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My year in Japan has finished, but that does not mean you can\'t contact me! I might even post some new things from time to time that I haven\'t had a chance to share. If you would like to contact me, go to the upper right-hand area of this page and click on the About & Contact page. I check my email frequently, so don\'t hesitate to send me questions or comments!

Waseda Sakura

May 26, 2010

While the Sakura Season is over in Japan, I thought I might share some of the pictures I was able to take when the cherry trees were in full bloom! Close to the dorm I live in there is a river with lots of cherry trees that one can walk along. The riverbed is concrete, which is sort of unfortunate, but for all you turtle lovers out there, tons of them live in the canal, and if you want to see them, I’d recommend going on a sunny day.


View of the river, not very much water at the bottom.


Some cherry blossoms close up.


I don’t know how many creative comments I can come up with for a seemingly endless supply of cherry blossoms, but I will try. This picture has cherry blossoms attached to a tree, which is planted next to a river in Tokyo.


View of the river, this time at a slightly different angle, imperceptible to the untrained eye.


More cherry blossoms, this time with some sky and a cloud in the background.


A pigeon. Flying. Through the air. With cherry blossoms behind it. Hmm. That wasn’t a very clever caption. Maybe the next one will be.


Or maybe not.


Some more cherry trees, and some green plants growing along the canal walls.


The other side of the green plant covered canal wall.


The lantern in focus says “Waseda Sakura Festival”. At night, these lanterns were illuminated, and looked amazing alongside the cherry trees.


This picture also features cherry blossoms.


Close up of the cherry blossoms. Notice how there are five petals on each blossom. I haven’t seen a six-petal cherry blossom before. Have you?


And last but not least, Because Waseda is amazing, here is another picture of the Waseda Cherry Blossom Festival lantern. Until next time!



May 18, 2010

昔々 I spent a month homestay near Kyoto, but never really did explore the northern part of the city, north of Keihan Demachiyanagi. I will definatly go here again, as it is sort of out of the way from central Kyoto, and only saw one other foreigner aside from myself and Eirik. If you want to check out Kurama, head to Demachiyanagi Station (if you are coming from Osaka, take the Keihan Line to Kyoto) and head to the Eizan Railway. Take a train bound for Kurama (They run every twenty minutes or so). The journey takes about 30 minutes. On your trip back to Kyoto, if the ticket gates are covered, just head out to the train. You will pay on board there. A semi-useless piece of information, unless you are actually going to Kurama: you cannot use ICOCA. You must either buy a Kansai Surutto Pass or buy regular tickets.


The station sign. It’s sort of a weird habit, but whenever I visit new places, I like to take pictures of the station signs, so I don’t forget where I got on or off the train.


Lanterns. Lots of them. During the winter, I’m sure it gets dark relatively early, and there arent too many other sources of light to help people see the massive stone steps that one must navigate in order to reach different parts of the temple.


The ropeway. Well, a ropeway. It saves about an hour hiking up the trail, although it would be nice if one could just walk up the stairs along the side.


Some stone steps, with even more lanterns.


And… More lanterns! I hope you are beginning to see a theme… 😀


The main temple building, after about a 6 minute walk from the ropeway station. It was incredibly peaceful and quiet here. If I lived in Kyoto, I would definitely come here often, just to sit and stare out into the forest. The cherry blossoms weren’t quite out yet, as it was quite cool, and probably hadn’t warmed up enough yet for the trees to think it was spring.


One of the smaller temple buildings. One can hike a little and get to another temple area, but it was getting sort of late and we did not want to miss the last ropeway car down.


People! There weren’t too many other people up here. I’m sure they were wondering why two foreigners found this interesting. In case any of you were wondering, the white stuff in the lower left hand side of the picture is snow. (Yeah, it was cold up there.)


Some of the incense that one can buy and burn at the temple.


Looking out into the forest. I often wonder how often everything must be repainted, as most of the shrines and temples I have visited have very new looking vermillion paint on everything.


A fountain where one washes one’s hands before entering the main shrine area. I don’t recommend drinking the water unless there is a sign that says it is potable.


Another smaller temple. I bought an amazing magazine a few weeks ago that details all the parts of a shrine and temples, and what they are called. This structure is called a 塔, Tō.


I had to include one more picture of the entire temple grounds, since it was so amazing. Until next time!


May 9, 2010

On the way back from Hasedera, Eirik and I stopped at a place called Kōriyama. We spotted this old castle on the way to Hasedera, and made sure to write down the station name so we could see it on the way back. There was a matsuri going on for the cherry blossoms, and it was really cool to walk around and see a Japanese cherry blossom festival. There were tons of people wandering around the vendors, choosing between delicious food and games to occupy their time. Although festival food and games can be a little pricey sometimes, if you have not experienced a real Japanese festival before, it’s worth going. I ended up buying an anko (red bean paste) filled taiyaki, which ended up being delicious. It sounds sort of gross, but the red pean paste is mixed with a little bit of sugar, so it’s actually quite sweet. That, inside a warm, fluffy exterior is one of the Japanese sweets that I like the most.


