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Tokyo — Imperial Palace East Gardens May 17, 2011

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

 

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

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

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

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

Imperial Palace East Garden Information:

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

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

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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

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。

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