A Travellerspoint blog

Day One - Tokyo

Lets start this off! Included are some items that we had to do before, and how we got there!

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About four months before we departed on our journey to Japan, we had to go to the Canadian Passport Office to renew our passports. One of the things that Japan requires is that our passports are valid for the entire duration of our stay, and so we didn’t want to take any chances. There are many ways to get to Japan, but the way that we chose is by air, so we flew with Japan Air.We flew from Calgary to Tokyo directly, into the Narita Airport which hosts most of the international flights. It is about 60km outside of central Tokyo. There is also a local airport, Haneda airport, which is located more centrally than Narita, but it takes a lot of domestic flights. Entering the Tokyo Narita Airport, we were advised that we need to keep our passport on us at all times, by this wonderful, adorable old lady who we saw right outside of the airport in a traditional Kimono. Apparently Kimono’s are an outfit of celebration for the Japanese culture, and there are many different styles that they can come in. The reason that we have to keep our passports is because it apparently is a proof of residency in Japan, and if we don’t have it, we can be put in jail. Not something that we would necessarily enjoy doing on a vacation half way around the world. She advised us that we need to be in possession of a return airline ticket, proof of accommodation and proof of sufficient funds at all times. Kind of weird that we have to carry this around, in our opinion, but again, we don’t want to be put into jail. To reassure us that it’s not too bad with all of the rules, this wonderful old lady then invited us over to her house later that evening to have a traditional Japanese meal. Our first morning in Tokyo was wonderful. After we checked in at our hotel, we had some breakfast, and after we took a train to the Tokyo Imperial Palace. It was a very short walk to this ancient site from the station. The Imperial Palace is surrounded by massive walls and moats; it is situated where the Edo Castle once stood. The imperial family of Japan lives here today, who sometimes make public appearances on the emperor’s birthday, December 23rd. We also learned that the palace was destroyed in World War Two but a replica was rebuilt shortly after. Sadly the buildings and the inner garden are not open to public but just seeing it from the outside was amazing. After taking a few pictures around the plaza we went to see the Nijubashi, two beautiful stone bridges that connect the plaza to the inner palace grounds, this is known as the double bridge, and that is because there were previously two wooden bridges with two levels on here before.

We are lucky enough that Japan has a majority of their population fluent in English.. One fun fact that we learned early on, is that Japanese will automatically assume that you speak English until you prove otherwise. We found this out by walking down the street, and had multiple people ask us where we were from, in English! What a relief, because we learned that in Japan, they prefer speaking English. We were lucky enough to have looked on the website http://www.japan-guide.com which had this useful language guide, just in case we needed it. We like to call it Back to Basics: Japan Speaking 101.

Ohayou gozaimasu Good morning
Kon'nichiwa Good afternoon
Kon'banwa Good evening
Oyasumi nasai Good night
Sayounara Good-bye
Sumimasen Excuse me
Gomen nasai I am sorry
Wakarimasen I don't understand
Arigatou Thank you
Hai Yes
Iie No

Next we made our way to the Rikugien Gardens. They were truly gorgeous, and not to mention, HUGE. The gardens were built and landscaped in the 1700’s by Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu. Cudos to him! They are amazing! Rikugien actually means “Six poems garden” and therefore tells stories of famous poems. There are 88 scenes from the poems that are reproduced in miniature versions here. It took us roughly an hour to see the entire network of gardens but it was very enjoyable. We stopped at one teahouse for a short break since Maddi’s shoes were hurting her feet but we were glad we did. We had some green tea while we observed the nature and birds. We continued our walk passing many forested areas and man-made hills. We also fed some ducks at the central pond before we went back to the metro station to catch a train to the Sunshine City! We traveled to Higashi-Ikebukuro Station to check out the Sunshine City. We were all excited because we heard so many great things about it; it is a huge shopping and entertainment area which houses the second highest building in Tokyo! As soon as we got off the train Emily started talking about how excited she was to visit the Sunshine City Aquarium so of course we had to stop there first. On our way to the aquarium we over heard a tour guide telling a group of European tourists that Sunshine City is actually Tokyo’s oldest city within a city. Apparently it was once occupied by the Sugamo Prison too. We actually all ended up loving the Sunshine International Aquarium and little did we know that it would be on the 10th floor! It is a very popular attraction so it was very crowded, even at 7pm which is when we got there; it is actually open until 10pm. We all loved seeing the sharks and stingrays, but were pleasantly surprised to see that they had penguins too! We heard an announcement that there would be a feeding time in an hour so we stuck around looking at the seals, sea otters, jellyfish and other sea life until 8pm. The line ups for the feedings were long and there were a lot of kids impatient for their turn however it was worth the wait. Maddi got to feed a huge tortoise, Erin and Emily fed the sting rays and Liz stood in the penguin line but sadly never got her turn since the line was the longest of all.

