A Travellerspoint blog

Land of the Rising Sun - Part 5 - Museum and Asakusa

Edo/Tokyo Museum, Asakusa, the Tokyo Sky Tree, the Asahi headquarters, and general people-watching

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I'm back!  It's been too long since the last update.  Apologies.  I've just finished building 104' feet of fence for our spoiled rotten Corgis, so now I can return my attention to hopefully cranking out these updates.  We've set a goal to finish these by the time we leave on our Disney trip, so I've got some ground to cover!

After 3 straight days of nonstop walking, I decided to ratchet things back a bit and have a more leisurely day on the fourth day, which was also the day my brother was arriving (in the evening).  So, I visited the Edo-Tokyo Museum, took a quick spin through Asakusa (where I was going to bring Masa and Asuka the next day for their quick engagement shoot), then got herded into a boat full of tourists and enjoyed a lazy ride through the middle of Tokyo.  I'll be covering the museum and Asakusa in this first post of two.

First up was the Edo Tokyo museum.  Tokyo obviously has a lot to offer as far as museums, ranging from a beer museum, a ramen museum (future post!), sword museums, a salt (yes, salt) museum, and of course, the usual art and history museums.  I wasn't really in the mood to see a museum that I could see in the US, even if they had those awesome Japanese characters written all over everything, so I quickly decided on the Edo Tokyo museum.  This museum is dedicated completely to the history of  Tokyo, beginning when it was nothing more than the tiny swamp village of Edo.

Rather than a bunch of hallways of exhibits, the majority of this museum was open-space and made to feel somewhat like a replica of the old days.  Definitely more interesting than your average museum experience.   The bottom right shows a realistic replica of the typical bridge you'd find crossing the canals of Edo.

The printed exhibits were by FAR the most interesting ones of the entire museum.  This just barely scratches the surface of what they had to offer.  I may be obsessed with how intricate their handwritten language is.  It's also quite obvious why they get their reputation for being comic book fanatics - they've been reading picture books for hundreds of years!

Second and third favorite experiences of the museum - block/screen printing and all of the 3D model scenes.  I seriously want an entire room filled with all of that artwork.  It's amazing to see evidenced in a lot of the Edo period artwork something that most people don't realize about Japan - they had a feudal period as long and culturally heightened as England's.

Ok sheesh, so that's my 4th favorite thing - paper lanterns.  I'll be having a row of these in my room as well.

Masa called those objects on the left, verbatim, "portable shrines".  When you can't go to the shrine to pray, the shrine will come to you!  The two on the right are models of a typical bustling Edo scene.  Note the piles of rice in the top right picture.  Back in the Edo period, rice WAS currency.  Your income was in units of rice, and most everything was obtained with rice as payment.  So don't be hatin' on rice.  Calling a tricked out Honda a rice rocket is more of a compliment than you'll ever realize.

Just another example of the stark contrast that can happen in Tokyo.  Old pagoda next to a high rise and a bunch of scaffolding.

Found this little nook off of a trainyard.  I'm a sucker for things with a lot of contrasty metal textures.

Next up was a hop skip and jump off to Asakusa, which was merely one or two train stops back towards Tokyo.  Or was it?  As it turns out, the Asakusa station is a couple of miles away from the Asakusa station.  Say what?  No, you don't pronounce or spell one any different than the other.  The Asakusa (train) station is a couple of miles from the Asakusa (bus/subway) station, which is right where all of the notable Asakusa landmarks are.  Ooooohhhh!!  I only wandered for 10 or 15 minutes before deciding that my GPS was a worthless hunk of silicon and transistors, then as politely as I could, asked the next middle-aged Japanese couple that walked by if they could point me in the direction of Sensoji (the most famous landmark of Asakusa).  In another display of true Japanese hospitality, instead of directions I got personally escorted several blocks to the nearest bus station and told exactly which bus to take, even as I politely protested in my special needs version of Japanese that they didn't need to go to that extent.  I truly believe if I had asked any random Japanese man off the street to give me his left arm, he would have gladly torn it from his shoulder socket and humbly offered the bloody gift to me with his remaining arm.

