Category: Japan

J2K1 – Himeji area

JAPAN, OCTOBER 1-17, 2001

After Tokyo, we hopped on the shinkansen (the bullet train) again and made our way to Himeji.  One of our purposes for stopping here was to visit the famous castle.  Another was for a matsuri, or festival.

I remember that we arrived, checked into our ryokan-style hotel, and went looking for dinner.  Most everything was closed, but we found this tiny little gyoza shop in a shopping arcade. (Or maybe it was just a shopping street, I can’t remember now.)  There was room for maybe 10 people inside and they sold beer and gyoza. Perfect!  I remember those being the best gyoza I’d had.  I still remember them to this day.  No photos, sadly, just memories.

A photo of Himeji Castle as seen from the JR train station.

A closer view.  It is an amazing building to explore.  Like most restored historic buildings in Japan, you remove your shoes while inside.  Everything is made of wood, and the “steps” from one level to another are steep ladders.  In stockinged feet as a tall person, it makes for added fun.  🙂

One of the interior hallways in the castle complex; I believe this was in one of the outer wall areas.  This remains one of my favorite photos that I’ve ever taken.  Look at all of that beautiful wood!

A view from the castle, looking out over the city of Himeji.

The next day we headed to a festival that we had heard about, the Kenka Matsuri, or fighting festival.  Like most festivals, there are portable shrines (mikoshi) that are paraded around.  Here is one mikoshi about to head out.

Unlike most festivals, however, the mikoshi are paraded to an arena where they are then bashed and smashed into each other.

This is as far as we made it into the arena, which was packed with onlookers.  Watching these huge mikoshi smash into each other, accompanied by shouts and cries from supporters of each group, was intense.

It was an amazing last adventure before we flew home a couple of days later.

I knew very little about Japan before this trip, and it challenged many of my assumptions.  While the Japanese people are generally quiet and reserved, they are also boisterous and outgoing.  While in many cities space was at a premium and rooms were tiny, I also had experienced buildings and works of art that were so immense that it boggled my mind.  Old and new live side-by-side everyday.  It’s a beautiful tension.

J2K1 – Tokyo, take 2

JAPAN, OCTOBER 1-17, 2001

After Hiroshima, we went back to Tokyo for more sightseeing and shopping.  That was the “fun” of traveling before internet reservations, your itinerary was probably a little less streamlined that it would be today.

Our ryokan was in Nippori, way back before it was the tourist hot spot that it is today.  In fact, I don’t think we even saw Yanaka Ginza or the touristy areas.  When we exited, we went out the wrong side and ended up in a reddish light district.  A very nice lady of the evening helped steer us to the correct place.  The ryokan had seen better days, but was traditionally Japanese, which is what we prefer when we travel there. Here is the toilet attached to our room.  I believe we also had a bath room (ofuro), which houses the shower and bath only.  This double-decker style Japanese toilet is hard to find nowadays, as washrooms are updated for tourists, so I’m glad I have some photos of the real things.

On our walk from Ueno Station to Asakusa to see the Kaminarimon we happened upon the entrance to Kappabashidori, which is the street where you can get any and all provisions for starting/running a restaurant, from stoves and knives, to fake food and dishes.  It’s pretty amazing.  Many places have a minimum purchase (e.g. must by at least 5 rice bowls), but fake food and nice chopsticks make lovely souvenirs. I adore these little tea cup balconies.  As far as I know, they are still there.

As is the Niimi chef, sitting atop one of the buildings.  Love this guy!

Eventually we ended up at our destination, Kaminarimon and Sensoji.  We thought it was busy then.  Ha!  It’s nothing to how crowded it is nowadays.

And a view down nakamisedori, a shopping street that runs from Kaminarimon to Sensoji.  Yes, it used to be covered.

A view of the Sensoji complex, with a few of the hundreds of pigeons I remember.  Nowadays the pigeons have been replaced by tourists.  I think I preferred the pigeons.

One day we split up, our traveling companions went their own way and Cloyce and I headed to Odaiba, the man-made island in the middle of Tokyo Bay.  We rode the yurikamome line across the Rainbow Bridge and exited at the giant mall.  We were a little early and nothing was open, so we wandered around.  Imagine our surprise to find a model of the Statue of Liberty,

Cloyce, chicken, and Rainbow Bridge.  We are fans of the anime Patlabor, so I think that figured into wanting to ride across teh Rainbow Bridge.  🙂

Lady Liberty and bridge.

There was lots of construction along the yurikamome at that time.  I’m pretty sure that this is what is now Shiodome.

After Odaiba, Cloyce and I took the train to Hamamatsucho, to go see Tokyo Tower.  While I don’t have photos, one of my most vivid memories from that trip happened at Hamamatsucho Station.  Cloyce and I exited onto the platform and saw two people bending over a man who was lying on the station platform, with a little pool of blood around his head.  We have no idea of what happened, but it must have just happened, as the ambulance pulled up to the station right as we exited. We were a little shaken by the whole thing, but on we went to Tokyo Tower.

A view from the underneath.  It’s very difficult to photograph properly once you are actually there.

We purchased tickets to both observation decks and up we went. Even with hazy skies, the views are amazing.  Tokyo as far as the eye can see. We were living in Austin, Texas, at the time, so the endless sea of buildings was mind-boggling to me.

