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Rainbow Bridge May 31, 2011

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s  Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Rainbow Bridge” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-Gc

 

Rainbow Bridge is one of the most famous, if not the most famous bridge in Tokyo.  It has been used as a backdrop along with Tokyo Tower to define Tokyo.  It is a famous backdrop in the summer for the Tokyo Bay Fireworks festival as well as one of the easiest ways to access Odaiba.  The bridge itself is 798 metres long with a main span of 580 metres.  It is a main artery that has been painted white.  At night, the bridge is often lit up in various colours.  It is often lit in a rainbow of colours to highlight the bridge’s popular name, but it has been lit up for other special occasions such as pink for breast cancer awareness or other similar events.  While the official name of Rainbow Bridge is quite boring, city officials took the nickname, Rainbow Bridge, and ran with it.  On most nights, the bridge is lit up naturally so that the the white paint stands out against the traditional backdrop of black and grey buildings.

As with any bridge, there are only two ways to access the bridge itself, the Odaiba and the Shibaura side.  I would recommend the Shibaura side as there is an elevator to access the promenade which makes the walk a lot easier.  On the Shibaura side, you can access Rainbow Bridge from either Shibaurafuto Station on the Yurikamome Line or Tamachi and Mita Stations on the JR and Toei lines.  From Tamachi and Mita, it is a bit of a walk to Rainbow Bridge but it is a nice relaxing walk through some new residential areas.  The area around the bridge itself is not special.  It is a port area with nothing more than large trucks driving everywhere.  It can be a little dangerous at times to cross the street as trucks speed through the area.  It isn’t too bad as traffic isn’t too heavy and there are large gaps between cars.  Upon entry to the main anchor on the Shibaura side, you will be treated to a more touristy setting.  While there are no people to give you information on the bridge itself, there is a small display and information signs telling you where to go.  The elevator is not very quick journey as the main deck is located 7 stories up.

The bridge deck has two promenades.  There is the north and south side but you must make your decision before you head up from the bottom of the Shibaura anchor.  I ventured on the south where all the traffic was heading towards Shibaura.  The views on this side were nice but probably better on the north side.  You can get a view of Kawasaki and Odaiba from the south, and views of Tokyo Tower and central Tokyo from the north.  On the south side, it can get a bit boring as all you see are container ships and the sparsely populated Odaiba region but the photos can be amazing.  The first thing you will notice will be the wind.  The second you walk outside the anchor you are hit by the wind.  If you have ever walked across a bridge you will know what I’m talking about.  Most bridges over a body of water are subject to higher winds.  It was a bit daunting on the day that I visited Rainbow Bridge.  It was a constant barrage of wind that kept me from walking smoothly.  The second thing you will notice is the vibrations.  Being a double decked bridge with 8 lanes of traffic and a rapid transit line, it is hard to walk along the bridge without feeling the constant rumble of cars.  If you are in a car at the time you won’t notice it as much as the car’s suspension does a good job at creating a smooth ride, but when you walk along the bridge, you will get a mild sensation that a small earthquake is occurring.  The first tower is fairly close to the Shibaura anchor.  Each tower forces the promenade to go on the outside of the tower itself.  This provides a better view of the surrounding area.  Unfortunately, there is a fence that runs the entire span of the bridge.  Thankfully they cut holes into a fence around the towers so you can take photos.  At all other points along the bridge you have to take photos through the safety fence.  The fence serves two purposes.  One is to keep people from being blown off the bridge itself, and the other is to prevent suicides.  In Japan, that is understandable.

The midpoint of the bridge is not spectacular but there are signs to inform you that you are at the midpoint.  There are signs on the floor that tell you which direction you need to go to reach either Odaiba or Shibaura.  There is also an information sign on the wall to inform you exacatly where you are.  It is an interesting place as it is a small section that is neither Odaiba nor Shibaura.  You are in a “no man’s land” between cities.  Other than that, it is no different than any other section of the bridge.  It is noisy, windy, and shaky.  From that point on, things are relatively easy.  The Odaiba tower is almost a mirror of the tower on the Shibaura side.  The anchor on the Odaiba side has an elevator but you cannot use it.  The anchor on the Odaiba side is for maintenance workers only as the anchor is on an island.  There is no access to the main island from the Odaiba anchor.

The approach to the Odaiba tower from Odaiba is a long gradual slope.  There are no fences so the view is spectacular.  You can enjoy the view of the batteries that used to protect Tokyo from invaders and you can get good pictures of Odaiba as well.  It is also popular for tour groups to take a short walk to get a better view of Odaiba.  For many people, walking out to the bridge tower itself is easy but walking all the way across isn’t.  Most people will start on the Odaiba side and head to the first tower before returning.  In reality, that is more than enough but for perfectionists, walking along the entire bridge deck on both the north and south side is a must.

