Some observations from travels

Archive for May, 2013

Weekly Photo Challenge: In The Background

For this week’s Photo Challenge we are asked to show a photo of us in the background.  This is one challenge I get stuck with when taking photos of things on or with glass, mirrors or anything shiny – staying away from view!  Sometimes I don’t notice it until I am cleaning up my photos.  Here are some I have of myself in the foreground or background.



DSC_0012I the last photo, when I was taking photos of these information stands (in stainless steel) and looked quickly at my photo, I noticed dark lines in the middle and thought where did they come from?  I really need to wear my reading glasses more…


12 Chapter of Nagoya Tour: Chapter 9 – Course Featuring the Townscape of Arimatsu and the Battle of Okehazama

Welcome back everyone.  We are now in Chapter 9 (getting there) and learning a lot more about the history of Nagoya and Japan as I go through these 12 Chapters each week.  This week’s chapter features an important historical area of Nagoya.  Arimatsu is a small town that has a well-preserved Edo Period buildings and houses as well as a park that was the site of the Battle of Okehazama – an important battle where Oda Nobunaga (a hero in these chapters) defeated Imagawa Yoshimoto (one of the villains in these chapters) and henceforth united Japan in the 16th century.

I didn’t realise the importance of this chapter in Japan’s history until I found the historical park and read the wall where the brief history of the battle was written.  I hope you’re as excited as I was…Let’s go for a stroll.

1.  Townscape of Arimatsu.  Designated as townscape preservation district of Nagoya.  Now, this is a townscape!  Traditionally a lodging village along the Tokaido highway during the Edo period.  From the Atimatsu station it is only a matter of stepping out and down to the street level.  You then walk into ancient Edo period.  The street around the station is lined with buildings and houses, very well-preserved, it made you feel you were in 17th and 19th century Japan.


2.  Arimatsu Narumi Tie-Dyeing Museum.  One of the traditional crafts of Japan, the Arimatsu Tie-Dyeing contributes for the majority of all tie-dyeing produced in Japan with over 100 dyeing techniques.  All over the town of Arimatsu you will see items that have been tie-dyed and they are beautiful.  The museum holds showing and lesson for the craft, unfortunately, it was in Japanese.  The museum has a boutique on the first level where one can buy a variety of tie-dyed items.


3.  Okehazama Historic Battlefield Park.  In 1560 approximately 2000 soldiers led by Nobunaga defeated Yoshimoto and his forces of 25,000 took place here.  It is believed that this park was where Yoshimoto took his last stand.  After winning the battle Nobunaga initiated the reunification of Japan as one nation.


4.  Chofuku-ji Temple.  This temple retains a wooden statue of Yoshimoto and believed to have supplied sake and food to his forces during the battle of Okehazama.  There isn’t much information about the shrine other than what was stated in the tour guide.  The temple itself is small and very conservative.


5.  Okehazama Shinmeisha Shrine.  Known in the past as Okehazama village.  Prior to the battle of Okehazama Yoshimoto’s retainer Sena Ujitoshi with around 200 warriors came to pray for victory, donating barrels of sake.  These barrels are said to still remain within the shrine.  It is believed that over 1000 defeated warriors fled here and lived a life of seclusion, who then established this shrine.


This course was quite easy to follow, even with the combination of train, walking and bus modes to get to each point of interest.  The town itself was beautiful.

If you haven’t seen the previous chapters and would like to, here they are:

Chapter 1: Nagoya Castle Course

Chapter 2: Course covering region of the Owari Tokugawa family and the Cultural Path

Chapter 3: Oda Nobunaga “Owari’s Foolhardy Youth” Course

Chapter 4: Course Covering the Birthplace of Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Kato Kiyomasa

Chapter 5: Course for Experiencing Nagoya Manufacturing

Chapter 6: Nagoya Stroll Course

Chapter 7: Funtown Osu Course

Chapter 8: Atsuta History Course

Heres hoping everyone have a safe and fun week.  See you next time.

A Word a Week Challenge – Face




DSC_0265These are stone sculptures with images of babies commonly seen around buddhist temples.  Jizō statues are popular in Japan as they believe that it can alleviate the suffering of both the living and those who have died.  Jizō are also honoured by modern buddhist believers in Japan as the protector of the unborn, miscarried, still-born and aborted babies.

