A Travellerspoint blog


Japan 2008.


The Temple, Narita.

On one of our visits to Japan, we spent our last night in the Holiday Inn Hotel near Narita Airport. We arrived late, so just enjoyed the hotel facilities when we arrived, but next day we were able to get a late check out and decided to take the hotel's free transport into Narita and visit the famous Naritasan Temple.

The town of Narita is very pretty. As you walk from the station to the temple, you will pass many lovely wooden buildings housing restaurants and shops. The temple itself is extremely beautiful and well worth visiting. On its grounds there is also a park. Our map issued by our hotel was quite deceptive. The hotel's location was not on the same scale as the rest of the map. After visiting the temple, we tried to walk back to the hotel. In the end we had to take a taxi as the walk was endless and we feared missing our flight.

Naritasan Shinshoji Temple is a Buddhist temple. It was built in 940. Its most sacred treasure is a statue of the Buddhist Fudo Myoo deity, one of the five kings of wisdom. This statue was carved by Kobo Daishi, a learned monk who founded the Shingon or True Word Sect of Buddhism. You enter the temple through a large gateway. There are ponds with turtles and stone tablets on either side of the stairs leading up to the temple buildings. Temple buildings include the great pagoda of peace, Shotoku Taishi Hall and a three storied pagoda.

My husband at the temple.

Naritasan Shinshoji Temple.

Naritasan Shinshoji Temple.

Naritasan Shinshoji Temple.

Naritasan Shinshoji Temple.

As well as the temple, the town of Narita is interesting in itself. Omotesando is a picturesque street stretching from Narita's railway stations to the Naritsan Temple. This street is lined with wooden buildings, housing shops and restaurants. For centuries pilgrims passed along this stall lined street on their way to the temple.





Posted by irenevt 05:35 Archived in Japan Comments (4)


Japan 2008.


A- Bomb Tomb.

Of course the very mention of the word Hiroshima instantly conjures up images of bombs, mushroom clouds, radiation sickness and devastation. However, if you visit Hiroshima nowadays, it is such a beautiful and peaceful place that it starts to conjure up new images such as hope, reconciliation, tranquility and resilience.

Hiroshima in Spring

On August the 6th 1945 at 8.15 in the morning in an effort to force the Japanese to surrender, a U.S. Army Air Force B­29 bomber, Enola Gay, dropped a uranium gun­ type atomic bomb, nicknamed Little Boy, onto the City of Hiroshima. This was the first time an atomic bomb was used against a civilian target.

Three days later on August the 9th 1945 the U.S. Army Air Force dropped a second plutonium implosion­ type atomic bomb, Fat Man, on the City of Nagasaki. These bombs resulted in the deaths of about a quarter of a million people. Many died instantly, others died later, suffering slow and painful deaths from burns or radiation sickness. The bombings ended the Second World War when Japan finally surrendered on August 15th,1945.

Despite its extremely sad history, Hiroshima is a positive, beautiful and moving place. We began our day by finding the statue of Sadako Sasaki, the little Japanese girl who tried to fold a thousand paper cranes to prevent her death from radiation sickness. We then walked down to the river, visited Hiroshima Castle, then walked along the river to the Peace Park. This area was once the political and commercial heart of Hiroshima and for that reason it was chosen as the area to drop the atomic bomb on. Instead of redeveloping it, the city authorities have turned it into a park devoted to promoting world peace. The most potent memorial in the park is the A­-Bomb Dome ­ a ruin kept to remind us all of the devastation caused by war. We also visited the very crowded Peace Memorial Museum before taking a tram back to the railway station.

Hiroshima Castle is also called the Carp Castle, because there were large numbers of carp in its surrounding moat. It is located near the banks of Hiroshima's river. It has a main keep which is five stories tall. The grounds of the castle are surrounded by a moat. Hiroshima Castle was constructed in 1589 by Mori Terumoto, a powerful feudal lord. Hiroshima Castle was one of the few Japanese castle to survive the Meiji Restoration, however unfortunately, like the rest of Hiroshima, the Castle was destroyed by the atomic bomb in 1945. It has been rebuilt. We went inside the castle which contains information about Hiroshima's history and the castle's reconstuction. There were good views over Hiroshima from the top of the castle. We also liked the dressing up box where we could try on traditional Japanese clothes. Beware of low ceilings in the castle. My husband gave himself a nasty crack on the head getting up to the top. Address: 21­1 Motomachi, Naka­ku, Hiroshima­shi.

Hiroshima Castle .

Hiroshima Castle .

Castle's Dressing up box.

Castle's Dressing up box.

