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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。

Tokyo (Ueno – Ueno Park) May 18, 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 “Tokyo (Ueno – Ueno Park)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-mW

West of Ueno Station brings you to Ueno Park.  This is probably the biggest reason people visit Ueno, at least as a tourist.  The park is one of the largest in Tokyo.  The park area itself contains a temple, a zoo, three museums, and various activities any other park would have.  The park itself is nothing special.  There are few places to actually enjoy a nice picnic.  Most of the paths in the park are paved, with little to no areas to sit and relax.  It’s a very typical Tokyo park.  The best time to visit the park itself is during the cherry blossom season, in spring.  There are over 1000 cherry trees in the park allowing you some of the best views of the park itself.  During the cherry blossom season, the city brings in extra lights to light up the cherry blossoms at night.  While most parks do the same, Ueno Park is one of the most beautiful to see.  As with any other park with lots of cherry blossoms, the park will be extremely busy at the peak of the cherry blossom season.  It’s advised to be careful as you will more than likely have to navigate between people to get around.  At night, it can also get very noisy as many office workers are drinking and fairly drunk at that time too.  Many people do avoid the park for this very reason.  The daytime is still very tame, but in true Japanese tradition, at least nowadays, it’s best to see the blossoms at night.

Ueno Park has four major religious structures.  The first you will encounter, near the entrance, is Kiyomizu Kannondo Hall/Temple.  This hall is famous once a year for its “Dolls Funeral”, or Ningyo Kuyo.  This funeral for dolls is related to the Hinamatsuri.  The Hinamasturi is a “Dolls Festival” where Japanese people display dolls for a happy life for their daughters.  It’s an elaborate festival that is celebrated at ones home.  There can be several dolls, and when Japanese people get older, they must decide what to do with them.  Some believe that they are spirits and must be treated with respect.  Due to this superstition, they cannot throw them away.  Several temples and shrines around Japan hold a type of Ningyo Kuyo each year in order to wish them luck in their next life.  The Ningyo Kuyo at Kiyomizu Kannondo is not very large, but there are probably hundreds of dolls, including stuffed animals such as Mickey Mouse, that are “cremated” at this time.  It can be interesting to watch, but I believe there are more interesting versions outside Tokyo, but unfortunately I do not know them.  Next Hanazono Inari Shrine, which is dedicated to the Inari, or fox.  These shrines can be very interesting as they tend to have several red gates and stone foxes with red bibs.  Toshogu Shrine is the next religious building.  It’s a small shrine located deep within the park.  It is linked to the shrines in Nikko, however this shrine is not as grand.  Unfortunately, I have never been to the shrine itself, but it is recommended to enter nonetheless.  The last religious structure to visit would be Benten-do.  It’s a hall dedicated to a female Buddhist god.  This hall is supposed to be popular for various reasons; probably wealth and knowledge, but unfortunately, I have forgotten the true meaning.  I have also heard that couples should avoid going to this hall together as it could create bad luck for their relationship.

In terms of museums, you have the Tokyo National Museum, The National Science Museum and The National Museum of Western Art.  The Tokyo National Museum is located at the northern end of Ueno Park.  It is the biggest and most important museum of the park, for obvious reasons.  On display are various paintings, writings, pottery, and of course the standard statues of various eras.  It’s a wonderful way to learn and hopefully appreciate the history of Japan.  It can be difficult to visit the entire museum in just a couple hours.  I would suggest arriving somewhat early and to allow yourself enough time to take your time throughout the museum.  If science is more interesting, the National Science Museum is an interesting place to visit.  They have various exhibits in and around the museum itself.  It is a relatively compact space and worth a visit with children.  The quality compared to a science museum in your own hometown will depend on what is available.  Many of the exhibits are interactive, as any good science museum is, but do look at their website and see if they have anything you’d be interested in seeing before heading in.  The last museum located in Ueno Park is The National Museum of Western Art.  I have never ventured inside the museum; however, there is a famous sculpture by Rodin, “The Gates of Hell” located outside the museum itself.  This gate alone is worth a quick walk up to the museum.  There are also a few other sculptures located around the National Science and Western Art Museums that are picturesque.

Ueno Zoo is a popular destination for people, especially for Japanese people.  It is split up into two sections that are separated by a monorail.  Within the main section is a 5-storied pagoda.  It can be impressive.  The west side of the zoo, there is a children’s zoo.  This is mainly a petting zoo for children to hopefully enjoy feeding various small animals.  The zoo used to have a panda, but unfortunately, it died a little while ago.  The zoo is a popular place on weekdays for schools to have a field trip.  It’s also popular among locals on dates, or bringing their families for a nice day out on the weekends.  As you approach, you are sure to hear and see lots of kids.  Bring your patience cap when you visit and all will be fine.

Ueno Park is a wonderful place to visit.  You can spend as little as an hour just wandering around, or up to a several days exploring all of the nooks and crannies that are to be found.  If you are visiting during the day, it is lovely.  There is a down side to the park when things get dark.  Because it’s an open and public park, it never truly closes.  It is open 24 hours a day, so when the sun goes down, all of the homeless people in the area venture into the park.  They can come out of nowhere and set up a small “tent” out of cardboard boxes.  It’s a little scary at first, but you have to realize that homeless people in Japan are very different than Canada, or America.  They tend to be very quiet and to themselves.  As long as you don’t stare, you’ll be fine.  You can even strike up a conversation with one of them if you dare.  Either way, Ueno Park is something you should see, especially if you are in the area.

This is part of my series on Ueno.  Please continue to read more about Ueno at Ueno – Corin Street, Tokyo Bike Town and Ueno – Ameyokocho.

Ueno Information:

Ueno Zoo (English):  http://www.tokyo-zoo.net/english/ueno/main.html
Ueno Zoo (Japanese):  http://www.tokyo-zoo.net/zoo/ueno/index.html
Ningyo Kuyo:  http://www.jnto.go.jp/eventcalendar/search_result_en.php?num=719
Japan Guide (Ueno Park):  http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3019.html
Wikitravel (Ueno):  http://wikitravel.org/en/Tokyo/Ueno
Wikipedia (Ueno):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ueno,_Tokyo
Tokyo National Museum (English):  http://www.tnm.go.jp/en/servlet/Con?pageId=X00&processId=00
Tokyo National Museum (Japanese):  http://www.tnm.go.jp/jp/servlet/Con?pageId=X00&processId=00
National Museum of Science and Nature (English):  http://www.kahaku.go.jp/english/
National Museum of Science and Nature (Japanese):  http://www.kahaku.go.jp/
National Museum of Western Art (English):  http://www.nmwa.go.jp/en/
National Museum of Western Art (Japanese):  http://www.nmwa.go.jp/jp/index.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。

2010 Sakura March 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 “2010 Sakura” and other posts from this blog.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-ow

It’s that time of year again.  It is now official.  The Japan Meteorological Agency has officially announced that the cherry blossoms in Tokyo are blooming.  This is a wonderful, if somewhat annoying, time of year.  The year is full of beautiful cherry trees that are full of pink blossoms.  You also have hundreds, if not thousands of people relaxing in the parks enjoying copious amounts of alcohol.  Love it or hate it, it’s a beautiful time of year.

For more information about the Sakura Season, please refer to my old blog post from last year:  http://wp.me/s2liAm-sakura

Information:

List of Sakura viewing sites (Japanese only):  http://www.mapple.net/sp_sakura/
Yahoo! Japan (Japanese only):  http://sakura.yahoo.co.jp/
Yahoo! Japan (Tokyo region – Japanese only):  http://sakura.yahoo.co.jp/spot/list/13.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。

Sakura April 21, 2009

Posted by Dru in Japan, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Sakura” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/s2liAm-sakura

Late March into mid-April is the Sakura season in Japan.  Every year, within a two week window, the cherry blossoms start to bloom turning Japan into a sea of pink.  It marks the true start to spring.  If you plan your trip to coincide with this season, you will not be disappointed.  You’ll be able to experience a unique Japan that very few tourists will ever experience.

Many people wonder what is so special about the cherry blossoms.  It isn’t, necessarily, only the fact that they are beautiful, but also some of the history of the cherry blossoms with Japan.  It has been part of their culture for centuries, if not millenia.  There is a fairy tale saying that there is a body buried underneath each cherry tree.  Cherry trees are the only trees in Japan that have flowers that bloom before leaves are grown.  While I cannot verify this claim, it does help promote the tale.  This also brings a feeling that cherry trees are somewhat magical and it can bring about powers to many people.  It is very common to see cherry trees planted within temple grounds, parks, along rivers, and almost everywhere else a tree can be planted.

The most popular thing to do in Japan during the sakura season is to go to a hanami.  In fact, many Japanese people don’t say “sakura season” but rather “hanami season”.  Literally translated, this means flower watching season, or more specifically watching the cherry blossoms.  On weekends, it’s common to see families enjoying a nice stroll in the park or along the river enjoying the beautiful cherry trees.  You can see many friends playing Frisbee or just having a nice time talking to one another.  It’s a great time to have a picnic.  These usually involve bentos (Japanese style packed lunches) and onigiri (rice balls with some type of filling and seaweed wrapped around it).  When the sun goes down, things can change dramatically.  Often, there are many floodlights that are turned on to make the pink blossoms stand out even more.  It can create very surreal experience.  It is also when all of the office workers come out to party.

Hanami parties are very common for offices and friends.  For the two weeks that the cherry blossoms are blooming, almost every office in Japan will have their own hanami party.  While this is probably declining in recent years, it’s still a popular tradition among the older companies.  Being the end of the fiscal year for most companies, and the start for most new recruits, it’s the final menial task for new recruits who are about to enter their second year with a company.  They have one, and only one mission.  Find a nice spot in a park, a park that has been decided by the office, and start camping out there from the mid-afternoon.  The spaces under the cherry trees, themselves, are often taken by noon, and some workers must camp out there all day.  It’s a long and boring task that essentially involves unfurling a large blue tarp, making sure it’s secure, and then sleeping all day.  They can also play games on their phone or whatever electronics they have.  Once their co-workers finish for the day, they can start to party.  Generally, it’s a loud, crowded, and jovial event.  If you are weary of such crowds, it’s best to avoid the parks at night, but there are a few places you can visit that are still nice, and not too bad.

In Tokyo, there are several great places to visit.  Ueno Park is one of the most famous places in the north.  The entire park is lined with cherry blossoms, but unfortunately, the entire park is paved, so there is very few, if any, grassy areas to sit, eat, and enjoy the cherry blossoms.  It’s also one of the most crowded areas in this season.  Another area is Kudanshita.  It is an area north of the Imperial Palace.  There are many areas here that can be enjoyed, along with almost any other place around the Imperial Palace.  Yasukuni Shrine is another famous, if not controversial, place to visit.  There are many cherry trees within the shrine and along the streets surrounding this shrine.  It’s a beautiful place.  Shinjuku Gyoen is also highly recommended, as is Shiba Park at the foot of Tokyo Tower.  The Sumida River and Meguro River is also famous and worth a visit if you have the time; and you aren’t tired of looking at cherry blossoms.

If you need to get out of Tokyo, Kyoto is always highly recommended.  The cherry blossoms are always nice, but I have not had the chance to see them.  I would also recommend visiting Himeji.  It becomes more beautiful with all the pink blossoms providing a new look to the castle.  It’s somewhat rare to see the white castle framed with cherry blossoms.  The park in front of the castle is also very nice and extremely popular for locals to enjoy the weekend.  If you get a chance, I’d also highly recommend visiting Himeji during this season as well.

The cherry blossom season is a beautiful time to visit.  Just remember that you have to be very lucky to get your timing right.  Pick a few weeks to visit and cross your fingers.

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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