Japan 2010

Marilyn and I visited Japan in late March – early April (cherry blossom time). Laurel and Alex, who work and live in Japan were our guides.  It was a fabulous, hectic, two week trip.  The following photos/videos we would like to share with you.

The first morning, we got up early and went to the famous Tokyo fish market.

Tsukiji Fish Market

We then went to breakfast at the fish market.  The place we chose is one  of the sushi restaurants on this little side street. As you can see from the other pictures, it can’t be more than 10 feet wide. We were sitting nearly against the wall.

This is our sushi chef and a menu for a set meal.

After breakfast, we wandered around a little.

A picture by Laurel of the funny little scooters used to move stuff around the market.  They drive like madmen. You have to stay out of their way.

Next is the Tsukiji Suijin Shrine.  It is the patron deity of the market and to protect fishermen.

Looking back at the fish market.

Next, we went looking for a special place on an island which is known for Tsukuda-ni (simmered in the style of Tsukuda). It is seasoned fish or sea vegetables for putting on rice.  Well, it turns out we could see it from our hotel room,  the village across the river on the island of Tsukuda. Beyond is Tokyo bay.  As you can see, the village is surrounded by modern tokyo.

A  stunning nighttime view, courtesy of Laurel.

In Tsukudashima is another shrine, Sumijoshi Jinja ( a shrine to sailors and war of the sea).

One of the Tsukuda-ni shops Laurel was looking for.

Then a look back at our hotel, the one on the left.  The hotel has a lobby on the ground floor but only occupies a few of the top floors.

We then had lunch at a fancy place in which Laurel was interested in eating. It’s called Shunmi (it means spring and summer).

Marilyn thought the Japanese have a unique way to manage umbrellas.

After lunch, we went to the Edo-Tokyo museum.

Spent the night in Nagoya after a shinkansen (bullet train) ride from Tokyo.  This is the area where Marilyn’s grandparents, on her mother’s side, farmed. Marilyn’s Mom lived here before and during the war. Below, is a picture, courtesy of Laurel, of an interesting building in Nagoya.

A short train ride from Nagoya is Tajimi, the ceramic capital.  Besides shops, we visited the shrine Eihoji and a catholic monastery which has vineyards.

An interesting bread store with a wall of toast at varying degrees of burnt.  Pictures courtesy of Laurel.

Lunch was Soba at a local place. Pictures courtesy of Laurel.

Using the shinkansen again, we moved on to Himeji and spent the night.  The main attraction is Himeji-jo which is the most magnificent of the handful of Japanese castles that survive in their original (nonconcrete) form.  The castle was built in 1580.

Below, courtesy of Laurel.

We then went to Okayama to see the Korakuen garden and the Okayama-jo castle.  The Asahi river separates the garden from the castle.  Marilyn’s grandparents, on her dad’s side, lived up the Asahi river.  Her granddad’s family lived 12 kilometers up the river and  her grandmother’s family lived about 40 kilometers up the river.  Marilyn’s dad actually lived in Okayama for awhile before returning to America.

This is a large rock which was too big to transport. So they cut it into pieces and reconstructed it after transport.

Our guide, who only spoke japanese (translated by Laurel), is showing us the high water mark during a flood in 1934.

It was getting late and we had to head for Nara to meet up with Alex.  Took the shinkansen back to Osaka to change trains for Nara.  we had dinner in the Osaka station.  The larger stations are really unbelievable.  Lots of shops and wonderful places to eat.  According to Laurel, Osaka is known for their Okonomiyaki (grilled as you like it).  So she found a place in the station.  Laurel’s foodie webpage is called Okonomiyaki.

The Okonomiyaki is put on a hot surface in front of you.

Here is a brief video of the chefs preparing our Okonomiyaki.

We hooked up with Alex at a real small train station on the north side of Nara. The timing was great. He arrived within minutes of us.  But is was dark. There were no cabs.  So, Laurel went into a bar across the street and called  a cab.  We made it to our hotel.

i thought this was a really nice accommodation.  This is our room.  The bathing facility was in the room.  It was a typical Japanese shower. But also had a great Jacuzzi tub.  Breakfast in the room.  I think it was a western style breakfast with eggs you can’t see.

We began our visit to Nara by seeing Kasuga Taisha, a Shinto shrine established in 768.  It is famous for all the stone lanterns leading up to the shrine.  Also, the deer are protected throughout the parks and shrines in the area.

Here is a lady selling roasted yams, I believe.  Picture courtesy of Laurel.

On our way to Todai-ji temple where the enormous bronze budda recides, you pass through a large gate known as Nandaimon which contains two fierce guardians.  Pictures of the wooden images are courtesy of Alex.

The next few pictures are of the Todai-ji temple.

The Daibutsu-den Hall (which we just saw) is the largest wooden building in the world.  The Daibutsu (Great Buddha) is one of the largest bronze figures in the world and was originally cast in 746.  It consists of 437 tones of bronze and 130 kg of gold. Notice people around the statue to get a perspective of size.

When then wandered by another temple area with a five story pagoda.

Then we headed back towards the Nara Station down this interesting street. This particular picture is courtesy of Laurel/Alex.

We moved from Nara to Kyoto.  The following is from a brochure of the place we stayed for three days.  The public bath was quite nice. We did have bathroom and showers in our room.

We ate out around the corner at what Laurel calls a Japanese pub.  This is a good sake pore.

Breakfast the next morning.

Our first stop was the Rokuon-ji temple, also known as the golden pavilion.

