2014
08.12

SYNOPSIS:  About some curiosities and the smells and the sounds of Japan which I will remember from this trip.  Good bye, Japan.

 

Any time you come to a new culture you notice things that are done differently.  Some make a lot of sense, others seem odd.  In any case, these are often things you only notice as a stranger as they are so familiar to all who live here.  I have collected a few of those visible curiosities in photographs.  Instead of writing a lot of text, I have labeled each image so you can share in some of the things that struck me.… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2014
08.11

JAPAN SIGNS

It’s just packing, wrapping up some loose ends, and making a final trip to the post office.  So, enjoy the signs I have collected and photographed over the last two months.  Some I took for their content, some for oddities, some for cute spelling mistakes.  I am sure you will figure it out, and hopefully, get a few smiles out of it.… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2014
08.10

SYNOPSIS:  About the final shopping trip and a glimpse of the nightlife of Tokyo.

 

There is one rule I would tell anyone who might be listening: when you travel and you see something you like, buy it!  Don’t assume that you can find it later, somewhere else.

It was nearly 70 days ago on my way to Tokyo’s “Eiffel Tower” that I had stopped into a small antique store along the way.  There were beautiful things at what I thought were reasonable prices.  I stood in front of a number of small, wooden and gilded Buddha figures no larger than 10-25 centimeters, that were so delicately carved, that I just marveled at them.  They were of high quality and obviously old.… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2014
08.09

SYNOPSIS:  About one of the oldest Buddhist shrines and one of the newest mosques in Tokyo.  The end of Ramadan.

 

Already by 9 AM the thermometer had climbed to over 90° Fahrenheit.  Another one of those hot and humid days lay ahead.  I was absolutely not motivated to do anything, and would have been hiding behind my computer all day if not in the early afternoon a much needed thunderstorm cleared the air at least a little bit and at least for a little while.

What to do?  Tokyo is overwhelming in its options and after all the temples and shrines, castles and gardens of historic value, I was not in any mood to do more.  A museum perhaps?  There are dozens around and they are one as good as the other.  An aquarium?  After all, I had missed the one in Osaka.  Another theme park of traditional buildings?  Shopping?… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2014
08.08

SYNOPSIS:  About the neighborhood I live in.  About a Chinese restaurant that won’t serve two foreign ladies, a J.S. Bach cafe, fire works, and a few shady characters.  

 

Tokyo is my final stop.  There are a few more days here and a few more things to do, many of them technicalities — laundry, making sure blog and images are all up to date, copied, archived, labeled, organized; buy all the souvenirs I have not bought so far, meet the lady I met in Nikko, try to catch a Noh play, perhaps, see a few more sights, but then, perhaps not; ship a package or two, get money for China, and so on.… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2014
08.07

SYNOPSIS:   About a faux pas in transit.  About the JR rail pass.  About really fast trains.  About looking up (roofs) and looking down (bows).  All the images are details of roofs in Japan.  Just enjoy.

It was actually during the last trip from Osaka to Tokyo that I almost got myself into real trouble getting on one of those very, very fast trains that my rail pass does not cover…  But I ran out of time to write about it then. And it looks like, I still have not found time to write about it…  I am so sorry.  I am really swamped right now.… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2014
08.06

SYNOPSIS:  About “the big one”.  About copying a sutra, swimming in the ocean, splurging on a Kassler in a German restaurant, and meeting Karla.

 

What makes this day different from all the other days?

It is the last day of a 2-month cultural and spiritual journey.   It is the climax of an exploration into Japanese culture.  It is the end of a trip retracing the lessons learned by Professor Kane some 25 years ago.  But as all trips of this nature go, it is also an exploration into oneself and therefore an investment into the future.

Yeah, there is still Tokyo.  But that does not count.… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2014
08.05

SYNOPSIS:  About buddhas, bakeries and beaches.  About teenagers, trash and tramps.  About a resort town with a history.

 

Kamakura is not (yet) on the UNESCO list of sites.  It’s desperately trying though, as one big billboard in town indicated.  At least for the “big boy”, the largest Bronze Buddha in the world, it might make it someday and if not, it has itself assured a certain spot in the Guinness Book of World Records for times immortal.

