Weathering With You: The Ending Explained

As I will be explaining the ending of Weathering with You (天気の子, Tenki no ko)—the 2019 anime directed by Makoto Shinkai—there are SPOILERS EVERYWHERE.

The movie is a romantic fantasy about a runaway teenage boy, Hodaka , who meets a girl who has the power to control the weather. The girl, Hina, has a chosen-one role. She is meant to save Tokyo from a non-stop deluge of rain by using her powers and sacrificing herself, thereby restoring balance to the world. Hina chooses to accept this destiny, but after she disappears from our world, Hodaka finds her and brings her back, dooming Tokyo in the process. At the end of the movie, Hodaka and Hina meet up again after three years, but much of Tokyo is now beneath the sea and there is no end in sight to the freakish non-stop rain.

In many of the reviews I have read, the writers stated that they found the decisions of the characters to be selfish and even immoral. 

I disagree, and this article explains why

Though Weathering With You also has themes related to love and the environment, in this article, I will focus on  ‘choice’. Towards the end of the movie, the three main characters Hodaka Morishima, Hina Amano and Keisuke Suga all face tough choices that end up not only altering their lives but also changing the world. In my opinion, the movie is mainly about the choices we make and how those choices affect us (and the people around us).

How does the Weather Maiden magic work in Weathering With You?

Weathering With You: The Sky Realm

The movie Weathering With You employs a soft-magic system. It is not exactly clear how Hina’s sunshine-making powers work. However, it is evident that there are greater forces at work—a god, gods or beings with technology so advanced that to humans it appears to be magic.

Let’s call them the External Forces. 

There are quite a few clues about the nature of the magic system in Weathering With You.

  1. Weather maidens have the power to change the weather in a limited area for a short period of time. Hina uses her power via prayer.
  2. Weather maidens appear when there are times of extreme imbalances in the weather, and their purpose is to restore balance to nature. 
  3. Due to the legends about weather maidens that are mentioned in the film, we can assume that these extreme, supernatural weather events (and subsequent weather-maiden interventions) happen from time to time. However, since so little is known about weather maidens, it is obvious that these events are rare.
  4. Weather maidens appear to acquire their weather-changing ability by visiting another realm (let’s call it the Sky Realm). Hina first accesses the realm by stepping through a red torii gate on the rooftop shrine of an abandoned building. Getting to the other realm seems to require great faith and determination. It is also not clear whether weather maidens are GIFTED their abilities or whether they have innate abilities that are ACTIVATED.
  5. The External Forces can direct or manipulate the actions of people. Hina was drawn to the rooftop shrine (and the portal) on a stormy day when clouds parted and a ray of sunlight illuminated the rooftop of a single derelict building in the middle of Tokyo—the building with the rooftop shrine.  Even though her mother was dying, Hina appeared to be compelled to leave her mother’s deathbed and track down the destination of the ray of light.
  6. This ray-of-light scene also shows that the External Forces have at least limited power to control the weather. It would have taken at least twenty minutes for Hina to walk to that building there, yet the single ray of sunlight remained perfectly in place. Although the External Forces have some control over the weather, they are either unable or unwilling to fix extreme imbalances in the weather. A weather maiden is required for that.
  7. The psychic interviewed by Hodaka and Natsumi divides weather maidens into two categories: those that can bring sunshine and those that can bring rain. Hina definitely has the power to control sunshine, but she is also shown to control lightning. I think we can assume she can control other types of weather phenomena. It is possible that the dichotomy mentioned by the psychic may be due to the weather maidens having to deal with different kinds of situations (e.g., drought or excessive rain) 
  8. Weather maidens are ill-fated. Through using their weather-changing ability, they will eventually be consumed by their power and will disappear into the Sky Realm, with the sacrifice of their physical body serving to ultimately restore balance. 
  9. The weather maiden’s sacrifice is not an appease-the-gods kind of blood sacrifice. Hina’s sacrifice is more of a transformation, and her spirit, essence or energy, which enters and then resides in the Sky Realm, magically restores balance.        
  10. As a weather maiden uses her power, her body slowly becomes translucent. This implies that the eventual sacrifice must be done willingly. The weather maiden, even after seeing the effect the magic use is having on her body, would need to still be willing to continue to use her powers in order for her to complete the transformation. It seems that weather maidens gradually come to an instinctual understanding of what is going to happen to them (and Hina also receives direct confirmation of her fate from Suga’s niece, Natsumi). To me, this implies that the self-sacrifice must be done willingly AND knowingly. 
  11. When weather maidens finally disappear into the Sky Realm, this is shown to many people in their dreams, perhaps as a way of acknowledging the sacrifice made. I suppose that some people who have a religious bent may not only thank her for her sacrifice, but also, in time pray to her as a goddess.    
  12. When Hina follows Hodaka back to Earth, thus reneging on her ‘chosen one’ self-sacrifice, there is non-stop rain for three years with no end in sight but no further appearances of any ‘Sunshine Girls’. This implies that a weather maiden is a one-of-a-kind, one-at-a-time role.  
Weathering With You: The Rooftop Shrine

Interestingly, Hina was given her gift (or had it activated) almost a full year before the weird non-stop rain really got out of hand. At various points in the anime, news broadcasts mention the exceptionally rainy weather of the summer when Hina and Hodaka meet, but the broadcasts don’t say anything about abnormal rainfall during the previous summer—when Hina gained her powers—or the fall,  winter or spring leading up to the first super-rainy summer. This implies that the External Forces somehow knew that a weather maiden would be needed in the near future and that it was time to find and prepare one.  

Thus, the role of the weather maiden involves destiny (in that a chosen one is selected to be sacrificed) AND free will (in that the chosen one needs to knowingly and willingly accept that role). 

What is causing the extreme weather?

Weathering With You: Rain

The cause of the extreme weather is never made clear. At times during the movie, the rain is completely unnatural, first appearing as a mass of water suspended in the air before suddenly crashing down to earth. Thus, there seems to be a supernatural cause (or co-cause).