Even the rain gutter is golden

The nest stop was the textile center.  It was quite interesting. There were a number of artisans hand-painting silk, weaving, etc.

Laurel, our guide, wanted to visit a particular artisan shop.  After a couple of tries, we found it.  It is called Aizenkobo Indigo Dyers Workshop.  The workshop and family residence is over 120 years old. It is a traditional Japanese home.  The showrooms were  in the house and required us to remove our shoes.

Shibori - fabrics tied before dyeing

We then went to a wagashi ( Japanese sweets) shop.  Laurel thinks it’s old and rather famous.  Those who read japanese, can find the name on the brochure.  We watched another artisan make our treats.

We then went to Honda Miso, a famous Kyoto miso shop that is more than 100 years old.

Futon bedding laid out at our Ryokan

Ginkaku-ji  (the silver pavilion). It is considered one of Japan’s most beautiful pavilions and gardens.

street leading up to the Pavilion

Cherry blossoms along a canal

Next we visited Kiyomizu-dera temple complex.

Here is a short video of Marilyn and Laurel drinking at the Otowa waterfall.  There are three seperate streams , each has a different benefit – longevity, success at school, and a fortunate love life. One shouldn’t drink from all three.  I don’t know which they drank from.

Back to town

Our tatami room

We then visited the Nishiki Market. Visit the link.  It gives a good background for the pictures to follow.

Also, in the area of the market we passed this interesting machine making some variety of Manju, a Japanese confection.

The next shrine we visited was Yasaka-jinja.  According to the travel guide, it is considered the guardian shrine of neighbouring Gion. Gion is an entertainment and geisha district.

It is the tradition, during cherry blossom time, to bring your beer and bento box lunch and sit under the cherry trees.  Well, it was rainy that day so tarps were placed under the trees for the people.

other limbs to be admired

A food vendor at the shrine

Laurel got us tickets to Miyako Odori, a dance performance which marks the beginning of spring.

The performance was preceded by a mass tea service.

We then headed to Takayama, which is in the so-called Japan alps.  We stayed two nights at a Minshuku    ( Japanese style bed and breakfast).

We took a bus ride to the Shirakawago region, and the Ogimachi village.  The village is a living village which shows off the Gassho-zukuri style farmhouses, traditional buildings with steeply sloped roofs.

Typical vending machines at bus station

Slats in the ceiling above the cooking area allowed heat to rise to the floors above.

Upper floors, of this exhibit home, showed off farm tools, etc.

view of the village from a vantage point

There is also an outdoor museum of structures transported to this location, depicting a variety of old farm buildings.

toilet building

Returning to Takayama, we wandered around an interesting business district preserved in the old style of buildings.

They like their Sake in Takayama. This a Sake distillery.

This is our dinner layout. I think it features the local beef for which the area is known.

Marilyn in a traditional coat

Our western style breakfast, an egg and salad.  We had a choice of traditional or western.

Marilyn using the family computer.

We then went to the morning market, along the river, some more sight seeing and then headed out of the mountains toward Hakone.  A long train ride from Takayama to Nagoya where we caught a shinkansen to Odawara. We then used local transportation to get us to our destination.

A doll collection in another traditional home

The shinkansen from Nagoya, heading back towards Tokyo, passes by Mt. Fuji.  The train is at sea level, very close to the ocean and Fuji is right there.  It was clear enough to see the mountain from the train.  It was an overwhelming view, filling the whole window.  My camera wasn’t close. So I missed getting a picture.  Here is a borrowed picture from the web.

In the Hakone area we stayed at a nice onsen which had three private baths.  No public baths to deal with.  Probably a plus for couples up for the weekend from Tokyo.  Hakone was a little touristy.

The lake we were on is called Ashinoko.

Hakone Jinja Shrine

For lunch, a “hot dog” at a deli in Hakone.

We came into the area on a bus.  We left the area via a ropeway, tram and trains.

We came to Hakone hoping to view Mt. Fuji. As you can see, overcast.  According to Alex, this is typical.

Along the ropeway, you can stop and see a volcanic area.  Laurel purchased eggs which were boiled in the pool.  They come out black.

We continued on to Tokyo.  Alex went  home that evening to save a vacation day.  The next morning we shopped around Tokyo. Then we had a great lunch of Tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlet), at a restaurant called Katsukura, on the 14th floor of a big department store near a major train station.

This is a picture of our dish, courtesy of Laurel.

Lunch over. We are heading home.  Recapping the trip, you can follow our stops on this map.  We mostly took the shinkansen west.  Tokyo – Nagoya.  Side trip to Tajimi.  On to Himeji (just west of Kobe).  Okayama, our furthest west stop.  Backtracking to Osaka and Nara. On to Kyoto.  Kyoto – Nagoya- Takayama. Heading home – Takayama – Nagoya – odawara – Hakone – Tokyo.

Well, that is about all the pictures I have. Unfortunately, I didn’t take any pictures of the most interesting part of the trip, namely, trains and train stations, etc.  Oh well.

For your viewing pleasure  —  a shinkansen.

The End

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One Comment on “Japan 2010”

  1. Maggie Birdsong Says:

    Wow, you all must have had an awesome trip. The pictures were absolutely gorgeous. I have always heard that Japan was a beautiful country, and these pics prove it true. Tell me again who Laurel and Alex are. Alex looks like you and Laurel looks like Marilyn. Bobby says you look good, and I second his comment. How cold was it when you went — I notice you are usually wearing jackets. I know you must have had a wonderful trip and I thank you for sharing. Have a great summer.

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