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Kyoto – Kinkakugi & Ginkakuji March 8, 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 & Ginkakuji” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-Df

Kinkakuji and Ginkakuji are two of the most famous temples in Kyoto.  When people talk about the most amazing thing they saw, they almost always talk about their visit to Kinkakuji.  Ginkakuji is usually not very important, when compared to Kinkakuji, however it is hard to mention one without the other.  Both are visited, daily, by hundreds if not thousands of people.  Both have a long history, however Ginkakuji was built after Kinkakuji and its final intended look has been debated for centuries.

Kinkakuji was originally built in 1398 and had been rebuilt only once in 1955 due to arson.  When approaching the temple, you are flanked by various tourist shops, but these tend to be less intrusive compared to the historical Kiyomizudera.  The shops around Kinkakuji tend to be very subdued.  This could partly be due to the fact that the route I used to enter the temple grounds had a large parking lot on one side.  Upon entry into Kinkakuji, you are immediately presented with the main attraction, the golden pavilion.  Kinkakuji literally translates into the “Golden Pavillion” and this pavilion doesn’t disappoint.  It is built on one side of a lagoon and the entrance is on the opposing side.  You will immediately walk to a small area on the side of the lagoon where everyone will be taking photos.  On weekdays, you will more than likely see school children getting a tour of the temple grounds and “learning” about the historical importance of Kinkakuji.  For most people, they will be distracted by the sheer beauty of the pavilion itself.  Personally, I think it can be a little gaudy, especially in pictures, but when you see it in person, you will get very different perspective.  The golden pavilion is very picturesque and it’s easy to get good pictures, even when it’s raining.  The pavilion literally shines at all times, however a bright, beautiful, sunny day would be much better.

Once you have finished the main attraction, a romp through the temple grounds behind the golden pavilion is a must.  In fact, you have no choice as the exit is located on the other side of the temple grounds.  You must head up a small hill behind the golden pavilion.  This is where things change, either for the better or for the worse.  In my personal experience, things only got worse, but I did make the most of the adventure.  There are only a few things to see and do, but if it is your first time in Japan, it will be very interesting nonetheless.  There is a small area behind the pavilion with statues where you can throw coins for good luck.  It is a small section but unfortunately I couldn’t find any good information on exactly what you must do to get good luck.  There is also a famous tea house and a power spot located near the exit.  It’s difficult to describe the location but there is a seat where if you sit down, you will get good luck.  Both the tea house and power spot are located in the same location.  The tea house itself  I’m not exactly sure why or how but it doesn’t hurt to try.

Kinkakuji excels the most because they have the golden pavilion.  Ginkakuji, translated into the “Silver Pavilion” excels at everything else.  There is a path leading to Ginkakuji called “Philosopher’s Walk”.  This is a cherry tree lined canal that stretches from Nanzenji to Ginkakuji.  It is said to have inspired a famous Japanese philosopher as he contemplated life’s daily problems.  When I visited, late February, it was anything but a philosophically enlightening path.  It was a small path between homes with a small canal.  The trees looked dead as it was still winter and the cherry blossoms had yet to bloom, or even begin budding.  The path itself was just a typical gravel path and there was more garbage in the canal than I would have preferred to see.  I spent a lot of time mocking the actual path, wondering why it was ever included in guide books.  From my experience it was unimaginable to think of this path as enlightening until a few years after my visit.  A few years after my visit to Ginkakuji, I had the opportunity to see pictures of this path and the temple during the cherry blossom season and during the summer.  I was surprised to see the path was lined with cherry trees that covered the entire canal and it was a very beautiful place.  It is something that I would like to see again if I ever get the chance as I’m sure that timing a visit to be outside of winter would be necessary to understand the reasoning behind the name of this path.