From Hiroshima Castle we strolled along the banks of the Ota River to Hiroshima's Peace Park. The river was lined with flowering cherry trees during our visit and was very beautiful. It was a hot sunny day and many people were picnicking under the trees. We passed a temple on the riverside and enjoyed lovely river views on our walk. The Ota River splits into several other rivers in Hiroshima. At the Peace Memorial it divides to become the Ota River and the Motoyasu River.

The A­-Bomb Dome in Peace Park is nowadays a potent symbol of world peace.The original building was designed by a Czech architect in 1915. It was used as the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall before the war. The Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall was located about 160 meters from the hypocenter of the atomic bomb blast which devastated Hiroshima. Although the building was hit by the blast, and all those inside it were killed, the building itself was not completely destroyed. Parts of it were still standing after the blast. It was decided to keep this building, rather than knock it down in the rebuilding of Hiroshima. The area next to the building, once the commercial heart of Hiroshima was converted into a Peace Park. The A­-Bomb Dome was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. Personally, I think there could be no greater symbol advocating world peace than a ruin showing us exactly the kind of destruction wars cause. It is a shame Nagasaki did not keep more of its devastated cathedral for the same reason. Address: 1­2 Nakajimama­cho, Naka­ku, Hiroshima City 730­08.

A-Bomb Dome.

Hiroshima's Park sits on a long peninsula between the Ota and Motoyasu Rivers. This area was once the political and commercial heart of Hiroshima. For this reason it was the area targeted by the bombers when they flew over Hiroshima on August the 6th 1945. Four years after the devastation, it was decided not to redevelop the area as a commercial zone, but instead to turn it into a Peace Park. There are several peace memorials located in this area. These memorials include a Peace Bell. On the outside of the bell there is a world map with no national boundaries symbolizing one world living at peace without wars or weapons. Visitors are encouraged to ring the bell for world peace and the sound of this bell can be heard reverberating throughout the Peace Park. Another memorial is an arched cenotaph for the A­-bomb victims. The arch is supposed to provide shelter for the victims and help them find lasting peace. The cenotaph has an inscription: "Rest in Peace, for the error shall not be repeated". The central stone of the cenotaph lists the names of the A­-bomb victims. The cenotaph is alligned to frame the Peace Flame and the A­-Bomb Dome.

Peace Bell.

Peace Memorial.

Peace Memorial.

Prayers at the cenotaph.

The Peace Flame at Hiroshima has burned continuously since it was first lit in 1964 and will stay lit until all the nuclear bombs on Earth are destroyed and the planet is free from the threat of nuclear destruction. There is also a Children's Peace Monument. On top of this is a statue of Sadako Sasaki holding a paper crane. Sadako died of leukemia when she was twelve years old. She tried to fight her illness by folding a thousand paper cranes and wishing for life. People come and hang strings of paper cranes on this monument. Address: 1­2 Nakajimama­cho, Naka­ku, Hiroshima City 730­08.

Children's Peace Monument,

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum is located next to Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. It documents the events surrounding the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and has the additional aim of promoting world peace. The museum was first opened in August 1955. It is a busy and crowded museum; the number of visitors is over one million per year. Due to the crowds it was difficult to get near some of the exhibits. The main museum building was designed by Kenzo Tange. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum contains photos of the victims of radiation sickness. It also contains the belongings of those who were killed in the blast. Of course, the museum is heart­-rending to visit, but it is an important warning that such dreadful weapons of mass destruction should never be used again. My photos show a museum photograph of the A­-bomb building shortly after the blast surrounded by widespread devastation and the same scene photographed by us on the day of our visit. Address: 1­2 Nakajimama­cho, Naka­ku, Hiroshima City 730­08.

Museum photograph of the A­-bomb building shortly after the blast .

The same scene nowadays.

Sadako Sasaki was a little Japanese girl who lived in Hiroshima. When she was two years old, the US Army Air Force dropped an atomic bomb on her home town. The explosion blew her threw a window, but she survived. In November 1954 when Sadako was eleven years old, she developed swellings on her neck and behind her ears. In January 1955 purple spots started forming on her legs. She had developed leukemia as a result of the A­-bomb radiation. Doctors told her devastated family that she only had a year to live, but Sadako did not want to die and she remembered an old Japanese story, The Legend of a Thousand Paper Cranes. The legend stated that anyone who folded one thousand paper cranes would be granted a wish. Sadako wanted to wish for life. On the 25th of October 1955 Sadako died. She had folded 644 paper cranes before becoming too weak to fold anymore. Her classmates folded the remaining 356 cranes in honour of her memory. You will see strings of paper cranes hanging on the peace memorials of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There are also statues of Sadako near her school and in the Peace Park in Hiroshima.