When I planned my Japan trip around the UNESCO sites, a bit in a hurry, I realized at the last moment that I had forgotten to leave room for Kamakura.  I actually had to go back and shave off three days of Kyoto to fit it in.  What an oversight!… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2014
08.04

SYNOPSIS:  About a curious, wide-spread Japanese phenomenon.

 

Thanks to Carl who mentioned early on that I should pay attention to the manholes in Japan, I did.  I can’t add anything about the history or origins of the unique and artistic manholes that is not mentioned in the article I am posting below.  Nobody with half an eye could miss the colorful variations of the manholes in Japan after walking around for a bit.  But I know it would have taken me much longer to catch up on this unique phenomenon if Carl had not alerted me to this.  Thanks!  So, I went through Japan always mindful of manholes and I got a few good ones.  Of course, the examples in the article are a lot better than mine.… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2014
08.03

SYNOPSIS:  About my luck in meeting Rica.  Osaka lunch, Osaka shopping, Osaka viewing.  Two eras, two towers.

 

Two days ago I had stood rather forlorn at the exit of a subway station at the outskirts of Osaka, an unlikely place to be frequented by foreign visitors.  I had an inadequate map and nothing much else to go by to locate my new hotel.  “May I help you?” an accent-free voice asked in English.

It was Rica.  She had never heard of the “Four Leaves Hotel” either, but offered to walk with me to help me find it.  It was only a short two blocks from the station and we kept chatting a bit more right in front of the hotel.  There was something immediately likable about her, aside from being a woman and about my age.  I was so starved for talking to a real Japanese that without much thinking I asked if she would be willing to meet again for a cup of tea.  The poor woman!  She helped a stranger, OK, but now she got sucked into meeting me again.  I know how busy most Japanese are and how precious their free time is.  How could I have done this?  Afterwards, I felt quite horrible for having made such an imposition, but it was too late.… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2014
08.02

SYNOPSIS:  About the real deal at the real place — two performances of traditional theater in one day.  Why I came to Osaka.

One reason why I chose to come to Osaka is that next to Tokyo it is known for its world-class performances of traditional Japanese theater.  There are three main types of plays, Noh, Kabuki and Bunraku and a whole bunch of subdivisions, interludes and variations all known by different names.  In fact, the UNESCO does not only declare buildings world heritage, but there is such as thing as intangible world heritage.  Almost all of the Japanese forms of theater have been protected under this UNESCO status.… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2014
08.01

SYNOPSIS:  Festival hopping — first Kyoto, now Osaka.  About other major festivals in Japan.  Why I came to Osaka.

 

Why Osaka?  Really, I could have skipped it and in hindsight I should probably have gone to see the oldest flat-land castle Bitchu Matsuyama or Hokkaido instead.  But then, there was the Tenjin Matsuri.  It is one of the main festivals of Japan and it happened while I was nearby — how could I ignore it?

One thing has become clear to me:  I was extremely fortunate to be able to spend 70 days in this country, but it is not even close to enough to see even just the main sights.  Japan is definitely one of the culturally most dense countries I have ever been to.… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2014
07.31

TRANSIT-TOILETS

SYNOPSIS:  A few words about toilets, indeed a topic that needs to be discussed when it comes to Japan.  A toilet-culture of the highest complexity with some useful and some frivolous features.

 

Picture this:  I approach a toilet at the end of a sizable bathroom and as I am about 3 feet away the lid opens.  I was so startled, I turned around to see if there was anyone else in the room who might have pushed a button.   I did my business and left the lid open (which otherwise I’d never do), closed the door, walked away and peeked back 30 seconds later.  The lid was open.  Five minutes later I peeked again: lid closed.… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2014
07.30

GION MATSURI

SYNOPSIS:  About one of the three high festivals in Kyoto and the nights before and in between.

 

There are three key festivals in Kyoto, and I had planned my stay in Kyoto to experience one of them, the Gion Matsuri.   It is the largest of all festivals and activities are concentrated in nearly a ten day period, and culminate in two parades known as Yamaboko Junko, exactly one week apart, which symbolically welcome and then return spirits to the spirit world.  With my luck of living so far outside the city center it was hard get the full festival atmosphere each day, but I tried to catch some of the evening fun and at least one of the two parades.  Also, during the entire period of the festival you can observe the mikoshi (portable shrines for the deities) in their temporary places in town.  This is where you will see people behaving as if they were in a temple — that means, they will throw coins into a box, bow, and pray before these floats; after all, these boxes contain the gods.… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2014
07.29

SYNOPSIS:  About the Nishiki Food Market, the Tea Ceremony at En, and the Gion Corner Potpourri performance of Japanese Culture.