Afterwards we wondered off to do some shopping. Maddi and Liz stocked up on Manga and many other types of comics, and then our fun filled day was over. That could only mean that it was dinner time! The four of us went to Yumi-san’s home for dinner, and she taught us some Etiquette and traditional Japanese Customs. As we went into her lovely little home, she told us that we needed to take off our shoes, and then she gave us all house slippers. Not just any slippers. House slippers. End of story. Except when you go into the bathroom and you are to leave your house slippers outside of the bathroom. They apparently have Toilet slippers too. And we found out why. There are two styles of toilets in Japan, the Japanese Style, and the Western Style. Unfortunately, this house had the Japanese style. This is a toilet that is built into the floor, and when you use it, you have to face the front of the toilet, pull down your lower garments to your knees, then squat as close to the front of the toilet as you can, and then do your business. I’m glad that back home, we have western toilets. We were also advised on how to take a bath in Japan, in the event that we are in a public bathroom. The guests always get first priority when they are at a home. They must take a bath before every meal, and you’re supposed to rinse your body outside of the bath tub with a wash bowl, and then you can get into the bath tub, which is used for soaking only, no washing. You wash twice, and soak twice, and then you leave the bathwater for the next person to use it. We aren’t too sure what to think about this bath situation, but it’s good to know!

Yumi-San informed us that there is a seating order when you are visiting a home. The most important guests sits on the Kamiza, which is the honored seat, with is farthest from the entrance of the room. If there is a Tokonoma in the room, the guest should be seated in front of it, and the host or least important person is supposed to sit in the Shimoza seat, right by the door. Emily got to sit in the Kamiza seat. The seats aren’t traditional chairs, but they are cushions right on the Tatami Floor. We shared a bunch of dishes with this lovely old lady and her family, which included Miso Soup, which is a broth based soup with seaweed, and tofu bits in it, rice bowls, which are commonly served with every meal, and tempura, which is deep fried vegetables, and seafood. Most commonly, the Japanese share all of their dishes with everyone with them. In Japan, you say "itadakimasu" which means I gratefully receive before eating, and "gochisosama" Which means thank you for the meal when you are done the meal. We were all taught proper customs for chopsticks because Maddi had accidentally put her chopsticks right into the rice… We were soon told that it was something that was only done when you’re at a funeral with the rice that is put on the altar. Needless to say she apologized profusely after that! We all soon learned that we aren’t supposed to pass food with your chopsticks, or point, or wave them in the air, or play, or spear food, it’s considered to be quite rude if you were to do that. And if you have to share a plate, use the end that you haven’t eaten with to take new food. What a weird, but neat thing to know. When we were done our lovely meal, we went to shake the hands of Yumi-san, but she shook her head and bowed. When we asked her why she bowed, she said that it was a sign of respect, but we can also do a bow of our head to say thank you, and that handshakes are uncommon in Japan. So we bowed to her, showing that we were extremely grateful of what she had done for us this evening. We called her Yumi-san because it was a sign of respect, and there are different titles that you can call people. It’s definitely different here in Japan than in North America.

Here is a photo of the Imperial Palace!
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Posted by saitjapan 09:44 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Day Two- Tokyo

Some attractions!

Today we went to the famous Tokyo International Anime Fair. There were many booths featuring many Japanese production companies, such as Toei Animation, Bandai Namco, Tezuka Productions and many more. There were also foreign companies for all parts of the world. There was a live show at the Pokemon booth. This show is a huge exhibition showing the different animation booths, what they make, how they make it, and have a lot of people dressed up as characters such as Pikachu from Pokemon. After wandering around the show a bit we all got portraits of ourselves done as if we were anime characters which turned out to be quite funny!As we were walking around in Japan, we noticed a lot of people wearing masks. We were curious so we asked the hotel concierge about it. He said that it was because they are afraid of spreading germs around, and so they would wear sterilized masks. They don’t protect the person wearing it, but the people around them. Interesting to know! Another important thing that we have learned is don’t draw attention to yourself in public by being like an individual. In Japan, everyone is very universal and don’t like to do things out of turn. The Yen, or Japanese Yen, is the money that we had to convert our Canadian dollars into. There are different items that are considered to be bad luck in Japan, such as the number four, because it is pronounced the same as death, so you couldn't buy anything in fours, you had to hide your thumb when a funeral car passes, and many more such as the black cat crossing the street. Good thing we found this out now! We continued lurking all the booths until we were dead tired and starving.

