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Top 3 Views of Japan (Reflections) February 28, 2012

Posted by Dru in Chugoku, Japan, Kansai, Tohoku, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Top 3 Views of Japan (Reflections)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-LM

For those who have read my blog since the beginning, or ventured to older posts, you will know that I have visited the Top 3 Views of Japan.  This is not an easy adventure and Japan has a top 3 list for many things.  I have recently written about the Top 3 Chinatowns in Japan and feel that there has been enough time to justify a second reflection of my trips to each of the places on the Top 3 Views list.  The list in alphabetical order is Amanohashidate, Matsushima, and Miyajima.  They all have their own importance and all were chosen by the Japanese scholar, Hayashi Gaho.  The fact that he was the one who chose each of the three has a particular importance that is easily lost to foreigners, including myself, who don’t understand Japanese or to those who have not read the references to these three places.

Amanohashidate is located in Kyoto, but do not expect to be able to easily visit Amanohashidate when you are in Kyoto.  It is a long train ride that goes from Kyoto to the Sea of Japan.  Kyoto city is located in the southern area of Kyoto and Amanohashidate is located to the north.  The trip out to Amanohashidate can be very worthwhile and I remember arriving to a very small town with almost nothing to do.  There were very few restaurants and most of the shops cater to tourists.  It is a very beautiful tourist trap but still definitely worth a visit.  Amanohashidate is nothing more than a long sand bar that separates Miyazu Bay into two parts.  It has also grown over the centuries.  It was once a long bar of sand that has now grown and become populated with many pine trees.  The most famous thing to do is to head up one of the mountains flanking Amanohashidate, bend over and look at Amanohashidate through your legs.  When viewed this way, Amanohashidate is said to appear to be a stairway into heaven.  This view has inspired many writers and artists.  There are so many poems written about Amanohashidate that you can see many of the poems written on plaques all along the sand bar itself.  It is a nice place and my only regret is that I didn’t fully understand the meanings of the poems themselves.  Hopefully the next time I visit I can appreciate the area a lot more.

Matsushima is a small bay that is located near Sendai.  It is a small town that is very similar to the other Top 3 Views in Japan.  The one thing I noticed more was that the entire town, at the bottom of the bay, was heavily promoting the fact that they are part of the Top 3 Views in Japan.  When I visited Amanohashidate and Miyajima, there was little in the way of informing visitors that they were in one of the Top 3 Views of Japan.  Matsushima was a bit different in this way.  I can imagine why as the famous way to see the views are by boat.  There are several tours that head out into the bay so you can see the various islands that make up Matsushima.  Matsushima gains its status as a great view by the hundreds of islands that dot the bay.  They look like some god dropped these large rocks into the bay and then planted some pine trees on top of them.  The islands are also known for their shape.  The islands shoot straight up and the waves eat away at the rock face causing spherical voids.  It is amazing how nature naturally created these voids.  Something that was even more amazing is how Matsushima is naturally protected.  After the major tsunami in 2011, Matsushima was left relatively unharmed.  Some areas had problems but for the most part, everything was safe.  The way the islands were set in the bay created a natural wave break that protected the village.  Matsushima was very quick to declare that they were open for business after the tsunami, but I fear that they are not attracting the number of visitors they would like as most people still don’t know that the bay is safe.  It may take more time to recover from this problem but I’m sure they will.  Unfortunately, I still feel the same about the area as when I first visited Matsushima.  I doubt I would ever recommend it to anyone unless they are living in Japan or they have visited Japan many times as it was a large disappointment for me.

The last place, and in my opinion the best, is Miyajima.  I have been there twice and it is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site list.  The island is a good day trip from Hiroshima and very popular.  It is very much a victim of its own success.  Even on a weekday the island can be overrun with tourists.  It is a very beautiful place that has been written about often.  Most of Miyajima is off limits to all people as it is mostly parkland with very few trails.  The most famous sight is Itsukushima Jinja.  It is the focal point of the entire island and the most visited location.  Walking from the port to the shrine is a very enjoyable experience with many deer lining the path.  The shops cater to tourists as always but they promote a lot of local items such as Hiroshima oysters and Miyajima wood products such as chopsticks and rice spatulas.  One area only a few people visit is the top of the mountain.  It is popular when the cable car is running, but unfortunately it wasn’t running the second time I visited.  The top of the mountain is a very cool and fun place to hang out as it reminded me of various fight scenes between Captain Kirk and various aliens on the original Star Trek series.  I would love to visit the island again to see the peak as I fell in love with Miyajima.  If I had a chance to go again, and I didn’t have to pay, of course I would go however after visiting the island twice, it is no longer on my list of things to do again for the time being.

