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Thread: WizardOfOss in Japan (May 2008)

  1. #1

    Default WizardOfOss in Japan (May 2008)

    Last year I've been to Japan twice, first in May for a group travel of two weeks plus a third week in Tokyo on my own, and again in November for another three weeks. It really is an addictive country, I'm already thinking of another visit next year.

    In this thread I'll post some (a lot...) pictures of the first trip. The pictures from the other trip will follow later, I simply haven't sorted those 5000 pics...

    Pictures are taken with my old but faithful Nikon D70, and a Fuji A610 pocketcamera. Click on the thumbnails for a larger image.

    1) Fukuoka
    When we arrived at the hotel after in total 12 exhausting hours of flying, this was about the first thing we noticed: the toilets. This one only has a few buttons, some are much worse...

    The next day, we just had a stroll trough the city of Fukuoka. Nothing special, but a good way to get rid of the jetlag.

    IMS Building; A.C.R.O.S. Building;

    Some scenes around Naka-gawa.

    Canal City, a large mall, or "city within the city" as the Japanese call it.

    The ruins of Fukuoka-jo and Ohori-koen.

    Some random pics.

    Dinner at a yatai, our group was a bit too large...
    Last edited by WizardOfOss; October 17th, 2009 at 03:46 PM.

  2. #2


    2) Miyajima
    The next day we visited Miyajima, a sacred island in the Seto Inland Sea near Hiroshima.

    A short stop near Shimenoseki, this 712 meter long bridge connects Kyushu with Japan's main Island Honshu.

    Miyajima is most famous for the Itsukushima Shrine with it's 16 meter tall, over 800 year old torii. It is said to be the single most photographed object in the world, and I tend to believe it...

    Another typical sight at Miyajima (and also at other Shinto shrines) are the deer that are walking around just about everywhere you look. Since it's a sacred place, no animal or tree may be harmed. And for human it's even forbidden to die or to give birth at the island. But people without head or only one leg are no problem at all...

    Lunch: tempura

    Some of the many temples and shrines.

    Time to leave.

    We stayed in a traditional ryokan in Sandankyo, in the middle of nowhere. This means sleeping on the floor on a futon, and of course wearing a yukata...
    Last edited by WizardOfOss; October 17th, 2009 at 03:46 PM.

  3. #3


    3) Sandankyo & Hiroshima

    We started the day with a short hike through the Sandankyo Valley:

    Afterwards, we went to Hiroshima, to the Peace Memorial Park:

    Children Peace Monument, a statue of Sadako Sasaki, a girl who was a victim of the atomic bomb. When she was diagnosed leukemia 7 years after the war, she started folding cranes, inspired by a Japanese saying that one who folded a thousand cranes would be granted a wish. She finished about 640 cranes before she died, now people keep bringing cranes to this monument.

    Genbaku Dome or A-Bomb Dome, the former Hiroshima Prefectural Commercial Exhibition Hall, which was only 150 meters away from the hypocenter and one of the few structures remaining after the blast.

    Some random shots around the park. As a foreigner at a tourist spot, there are always schoolkids around practicing their English.

    The Peace Flame (which will remain lit until all nuclear bombs on our planet are destroyed), Memorial Cenotaph and Hall of Remembrance.

    Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, designed by Kenzo Tange, with a very impressive exhibition about the atomic bombing, the events that led to that sad day and the horrors it caused. What surprised me most was there wasn't a single sign of blame to the US, they just presented the facts as they are, which made the bombing almost inevitable.

    Some more sights in and around the park.

    Hondori Arcade

    Dinner at Okonomimura, a large building with tens of similar restaurants, all serving basically the same dish: Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki, also known as Hiroshimayaki. Whenever you go to Hiroshima, you simply have to go here, it was one of the best meals we had during those three weeks.

    After some last pictures of the park we continued our way to Kurashiki, where we would stay for the next three nights.
    Last edited by WizardOfOss; October 17th, 2009 at 03:46 PM.

  4. #4
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Jan 2007
    west village


    awesome thread. i love the way you are presenting this. looking forward to more.

    question: do you speak japanese? can you read the signage? sounds like you were in a group tour much of the time, but i was wondering how communication and finding your way around went.

  5. #5


    4) Kurashiki

    A nice town in Okayama-ken, in the old days an important merchant town. The name Kurashiki literally means "city of warehouses". The group went biking that morning, but I was too lazy, so I had all the day for myself.