Rainbow Bridge is often a tourist attraction that is to be seen, not experienced.  It is not a common place to be for anyone as most people wouldn’t think twice about visiting any bridge.  In Japan where domestic tourism is very high, they do whatever they can to lure tourists to various locations.  Food is the most popular way to lure tourists to various regions, but the bridges are what connect these places.  The government knows this and they created creative ways to highlight their bridges to encourage more tourism to these areas.  One great example is the Onaruto bridge.  The Senjojiki Observatory is located under the main deck and provides great views of the sea below.  While most people will skip this, it is still a popular destination for domestic travellers.  Rainbow Bridge is not as spectacular, and honestly not worth the time for most people, but it is a great way to spend a morning when most of the shops are closed in the area.

Rainbow Bridge Information:

Rainbow Bridge (Wikipedia):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rainbow_Bridge_%28Tokyo%29

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Kyoto – Higashi Honganji & Nishi Honganji May 24, 2011

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kansai, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Kyoto – Higashi Honganji & Nishi Honganji” complete with photos. http://wp.me/p2liAm-EH

 

There are two famous large temples located just within walking distance of Kyoto Station. These are Higashi and Nishi Honganji. They are both some of the largest temples I have visited in Japan and both are extremely important to Japan both culturally and historically. They are both free to the public and both are very similar in appearance. The first time I visited Kyoto was around 2006, and the second time I visited Kyoto was in 2009. Although the difference in time was only about 3 years, I can’t clearly distinguish the difference between the two temples. It can be very difficult, so visiting one temple only is not a big problem. If you are pressed for time, you don’t have to feel the pressure to visit both temples as you might be better off visiting only one of them and spending the extra time at another temple around Kyoto.

In 2009, I visited Nishi Hongaji. Nishi Honganji was recently renovated, so the entire temple grounds are remarkably beautiful. The approach to the temple from the station is somewhat bland. There is a long wall stretching along the entire complex with gates along the way. The gates themselves are very beautiful with typical Japanese temple designs. Upon entrance into the temple grounds, you will be amazed by the sheer size of the main hall and the open area. Unfortunately, like my visit to Kinkakuji earlier in the day, it was raining heavily when I visited which made things difficult. On the other side of the coin, the fact that there was almost no one around made it a very enjoyable experience for me. Entering the hall is free and the hall itself is very spiritual. It’s hard to explain but whenever I enter a Japanese temple, I always feel a type of calm. Even with the rain and humidity, I felt very relaxed. The entire area may look and feel like a typical Japanese temple, but the atmosphere is the most important aspect of any temple visit. I can’t imagine a teenager visiting any temple and having the same feeling that I had but I hope they will. One of the more interesting aspects of the hall is the windows or rather wooden panels. There are large wooden panels that line the sides of the main hall that allow more light and air into the hall. These are huge panels that hinge upwards. If you are lucky, you’ll be able to see these in use. The other interesting piece is the lights. There are several gold covered lamps located around the outer walk of the hall. From afar, they don’t look very unique or interesting but when you see them from underneath, you can see the detail of a dragon that has been sculpted into the bottom. It is not unique to Nishi Honganji, but it is still a very beautiful thing to see. When you are finished, you can always head to the adjacent office and relax a little.

Higshi Honganji is the younger sibling of Nishi Hongaji. They are both different sects of Buddhism that have splintered away from each other. You can think of this as akin to the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches. They are similar yet different religions. Higashi Hongaji was built 11 years after Nishi Hongaji and replicates the look and feel of Nishi Honganji. The main difference is that Higash Honganji is actually bigger than Nishi Honganji and there is a gold alter located inside Higashi Hongaji. Otherwise, it can be difficult to discern the difference between both temples. Both temples used to be in the same sect of Buddhism but due to political pressure, the temples were split up leading to the construction of Higashi Honganji. As I mentioned above, visiting one of the two temples is enough for a visit to Kyoto. While Higashi Honganji may be closer to the station, Nishi Honganji shouldn’t be overlooked either. If you take a bus, you can always stop at Nishi Honganji on the way to another location. Be sure to plan ahead and you can see a lot more.