When I finally arrived at Asakusa, my stomach started to demand foooood.  I ducked into the nearest rice and noodle stand, picked out about 6 things off the menu that I could understand, spun the chamber, held the gun to my head, pulled the trigger, and... was rewarded with my favorite dish of the entire trip.   Tonkatsu curry (or "katsu kare" for short - fried pork cutlet with curry).  I think I had it 3 or 4 more times on other days.  If I could figure this recipe out, I would quickly undo all progress made in the last 85 days of P90X.  Yes Mom, I even ate the veggies.

Characteristic #90893 that the Japanese are famous for - the public catnap.  On the job, on a park bench, at a bus stop, in the grass, on the train, on the train STANDING UP.  I have to say, I gave the sleeping-while-standing-up-on-a-train thing a whirl one morning, and by golly, I felt rested!  I doubt it did much to help me blend in, though.

asakusa sky tree
Most of the most recognizable skyline of Asakusa.  The Thingamajig building, the almost-completed Tokyo Sky Tree, and the Whatchamacalit building.  I obviously can't speak much on the former and latter buildings, but the Sky Tree, when completed, will be the new tallest building of Tokyo.  Needless to say, there was a sea of cameras surrounding this popular vantage point.

asakusa asahi
Part of the Asahi Beer international headquarters.  This is a flame on the top of a building which is shaped kind of like a pilsner glass.  However, I won't tell you what the Japanese refer to this building as due to the unfortunate shape of the... "flame".

asakusa bridge
From the busy pedestrian bridge that connects the two halves of Asakusa.  It was a rare angle where only one person showed up in the frame, and it looked like a scene right out of a movie.

I can just hear what he's thinking - "How will I ever dodge that freak and his ridiculously oversized backpack??"

You could not even PAY me to do that.

asakusa asahi
I is modern arteest photographer.

asakusa asahi
Modern arteest photographer #2.

asakusa asahi
The modern arteest photographer himself.

Next up - scenes just before the ubertouristy boat ride, the ubertouristy boat ride, and maybe a few shots after the ubertouristy boat ride!

Posted by fryhtaning 18:00 Archived in Japan Tagged tokyo river museum asakusa sumida edo asahi Comments (0)

Land of the Rising Sun - Part 4 - Akihabara

all things geeky!

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OK, now it's time for something a little different.  Day number three takes us back from the smaller towns on the outskirts of Tokyo, to right smack in the middle of the largest metropolis in the world.  This series is Akihabara, known as the "Electric Town" section of Tokyo.  Just a couple of stops from the main Tokyo station, it is known worldwide as the technology center of Tokyo.

First, a few warnings:

  • Being one of the coolest place in the world for lovers of all things technology, I will likely GEEK THE HELL OUT in this post.  You have been warned.
  • All of these pics were taken with my 'lil point and shoot.  I was tired of the big camera from the first two days and I was going to be going in and out of a lot of buildings, so the P&S was much less conspicuous and easier to carry around.  Photos may not be up to the usual BrownieBites™ standard that you have become accustomed to.
  • If underage girls in maid outfits, disproportional figurines of girls in superhero outfits or sailor outfits, or unusual uses of words we typically don't use in the US cause you to be offended/shocked/extremely short of breath, turn back now!

Right outside of the Akihabara station was my first stop - Yodobashi Camera.  Yes, it is 9 stories tall.  No, only one floor is actually cameras, and that floor alone dwarfs B&H Photo/Video of NYC.  Yes, beer can apparently be procured somewhere inside.  That place blew my mind.  If you took a B&H, Sears, Best Buy, Toys R Us, and Apple Store, and stacked them all on top of each other, it wouldn't amount to this one place.

(top left) docomo is pretty much their Verizon.  As soon as you walked into the store you heard that saleswoman on the microphone, blasting out what I can only assume were the specials du jour.  (top right) MAGIC cards in Japan!  I almost bought a pack just to try and read, but then I would have been obligated to play until the wee hours of the night when I visited Jason later on in the trip, like we did back in the day before we became old men.  (bottom left)  All the escalators had full murals of Final Fantasy characters.  Rock.  On.  (bottom right)  I'm... not sure what to say about that one.