We went and had Sushi in the hustle and bustle Shibuya shopping district. Emily and Erin didn’t like the Sushi so they ended up having typical American food, chicken and fries at KFC. In Japan, there is no tipping allowed, like ever. We learned that to tip someone means that you are insulting, because the prices they are asking for is paying for them. In Japan use this philosophy: a price is a price. Erin went to leave a tip, and was chased down the street by the server saying how she needed to take it back. Quite a hilarious scene to see. Check out this website for more customs about Japan: http://matadornetwork.com/abroad/10-japanese-customs-you-must-know-before-a-trip-to-japan

Once we had filled up our bellies, and Erin was chased, we all went on a shopping spree. We visited many stores, our two favorites were “Takashimaya Times Square” one of the largest department stores in Japan where each of us bought something and Tokyu Hands. Tokyu Hands was different as it was aimed more towards do it yourself things, arts and crafts, stationary, outdoors, hobbies and less on fashion. We went to the Daiso Harajuki 100 Yen Shop, and it is one of the largest shops in Central Tokyo, including clothing, kitchenware, food and stationary on multiple floors. If you don’t like spending a lot of money, this is the place to go! After all the shopping we went searching for the famous Hachiko the dog statue. We took some pictures here, the statue is not very big and it’s more the meaning behind it that matters. The story is that Hachiko the dog waited for his owner to return from work at the same station every day, but one day the owner never showed up as he had passed away. Hachiko kept returning to the same spot for years waiting for his owner until he too passed on to the next world. The statue stands for loyalty and it’s a great reminder for all those that walk by it each day on their way to the train station.

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Here is a map of where we were and some attractions that we saw:
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Posted by saitjapan 09:44 Comments (0)

Day Three - Tokyo

On our day out and about, we learned that Tokyo has a dense network of train, subway and bus lines. The train lines are operated by Japan Rail East. Subway lines are the most convenient for moving around the central Tokyo, but we liked the Japan Rail lines because we can get passes for them the easiest.. There were many passes that we could purchase for this, but there were only a few that stood out. There was the Tokyo Free Kippu pass which was 1580 yen per person, and it runs in the central Tokyo area for one day only. There is a Toei and Tokyo Metro One-Day Economy pass, which can also be used on all of the subways excessively, but it cannot be used on the Japan Rail trains. It costs 1000 yen per person for this ticket. Lastly, there was the holiday pass, which costs 2300 yen, and it has unlimited use for the JR trains, locally and as much as we wanted, but it can only be used on the weekends, or public holidays. Today we went to the Sanrio Puroland theme park which is located just outside Tokyo in Tama. We got there at around 9am hoping to avoid big crowds but there were still lots of people there, well kids mainly. In case you are wondering what Puroland is, it’s basically a theme park dedicated to Sanrio characters but its main attraction is Hello Kitty’s house. We paid 3,000 yen per person to get in; if we had bought tickets in advance we could have gotten in for less money. But it didn’t matter, we probably had more fun there than all the kids there combined! As soon as we walked in we saw a big tree they call the Wisdom Tree. Here they put on 20-30 minute extra cheerful shows featuring music, dancers and of course the famous Sanrio characters. We loved all the lighting effects and the costumers were also really amazing, we wanted all the costumes! There were mainly Hello Kitty souvenirs and some were not even that expensive, Maddi sure stocked up on them. One of the most exciting parts was visiting Hello Kitty’s house of course. We got to sit in her living room, play her piano, and took pictures of her bedroom and even see her bathroom! The house was super cute, very girly and pink of course. At the end of our tour of the theme park we even got to meet Hello Kitty a pose for a picture with her!

We left Tama for Tokyo at 3:30pm. Our next stop was Asakusa, Tokyo’s “low city” where Tokyo’s past atmosphere still remains. We had to hurry because the Sensoji Temple which we were going to see was only open until 5pm. Once we got there we walked through the Kaminari Gate which is Asakusa’s symbol. We had to pass a beautiful shopping street called “Nakamise” to get to the temple but since we were in a hurry we didn’t stop at any of the shops right then. We got to the temple right at 4:30pm which gave us exactly 30 minutes to check it out. This Buddhist temple was built in the 7th century and is one of the oldest in the city, but many parts of it were destroyed in the air raids of World War Two, so what we saw were a lot of replicas. Next we went to see the Asakusa Shrine, also known by many as Sanja-sama. This shine actually survived the air bombings of 1945 therefore it is Tokyo’s best preserved and popular shine. It is free to go in and it’s always open which was quite convenient. We went back to the Nakamise shopping street after to check out some souvenirs and local cuisine. They had some cheap yet very comfy slippers, fans and all kinds of stuff. We tried not to get excited about every little thing we saw because we only had so much space to fill up in our suit cases, and not to mention 3 more cities to go to! We left at 8pm and walked to the Asakusa Station to catch a train back to the hotel because we were all exhausted from all the Hello Kitty fun we had and were ready to jump back into our beds.
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Day Four- Mt. Fuji

Shinkansen, Mt. Fuji!