Paper Cranes.

Sadako Sasaki Statue.

Posted by irenevt 05:07 Archived in Japan Tagged hiroshima Comments (2)


Japan 2008.


Himeji Castle in Spring.

We have been fortunate enough to visit Himeji twice. Both times have been in spring and at the height of the cherry blossom season. Himeji is famous for its beautiful castle. The castle is stunning and would be beautiful at any time of the year, but in spring when it is surrounded by pale pink cherry blossoms, it is simply breathtaking. Although I cannot claim to have done the town of Himeji full justice, on our second visit we did wander around the town a little and discovered that Himeji has some very pleasant temples in addition to the castle.

Large numbers of castles were created in Japan in the 15th century. This was because the central government was weak at this time and Japan was subjected to lots of wars between rival states. Japanese castles were built for defense and many are located on hilltops. Himeji Castle is one of the best preserved castles in Japan. It is known as a white egret castle due to its white walls.

Himeji Castle.

The main reason to visit Himeji is to see its stunningly beautiful castle. Himeji is one of the few Japanese castles to survive in something close to its original form. Unlike most Japanese castles, it has never been destroyed in a war, fire or earthquake.

Himeji Castle.

Himeji Castle.

Himeji Castle.

Himeji Castle

Himeji Castle was built in 1346 by Akamatsu Sadanori. He wanted it in order to protect himself from local shoguns. Then the emperor, Nobunaga Oda placed Hideyoshi in control of the castle. Hideyoshi reconstructed it and incorporated over 30 turrets into his new design. In 1601 Ikeda Terumasa took over Himeji Castle. For nine years he reconstructed the castle using a lot of the materials from Hieyoshi's original castle walls. When this reconstruction was complete, Himeji Castle was very close to its present day form. Himeji Castle has a five­ storied tenshu, or main keep, and a middle and outer moat. Several families took control of the castle after Terumasa, including the Honda, Okudaira, Matsudaira, Sakakibara, and Sakai. In 1931 Himeji Castle was designated a national treasure. Then in 1993 it was put on the list of UNESCO World Cultural and Heritage Sites.

It is possible to get very close to Himeji Castle without going inside. It is set in large open grounds which the public can enter free of charge. These grounds are filled with fruit trees and in spring when the cherry blossom is in flower, the grounds are stunning. Many people go there with their large blue mats to have picnics and enjoy the cherry blossoms.

Castle Grounds.

Castle Grounds.

Castle Grounds.

Some sights are impossible to see well without paying an entry fee. Himeji Castle is not one of these. You can wander its grounds, photograph it and even venture onto some of its walls free of charge.

Me at Himeji Castle.

Posted by irenevt 04:15 Archived in Japan Tagged himeji Comments (2)


Japan 2008.


Parade in Osaka Castle Park.

I cannot really claim to have done Osaka justice. We visited here twice when we bought our first Japan Rail Pass. The first time was in the evening and we wandered around the Dotombori area enjoying its huge restaurant signs and flashing lights. The second time was during the day and we went to Osaka Castle and the park near it. When we visited the park near Osaka Castle there was some kind of festival going on, so we stopped for a while to watch the dancers and drummers and enjoy the traditional costumes of this large parade. I shamefully don't actually know what we were all celebrating.

View over Osaka.

Osaka is located in the Kansai region of Japan. It is the third largest city in Japan after Tokyo and Yokohama. It sits on Osaka Bay, at the mouth of the Yodo River. Its people are famous for their sense of humour and for being more direct than other Japanese people. Osaka is also famous for food.

The first area of Osaka we looked at was Dotonbori. The Dotonbori area centres around the Dotonbori­gawa Canal. This area is famous for food and restaurants. It is an interesting area to wander around after dark as many of the restaurants have huge flashing or moving neon signs. The Hozen­ji Temple which dates from the 17th century can also be found in this area.





We also visited Osaka Castle Park. The former grounds of Osaka Castle are now a park area enclosed in the strong, defensive castle walls and surrounded by the castle moats. Osaka Castle Park first opened as a park in 1931 and covers an area of 106.7 hectares. As we visited in spring, the castle park area was filled with beautiful flowering cherry trees, but it will, of course, look different in different seasons. During our visit a large parade with drumming and dancing and traditional costumes was taking place and the whole park area was very busy and crowded.

Parade, Osaka Castle Park.

Parade, Osaka Castle Park.

Buskers, Osaka Castle Park.

Shinto Priest, Osaka Castle Park.

Cherry Trees, Osaka Castle Park.