I have seen many of these statues but these photos were from a recent visit to a temple in Osaka.  I liked these statues as the faces of the Jizō are more expressive and serene.  And my favourite is the first photos where it showed both mother and baby, which I haven’t seen before.

Don’t forget to drop by A Word in Your Ear for more of this week’s A Word a Week Challenge.

“Nara is a Treasure House of Ancient History and Culture…”

This was a quote taken from Nara City’s sightseeing guide brochure.  Nara City is a highly recommended site to visit – for the great buddha as well as the relaxed atmosphere of the city.  And it did not fail.  Not only was this city another former capital of Japan, this small city is packed with history, ancient architecture, world heritage listed buildings and lots of deers!

Once again, I started my day visiting the Nara City Tourist Info Centre next to the Jr Nara Station.  The lady who welcomed me, as I walked into the office, with a beaming smile on her face! What a great start to my day! She gave me a walking map and told me that a special Japanese show was happening at a certain time.  Lovely lady.  I believe they are volunteer staff, so it meant more being cordially welcomed to their city.  A short walk or bus ride from the Nara Station is the Nara park then all around and within the park is the Nara National Museum and other museums as well as numerous temples and shrines.

Still brooding from the missed major ‘to-see’ places in Kyoto, I aimed to go straight to the main place to see in Nara, so first up – Todaiji Temple.  A world heritage site, Todaiji Temple is most famous for the world’s largest bronze buddha – Daibutsu-san, the great buddha.  The original temple was established in the 8th century, burned down by fires during the war and rebuilt in 1709 to a scaled-down size of two-thirds of its original size.

I liked the architecture of this temple, although I worry about the preservation (or the lack of) effort on the Daibutsuden Hall, as it is all made of timber which is very much exposed to natural air.  Although I am not an expert on maintenance of these structures I wonder how much longer they would stand time and aging.


Exiting from the side of Todai-ji Temple is a pathway to Tamukeyama Hachimangu Shrine.  I do not know much about this shrine aside from the fact that it was originally built in the 8th century for the purpose of protecting Todai-ji Temple.  The original building was burnt down in 1180 and rebuilt to the current building around 1250.  Tamukeyama Hachimangu Shrine was separated from Todai-ji Temple around the Meiji Period (1868-1912) due separation of buddhism and shintoism.  It’s a smaller shrine compared to Todai-ji Temple and had an interesting Ema wishing cards.


Walking further east on the Nara Park my next stop was the Kasuga Taisha Shrine, another world heritage site.  This shrine is famous for over 2000 stone shrines as well as a thousand hanging bronze lanterns.  Established in the 8th century and has been restored many times.  The shrine is beautifully located within a lush forest, rich vermilion-coloured shrine with cypress-bark roof.  I absolutely love the hanging lanterns!  When I visited the Japanese wisteria was in season.  This type of wisteria is special for its long bunches of flowers known to touch the ground.  The wisteria in the shrine are believed to go way back since the 8th century.

The shrine spreads out a large area including prayer halls, treasure hall, a botanical garden, a traditional tea house and more.


By this time I was famished and searching for something to eat!  I stopped by ‘Nanaijaya’ a traditional tea room along the walk from Kasuga Taisha for some tea and 0mochi.  Then is was time to walk back down towards the Nara station for more interesting places to check nearby.  The next temple on the map was the Kofukuji Temple, which I thought would be closed for renovations.  Instead they just had some temporary office to accommodate worshipers to buy their wishing cards, sign personalised renovation tiles and other auxiliary roles.  The world heritage buildings, including a five-story pagoda – a symbol of Nara, was still open for visitors.

This temple was established in the 7th century, burnt down five times! and reconstructed in 1426.  The buildings are wooden and beautiful, albeit some scaffolding in certain areas with one of the main buildings fully covered.  But I didn’t let that dampen my visit.


The Kofukuji Temple is right next to a shopping centre along the Sanjodori street.  Crossing that main street I found myself in Naramachi.  Naramachi is an old merchant’s district with old buildings still used as shops or houses.  It’s very nice to walk along the narrow streets and every turn promises something old and new.