We got up very early since we had to catch an 8am Shinkansen train to the Mount Fuji region of Japan. The Shinkansen train is the fastest train in the world. The main route is from Tokyo to Hiroshima. The website that we found this on is http://jreast-shinkansen-reservation.eki-net.com/pc/english/common/menu/menu.aspx There are varying times, but trips that would take anywhere from 6 hours with normal trains, only take about a hour and a half. Prices are around 13000 yen one way, but there are passes available. So we decided that to best suit our time we would take the Shinkansen to Mt. Fuji. Unfortunately none of us can read maps or follow instructions properly so we got on the wrong train! We asked a younger man that spoke English pretty well if we were on the right train as we noticed the train wasn’t going to the same stations as the brochure said it would. He told us we have gotten onto the wrong train and instructed us to get off at the next station, go back to the main station and then catch the train on the other side of the platform. We followed his instructions and sure enough we saw many tourists and school groups waiting to get onto the same train. We were even curious as to why the train first train we got on left 30 minutes too “early”. Anyway we got on the right train in the end and were at the Kawaguchiko Station. The hostel we were staying at was right in front of the station called Kawaguchi-ko Station Inn. It was quite affordable and close to all the attractions we would be visiting. We met some Japanese tourists there that were just getting ready to start their evening hike of Mount Fuji. They told us all about the mountain, which buses we can take up to the starting point of the hike etc. We told them we were not interested in doing the hike because we are not very experienced hikers and it’s not the official climbing season, plus our friend has foot issues so she can’t walk or climb for very long. They said that the mountain looks nicer from afar anyway and that they were only going for the views from the top. They like to come here before the official climbing season begins which runs from July 1st until August 31st so they can avoid the big crowds, plus they are experienced climbers so low temperatures and strong winds don’t scare them too much. They also mentioned that it can get pretty stinky with all the tourist crowds up there. We didn’t quite understand what they meant, so they showed us what they were going to be carrying on their backs. It was a “clean mountain can” or so they called it which is a tube one carries his own excrement in. The thought was quite disturbing which immediately made us decide to delay lunch time but at least we didn’t feel as sad anymore that we weren’t going on the hike. Instead we would spend 2 days visiting the lakes, caves, hot springs and many other cool places.
Here's what the Fuji Region looks like:
Fuji Region

Fuji Region

After we unpacked our stuff we went to buy a 2 day pass for the Kawaguchiko and Saiko-Aokigahara line retro buses which would allow us to travel freely to any of the 5 Lakes attractions. It cost us 1300 yen each which was not too bad. We caught a Kawaguchiko line bus to the Kawaguchiko Music Forest theme park. It’s a park/museum dedicated to automatic musical instruments. It was quite amusing walking into the park, the outside has European styled gardens, a restaurant, tourist shops and a chapel with beautiful views of Mount Fuji across the lake. We were very lucky to get such a good view of the mountain on our first day; many have complained that because of the clouds they couldn’t see the mountain from afar for days even in the high season! Inside the museum they had antique music boxes mechanical organs and many other automatic instruments on display. The biggest instrument they had was French “Fairground Organ” from 1905 which actually took up an entire room. It plays music every 30 minutes and is the museums main attraction. There is also a concert hall here where classical musicians come and play from all parts of the world. Next we went to visit the Kubota Itchiku Museum which is only one station down from the Music Forest. The museum displays kimonos created by Kubota who spent his lifetime reviving the lost art of Tsujigahana silk dying. It was impressive seeing how skilled this man was, these kimonos were truly master pieces. Everyone’s favorite kimono seemed to be one named “Symphony of Light” and although it was never fully finished it was his best creation. It portrays the idea of nature and cosmos and is encompassed by 80 kimono put together that form a wonderful picture of Mount Fuji. We had a good time visiting the museums so we decided to spend the rest of the evening outside and have a mini picnic by Lake Kawaguchiko where the views of Mount Fuji were said to be one of the best and the cherry trees had just blossomed. We saw quite a few professional photographers taking pictures around the lake and it was no surprise, it was the perfect day to sit around the lake, observe the views and take some breathtaking pictures to show people back home. We left at around 7pm to catch the bus back to our hotel. On our way back we looked through all the photographs we had taken throughout the day, they were all wonderful and we couldn’t wait to get back and post them on Facebook.
This is a photo of the Music Forest Theme Park
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Day Five- Mt. Fuji

More Mt. Fuji and Bat Caves!

