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Geocaching in Tokyo and Japan October 26, 2010

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

If any of you have been following me on Twitter, you would know that I have a new hobby called Geocaching.  Geocaching, for the uninitiated, is a type of game where all you need is a GPS receiver and the ability to think.  You are given a set of GPS coordinates and you navigate your way to that location.  From there, you can look around the area and find a container that has been hidden by another geocacher.  The game itself is simplistic in nature.  Think of it as a grown man’s hide and seek, or treasure hunting for geeks.  In fact, you don’t even need a GPS receiver to play the game, just a print out of a map for the GPS coordinates.  Each cache, treasure, is different.  They can be as large as a coffin, this was a real cache, and as small as a button.  The only limits are your imagination.  There are hundreds of places you can hide a cache, and Japan is a place where this is growing.

From reports from other blogs and other geocachers, geocaching in Tokyo has not been that big.  It has taken off, somewhat, in recent years and there are hundreds of different sites around Tokyo.  If you are interested in it, it’s a great way to see the city.  Many of the caches are set up by locals, and many are Japanese.  I have had the opportunity to visit many places that I would never have visited without geocaching to tell me to go there.  While you probably won’t see them at the typical tourist hot spots, such as Meiji Jingu Shrine, you will see them just outside, and at places where most tourists would never think to go.  Imagine going to a famous cathedral, going inside, but never taking the time to walk around the block just outside the cathedral.  You never know what amazing things you can discover if you just walked within a block of the actual building itself.  Geocaching can take you to these places, and it can teach you interesting things if you care to learn about it.

While I’m still very new to geocaching, I have found several caches already, and there are several that I’d recommend.  In Shinjuku, there is the “Concrete Canyon Cache” (GC4B70) located in Shinjuku Central Park is a good example.  Many tourists will come and visit the area, but not many will actually enter the park, nor take the time to read the signs telling them the name of the “forest” inside the park.  Having lived in Shinjuku for years, I myself never took the time to actually read the signs and discovered that the park’s forest actually had a name.  The name itself is part of the cache as it is a Virtual Cache that requires you to find some information to make the “find” valid.  Another good one is “Astronomical clock and LOVE” (GC213BG).  This one is located near a large sculpture of the word “LOVE” that was originally designed by Robert Indiana.  It is world famous and extremely popular with tourists and locals alike.  The entire area is very photographic, and the cache itself is somewhat large for the area.  For geocachers, this is a good place to drop some toys for others to take.

If you are looking for a “traditional” geocache, look no farther than Shinagawa Station.  Going there, you can find a large geocache called “Takanawa Forest Park” (GC25MKW).  I won’t ruin the surprise if you are looking for it, but needless to say, it’s a typical sized cache, but fairly large for Tokyo.  It’s hidden in a fairly quiet area, and the entrance to the park itself is well hidden.  It was so hidden that I had to think twice about entering the park.  When looking for the entrance, you have to use a private driveway which makes you think you are trespassing on someone’s property.  Thankfully, that’s not the case.  When you do reach the area of the cache, it’s fairly easy to find.  Once again, I would never have visited this park on my own, and I was happy to find a very small urban forest in the middle of the hotels in Shinagawa.  This cache was also a treasure trove of goodies.  I found lots of goodies that I could “steal” and keep, and a few things that I could pass on to others.

Currently, I’m working in Ginza, and have found a lot of time to visit the caches in my area.  Unfortunately, there are only a few that I’d mention as being special.  The first is “Shinji Ike Pond” (GC12FXY) which is a small container in Hibiya Park.  While the location isn’t that special, the fact that I can visit a small cache that can hold goodies is important. It’s also a busy cache with many people visiting it every week.  “Godzilla” (GC28YAD) is also a good one.  I haven’t been able to find this one yet, but the area is great.  There is a statue of Godzilla nearby and hand prints of famous celebrities on the ground as well.  It felt a little like the Mann Theatre in Hollywood, but obviously without the same energy.  For relaxing times, a visit to “Brick Square” (GC23C10) is a must.  It is an urban oasis.  When you have had enough of the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, you can head into this small courtyard and relax with various trees.  There are a few bars where you can also enjoy a nice glass of wine.  This cache was definitely a nice surprise.