Ginkakuji itself is also amazing.  As I mentioned, Kinkakuji was all about the golden pavilion, but Ginkakuji is not about the silver pavilion at all.  The pavilion was originally covered in a black lacquer that made it look silver during a full moon.  The silver look was either from the moonlight or the waters from the gardens next to the pavilion.  I have read conflicting reports on which one is true, however I’d imagine that both are actually true.  The actual temple grounds are more interesting than the pavilion.  The sand garden is the centre piece of the entire temple grounds.  There is a large sand garden located near the entrance with a large conical shaped mound.  The mound is called the “Moon Viewing Platform” and it is amazing at how perfect it looks.  The design within the regular garden itself is also amazing and surprisingly tranquil.  It has been a while since I had visited Ginkakuji so I can’t remember everything in great detail.  I mostly remember my feelings and my emotions.  I had just finished a very long hike during the day travelling from Kyoto Station all the way, including a side trip up a mountain and back down, on foot.  It was literally a day hike through Kyoto and not something I would do again.  It is, however, something that I wouldn’t trade in the world as the experience was unique and memorable.  I was very tired when I entered Ginkakuji, but the tranquility of the temple and the beauty of the gardens helped invigorate me and I had the energy to return back to the station, again on foot.

Both Kinkakuji and Ginkakuji are temples that should be visited.  If you have to make a choice, I’d go with Kinkakuji due to the beauty of the pavilion itself.  I would rather go to Ginkakuji if you were looking for something spiritual and uplifting.  They both excel at different things and both are historically important.  My memories of visiting both will never completely fade away and I will always have the emotions that I felt when I visited them.

Kinkakuji and Ginkakuji Information:

Kinkakuji (Wikipedia):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kinkakuji

Kinkakuji (Japan Guide):  http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3908.html

Philosopher’s Path (Japan Guide):  http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3906.html

Ginkakuji (Wikipedia):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ginkaku-ji

Ginkakuji (Japan Guide):  http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3907.html


Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics (Part II) March 16, 2010

Posted by Dru in Canada, Sports, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics (Part II)” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-nE

In terms of the Olympics themselves, the opening ceremonies were wonderful.  I heard a lot of great reviews from many people.  Of course, we couldn’t top Beijing, and we never tried to.  We did our own thing and had a great time with it.  I am extremely biased, so of course I loved it.  It was artistic and the music was wonderful.  I did, however, fall asleep halfway through, but I blame jetlag as the biggest factor, and it wasn’t very interesting in the middle, to be honest.  In terms of the events themselves, there has been a lot said about different things, and about the Canadian pride.  I will let the media and others talk about that on their own.  For myself, I thankfully had the opportunity to see two events.  I went to see women’s curling on two different days.  When people talk about curling, they only think, “curling”?  It’s a strange sport that is extremely underappreciated.  There is a lot of skill needed to do curling, and there is a lot of thinking involved.  You must use a lot of strategy.  During the games themselves, it was extremely rowdy.  The crowds, obviously it was mainly Canadian, cheered loud and hard for Canada.  Thankfully, many people understand the basic rules of curling, so most of the people could cheer correctly when there was a good or bad shot.  It wasn’t perfect, but people were pretty good about it.  Unfortunately, some of the other players were complaining that it was too loud and they couldn’t hear each other due to the cheering for the Canadian team.  It was part of the Olympic experience, and part of being an athlete.  I personally feel that they should be capable of dealing with these problems as they arose, but I also understand that the fans shouldn’t be as mean about things either.  Even the crowd should get penalties for unsportsmanlike behaviour.

On the Japanese side of things, there were only two sports that really mattered.  The first, and by a long shot, was figure skating.  Figure skating is now the number one winter sport in Japan, at least for the number of fans.  With the rivalry between Mao Asada and Yu-na Kim, it was impossible for Mao Asada to escape the limelight.  She had intense pressure, but by and far, the favourite was Yu-na Kim.  As you must know, by now, the results of their ranking didn’t change anything, and it was a predictable 1-2 finish for them.  The men’s side, however, had a small surprise with Daisuke Takahashi.  He is one of the most passionate skaters I’ve seen in a long time and it was fun to watch him skate.  Many skaters have very little passion when they skate, and it appears lifeless.  He had beaten the odds to become the first Japanese medalist in men’s figure skating.  He should be a hero in Japan.  The second biggest sport of these games was curling.  The Japanese women’s curling team was a young team from Aomori.  They were dubbed, Team Aomori, or Curling Musume (young girls curling).  They were all in their 20s and fairly cute overall.  It was a typical Japanese thing where they took the cutest women and focused a lot on them.  It was a little sad to see them knocked out in the round robin, but I think they did a great job.  If they had another 4 years to train, I’m sure they could come in and possibly steal a bronze medal.  Unfortunately, it’s unlikely, but a new group of young girls will take over and I’m sure women’s curling will get stronger and stronger for them.