The main walkway was lined with lanterns, which when lit up at night, provided illumination for the festival. The cherry trees were almost in full bloom when we went. A day or two later and it would have been even more amazing.


Some of the vendor stalls on the left. One can catch goldfish, buy food, and play a variety of traditional festival games. Things were just opening up as we were wandering around.


More cherry blossoms! I have lots of cherry blossom pictures, so I will try and not post them all up on here. But sometimes one or two might slip through.


The traditional Japanese home that Kōriyama is famous for.


Sitting under blooming cherry trees, consuming large amounts of alcohol, and having a merry time is something many people do during sakura season. The more popular locations in Japan to see cherry tree blossoms are extremely crowded. You might have to spend the night before staking out the spot you want.


The moat that surrounds Kōriyama. The cherry trees that had already bloomed were slowly spilling petals onto the murky water below.


A closer view of the traditional Japanese building. One could not enter, which was unfortunate. It would have been cool to walk around on the inside and see how much of the building survived the test of time.


One of the annexes of the house. I’m not sure what this one’s function was, although it too was blocked off from public access.


Yet another annex. I’m sure this part was for defense of some sort, a lookout possibly.


Some more cherry blossoms in the foreground. Shooting that day was sort of difficult, because the sky was very bright, and getting the buildings to show up as anything other than black was a little challenging. More cherry blossom pictures to come!


May 5, 2010

Hasedera is a temple in Nara Prefecture that I visited on a short trip to Kyoto with one of my friends, Eirik. It is easily accessible by train from Kyoto or Osaka, and is worth visiting most times of the year, but especially during the spring when all of the flowers at the temple are in bloom. We were lucky enough to see the Sakura (cherry trees) blooming. The weather was perfect when we went, which was really nice. Not too hot, and not too cold. If you want to go to Hasedera, head on over to the Japan Travel Resources page, and check out the train trip planner. The station you want to end up at is Hasedera.


This is the train we took to Hasedera Station. Sort of old, but it was a fun train ride. The conductor at the end was super nice, and got out of the conductor cab to tell us which station to get off at. (I asked, and got a very detailed response on where to get off, and where to go after we exited the train station).


A puppy that we saw on the way to the temple.


I’m not sure where this Torii led to, but it looked interesting so I decided to take a picture.


The signpost for Hasedera Temple. Not super interesting, but definitely picture-worthy.


An interesting factoid about this temple. There are 399 stone steps that one has to walk up before one gets to the main temple building.


Water runs down the sides of the stairs when it rains. It must rain a lot for the channels to be so deep.


The main temple building. One can buy お守り(lucky charms) and incense here to burn at the temple.


One of the other temples within the Hasedera complex.


Sakura blossoms! There were tons of these when we went.


This looks like it was relatively recently constructed. Most temples (with very few exceptions) are not the original structure. Can anyone guess why? (Hint: wood burns very easily.)


A closer view of the secondary temple complex.


Looking back up at the main temple, with cherry blossoms in front.


There are many kinds of cherry trees in Japan, some having white flowers, others with pink blossoms. There were many varieties at this temple!


Some of the less colorful variety.


Lastly, some very pink cherry blossoms. (At least I think they are cherry blossoms.) Until next time!

Fushimi Inari 2010

April 29, 2010

If you have read my blog since the beginning, you will have already seen pictures of Fushimiinari, but if you want to see more, feel free to browse on! Just before school started back up again, Eirik and I headed down to Kyoto for two nights, seeing lots of things outside the city that we have never seen before. Although I had been to fushimiinari, Eirik had not, and I’m always up for seeing thousands of torii! There are a few other places we went, which will show up on here in the near future, some of which I have never been to before. Overall, it was an awesome trip. And for those of you wondering, of course we took the shinkansen. That’s the only way to travel.

Note: for some reason, Aperture (my photo program) decided to go all funky with the picture export sizes. I’ll have that fixed with pictures uploaded after the current batch that I have already named and numbered on flickr.


On the way to the temple. You don’t have to walk through this to get to the main complex, but it has some pretty cool statues worth taking a look at.


This is a platform in which performances can be held, although I have not been lucky enough to see any during any of my trips to Kyoto. One cannot walk on it, which is sort of a shame. It’s cool to see the ceiling of these traditional Japanese shrine buildings.