We started off our day by going to the Herb Hall which is basically a store with herb gardens and a greenhouse where one can view and buy all kinds of tea, herbs and dried flowers. We picked up quite a few samples of teas and purchased a few of our favorites. There was also a Perfume Hall behind the herb stalls where they had a variety of perfumes, soaps and aroma oils on sale. All of them smelled so pretty! We all bought something for ourselves or our sisters, mothers, aunts etc. Shortly after, we caught a Saiko-Aokigahara line retro bus to the Bat Cave. There are several caves in this area because of Mount Fuji's past eruptions. The Bat Cave costs 300 yen to get into and you don’t need to go with a guide. We found out that it is the most popular of the three caves and is also the most extensive. It is roughly 350 meters longs and has numerous large chambers and tunnels inside. We spent around one hour inside and almost slipped a few times even though we brought good shoes. You also have to watch out because some parts of the cave have very low ceilings so if you are not careful you could smash your head real good. Next we went to see the Ice Cave which is not too far from the Bat Cave. It is considerably smaller and cost 280 yen to get into. The locals use the cave and have been using it since the 1900’s to store ice all year round. There were a lot of stairs inside the cave, and some very slippery but that was to be expected. We took a few pictures of some of the coolest icicles but they didn’t turn out very good since it was pretty dark inside for our cameras. After visiting two caves it was time to warm up at the Yurari Hot Spring. It was not far either; we took the regular bus a couple of stops down. The hot spring is open until 10pm and the second floor we went to had gorgeous views of Mount Fuji. The baths were gender segregated and it cost 1200 yen per person to get in. We were also given the option of a private bath with views for 1580 yen for 45 minutes. However we weren’t going to spend that much money when the female baths on the second floor already had great views. We left the Hot Spring at 8:30pm and took the regular bus back to the hotel. This was our last day in the Fuji Five Lakes region and it was a good one.
Here's some photos of the caves!
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Day Six - Kyoto

Kyoto Bound!

On our first day in Kyoto we went for a nice morning walk through the Philosopher's Path (Tetsugaku no michi) in Kyoto’s Higashiyama district. The path was lined by hundreds of cherry trees closely following a canal. Since it is early April the trees are all blossoming like crazy, we truly picked the best time to visit Japan. After walking through the Philosopher’s Path we made our way down to the best preserved part of the district. It feels as if you have gone back into Kyoto’s past walking down these narrow streets, especially around the Yasaka Shrine. Here the buildings were all wooden, traditional merchant shops and café’s are lined up one behind the other and even the telephone poles have been taken out to add to the old city feel. We visited a few souvenir shops here and the Kiyomizu-yaki pottery store which sells local hand crafts and of course pottery. There are many interesting shops here, most have been here for centuries and are still in business today. Before heading to the Fushimi Inari Shrine we stopped at one café for tea. It tasted quite bitter but it is a tradition to drink green tea. The tea is supposed to have a bitter taste to it, and it is whisked in a bowl. It is a high honor to have green tea served to you, because it is a sign of respect.
Here's a photo to get a image of what it is:
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We took a bus to the Fushimi Inari Shrine at around noon. This Shinto Shrine is one of the most famous in southern Kyoto for its thousands of torij gates that form an entire network of trails that lead into the forest of sacred Mount Inari. The pamphlet we got at the entrance said that the Fushimi Inari shrine is dedicated to “Inari” who is the Shinto god of rice. Walking around the grounds we spotted many fox statues. We asked a nice Japanese man whether there was a reason for why there are so many. He explained that foxes are believed to be Inari’s messengers and said that this shine is one of the most important and ancient ones dedicated to Inari. It was interesting walking through the bright orange torij gates; it felt like a maze that leads you into the unknown. It was really cool but we couldn’t spend too long here as we had another temple to go visit before it closed. Well, we were given a lot of information before we went to the Fushimi Inari Shrine. We are supposed to behave calmly, and respectfully. We are supposed to make a short prayer in front of the sacred object in the room, and to do this, you are supposed to toss a coin first into the offering box, and then make your prayer. We smelt a lot of burning incense, and saw them in large burners. They believe that the smoke from the incense has healing powers, so if you were to fan it to a part that hurts on you, it will help heal it. So we all tried it out. You never know what can come out of it. We were also told that when you enter a temple, you have to take off your shoes, and wear these weird plastic bags instead. I wish we had known to wear nice socks, because we felt somewhat embarrassed wearing obnoxiously colored socks into the temple. Better be careful about that for next time! One of the biggest things that we need to keep in mind is that photographs aren’t allowed inside of the temples, but they are allowed outside of it. That kind of sucks, but what can we do? Shrines have similar rules to temples, but there is a purification fountain near the entrance of the shrine, and you’re supposed to take a ladle, pour some of the water in your hand, and rinse your mouth and spit beside the fountain. You cannot transfer the water directly because it will then take away the purification elements of the water.

