Posted by: Darrell | December 21, 2008

Fukuoka

Fukuoka Coastline as seen from the top of Fukuoka Tower

Fukuoka Coastline as seen from the top of Fukuoka Tower

Or otherwise known as Fukuwaka in the movie Lost in Translation, the center of Western Japan, Fukuoka is a richly historical city. Split into Fukuoka and Hakata, this was the second destination on our Farewell Japan Trip. I had always wanted to come to Kyushu and in order to go anywhere else in Kyushu by train you must transit at Hakata station. A short train ride from Kita Kyushu, this was our first major foray into the Kyushu region and culture.

Waiting for the ultimate ramen experience

Waiting for the ultimate ramen experience

Fukuoka is unique from the other major commercial centres of Japan in that it  is more culturally unique due to its greater distance from former Imperial rule. Also being the closest major city to Korea and other Asian countries, Fukuoka has some distinct food and influences. One of those being ramen, tonkontsu ramen. Not wanting to miss out on the ultimate ramen experience we waited about 30 mins to have a bowl (well, two for myself) in one of Fukuoka’s most famous and established ramen joints.

Canal Gardens

Canal City

Oddly warm, but pouring rain, we headed to discover Fukuoka’s amazingly beautiful beaches and coastline. What temples and shrines are to Kyoto, beaches and ocean are to Fukuoka. From the top of Fukuoka tower, we were able to view the amazing beauty even on a rainy day. Heading back into the city, we also experienced the big city aspect of Fukuoka in the form of Canal City. A massive mall with everything from discounter Muji to designer boutiques, the mall was insanely beautiful and awe inspiring at the same time. While we only had one day to spend in Fukuoka, we were captivated by it’s ocean beauty and chic retailing.

Posted by: Darrell | December 20, 2008

Kita Kyushu

The bridge that connects Kyushu to Honshu

The bridge that connects Kyushu to Honshu

Otherwise known as Kokura, Kita Kyushu is a small town located near at the north eastern tip of Kyushu Island where Kyushu meets Honshu. Generally more known as an industrial town, Kita Kyushu was the first stop on our Farewell Japan Tour. With the wonderful hospitality of Kenji and his family, we were able to travel around the city and really get to see what most other don’t.

A view of Kita Kyushu from Kokura Castle

A view of Kita Kyushu from Kokura Castle

One of the most amazing things to do while in Kokura is to walk underneath the Kanmon straight (underground and underwater) and straddle the line between Honshu and Kyushu. While only a short walk between the islands, the underwater feeling is quite surreal. The bridge above the straight the connects the island also provides a great picture. Kokura Castle was also another stop on our day trip and yielded magnificent views of downtown Kokura. While the sites were nice and city was quiet and peaceful, the evening spent with Kenji and his family was nicest part as we got to be part of a family one last time before Liz and I set out together on our journey across Japan.

Posted by: Darrell | December 18, 2008

Fushimi Inari

The red tori gates of Fushimi Inari

The red tori gates of Fushimi Inari

Another one of the most famous places in Kyoto is Fushimi Inari, the mountain of a thousand red tori gates. Made all the more famous by Memoirs of  Geisha, this shrine truly is seperated from the rest of Kyoto. Not a temple, or a castle it is simply a mountain with red gates. Although many shrines are often built to worship Inari, the deity of fertility, rice, agriculture, foxes and industry, Fushimi Inari is the largest and most famous. Situated south of Kyoto and a short walk from the train station, the gates run up and down the mountain.

The view from half way up

The view from half way up

Being a little short on time, we didn’t get to climb to the top. However, we got half way there and if the beauty from half way is any indication of what lies at the top, Fushimi Inari is absolutely amazing. Among the many things I won’t get to do on this exchange, climbing to the top of Fushimi Inari will be one of them. So until, I will just have to live having on withnessed half its beauty.

Posted by: Darrell | December 11, 2008

The Phoenix Temple

Byodoin in coin form and in wooden form

Byodoin in coin form and in wooden form

On another adventure with Xo, we head south of Kyoto to Uji on our beloved Keihan Line. Uji is famous for green tea and some of the best can be found here (although I wouldn’t be able to tell you exactly where). I do know however, that there are a lot of green tea fields here and many shops hawking their produce. Since I have been collecting and pressing some of the beautiful autumn leaves, I decided to collect a green tea leaf from one of the unguarded fields (although probably not the most Japanese thing to do, I probably should have left a 100yen to assuage my guilt). Uji is more that though, it is one of the most charming cities I have visited. The river lined with cherry blossom and the mountains in the background really remind me of the harmony of nature and civilization. Following that we made our way past the beautiful river and head towards Byodoin, the famous Phoenix temple featured on the back of the 10yen coin.