    First stop: Kurashiki Station

    Tivoli Park, as seen from the railway station. It went bankrupt at the end of 2008.

    Some shots taken during my walk towards the old city center.

    Some temples at Mt. Tsurugata.

    Bikan Historic Area, one of the few remaining bits of 17th century Japan. Nowadays, there are lots of museums (the rural toy museum is great!) and of course the tourist stuff...

    Lunch: ramen

    A shop dedicated to Hoshino Senichi, the famous baseball legend.
    (well, at least in Kurashiki)

    Around Bikan Historic Area.

    After a great sushi dinner and reunited with the group we spent the evening at a karaoke bar. Luckily, as far as I know, there aren't any recordings. With lots of beer and sake it's quite good fun, but you really don't want to see or hear it ever again...
    Last edited by WizardOfOss; October 17th, 2009 at 03:47 PM.

  6. #6


    Quote Originally Posted by meesalikeu View Post
    awesome thread. i love the way you are presenting this. looking forward to more.

    question: do you speak japanese? can you read the signage? sounds like you were in a group tour much of the time, but i was wondering how communication and finding your way around went.

    I don't speak any serious Japanese, just a few words. Always a good joke with the schoolkids, telling them I speak four words Japanese: konichiwa (hello), arrigato (thank you), sumimasen (excuse me) and sake (no need for translation I guess). I do know some more words, but not much. And I can read only a few kanji. It's quite useful to know at least the numbers, since some small restaurants only have prices in kanji.

    We had a Japanese guide who spoke something between English and Engrish, which is much better than 99% of the Japanese. Although none of us were native English speakers, most of the time it worked out OK. However, most of the time we got around with just a small group, without her. Also, the group travel only lasted for two weeks, the last week I was all alone in Tokyo, without a guide or anyone to translate. That hardly ever caused problems, since everything in Japan is so extremely well organized and the people very patient and helpful.

    It all went good enough to visit Japan for a second time that year, together with a friend, but this time I was the guide. I prepared a lot through the internet, we traveled about 3000km by train, got around in cities by subway or bus (no taxi at all), got off the beaten path for a visit to a Toyota factory, a sumo tournament and a helicopter flight over Tokyo. It all turned out even easier than I imagined. It's quite simple: if you can't read a sign, you probably don't need to...

    What also helped, before the first visit to Japan, I've been to China twice and also to South-Korea. In those countries, even less people speak any English and there are hardly any English signs at all. You get used to it...

    Tomorrow I'll post more, now it's time to get some sleep, it's 2AM here...

  7. #7


    5) Okayama & Naoshima

    In the city of Okayama we visited Korakuen, according to the Japanes one of the three most beautiful landscape gardens in Japan (along with Kanazawa's Kenrokuen and Mito's Kairakuen). I have to say I was a bit disappointed, it's nice but not spectacular. Lots of green, hardly any color, and most of the water was quite muddy. The castle does look impressive, but it's only a concrete replica, as the original castle burned down in 1945 after allied bombings.

    Next we went to Uno, where we would take a ferry to Naoshima. They had some festivities going on, but since we only had a short wait for the ferry we couldn't spend much time here.

    Naoshima is a small island in the Seto Inland Sea, with probably more works of art than people. The island is also featured in a James Bond novel, The Man with the Red Tattoo, reason enough for a 007-museum. Not much to see however, just a shack with some movie posters and fan art.

    Although Naoshima has two large art museums, we opted for some smaller stuff. The village of Honmura is home of the Art House Project, a couple of houses converted into art, scattered all over the village. Too bad, it wasn't allowed to take photographs inside the buildings however, so I have only a few pictures.

    After a bad start (Gokaisho, two empty rooms with some flower on the floor), Kadoya (Sea of Time) is quite nice: tens of illuminated clocks floating around a large basin. Next is Go'o Shrine, with a glass staircase "connecting" the building with an underground chamber, which can only be reached by a long, narrow tunnel.

    On to Minamidera (Dark side of the Moon), probably the weirdest of all projects. Just a completely dark room, at least it seems. However, near one wall there are some tiny holes in the roof, shining a it takes about ten minutes before your eyes got used to the darkness so you could see the light coming through shining on the wall. The weird thing is you lose every sense of distance, that wall seems maybe a hundred meters away. But as you start walking towards it ("Walk to the light! Touch the light!"), it feels likes the light is rushing towards you. Hard to explain, something you really have to experience.

    Almost as weird is Ishibashi, home of "The Falls". Just waterfalls painted on the walls in front of a very shiny floor, just sit down and relax, and after some time the falls seem to come alive. Quite freaky.