It was the Tōfukuji Zen Temple, only one station away with the JR Kyoto train line. This Zen temple is the main Zen temple in Kyoto and the head temple of one of the Rinzai sect schools of Zen Buddhism. We heard that people come here from all over Japan in the fall because of the tall maple trees turning into beautiful autumn colours. Even though we didn’t get to see this place in the fall it was very beautiful, we walked over the Tsutenkyo Bridge which is also famous for its views of the temple and the Sanmon Gate. The Sanmon Gate is the oldest Zen Gate dating back to 1425 and it is also one of the largest at 22 meters tall. Behind the Zen Gate there were many smaller buildings that stand as examples of Muromachi Period (1333-1573) architecture such as a meditation hall, bath and lavatory. Our last stop of the night was Gion, a famous geisha district on Shijo Avenue. The district is filled with many shops and restaurants as well as teahouses they call “ochaya” where geishas entertain. There are many traditional wooden merchant houses here and they are all very narrow. When we stopped for some drinks at one of the restaurant’s our waitress said these houses are so tiny because property taxes before were very high and based upon how much street frontage was taken up. We had learned a lot these last few days and can’t wait to learn and see a lot more. But that was our first day in Kyoto.

This is a awesome photo we took at the Fushimi Inari Shrine!
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Day Seven - Kyoto

Daigoji Temple!

Today we went to see the Daigoji temple of the Shingon sect of Buddhism. It is also a world heritage site so we weren’t going to skip it. From the main Kyoto Station we caught a JR train to Yamashina Station (5 minute ride, cost 180 yen) and then transfer to the Tozai Subway Line (roughly 10 minutes, cost 250 yen). The Daigoji temple grounds are actually situated at the base of a mountain and to get to the other temple buildings you must take a hiking trail. As soon as we entered the grounds we saw the former residence of the head priest called the Sanboin. It was first built in 1115 but according to a tour guide we overhead it was later expanded in 1598 for a famous cherry blossom party. This party was organized by Toyotomi Hideyoshi..we are not too sure who he is. This place was truly charming, so charming that Emily did not want to leave. She said how she could spend her entire life living here with a monk. We thought she was joking, but when we were leaving we realized she was not walking behind us! We lost her and had to search all over the temple grounds to find her. After half an hour we finally found her, she was sitting on a bench beside a little pond observing the monks in front of the temple. We dragged her out while she wept saying how she had finally found her paradise and we were forcing her to leave. She eventually shut up when we bought her tasty Japanese snacks at the train station. We took a train back to Kyoto Station where we got off to visit the Kyoto Tower. The tower was built in 1964 which is the year the Tokyo Olympics took place and the shinkansen was open. It is Kyoto’s landmark and obviously its tallest building seeing as Kyoto is famous for its temples not high rise buildings. We went up to the viewing platform from where we could see all of Kyoto and its suburbs. The views were breathtaking, and we would recommend anyone that visits Kyoto to go to the tower.
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Day Eight - Kyoto

More shrines and fun stuff!

In Kyoto, the streets are in a rectangular system. Most of the central streets are named, unlike some of the other parts of Japan. This was weird for us to see, but that’s okay. At least we have something to go off of for traveling around. In downtown Kyoto, there is a high concentration of dining, shopping and a large entertainment selection. There is a Japan Rail station located just south of the city center, but its pretty accessible. We learned today that Kyoto is a city with the highest concentration of Taxi’s in Japan. This was a weird fact, but it looked almost like New York would with the amount of Taxi’s around everywhere. We rode inside of one and it can hold up to four passengers, and they range from 600 yen for the first kilometer, and then it costs 100 yen for every additional 500 meters traveled. Weird hey? There are some pretty neat passes available for Kyoto for its transportation, there is a sightseeing card which is 1200 yen for one day, and 2000 yen for two days, and it has unlimited travel on the buses, subway lines and it can be used for two consecutive days. There is also a subway one day card, where you can use the subways whenever you’d like, in one day for 600 yen.

