 and 831 CE for which he awarded himself a triumph. Relations were not always hostile between the two states as during the middle part of his reign the emperor twice sent the learned clergyman John VII Grammatikos on diplomatic missions to the Arabs from which he brought back new scientific knowledge and ideas which influenced Byzantine art and architecture.

THE ACQUISITION OF AMORION - THE EMPEROR’S HOMETOWN - WAS SWEET REVENGE FOR THE ARAB CALIPH MUTASIM.

Caliph Mutasim (r. 833-842 CE) was ambitious, though, and he sent a huge army into Byzantine territory in 838 CE. Despite having the two gifted generals of Theophobos and Manuel, the Byzantines were unable to prevent defeat at the battle of Dazimon in Pontos (northern Asia Minor) on 22 July 838 CE. The victorious Arab army, led by the Caliph’s own star general Afshin, were then able to sack and take the strategically important cities of Ankara and Amorion. The acquisition of Amorion - the emperor’s hometown - was sweet revenge for Mutasim, whose father’s city of Zapetra had been sacked by Theophilos only the year before. This fact may also explain the Caliph’s forced relocation of the entire civilian population and infamous execution of the so-called 42 Martyrs of Amorion who had all refused to convert to Islam after seven years of imprisonment.

ICONOCLASM

The emperor’s domestic affairs were largely focussed on the battle within the church on whether or not the veneration of icons was acceptable or not as orthodox practice. Leo V had begun a second wave of iconoclasm in the Byzantine Church (the first having occurred between 726 and 787 CE), whereby all prominent religious icons were destroyed and those who venerated them were persecuted as heretics. After a lull during the reign of Leo’s successor Michael II, Theophilos picked up the pace again and vehemently attacked the iconophiles. In this campaign he was aided by the staunch iconoclast John VII Grammatikos who had served under Leo V and who was made Patriarch (Bishop) of Constantinople c. 837 CE. A major force behind the iconoclasm policies of Leo V, the fact that John was Theophilos’ tutor and advisor, perhaps unsurprisingly, led to a new wave of attacks on icons and their supporters.

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Byzantine Iconoclasm

Important figures who suffered for their pro-icon beliefs included the brothers Theodore and Theophanes Graptos and the icon-painter Lazaros. The Graptos brothers acquired their name after both had their foreheads branded (graptos). Theophilos ordered that twelve iambic pentameters were to be tattooed on the pair as a warning to all of the dangers of superstition and disobeying the law. Lazaros’ punishment was different but no less painful, as he was flogged and had his hands burned with red-hot nails. The painter was permitted to leave Constantinople, though, and he sought refuge in the Phoberou Monastery at the north end of the Bosphorus.

Theophilos might have been good at bending the clergy to his way of thinking but closer to home he was rather less successful. The emperor’s consort Theodora remained a regular venerator of icons in secret, even inside the royal palace. After Theophilos’ death, John VII Grammatikos was exiled in 843 CE and in March of the same year Theodora swiftly ended iconoclasm in a move widely known as the “Restoration of Orthodoxy’ or even the “Triumph of Orthodoxy”, which was celebrated in a new outbursting of religious art.

DEATH & SUCCESSORS

When Theophilos, aged 38, died of dysentery in January 842 CE he was succeeded by his son Michael III but as he was still a minor Theodora ruled as his regent until 855 CE. Besides ending iconoclasm, for which she was later made a saint, she also ensured that her husband’s memory was not condemned by the Church, successfully persuading the bishops that Theophilos had repented of his iconoclastic zeal on his deathbed. Theophilos gained literary immortality as he is one of the judges in hell in the famous mid-12th century CE satire Timarion - illustrating the emperor’s reputation for justice was long-lasting indeed. His son Michael would be the last ruler of the Amorion dynasty as he unwisely befriended and promoted Basil the Armenian who killed his sponsor and took the throne for himself in 867 CE as Basil I, founding the enduring Macedonian dynasty.

Ancient History in Japan » Origins

Ancient Civilizations

Author: James Blake Wiener

The “Ancient Japan” initiative at Ancient History Encyclopedia arose as there is a dearth of open access and digitally curated information concerning early Japanese history available online and in English. East and Southeast Asia are arguably the most exciting regions in the world today due to their respective nations’ economic growth and rich cultural heritage. While China and India have received increasing attention in company boardrooms and classrooms around the world, Japan remains a prominent economic and cultural power with a history that is at once beguiling and unique. Japan remains a key global player by virtue of its technological expertise, acumen in engineering, and financial resources. As Ancient History Encyclopedia is cognizant of the role it can play in facilitating intercultural exchange, it was our belief that we could further interest in Japan and Japanese history and culture, especially within our “home demographic” in the United Kingdom, by creating and publishing content on Japanese history and culture.