 

Culture presents itself not just in permanent structures such as temples and shrines, but also in small tangible ways, etiquette of behavior, dress, food, music, theater, etc.

Today, I made the round exploring what I could: first, the Nishiki Food Market.  It’s a small street in the center of the Gion district filled with food vendors.  There are novelty foods, spices, pickled vegetables and  fruits; there is tea, sake, sweets and fish in all variations.  I hope there is some selling going on as most of what I observed were tourists like me, taking pictures.… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2014
07.28

SYNOPSIS:  About a temple, a rundown shrine and a missed one, a famous bridge and tea.

 

Uji is a small town between Nara and Kyoto that nobody would pay much attention to where it not for four things all at once: some of the best tea is coming from the Uji region, ten chapters of the famous Tale of Genji are taking place in Uji, and a whopping two of the 17 UNESCO monuments that are usually rolled together as the “Kyoto world heritage sites” are actually from Uji, which attests to its historical importance as the link between Nara and Kyoto.… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2014
07.27

IMPERIAL PALACES

SYNOPSIS:  Walking in the emperor’s footsteps.  About the Imperial Palace,  Katsura Imperial Villa, and Nijo Castle.   About permits and bureaucracy.

 

Walking in past emperors’ steps can be an awesome experience.  I am thinking of Versailles, for example, where the sheer size of the palace, the glittering opulence, the never-ending rooms, staircases, alcoves and hallways permeate the ego of the emperor to this very day.

If you come with expectations like this, you will be very much let down at the Imperial Palace of Kyoto.  And if on top of that, you have already seen a number of important temples, aristocratic residences, and gardens, you might — I am not kidding — skip the site all together.… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2014
07.26

JINJAS

SYNOPSIS:  About Kamigamo, Shimogamo, Heian Jingu, and Fushimi Inari Taisha.   

 

Temple saturation level has been reached, even for me.  So, what shall we do today?  I have a great idea:  let’s do shrines!  I realize that the concept of a “great idea” varies from person to person and that you think I am kidding, but I am not.  Shrines it is today.  I promise, at least one of them will be awesome even if it is one that did not make it onto the world heritage list.  It’s everyone’s favorite.

Shrines is what you bump into in Kyoto as you do temples.  At a ratio of one to four (that is 400 shrines and 1600 temples) that is about right.  I have bumped into a few shrines so far:  The Yasaka Shrine on the first day in Kyoto, which is a big, flashy one in the center of the Gion District, and the heart of the Gion Matsuri festival.  Then there was the silly Jishu Shrine filled with teenagers trying to walk blindfolded between two love stones which I stumbled on when I visited the Kiyomizudera Temple.  And in Uji there will be the Ujigamo Shrine, a site I will visit since it is close to the Byodo-in; it would not warrant a special trip on its own.… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2014
07.25

SYNOPSIS:  About a flea market, about sand, bees, an out of place art gallery, a Buddha who turns his head, an unexpected aqueduct; all in the context of a few temples such as the Ginkakuji, in the Okazaki area. 

 

There wasn’t a flea in this market and I regretted having gone through all the effort and time to get here in this excruciating heat.  I even took a taxi for part of it!  Of course, 33° Celsius does not come even close to the 50° I had to endure in Mali last year. But here, at this time of the year, and today in particular, the heat was coupled with 85% humidity and every part of my body inevitably was dripping.  Too late; I found myself at the Chionji.  This was solely, because the guide book had recommended its “flea market”.  At best you can call this an arts and crafts market.  There is hand-made jewelry, clothing, woodworking and ceramics.  But all of it was made yesterday and the souvenir shops in town are full of this wherever you look.  No need for more, no need for a market, at least not for me.… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2014
07.24

SYNOPSIS:  About the most famous of all temples, the Kinkakuji, and a few others, and about Japanese Manga.