Byodoin - Phoenix - Temple

Byodoin - Phoenix - Temple

I must say that out of the many temples that I have visited, Byodoin has to be one of my favourite (and it’s not because of the Phoenix part, yeah my favourite book is Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix), but because of the beautiful combination of garden and temple. Furthermore, the museum was a completely different story. I haven’t visited too many museums in Japan, however, this one was simply outstanding. Protecting the artifacts of such a historic temple, I never expected the type of ultra modern minimalist architecture. The combination of wood, glass, black theme and soft lighting starks in contrast to the bright, gold and wooden Phoenix temple creating a perfect reflection in the water. Moreover, the museum displayed some of the best parts of the original temple including the Phoenixes that stand guard on the roof and the sculptures of the various deities.

The river running through Uji

The river running through Uji

The Phoenix temple is a deserving world heritage site that sits in the idealyic city of Uji.  And much like our interesting and fabulous (cheap and delicious) lunch; off the beaten path but well worth the journey.

Posted by: Darrell | December 6, 2008

Nijo Castle and Kodaiji

Nijo Castle

Nijo Castle

Kyoto has two very famous castles, the first of which is the Imperial Castle belonging to the emperor. The other is Nijo Castle, former Kyoto home of the Tokugawa Shogunate. Nijo isn’t particularly large, or grand or even imposing. It doesn’t even exude a Shogun aura. In fact, you are really left wondering why you even came here in outset. However, when you step inside, it is a completely different story. The castle that seemed so plain on the outside is an living piece of art on the inside. Crafted and decorated by the most accomplished and famous artists in historic Japan, Nijo Castle just amazes you with the intricacies and the imposing grandeur of art that covers ever inch of the castle. The golden hollyhock crest of the Tokugawa family is on every handle, and every place of significance and letting all those know that they are in the house of Tokugawa.

The rock garden at Kodaiji

The rock garden at Kodaiji

However, being a living work of art, the curators of the castle did not allow you to touch (obviously) nor take a single picture of anything (seriously?!?!?). So being driven by curiosity, I waited until there was no one around (and with Xo on the lookout!) and then…. decided to touch the gold crest of the Tokugawa family and feel the power and history emanate through the golden symbol of Japanese warriors and military dominance. To be honest, I probably should have taken an illegal picture rather than cop an illegal feel.

Kodaiji Garden

Kodaiji Garden

After Nijo, Xo and I met up with Liz and Justin and we went to Kodaiji, on the recommendation of my Okaasan. Although, relatively unknown outside of the season and not popular during the daytime, Kodaiji is a completely different place at night during Autumn. Along with Kiyomizudera, they are both the most famous places in Japan for nighttime light displays of maples leaves. However, while Kodaiji is a tame and uninspiring mix of bamboo, maple trees, ponds, and rock gardens during the day, at night amid the strategically places lights, Kodaiji is a wonderland of Japanese perfection of seasonal gardens. Nijo and Kodaiji are both outstanding in their own rights and the one thing I can take back from seeing both is that art isn’t just a picture or a painting or a sculpture, it is in the intimidation in the walls of Nijo and the way a light can turn an ordinary garden into a world of dreams and fantasy.

The bamboo garden in Kodaiji

The bamboo garden in Kodaiji

The maples with the moon in the background at Kodaiji

The maple leaves with the moon in the background at Kodaiji

Posted by: Darrell | November 30, 2008

Arashiyama

Togetsukyo Bridge with Mt. Arashiyama in the background

Togetsukyo Bridge with Mt. Arashiyama in the background

In my opinion, the most beautiful season to visit Japan is in the autumn when the leaves turn fiery red and bright yellow. Some might argue that the Sakura blossoms are prettier, however, the beauty is often overshadowed by the brevity. While as the maple leaves can often be enjoyed for an entire month and there is no place better than Arashiyama. Located north of Kyoto, Arashiyama is one of the most famous places in all of Japan for the activity of autumn leaf viewing. That being said, it is easily one of the busiest places during the aforementioned season.

Tenryuji Temple

Tenryuji Temple

Although a very long and cramped train ride to get there, you are quickly reward with a beautiful view of the Togetsukyo bridge with Mt. Arashiyama in the background, in all its autumn leaf glory. The town is also very charming, while at the same time blatantly catering to tourists. The Tenryuji Temple is a definite stop on your journey as it was incredibly beautiful with a dizzying array of multicoloured trees surrounding an emerald lake. Behind the temple is also a serene bamboo groove that towers over the path while the leaves over hang casting dancing shadows with the sunlight.

The Bamboo Grove Behind Tenryuji Temple

The Bamboo Grove Behind Tenryuji Temple

As this point, I wish I could have said that I captured all its beauty but unfortunately my camera ran out of batteries. And while I was really looking forward to the Torokko train ride along the mountain, we were unfortunately unaware that tickets were booked days in advanced. However, even though I can only describe its beauty at least I got to experience it. And I keep coming back to the conclusion that Kyoto really is, the most beautiful place in Japan

Posted by: Darrell | November 23, 2008

Kobe Sunset

Kobe Port

Kobe Port

Kobe never ceases to amaze me. Although I came here near the beginning of the semester on my first ever weekend excursion, it really left an impression that I vowed to come back. And I did, with Xo. During the first trip that I took to Kobe, I really got explore a lot of the city, but never spent quality in any of the places. Kobe is great because you can walk across the whole town in a couple of hours without ever having to rely on transit.
This time, I decided to spend more time in Chinatown, Kobe Port and Mosaic Gardens.  Although Chinatown has the commercial glitzy feel, it does have some great street side food. It is always a nice place to walk around and also a passing point to get to Kobe Port from Sannomiya Station by foot.