Seeing is believing - enjoy this clip of me meandering through a few aisles while Japanized versions of American music blares in the background.

(left)  I love when a coffee break results in another gem of an Engrish picture.  (top right)  this photo comes from the next stop, the old radio market, which I'll get to next.   Tucked away in an upper floor was a doll shop, which was kind of a creepy place.  Apparently while our "nerds" are painting DnD figurines and building model trains, theirs are building intricate fantasy dolls with completely positionable joints.  Can't sleep... dolls will eat me...  (bottom right)  This is quite possibly the biggest epic fail of an English translation of my entire trip.

Possibly the most historic building of Akihabara - the radio market.  This area sprung up after WWII when many radio and electronic technicians of the Japanese army came home and started up the only business they could make money at - radios and... electronics.  It was a big key in the regrowth of Tokyo after the war.  Obviously the demand for such products have gone down, but the building preserves the small electronic stand atmosphere quite well.

(top left)  one of many covered walkways loaded with tiny electronic shops (top right) A mini shrine right in the middle of the building, which was quite the paradox.  I don't typically think of electronics as items needing a "blessing".  Maybe that would help with all the times I end up cursing out said electronics... (bottom left)  B&N and Borders, are you paying attention??!  This is how you get noticed and attract shoppers!  (bottom right)  Forget lifesize cutouts of Anna Kournikova when you can have lifesize models of badass blue-haired superheroines.

Ah, yes... the infamous "maids" of Akihabara.  Maid cafes are an interesting subculture of Tokyo, particularly in Akihabara.  It all somehow stems from anime, which I gladly admit that I know approximately zero about (ok, so I watched Death Note... so slightly more than zero).  In short, these street hawkers are trying to get people to come inside and pay an obscene amount of money to have an underage girl in a maid outfit spoon-feed you and take their photo with you.  As a bit of a reassurance, any kind of physical contact will apparently result in you thrown into a pit of ill-tempered yakuza, so I'd rank this just a a step higher than say, a topless bar, on the ladder of morality.  /soapbox

I wandered this store for 30 minutes and walked out slightly annoyed at the inauthenticity of the products.  Most of it was stuff you can buy at any store at home, for much less.  Duty-free be darned.  But I did get a super-authentic samurai t-shirt and a limited edition (only 5,000,000 ever made!) refrigerator magnet.  Lesson learned there.

Warning - incoming geek overload!  I am so glad that I paid the $6 for the Akihabara audio tour, because otherwise I would never have heard of this place.  The name - Super Potato.  Or in the words of some, a mecca for any child of the 80's.  I couldn't help but begin bebopping the Mario theme as I approached the elevator feeling like I had just come contact with a bouncy star.

Inside - ARGH stop teasing me!  I want to see the goods!

(left)  I'm looking for Solid Snake.  And a clean pair of shorts.   (right)  Entire case of original Game & Watch games, selling for around $200 each.  The rest of the store (all 3 floors of it) definitely did not disappoint.  They had wall-to-wall cases full of original games and systems from the 80s and even the 90s, many of them in their original packaging.  For way less than what you'd pay on E-Bay, too!  I had to pick me up a few of the Japanese versions of the Final Fantasy series for my Wall of Game at home.

(left) If you've seen Lost in Translation or any movie that shows any kind of arcade scene in Japan, it probably happened in one of these Taito Stations.  I pretty much tracked down all the games I could remember from LiT, but felt a little gypped because they weren't accompanied by the awesome grungy characters that were manning them in the movies.  There goes that fantasy!  (top right) Just a cool grungy sign I found in an alley.  (bottom right)  Anime girls in nonexistent skirts and arranged in a way that simply cannot be an accident.  Perverts.