 

Ninja Museum was a note I had scribbled on my map.  All I remembered was that it was about popular culture.  And all I can think of when I think of popular culture in Japan is the Ninjas.  I figured that at some point in my temple marathon, I would need some comic relief.  The time had come.

Don’t get me wrong.  Today was an awesome temple day.  It seemed like I was on UNESCO fast lane.  Almost all of these temples were part of the world heritage list.  Today included the absolutely most incredible building in all of Kyoto:  The Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavilion.  And they are not kidding.  It’s not a little gold here or there; the entire three storied building, save the lowest floor with its white sliding doors, is gold plated.  As you enter the garden in which it is located and you expect to be led around various paths to the temple climax and then — it is literally the first thing you see as the path opens up — you can’t help but be awestruck!… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2014
07.23

SYNOPSIS:  About temples that play hard to get, about a bamboo grove.   About a failed date.

 

I had a date tonight!  After a full day of temple visits I had gone home to prepare.  I washed my hair, put on nice clothes and if I ever would use lipstick, this would have been the day I would have put it on.  Since I could not have a date with a person, I had decided on a date with the theater.  I would have a night out in Kyoto!

Imagine my disappointment when I reached the famous Gion Corner and found myself before a sign that simply stated:  We are closed today.  We are happy to welcome you tomorrow.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2014
07.22

SYNOPSIS:  About technology and about the lack thereof.  About temples (in the post script) and one hall that boggles the mind and that should not be missed.

 

I did not think I would witness a low-tech scene like this in high-tech Japan.  So far I had been impressed by airport control systems that would scan my innocent milk-tea bottle and allow me to take it rather than force me to throw it out — why don’t we have something like this?

I was floored when the boisterous host of my kitchen hotel, Kaiza, whipped out her I-Pad, plugged in a little device and swiped my credit card.  On her phone!  It was phenomenal.… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2014
07.21

GION

SYNOPSIS:  About Geishas, Kyotites, temples and shrines (in the post script). 

 

Geisha for a day?  Probably not.   Kyotite for a day?  It seems to be a booming industry.

I finally figured out why there were so many kimonoed young girls who were tipping around in their wooden clogs and open slippers and were constantly photographing themselves.  They weren’t geishas or truly traditional women.  They were dressed-up Japanese tourists (I also saw one Western girl).  For $30 per day plus tax, you can outfit yourself to look like a maiden from the Edo period.  And if your man goes along with it, you can put him into a Jukata and clogs, too.  And to leave nothing to be desired, these outfits exist in all sizes, as I spotted entire dressed-up families today.… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2014
07.20

SYNOPSIS:  About Nara archaeology at Nara Palace Site.  Transit to Kyoto where I will be living in a kitchen…!   About the downfalls of booking accommodations from afar.

 

If you have nothing but time on your hands in Nara and you have seen all the temples and shrines of significance, head out to see a big wide open field with some shrubs and yet two more vermillion-white buildings which by now will look a lot like all the other stuff you have seen…

Well, I had 1/2 day to kill and did just that.  This is the final part of the world heritage cluster of buildings in Nara.  Nara Capital was only the seat of power in Japan for about 85 years.  Because the Buddhist temples had gained too much power and many Buddhist monks were actually quite militant, the government had no choice but “to run”.  They settled in Kyoto next where they remained for over 1200 years before finally ending up in Tokyo.… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2014
07.19

SYNOPSIS:  Not about temples — only in a P.S.   An interview with Kazu, owner and designer of Guesthouse Nara Komachi.

 

After Horyuji, Horinji and Hokiji two days ago; Kofukuji, Todaiji, Nigatsudo and Sangatsudo yesterday, it was Daianji, Gangoji, Fukuchi-in, Shin-Yakushiji and the Nara National Museum today — I knew it!  Your eyes are glazing over.  I am having the time of my life, exploring all these fabulously old temples and museums, seeing the only surviving one, the biggest or the oldest of this or that but I do realize, that this is of interest mainly to me…

Let me tell you, it is not easy to write a blog in a country where there are no hardships or challenges other than rain; plenty of that, today!  I had to seek shelter for 1/2 hour twice today since my small umbrella is just not fit to protect me, my backpack and my camera.  Not in heavy rain like this.  But who cares?… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2014
07.18

SYNOPSIS:  About two more temples in the Southern part of Nara.  About an interesting ceremony at the Yakushiji.  About a keyhole tomb.  About making a scene at a bank. 

