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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。

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Nikko (Part II) June 2, 2009

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Nikko (Part II)” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-aV

After going to Rinnoji, it’s a short walk up a hill to reach Toshogu. Toshogu is the main attraction in Nikko. It is a large, fantastic, complex with intricate designs throughout. Upon entering the temple grounds, you’ll be greeted by the typical torii gate, but also a large pagoda. Rinnoji is a fairly traditional Japanese temple, simple. Toshogu is the polar opposite. The main pagoda has been likened to Chinese and Korean style temples. Lots of colour and various statues of animals adorn the rafters. This creates a very interesting style where people either love it or hate it. Many people have hated this because it isn’t “Japanese”, but that is a completely different argument altogether. However, upon entering the paid area of Toshogu, you’ll see a huge crowd of people gathering around a plain wooden building. It is very small compared to the surrounding buildings and it looks somewhat out of place. This is the famous Three Wise Monkeys (Hear no evil, Speak no evil, See no evil) building. It is the most famous image of Nikko. Three Wise Monkeys are three monkeys, one covering his ears, one covering his mouth, and one covering his eyes. There are other carvings around the building featuring monkeys in other situations, but by far, the Three Wise Monkeys are the most popular. From here, you will see a few black and gold structures along with several carvings of various exotic animals.

There are several carvings of peacocks and some of elephants. Unfortunately, the elephants look nothing like an elephant, and several sculptures looked scary. Towards the back of the complex, you will see pretty much the same. There is a second area featuring the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu, for which Toshogu was built. The cost to enter is expensive, so I never bothered to enter. There is another famous carving of a sleeping cat, but I didn’t feel it was worth the extra 800 Yen. The last place to visit within the shrine is Yakushido Hall. It is a small building which can have lots of people lining up to enter. Within the main room, there is a painting of a dragon on the ceiling. One of the priests/monks will give an explanation about the hall and how banging two sticks of wood in the right place will allow you to hear the dragon’s cry. He will demonstrate that if you away from the centre, the two sticks will sound like normal. However, when he bangs the sticks in the right location within the room, it will echo and resonate to sound like a dragon’s cry. It was a very interesting demonstration, but pictures and video aren’t allowed.

After visiting Toshogu, you can head over to Futarasan and Taiyuinbyo.  Taiyuinbyo is another mausoleum, but this time it was built for Tokugawa Ieyasu’s grandson.  It is smaller in scale, and it isn’t as busy as Toshogu.  It isn’t as spectacular, but just as intricate.  There are more Shinto gods guarding the area, and it’s location at the base of a mountain makes it very picturesque.  I personally enjoyed this shrine more than Toshogu, but I was let down a little as many things were undergoing renovations.  After visiting Toshogu, however, there isn’t much to say about these two shrines.  They are typical shrines without anything extremely new or interesting to talk about.

I would highly recommend that you rent a car when you go to Nikko. It is the easiest way to get to the distant locations, and you’ll have the freedom to head up to Lake Chuzenji. However, there are buses that head up and down the mountain to Lake Chuzenji, but you’ll be limited to when you can go. The road up to Lake Chuzenji is called Irohazaka. This road is famous among driving enthusiasts and street racers as it was featured in the anime/manga Initial D. The name is derived from the 48 hairpin corners that made up the original road. Iroha is the name of the 48 letters of the Japanese alphabet. Currently, there are two roads going to Lake Chuzenji. Both are one way. One heads up, the other down. Going up this road, there are two lanes. You’ll be able to see a few exotic cars and some motorcycles as they race uphill. Going downhill, there is only one lane, but you’ll see the same cars, only they’ll be going much slower than before. This road is also extremely famous in the autumn season as the leaves turn a bright red, orange, and yellow. It’s not uncommon for this road to be backed up, taking three or four times longer to travel than other season.

Lake Chuzenji itself isn’t that spectacular. Near the end of the uphill portion of Irohazaka, you can pay to take the gondola up to a lookout point. From here, you will be given beautiful views of Nikko, Lake Chuzenji, and Kegon Falls. Around the lake, you can do all of the normal things you would do at any lake. Swimming and taking a “swan boat” onto the water is popular. There are also many shops in the area that let you try Nikko’s famous food, tofu “skin”. Beware that during the winter months, most of the shops are closed due to the lack of visitors. The main attraction would have to be Kengon Falls. Standing at 98 metres tall, this waterfall is one of the tallest in Japan. Taking the elevator to the base of the waterfall is recommended as you may be able to see some Japanese mountain goats and you can have a better view of the falls. Note that in the winter months, it’s extremely cold, so dress warmly.

If you decide to spend a day or two in Nikko, hiking around Lake Chuzenji is very famous, and there are various hot springs in the area. Kinugawa is a famous hot spring resort town that is a short drive from Nikko. You may also be able to see a few monkeys running around. Beware that the monkeys can be aggressive, so keep a little distance and be aware of them if they are coming towards you.

Note:  This is part II of a II part series.  Please return to Part I for the first half of this post.

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。

Nikko (Part I) May 26, 2009

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Nikko (Part I)” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-aT

Nikko is a small town north of Tokyo. It is a famous destination for tourists, both Japanese and foreign. Located about two hours north of Tokyo, it is a good day trip if you are spending a couple weeks in Tokyo. It is also a good place to escape the city and enjoy nature. Nikko is famous for being a UNESCO World Heritage site. There are four main temples to see within Nikko, and a side trip to Lake Chuzenji. Ultimately, you don’t have to go to Lake Chuzenji, but it is a very nice, relaxing, place to visit.

Deciding which temples and shrines to visit isn’t a difficult task. They are all within a short walking distance of each other, and buying a ticket to visit all of them is strongly advised. From Nikko Station, I would highly recommend taking a local bus up to the shrines. This will take you to Toshogu. This is the main shrine, but, to be honest, it is a bad location to start. I would personally start at Shinkyo Bridge. This is a small wooden arch bridge that connects the modern Nikko, including the station, with the UNESCO sites. Unfortunately, I believe there isn’t a bus stop in the area. If you are up for the walk, it’s about one kilometre from Nikko Station to Toshogu. From the bridge, you’ll be able to visit a small shrine, but beware. There are steps leading from the side of the bridge to head up, but I was advised to head around. I never made it to this shrine because of a lack of time, but if you skip going to Lake Chuzenji, this would be a nice place to visit.

The first recommended temple to visit is Rinnoji.  From here, I would start at the gardens that are located opposite of the main temple.  The gardens are very beautiful, even in the winter.  While it is relatively small, and you can finish a quick walk through in about 15 minutes or less, the tranquility should be enjoyed.  There are various plants and lots of coy within the pond.  The moss covered gardens are also very beautiful and meticulously maintained.  The groundskeepers literally remove any debris and bad moss with toothpicks during the day.  I couldn’t imagine doing this work everyday.  While you are in the garden, there is also a small building holding a few artifacts.  I wouldn’t recommend this as most of the artifacts are in Japanese.  However, if you are visiting on a hot summer’s day, this would be a good escape from the heat.  Rinnoji itself is also magnificent.  The temple isn’t that big, but inside, there are 3 large gold statues.  You will be able to see Amida, Senju-Kannon, and Batō-Kannon.  I didn’t find it particularly interesting, but there was a Japanese guide giving explanations of the statues every so often.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t understand it enough, so I didn’t bother staying.  Towards the exit, you can also buy a few lucky charms based on your birth animal.

Note:  This is Part I of a II part series.  Please continue to Part II of this series.

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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