(top left) Continuing my thought from above - I watched this guy play, and he played those drums about as well as I play the field.  I came to Japan to be wowed by their video game prowess.  Sheesh.  After he played, I spent surprisingly the only money I spent in an arcade the entire trip and gave it a whirl.  All that Donkey Konga practice paid off and I was rewarded with a free game.  Eat that.  (top right, bottom left) Just some cool architecture in the stairwells and elevators.  (bottom right)  I was really hoping to see a punk rock Japanese kid playing this thing with a cigarette being held in his mouth by a mere millimeter, but I had to settle for the "this proves I was there" photo.

Note - I took several video clips in here and in some other places I saw in Shinjuku and Shibuya, so stay tuned for a more comprehensive post later on.

Escalators or a playpen for that hamster from The Nutty Professor.  You decide.

As a photographer, I am powerless to the pull of reflective surfaces.  I was like a pinball while walking down the main street, as a result.

Akihabara definitely did not disappoint, and a large part of that was due to that great audio tour.  Even then, all you have to do is walk down the main street in this area and duck into every store you see, and there'll be something for the inner nerd in everyone.  Day 3, success!

Posted by fryhtaning 17:48 Archived in Japan Tagged akihabara radio super anime potato taito Comments (0)

Land of the Rising Sun - Part 3 - Kamakura #2

Sasuke Inari shrine, Komachi-dori, Tsurugaoka Hachimangu shrine, Kencho-ji, and Engaku-ji

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Not wasting any time here - straight on to the second half of Kamakura.  Here we're picking up shortly after the adulterous charm episode as described in the previous post.  Another couple of miles of walking around would lead to the center of the city, where the well-known shopping street and the largest shrine of the city both were located.

kamakura sasuke
I passed by a lot of places like this along the way - large houses (by Japanese standard), many of which were converted into small cafes, tea houses, etc.  At least in a city like Kamakura, this is actually the kind of residence where you'd expect a well-off Japanese to live, not in large sprawling estates like in the US.

kamakura sasuke inari shrine
Say, um... this doesn't quite look like the middle of the city.  As it turns out, in a very rare act for myself, somewhere along the way I made a wrong turn.  I don't like to brag here, but come on, I have a magnet in my head - I can tell north just by turning around!  Anyway, this was actually a very fortunate mishap, because I ended up at the Sasuke Inari (Sasuke - name of the area, Inari - fox) shrine.  I was all by myself in this area, and was greeted with this row of at least a hundred torii that led up to the grounds above.  Even more fortunate that I got to see such a sight, because I ended up not getting to visit the granddaddy version of this place - the Fushimi Inari shrine in Kyoto.

kamakura sasuke
More of the nice neighborhoods of Kamakura.  I dug the deep stone canals in particular.  (see what I did there??)

kamakura motorcycles
Real men ride compact, quiet, and fuel-efficient motorcycles with sissy rear-view mirrors.

kamakura komachi dori
Komachi-dori - a narrow, bustling pedestrian street lined with small shops and food stands, running parallel to the main street leading up to the next shrine.  It was here where I noticed a stand selling fruit crepes, made on the spot on a hot surface.  I realized I hadn't eaten in a while, and relished a chance to practice my reading skills.  The nice lady at the counter must have noticed me intently reading the menu while serving the two people ahead of me, because as soon as I walked up and opened my mouth to ask a question about one of the items, she had quickly procured a laminated menu in English from beneath the counter, humbly offering it to me with both hands.  I ordered the "appuru shinamon" (Apple Cinnamon, pronounced in their dialect) crepe, and it definitely hit the spot.

kamakura komachi dori
I don't know what was going on there, but there was a lot of animated banter going on between the kids and the two people working at this stall.  They were probably clamoring over some freshly-baked goodness that had just been set out.  I learned from several experiences that they take their "proof of freshness" VERY seriously on many levels.

kamakura tsurugaoka hachimangu
Finally at the approach to the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu shrine, the pride and joy of Kamakura.  At this point it was drizzling pretty steadily, which worked out for me since it kept the crowds down a bit for the rest of the trip.

kamakura tsurugaoka hachimangu
I believe this is a wall of wishes, prayers, etc, that people clip to the strings.  Either way, it made for a purdy picture.