A few streets within the Naramachi area is another world heritage Gangoji Temple.  Gangoji Temple was established in the 6th century as the first buddhist temple in Japan.  This temple is proudly part of the Seven Great Temples of Nara.  The official website for Gango-ji has extensive details about their philosophy and its institute for research of cultural property.

I liked this temple for its architecture and uncommon buildings in the property.  The staff was very friendly and welcoming of tourists.  I can understand that these are religious buildings and sometimes tourists, like myself, come poking in with our cameras may be disrespectful.  It is a lot harder when the guidelines are written in Japanese, and the lack of understanding of the language, could be inconvenient when some places are restricted.


As any day trips go, a day is too short to fully experience the city.  Nara is a beautiful city with is well-preserved world heritage sites mingling alongside some attempt to modernise.  It was small enough to walk around but not restricting for those who might have other touristy interests.  I prefer the old buildings especially temples and I wouldn’t mind going for another visit to finish the western side of the city.

The Ancient Capital of Kyoto

Kyoto was the former capital of Japan for over 1000 years yet even until today it remains as the country’s cultural centre and very much loved by visitors both locally and from around the world.  It truly is a magical place.  Unfortunately for me, I only had a short day to visit, but definitely not the last one – I will be back for more.

Following the weekend at Tateyama Alpine Route, next on my agenda was the ancient capital of Kyoto!  It is a super express ride from Nagoya and quite easy to get around.  From the time I stepped out of the train, the atmosphere around the Kyoto Station was welcoming.  With the Kyoto city tourism right within a few steps from the central exit I felt comfortable tackling the day tour already.  The ladies at the counter were helpful, spoke very good english and knew what was going on as we spoke.

As it was the golden week many places were closed due to the many public holidays happening that week.  So I thought I will start with some world heritage sites.  First up was Sanjusangen-do Temple.  This was second top on my list of places to see (first on the list was the Imperial Palace) for its collection of 1001 Sanju-Kannon statues of buddhist deity.  What I failed to read even at the back of my entry ticket was there was a very strict rule on ‘no photos’ inside the hall.  I was speechless! as this was the main reason I visited this place! But, I moved on and enjoyed the Kannons and planted them in my memory.  There are photos on-line and books about them as well.  Nevertheless, outside the temple was as beautiful as the ancient Kannons.

The original temple was built around 1164 but lost in fire then reconstructed in 1266 and has remained unchanged for 700 years.  It has since had four great renovations since.  It is also known for its 120 metres long temple hall made in the Wayo or Japanese style architecture.  The name Sanjusangen-do derived from its famous thirty-three spaces between the columns.


There are literally over a thousand temples and shrines in Kyoto.  I managed to visit a couple smaller once within the vicinity of Sanjusangen-do temple before I made it to another UNESCO world cultural heritage listed building – Kiyomizu-dera.  This temple was more tourist friendly which allowed photos, except from the private garden, where you can sit down and enjoy with only your memory.

Kiyomizu Temple is set atop a hill along the Otowa Mountain.  Built in 778 which, unfortunately, was also burnt down by fires then rebuilt during the Edo Period between 1631-33.  The temple is beautiful with the Kiyomizu stage built high on 12 metre pillars and boasts a great view of the city.  The landscaped garden all around the temple is so pleasant to walk around (even when crowded) as there are splashes of colour everywhere.


From Kiyomizu temple the walk down beautiful Higashiyama District where you find souvenir shops, cafes, restaurants or just people watching is another experience.


There are many interesting sight to see on the eastern side of Kyoto also known as Higashiyama Dirstrict, but it is a vast area to cover.  I missed out on Nijo Castle and the Kyoto Imperial Palace.  Instead I chose to visit Rokuon-ji Temple more famously known as Kinkaku-ji (The Golden Pavilion.)  The golden pavilion is a shariden, a buddhist hall containing relics of buddha.  The garden and buildings are believed to represent the pure land of buddha in this world (albeit the crowd) and it was crowded.  The design is quite tourist-efficient, though, as everyone can just walk through a path and see all the important features of the temple, without overcrowding in one area.