 

Mount Fuji loosened its grip. Only when there was a step was I reminded that I had dome something quite foolish, yet amazing.  It was almost a joy to be reminded of it.  No more red eyes, no more unhappy muscles.

Nara is a beautifully compact city and has something interesting to offer in each of its four corners.  Most people focus on the North-East, the big Buddha and Nara Park, but the South-West has two temples that should not be missed.… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2014
07.17

SYNOPSIS:  A quick run-through of some features of Buddhist architecture.  About huge bronze Buddhas and deer that pull on your pants if you don’t feed them.  More temples and big crowds of people.   About “classical” Nara.

 

Nara is often done as a one-day excursion from Kyoto.  How, that is beyond me.  But if you have that little time, there is but one thing to do:  dash up to Nara Park, ooh and ah at the freely roaming deer, if you are daring, buy some deer biscuits and watch what happens, and then throw yourself into the sea of humanity that seems to be on a pilgrimage towards something behind a humungous red, wooden gate.… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2014
07.16

HORYUJI

SYNOPSIS:  About the headquarters of the Shotoku sect and one of the oldest temples in Japan.  About a long walk, three pagodas, national treasures, getting lost, and meeting a woman who does not want to be remembered.

 

When every muscle in both legs hurts every step and every movement becomes an act of mindfulness.  I was glad, I did not have to talk to anyone today, at least not while walking.  Yesterday it was my face.  Today, there were my legs.  That mountain keeps on giving…

I am in Nara, I should do Nara, but Professor Kane would not approve.  Before Nara, there was Horyuji.  And since I have the chance, I might as well do this in chronological order, do it “right”.… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2014
07.15

SYNOPSIS:   Transit to what might likely become my favorite town and one of my favorite hotels.  About the aftermath of Fuji.  Since transit is boring, also about a horrific hotel story which I have left out so far.  

 

If you would not have to get around all of Mount Fuji, the crow or the Shinkansen could fly from Kawaguchiko to Nara in a pretty reasonable time.  But with the local trains, the Shinkansen in between, more local trains and all the unavoidable layovers, it took most of the day.  I don’t mind these transit days at all.  They are down time, even though I am moving.  And once in a while I even get to work if I am on a train for more than an hour.… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2014
07.14

SYNOPSIS:  A continuation of yesterday’s blog.  About the final push up and the slippery slide down.  About the overall appearance of Fuji when you look at it up close.  For reassurance:  Not as long a blog as yesterday.   Some travel specs.

 

Where was I?  Yes, I had crawled into to the sleeping bag with all my wet stuff around 8 PM.  I generated so much heat and the arctic sleeping bags we had were trapping it well, that by morning I had dried out all of my clothes and the shoes on top of it.  This was a promising new start.… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2014
07.13

SYNOPSIS:  About climbing Mount Fuji.  About challenges and conditions.  Getting from the 5th station to station 8.5.  About meeting people who each met their challenges.   Most likely a lot more information than anyone cares about.  A  lot of thoughts and reflections.   This is a long blog…  I apologize, but it was a long hike.   More images are inserted in the text.

 

Five minutes of beauty — seeing the crater of Mount Fuji under a blue sky was the payoff for two days of challenges and the unfolding aftermath.  Was it worth it?

The internet abounds with stories about climbing Mount Fuji.  Many of them claim how easy it is, some of them talk about challenges and hardship.  Don’t believe any of them!  And that goes for the one I am about to write.  Mount Fuji is not one thing or another.  It unfolds to each and every one of us differently.  The sum of all the factors that make up the Fuji experience differs in so many ways that only one option remains to truly find out: you have to go yourself.… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2014
07.12

KAWAGUCHIKO

SYNOPSIS:  Procrastination — why?  About an embarrassing admission.  Where the hell is Mount Fuji anyhow?  About the “Musical Forest” and the inclusion of the handicapped population into daily life.