One of the minor characters vaguely references global warming and climate change when she states how it is unfortunate that kids nowadays can no longer enjoy  a comfortable spring and summer in Tokyo. Therefore, global warming may be a contributing factor, but is definitely not the only cause.

Is it possible that Hodaka is responsible for the weird weather? Even the scenes set on his home island feature rain, with the establishing shot of his hometown school near the end of the movie showing a flooded campus. Hodaka could be a ‘ameotoko’, a man cursed to have rain follow him around. However, during the three-years-of non-stop rain in Tokyo, he is back in his hometown. If he were an ameotoko, wouldn’t the epicenter of the rainstorm follow him back to his hometown? Thus, to me, the possibility that Hodaka is a ‘Rain Boy’ remains just that—a possibility.

The Tokyo weather is at its worst when Hodaka and Hina are most distressed–after Hodaka gets kicked out by Suga and after Hina and her brother face getting picked up by the Japanese equivalent of Child Protective Services. There are four possibilities here:

  1. It is pure coincidence. Snow with lightning in August, though? That seems to be too much of a coincidence. 
  2. The ‘emotions’ of the natural world are simply mirroring the emotions of the protagonists. This is an ‘it-was-a-dark-and-stormy-night’  literary device (a form of pathetic fallacy), which often used for dramatic effect in stories,  but it doesn’t suit a story in which one of the characters can actually control the weather.   
  3. The severity of the bad weather is directly caused by Hodaka and/or Hina’s emotional state. This is possible, but we don’t really see this cause-effect relationship in other scenes where the characters are distressed.
  4. The severity of the weather is influenced by the External Forces, who are seeking to raise the stakes and push Hina towards allowing herself to be sacrificed. 

I would argue that the fourth possibility is the most likely explanation. This is because we have already seen the External Forces manipulate the weather in order to draw Hina to the portal/torii gate. This possibility raises an important question though (one that I will come back to later in this article): to what extent are the External Forces manipulating events and people?   

Hodaka’s Choices

Weathering With You: Hodaka

About Hodaku: Hodaka Morishima is a 16-year-old runway from a small island town. He never reveals exactly why he ran away other than he wants nothing more to do with his hometown or his family. When we first see him, he has three bandages on his face. At first, I thought that he may have been the victim of bullying,  but the dislike and disregard he feels for his family suggest that the bruises may have been the result of child abuse. For the first part of the movie, Hodaka is mainly concerned with survival as he is forced to live in the streets. However, after he establishes a business and close friendship with Hina and her brother Nagi, the thing he wants most is to just maintain that. He prays to the gods that the three of them be allowed to keep what they have—nothing more, nothing less.

Weathering With You: Nagi, Hina an Hodaka

As a decision-maker, Hodaka is sometimes full of doubt and sometimes impulsive.

He can be very indecisive when it comes to little things. When he is trying to decide what to buy for Hina for her birthday, he asks for advice from Yahoo Help, Suga’s niece Natsumi and Nagi. Even after spending a few hours at a department store jewelry counter picking out a ring (following Nagi’s advice), he is still unsure if he made the right choice. 

However, he makes big, life-altering decisions without much thought about the possible consequences. It is only after he arrives in Tokyo as a runaway, for example,  that he asks (via Yahoo Help course) where a 16-year-old runaway might be able to find work. 

Towards the climax of the movie, when Hodaka wakes up after Hina’s disappearance and realizes what has happened, he makes a world-altering decision to try to save her without considering:

  1. Whether it is even possible to change anything  
  2. Whether it would better to respect Hina’s decision to allow herself to be sacrificed
  3. Whether it would be better for the world if Hina be allowed to sacrifice herself to prevent a natural disaster

When he rushes off to save Hina, he is just acting on instinct and is not considering the consequences. It is only through his sheer determination (and disregard for his own safety) that he gains access to the Sky Realm and brings Hina back to Earth. 

He manages to save Hina, but heavy rains return to Tokyo and never stop, leaving much of the city underwater after three years. During that time millions of people would have lost their homes. It is not mentioned in the movie, but there would have been trillions of dollars of damages and there likely would have been deaths due to flash floods and landslides.  

Wouldn’t it have been better to sacrifice one girl to save a city of over 9 million people from disaster? Wasn’t his decision selfish? Is a teenage crush really that important?

However, if he had accepted Hina’s sacrifice, would he have been able to live with himself? When Nagi urges Hodaka to save Hina, he accuses Hodaka of being responsible. Nagi isn’t entirely wrong.

  • Hodaka was responsible for hastening Hina’s sacrifice/disappearance by starting the 100% Sunshine Girl business that made her frequently use her weather-changing ability.
  • When Natsumi brought Hodaka to the first interview (before Hodaki and Hina had established their friendship), the psychic who they were interviewing told them that weather maidens risked being consumed by their powers if they used their abilities too much. It is not clear whether Hodaka forgot about that warning or whether he played down the risk. In any case, he mostly ignored the warning. Although he was the one who stopped the sunshine-bringing service, it was too late. 
  • The night she disappeared, Hina asked Hodaka if he wanted the rain to stop. Not fully understanding what Hina was asking, he replied that he did, an answer that only served to push Hina a little further toward accepting her sacrifice. 

In a best case scenario, if Hodaka had decided to let Hina go, he would have ended up like Suga (i.e., the version of Suga that was presented for much of the movie)— broken-down and barely functioning. There are a couple of times in the movie when Natsumi compares Hodaka to a younger Suga and says how similar they are. The broken-down version of Suga represents a potential future version of Hodaka   

In a worst case scenario, Hodaka literally wouldn’t have been able to live with himself. Tokyo would have survived unscathed, but he wouldn’t have.