Honganji Information:

Honganji (Japan Guide):  http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3920.html
Honganji (Wapedia):  http://www.wa-pedia.com/japan-guide/nishi_higashi_honganji.shtml
Honganji (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hongan-ji
Nishi Honganji (Wikipedia):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nishi_Honganji
Higashi Honganji (Wikipedia):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Higashi_Honganji

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

Tokyo — Imperial Palace East Gardens May 17, 2011

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Tokyo – Imperial Palace East Gardens” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-DC

 

I have written in the past about the Imperial Palace but I have almost always neglected to visit the East Gardens.  The East Gardens are a free area of the Imperial Palace that is home to one of the most beautiful gardens in Tokyo.  Being a free garden makes it more special as there are few if any gardens in Japan that are open to the public.  The East Gardens are situated on the north east corner of the palace grounds.  It can be a little difficult to find at first as most people will head to the main palace, or the Kokyogaien, the southern park.  There are three entrances to the East Gardens, but most people will use the main Otemon gate.  It is easily accessible from Tokyo Station or Otemachi Station.  Upon entry into the gardens from Otemon gate, you will be within the Sannomaru grounds.  When visiting a Japanese castle, or former castle, they have “marus”.  A maru is literally translated into circle, but for a castle, it can be roughly translated into an area or section.  Each section is fortified by walls and defences.  Think of a traditional European castle with an outer and inner wall.  This is no different except traditionally there is no ring, but rather areas.  The Sannomaru area is not a very interesting place, to be honest, but it is a typical tourist “entrance”.  You will pass a small entrance where you must grab a tab.  This is mainly to keep track of who is inside the park, especially when closing.  You must return this as you leave.  Don’t worry about having to pay for anything as everything is free.  Once inside, there is a small museum and souvenir shop within the Sannomaru area.  The Sannomaru Shozokan is a museum housing works from the Imperial Collection.  The collection is rotated to display various items that were gifted, donated, or inherited by the Imperial Family.  You can see various works of art within this very small museum.  It is actually just one room with various works of art inside.  The souvenir shop is equally as small offering very simple gifts such as chopsticks and a few books about Japan.  Calendars of the Imperial Family are also available, however making use of the building as a rest stop is a good idea.

On the self guided tour, you are supposed to head up to the Honmaru area first.  This is the largest area and home of the old Edo Castle when it was standing.  I found the garden in this area to be somewhat sparse compared to the Ninomaru area, but the historical importance of this area is much higher.  You can see various remnants of the old castle along with a little information of what they were used for.  Sticking to the centre of the garden will take you to various planted gardens.  The centre of attention for this area has to be the Oshibafu.  It is a large grass lawn that is used for Imperial ceremonies at times.  In reality, I found it to be a bit boring and stuck to the outer circle where you can see more trees and plant life.  The Honmaru area is filled with various fruit trees, rose bushes, and bamboo groves.  Aside from the plant life, the Tenshudai is the main artificial focal point.  It is the remaining foundation of the old Edo Castle before it was destroyed.  It is used more as a viewing platform these days but the view is only of the Honmaru area itself.  If you are expecting a nice view of the surrounding area, you will be disappointed.  There is also the Tokagakudo Concert Hall.  It is a tall concert hall with various pieces of art on the sides that depict the different seasons of the year.  It is one of the most beautiful buildings in the gardens, but keep in mind that it is a modern styled building.  The other buildings are all traditional buildings that have a lot of history, such as barracks for soldiers.  You can’t really compare old and new things in terms of beauty.

The Ninomaru area is the most beautiful area of the garden.  This is where you will see the most life.  If you approach the area from the back of the Honmaru area, not from the Otemon entrance, you will be delighted with a view of either the Ninomaru area or plum trees.  The Bairin-zaka Slope, or plum grove slope, is absolutely beautiful during the plum blossom season (March).  You can see two varieties of plum blossoms, both light and vibrant pink.  They are very similar to cherry blossoms and provide an early taste for the famous cherry blossom season.  The Suwano-chaya Tea House and Ninomaru Garden are located near the plum tree grove and are, in my opinion, the focal point of the Ninomaru area.  The Tea House is not open to the public but it is a traditional looking tea house.  The surrounding trees make this a very picturesque area.  To one side of the tea house is a small section of trees.  There are 47 different trees with each tree representing a different prefecture in Japan.  The Ninomaru Garden is another beautiful area with a medium sized coy pond and a small waterfall.  You can climb up a small embankment to the top of the waterfall where you will get great views of the Ninomaru gardens.  The Ninomaru Gardens are a great place to relax in the afternoon.  You may not be able to find a nice place to sit, but you will definitely find it peaceful.