One of my biggest surprises came from “Small Island” (GC18B37).  I never knew that there was a small island located in the middle of the Sumida River, let alone a cache.  I saw it and had to visit it.  It was a scorching hot day and with sweat dripping down my face, I took the time to hunt the cache and I found it within minutes.  I had a great time and the view was wonderful.  I wish I could have stayed for an hour or so, but unfortunately, I had no time as I had to get to work.  If you are in the area, or if you want to see something unique, this is a great place to visit.  Unfortunately, there is nothing interesting in the area, unless you are going to eat monja yaki.  While not the most recommended food item in Japan, if you do choose to try it, you might as well come to the cache, say hello, and grab some monja afterwards.

When in Asakusa, going to “Lucky and Happy Come Come Cats” (GC24X6G) is a great place to visit.  You will visit a nice shrine that is dedicated to cats.  If you are a cat lover, you’ll love this place.  I’m not sure of the importance of this shrine but it is a cool place to visit.  “Bridge of X” (GC249RQ) is also an interesting experience.  For this one, it’s the pedestrian bridge that was built to bridge the gap between two parks.  The bridge is full of people, and every year, there is a fireworks festival at the end of July.  I’d also recommend this as an interesting place to see Tokyo Sky Tree, and the various cruisers that ply the Sumida River waters giving tours.  Do note that you can always see things closer to Asakusa itself, but getting farther north will mean things are quieter and more relaxed.   A day spent exploring the area that no one has been will allow you to brag about seeing things that no other tourist would ever thing to see.

As part of the game, there is a thing called a trackable.  These come in two main forms, Geocoins, and Travel Bugs.  A Geocoin is exactly that, a geocaching coin.  It is a standard coin with a special design.  On the back is a special tracking number which is the password to tell the system that you truly found it.  A travel bug is the same, except it can come in any shape or size.  Usually, a dog tag is attached which has the tracking number.  These trackables may or may not have a specific goal in mind.  Some of them are there to just travel the world, aimlessly, and others are in a race or trying to do something specific.  I have seen people race their bugs, and others who have set a goal to visit a specific location before returning home.  Some people have sent USB drives in a goal to meet people, collect pictures, and essentially return home so that they can see all of the people who have touched it.  It’s a fun game and a way to meet people you never otherwise would have.

Geocaching is a fun game that requires a little stealth when playing.  Often, you are looking for something that is hidden so regular people can’t find it.  It can be very suspicious when looking around something that is generally uninteresting.  You may get into trouble from the police or security personal who thinks you are up to no good, but that’s also part of the game.  Just be careful.  When in Tokyo, the majority of caches are small to micro in size.  Unfortunately, this means that most of the caches you will look for and find will be somewhat boring.  They don’t tend to be that creative, but depending on the person, they can be.  However, Tokyo has so many wonderful secrets that most caches will take you somewhere interesting.  While visiting 20 shrines to see geocaches may get boring, you should know that many of them will be unique and give you a sense of “wow”.

Geocaching Information:

Geocaching:  http://www.geocaching.com
Love Sculpture:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Love_(sculpture)



Running in Tokyo (Imperial Palace) June 15, 2010

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Sports, Tokyo.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Running in Tokyo (Imperial Palace)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-pa

The first ever Tokyo Marathon was held in 2007.  It was the start of an annual event that would change the way people in Tokyo thought about running.  While there were several other marathon races, and half marathon races, this was the first marathon that was widely broadcasted.  This was also the beginning of what would become the “running boom” of Japan, which is still going strong today.  The first ever Tokyo Marathon, and all subsequent versions after that started in Shinjuku near the Tokyo Government Offices.  From there, the route heads east to the Imperial Palace where the course turns south.  It then makes a U-turn at Shinagawa where it heads north to Asakusa via Ginza.  From there, runners make a second U-turn and head east again once they return to Ginza where they continue until they reach Odaiba and the finish line.  It is by far the most popular marathon in Japan and one of the most interesting ones.  For those who want to participate in this marathon, it’s necessary to enter a lottery to get a chance to run.  Due to the extreme popularity of this marathon, you must enter the lottery.  Thankfully, there are several other marathons and half marathons run throughout the Kanto area.  If you ever want to try it, feel free to ask.