 

Sightseeing in Kawaguchiko — that’s what I will do.  At least that’s what I told myself.  The original plan was to hike up Mount Fuji today, down tomorrow, and do sightseeing on the last day here, but when it came time to booking the hut to stay the night, I had booked it for tomorrow…

What kind of sightseeing was there?   You could take a cable car up the mountains for a lot of money and a great view of Mount Fuji — if it were visible.… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2014
07.11

TYPHOON UPDATE

As scheduled, the typhoon was supposed to come down as heavy rain two nights ago in Central Japan.  If it did – I slept through it.  Now it is hot (30-32  degrees Celsius), very humid and the weather ranges from sunny to cloudy to the inevitable daily showers.  That the season!  Definitely not recommended as travel season, but nothing compared to Mali.   Happy sweltering whereever you may be.  ET… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2014
07.11

SYNOPSIS:  About the second wrong pick of a hotel.  No redemptive qualities this time.  About the forgotten corner of the five-lake area and a wannabe Ryokan.

From Hakone to Mount Fuji it is, as the crow flies, a mere hop.  With a Shinkansen at hand, this would have taken 10-15 minutes.  Given the terrain and the different domains (private trains, JR trains, bus monopolies, etc.) it took several hours and multiple transfers with substantial layovers.  But I arrived at the specified Hanbali station at Yamanakaku.  The area the bus had recently traveled through seemed pleasant enough — lake front hotels, golf courses, boat rentals.  All this spelled vacation resort.  But now I had reached the northern shore of Lake Yamanakaku and all of a sudden things looked neglected.  No more resort feel.  All of a sudden, this was a low-income fishing town.… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2014
07.10

OPEN AIR MUSEUM

SYNOPSIS:  About a unique and powerful way to experience sculpture and nature.  About  the first open-air art museum of Japan.  

 

Did I really need to see Picasso, Moore, Rodin and other contemporary Western art in Japan?  I was not sure and honestly came with very low motivation.  Once before in Takamatsu, I had opted out of visiting an island full of modern art galleries.  And without the urging of my daughter-in-law Vanessa, I would have never swung out on this detour to Hakone either.  But I could not let her down, could I?  Thanks, Vanessa, for this wonderful day today — this was a great suggestion!… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2014
07.09

SYNOPSIS:  An almost uneventful long day in transit, except for bizarre weather changes and another “cult” train, the Hakone-Tozan Rail, that tops even the previous ones I have seen.  About conductors and their work.

 

Where in the world is there a train where you pay for special pleasure night rides going back and forth?  The point is to enjoy the lit-up flowers that line the tracks and that are in full bloom just now.  I had not heard of one until today.  To make it a real touristy thing for which you can charge extra, you paint one of the trains very nicely, equip it with a slick-looking viewing car front and back, call it Romance Train and you are in business!… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2014
07.08

SYNOPSIS:  The cult of the emperor — where two of the Tokugawas rest as gods…  About some of the few gaudy Baroque shrines and temples which once littered the Edo landscape.  About the three famous monkeys and an even more famous cat, and a lot about rain…

 

When my camera started to malfunction and to fog up from the inside at about 5 PM in the middle of a forest where I had decided to go for a hike — am I crazy?, I am in a downpour! — I almost got mad.  I had been biting my tongue about being soaked up to my knees, cold and wet to my bones, and aching all over — all in the name of… duty, I guess.  I was here for one day.  If I would not see these sights today, my already tight schedule would fall apart.  I could not afford that.  Nikko was important.  But I definitely could not afford to sacrifice my camera.  Not for anything!… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2014
07.07

SYNOPSIS: A day that started with the usual uneventful transit turned out to become a day that finished with the successful completion of a shipping mission and shopping for woodblock prints.  The beginning of a huge downpour and about meeting two American ladies and drinking a lot of sake.

 

For weeks I had been looking to find any of the famous woodblock prints I most of all associate with Japan.  No luck.  I was surprised how few antique stores I had seen overall and nowhere, not even at that famous Nagoya flea market, had I seen any woodcuts.

I arrived in Nikko in the afternoon; too late to do anything, too early to do nothing.  After shipping the umbrella home — yes, at this tiny post office, the third I tried to get rid of that darn umbrella — there was finally a solution:  custom-made sake boxes!… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2014
07.06

SYNOPSIS:  A day off, doing nothing, almost.  About a hotel and about EON, the Japanese “Walmart” and most of all, about going with the flow.