Osaka Castle is surrounded by thick defensive walls and moats. It was originally constructed by Toyotomi Hideyoshi after he unified Japan. It was completed in 1583, but was destroyed 32 years later by the armies of Tokugawa Ieyasu. The castle has been destroyed and rebuilt several times during its turbulent past. The present castle is a reconstruction dating from 1931, but don't let that put you off, it is still very well worth visiting. Address: 1­1, Osakajo, Chuo­ku. Directions: subway: Temmabashi Station. Or Tanimachi 4­ chome Station on the Tanimachi Line. Or Osaka Business Park Station on the Nagahori ­Tsurumiryokuchi Line.

Osaka Castle.

Osaka Castle.

We always travelled to and from Osaka by high speed train using our Japanese Rail Pass.

Shin Osaka Station.

Shin Osaka Station.

Posted by irenevt 02:35 Archived in Japan Tagged osaka Comments (0)

Kyoto - City of Temples.

March 2008.


Beautiful Japanese lady in traditional clothes.

Before I had ever even been to Japan, the one place I really wanted to visit was Kyoto. I love history and nature and I guess Kyoto can be regarded as the historic heart of Japan. I had seen photos of Kyoto's stunning temples and shrines and wonderful nature pictures with spring blossoms and autumnal colours. My expectations were high. The reality, however, was a bit different from the image inside my head. Yes, Kyoto is beautiful and yes, it has wonderful historic sights, but, I planned it all wrong. We started off by visiting three temples in one area of Kyoto then took a bus to the opposite side. The bus was packed to the gunnels with people and we were very relieved to have a seat. The traffic was chock-­a­-block and we could hardly move. About half way through the journey the bus suddenly pulled into a bus station and the driver ordered us all off and onto a new bus. We were not sitting anymore. We were cramped, uncomfortable and getting nowhere fast. With just one day to see Kyoto, I was furious about spending so much time just getting from A to B. And the sights themselves .... the famous ones were so crowded; it took a lot of the joy away from visiting them.


Now I am not saying that Kyoto is not worth seeing, of course it is, but if I was doing it again which some day I hope I will, I would do it very differently. Firstly, I would give it more time. Secondly, I would concentrate on getting to one or two areas near each other and exploring them thoroughly. I would include some famous sights, but also visit lesser known ones which have much more atmosphere minus the teeming hoards.


We started our day by visiting Northern Kyoto. We began at Ninnaji Temple ­ a former imperial residence. This was lovely. Next, we went to Ryoanji Temple. This has a very famous zen rock garden. Call me a philistine if you like, but it did nothing for me. However, the rest of the gardens located around the lake were amazing. After that, we went to Kinkakuji ­ the Golden Temple. This is one of, if not the, most famous sight in Kyoto and yes it was beautiful but expect to be sharing it with millions of others. After Kinkakuji we took the bus ride from hell to Eastern Kyoto. We visited Ginkakuji Silver temple, also swarming with tourists. Then we walked along the Philosopher's Path which was ­stunning under a roof of swaying cherry blossoms. Again this was incredibly crowded, but it did have the plus point that many of the people there were in traditional dress. After that we went to the Haian Shrine.­ I loved this and found it prettier than a lot of the more famous sights. With the light failing and temperatures dropping we wandered off to Gion and enjoyed strolling through its lamp lit streets. Finally, we made it back to the station where we had a delicious meal before heading back to Kobe and our hotel.

Kyoto was once the capital of Japan and was the home of the Japanese Emperor from 794 until 1868. It is Japan's seventh largest city with a population of 1.4 million. It is a wonderful place to visit with its castles, palaces, temples, shrines and gardens, but don't fall into the error of trying to do too much in too short a time like we did.

Ninnaji Temple is the head temple of the Omuro School of Buddhism. It was founded in 888 by the Emperor Uda. Over the centuries a member of Japan's Imperial Family always acted as Ninnaji's head priest. None of the original temple buildings survive today. They were all destroyed in wars or in fires. The temple's oldest remaining parts date back to the early 1600s. These include the main hall, the Kannon Hall, the front gate, the inner gate and the five storied pagoda. The Goten in the southwestern corner of the temple complex was the former residence of the head priest. It is like a palace with wood panels, painted screen walls, sliding doors and rock gardens. Ninnaji is famous for its late blooming cherry trees.

Ninnaji Temple.

Ninnaji Temple.