For those deciding what to see, my own personal opinion is that Miyajima is the best followed by Amanohashidate and Matsushima.  All of them are nice and definitely beautiful.  Miyajima has become more and more overrun with tourists but it is still a special place.  Amanohashidate has grown on me over time and I remember the remoteness of the location meant that I had the place nearly to myself.  Matsushima was the dark spot but I hope it is mainly due to my experience.  In several years, I might want to re-visit Matsushima and see what it is like.  Perhaps my opinion will change and I would enjoy it a lot more.

The Top 3 Views of Japan series continues with Miyajima (Top 3 Views of Japan), Amanohashidate (Top 3 Views of Japan), Matsushima (Top 3 Views of Japan), and Miyajima Redux.

Original Posts:

Amanohashidate:  http://wp.me/piUxk-i2
Matsushima:  http://wp.me/piUxk-1I
Miyajima (Part I):  http://wp.me/siUxk-miyajima
Miyajima (Part II):  http://wp.me/piUxk-tA

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Kyoto – Kiyomizudera February 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 – Kiyomizudera” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-BV

Kiyomizudera is one of the most famous temples in Kyoto. Of course, to be one of the most famous temples in Kyoto doesn’t mean as much as it does in Tokyo as there are so many famous temples in Kyoto . This one is of special importance due to its history and the fact that it is included in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list for Kyoto. The temple itself is located on a mountainside with spectacular views of the surrounding area. It is almost always listed on travel guides as a must see temple and I would highly recommend it.

The first step to visiting this temple is to actually reach the temple. The easiest way to get there is to take a bus. From the bus stop, you still have to hike nearly 1km to get to the main entrance of the temple complex. This can be a difficult hike for those who have never exercised in their life, but when visiting Japan, it’s always safe to assume that you will be doing a lot of walking. The main street and bus stop is located at the very bottom of the hill yet the entire hike up is still enjoyable. After one or two blocks, you start to see all of the typical tourist shops that would line a major street towards any tourist attraction.  Due to the popularity and history of Kiyiomisudera, many of these shops have been around for decades, if not centuries. You will be able to see various shops selling locally made arts and crafts and dozens of food shops. All of the shops sell regional items and they shouldn’t be missed. If you are looking for a full meal, you may want to skip this area as the costs can be high, but if you are looking for cookies, crackers, or something in that range, you can’t really go wrong buying things here. On almost any day you visit, you will be fighting a steady stream of people heading both up and down the hill. If you go on a weekday, there is a high chance you will see hundreds of school kids making their way up and down, whereas if you are going on the weekend, you will see just about anyone. This can be a challenge if you are pressed for time and it only gets worse as you get closer to the top. Once you reach the temple entrance will you get some room to move around freely.

Upon entering the shrine, after paying the entrance fee, you have a short walk past various buildings till you reach the main hall. In terms of a private tour, most people make a B-line to the main hall as it is the main reason people visit Kiyomizudera.  In reality, there are lots of things to see along the way if you are patient enough and if it’s your first visit to a temple.  For those who have visited many other temples around Japan, there aren’t many unique features in this area, but there are a few. The main hall is located 13 metres above the ground near the exit and has beautiful views of the surrounding area. Inside the hall itself is a large open space that is designed in a very classical Japanese Buddhist style. It’s difficult to explain but it’s something that must be experience and seen by oneself. The entire hall is not open to the public but a fairly large area is. The main attraction has to be the outer walk/stage which is where you can enjoy the beautiful views. In the spring, you can enjoy the wonderful cherry blossoms and in the autumn, the autumn foliage is a wonderful sight. You can enjoy all of these at night as well as the temple regularly installs lighting so that the views can be enjoyed nearly 24 hours a day. Of course the temple is closed at night, but during certain times of the year, they open later so people can enjoy the beauty of the forest below.  On my own personal visit, it was pouring down which added a unique feature of allowing me to see how the water ducts work at clearing water from the roof.  Seeing a torrent of water stream down from the corner of the roof was amazing but you need a lot of rain to do that.

There is a small shrine located just behind the main hall itself and is part of the main self guided tour. There are steps that lead up to the Jishu shrine. This is a “love” shrine where you can pray that you will find your one true love. There are two stones set 18 metres apart. If you can find your way between the two stones without looking, you will find love on your own. If you need help, you will need someone to help you find your true love. On the various English websites that I have visited, they mention that you only have to do this one way, however on the Japanese inscription, I believe they said you have to return to the rock you started from. I’m not entirely sure but it doesn’t hurt to do it. The more interesting part of this shrine is the fact that they have a large statue of a rabbit/hare. The old story is that Okuninushi, the god whom the shrine is dedicaqted to, wanted to marry a beautiful princess and was on his way to court her, but a hare stopped him and asked for help. He was with his brothers who also wanted to court the princess but they didn’t offer good advice. Since Okuninushi helped the hare and the hare happened to be a god, the hare said he would be the one who would be able to marry the princess. The story goes on from there, but it is not relevant to enjoy the shrine. Needless to say, the hare itself is a bit scary and nothing a young child would enjoy.