 

What on earth was I thinking when I booked this hotel?!  Most likely nothing.  It was beyond me how I had managed to book a hotel way the hell on the outskirts of a town which itself was miles away from my next UNESCO site and had nothing to offer that could have been of interest to me.

Picture a Motel Six at any highway exit at any larger US town.  A street lined with gas stations, car dealerships, lumber yards, McDonald’s, fast food restaurants, and hotels, miles from the city center.  That’s where I was!  This is the place you go to when you have a car and get off the highway late at night.  Not the place where you go with a heavy suitcase after you get off a train.… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2014
07.05

SYNOPSIS:  About a UNESCO site which leaves to be desired, and a vision that deserves admiration.  About a golden building from the 12th century.

 

Did somebody have a cousin at the world heritage committee, or what?

OK, I did enjoy my visit of the Chuson-ji in Hiraizumi, the center of the Tendai sect — I don’t want to deny this.  One of the most spectacular architectural gems of all of Japan can be found on this mountain at the end of a path lined with various lackluster halls, including the Chuson-ji itself, smaller temples, shrines, and a belfry:  the Golden Hall, the Konjikido, dating from 1124.  Indeed, it is a structure completely covered in gold, filled with golden statues sitting under a gold-plated canopy.  Everything, aside from the hipped roof is golden or, as the four central beams, inlaid with shells and covered with gold-sprinkled black lacquer.… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2014
07.04

TRANSIT NORTH

SYNOPSIS:  A full day in transit as uneventful as ever.   If you look on the map, I covered more ground than ever coming from Takayama, the middle of the Japanese Alps; going up way north to Ichinoseki in the Tohoku region.  No blog today.  I am taking the day off.  :-)  Enjoy some images about what blooms and crawls in Japan.  VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2014
07.03

SYNOPSIS:  Catch-up day in Takayama.  Meeting Sylvia from Portugal.  About finding the key to paradise.

 

As wonderful as the “grasshopper villages” were, they were too expensive.  At $90 a night and cash only, I had to get out sooner than I would have liked.  I urgently needed a day to catch up writing and working on photos — the first computer mishap was haunting me: my external backup drive was “no longer readable” by my computer.

Reformatting the drive, reloading thousands of pictures from various camera chips, relinking them all with Lightroom and catching up with two days of writing was promising to take a full day.  But if that was all I had to worry about, no big deal.  Just a matter of time.… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2014
07.02

SYNOPSIS:  More about the specific architectural features of the gasso-style farm houses.  In many ways a continuation of yesterday’s blog.

 

One day I spent exploring Ogimachi, but since I had the time, I decided to visit the other two villages in the triad on the next day, even though they were a bit harder to get to.  A convenient World-Heritage bus which ran three times during the day, took me out there alright, but then I was stuck and had to wend my way back via the local bus, which after all was not such a big deal, except that you can’t miss the last one or you are left there.  Nothing goes anywhere after 6 PM…

All three of these villages are nestled in a small valley surrounded by tall mountains.  If you take the time to hike up to a well-marked view point, in each case you will be rewarded with breathtaking looks across the entire village.… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2014
07.01

SYNOPSIS:  About the trinity that makes for the UNESCO grasshopper villages:  Ogimachi, Suganuma and Ainokura.  About language and living in an interdependent community.  About a shrine which offers sacred sake, and about a unique fire drill.

 

Of course they are not called “grasshopper” villages!  But how am I supposed to keep the flood of all these foreign words each day straight in my head?  At the beginning of this trip I had the lofty idea that I would remember a new word in Japanese every day — which would make for a nice 70 words at the end — forget it!  Perhaps, if I were twenty, or one of those language geniuses or if I would not be occupied every day for hours with photos and writing, or if I had a Japanese speaking friend with me, or, or — I don’t know what else, but it ain’t gonna to happen.… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2014
06.30

SYNOPSIS:  About nothing much.  A day in transit.  Nothing going on.  About the ride into the Japanese Alps.