The East Gardens are a pleasant surprise for me.  I was expecting it to be a little boring and to be honest 5 years ago I would have found it boring.  While the rest of the Imperial Palace grounds are nothing to get excited about the East Gardens is a small exception.  It’s a great place to spend a few hours enjoying the nature Japan has to offer.  It offers a wide variety of plant life that you would see if you toured all over Japan.  You can also get a small taste of what a traditional Japanese garden will look like.  Of course each garden in Japan is different but this garden is not extremely different compared to others in Japan.  It isn’t very traditional, and the landscape is set within the castle grounds itself.  The plants are more “modern” compared to a traditional Japanese garden, but you will still get a better feel of a Japanese garden at no cost to yourself, aside for the time it takes to tour the area.  It’s definitely a good place to visit if you have the time.

Imperial Palace East Garden Information:

Japan Guide: http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3018.html
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tokyo_Imperial_Palace

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

Kyoto – Maruyama Park May 10, 2011

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kansai, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Kyoto – Maruyama Park” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-EK

 

One of my favourite memories of Kyoto is on my first trip to Kyoto. I walked along the entire east side of Kyoto from Kyoto Station all the way to Ginkakuji. For anyone who has ever visited Kyoto and looked at that area, they probably won’t believe me when I say I walked all of that and walked almost all the way back to Kyoto Station as well. I didn’t have any real idea as to what each area was about, and my Japanese was no where near good enough to navigate around town smoothly. Now, I wouldn’t do it again, but it was an experience that I don’t regret doing and I would do it all over again if I had to. Walking around Kyoto was a great experience that allowed me to see a lot of Kyoto, although I don’t necessarily remember everything. One of the best memories I had on that walkabout was my visit to Maruyama Park and heading up a nearby mountain to a small shrine.

Maruyama Park is a small park that is either left off the guide books or barely mentioned. It is famous at one time of the year, the cherry blossom season. Most of the park is covered in cherry trees making this the place to be during the cherry blossom season. It is difficult to find a place, or so I’ve been told, to sit and enjoy the cherry blossoms. When I visited, I was about 1-2 weeks too early to enjoy the cherry blossoms. One or two trees had buds on them, but that was about it. The park itself is quite easy to navigate and without much foliage to enjoy I finished walking the park in about 15 minutes. I enjoyed the small pond of water that flowed through much of the park and found it interesting to see piles of neatly folded blue tarps near the trees. Little did I know that when the cherry trees started to blossom, the park workers would unfold these blue tarps and create a space for people to sit and enjoy the cherry blossoms. At night, much of the park would be lit up and hundreds, if not thousands of people would be there to enjoy the cherry blossoms, the company of each other, and of course the beer and alcohol.

The main reason I enjoyed this park wasn’t so much the park itself. It was the small mountain and “secret” shrine that I found above the park. If you head to east through the park, you will start to head up a small steep hill. You will then find a small shrine in the corner of the park. I believe it was the north east corner of the park. From there, you will find a small path that starts to lead into the woods and up the mountain. I remember it as being near a set of washrooms, but I don’t know how helpful that would be for someone looking for the path. I headed up the path with a friend of mine not knowing what we would find. Little did I know, we would have one of the best adventures of the entire trip. It wasn’t an easy walk as we were walking up a small mountain. I was surprised to see small altars, or graves along the path. I believe they were altars. There were several small Buddhist statues on each one and they have been there for years, if not decades. The faces of many of the statues had been worn off by the rain and wind. There were altars at nearly every corner of the dirt path. It took a while before we made it to the top and we considered turning back a couple of times. The one good thing was that we didn’t give up. We continued until we reached a small garden/temple at the top. This temple was really nice but I was surprised to find that we had to pay to enter and see Kyoto from a viewing platform. We decided not to pay and just relaxed at the top for a bit before heading back down the way we came. We had the options to take a small road down from the temple but we had no idea where it went, so the prudent thing was to head back the way we came. I do regret that we didn’t enter the temple, but the memory of hiking up that small mountain will remain in my mind forever.

As I mentioned, we walked all the way from Kyoto station to Ginkakuji. It was a full day walk from 9 am till 9 pm. We had a tough time, physically, going around and seeing everything. When you are on a budget of $0, you’d be surprised at how willing you are to just walk around. Renting a bicycle would have been better but at the same time it wouldn’t. Walking allows you to just take your time and wander around to wherever you want to go. Many times, I prefer to just choose an area and just walk in one direction and wander in a direction that interests me. On this trip, I was lucky enough to see a couple of geisha/maiko around a pagoda as well, but whether they were true maiko or not, I had no idea. In Kyoto, it is fairly common to see “fake” maiko. These are tourists who get dressed up in a costume shop and spend a few hours walking around as a “geisha” or “maiko”. You never really know who is a true maiko or not, but if I had been on a bus or riding a bicycle, I wouldn’t have been able to discover such amazing things. I highly recommend this walking tour, but do be aware that it isn’t easy and requires a full day to do it.