    The last one is Haisha, a house that wouldn't look out of place in a ghetto. Inside is a whole different story, with extremely colorful decoration and even a 2-story Statue of Liberty, the first of three I've seen in Japan so far...

    We returned to Kurashiki, where we had dinner in about the only restaurant that seemed to be open that time. And apart from some sort of parade passing by, we haven't seen anyone else, it was almost like a ghost town. My omurice (fried rice wrapped inside an omelette) however was great.
    Last edited by WizardOfOss; October 17th, 2009 at 03:48 PM.

  8. #8


    6) Himeji

    Next day we left Kurashiki for Kyoto, spending most of the day in Himeji.

    Himeji is home of Japan's most impressive original castle, Himeji-jo, also known as White Heron Castle. Construction of the castle started in the 14th century, and after being enlarged time a couple of times in 1609 it was completed in it's current form. Over the years there have been major renovations, every peace of wood has been replaced, all using traditional tools and techniques.

    You can go all the way to the top of the donjon, where you have a nice view of the surrounding area.

    And because it's such a magnificent castle, some more pics of the exterior.

    Close to the castle is also a large garden, named Koko-en. It's divided in a large number of smaller gardens, in completely different styles. In my opinion, these where much more attractive than the more famous Koraku-en in Okayama, a day earlier.

    So far for Himeji, on to Kyoto. With a short stop at a gas station near Osaka, with a couple of vending machines. You'll find these nearly everywhere in Japan, selling all kinds of stuff, sometimes even on board of the trains...
    Last edited by WizardOfOss; October 17th, 2009 at 03:48 PM.

  9. #9


    7) Kyoto

    Kyoto literally means 'capital city', and indeed, that's what the city has been from 794 until 1868. During WWII, Kyoto was considered one of the possible targets for the atomic bombs and has thus been spared the firebombings, that way it would be possible to measure the exact damage caused by the atomic bomb. Nowadays it's the historical heart of Japan, with over 2000 temples and shrines and lots of other historical treasures, of which no less than 17 are listed as UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city does have it's own highly contagious disease: overtempling...

    First we visited Kinkaku-ji, the golden pavilion. Originally built in 1397, burned down in 1950 after a suicide attempt by a monk, and rebuilt in 1955. And yes, all that looks gold really is gold-leaf. And another example of vending machines: these sell incense sticks.

    Next to Ryoan-ji, built in 1473. The temple itself isn't very special, what it' all about here is the rock garden. At first sight it might seem like some randomly placed boulders. However, those 15 boulders are arranged in a way that from any angle, one can at most see 14 of them. Only through attaining enlightenment one would be able to see all 15 boulders at once.

    A short walk brought us to the Toji-in, built in 1341. No crowds here, apart from our group there might have been maybe three or four other people. Again it's mostly about the garden here, but no rocks this time. Only problem is you aren't allowed to walk around on your shoes, but have to use the slippers provided. And of course, they don't have anything near size 12...

    After another great tempura for lunch we go to Nijo-jo, completed in 1626. Different from the castle in Himeji with its impressive tower, this one is a mostly single level design. One of the special features of the castle are the so-called 'nightingale floors', which are specifically designed to squeak like birds when walking on them. This way, it was nearly impossible to sneak around in the buildings without being heard. Unfortunately, no pictures inside the beautiful buildings, and lots of guards to enforce this. Don't even think of taking pictures...

    The last stop was the Sanjusangen-do, built in 1266. Although the colors remind of a Shinto shrine, it actually is a Buddhist temple. Again it's not allowed to take pictures inside, which is (although understandable) a shame since that's what this temple is all about. One huge statue of Kannon in the middel, a total of thousand lifesize Kannon statues on both sides of it, and 28 statues of guardian deities in front of them. Luckily, Google is your best friend, so for once a picture I didn't take myself.

    For dinner, with a small group we took a bus to the Gion district. Since it started raining, the chance of spotting a geisha was nil, unfortunately. No shortage on restaurants however, although the prices here are quite steep. Wanna try Kobe-beef? No problem, starting at around $80 for the smallest portion. We choose a little bit cheaper option, although still by far the most expensive of the whole vacation. Lots of small dishes, each one even better than the one before. Definitely worth the price, no doubt about it. We did however skip the raw egg...
    Last edited by WizardOfOss; October 17th, 2009 at 03:48 PM.