A view towards Odaiba, where we had spent the morning.

One of the floors at Tokyo Tower offered refreshments and amusements, including this coin-op pandas.  They were so cool!  And the ride lasted forever!  There were two older ladies in the background who were very highly amused by Cloyce riding the panda.  They even moved closer to see what he was doing.

J2K1 – Hiroshima & Miyajima

JAPAN, OCTOBER 1-17, 2001

I remember that we arrived at Hiroshima at night; we found our ryokan and explored.  I have lots of blurry, barely recognizable photos of the Hiroshima Peace Park from that first night, but won’t bother with them here.

The next day we used our rail passes to travel by train and boat over to Miyajima, to see the famous torii.  And deer.

We got a few good shots of Cloyce’s rubber chicken with the torii.

The famous torii of Itsukushima Jinja.

Miyajima is also known for its rice paddles (shakushi); here is the world’s largest one on display along one of the streets of the village.

Miyajima is also known for oysters;  I left the sampling to Cloyce. Freshly grilled and eaten on the street.

Back to Hiroshima and off we went in search of Okonomimura, three floors of Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki restaurants in one building.  In other words, heaven.  Though I didn’t know it at the time.  The food was all new to me, but Hiroshima-style became (and still is) my favorite style of okonomiyaki.

After dinner, I remember we got lost on our walk back to our ryokan. We accidentally wandered into the red-light district and, at one point, came across a tinted black Mercedes with two tough-looking dudes in black suits and sunglasses standing guard.  We walked quickly and quietly away and took refuge in a nearby game center.  Our first yakuza (gangster) sighting.  Whee!

The next morning we headed to the Hiroshima Peace Park and Museum.  Photos cannot do justice to the haunting beauty of this place. I believe that anyone who travels to Japan must visit this place, to have a better sense of the horrors of nuclear weaponry.  It still moves me when I think about it.

Thousands upon thousands of peace cranes are donated every year by people from around the world. These are just some of the ones that were on display.  It’s quite overwhelming to witness.

Another view of the A-Bomb Dome.

A view of the Peace Flame looking back toward the Peace Museum. The flame will burn until all nuclear weapons are eliminated from the earth.

A last view of the A-Bomb Dome.

J2K1 – The Kyoto area

Japan, October 1-17, 2001
Kyoto, Uji, & Nara

Kyoto.  What can you say about Kyoto?  Completely different from Tokyo, but even more amazing and historic.  No matter how many times we go, we have to stop in Kyoto.  There is always something new to discover, or an old favorite to revisit.  If Tokyo is the heart of Japan, Kyoto is its soul.

There used to be a Tezuka World at Kyoto Station.  Sadly, we never did visit it.

A Roy Lichtenstein-esque ad or digital art next to one of the escalators at Kyoto Station.

View from the top of one of the escalators.  I’d never been on one quite so tall before.  So shiny and modern, just like Kyoto Station.

A post box in Uji, a town just outside of Kyoto.

Byodo-in in Uji.  Absolutely beautiful, and my photos do it no justice at all.

Sleeping dog, Uji. 🙂

And not far from Uji is Fushimi Inari Taisha, which as become one of our favorite shrines to visit.  Also the first (and only) time I’ve knowingly eaten sparrow.  It’s a specialty at the shrine, as sparrows are considered a pest as they eat the rice from the fields.  And we all know that rice is Inari-sama’s (the fox guardian deity) favorite food.

A building named Luminous Nose.

And this sign in a back street in Kyoto.  There was no place around named Noise, so we were baffled.  And amused.

Kiyomizu-dera, in Kyoto.  Fantastic views of the city and an amazing temple.  It is always packed.

We also visited the Daibutsu in Nara.  On Sports’ Day, as it happened.  One of those holidays that we didn’t think would be a holiday, but actually is.  So the place was packed.  It’s hard to convey just how massive this building is.  It is the largest wooden building in Japan, if not the world.  The tiny little dots in the photo are normal-sized people.

The lighting inside was dim, at best, so I have few decent photos of the Buddha itself.  Again, it doesn’t look that impressive from these photos.

For scale, the hole (below) that this child has crawled through is the same size as the nostril on the Buddha.  Crawling through the hole is said to bring good luck.

J2K1 – Kamakura & Nagoya

Japan, October 1-17, 2001
Kamakura & Nagoya

Having studied Art History as an undergraduate, I was determined to visit some of the major historical sites on my first visit.  Luckily, the Daibutsu at Kamakura is a quick day-trip from Tokyo.

Beautiful workmanship.  The Buddha used to be housed inside, but the building washed away in a tsunami at one point, several hundred years ago.

The Buddha’s back.  We wondered at the windows.

For 20 yen per person, you could climb into the Buddha.

Our ryokan (Japanese inn) in Nagoya; six mat size for sleeping the four of us.  And nice baths.

Our primary objective in staying in Nagoya was a visit to the Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology (TCMIT).  Toyota started as a weaving company, then expanded into automobiles.  This is an AMAZING museum to visit; most all of the machines still work.  Below, a circular loom in the lobby.  Giant tubes of fabric!  So very cool.

Some of the hood ornament details from the early Toyota autos.