In terms of running courses, there are several courses located within Tokyo itself.  The most popular route has to be around the Imperial Palace.  This route is fairly simple and has promoted many running related shops to open up along the route.  Most Japanese people start around Takebashi Station.  There are several reasons for this.  The biggest reason people start around here is that the station entrance is located on the course itself.  The entrances have small areas nearby for you to stretch and prepare a little before you head out on a run.  The other reason is that there is a small section on the road where drivers can stop and drop people off.  While this isn’t quite legal, if you do it quickly, you can probably get away with it.  The last reason people enjoy starting at this station is the number of places to change and shower after a run.  With several locations with lockers, it is obviously popular.  One of the few places that I would think about visiting would be the Art Sports: Running Oasis.  Art Sports is considered to be one of, if not the best place to buy running shoes.  They tend to have the most recommendations among the Tokyo Runners Clubs and among many Japanese people.  Unfortunately, it’s still somewhat of a specialized shop, so it isn’t very famous yet.

While Takebashi Station is the most popular starting point, it isn’t the only place to start.  You can always start from Nijubashimae Station, Hibiya Station, Sakuradamon Station or Hanzomon Station.  You can also easily access the Imperial Palace from Tokyo Station, Yurakucho Station, Kasumigaseki Station, Jinbocho Station, Kudanshita Station, and many more.  Whichever station you do use to access the Imperial Palace, just be aware that the location can alter how you feel during your run.  The route around the Imperial Palace is located on the side of a hill.  The west side, near Hanzomon Station, is the highest point, while Takebashi Station and Hibiya Station are at the lowest points.  There are, obviously, two ways run around the Imperial Palace, clockwise and counter-clockwise.  This can make a huge difference in the quality of your run.  Most people run in a counter-clockwise direction.  The north side, from Takebashi Station to Hanzomon Station is a shorter and steeper uphill climb compared to the longer Sakuradamon Station to Hanzomon Station section.  For this reason, it is relatively easier to run counter-clockwise.  The secondary reason to run counter-clockwise is only for night runners.  Cars drive on the left side of the road in Japan, so if you run clockwise, the headlights of all the cars will be shining in your face the entire way around the palace.  If you are like me, you will probably enjoy the challenge of going clockwise, but be warned that it adds the extra challenge of running against the stream of other runners.

In the last year, there have been a many articles regarding the Imperial Palace and the “Runners Boom”.  While most of it has been good, there have been some calls to improve the signage around the palace so that runners can understand where to go easily.  The first time you run, there is one section that can be confusing, if not get you into trouble.  Running on the gravel, aside from near Sakuradamon, will get you into trouble and the police guards will tell you to get out.  The sidewalk is free to run on, but be aware that there are many tourists walking around.  The east side of the course is the busiest for tourists and you will have to avoid them.  One article said that there was an estimated 4500 people running around the Imperial Palace between 6pm and 9pm on a weeknight.  That is by far the busiest time, and probably best to avoid running there.  I have heard from friends that it can be too busy, and running at your own pace can be a challenge.  Weekends and weekday mornings are probably better, but you may have to find a way to pass people who are slower, or let others who are faster pass.  While this may sound bad, the actual route is very nice and picturesque.  Most people only visit the east side, but the west side offers a look at the palace grounds from a different angle.  It may not be the most beautiful thing in the world, but a quick run around is worth it.

This is part of a series on running in Tokyo.  To read more, continue to Running in Tokyo – Central Tokyo.