This was our last day in Kyoto, tomorrow morning we leave for Hiroshima. We will truly miss this place! We went to Nijo Castle this morning, the residence of the first shogun of the Edo Period, Tokugawa Ieyasu. As soon as we entered through the gates of the east entrance we saw they were renting English audio guides for 500 yen so we got 2 of them to share. The English audio guide said that Tokugawa’s grandson completed the castle 23 years later and also added a five story castle keep. After the fall of the Shogunate in 1867 the castle was used as an imperial palace until it was finally donated to the city and opened up to public. We found that the castle is interestingly divided into three areas: a main circle of defense (the Honmaru), a secondary circle of defense (the Ninomaru) and a great garden that surrounds them. Additionally, the gardens are surrounded by moats and stone walls on all sides. Our favorite place inside was the Ninomaru Palace, it is connected with five separate buildings and has many lavish ecoration such as golf leafs and wood carvings which were intended to impress visitors. What was unique is that lower-ranking visitors to the castle stayed in the outer chambers of the Ninomaru while higher-ranking visitors received luxurious inner chambers. This was done to intimidate visitors and show the shoguns power. What we found most remarkable of all was the “Nightgale floors” in the hallways. These floors were made so that they would squeak almost like birds when someone walks on them. They did this to protect the occupants from assassins.
The Nijo Castle:
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After exploring the Nijo castle we took the bus to the Kyoto Imperial Palace. We had to go on a guided tour with the Imperial Household Agency because that’s the only way to enter the grounds. The tour took one hour, we were lead through all the gardens and around the buildings however we couldn’t actually go into any of the buildings. It was still cool to see and learn about though. This palace was the residence of Japan’s Imperial family up to 1868 when the capital was moved to Tokyo. The palace that stands here today is the reconstructed version. The original palace had burnt down and was rebuilt in 1855. We got to see from the outside the main palace, the Hall for State Ceremonies, the “Refreshing Hall”, Court Room and the Imperial Library. We also walked by several residences for the empress and high-ranking government officials. It was exciting seeing all these temples, shrines and castles in Kyoto but it is time to go to bed now as we continue our journey to Hiroshima tomorrow.
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This is the Kyoto Imperial Palace

Posted by saitjapan 09:43 Comments (0)

Day Nine - Hiroshima

Accommodations, and much more!

We got to Hiroshima via the Shinkansen train at 11am, dropped off our stuff at our hotel and then went to grab a bite to eat at a nearby restaurant. We then made our way to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. The park was huge; we didn’t expect it to be that big! It’s over 120,000 square meters and stands out from the rest of the city because of its huge green areas. We visited the Peace Memorial Museum which was made up of two buildings. The museum tells the story of the August 6th nuclear bomb dropping and show cases the human suffering that resulted from it. The area where the park is situated right now used to be a political and commercial hub but it was decided the area would not be re-built but instead dedicated as a peace memorial. It was very upsetting reading all the stories and seeing pictures of those who had suffered and it was very hard for all of us to refrain from bursting into tears. Afterwards we went to visit the A-Bomb Dome which is the only building that remained standing after the bomb was dropped. Today it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and will forever trigger memories of Hiroshima’s past. We also visited the Cenotaph of the A-Bomb Victims. This is an arched tomb with a giant list of victims names displayed that died because of the bomb. We read that there were over 220,000 that died, either because of the initial blast or such large exposure to radiation. Every year on August 6th at 8:15am (the exact time of the blast) a ceremony is held at the park with a moment of silence. Afterwards speeches are made and covers are laid at the Cenotaph. Our next stop was the Hiroshima Castle. It was built in 1589 by Mori Terumoto and survived into the modern era until it was destroyed by the atomic bomb in 1945. The castle was rebuilt with almost the same resemblance after the war. Today inside the castle there is a small museum on the castle’s history, Hiroshima’s history and the history of Japanese castles. We found it very informative and rather interesting. Since it was already getting late we decided to go check-out downtown Hiroshima and have dinner. We walked though Hondori Street which is like 17th Ave here in Calgary. It is lined with many shops and restaurants. We continued our walk downtown through Aioi Street where the Hiroshima Baseball Stadium is and many large department stores. We were told that we had to try Hiroshima style Okonomiyaki which is a Japanese savory pancake, so we went where they make them best, Okonomi-mura. Okonomi-mura is a small district with many restaurants on the eastern end of downtown which is actually named after the Japanese specialty. Ours had all kinds of veggies and meats on it. They usually have ingredients such as shrimp, green onions, mayonnaise and cheese on them but it varies from city to city and restaurant of course. They were actually very delicious although we were kind of afraid to try them at first. After dinner and walking around downtown some more and visiting a few shops we decided to call it a night.
There were some things that we saw around town that surprised us, mainly some being accommodations. There are many different places to stay in Japan. There are both western and Japanese styles. Japanese styles include accommodations such as capsule hotels, temple lodgings, and so much more. We went ahead and did some research when we arrived to see where we could consider staying in the different areas of Japan, and we found the prices of some accommodations. In Ryokan’s, it ranges from 6000-30000 Yen, and they are Japanese inns with Japanese style rooms, and they make you seem like your living in an actual Japanese home. There is also a Minshuku, which is a bed and breakfast style of lodging. The neat thing about this accommodation is that it is family run, and they have one or two meals in the price of 4000-10000 Yen per person. Dormitories are quite popular as well, and they are found in the larger cities, and they offer women-only rooms mainly. They range from 1000-3000 Yen per room. Capsule hotels are a very interesting thing that we saw, because they are literally small downsized rooms. They have a unique style with nothing but a bed, a television and a shared bathroom. Coin lockers are usually provided, and they target mainly male clientele. This costs 3000-4000 Yen a person. Temple lodgings are quite popular as well, but are a bit more on the pricey side. They range from 3000-10000 yen per person and it usually includes two vegetarian meals. You can join in the Buddhist prayers in the mornings. The last unique hotel that we had come across, by accident, is a love hotel. It wasn’t until we had rented a room, and walked out into the hall and saw a lot of… inappropriate behavior did we realize we were in a love hotel. The hotel rooms can be rented for 2-3 hours at a time, or for an overnight stay. They can range anywhere from 6000-12000 yen a person. Erin, Emily, Liz and Maddi let’s just say, had a very interesting experience.