The temple grounds themselves are large and I didn’t get to see everything. I took the main tour as that was all the time I had to see. There is one last point of interest within the temple grounds itself. This is the Otowa Waterfalls. There are three streams of water that fall from above and you are given a ladle with a long handle. The streams of water represent wisdom, health, and longevity. If you drink from the proper stream, you will increase one of those three traits. It is a custom to drink from one or two of the three, at the most, as drinking from all three is considered greedy and can create misfortune instead. It is common to see very long lines outside of this attraction and you will have to wait anywhere from 10-30 minutes just to reach the streams. For some people, this is well worth the wait, but I’m pretty impatient when it comes to lines and decided to skip it. I don’t feel I need to improve anything specifically, but if you want to have a little fun it is enjoyable and free with admission to the temple grounds.

The temple grounds were a big surprise for me. When I visited, it was raining pretty hard at first which made things a little difficult to get around. Nevertheless it was beautiful and a place that I recommend, even with the hundreds of people walking around. It’s difficult to get a good picture of the area and I recommend patience. If you expect to feel relaxed with a sense of enlightenment, you might be disappointed as there are generally too many people to make this peaceful. However, the views and intricate detail of this typical temple is well worth the visit. There is a good reason all of the guide books include it as a must see destination when visiting Kyoto.

Kyoto – Kiyomizudera is part of a Kyoto series.  Please follow the links below to read more about Kyoto:

Kiyomizudera Information:

Kiyomizudera (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kiyomizu-dera
Kiyomizudera (Japan Guide): http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3901.html
Okuninushi (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C5%8Ckuninushi

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。

Nara September 30, 2008

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 “Nara” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/s2liAm-nara

On Saturday, April 19, 2008, I went to Nara for a 2 day trip. Nara is a relatively unknown historical centre in Japan. When people talk about old Japan, they almost always say Kyoto.  Kyoto is a beautiful city, but as some people say, it’s a mix of new and old.  Kyoto has lost a lot of what makes it a true old city.  Nara fills that gap.

Located roughly 1 hour from Kyoto, it was the capital in Japan just prior to it moving to Kyoto.  When entering Nara, the biggest difference you see and feel is the size of the city.  Kyoto has a grand department store towering over the city and various other modern buildings surrounding the station.  Nara, by contrast, is a typical small city in Japan.  When you enter the city, the buildings aren’t as tall, and the surrounding mountains are easier to see.  The historical temples and shrines are also easier to visit, compared to Tokyo.  Visiting Kyoto should take 2-3 days.  Nara can be finished within 2.  However, the main disadvantage of Nara is that when it’s night, the city shuts down.  However, after a full day of walking around the city, this isn’t a bad thing.

If you plan to go to Nara, you should start with Nara Park.  It is by far the most important place to visit when in Nara.  All of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites are located there.  The park itself can be explored in half a day, however spending a full day or two is needed to truely explore this park.  Don’t forget to spend a few hundred yen to buy some Shika Senbe (Deer Crackers).  It’s fun to feed the deer, but beware, they are very aggressive when you have food for them.  Also note that May is the birthing season, so mothers will be extra protective of their offspring.  The only other activities in Nara are within Todai-ji.  The first is Yakushi Nyorai.  This is the scary wood carving to the right of the main hall’s entrance.  He’s wearing a red cap and cape.  While scary, this carving is the Buddha of Medicine/Healing.  In Japanese, rubbing the statue will heal any of your problems.   In English, it said you have to rub the corresponding part of the sculpture.  You can take your pick.  The other activity is a small hole in one of the pillars within the main hall itself.  You will often see children crawl through.  If you can make it through the hole (also said to be the size of the Buddha statue’s nostril) you’ll gain enlightenment in your next lifetime.  I don’t know if it matters if you go head first, feet first.

Spending a few hours in Naramachi is also essential.  You will be able to see a lot of the old city.  Houses and shops in this area are from the Edo era.  You’ll be able to see some small museums and other small shops selling various goods.  You can spend a few hours getting lost or take a guided walking tour.  Wandering on your own is fine, but expect to be bored after an hour or so.  You may even stumble upon an old shrine that is surrounded by homes.

Horyu-ji is also a place to visit if you have time.  It’s a wonderful temple complex located just outside the city.  There are 3 main temples in the complex and each of them are beautiful.  Also located outside the city itself is Yoshino (about 1 hour) .  It’s a mountain range that my friends say is beautiful and offers wonderful hikes.  Beware, however, as the buses back down the mountain may stop running before you finish the hike.  🙂

Just a quick tip when going to Nara.  Bring LOTS of money.  While most temples and shrines in Japan are free, the famous ones tend to cost money.  The average price is 500 Yen per temple/shrine.  Be aware of this and plan accordingly.  Lastly, just enjoy yourself.  I find that in all of my travels, taking your time is more enjoyable than trying to see everything.  Allow for this and you’ll enjoy it.

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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