Running Club:  http://www.namban.org/
Runner’s World Article:  http://www.runnersworld.com/article/0,7120,s6-239-281–6897-0,00.html
Running In Tokyo:  http://runningintokyo.com/
Time Out Tokyo (Blog):  http://www.timeout.jp/en/tokyo/feature/176
Imperial Palace Running Guide (Japanese):  http://koukyo-run.boo.jp/
Art Sports:  Running Oasis (Japanese): http://runningoasis.art-sports.jp/


Narita to Tokyo April 13, 2010

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

Arriving at Narita Airport can be a daunting challenge.  Not only will you probably be tired, if you don’t speak Japanese, it can be a small challenge to find out how to get into the city itself.  Unless you are rich, taxis are not an option.  There are three main routes into Tokyo.  The first is the Airport Limousine.  The second is to take a train, which has two options.  The simplest has to be the Airport Limousine.  When you exit the arrivals gate, you can usually find the Airport Limousine counter on the main floor.  There are several locations in both terminals.  It’s as simple as saying which hotel you want to go to, or what station.  The Airport Limousine goes to many destinations throughout Tokyo and Yokohama.  It’s also the most convenient way to get to Haneda Airport.  Do note that due to traffic, all times are estimates.  You can be severely delayed if traffic is horrible.

The safest way to get into the city is to use one of two rail companies.  The most popular for tourists is to use the JR Lines.  Using the regular lines is not popular for JR.  It is expensive and slow.  You will more than likely have to change trains at least once, maybe up to three times depending on your destination.  The easiest route is to take the Narita Express.  In fact, they have recently released a new train that makes things more comfortable.  They offer secure locks for your luggage and plugs for your laptop in each row.  Unfortunately, these are not available at all times.  The main advantage of the Narita Express is the number of destinations.  You can go as far as Ofuna, Takao, and Omiya without getting out.  However, most trains will only run from Narita Airport to Yokohama or Ikebukuro.  These trains usually de-couple at Tokyo Station.  Don’t be too afraid of connecting trains if you are headed to Ikebukuro.  If the train only goes to Shinjuku, it’s very simple to change platforms and get to Ikebukuro faster than if you wait.  The Narita Express doesn’t run too often, so it’s best to take the first one you can get, unless you have too many bags.

The cheapest route to Tokyo is to take the Keisei lines.  Their rapid service takes roughly 71 minutes to get to Tokyo, and their Skyliner service takes about 51 minutes.  The Rapid service costs roughly 1000 yen, which makes this a budget travellers dream.  If you want a good balance between cost and comfort, the Skyliner is one of your best bets.  The biggest problem with the Keisei service is choice.  You have your choice of Nippori and Ueno as destinations.  If you are headed to a hostel in Asakusa, this line is perfect.  If you are headed to Shinjuku, this route may not be your ideal choice, but it is a cheaper alternative at relatively the same time.  It’s just not as convenient.  However, as of July 2010, the service will be upgraded and the time will be cut by 15 minutes making this a more popular route in the near future.  The new service will be called the “Sky Express”.  It will feature brand new trains with a new local service being introduced as well.

Regarding what to take and how to get there, that’s your choice.  By far, the cheapest is the Keisei lines.  The most convenient would be the Airport Limousine, if they offer service to your hotel.  The Narita Express offers a very competitive service, but it is a little expensive overall.  In terms of locals, unless your company is paying for it, most people will take the Keisei lines.


Narita Airport:  http://www.narita-airport.jp/en/
Airport Limousine:  http://www.limousinebus.co.jp/en/
Narita Express:  http://www.jreast.co.jp/e/nex/index.html
Keisei Skyliner:  http://www.keisei.co.jp/keisei/tetudou/keisei_us/top.html


Temples of Tokyo – Part II [Meiji-jingu & Zojoji] February 16, 2010

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 “Temples of Tokyo – Part II [Meiji-jingu & Zojoji]” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-gk