In the drowned Tokyo at the end of the movie, Hodaka meets Suga, who, seemingly sensing Hodaka’s discomfort, tells him not to worry because the world has always been  crazy.  Similarly an elderly woman tells him that much of what is underwater now was underwater two centuries ago.

However, at the end of the movie, Hodaka finally understands that he instinctively made the right choice–not because the consequences weren’t severe— but because it was his choice to save Hina and in doing so keep to his wish for the three of them—himself, Hina and her brother—to keep what they had, nothing-more, nothing less. That was the only choice that would have allowed him to live with himself afterwards.  

Suga’s Choices

Weathering With You: Suga

About Keisuke Suga: Suga has a certain amount of rough charm that disguises the fact that his life is a mess. After the death of his wife, he not only lost custody of his daughter, but he has to beg just to be able to visit her on rare occasions. It appears that he doesn’t even have visitation rights. It is never revealed what happened to him, but the situation implies that he became such a wreck after his wife died in an automobile accident that he could not be trusted to take care of his daughter. He drinks heavily, his home-office is a mess and he barely works. The thing he wants most is to regain custody of his daughter. He is willing to make some changes to his life—such as giving up smoking as keeping the habit would be harmful to his asthmatic daughter—to accomplish this, but he is clearly struggling. 

Weathering With You: Hodaka, Suga and Hina

Suga helps Hodaka quite a lot, but when the police come to his home and tell him that they are trying to find Hodaka and that they may consider him a suspect in his kidnapping, he decides to cut ties with the teenager. He gives Hodaka a wad of cash and tells him to leave. This is incredibly bad timing, as at that moment everything is falling apart for Hodaka, Hina and Nagi. The police are closing in on Hodaka while Hina and Nagi are about to be taken in by the Japanese equivalent of Child Protective Services. Suga—the one person who might be able to help them—turns his back on them.     

Suga’s decision is reasonable. The thing he wants most in life is custody of his daughter. Harboring a sixteen-year-old runaway (who is also wanted on a firearms offence) would bury that dream.

He does what he thinks is best—cutting himself off from Hodaka—and then immediately tries to drown his regret in alcohol and starts smoking again.   

The next morning, he is chastised by Natsumi and when the police inform him of Hodaka’s escape and Hina’s disappearance (and he sees that sunshine has finally returned to Tokyo), he realizes the gravity of the situation and can’t hold back his tears. 

He changes his mind and decides to help Hodaka, intercepting him at the building with the rooftop shrine. His main concern here seems to be to get Hodaka to not attempt to save Hina, but instead to return to his parents.

However, after seeing Hodaka’s single-minded determination and then seeing the teenager getting  manhandled by the police, Suga tackles the  officers,allowing Hodaka to make his way to the rooftop while ensuring that he will face a ton of trouble. This is a strange about-face as there is little chance of Hodaka being able to do anything positive while Suga himself is throwing away his chances of gaining custody of his daughter. 

So was it the wrong decision?

By standing by Hodaka, Suga is deciding that rather than focusing solely on trying to win custody of his daughter, he should focus instead on trying to be the kind of man deserving of winning back custody. 

At the film’s close, three years later, he is much more ‘together’. His business is going well and he appears to have more access to his daughter (if not outright custody).

Had Suga stuck with the original plan–abandoning the three kids to their respective fates—would he have been able to live with that decision? Would he have gotten his life back together? 

He eventually made the only choice that would have allowed him to live with himself (and help people he cared about), though it took him some time to get there.      

Hina’s Choices

Weathering With You: Hina

About Hina Amano: When Hodaka meets Hina, she is a 15-year-old pretending to be 18. After the death of her mother a year earlier, and with her father not in the picture at all. Hina’s main goal is to take care of her younger brother—to keep what little was remaining of their family together.  She will do whatever it takes. She is fired from McDonald’s (probably for lying about her age) and needs money to raise her brother, so when a sleazy nightclub operator tries to recruit her, she doesn’t resist very strongly. Without Hodaka’s intervention, who knows what would have happened? 

Hina initially chooses to accept her fate as a weather maiden—to disappear from the world in return for the weather to return to normal. 

After every prayer for sunshine, part of her body becomes translucent (something not fully revealed until quite late in the movie), yet she persists with her 100%-Sunshine-Girl job as she can see the happiness she brings  to others. 

She keeps her deteriorating physical condition a secret from Hodaka and Nagi—likely to spare them from worry and to also ensure they wouldn’t interfere. She would have known they would have strongly opposed her and would have stopped their 100% Sunshine Girl service immediately if they had known about her condition. She also lies to Hodaka about her age—saying she is nearly eighteen—two years older than he is—when really she is only fifteen. This likely had the effect of making Hodaka less protective of her.

She seems to know instinctively that she will eventually disappear and she later gets confirmation of this from Natsumi. In her last conversation with Hodaka before she disappears, it is clear that she is resigned to fulfilling her destiny. She even asks Hodaka to take care of Nagi once she is gone. However, it is clear from her sadness that her self-sacrifice is something she is willing to do but is not something that she really wants to do. 

Her initial choice was not wrong. After all, she would have saved Tokyo. However, it would have come not only at the expense of her own life, but also would have deprived Nagi of her care and also of any good that would come from her own future life (and those of her potential descendants).

Sure, If the weather had returned to normal after months of non-stop rain, of course  everyone  in Tokyo would have been ecstatic…for a day or two. 

Sure, she could have prevented the flooding of Tokyo’s flooding problem, but Tokyo wouldn’t suddenly turn into a paradise of never-ending happiness.

At the end of the movie, the city is largely underwater, but life somehow still goes on for its residents. 

And it still goes on for Hina, who kept to what was her main goal all along—to raise her brother and keep whatever was little was left of their family together.

Coincidence or Intervention?

Was it really Hina’s own choice to sacrifice herself or had she been manipulated by the External Forces into believing her sacrifice would solve everything? 