Some of the neat things that we learned when we were out and about is that Hiroshima is the host to Japan’s largest tram network, holding 8 tram lines, which go to the city’s attractions. The fare for these tram’s are 150 yen each, and you pay when you exit the tram. You can request a transfer card from the driver when exiting the first tram, and use it for the second tram. We found out that you can also buy a one day card for unlimited tram use on the entire network, for 600 yen each. We found out that you can get a ferry ride to the site Miyajima for an additional 240 yen. Pretty neat if you ask us!

Posted by saitjapan 09:42 Comments (0)

Day Ten- Hiroshima

Some last sightseeing opportunities and the last day here

Our last day in Hiroshima consisted of visiting another castle as well as a museum and garden. First we took the bus to a small city called just outside Hiroshima called Iwakuni which is known for its uniquely constructed bridge called Kintai-kyo. We walked over the bridge then went to the Iwakuni Castle which was built in the beginning of the Edo Period in 1608. It is situated on top of Mount Shiroyama looking onto the city 200 meters below it. Since the castle was built over the course of 5 years it didn’t take long for it to deteriorate. It was torn down by order of the shogun around 7 years after it was completed. Today’s version dates back to 1962 we were told and it is just beautiful. Inside the castle we got to see samurai swords and armor and learn plenty about the castle’s past. We left the castle in the afternoon to get back into the city so we could visit the Mazda Museum as we had made an appointment for a 3pm tour. Reservations must be made in advance and you can’t wander around on your own, a guide shows you around. The Mazda Motor Corporation was founded in Hiroshima in 1920 and its headquarters remain there to this day. We met up with all the other people that would be going on the tour inside the Mazda Head Office building where we were met by our tour guide. We then all got on a mini bus that took us to the nearby plant. We were shown Mazda’s oldest car models, told about its history and what future developments they have in the making. Then we got to pass through an assembly line, saw how the cars are put together and got to check out several of the new models that aren’t even on the streets yet. The tour ended at a shop that sold Mazda goods and lasted around 90 minutes. The tour was not boring at all, we were debating whether or not we should go to the Mazda museum but we were glad we had. Our last attraction we visited in Hiroshima was the Shukkeien Garden. Translated into English it actually means shrunken scenery garden one fellow told us. He said the garden dates back to 1620 just after the Hiroshima Castle was built. The nice guy went to have tea with us at one of the tea houses; he was very friendly so we weren’t sure if he was gay or hitting on us. Either way, he showed us around, told us all about the gardens history and engaged in a short but sweet conversation with us about the Hiroshima bomb. After he left we walked around the garden some more, following it until we had made a full circle. The garden was designed to represent various landscapes in miniature, such as mountains, valleys and forests. It was very pretty and made for a nice quiet evening on our last day in Hiroshima and Japan. We had such a great time here; we can’t wait to come back. The people are friendly, attractions are plenty, and great food and shopping is at every corner.

To celebrate our last evening in Japan, we decided to drink some of the traditional alcohol in Japan, Sake. We then went through and looked at all of the photos that we took and all of the souvenir’s that we had purchased. We got Matcha Tea Sets, which are used for the green tea rituals,paper lanterns, which are washi paper glued on a bamboo frame, some Japanese hand fans, Yukata’s, which are cotton Kimono’s with the Geta shoes to go with them. We made out like bandits!

We have learned too much and will treasure this experience for ever. Thank you Japan for hosting some crazy Canadian tourists!

Until next time,
Love Liz, Maddi, Emily and Erin

Posted by saitjapan 09:42 Comments (0)

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