kamakura tsurugaoka hachimangu sake
Any religion that considers beer and sake to be valid offerings is awesome in my book.

kamakura tsurugaoka hachimangu guardian
I thought shrines and temples were places of safety and solitude.  Then why did nearly every one I go to have some scary guardian looking like he wants you the @%($ off of his property?  Just wait til you see the one from Nara.  I guess once you're <em>in</em> the grounds and change your shorts, then you can feel a little safer about potential intruders and evil spirits and the like thinking twice about coming in.

kamakura tsurugaoka  hachimangu taiko
Found this little nook off to a side.  Taiko drums are always good, too.

kamakura tsurugaoka hachimangu approach
View of the classic approach to Hachimangu.    Just follow the ever-increasing-in-size torii and you'll be there in an absurd amount of time.

kamakura tsurugaoka hachimangu
Lookit the kitty!

kamakura kenchoji
Another mile or so up the road was the second last stop - Kencho-ji.  It's the largest temple in Kamakura, and while not as grand as the Hachimangu shrine, was definitely a lot more authentic and preserved.   Found these neat carvings in one of the buildings.

kamakura kenchoji
Neat carved medallion set against the ceiling.

kamakura signs
Another assortment of interesting, odd, and entertaining signs.  (l) - so does that mean if I go beyond, there'll be an angry mob waiting?  (tr) - sign at Kencho-ji framed by a tree in full koyo mode.  (br) - sure would have helped if they had one of those at Zeniarai Benten to avoid the adulterous charm episode!

kamakura kenchoji garden
Found this little gem of a garden through the last building at the very end of the grounds of Kencho-ji.   Zen gardens really work - I was helpless to set everything down, rest on a bench for a while, and reflect on the previous 8 hours of activity while catching up in my journal.  I want one in my backyard.  As soon as I learn to like, successfully grow grass, that is.

kamakura kenchoji statue
Finishing off  a great temple with a nice golden statue whose significance I wish I was educated enough to understand.

From there it was another stroll further up the road to Engaku-ji, which was right next to the Kita-Kamakura station, where I would begin the ride home.  Engaku-ji was basically a smaller Kencho-ji, completely empty, and full of bad omens.  First, the rain really started coming down finally, so I had to put my SLR away.  Second, two black crows decided to perch up on vantage points directly above me and obnoxiously caw at me, which is one of those "death is coming for you" omens.  Glad I was only superstitious for those 5 minutes earlier in the day.  Either case, I didn't stay long and soon was on my way home.

Something fun I wanted to add on these posts that involved any significant amount of moving around - a Google map that I used in my planning, which shows 95% the route that I took that day.  Just in case you want to get out there and get lost in culture yourselves.

Posted by fryhtaning 17:45 Archived in Japan Tagged kamakura sasuke inari tsurugaoka hachimangu komachi dori kenchoji engakuji Comments (0)

Land of the Rising Sun – Part 2 – Kamakura #1

Hase-dera, Daibutsu, the Kamakura hiking trail, and Zeniarai Benten shrine

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This next entry in this new Japan series comes to you from Kamakura, a small town about an hour outside of Tokyo that is loaded with ancient history and relics.  With Fuji checked off of my list, my legs still feeling fresh, and a rather boring weather forecast, I quickly made the decision to hit up this somewhat well-kept secret on my second day.  It is also one of those places where there were a million different pictures to take, so I'll actually be splitting this one into two separate entries.  A couple of express trains out of Tokyo led to the Kamakura station, where it was another short 10 minute ride on an old-fashioned electric train to the Hase section of town.  From there, it was on foot allll the way until I was finally at the end of the day, some 7 or 8 miles later.