Sunset over the industrial section of Kobe Port

Sunset over the industrial section of Kobe Port

Kobe Port on the other hand is amazing. The last time I came, we reached the port by dusk and only viewed it from Kobe Tower (still amazing). However, this time we managed to get there during the day and walk around Merikin Park (more amazing, yes…”amazing” is the buzz word for this post). The park looks brand new and very beautiful, but slightly hidden at one end of the park is a sad reminder of the Great Hanshin Earthquake that destroyed Kobe. This is definitely a part of the park that should not be missed. The greatest thing about the park is that it is all linked from the park to the port to Mosaic Gardens and this is a great walking path.

Sunet over the bay

Sunset over the bay

This time I also got to take a harbour cruise around the bay and timed it so that we cruised to the sunset. Once again, another unforgettable moment; cruising the harbour and watching the sun disappear over Kobe (even more amazing!).

Posted by: Darrell | November 22, 2008

Osaka Sunset

Osaka Castle

Osaka Castle

Through all my travels, the one place that doesn’t really receive much mention is Osaka. To be honest, Osaka isn’t quite as beautiful at Kyoto, nor as metropolitan as Tokyo or as culturally diverse as Fukuoka. However, Osaka is the heart of the Kansai area and is a great city in its own right.

I finally got to spend some time in the “Tokyo of the West” aside from the shopping in Namba and the clubbing in Shinsaibashi. Along with Bao, we first went to Osaka castle and was floored by its majestic beauty. However, that’s where the praise stopped. Inside, Osaka castle is actually a modern building and you can’t help but feel a little cheated. Tile floors, marble staircases, stainless steel elevators, minimalist decor it seemed more like a museum rather than a castle. The view from the top wasn’t anything spectacular either, although I can’t complain too much since it was free for exchange students. If you really want the castle experience head to Himeji, if you just want to see a castle go to Osaka Castle, but don’t pay to go inside.

Sunset from the Umeda Sky Building

Sunset from the Umeda Sky Building

Following the less than spectacular view, we headed to Umeda Sky Building hoping to end the day better than it started. Umeda Sky Building is located in Umeda (obviously!) and is one of the tallest buildings in the area with an unobstructed view of almost all of Osaka. The sunset, well that is a completely different story. I have to say that the sunset from the Sky Building more than makes up for all the short comings of Osaka Castle and well… Osaka city for that matter ( although it really isn’t that bad, I just make it sound worse than it actually is but it is kind of hard being Osaka when you have a much more beautiful sister right next to you; Kyoto). Out of all the views I have experienced so far, this has to be right up there and this really is a highlight of Osaka.

Osaka at Night

Osaka at Night

So then, a hard city to fall in love with, but with just one sunset Osaka can really shine.

Posted by: Darrell | November 16, 2008

The Golden Temple and the Rock Garden

Kinkakuji (The Golden Pavillion)

Kinkakuji (The Golden Pavillion)

More famously known as Kinkakuji (The Golden Pavillion) and Ryoanji. These two are a stone’s throw away from another (no pun intended) and are quite a trip out of the Kyoto Core. These two temples are definitely on any Kyoto’s must visit list and are both some of the most celebrated and photographed places in Kyoto.

Kinkakuji with the Yellow Maple Leaves

Kinkakuji with the Yellow Maple Leaves

I chose to see them a little later stay during my stay, one, because it is always more beautiful with the maples leaves and two, because it is quite an adventure to get to them involving, one train, one subway and one street car ride followed by a 15-20 min walk. However, I chose a great season and a beautiful day to visit.

Ryoanji Rock Garden

Ryoanji Rock Garden

There isn’t much more to say as there is so much written about them. Enjoy my pictures, however, if you are ever in Japan, you have to see their beauty and splendour in person as my picture or any pictures could never do them justice.

Posted by: Darrell | November 15, 2008

Shichi Go San

A child at Heian Jingu for Shichi Go San

A child at Heian Jingu for Shichi Go San

With all the travelling that I have been doing, I haven‘t really had the chance to go to any festivals or cultural events in Japan. So to kill two birds with one stone, I decided to go to see Heian Jingu and see the festival known as Shichi-Go-San (or 7-5-3). This festival is where kids that are 7, 5 or 3 years old are dressed up in traditional Japanese clothes and taken to the shrines and temples to pray for good luck and health.

Heian Jingu Shrine

Heian Jingu Shrine

Heian Jingu is the newest temple in Kyoto and clashes with the more richly historical and centuries old temples and shrines. With its bright red paint, it is evident that Heian Jingu isn’t the prettiest temple nor the most celebrated (although, the most celebrated would be debatable), however, it does play home to the majority of the Shichi-Go-San participants. So then, a new home for an old tradition.

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