  10. #10


    8) Kyoto & Nara

    Another day of temples and shrines. We started the day at Fushimi Inari-Taisha, one of the main Shinto shrines in Japan. The complex is built on the slopes of Inari-yama, with several kilometers of torii-covered paths going up the mountain. Along these paths are numerous miniature shrines decorated with small torii and also with stone foxes, which are considered the messengers of Inari.

    As if the 2000 temples and shrines of Kyoto aren't enough, we went to Nara. Another former capital city (710 - 784), a lot smaller than Kyoto and with 'only' 8 UNESCO World Heritage sites. Most of the sights are located in Nara-koen, a huge park which is also home to about 1200 deer. We started at Kofuku-ji, once a huge complex consisting of 175 buildings, of which only a dozen still exist. One of those is the five-storied pagoda, dating from 1426 and with a height of 50.1 meters the second highest pagoda in Japan.

    The main attraction of Nara is the Todai-ji, the largest wooden building in the world. The present structure was rebuilt in 1709, but at only two-thirds of the size of the original building which had been destroyed by fire. Inside is the Daibatsu, the largest indoor bronze Buddha in the world, 16 meters tall and consisting of 437 tonnes of bronze and 130kg of gold.

    Next is the Kasuga Taisha, another Shinto shrine. Again, the shrine itself isn't that special, but it's surrounded by hundreds of stone lanterns.

    We returned to the Kofuku-ji to get the bus back to Kyoto.

    Last edited by WizardOfOss; October 17th, 2009 at 03:49 PM.

  11. #11


    9) Kyoto
    Our last day in Kyoto, but no temples today! We started with a breakfast in the Imperial Park, right across our hotel.

    On to Kyoto Station, an impressive building with a great view from the rooftop. The building isn't just a railway station, but also has lots of shops and several food courts.

    Close to the station is Kyoto Tower, at 131 meters the highest building of the city. From the observation deck you have an unobstructed view over all of the city.

    Time for some shopping, in one of the huge BicCamera electric appliance stores, with 7 floors with everything imaginable with a power cord or batteries. Of course I couldn't resist buying some useless toys...

    Just some shots taken near Kyoto station.

    For even more trains we went to the Umekoji Steam Locomotive Museum.

    Just some shots on our way back to our hotel.

    After diner we went to the downtown shopping area near Kawaramachi, with apart from the numerous department stores lots of weird shops. And even in a shopping arcade, you'll find some temples. They just build everything around it...

    No comment:

    (Yeah, just like Bill Murray, only in the wrong city. But hey, at least I got real whiskey!)
    Last edited by WizardOfOss; October 17th, 2009 at 03:49 PM.

  12. #12


    10) Tokyo
    Finally, the last destination of the group tour. So far we had traveled around by bus, this time however we took the train. An not just some train, to be more exact we took the shinkansen, which covered the 513km between Kyoto and Tokyo in just little over 2 hours.

    We arrived exactly on time at Tokyo Station, just as one would expect in Japan. Next we went to Ueno Station with the Yamanote line, world's busiest rail line with over 1.3 billion passengers a year on this 35km loop line. By comparison, in 2008, the complete network of the NY Subway transported 1.6 billion passengers.

    A short walk brought us to our hotel, in the surprisingly peaceful neighborhood of Nezu. You wouldn't guess you're in the largest metropolis in the world.

    After lunch we I went back to Ueno, to the Ameyoko Market.

    Next with the subway to Shibuya Station, probably the only station in the world with an exit named after a dog: Hachiko.

    Just next to the Hachiko-exit is probably the worlds busiest pedestrian crossing. And as a result, the Starbucks overlooking the scramble crossing is also quite crowded...

    Shibuya is one of the main shopping districts of the city, and also home to many bars and nightclubs.

    After a Ebi Filet-O (shrimp burger) and Teriyakiburger at a McDonald's, I went to Shinjuku Station, world's busiest train station with 3.6 million passengers a day. With over 200 exits it's quite a maze, so it took some time to find my way out. Shinjuku is one of the main skyscraper districts of Tokyo, with also the 243m tall Metropolitan Government Building designed by Kenzo Tange. The towers has a free(!) observation deck, where you have a amazing view of the immense city, with in any direction lights as far as you can see. Too bad I only brought my compact camera, which had quite a struggle to get any useful result.

  13. #13


    11) Tokyo
    The next day, we went for a tour of the city with the group. First stop is...the Metropolitan Government Building. On a clear day, it should be possible to see Mt. Fuji, unfortunately we weren't that lucky. At day the view is still nice, but not nearly as impressive as by night.