If I were a god and looking to recruit a weather maiden to help return balance to the world, she would be an ideal candidate for the job—naïve, relatively easy to influence, selfless, motivated to make others happy, willing to make sacrifices, secretive, without a parent or guardian to turn to for advice and emotionally fragile due to the impending death of her only parent. With the right incentives and a little push here and there, this is the kind of person would be willing to make the sacrifice that I required.

In this movie, it is unclear what is coincidence and what is guided by the External Forces. However, a lot of events seem to lead directly to Hina voluntarily choosing to sacrifice herself:

  1. Hina seeing the shaft of light while she was at her mother’s deathbed–a light which seemed to draw her towards it.
  2. Her transformation into a weather maiden a year before a weather maiden was actually required.
  3. Hina finding someone—Hodaka—that knows about weather maidens and who might encourage her to use her powers and experience the happiness she could bring to others.
  4. Hina coming to understand and accept the tragic fate of weather maidens.
  5. Hina suddenly facing the prospect of losing Hodaka (who was thrown out of Suga’s home and was being hunted by police) AND losing her brother (about to be taken in by Child Protective Services) AND losing her freedom AND losing her home.       
  6. The sudden intensifying of the storm, making the self-sacrifice appear all the more urgent. 

It is almost as if the External Forces are saying “Here are your powers! Doesn’t it feel great to help others! You have the power to help everyone! Doesn’t that make you happy? Doesn’t that bring you satisfaction? Just let go. There isn’t anything left here for you anyway!  Your mother has passed away. Your brother will be taken away! Your home is gone! Look how bad things are getting now! People are suffering! You have the power to help everyone! You can save them! Use your power! Save them!”

Spoilers for Donny Darko

The above situation is similar to what happens in the film Donnie Darko. in that movie, a teen is given powers that he must use to restore balance to the universe. However, it will require his sacrifice. Throughout the movie, external forces work to (1) encourage him to learn how to use those powers, (2) make him understand the need to make that sacrifice and (3) weaken his emotional ties to the world by doing thing like having the girl he loves get killed.

End of spoilers for Donny Darko

In Weathering With You, there are lots of incredible coincidences: 

For example, Hodaka just happens to be saved from A SUDDEN EXTREME WEATHER event by Suga, who publishes OCCULT articles (despite having no belief in the supernatural) and who sends Hodaka and Natsumi (for his first job) to a psychic who informs the pair about WEATHER MAIDENS just before Hodaka finds out that…surprise!…Hina (the girl who gave him a Big Mac earlier and who he recognizes when he SEES HER AGAIN, this time being dragged towards a nightclub by the SAME GUY who had pushed him out of a doorway, an act that led Hodaka to finding the revolver, which he then uses when rescuing Hina) is a WEATHER MAIDEN. 

You can interpret the events of the movie as a string of amazing coincidences. However, you can also view the events as at least partially the machinations of External Forces influencing things in order to come up with the required voluntary sacrifice of a weather maiden.

In this second interpretation, Hina’s initial choice to sacrifice herself is largely the result of manipulation. Her decision to return to Earth would reflect her true desire to live her own life, take care of her brother and be with people who care for her—a decision which the External Forces appear to respect.

Thus, she makes the choice she feels is best for her and the people around her and which is a choice that she can live with,

In this interpretation, Hodaka isn’t disrespecting Hina’s wishes; he is helping her rediscover her own true will. 

The Main Theme

Weathering With You: Hina and Hodaka

To sum up, when it comes to the main characters’ final choices in Weathering With You,  it is not a question of selfish desires versus the greater good. It is more about the individual characters making decisions:  

  • that help those around them, those they care about 
  • that they can live with in good conscience
  • that reflect their true goals.

I would argue that this is the best that we can expect of anyone and of ourselves. 

In Weathering With You:

  • Suga chooses to become a man worthy of regaining custody over his daughter
  • Hodaka chooses to make up for his mistakes and preserve the life of the one he loves 
  • Hina decides to live her life and continue to take care of her brother.

Thus, I would say one of the the main themes of Weathering with You is: 

If we can care about the people around us and act according to our conscience, the world will be a better place and we will be better people.  We might not fix this crazy world, but it will become a better place little by little.

And that is good enough.

Your Thoughts

What do you think about thoughts about their decisions? What are your thoughts on the film in general? Leave a comment below.


IMDB Page:

~by longzijun


Return to Writing

Visiting Beijing (1995 to 1997)

The photos on this page were taken during three trips to Beijing, China during the mid-nineties. Of course, the city has changed massively since then, but let’s see how Beijing, the neighboring city of Tianjin and the small village of Shidu looked back then.

The trips were:

  • Beijing, Shidu & Tinjin: Christmas holidays 1995
  • Beijing, Xi’an, Lanzhou & Xiahe: August 1996 (the article about Xiahe is here: Visiting Xiahe in Gansu, China)
  • Beijing: February 1997

You can view the entire set of 240 photos at a higher resolution (e.g., 1840 x 1232) at Flickr or Google Photos.


Juma River, Shidu

Rather than start with places you probably already know about—the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City—let’s start with someplace less well-known—the village of Shidu. The village is a popular weekend getaway spot for Beijing residents—a place where they can enjoy barbecues, river rafting, boat cruises, horseback riding and (in more recent years) bungee jumping.

But that is during the summer. We went in the middle of winter and there was absolutely nothing going on there. When we went there, only two other people got off the train at Shidu Station.

Shidu, Beijing

Shidu, is considered a suburb of Beijing even though it is over 100 kilometres from the city center and has a completely different kind of landscape. ‘Shidu’ literally means the ‘tenth crossing’ as it is said that one is required to cross the Juma River ten times in order to reach the village.

Shidu, Beijing, 1995

The area is known for its karst landscape. Karst landscapes are formed by the dissolving action of water on limestone. Shidu’s irregularly shaped hills have been formed by the Juma River cutting through the Taihang mountains. There are somewhat similar areas such as Ha Long Bay in Vietnam, Phang Nga Bay in Thailand and Guilin in China.