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Kinkakuji Temple in Kyoto, Japan

When applying for a travel grant from the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation on Ancient History Encyclopedia’s behalf years later, I was optimistic that something tangible and good would come from my efforts. However, I was unsure of our chances of success despite having received a grant a from the British-Korean Society to cover Korean history and culture earlier in the year. Much to my satisfaction, Ancient History Encyclopedia was awarded a grant that would enable me to travel to Japan for two weeks in order to take pictures of ancient artifacts, temples, palaces, and shrines for our editorial team’s “Ancient Japan Project.” I would spend a week visiting museums and sites in and around Tokyo and the Kanto region, continuing the following week onwards to Kyoto and several sites in and around the Kansai region.

TOKYO & KANTO REGION

Unlike my trip to Armenia, which followed my trip to Japan, my nerves were relatively calm as I embarked on my flight to Tokyo from Zürich, as I pre-purchased a Japan Rail Pass and booked my tour excursions well in advance. I knew that Japan becomes crowded with tourists in March due to the arrival of the cherry blossoms and annual hanami parties, but having lived in Manhattan for so many years, I knew I could handle it. After a long flight over Siberia, passengers were afforded glorious views of Mt. Fuji before our plane landed at Tokyo’s Narita Airport. I took this as an auspicious omen, and that the trip and the project would be an immense success.

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Mount Fuji

My first couple of days in Tokyo were busy. After an initial day of getting acclimated to my surroundings in Shinjuku - my rented portable wifi hotspot was a lifesaver in helping me navigate around Japan - I set about visiting several important sites and landmarks in Tokyo: Tokyo National Museum, Nezu Museum, the Meiji Shrine, Yasukuni Shrine, and Sensoji Temple. In the evenings, I had time to visit Tokyo’s other wards, like Shibuya and Akihabara, where I would have dinner. Contrary to what others may say, Tokyo has a good amount of English signage. While Tokyo is a massive, ultra-modern metropolis, I was impressed with how efficient public transportation is in Japan and how well I had traversed the city via its many subway and rail lines. It is quite easy to get to the sites one wishes to see, but it is always a good idea to know the right exit number as you depart the subway! This invariably saves you time as stations can be far larger than what you’d expect elsewhere in Asia or Europe.

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View of Main Hall at Tokyo's Sensoji Temple

The Tokyo National Museum is one of the world’s greatest museums, and it should not be missed on any visit to Tokyo. It is also one of the largest museums in the world - it holds over 110,000 objects - and its galleries of artifacts are anything but disappointing. Set in a gorgeous park called “Ueno,” which is located in eastern Tokyo, and I spent several hours exploring the museum’s various galleries, which include both Japanese and Asian masterpieces. Of special note are the museum’s collection of prehistoric and early Japanese artifacts located in the Heiseikan Gallery. Here, I photographed many of the pictures that were needed by Ancient History Encyclopedia’s Editorial Team and which now appear in our articles and definitions.

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Jomon Stone Figurine

Another personal favorite from my stay in Tokyo was Sensoji Shrine. (It is not to be missed either on any trip to Tokyo.) Located in the eastern Asakusa ward, Sensoji Temple was originally built in 645 CE, making it the oldest temple in Tokyo. Popular but beautiful, Sensoji Temple is one of the most widely visited spiritual sites in the world with over 30 million visitors annually.

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Japanese Gardens around Sensoji Temple

SITUATED TO THE SOUTHEAST OF JAPAN NEAR THE PACIFIC OCEAN WITH DOZENS OF EXQUISITE, MEDIEVAL BUDDHISTZEN TEMPLES & SHINTOSHRINES, KAMAKURA IS A GEM.