    The second stop is Takeshita Sreet, near Harajuku.

    Again a familiar spot: Shibuya Station. That leaves us enough time for a great lunch at the 109 Building.

    the final stop of the tour is in Chiyoda, the Imperial Palace. Not that you'll see much of it, as it's open for public just 2 (extremely crowded) days a year. That car by the way is the Toyota Century Royal, a special imperial version of the already rather exclusive Toyota Century V12, of which only three are built. Off course, an emperor doesn't need license plates...

    With a small group we take the subway and the fully automated Yurikamome line to Odaiba, a huge area of reclaimed land in Tokyo Bay. Here's a statue some of you might have seen before:

    There's a story behind it, a couple of years ago they had some sort of French festival, during which the small version of the original statue, usually located in Paris, was brought over to Tokyo. However, the people liked it so much that after that statue returned to Paris they replaced it with a replica.

    After a nice sushi at a Canadian-style bar in Aqua City, one of the the huge malls at Odaiba, we wanted to go to the bizarre Fuji TV Headquarters, this however was closed for visitors.

    On to Palette Town, with another enormous Italian-themed mall named Venus Fort, but also a huge Toyota showroom. It's even possible to make a test drive, all the way trough the entire complex. There's also the History Garage, a small museum with a nice selection of cars from all over the world. On top of it is even a 115m tall ferris wheel, in 1999 the tallest in the world, just for a year until the London Eye was finished.

    Back at the other side of Odaiba, there's a beach with nice views of the Rainbow Bridge and the (not very spectacular) skyline of the city.

    For the second day in a row our dinner consisted of a hamburger, but no McDonald's this time. Kua'aina calls itself the best burger joint in the world, and to be honest, I tend to agree. As Jules Winfield would say: "Mmm-mmmm. That is a tasty burger!"

  14. #14


    12) Tokyo
    Wake-up call at 4.30 AM, we're going to Tsukiji Market, worlds biggest wholesale fishmarket, which handles over 2000 tons of fish and seafood a day, 6 days a week. Main event is the tuna auction, too bad my camera doesn't record sound...

    There's more than only tuna however, about everything that swims in the oceans can be found here, dead or alive. But watch your step, there's an awful lot of traffic, and they don't brake for tourists.

    On to Ryogoku, another area where the people get up early. Here we visit the morning practice of a sumo stable. Say hello to my little friends!

    From Ryogoku we walk along the Sumida river towards Asakusa. Underneath the elevated highways live lots of homeless people, a side of Japan you hardly hear or read about.

    After breakfast (it's still just 9 AM) I returned to the hotel, feeling not too well. Luckily, all I needed was some more sleep. The rest of the day was a bit of a lazy day, with just a short walk to Ueno and some shopping.

  15. #15


    13) Tokyo

    In the morning, it's time to say goodbye to the rest of the group. I walk with them to the train station, after that I'm all alone in Tokyo for another week.

    the first challenge is moving to another (cheaper) hotel I booked. Instead of a quite a walk through the rain with all my luggage, I took a taxi. Of course, the driver didn't understand a single word of English, but I was prepared, I had a map of the location. Well, it's not that easy, since the driver had a hard time finding it. So he phoned the hotel, still got lost, phoned them again and then just waited. A minute later a girl from the hotel showed up, leading us to the hotel. The driver had already turned off the meter before he called the hotel the first time, but still he gave me a discount. And not a chance he would accept a tip. Try that in NYC!

    After checking in I took the subway to Omote-sando, an upscale shopping avenue in Shibuya.

    I walked along to Harajuku, since it's a sunday many young people dress up in bizarre styles.

    Next is the Meiji Jingu, a large shrine built to honor emperor Meiji and empress Shoken, ruling from 1867 to 1914. It was destroyed during WW2, but completely rebuilt in 1958.

    On to Yoyogi-koen, Tokyo's version of Central Park. Every sunday, lots of local bands perform here, some very good, others plain weird, and also some of them just horrible. I also bought some cd's from H.U.T., of course I got them signed. Again, too bad my camera didn't record sound

    The rest of the park is much quieter, it's hard to imagine you're still in the middle of world's largest city.

    Back to Harajuku, where I have a extremely spicy noodle soup for diner.

    Since now I got my DSLR with me, I returned to the Metropolitan Government Building in Shinjuku, hoping for some better pictures. Too bad, reflections in the glass turned out to be a major problem now.

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