Juma River, Shidu, Beijing, 1995

It was enjoyable to wander around the river and hillsides and take in the views. We met a young teenage boy and he brought us up one of the hillsides to get a good view of the town and surrounding mountains.

Shidu Lad

If you are in Beijing between June and October, you may want to check out Shidu on the weekend. In winter, it is really only a good place to visit if you enjoy hiking.

Family, Shidu

The Great Wall

The Great Wall

We visited the Great Wall at Mutianyu in 1995 and Badaling (I think) in 1997. The third option for visiting the Great Wall is at Huanghuachen. Badaling is the most popular spot, Mutianyu is the least crowded and Huanhuachen offers views of a lake.

The Great Wall at Mutianyu
The Great Wall, Beijing, 1997
The Great Wall, 1995

Winter Scenes

In Beijing and Tianjin, we came across groups of winter swimmers who would, on a daily basis, go swimming in frozen rivers and lakes as a way to build up their strength and immune systems.

Swimming in frozen water, Beijing, 1997
Winter Swimmer, Tianjin

I wasn’t tempted to try it. To me, it made more sense to play on top of the ice rather than below it.

Ice Hockey, Beijing

The Imperial Palace Museum

The Forbidden City, Beijing, 1995

More commonly known as the Forbidden City, the Imperial Palace Museum is one of Beijing’s main attractions.

Hall at the Forbidden City, Beijing, 2015

The palace complex was built between 1406 and 1420 and served as the political center or China and home of the Emperor until the end of the Qing dynasty in 1911. It is now undergoing large-scale renovations that are meant to return all the buildings to their pre-1912 state.

The following picture can give you a sense of the scale of the buildings.

Outside the Forbidden City, Beijing, 1996

The Imperial Palace is surrounded by a moat and walls with watchtowers. In the winter, people were ice-fishing on the moat.

Moat and Watchtower, The Forbidden City

Because of the way the buildings are laid out in series of halls, courtyards and palaces surrounded by alleyways and smaller buildings, you can only get a glimpse of a small portion of the palace complex at any one time. Altogether there are around 980 buildings in the palace complex, about 70 or which are palaces of varying degrees of size and importance.

At the Forbidden City
At the Imperial Palace, Beijing, 2015
The Forbidden City
Imperial Palace Lions

The corners of the roofs on many of the buildings are decorated with a line of figures with a man riding a phoenix at the front and an imperial dragon at the back. The number of figures represents the status of the building – a minor building might have 3 figures between the man and the dragon, while the Hall of Supreme Harmony has 10, the only building in the country to be permitted this in Imperial times.

Roof figures, Imperial Palace, Beijing, 2015
Line of 10 roof figures, At the Forbidden City, Beijing, 2015

Jingshan Hill

Pavilion on Jingshan

Behind the Imperial Palace is Jingshan, an artifical hill constructed in the early 1400s during the Ming Dynasty The Chongzhen Emperor, the last ruler of the Ming dynasty (and the last Han Chinese to rule as emperor), committed suicide by hanging himself from a tree on Jingshan in 1644 after Beijing fell to rebel forces.

At the top of the hill, there is a pavilion—Wanchun Pavilion—which offers views of the Imperial Palace to the South and the Red Drum Tower to the North.

View of the Forbidden City from Jingshan, 1995

As you can see from the above photo, at that time, Beijing had heavy smog, which was caused by vehicle emissions and a heavy reliance on burning coal for energy. In 1998, the Chinese government started a long campaign to reduce air pollution. Though air pollution remains an issue, air quality is much better now than it was in the mid-nineties.

Peking Opera

During our two winter trips, we saw Peking Opera performances. These were matinee performances in tea houses that catered to locals and tourists. Rather than show entire operas, the performances would showcase different performance styles such as martial arts, lyrical aria-like songs and pieces that were more like recitative (an operatic style that focuses more on the natural rhythms of speech).

Peking Opera performance
Peking Opera Performance, Beijing, 1995

Urban Development

We visited Beijing just as the city was undergoing massive urban development.

The courtyard houses (known as siheyuan) and little alleyways (known as hutongs) were giving way to modern condominiums and apartment blocks.

Hutong house and coal (Beijing)
Bicycle Taxi and Coal

Newly built condominiums started to spring up.

Beijing: new housing developments 1995
Beijing: new housing developments 1995

Tiananmen Square

Tiananmen Square and Tiananmen Gate, Beijing, 1995

Located just south of the Imperial Palace, lies Tiananmen square, which is named after the large gate—Tiananmen (The Gate of Heavenly Peace)—at the north of the square. The square was built in 1651 and was expanded during the 1950s. There is a flag raising ceremony at the site every day at dawn.

Tiananmen Square: Monument to the People’s Heroes, 2015

In the the southern part of the square is another gate, Zhengyangmen , as well as the Mausoluem of Mao Zedong and the Monument to the People’s Heroes.

Bicycle taxi, Zhengyangmen, the Mausoleum of Chairman Mao, Tiananmen Square, Beijing 1995

The Great Hall of the People is on the western edge of the square with the National Museum is on the eastern edge.

The square is inextricably linked with politics. It was the site of the May Fourth Movement protests in 1919, the proclamation of the People’s Republic of China by Mao Zedong in 1949, protests after the death of Zhou Enlai in 1976 and, of course, the protests of 1989. More recently, Tiananmen Square was the site of a terror attack in 2013, in which extremist Islamic terrorists associated with the Turkistan Islamic Party drove into a crowd, killing two people and injuring 38. The square’s history is…complicated and inseparable from politics. As a result, there is a strong police presence.

When we visited Beijing in 1995, that was one-and-a-half-years before China resumed sovereignty over Hong Kong. In front of the National Museum of China, was a digital countdown clock that counted down the number of days (and the number of seconds—yes, it was considered that important) until the return of Hong Kong.