By and far, the biggest “event” of these Olympics has to be the party.  Everyday during these Olympics, there was a party somewhere in Vancouver.  Whether it was in the bars, or just on the streets of downtown Vancouver, there was a party somewhere.  When the Canadian women’s hockey team won gold, we had a party.  On the final day of the Olympics, the Canadian men’s hockey team won gold in a nail biting overtime victory over the US team.  The entire country roared to life and screamed at the tops of our collective lungs.  There wasn’t a quite voice in Canada.  From that point on, the city partied until the early morning.  It was amazing to see all of the people erupt into cheers, if not tears, of joy when Sidney Crosby scored the winning goal.  To see thousands of people jump and scream at the same time is amazing.  The only other time you will see this is during a FIFA World Cup final.  You will never see this again.  The only other time you will ever, possibly, see this again is if a Canadian team wins the Stanley Cup.  It was amazing and I hope to experience this again sometime soon.

All in all, the Olympics were an experience that I will never forget.  I will never forget the energy that was in Vancouver while I was there.  I wish it was like that all the time.  People seemed friendlier, and to be able to see so many people walking around and enjoying themselves was a treat.  After the Olympics are finished, and the city returns to normal, things will be different.  I doubt it will return to normal, but the city itself has changed.  Hopefully, the amount of fun we had, and the amount of fun we will have, will continue to grow.  If you ever have a chance to visit Vancouver, I hope you will enjoy it and see all of the things that are left to see.  It’s amazing to enjoy this beautiful city.  It may not have the fashion of New York, or the history of Paris.  It may not have business of Hong Kong, or the craziness of Tokyo.  I would say it’s the most beautiful city in the world with some of the friendliest people as well.  Make sure you meet some people and have fun with them.

This is Part II of a two part series.  To read more about my experiences at the 2010 Winter Olympics, please go to Part I.


Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics March 9, 2010

Posted by Dru in Canada, Sports, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-nw

On February 14th, 2010, the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics were opened and the Winter Games began.  It was the first and probably only time in my life that I had seen the Olympics and it was in my hometown.  I had been living in Tokyo for well over 4 years and with the Olympics in my hometown, there was no way I was going to miss it.  I made it back to Vancouver a day before the opening ceremonies and I left a couple days after the closing ceremonies.  My only regret is not being able to see the Paralympics and doing a lot more while I was there.

The city of Vancouver was completely transformed during the Olympics.  In the build-up to the games, there was a lot of skepticism, and many local people were against the Olympics thinking it would be a complete waste of time.  From the beginning, I was all for the Olympics and really enjoyed the idea of having a huge party in my “backyard”.  When I arrived at YVR, the nickname and airport code for Vancouver International Airport, I could somewhat feel the excitement.  It wasn’t extremely apparent, but the number of Canadian flags was somewhat more pronounced.  It wasn’t until I passed immigration control that I really started to feel the Olympics.  I arrived on the same day, but a little after a lot of the Russian athletes arrived.  Most of them were waiting for their bags to come out onto the carousel.  When I exited the secure area and entered the lobby, I could definitely feel the energy as there were dozens of reporters, almost all exclusively with Russian media waiting for the athletes to exit.  The entire lobby had roughly 3 times more people than I had ever seen in my life of passing through, and I had been through that lobby countless times.  I had a quick reunion with my mother before we left the airport and headed to my home.

The first thing I noticed when I exited the airport doors and headed to the parking lot was the sheer amount of Olympic activity.  Of course I was expecting this, but there were so many people holding “Visa”, the company, signs and people directing travellers on where to go and what to do to get out of the airport.  It was amazing to see the amount of people helping others.  The energy when arriving is truly indescribable.  You must be there to experience it.  When we left, I was filled with the same nostalgic feeling of returning to your hometown.  If you have never left home, it’s akin to returning to an old neighbourhood.  It feels extremely familiar, yet different.  The air was clean, especially compared to Tokyo, and the sun felt brighter.  Things seemed bluer.  When driving away from the airport, you are greeted with the 5 Olympic rings on the side of the road, roughly 2 stories high.  It’s quite a sight and one of the biggest signs that Vancouver had changed.  I was also surprised by the number of Canadian flags that were adorned to each and every car.  I would say over 50% of the cars had at least one Canadian flag.  It didn’t hurt that car flags are very popular, especially with hockey during the playoffs.  The buzz was definitely felt.