While staying in Tokyo, I was able to take a day trip to Kamakura, which was the capital of Japan when it was ruled by the Kamakura Shogunate from 1189-1336 CE. Situated to the southeast of Japan near the Pacific Ocean with dozens of exquisite, medieval Buddhist Zen temples and Shinto shrines, Kamakura is a gem. Its claim to fame is undoubtedly its bronze statue of Amitabha Buddha located at the Kotoku-in Temple. While this iconic masterpiece is larger than one would expect - it is 13.35 meters (43.8 ft) tall - it is also hollow! I was able to walk inside for a few extra yen and explore its interior.

While in Kamakura, I also managed to visit the tiny island of Enoshima. Enoshima is believed by the Japanese to have been raised from the bottom of the sea in the 6th century CE by Benzaiten, the goddess of entertainment, music, and knowledge. Enoshima is entirely dedicated to her and filled with shrines, altars, and splendid views of the Pacific Ocean. The atmosphere there was festive as my visit coincided with Spring Equinox Day (“Shunbun no hi” in Japanese), which is a national holiday. People watching was a pleasure in Enoshima: businessmen, families, and teenagers thronged Enoshima’s tiny streets, enjoying the fresh sea air and paying their respects at the island’s hundreds of shrines.

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The Great Buddha of Kamakura

KYOTO

When it was time to go to Kyoto, I opted to take the famous Shinkansen or “bullet train.” It follows Japan’s Tokaido road, which links Tokyo to Osaka via Shizuoka, Nagoya, and Kyoto. This route was Japan’s “highway” during the Tokugawa Shogunate, as it linked Tokyo with Kyoto and Osaka. Japan is larger than most people think: it is about the size of California or slightly larger than Italy. The journey itself runs around three hours, but I delighted in observing the change of scenery along the way: small towns neatly organized, wooded forests set high on the mountains, salt flats and beaches, and the omnipresent Mt. Fuji.

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Kyoto's Heian Shrine

Kyoto was Japan’s capital for most of its history, and it is in Kyoto where Japanese art and culture was nourished in close proximity to the imperial court. (The Emperor and the imperial court did not relocate to Tokyo until 1867 CE.) My week in Kyoto was solidly booked: Kinkaku Temple, Kyoto Imperial Palace, Sanjusangendo Hall, Kiyomizu Temple, To-ji Temple, and Arashiyama Forest. I also arranged day trips to Nara, where I would see the Todaiji Temple and Kasuga Shrine, as well as the small city of Uji, where I would see the beautiful Byodin Temple and the Fushimi Inari Shrine with its thousands of eye-popping, organge torii gates.

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Torii, Fushimi Inari shrine

Kyoto is much smaller than Tokyo, but its transportation system is equally efficient. It is a sophisticated and cultured place where ceremony, etiquette, and tradition resonate with great potency. Kyoto contains over 2,000 temples and 20% of Japan’s National Treasures. In short, it has something for everyone. A real highlight during my first couple of days in Kyoto was visiting the Sanjusangendo Hall. Built in the 12th century CE, Sanjusangendo Hall is a Buddhist temple dedicated to the "Thousand Armed Kannon," who is the goddess of mercy. This temple is filled with over a thousand life-sized statues of the "Thousand Armed Kannon" in 10 rows and 50 columns. Most of these statues date from the 12th or 13th century CE. 28 Guardian deities surrounded the thousand Kannon statues, which have their origins in Hindu India. The hall itself is a gem of Heian architecture, and it remains the longest wooden structure at 120 m (394 ft) in length.

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1000 Kannon Statues, Sanjusangendo

Another place where history comes alive is To-ji Temple in Kyoto, which was founded at the beginning of the Heian Period in 796 CE. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, To-ji Temple and its surrounding halls offer the visitor a fine introduction to ancient Japanese architecture.

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Kyoto's Five-Story Pagoda at Toji Temple

On my last night in Japan, I visited my ryokan's onsen, where I pondered the profound variety and artistic splendor, which is seemingly ubiquitous across the country. Japan remains, as ever, a place of contrasts despite its deeply rooted social and cultural traditions. It is not a country easily summed up by a few clichéd words. “Enigmatic,” “enchanting,” and “enlightening” are the most apt words that come to mind when I revisit the pictures from my journey. Japan is a stunning travel experience, and the warmth, generosity, and the curiosity of the Japanese made an indelible impression in my mind and heart.

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Toji Temple Complex in Kyoto

On behalf of Ancient History Encyclopedia, I would like to thank the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation for their willingness to allow us to share Japan’s history and heritage with our users. We were delighted to visit, and we hope to explore and cover more Japanese history again in the near future.

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