Countdown clock (counting down the days to Hong Kong’s reunification with China), The National Museum of China, Tiananmen Square, 1995

The Ruins of the Old Summer Palace

Ruins of Western-style Mansions at the Old Summer Palace

The Old Summer Palace (also known as Yuanming Yuan or ‘The Gardens of Perfect Brightness’), was the main main imperial residence of the Qianlong Emperor of the Qing dynasty and his successors.

The palace complex, estimated to be four times larger than the Forbidden City, was looted and destroyed by an Anglo-French force during the Second Opium War. The palace was so large that it reportedly took 4,000 troops three days to loot it it and burn hundreds of buildings to the ground.

Children clambering on a statue at the Old Summer Palace

What little remained was destroyed after a second sacking in 1900—this time by soldiers of the Eight-Nation Alliance (Germany, Japan, Russia, England, France, Italy, Austria-Hungary and the United States).

According to UNESCO, artwork, textiles and ceramic looted from the Old Summer Place can now be found in 47 museums around the world.

Ruins at the Old Summer Palace, Yuanming Yuan, Beijing, 1995

Almost all of the buildings were in Chinese architectural styles, with a few also being constructed in Tibetan and Mongol styles. However, the most prominent ruins are of the Western-style palaces that had been built to satisfy the Qianlong Emperor’s taste for exotic architectural styles.

The ruins serve as a vivid reminder of the royal extravagance of Imperial China, the dangers of being a weak nation and the rapacity of colonial powers.

Maze Garden, Yuanming Yuan, Beijing, 1995
Maze Garden, Yuanming Yuan, Beijing, 1995

The Summer Palace

Kunming Lake, Foxiang Ge (Tower of Buddhist Incense) at Wanshou Shan (Longevity Hill), the Summer Palace Beijing

This is a large network of imperial palaces that was slowly developed starting from around 1271, when the existing lake (now known as Kunming Lake) was expanded. Over the centuries, temples, palaces and waterways were added and the hill was enlarged. These days it is a popular park.

The 17-Arch Bridge
Playing on the ice of Kunming Lake, Summer Palace (Beijing)
The Stone Boat at the Summer Palace
The Stone Boat, Summer Palace, (Beijing)
Waking across Kunming Lake

The Summer Palace is livelier during summer; I suppose that is unsurprising given its name.

People gathering and playing Chinses musical instruments at the Summer Palace, 1996
Flea market at the Summer Palace, 1996
Rowboats and the 17-Arch Bridge, the Summer Palace, Beijing, 1996
Sunbathers at the Summer Palace, Beijing, 1996


The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests

Tiantan, or the Temple of Heaven, is a temple complex built from 1406 to 1420 and was the site of annual ceremonies of prayers for a Good Harvest. It is just under 4 kilometers south of Tiananmen Square. The three main structures there are:

  • The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, a large circular building with three gables;
  • The Imperial Vault of Heaven, its smaller single-gabled counterpart;
  • The Circular Mound Altar, a round marble platform.

The two main halls are built entirely of wood and were constructed without the use of nails. The following picture of the inside of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest shows some of the supporting beams and columns.

Interior: Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, The Temple of Heaven (Tiantan) Beijing, 1997
Window at Tiantan
Detail view of a gate at the Temple of Heaven (Tiantan) Beijing, 1995

Besides being a tourist attraction, Tiantan Park is also place for locals to hang out.

At Tiantan Park, 1995

Behind the people sitting down in the above photo were hawker stalls selling souvenirs. The goods were way over-priced though, so bargaining was necessary.

My brother bargaining with hawkers for a kite at Tiantan Park, 1997

Beihai Park

This is a large park, also known as the Winter Palace, is located just to the west of the Forbidden City. It dates back to the 12th Century, when it was first used as an Imperial Park.

White Pagoda, Beihai Park
Beihai Park
Detail view: Nine Dragon Wall at Beihai Park
View of the Beihai Bridge and the Middle Sea from Beihai Park, Beijing
Playing on the ice (near Beihai Park)

Yonghe Temple, the Beijing Temple of Confucius, the Temple of Azure Clouds and the Church of the Saviour

During our trip in the summer of 1996, we also visited Yonghe Temple (also known as the Harmony and Peace Palace Lamasery,  Yonghe Lamasery or simply the Lama Temple), The Temple of Confucius, and the Temple of Azure Clouds (also known as Biyun Temple).

Yonghe Temple

Yonghe Temple (Harmony and Peace Palace Lamasery), Beijing, 1996

The site of Yonghe Temple was originally developed in 1694 in the Qing dynasty as a residence for court eunuchs of the previous dynasty. It was later turned into a lamasery for Mongolian and Tibetan Buddhist monks of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism. The architecture blends traditional Han Chinese and Tibetan styles.

Lion statue, Yonghe Temple, Beijing, 1996
Detail: relief, Yonghe Temple, Beijing, 1996

Temple of Confucius, Beijing

The temple in Beijing was constructed in 1302. Confucian temples in China are for the veneration of Confucius and other Confucian sages and philosophers and in the past served as examination centers for the imperial examinations. Inside the temple in Beijingf, there are 198 stone tablets on which are recorded the names of more than 51,624 scholars of the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties.

Temple of Confucius; Beijing, 1996
Stele, Temple of Confucius; Beijing, 1996

The Temple of Azure Clouds

The Temple of Azure Clouds is located in Beijing’s Western Hills just outside Fragrant Hills Park. It was built in the 14th century.

Temple of Azure Clouds (Biyun Temple), Beijing, 1996
Buddhist figures, Temple of Azure Clouds (Biyun Temple), Beijing, 1996

The Church of the Savior

The Church of the Saviour (Xishiku Cathedral) was set up in 1703 by Jesuit priests in another location in Beijing (Zhongnanhai). The cathedral was expanded in 1864 and then moved to its current location in 1887 with a gothic façade being added in 1890.