Next we walked to Ryoanji Temple. Ryoanji Temple is the site of Japan's most famous rock garden, but I must admit, great philistine that I am, I was not overly impressed by it. I vastly preferred the wonderful pond area nearby. Ryoanji Temple was built originally as an aristocrat's villa. It was converted into a Zen temple in 1450. It belongs to the Myoshinji school of the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism. The famous rock garden contains 15 rocks. These are set out in small groups on top of patches of moss. The meaning of the garden is unknown, so it is up to the viewer's own imagination to interpret it. Ryoanji's temple grounds are stunning. They centre around a large pond which reflects the wonderful trees and plants which surround it. I loved this area of the temple.

Ryoanji Temple.

Ryoanji Temple.

After that we went to Kinkakuji, or The Golden Pavillion. Kinkakuji is a Zen temple. Its top two floors are completely covered in gold leaf. The temple was originally built as the retirement villa of the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, and according to his will it became a Zen temple of the Rinzai sect when he died in 1408. Kinkakuji overlooks a large pond in which it is beautifully reflected. Kinkakuji has been burned down several times in the past. The most recent time was in 1950 when it was set on fire by a fanatical monk. The present temple dates from 1955. Each floor of the temple represents a different style of architecture. The first floor is built in the Shinden style. This style was used for palace buildings during the Heian Period. The second floor is built in the Bukke style. This was used in samurai residences. The exterior of the second floor is completely covered with gold leaf. Finally, the top floor is built in the style of a Chinese Zen Hall. This is covered with gold both inside and out, and is topped with a golden phoenix. There are gardens to wander through after viewing the temple. This temple is very popular; don't expect to get it to yourself. You will be surrounded by other tourists.

The Golden Pavillion.

The Golden Pavillion.

Later we went to Ginkaku­ji. Ginkakuji or the Silver Pavillion is a Zen temple located in Eastern Kyoto. In 1482 shogun, Ashikaga Yoshimasa, built his retirement villa on the grounds of today's temple. As his inspiration he used Kinkakuji, Golden Pavilion, which was his grandfather's retirement villa in Northern Kyoto. The villa was converted into a Zen temple when Yoshimasa's died in 1490. Today, the Ginkakuji complex comprises the Silver Pavillion, a few other temple buildings, a moss garden and a dry sand garden. Visitors walk around the temple grounds in a clockwise direction. It is very crowded. Despite its name, the Silver Pavilion was never covered in silver. If I am being honest, I was not overly impressed with this temple. I think this was because it was so busy. I found the Philosophers' Path located nearby much more interesting.

The Silver Pavillion.

The Silver Pavillion.

The Philosopher's Path is a stone path in the Higashiyama district of Kyoto. It follows a narrow canal which is lined with hundreds of cherry trees. We were fortunate enough to see it when these were in full bloom. The whole area was filled with people; many of whom were in traditional dress. A lot of them were posing for photos with the spring blossoms. The Philosopher's Path is approximately two kilometers long. It begins around Ginkakuji, Silver Pavillion, and ends in the neighborhood of Nanzenji. We cut off it before Nanzenji and ended up at the Heian Shrine. There were signposts to lots of nearby temples and shrines. The Philosopher's Path is called after Nishida Kitaro, one of Japan's most famous philosophers. He used to meditate on the meaning of life as he walked along this route on his commute to Kyoto University every day.

The Philosopher's Path.

The Philosopher's Path.

The Philosopher's Path.

The Heian Shrine has a relatively short history. It was built in 1895 to commemorate the 1100th anniversary of Kyoto as Japan's capital city. It is dedicated to the spirits of the first and last emperors who reigned from the city. These were Emperor Kammu (737­ - 806) and Emperor Komei (1831­-1867). Heian is the former name of Kyoto. At the entrance to the shrine there is a huge torii ­- gate. The grounds of the shrine are wide ­open and spacious. We enjoyed watching the people here in their traditional dress. There was a large animal shaped purification fountain in the courtyard. The shrine's main buildings are a smaller replica of the original Imperial Palace from the Heian Period.They are predominately red and green in colour. Behind the main buildings there is an attractive garden area. We did not have time to visit this as we arrived at the shrine very near closing time. Personally, I thought this was one of the loveliest parts of Kyoto.

At the Heian Shrine.

At the Heian Shrine.

At the Heian Shrine.

At the Heian Shrine.


At the Heian Shrine.

In the evening we had a quick stroll through the Gion area of the city. It was pretty with its wooden buildings and lamps. However, I do not feel we really did the area justice as we were exhausted, hungry and cold by the time we got here. Gion is Kyoto's most famous geisha district. It is located around Shijo Avenue between Yasaka Shrine in the east and the Kamo River in the west. It has shops, restaurants and tea-houses. Geisha are known as geiko in Kyoto dialect.

Traditional Kimonos.

Posted by irenevt 02:14 Archived in Japan Tagged kyoto Comments (0)

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