 

I exchanged my 3-tatami cubicle room at the Eco Hotel in the fourth largest town, the shopping capital of neon-lit 21st century Japan, for an 8-tatami room in a traditional thatched farmhouse in the remote village of Ogimachi, which for all practical purposes, had gotten stuck in the 18th century and which has a mere 600 residents.  For a few days I replaced my carton juice, yoghurt, banana, or pre-packed sushi meals, with the home-cooked local cuisine.  The neon lights of Nagoya made room for the stars of the Japanese Alps.  And the annoying advertising trucks which blasted advertisements and sports news across town gave way to the slightly less annoying frogs which trumpet their news across the ponds.    I am not complaining.  :-)

To get here, my limited express train named Haida had to maneuver narrow steel bridges, balance along the edges of mountains and ride along in gorgeous valleys, which an English announcer at one point likened to the Rhine River.  Now there was an unexpected comparison!  For a brief moment it felt indeed like some German landscape.… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2014
06.29

SYNOPSIS:  An ancient tradition of fishing and how it feels to watch it in the modern world as it is exploited as a money-making tourist industry.

 

I have raised this question before, most recently with the rebuilding of Ise, so I apologize if I sound like a broken record: how much nonsensical or barbaric behavior can one justify by either tradition or religion?  It is a question that permeates the 20th and 21st century perhaps more than any time before, as we have set worldwide standards through declarations of human rights, women’s rights, animal rights, prisoners’ rights, etc.

Yet, here and there practices slip through which seem to either go unnoticed, and/or unchallenged; why?  To me the tourist attraction of cormorant fishing which is popular in this region falls into such a category.  I did not know what to expect, but I was curious.  And in general I love the preservation of traditions, so I signed up.… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2014
06.28

SYNOPSIS:  The world of the Meiji Restoration as it presents itself in a vast open-air museum.  From a prison to the doctor’s office; from a sake brewery to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Imperial Hotel (no kidding).

 

There is a lot to be learned (by me) about the Meiji Restoration, a relatively short period dating from 1868 to 1912, which despite its short life, seems to have had far-reaching consequences for Japan.   I have been baffled a bit by the term “restoration”.

So, it wasn’t a revolution, nor a coup, not a reformation either, but a restoration.  From what I understand it was the ruling class, some aristocrats, who restored power back into the emperor’s hands and away from the shogunates, the military class who had ruled Japan for 250 years during the preceding Edo period (1603-1868).  Something does not seem right about this picture.  Some day I will do my research on this.  For now, I come to this history from a very hands-on perspective, judging it purely through the affects it has on the arts.  And for that, the Meiji Mura Open Air Museum in Inuyama seemed perfect.… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2014
06.27

SYNOPSIS:   About a castle which still has a traditional town, and about this town and the cruel and not so cruel traditions it fosters.  Meeting a nice Japanese couple.  A few words about Japanese and the English language.

 

It’s a tiny little dot on the map:  Inuyama, but it’s worth a trip if you have the time.  The castle of Inuyama — yes another castle! — is the oldest in Japan.  That should count for something and it justified my visit.  And it is one of the few castles which still has a town to go with pretty much the same as it had a town at the time of its conception.  That is definitely something that counts.… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2014
06.26

SYNOPSIS:  There are cultural sites in Nagoya, not just shopping — a castle, a garden, a museum, and a famous craft center, but no theater this time of the year.  About Nagoya’s cultural side.

 

By American standards Nagoya is as much a cultural hub as it is a shopping center.  Only by Japanese standards and by the standards of one American teenager does it fall short a bit.  In Okinawa, my first stop after Tokyo, I met an American guy at the hostel who had spent 6 months at Nagoya as an exchange student.  When I asked him what there was to see his answer was: there is really nothing going on there!… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2014
06.25

SYNOPSIS:  About shopping in Japan.  About a train station to behold!

Nagoya is known as the second shopping capital (Tokyo beats it) of Japan.  And when I arrived at the train station of Nagoya I had no doubt.  But I also know myself — shopping the way it’s understood by most:  going to the mall — is not my thing.  I get completely overwhelmed and then cranky and just can’t do it.  I will do my best and work up some courage to perhaps go department store shopping in Tokyo at the very end.  Maybe.

Just to give you an idea of this train station and some of the shopping:  first it is not one but technically six stations combining the hubs for four private train lines, the state-run JR line, and the subway.… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY