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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。

Tokyo (Shibuya) [Part III – The Path Less Ventured] November 24, 2009

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 (Shibuya) [Part III – The Path Less Ventured]” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-fN

For people who want a more traditional experience, especially shopping, staying at the station, or heading north is the best way to go.  The Tokyu department store is located above and below Shibuya station.  Heading north from Shibuya crossing will lead you to Seibu and Marui department stores.  All of these shops provide a typical Japanese department store experience.  You can find them in every major centre of Tokyo, and almost every major city in Japan.  However, be sure to explore all of the side streets.  I have visited Shibuya countless times and every corner, every back street, changes constantly.  Many of the old shops have left the northern areas, in favour of more traditional fashion boutiques.  However, if you walk around enough, you’re sure to find a lot of nice shops that even residents who have lived their whole lives have never even found.

If you are feeling more adventurous, or you just have too much time on your hands, the areas to the south and east provide a very different feel for Shibuya compared to the north and west areas.  Directly to the east, people tend to associate it with Omotesando.  To the north east, it’s more Harajuku.  To the south, it feels more like Ebisu.  Omotesando is an upscale area that is very akin to Ginza.  The main difference is the affluence.  While Ginza is for people to be seen, and you’ll see a large variety of classes, Omotesando tends to be one class only, rich.  Harajuku was talked a lot by Gwen Stefani for its fashion and need to break away from the normal culture.  The north east corner of Shibuya borders Harajuku, and hence has more in common with that style of fashion.  It is also a location of an infamous park where homeless people tend to live, and rows of yakitori shops similar to the small shops in Shinjuku.  Again, like in Shinjku, I would not recommend them as they tend to be a little expensive, and they may not be so friendly to foreigners.  It’s better to go to Shinjuku.  The south region will see things be more food oriented.  Ebisu tends to have more food shops than anything.  You can also see some interesting fashion outlets, but people tend not to shop here.  There are more apartments than shops, but if you want to go for a nice walk, this area is a nice area.

All in all, Shibuya is a place to visit.  It’s noisy, bustling 24 hours a day, and willing to show you new insights into Japan.  Is it a true picture of Japan?  No.  Will you be amazed by the crazy lights, strange people, and wonderful shopping?  Yes.  Make sure you visit during the day and night.  In the day, do your shopping in the north.  At night, return to Centre Gai and take a stroll around the Love Hotel Hill.  Don’t be surprised when you pass expensive cars with blacked out windows parked in front of a sex toy shop

This is the end of a 3 part series on Shibuya.  To read more on Shibuya, please continue reading Part I and Part II.

Shibuya Information:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shibuya,_Tokyo
http://wikitravel.org/en/Shibuya
http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3007.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。

Naruto August 18, 2009

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

Naruto is a suburban town of Tokushima.  It is extremely small and serves almost no points of interest.  However, they do have one major claim to fame “The Naruto Whirlpools”.  Naruto is on the north-eastern tip of Shikoku.  It is the main link between Shikoku and Kansai.  While most people will just race through this area going to either Takamatsu in the west and Tokushima in the south, twice a day the town is buzzing with tourists.  It is very important that you check the schedule for the whirlpools, or you will end up visiting and seeing nothing.  The whirlpools are a natural phenomenon that occurs during the peak of the high and low tides.  This is when the tidal waters of the Naruto Strait, shifts causing whirlpools to form on both sides of the strait.  The best time to see the whirlpools is during high tide, but low tide is also good.  To find the whirlpools, all you have to do is head for the Naruto Park, which is under Naruto Bridge.

The first thing you should do when looking at the whirlpools is take a boat cruise.  Just past Naruto Park, you will be able to find a small ferry port where there are two cruise ships, a large one and a small one.  They both leave two to three times an hour.  If you look at their website, you will be able to determine the peak whirlpool times.  You have roughly one hour before and after the listed time, in red, to see the whirlpools.  I believe it’s best to arrive roughly one and a half to two hours ahead, especially on weekends.  These boats will take you directly into the whirlpools where you’ll cruise inside the tidal area for about 15 minutes before returning to port.  On my trip, I took the smaller ship which has a very interesting compartment.  You are seated inside the hull where you have many windows below the surface.  As you leave port, you can see a few jellyfish swimming about, but there really isn’t much to see.  You can head up on deck a little to enjoy the scenery and see Naruto Bridge approaching.  As you approach the whirlpools, you are ushered back into the hull where you can see the whirlpools from under the sea.  It is like a large bottle of champagne that is bubbling and frothing.  It was interesting to see, for about 10 seconds, but in reality, you want to get on deck as soon as possible.  Once on deck, you can see all the action.  You will be really close to the whirlpools and you’ll experience the rough seas.  Beware that small children, and especially babies, should be well taken care of.  After floating around inside the waters, you are quickly taken back to the port to reminisce of your adventure.

After a cruise, you can easily drive back to Naruto Park and enjoy the whirlpools from a higher vantage point.  There isn’t too much to see in the area, but you can venture out under the bridge.  You can walk roughly 450 metres out and enjoy the spectacular views.  You will be 45 metres above the whirlpools, and there are several windows in the floor that allow you to enjoy the view below.  Do be warned that there are big red letters on the glass that says “DO NOT JUMP!” in Japanese.  Unfortunately, I found out AFTER I had jumped.  The entire walk out onto the bridge is a must see, in my opinion, and worth the fee.  However, if the whirlpools have stopped, I might take a second thought before heading out.  The park itself has many things you can see and do.  For children, there is a museum about whirlpools with several interactive machines to play on.  There is a long escalator that goes to a series of restaurants on a mountain, and several short hiking trails in the area.  If you have a full day, you can easily venture around and enjoy yourself.  There is also a “replica” art museum.  This place holds nothing more than replicated works of art, including a replica of the Sistine Chapel.  If it’s too expensive to travel around the world, this museum can offer you a taste of the best art under one roof.

Naruto’s last claim to fame is their sweet potatoes.  It is considered the sweetest sweet potato in the world, but I’ll let you be the judge of that.  It is definitely worth a taste.  Other than that, there is no reason to really stay in Naruto.  After seeing the whirlpools, you can easily head back to Takamatsu, Tokushima, or even Kobe.  Kobe is a short drive across the Awaji Island and the Akashi Bridge, the longest suspension bridge in the world.  You can even venture onto Awaji Island and camp along one of the beaches.  It would provide a great tale.

Information on Naruto:
Whirlpool Timetable: http://www.uzusio.com/shio4-6.html
Naruto City’s Website:http://www.city.naruto.tokushima.jp/contents/foreign/english/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。

Takamatsu August 4, 2009

Posted by Dru in Japan, Shikoku, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Takamatsu” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-dc

Takamatsu is considered to be the largest city in Shikoku, at least for its city core.  It is also the head of the Shikoku government offices and the heart of business in Shikoku.  Upon entering the city, you will realize how different it is from other parts of Shikoku.  It is a vibrant city that relies a lot on business to keep it running.  Being part of the Kagawa region of the island also means it is the home of the best udon in Japan.  While the city is fairly large, it isn’t what most tourists would call, interesting, unlike Matsuyama.

There are only two things to really see in Takamatsu, Ritsurin Koen and the Tamamo Breakwater.  Ritsurin Koen is a Japanese style park that is also national treasure.  It is located about two kilometres from Takamatsu station.  The park itself is fairly large.  It can be a little difficult to find your way and to see everything quickly.  There is an old small tea house located near a red cliff.  This tea house is only for viewing as it is no longer in use.  The red cliff is probably the most famous image of the park.  While it is called a cliff, it isn’t that large, and follows the edge of the park.  It is modeled after a similar, albeit much larger, cliff in China.  There is also a large tea house located in the centre of the park.  This tea house is very nice and located next to a calm pond.  Unfortunately, like most tea houses in Japan, it was very expensive.  Walking around the park, you can find yourself lining up to climb a bunch of steps to the top of a mound of earth.  This mound is called Mt. Fuji.  It is said to look similar to the real Mt. Fuji at different times.  Unfortunately, I didn’t see it that way, but it is a great place to take panoramic photos of the park.  Lastly, you can also visit the gift shop area where you can buy very expensive bonsai trees, or wood carvings.  If you have ever been to Shinjuku Gyoen in Tokyo, this park will not be that impressive.  It is still a very nice park overall.

Behind the station, you can head straight to the pier where you’ll be able to enjoy a nice walk out to the breakwater.  The Tamamo Breakwater is a pleasant walk and the lighthouse is an amazing sight at night.  Unlike most traditional lighthouses, where only the top shines, the entire lighthouse glows red.  There is also a small park located between the pier and the station buildings.  Within the park, if you arrive at the right season, you can visit a very beautiful rose garden with dozens of rose bushes.  It makes for a very beautiful and relaxing stroll.  If you have the energy, you can also walk over to the Takamatsu-jo and enjoy the beautiful gardens as well.  Unfortunately, the castle was destroyed many years ago, but is scheduled to be rebuilt starting in 2010.  If you can wait a few years, you might be able to enjoy this castle someday.

If you aren’t so interested in sightseeing, Takamatsu is a very bicycle friendly city.  There are several shotengai with various shops in each one.  Takamatsu claims to have the longest shotengai in Japan. If you consider a shotengai to be just one street, then this is not true. If you combine them, and the fact that they are all connected, then this is true. Each shotengai street seems to have its own theme.  I would recommend renting a bicycle at the station before exploring the shotengai.  Unfortunately, I didn’t know about bicycle rentals and went everywhere on foot.  Being in the area of Kagawa, Sanuki Udon is very famous.  You will be able to find udon in almost every corner of the city.  Going to an expensive restaurant is nice, but you can easily find cheap varieties on almost every street. Most of the time, you just order what you want, grab some side dishes, such as tempura, and grab a seat.  You can easily eat for under 500 yen.  When you have nothing better to do, I would recommend heading to one of the udon shops, grab a quick bowl of udon, and chow down.

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。

Matsuyama July 14, 2009

Posted by Dru in Japan, Shikoku, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Matsuyama” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-cN

Matsuyama is a city located on the western side of Shikoku.  It is, by some standards, considered the largest city on Shikoku, but this is debated with the city of Takamatsu.  The city itself has a very small feel, yet has enough shops to keep city folk happy.  It is also an excellent place to see different things at a somewhat relaxed pace.  You’ll be able to see a castle, onsen, parks, and temples, all in one city.  If you don’t have a lot of time, Matsuyama is a great place to see everything in a couple of days.

The heart of Matsuyama has to be the castle.  Matsuyama-jo is located on Mount Katsuyama.  This is a relatively small mountain that provides a nice getaway from the city itself.  There are about four different routes to climb Katsuyama to reach Matsuyama-jo.  Heading to the east side of the mountain is by far the easiest way to get to the top.  You can ride the gondola, or take the chairlift.  Both take roughly the same amount of time to reach the top.  The chairlift is a single chair that slowly climbs the mountain.  It is a very Japanese style of moving people.  It is very peaceful, providing beautiful views of the city as you climb the side of the mountain.  Riding the gondola is better if you have many small children with you.  The gondola is usually packed, so the view depends on where you are inside the car.  At the top of the gondola station, you’ll be greeted by many shop keepers trying to entice you to buy one of the citrus fruit drinks and bring a bottle home with you.  It is a nice refreshing drink, especially if you decide to hike up the mountain, but a little expensive.  Depending on the day you visit the castle, you might also find a few activities in the outer courtyard.  On the day I visited, there were opportunities to dress up in period clothing, such as a samurai, or in an old style kimono.  The castle itself is a well preserved original.  As I mentioned before, Shikoku has many wonderful and original, castles, unlike Honshu, the main island.  This one is no exception.  Upon paying the entrance fee, you will have a great opportunity to have spectacular views of the city.  The inside of the castle is extremely busy.  You must remove your shoes and wear slippers as you walk through the castle.  Unlike Kochi-jo, there isn’t much to see or do in this castle.  It is too busy to place dioramas, so you can only enjoy the original architecture and views from inside the castle.  It was amazing to see the Japanese people lining up in a very orderly fashion to leave the main tower of the castle.  If you have the energy, I would also recommend hiking down the mountain and taking a look at a shrine located halfway up the gondola.  If you head to the south side of the mountain, you can also visit Bansuiso.  It is a French style villa that is now part of an art gallery.  Unfortunately, I didn’t visit this gallery, but if I do return to Matsuyama, I will.

Matsuyama has two stations named Matsuyama, JR Matsuyama and Matsuyama-shi.  When you travel to Matsuyama, it is important to know which one you are at.  JR Matsuyama is a nice station, but it is highly focused on travellers only.  There are very few things to do around the station itself.  Located a fair walk west of the station is Matsuyama Central Park.  It is a more secluded park that is probably used by locals rather than everyday tourists.  It does have its own “castle”, but it is modeled after European castle walls, rather than Japanese style castles.  Matsuyama-shi station is more interesting.  It is the start of Matsuyama’s long shopping arcade.  As I have said, countless times, shopping arcades in Japan tend to look and feel the same.  Matsuyama’s shopping arcade is no different.  It is definitely worth a visit as it is somewhat unique.  I would probably take a quick look through the arcade, but focus more on the area just below Matsuyma-jo.  Around the gondola, you will be able to enjoy a more touristy and local experience.  This is also the location of the Matsuyama Guesthouse.

Matsuyama Guesthouse was my home for one night.  As a tourist on a budget, hostels are a great way to save money.  Although the sign says it’s a guesthouse, you can also rent rooms for one night.  The day I arrived, the hostel filled up completely.  There were two long term guests.  One was a New Yorker who had lived in China for a couple years.  He was just starting out in Japan, and decided Matsuyama would be his base.  There were also a couple of American hikers who were hiking all around Shikoku, but had to stop and return to Tokyo as they needed to get back to work.  An older Australian couple also came by.  They shared their stories of travelling throughout Japan and how they were going to another country, maybe Korea, to visit their son.  I also got to meet a Dutch “kid” who just finished High School and wanted to spend his GAP year in Japan.  At night, they had a special party for either Kids Day or Green Day.  In May, Japan has Golden Week, 5 consecutive days off, including the weekend.  With so many new guests, I guess we had to party.  We had some homemade okonomiyaki, cold sake, and some umeshu.  It was a wonderful time, but unfortunately, I couldn’t stay more than one night.  They were fully booked the next night.  The host of the hostel is very friendly and very kind.  Her English may not be perfect, but she tries so hard and she is always smiling.

Overall, Matsuyama is a wonderful city that is a must visit if you go to Shikoku.  While in Matsuyama, I would also recommend heading over to Dogo.  It is a very short tram ride, and I’ll talk about that next week.

Please feel free to visit Guesthouse Matsuyama and read their blog.  Unfortunately, their blog is only in Japanese, but the pictures are always nice.

Website: http://www.sophia-club.net/guesthouse/
Blog: http://www.sophia-club.net/blog.php

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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