As soon as I reached the final station and started walking, I was greeted with my first rickshaw.  Fun fact - "rickshaw" is short for the actual pronunciation of the Japanese word "jin-rik-sha", whose characters literally translate to "human-powered vehicle".

kamakura hasedera
Not long up the road was the first of many stops - Hase-dera.  This is a buddhist temple with nice gardens, a very cool (and narrow) cave, great views of the city, and some nice traditional temple architecture.  This is one of the ponds in the garden, with some trees showing koyo already.

kamakura hasedera
The Japanese are known for their obsession with "cute".  Exhibit #3803.

kamakura hasedera
Inside the cave, found this niche lit by a single candle.

kamakura hasedera
(tl) a short Japanese person couldn't have fit through this tunnel, which was all of about 3 feet tall.  It was on the hands and knees or bust.  (tr) candles that people earlier in the day had purchased and lit inside the cave.  (bl)  a closeup of a room in the cave that literally had thousands of these tiny figurines.  (br) row of statues in the entrance corridor

kamakura hasedera
You know, I always thought the Japanese were always about quality over quantity, but nearly every temple or shrine that I visited seemed to be the exact opposite when it came to that.  It was very common to see hundreds or thousands of lanterns, statues, torii, carvings, etc.

kamakura hasedera
I've always loved their skill with grooming trees and gardens.

kamakura hasedera
View of the coastal town of Kamakura, from Hase-dera.

kamakura signs
Not quite sure what the translation really should have turned out to be... maybe "local peoples craft shop"?

kamakura signs
Mixture of interesting, confusing, out-of-place, and altogether entertaining signs.

Gate of Hase-dera.  From there it was another relatively easy stroll further into town to the temple surrounding Kamakura's most famous exhibit - the Daibutsu.

kamakura daibutsu
At the entrance to the Daibutsu (Great Buddha) exhibit, what became a familiar sight for the rest of my trip.  Ritualistic cleansing of the hands (and often, mouth) before entrance to a sacred place.

kamakura daibutsu buddha
Kamakura's famous Daibutsu.  It used to be indoors until a tsunami destroyed the temple, many hundreds of years ago.  Now it is the largest outdoor buddha in Japan.  See?!  I was there!!

kamakura hiking
Up the road began the hiking trail that leads through a few smaller temples and shrines on the way back towards the center of the city.  Things started off with a rather strenuous staircase, shortly followed by extremely narrow and steep steps, then polished off with a long and winding set of steps.  Did I mention there were a lot of steps?  Oh, and I won't even mention the section of the trail where you had to use the exposed roots of a a freaking huge <em>tree</em> as a staircase.  Otherwise, it was a very nice hike that had you completely forgetting that there were probably people living just a few hundred yards down the hill.

kamakura zeniarai benten
Near the end of the main section of trail was my first stop, the Zeniarai Benten shrine.  Unlike the buddhist temple Hase-dera, shrines are the religious centers for Shintoism.   Both religions are very attuned with nature, but Shinto as a religion actually worships nature itself.  Very Green Party stuff.  This shrine is famous for being a place where people can come wash their money (see sign in a few photos back), which supposedly washes away taint on the money and brings good fortune towards what the money is spent on.

kamakura zeniarai benten
Long row of torii just through the cave entrance.  When I reached the end, the young Japanese boy that you can see in this photo, looking very lost, kept trying to ask me where something was.  May I remind you, there were a few dozen Japanese people milling around, and I am as pale as Casper, so who knows why he chose me of all people as the source of any knowledge pertaining to a Shinto shrine.  But I digress - eventually I figured out he was looking for the place where they wash their hands before coming in, answered as ineloquently as my skill allowed, and he thanked me from the bottom of his knees (in other words, how low his head bowed).  Cute experience.

kamakura zeniarai benten
As most people have seen in movies that involve Japan, this is one of those places in a shrine where people do the "bow twice, clap twice, then bow once more" routine, marked by the large rope attached to a bell.  A few of these were scattered around the shrine, but I wish I knew the significance of different ones.

kamakura zeniarai benten
The cave after the clearing which came after the first cave.  Easy, right?  Inside here is where the money washing took place.

kamakura zeniarai benten
Baskets and a tiny creek.  You figure out the rest.

kamakura zeniarai benten
Yup, another mini-shrine-within-the-cave-inside-the-shrine.  One reason I'm glad I had my MarkII with me on this trip - it was DARK in there.