Once you finish with Sensoji, you can make your way across town to visit Meiji Jingu.  This is much more tranquil than Sensoji.  There are far fewer people here, and there isn’t any shopping within the shrine grounds.  The first thing you must do is venture to the main shrine.  This is, in itself, a difficult task.  It can take roughly 10 minutes to walk there.  The walk itself is very nice, as you are walking within a natural forest.  The various torii gates are also magnificent as they tend to blend in with the surrounding trees.  The entire walkway leading to the temple is also very spacious.  This is mainly due to the crowding during the New Year celebrations.  If you have a little money and want to see a garden, you can have a nice walk around the private gardens of the shrine.  I doubt that this garden is that beautiful, so it’s easy to skip.  You will also run into a row of large barrels with various writings on it.  These are sake casks.  Inside each one, it is filled with sake.   They are donated to the shrine by various sake breweries and companies for various reasons.  It makes for an interesting photo opportunity.  The shrine itself is pretty interesting.  The main courtyard is situated in such a way that you cannot really see any buildings in the surrounding areas.  This makes it a sort of oasis within Tokyo.  You can also see the inner buildings from the entrance way, but don’t expect a full walk through.  Like most of the other temples and shrines, there is a public area, and a private area.  Overall, the private area is nothing special.  They usually hold weddings and other ceremonies inside the various halls.  There isn’t much in the way of statues or things worth photographing.  Temples tend to have more interesting things behind the closed doors.  After you finish with the main court yard, you will be greeted by the fortune area of the shrine.  Shrines tend to make more money selling fortunes than anything else.  Do you want to have a child?  Do you want to do well on a test?  Go to the priest, tell them, and they’ll make a fortune for you.  It’s valid for only one year.  After that, you have to return it, or go back to recharge it.  When that is over, you can make your way back to Harajuku station.  On the way out, you can visit a small museum dedicated to Emperor Meiji, but do note that the cost to enter is probably not worth the visit.  I heard that there are only pictures inside, and very few artefacts.

If you have the time, visiting Zojoji before Meiji Jingu is recommended.  Zojoji, as I mentioned, is not very famous outside of Tokyo.  It is relatively small compared to Sensoji and Meiji Jingu.  The approach from Daimon station isn’t very interesting either.  You can do everything you want to do at Sensoji and Meiji Jingu, so visiting Zojoji isn’t necessary.  However, the experience of Zojoji is very unique.  Just outside the main entrance, there is a very major street.  It’s bustling with traffic all day long.  In fact, it can be extremely noisy.  However, once you walk into the temple grounds, the noise seems to disappear.  All around the temple, you’ll see various trees planted by various dignitaries, such as George W. Bush.  There are various statues, and a unique cemetery located in the temple grounds which also helps make it more unique.  You can see a large bell that is rung to signal the start of the New Year.  The major draw for this temple will be the ability to take a picture of the temple near the foot of Tokyo Tower.  It’s a great picture to show friends, and it truly shows the mix of traditional Japanese culture with modernism.  The other main draw, on a personal note, has to be entering the temple’s main hall.  While Sensoji allows you to only enter the entryway, Zojoji allows you to enter, sit, and meditate.  It is a nice cool place to relax on a hot afternoon, and the smell of the incense is very calming.  If you are lucky, you can see one of the monks performing a prayer.  It is, without a doubt, one of the best temple experiences I have had in Japan, and the best one in Tokyo.

Temples and shrines in Tokyo vary from large and extravagant, to small and unnoticeable.  Meiji Jingu is one of the large ones, but if you are walking along a side street, you might see a small shrine no bigger than a pay phone.  It’s impossible to truly recommend only three temples to visit in Tokyo.  It’s even more impossible to recommend three in all of Japan.  Each one has their own unique layouts, unique statues, and unique festivals.  If you are lucky enough to be living in Tokyo, be sure to visit other temples, especially your local temple.  You never know what interesting things are going to happen.

Note:  Other notable temples and shrines include Yasukuni Shrine (infamous for worshiping battles in the name of peace) and Sengakuji (famous for being the resting place of the 47 Ronin).