The garden around the pavilion is a National Special Historic Site and Special Place of Scenic Beauty where one should enjoy strolling around.  For such a popular tourist attraction, this might be a bit challenging to accomplish, as it seemed always crowded.


The rain stopped and the clouds were clearing, but it was also getting late and museums and temples were closing.  Instead of going to Gion District, which I really wanted not only to visit but experience, I chose to make a final dash over to Heian Jingu Shrine.  Considered as the replica of the Kyoto Imperial Palace, Heian Jingu is an important cultural property of Japan.  A young temple, compared to other temples in Kyoto, at only over a hundred years old – 1895, was burned down in 1976 and rebuilt using moneys collected from donations to what is now the current structure.


And that concluded my day in Kyoto, but only for now, I will definitely visit Kyoto again especially as I want to experience the culture in Gion District.  I hope you enjoyed the photo tour with me.  Up next is Nara also a former capital of Japan.

12 Chapters of Nagoya Tour: Chapter 8 – Atsuta History Course

Welcome back.  We move on to Chapter 8: Atsuta History Course.  Atsuta Shrine is considered one of the most venerable shrines in Japan  second to Ise Grand Shrine or simply called ‘Jingu’ meaning The Shrine.  This chapter’s course will introduce us not only to Atsuta Shrine and its treasures but some history around its property.  So join me for a bit of a stroll around Atsuta.

1.  Atsuta Jingu (Main Shrine).  I have visited this shrine more than any other shrines in Nagoya.  I am not a shinto believer but do not mind experiencing the many events celebrated in this beautiful temple.  Previous visits included last Christmas day when they replaced the shimenawa and in Chapter 3 of the Nagoya Tour which I have written about.  The other times I have visited were for other reasons but every time it seemed I discover something new about the shrine.

For this chapter I timed to visit Atsuta when they had a special dance festival on the first of May.  The Bugaku Shinji is a ceremonial dance performed with ancient court music since the tenth century during the Heian era.  Present day celebrations are just reminders of the bygone monarchy days of Nagoya.


2.  Atsuta Jungu (Treasure Museum).  Since 1966 the museum collection exceeds 6000 items, of which 95 precious items are designated as national treasures of Nagoya.  The items were donated by people from the imperial families to general philanthropists, including a large number of swords.


3.  Saidanbashi Bridge (Birthplace of Dodoitsu).  This small bridge was a scene of a farewell between a mother and her son on his way to the battle of Odawara, led by Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1590.  The young man, unfortunately, died during his military service wherein the mother replaced it as a memorial for her lost son.  The original ornamental cap on the post was engraved with a touching inscription of the mother’s love and is now kept in the Nagoya City museum.  Dodoitsu, a Japanese poetry and a famous ballad played with a three-stringed Japanese instrument-shamisen apparently originated here.   The area later on flourished as a literary centre.


4.  Miya No Watashi Park.  This park was the former site of a ferry crossing along the only sea route on the Tokaido Highway.  Known as Shichiri no Watashi, a Japanese phrase which means crossing on seven ri, which translates to 27 kilometres in current measurement.  The stone night light marked the departure and arrival of night ferries.


5.  Shirotori Garden.  This is a beautiful Japanese garden with a theme called ‘a watery story’ to represent the geographical features of the Chubu region.  Established in 1991 and spreads through 3.7 hectares.  I have visited this garden numerous times as well but never tire of its changing beauty.  I have written about previous visits here and here.  So for this post I would like to show the garden during different colours.


6.  Hoji-ji Temple, Shiratori Tomb.  The shrine was built as a small local shrine where Kobo Daishi worshiped Yamatotakeru-no-Mikoto and protects the treasure of Shiratori Tomb, believed to be the tomb of Yamatotakeru.


7.  Danpusan Tomb.  Danpusan means ‘to be without a husband’ as a reference to Mizuhime, wife of Prince Yamato Takeru, was known for not re-marrying after Takeru died.  This is one of the legends behind this burial mound which has not been excavated.  Known as the largest key-hole shaped mound, whoever was buried there must have been an important figure in history.