My home is within the city of Vancouver, but closer to the airport.  I live outside the downtown core, so the feeling that the Olympics were in town was different compared to anyone living downtown.  Around my home, there was a feeling that the Olympics were in town, and many homes had Canadian flags, or other country flags hanging in the windows.  It was also common to see the Olympic fleet, a set over 4600 different GM brand, and associated brand, cars were on the streets.  It’s impossible to walk or drive down any major street without seeing a silver or white car with a 2010 Olympic logo and various Olympic designs on it.  Then there are the buses.  Thousands of buses were used to shuttle hundreds, if not thousands of people as part of the media, athletes, and athletes families.  It was amazing to see how many buses came from out of town to help out in the transportation effort.  When travelling outside the city of Vancouver, things tend to quiet down considerably, but within every bar, and most shops, you will always see something Canadian or 2010 related.  The real craziness occurs when you enter the downtown core, or the immediate area surrounding it.

During the Olympics, the area around False Creek and all of downtown extending to Chinatown was in Olympics overdrive.  You couldn’t walk down the street without someone cheering, someone in red, or seeing a maple leaf.  The entire town was full of Canadian pride.  There had been stories about how the “Humble Canadian” was no longer humble, or no longer polite.  While this is true, we do have a lot of pride in our country.  There were dozens of free places to enjoy and there were a lot of things to see and do around this area.  It felt like the weekend everyday, and there was a party every night.  It was borderline chaos, and there were many protesters out in force for a few days leading up to the Olympics, and for the first few days of the Olympics.  By the end of the first week, there was very little, if any talk about protests.  Thankfully, the protests were violent only once, and it was cleaned up so quickly, that by the next day, you couldn’t tell what had happened.  There was also a sense that the people in Vancouver really didn’t care about the protesters anymore.  They were a nuisance and they were now the enemy, vilified by the few bad apples, and by the crying children who were upset that they couldn’t enjoy themselves in the party.  The only other dark side to things were the violent party goers, but this was quashed very quickly by the police who were visible on almost every corner.  It was difficult for any roughhousing to happen and get out of control.

There were several venues throughout the Lower Mainland that had parties.  A couple of major cities had set up party sites and in the downtown core there were roughly a dozen sites for concerts. There was a concert every night and most of them were free.  It was extremely popular and you had a tough time choosing where to go for which party.  It was also a great chance for Canadian artists to get recognized and to show the world how great Canadian music is.  There were also many pavilions where you could learn a little, or a lot, about different areas of Canada, Russia, and other parts of the world.  Each pavilion was different.  As I mentioned, some of them had concert stages where bands would play local music.  They also had local food, and depending on the place, there were different activities.  One of my biggest regrets was not seeing some of the more popular pavilions, but I saw the one that I had to see, the Royal Canadian Mint Pavilion.  This was a very popular one where the line stretched for up to 7 hours at some points.  It was crazy, but well worth it for me.  I didn’t spend 7 hours waiting, but I did wait for roughly 3 hours.  I waited in line to be able to touch the Olympic medals.  For the first time in Olympic history, the medals were available for viewing, and you could actually touch and hold an Olympic medal.   The weight of each medal was impressive, and the fact that you can learn and appreciate it is very different in person.

Before I could touch and feel the medals, I couldn’t fully appreciate how artful each medal is.  Thankfully, I had the opportunity to hold the medals and it is something that I will never forget.  The only other free event that I wish I could have tried was the Ziptrek line.  It was a free ride that took you on a trip that spanned over 100 metres at roughly 60 metres above ground.  You clipped into a harness and special rope and glided down the rope from one side of a square to the other.  It took roughly 30 seconds to get there, but I heard it was a tremendous experience.  Unfortunately, the lines were at least 5 hours long, and at times 7 hours, so I didn’t bother to wait.  It was too crazy and I had better things to do with my time.  I do wish I had more time to explore and see more of the regional houses, but that’s the price you pay when you have the Olympics and you don’t visit the different areas every single day.  You can miss out on a lot.

This is Part I of a two part series.  To continue reading about the 2010 Winter Olympics, please head over to Part II.


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