Church of the Saviour (Xishiku Cathedral) Beijing, 1996


During our 1995 visit, we also spent a couple of days in the city of Tianjin, a large city located on the coast, just over 100 kilometers southeast of Beijing.

Tianjin, 1995
Child with candied hawthorn, Tianjin, 1995
Playing on the ice: Hai River Tianjin
Men hanging out in Tianjin
Hai River, Tianjin
Tianjin Street

Dates & Locations

The trips were:

  • Beijing, Shidu & Tinjin: Christmas holidays 1995
  • Beijing, Xi’an, Lanzhou & Xiahe: August 1996 (the article about Xiahe is here: Visiting Xiahe in Gansu, China)
  • Beijing: February 1997

Photo Albums

I hope you enjoyed the photos. If you are interested in seeing them at higher resolution (e.g., 1840 x 1232), you can visit the online albums:

1. Beijing, Shidu & Tianjin (240 photos) Flickr
2. Beijing, Shidu & Tianjin (95 photos)Google Photos

I am can’t remember what kind of camera I had. I wasn’t into photography at the time. I think it as a point-and-shoot Minolta model.

~ Photos and text by longzijun

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Visiting Xiahe in Gansu, China (1996)

The photos on this page were taken during an August 1996 trip to the lovely town of Xiahe in Gansu, a province in the northwestern part of China.

Xiahe, a small one-street town in the middle of a harsh landscape, is an important pilgrimage site for Tibetan Buddhists.

The town of Xiahe (Gansu, China, 1996)

I hadn’t planned on visiting the town, but I had read about it in a guidebook while visiting Lanzhou, the capital city of Gansu, and thought it would make for an interesting detour. It took several hours to get to Xiahe from Lanzhou by bus (but that was a slow bus—the trip should take around four hours by car).

My first impression after getting off of the bus was “Oh my God, it’s so cold!”

Snowy fields in August!

The county of Xiahe is around 3000 meters above sea level, so even during August, when we visited, temperatures fell below freezing (and most of the clothes I had packed were things like shorts and t-shirts). On wet days, there would be snow in the morning and freezing rain in the afternoon, leaving the roads and paths wet and muddy. On dry and warm days, loose top soil would blow around in the wind.

White Stupa, Labrang Monastery

The hotel only had running hot water for half an hour a day, so if you weren’t back in your room by that time (or if the hot water supply had been already used up), you would only have frigid water to wash with. As a result after a few days there, I looked pretty much like everyone else in the town—my face ruddy from the wind and cold and my body bundled up in multiple layers of clothing, with the outer layer covered with a thin coating of dirt.

Village houses (Xiahe, Gansu, China, 1996)

I really liked Xiahe, but the environment and climate are unforgiving for the people living there. The area’s economy is based on farming, but the cold weather, lack of water, mountainous topography and loose topsoil mean that the little arable land that is there is tough to farm.

Migrant Workers

The following photos are of a group of migrant workers from Tibet. They were living in tents on the banks of the Daxia river, across from Labrang Monastery. They invited me over to try their food—curry potatoes.

Sheep herder, Daxia River & migrant worker camp. Xiahe county (and the town of Xiahe) were named after the river.
Migrant worker camp (Xiahe, Gansu, China, 1996)
The slope behind their tents is a location that plays an important role in an annual late-winter festival. It is where monks display a massive Tangka (a colorful, kaleidoscopic religious painting) that completely covers the rectangular area of the slope.
In the background, you can see Labrang Monastery, the Kora (a prayer wheel route) and Gongtan Pagoda.
Migrant workers (Xiahe, Gansu, China, 1996)

The people we met in Xiahe were friendly, but communication was difficult. I was travelling with my wife-to-be, who was fluent in Putonghua, but many of the Tibetan people we met in Xiahe knew minimal, if any, Putonghua and could not write Chinese. However, that was nearly twenty-five years ago. I expect things will different today as most young and middle-aged adults nowadays will have had a formal education.

Sangke Grasslands

We hired a driver and took a trip out to the the Sangke Grasslands, where we rented horses and visited the home of their owner. He introduced us to his family and made us some tsampa—a Tibetan staple food consisting mainly of flour, yak butter tea and salt. The grasslands are a twenty-minute drive from the town, so you can also get there by cycling (some of the hotels have bicycle rental services).

Crossing the Daxia River on horseback, Sangke Grasslands
Village, Sangke Grasslands. The horseman didn’t warn me about the dogs, so when I went on ahead, I was chased (on horseback) by one of the village dogs.
Making tsampa
The horseman (wearing a grey jacket) and his family
Saying farewell

Volleyball-playing Monks

We also met these monks. They were camped out in a field near our hotel and they would spend at least a few hours each day playing volleyball. We joined them for a a couple of games and had a brief chat later. They were from Tibet and were visiting Xiahe on a pilgrimage.

Monks playing volleyball (Xiahe, Gansu, China, 1996)

I was kind of surprised by their enthusiasm for volleyball as I had assumed monks would be more…er…meditative. I need to be more open-minded.

Setting the ball
With the monks


We met quite a few children, almost all of whom asked us to give them pencils. I am not sure if the pencils were for their own use at school or whether they served as a kind or currency among children. In any case, I was reminded of Zhang Yimou’s 1999 film Not One Less, which dealt with school life in an impoverished rural town. In that movie, blackboard chalk was treated as a precious, nigh-impossible-to-replace resource. We ended up giving away all of our pens and pencils except for one pen. Unfortunately, one boy came too late to the pencil giveaway and there was nothing left for him, which angered him greatly.

Children with their donkey and cart
Xiahe boys

You should bear in mind, however, that at that time—much of China’s rural populace, especially the hinterlands of provinces like Gansu, lived in abject poverty. China has since implemented a long-term, anti-poverty campaign, which has since lifted several hundred million citizens out of poverty.