This is Part II of a two part series.  To read more, please head over to Part I.

http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2059.html (About Shrines)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meiji_Shrine (Meiji Jingu)
http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3002.html (Meiji Jingu)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zojoji (Zojoji)
http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3010.html (Zojoji)


Temples of Tokyo – Part I [Sensoji] February 9, 2010

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 “Temples of Tokyo – Part I [Sensoji]” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-gh

When people think of Japanese temples, they think of Kyoto.  Not everyone has a chance to go to Kyoto.  If you only have a week in Japan, sometimes you can’t afford the time to go to Kyoto.  While it can be done in a day using the shinkansen, sometimes it’s much better to just relax and visit a few temples around Tokyo.  That way, you can take your time and save a lot of money on train fares.  In Tokyo, most tourists will only visit two temples; Sensoji in Asakusa, and Meiji Jingu in Harajuku.  Technically, Meiji Jingu is not a temple, but a shrine dedicated to the Japanese religion of Shinto.  Often overlooked is the temple called Zojoji.  It is much smaller than the other two, but due to it being left off most major tour books, it’s a great place to see a temple without the hustle and bustle of the other two tourist spots.

The first things to know when talking about temples and shrines are, what is a temple, and what is a shrine?  In a few simple words, a temple is dedicated to Buddha and a shrine is dedicated to a Shinto god.  It can be very difficult to know which is which, but in Japan, the easiest way to tell the difference is to look for the torii.  If there is a torii gate, a wooden archway near the entrance, it’s a shrine.  If there is a pagoda, or a huge statue of a Buddhist deity, it’s a temple.  In reality, there is no easy way to distinguish one from the other without research or looking at everything extensively.  Generally speaking, once you see a few of the temples and shrines, you tend to understand what the others will look like.  After visiting the these three temples in Tokyo, you don’t have to visit Kyoto, but as always, things are always slightly different, or they might have that one unique factor that makes it stand out.  Kyoto is still a very important place in Japan, and it’s still highly recommended.  If you don’t have time to make it out there, don’t feel too sad, but if you do have time, I would always recommend heading there.

Sensoji is probably the most visited temple in Tokyo, and the oldest.  When arriving at Asakusa station, it’s very easy to get disoriented.  They have finished some remodelling of the station to make it easier for people to find their way to the temple, but once you are on the street, you can still be a little disoriented.  Finding your way to Nakamise Shopping Street is the best way to get to the temple.  There is a large Buddhist style gate called Kaminarimon, with two large wooden statues inside protecting the temple.  This is the start of the shopping street, and the approach to the temple itself.  The shopping street is great for the usual souvenirs that you’ll need when you go home, so be sure to buy everything here.  Other areas of Tokyo don’t always offer this type of touristy garb.  You can easily buy rice crackers and yukatas, along with other cheesy Japanese stuff.  Do note that most Japanese people will only buy food, and rarely, if ever, buy the other stuff.  The temple itself is beautifully bathed in red paint.  Being a big tourist attraction, you can buy an “Omikuji”, which is a fortune.  They generally include English.  First, put your money into the donation box; then shake a large metal tin.  After shaking, turn the tin upside down and shake it until you get a stick.  This stick tells you which drawer to open to get your fortune.  It’s pretty simple and once you are there, you can watch others do it first and just copy them.  They should have English on the reverse of the fortune, or a translation somewhere nearby.  Do note that if you get one with okay, or bad luck, you are supposed to tie it to a post so that it doesn’t follow you.  If you have good luck, you are supposed to keep it in your wallet for one year.  Next, you can enter the temple itself.  There really isn’t much to see.  When you enter, you can only stay in the front entrance portion of the main hall.  Here, you can toss some money into the donation box and pray for whatever you like.  Also note that it’s better to throw a coin with a hole in it as it’s considered lucky.  5 and 50 yen coins are the only coins to have a hole in them.

This is Part I of a two part series.  To continue reading about the Temples of Tokyo, continue to Part II.


http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2058.html (About Temples)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sensō-ji (About Sensoji)
http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3001.html (More about Sensoji)


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