Funny story #2 of the day.   I decided for the heck of it, to be superstitious for 5 minutes and buy one of the plethora of tiny charms that they 'bless' and sell at shrines in particular.  Being a small town not in Tokyo, pretty much nobody spoke English.  Well, they knew how to say "difficult to explain" when I asked "what is the meaning of this?" in Japanese.  So I racked my brain for something that would likely to be something many people would come to a shrine to wish for good luck upon, and came up with the obvious - a good marriage.  So, I said "ii kekkon", which literally means "good marriage".  The nice lady at the counter said "ah!", and indicated towards one, so I affirmed my choice and she wrapped it up and did a quick little blessing of it.

I thanked her and was about to walk away when I something started to nag at me.  You see, there is no future tense in the Japanese language.  "Present" tense is the same as future tense - you have to know the context or use other cues in the sentence.   So I turned back, and in my broken Japanese, I basically asked "marriage now?  or marriage later?"  She seemed confused, and basically asked me "you want to find love, yes?"  I said, "Hai... demo, watashi wa kekkon shite imasu" (Yes, but I am (currently) married) and indicated my ring.  The poor lady's face turned pale and she was beside herself apologizing for her terrible mistake in hand gestures and words that I couldn't understand.  I couldn't help but laugh, and reassured her that it was my mistake and that it was ok.  I asked if there was one for money (can't screw up that one!), and when there was, traded in my adulterous charm for one that could actually be of benefit to us.  Sorry, babe.

That concludes the first half of Kamakura!  Next up... even <em>more</em> temples and shrines!  I know you're excited.  A lot of people who travel in Japan get "templed out" after just a few of them, but I actually loved visiting those more than anything else.  Especially in Kamakura, because it was not crowded, the sites were more quaint, and due to said not-crowdedness, I had more memorable interactions with the locals.  Also, can't go wrong with great things to photograph.

Posted by fryhtaning 17:34 Archived in Japan Tagged hiking kamakura daibutsu hasedera zeniarai benten Comments (0)

Land of the Rising Sun - Part 1 - Hakone

Hakone, Mt Fuji, Lake Ashinoko, and lots of walking!

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In November, I finally got to go on my dream trip - 2 weeks in Japan!  At the time I was going, a good friend of mine who I met in Australia when I was on a summer internship was now living back in Tokyo, and my best friend Jason was teaching abroad for two years in Kobe.  As luck would have it, I had a place to stay for almost every night of the trip!  My brother Jeremy joined me for the second half of the trip, so he'll be making appearances in later blog posts.  I took roughly a quintillion pictures, of which I have finally gotten past the halfway point as far as editing for the masses to enjoy.  So, it's about time I finally start what will likely be a very long series of photo posts spread out over the next who-knows-how-long.

After 18 hours of traveling, a handful of chores at the airport, and a few stumbling conversations, I was on my way from Narita airport towards Tokyo to meet Masa (from Australia), who I hadn't seen in nearly 10 years.  Upon arrival at the Suidobashi station, a few blocks from where we were going to meet, I was quickly greeted with my first two obstacles.  Number 1 - the lockers at the train station were way too small for me to stow my luggage for the next few hours, so off I went towards the pub lugging everything I had brought with me.  Number 2 - the notorious rainy weather of Japan immediately struck, resulting in my first major cultural experience - purchasing everyday supplies out of a vending machine.  I bought an umbrella from a vending machine for about $10, crammed it between my armpit and my neck, found the most optimal way of holding all my luggage at once, and off I went to meet Masa in a comedic display of tourist fail.

Masa and I met, had some food and a drink, recollected old memories, and then it was back to his apartment for the night.  I was finally settled in Japan.

The next morning was one of a few mornings where I had made several plans to choose from, where I could make my decision each morning based on the weather and how I was feeling.  I woke up at some ungodly hour, pulled out my phone, and checked the weather.  Today was going to be the only day of the next few to have a forecast of clear skies - specifically, a 2% cloud cover at Mt Fuji by noon.  It was settled - I was going to knock out possibly the most important sight to me of the whole trip - Mt Fuji.