Unfortunately, the negatives for the following photo got exposed. However, I will still include the photo here as I like how the two girls did their best to have their own style.

Two Girls (Xiahe, Gansu, China, 1996)

Labrang Monastery

Labrang Monastery, situated between the Chinese and Tibetan sections of the town, is one of the six great monasteries of the Gelug (Yellow Hat) sect. The monastery is the main site in town and it is spread out over several buildings such as the Grand Sutra Hall, Serkung and Gongtan Pagoda

Grand Sutra Hall, Labrang Monastery

Xiahe is the most important monastery town for Tibetan Buddhism outside of the Tibet Autonomous Region.

Serkung, Labrang Monastery
Prayer route (center) and Gongtan Pagoda (right), Labrang Monastery

There is also a 3.5-kilometer-long pilgrim’s route of prayer wheels known as the Kora.

Pilgrim’s Path (the Kora), Labrang Monastery
Prayer Wheels, the Inner Kora, Labrang Monastery

Sadly, between 1917 and 1929, the monastery was the site of massacres of Buddhist monks and other Tibetans by Hui Muslims led by Ma Qi. The monastery and its monks also suffered during the Cultural Revolution of the late 1960s. During that period of turmoil, the monastery was closed, many buildings were destroyed or damaged and the monks were sent back to their villages to work. The buildings were later repaired or replaced, and the monastery re-opened in 1980. At present there are around 1,500 monks enrolled in the monastery.

Lanzhou & Xi’an

We also briefly visited Lanzhou, Xi’an and Beijing. You can see photos of those places in the online albums (the links are in the next section). The Beijing photos will be shown in another article and album.

Small Wild Goose Pagoda, Xi’an
Photo taken on the train between Xi’an and Lanzhou. Notice the dry landscaped and terraced hills. Farming is really a tough job here.
View of Lanzhou (and the Yellow River) from Baitashan Park (1996)

Photo Albums

I hope you enjoyed the photos. If you are interested in seeing them at higher resolution (e.g., 1840 x 1232), you can visit the online albums:

1. Xiahe, Lanzhou and Xian (95 photos) Flickr
2. Xiahe, Lanzhou and Xian (95 photos)Google Photos

I am can’t remember what kind of camera I had. I wasn’t into photography at the time. I think it as a point-and-shoot Minolta model.

~ Photos and text by longzijun

Return to Photography

Free Background Music 43: The Sea Withdrew

1. The Music

The Sea Withdrew is the 43rd song in my Free Background Music Series. It is a quiet piano song that switches between major and minor keys. As with the other songs in the background music series, this song can be used for free in non-commercial projects and in YouTube monetized videos (that are otherwise non-commercial in nature) as long as credit is provided (‘music by longzijun’).

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Venice Photos

Venice, Italy is a fascinating and photogenic city. These are photos I took during a trip to in 2015.

Woman in red

Album 1: Venice (Main Album)

Venetian cats (no, they are not in a cage; that is just a window)

This is the main album that contains most of the photos.

The defining characteristic of Venice is its system of waterways. The main island sits in the middle of the Venetian lagoon, is bisected by the s-shaped Grand Canal and is criss-crossed with hundreds of small canals known as rii.

1.1 The Grand Canal

The view of the Grand Canal from a bridge called the Ponte dell’Accademia is especially stunning. There is the canal itself, the boats, the lovely buildings lined up on either side, the pale grey domes of the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute in the background and the Venetian lagoon in the distance.

Venice: The Grand Canal, view from from Ponte dell’Accademia
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Intro Theme 25 & Osaka Time-lapse Video

Intro 35 (

This video features the 25th song in the Free Short Instrumental Themes series: Sonicide. The visuals are a time-lapse showing Osaka. There are four different versions of the song, ranging in duration from 20 seconds to 36 seconds. This track is based on an excerpt from the middle part of Sonicidence (Song no. 27 in the free background music series).

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Kyoto Photos

Kyoto, Japan is one of the most photogenic cities I’ve visited. As the former capital city of Imperial Japan, it has a rich history; and with mountain ranges on three sides and a river bisecting the city from North to South, the scenery is also attractive. These are photos I took on two trips to the city. Altogether there are 394 photos, so I have divided them into a series of albums.

Album 1: All Photos

To view the entire album click on the photo.

If you want to see everything!

View Album: Kyoto; All Photos (394 photos)

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Intro Themes 17-24: Free Short Instrumentals for Intros, Outros and Credits

Intro Themes 17-24 (

This video features the 17th to 24th songs in the Free Short Instrumental Themes series. The songs in the video range in length from 6.5 seconds to 34 seconds and are suitable for use in intros, credits, outros and very short videos. These tracks are mostly synthesizer-based compositions. For each song. two versions are available. For most of the songs, the second version is a little faster and is one semi-tone higher. The tracks are listed below:

  • Intro 17 (synth & beat) 0:34 & 0:32
  • Intro 18 (gentle & melodic) 0:10 & 0:09
  • Intro 19 (bubbly synth) 0:07.5 & 0:07
  • Intro 20 (aggressive: piano, guitar, war drums) 0:13 & 0:12
  • Intro 21a (perky synth & percussion) 0:08
  • Intro 21b (perky synth) 0:08
  • Intro 22 (techno attack) 0:09 & 0:08
  • Intro 23 (evolving sounds) 0:20 & 0:18
  • Intro 24 (synth & drums) 0:17 & 0:16
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Hokkaido Travel Diary: Photos, Video & Free Background Music 41

Unfolded (

1. The Music

This video features the 41st song in the Free Background Music Series and is the second video in my Travel Diary series. As with the other songs in the background music series, this song can be used for free in non-commercial projects and in YouTube monetized videos (that are otherwise non-commercial in nature) as long as credit is provided (“Music by longzijun”).

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