Maruyama Park Information:

Maruyama Park (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maruyama_Park
Maruyama Park (Japan Guide): http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3925.html

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

2011 Sakura May 3, 2011

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over to read “2011 Sakura” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-FY

 

It is officially the end of the sakura season for 2011.  The sakura season began in early April and lasted for just under 1 week for the full bloom.  This year has been a very mixed year in Tokyoand Japandue to the Great East Japan Earthquake.  The sakura season in Tokyoand Japanare no exception either.  While things had started to return to normal at the start of April, things were not completely back to normal.  The state of Tokyo itself was still in a mild state of shock and the history of the cherry blossoms had reminded people of the traditional stories that had been passed down from generation to generation and taught in various textbooks and media.

Aside from the actual beauty of the cherry blossoms, there is a lot of symbolism and many stories.  I have heard a lot of these and only found a little information in English that was easy to research and find information on.  Mortality is the main symbol of the cherry blossoms.  They have been a symbol of our mortality and how life can be very short yet beautiful.  The cherry blossoms start to bud and within a week of budding they are blooming.  Shortly after that, the spring winds blow the petals away leaving nothing but the nearly bare branches exposed for a short time before the leaves replace them.  It’s a very short process that takes only a few weeks.  If you are lucky, the cherry blossoms are in full bloom for almost two weeks, but for most of the time it is around one week.  This year the symbolism of mortality has been especially poignant this year due to the Great East Japan Earthquake (Tohoku Earthquake).  With over 10,000 people found dead at the start of Tokyo’s cherry blossom season, many people were still unable to get past the sadness that the country has endured for what was less than a month.  The region was also dealing with the ongoing nuclear crisis and wondering what would arise from such problems in the future.  Needless to say the atmosphere in Tokyo was far from celebratory.

I mentioned two years ago that there was a fairy tale that highlighted the fact that many dead bodies were buried under the cherry trees and that their souls were linked to the trees themselves.  Since then, I have heard a few more stories that included the “fact” that the ashes of the dead were scattered around the base of the cherry trees as well.  The symbolism of this act was that the people who died would be reincarnated as petals within the tree itself.  This is also more so for those who had committed suicide or sacrificed themselves for their country such as those who died or committed suicide for Japan in war.  I still cannot find any information regarding this in any online source however this has been relayed to me by various students.  This is of course changing from person to person but the basics are all the same.  This also creates a tale for children that the trees themselves are haunted.  This is to keep the children away from the trees, especially at night.  Some stories include the fact that if you go to see the cherry trees alone at night, you will die.  I would theorize, as with many other tales, that this was to prevent children from going to see the cherry blossoms alone at night when it could be dangerous.  It is also another reason for many cities to illuminate the blossoms at night in order to “protect” people from being “killed” or “taken away”.

This year in Tokyo was very different indeed.  While I didn’t personally go to any parks to witness the cherry blossom parties, I did have a chance to walk around; see pictures from friends; and hear first hand accounts from my students and friends.  The hanami season (cherry blossom viewing/cherry blossom party) was definitely different.  There were less people and less noise.  Most of the famous parks were quieter than normal.  Most companies had cancelled their parties and most parties were of friends and families only.  The Governor of Tokyo, Mr. Ishihara, called on everyone to refrain from having hanami parties and to respect the dead in the difficult times.  There were many opinions about this action and I will refrain from voicing mine as much as possible.  This basically caused a lot of companies to cancel their plans, if they had any, and most of the parks that lit up the trees at night were dark.  Several parks had signs that requested people to avoid having parties under the cherry blossoms and the few parties that I did see were very quiet affairs.  Rather than the raucous parties where people drink excessively, I would imagine that people just enjoyed a few drinks and enjoyed the chatting more.  Of course I wasn’t there so I can’t truly comment on the outcome.  It could well be that there were some groups that were pretty loud but I can’t say for sure.

Unfortunately, the parks were not as busy as a regular year.  This could also be a blessing for some however it was still busy.  Unlike most years where you would be hard pressed to find a good spot to enjoy the cherry blossoms, this year you could find spaces without looking too hard.  The party mood was definitely more sombre than normal however it will be an anomaly.  I’m sure that by next year the parties will return and the drunken mess will be back.  Tokyo will be its regular happy and raucous self.

Cherry Blossom Information:

Wikipedia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cherry_blossom

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

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