8.  Seigan-ji Temple (Birthplace of Minamoto-no Yoritomo).  The shrine contains a stone monument as a birthplace of Minamoto-no Yoritomo in 1147, the founder of the Kamakura Shogunate, a Japanese feudal military government.  He was the third son of Minamoto-no Yoshitomo, the head of the Minamoto clan, a general during the Heian Period of the Japanese history.


This course was a rather interesting walking tour as it contained a number of historical facts that I would never have known just by visiting the shrine.  I hope you enjoyed that as much as I have.

If you would like to trace previous chapters, here they are:

Chapter 1: Nagoya Castle Course

Chapter 2: Course covering region of the Owari Tokugawa family and the Cultural Path

Chapter 3: Oda Nobunaga “Owari’s Foolhardy Youth” Course

Chapter 4: Course Covering the Birthplace of Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Kato Kiyomasa

Chapter 5: Course for Experiencing Nagoya Manufacturing

Chapter 6: Nagoya Stroll Course

Chapter 7: Funtown Osu Course

Weekly Photo Challenge: Pattern

Patterns in any form are very interesting.  Some tend to be quite pedantic in nature and others are purely aesthetic.  Both are equally beautiful.  This week’s Photo Challenge is Patterns.

For this challenge, I thought I would show you some photos I have of various Emas.  Ema is a wooden plaque where Shinto worshipers write down their wish and hang at the temple for the spirits or gods of the temple to receive them.  Here are some of them and hope you like it.













Travel Theme: Beaches

I love beaches and I love that Where’s My Backpack chose this for this week’s Travel Theme.






Spring? Is it?

It was the the start of the golden week here in Japan.  Golden week is named so as there are numerous public holidays that fall within the same week and some workplaces, such as mine, take the whole week off.  Unluckily for my hubby he had the usual work week.  But that didn’t stop us from having fun on his consecutive days off (that I never get) and booked ourselves a (Japanese) tour to Tateyama Alpine Route where we could still enjoy a winter wonderland in the form of the Murodo Snow Wall.

I know some of you real adventurers out there might think, “umm, tour group? maybe not.” But we had no clue how to get there and the trip sounded easy with english guide provided.  This part was a bit hilarious, the tour guide sounded like she was on a bilingual tv channel.  She spoke Japanese on PA, then gestured for our instructions to follow.  The trip started early in the morning and involved a lot of waiting and queuing.

From the Nagoya station where the tour kicked off we drove for a couple hours to our first toilet stop, and this was one thing I loved about the tour – generous toilet stops along the way! (It must have been put up by a lady tour planner)  The first town was Unazuki where we hopped on an old style Kurobe Gorge train.


The train was an open type train and the view from the turn-around ride gave us an outlook of what the rest of the trip was about.  Then we went off to Hakuba Onsen Village where we stayed for the night.  Based on the tourism website the village came to life since the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano.  The village hosted many of the athletes as it offered a number of winter sports actions.


The next morning we started with a Japanese style big breakfast and off to more bus and trolleybus rides to get to walk on the Kurobe Dam.


Next stop was a quick visit to Daikanbo Station via a ropeway ride up the mountain.  This was our first touch of the winter wonderland of Tateyama.


Then onto our final trolley bus ride for the Murodo Snow Wall.  I must say, after all the rides and waiting to get here…it was worth it all!


I couldn’t help myself touching the wall, it was such a amazing experience for me! Growing up in a tropical country where the weather was either sunny or rainy then seeing a snow wall like this was beyond words.  The rest of the trip was just a blur compared to the experience of walking through this wall!

I highly recommend a trip to the Tateyama Alpine Route.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Culture

This contribution is a bit late for last week’s Photo Challenge.  But, nevertheless, I would like to share this bit of cultural experience I had last week from Toyokawa, Japan.

Toyokawa Inari Shrine Spring Festival

Toyokawa Inari Shrine Spring Festival

These worshipers, mostly men, and a lady which can be seen here in peach dress, help lift this shrine placed on a deck of (heavy-looking) timber from the main shrine and around the temple grounds.  Stopping is main halls and lifting it at least three times.  The great spring festival is for harvest prayer.  Around Japan many spring festivals are celebrated for fertility and harvest.  Last year I also witnessed another Matsuri for fertility during spring time.