One of the best places to observe Mt Fuji, as well as do other tourist-like things, is a spot just southeast of there called Hakone (HA-ko-neh), which is little more than a small little town built around a caldera lake that runs along the old feudal highway that connected Kyoto and Tokyo.  To get there was going to take about 90 minutes by several modes of transportation - train, bullet train, mountain train, cable car, ropeway, and boat.

On to the pictures!

soba noodles
When in Rome, do as the Romans do.  While waiting for the mountain train after the shinkansen, I ordered this from a noodle shop inside of the train station, then proceeded to devour it while standing shoulder-to-shoulder with two Japanese businessmen that were crammed up to the only eating surface in the shop.  Cultural experience #2 completed.

hakone cable car
While waiting for the cable car to arrive, this platform worker thought it would be best to ensure the safety of all passengers standing on the platform... by standing on the tracks with an incoming train.

hakone owakudani ropeway
The ropeway up to Owakudani, where the views of Fuji were to first be visible.   Exploding fall colors were everywhere in Hakone, which is higher elevation than Tokyo.  Tokyo wasn't quite peaked yet, but that was fine by us because Kyoto made up for it a thousandfold.  The Japanese call the fall color explosion koyo.

Up on the ridge of Owakudani.  I had spent about 20 minutes hoping for a glimpse of Mt Fuji, which was still covered with clouds by the time I got there.  This girl was as persistent as I in getting her chance, and not a few minutes later, it finally paid off for both of us.

owakudani mt fuji
(l) either this old guy has already seen the mountain a hundred times, or maybe I should have done the 'ol head nod to indicate that there's something right behind him.  The first time Fuji came out from behind the clouds, it literally took my breath away.  I wasn't expecting for it to appear <em>above</em> the clouds!  (r)  Owakudani literally translates to something like big boiling valley, because the area is highly volcanic and has big plumes of sulphur gas seeping out from underground.

mt fuji hakone owakudani
As pretty as this view is, nothing short of a 3D camera could really capture what is so impressive about all 12,000+ feet (starting at nearly sea level) of Mt Fuji.  The ground leading up to the peak is the most impressive part - it just buckles and exponentially shoots up towards the peak.

lake ashinoko ship
After the descending ropeway down to the lake, it was time for a short boat ride to the other side of the lake.  In a surprisingly un-Japanese move, the boats were designed to look like pirate ships.  Here is a sliver of Hakone from the boat, with the peaking koyo of Mt Komagatake behind.

lake ashinoko hakone shrine
Also from the boat - Hakone shrine, an important Shinto center in the area.

lake ashinoko mt fuji
Had to get at least <em>one</em> of these to prove I was actually there, right??

lake ashinoko ship mt fuji
How to tell you're in Hakone - Lake Ashinoko, pirate boat, and Mt. Fuji.  Check.

mt fuji hakone shrine
I had seen this angle in a picture somewhere, but I had no idea where it was until I literally stumbled upon it while walking the old highway.  The gate (torii) is part of the Hakone shrine.

hakone checkpoint tokaido
Old guard station from the feudal days.  I can't figure out of those are guards or prisoners.  Doesn't look like a fun spot to be a guard, either way.

hakone bird
This little man wouldn't stop screeching at me, so I shot him.  With the camera.

japanese maple koyo
Two varieties of my new favorite trees - Japanese maples - in full koyo mode.

hakone dogs
All I saw when I took this picture (from far away at 200mm) were two cute dogs hanging out of a car.  It wasn't until I opened this up on the computer at home and brought up the background that I realized I may have simultaneously been a victim of a snipe attack.  Girl even had the same 5D Mark II as me!

After that I enjoyed a nice quiet walk for a few miles along the old Tokaido (east sea road) back towards the train station.  Stopped at a quaint tea shop in the middle of nowhere for a snack and to rest my legs, then hopped the next bus down to the station to begin the journey home.  Definitely did not skimp on the activity on Day 1!


Posted by fryhtaning 17:15 Archived in Japan Tagged lake mt fuji hakone ashinoko ropeway Comments (0)

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