A small shrine that one can pray at, almost at the entrance to the massive lines of torii.


Seemingly endless torii. You can walk for quite a ways and still encounter these gates. If I recall correctly, there are a number of different paths that one can take, and all in all you can wander around for a few hours at fushimiinari. However, it’s not something I recommend doing during the summer, as it gets blisteringly hot and humid. (Think 32-40C and 60-80% humidity)


A close-up of the kanji on some of the torii. One can see which year and month the torii were erected.


Fushimiinari is also known for its statues of the fox, an important character in Japanese mythology. Foxes disguised themselves as humans and played tricks on their unwitting prey. These animals are smart and cunning, but well suited to protect temples and shrines.


Lastly, here are some un-painted kanji etched into the torii. I haven’t seen this before, so it was pretty cool to come across. I would guess that this particular torii was put up extremely recently. Until next time!

Tsukiji Fish Market

April 28, 2010

Tsukiji is an awesome place to visit. Well, awesome if getting up at 4:45 am to catch the first train is in any way rational. Tsukiji is Japan’s largest fish market, and quite a large amount of fish passes through the auction house and vendor stalls every day. If you want the good stuff, you have to get up very early, otherwise all the local shop keepers have already bought up what they need for their restaurant for the day.


Fish! Well, more accurately, dead tuna. These fish make their way to eateries in Tokyo, and the rest of Japan. Visitors cannot enter the live auction area, apart from a special narrow area that one is able to take pictures from. One is rushed pretty quickly through, so if you visit be sure to snap your photos quickly! (And remember, NO FLASH!)


Some of the fish for sale here are pretty heavy, and the workers use trucks or flatbed carts to move them around.


Mmmm. If you like kalamari, well, you are starting at what it comes from!


I’m not exactly sure what these are, but I think they are some sort of slug or sea-slug type thing. I have no idea how one eats such shell-creatures.


Some very delicious looking fish. Again, I’m not sure what kind of fish these are, as I am not familiar with the numerous creatures of the ocean.


There are delicious. Shrimp. Battered, and fried to a tempura perfect crisp. Steamed, and put into shumai. Or, boiled and on top of sushi. There are many ways you can eat this creature, and most of them are delicious. A little hint to those not so familiar with eating shrimp: if the shrimp is fried, you can eat the tail. If it isn’t, don’t, unless you want cuts all over your tongue.


More mystery animals. I really have no idea what these are.


Drumroll please. More fish! These ones looked like they had just been caught, and hadn’t been cleaned or gutted. I wonder what they taste like…


And finally, to prove that there are actually people, not only seafolk, who wander through Tsukiji, here is a picture of some potential customers making orders for their shop; most likely a restaurant by the looks of their order sheets. That’s all for now!

Aurora Ice Breaker

April 1, 2010

This is the last of the Hokkaido posts, so I hope you enjoy it! I have been extremely busy with a number of things, but I have lots and lots of pictures to share from my adventures over the last few weeks or so.

I was able to travel to a town in Hokkaido called Abashiri, about five hours by limited express from Sapporo station. The way it was timed, I was able to arrive in Abashiri, go to the ice breaking ship, go on about a 15km cruise, and then run back to the station before the last return train of the day. I made it back to the train station with about 15 minutes to spare. If I had missed my train back, I would have been stuck in Abashiri until the next day, as it isn’t possible to make all the connections on local trains back to Sapporo in an afternoon unless you ride the limited express train.


On the train to Abashiri. It was a pretty cool train ride up, tons and tons of snow.


After arriving at the station, I took the bus, as recommended by the guide book I was able to find (in Japanese) at the station. The bus ride was a grand total of three minutes. Had I known, I would have walked. This is the ship that I was able to see when I arrived at the cruise terminal.


View from the stern of the ship as we pulled out of the cruise terminal. There wasn’t tons of sea ice, according to the ticket agent, but there was enough that it would be interesting to look at.


A seagull gliding alongside the ship. It was very cold outside, and I even with 5 layers, and two pairs of socks on I was still freezing cold. However, I love the cold, so it was a lot of fun!


The mast of the ship wasn’t particularly interesting, so I’m not quite sure why I took a picture of it, but the sky behind it was amazingly beautiful. These low resolution images don’t do justice.


View from the side of the ship, back on the town of Abashiri. The sun was beginning to set, and the colors of the sky and the ocean were incredible. If you have the chance to go visit Hokkaido during the winter, I recommend coming here at least for the day, to go on the ice-breaking ship. (The ship operates only two months out of the year, so make sure you check that it’s running before you treck out here)


The seagull that was following us the entire cruise. It looked a little cold, but I guess it’s either an extremely dumb seagull to live so far north, or they just don’t get cold. Until next time!