Archive for the 'Japan' Category

The view from on high

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

There’s nothing like climbing a mountain to teach you how out of shape you are.

Yesterday, I went to Mount Takao, which involved taking the subway 14 stops to Shibuya station, realizing that I meant to go to Shinjuku station instead, three stops on the JR line to Shinjuku, then taking the commuter railway for 50 minutes to Takaosanguchi. Then, a simple 4 km walk up 600 metres of vertical to the temple at the top of the mountain.

Oddly, there were a few maple trees at the station that were in glorious fall colours, but higher up on the mountain, most of the trees had yet to start turning.

About 3/4 of the way up, there was a reasonably good view of part of Tokyo, which stretches as far as the eye can see, yet it’s still beyond comprehension that 35 million people live here.

Tokyo from Mt. Takao

Tokyo from Mt. Takao

Since the days are short, I took a ski-lift chair down from about 2/3 of the way up the mountain. It was very Japanese; you stand on a conveyor belt and the chair sneaks up on you; at the end, you step off onto another conveyor belt. The whole way down, it was either 3 metres off the ground, or three metres above a raised platform with net so you wouldn’t hurt yourself (much) if you fell, yet there was no bar to keep you in the chair.

It’s just started drizzling here in Tokyo; today I head off for Nara, where it’s cloudy and expected to be sunny tomorrow.

It’s fall for sure…

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

Here in Tokyo, it is (a) cool and (b) raining. It started getting dark around 4:00.

But at least I found my first maple tree in Koishikawa Koraku Park…

Japanese Maple Leaves - In the rain.

Japan Trip #2 Details

Sunday, November 1st, 2009

I’ve got all the bookings done for my second trip to Japan; I went in the spring to photography Cherry Blossoms, now I’m going back to photograph Fall Colours.

This is my Itenerary:

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
Leave US
Tokyo (arr)
Tokyo (dep)
Nara (arr)
Nara (dep)
Kyoto (arr)
Kyoto (dep)
Tokyo (arr)
Tokyo (dep)
Fly home

And here it is on a map, along with my trip earlier this year.


Things/Places to see/go:


Takao san Mount Takao, Temple, Hiking, Foliage.
8:00 am to 5:00 pm. Keio Railways offer the cheapest and fastest connections to Takaosan. Direct semi-limited express trains, which take about 50 minutes and 370 yen, leave the underground Keio Shinjuku station every 20 minutes. Takaosanguchi Station, the train’s terminal station, is located at the foot of the mountain.The JR alternative is by Chuo Line from Shinjuku to Takao Station (540 yen, about 50 minutes), where you transfer to the Keio Line and ride one more station to Takaosanguchi Station (120 yen, 2 minutes).

Rikugi-en Gardens
9 a.m. to 5 p.m. It is a short walk from Komagome Station on the JR Yamanote line and the Tokyo Metro Namboku Line.

Koishikawa Koen Gardens with good fall colours.
9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Koishikawa Korakuen is a 5-10 minute walk from Iidabashi Station (various JR and subway lines) or a 10 minute walk from Korakuen Station on the Marunouchi and Nanboku Subway Line.


Tofuku-ji Said to be the best place for fall in Kyoto.
9:00 to 4:00. Tofukuji is a 10-15 minute walk from Tofukuji Station on the Keihan Main Line and JR Nara Line. By JR, Tofukuji Station it is just one station from Kyoto Station (2 minutes, 140 Yen by local train).

Fushimi Inari-taisha The ten thousand tori.
24 hours! The shrine is a three-minute walk from JR Nara Line Inari Station, 10 minutes from Kyoto Station. It is a five-minute walk from Keihan Electric RailwayMain Line Fushimi-Inari station.

Kiyomizudera Temple The “balcony” temple.
Hours 6:00 am to 6:00 pm. Kiyomizudera can be reached from Kyoto Station in about 15 minutes by bus. Take bus number 100 or 206 and get off at Kiyomizu-michi or Gojo-zaka, from where it is a 10-15 minute uphill walk to the temple.

Eikando Temple The “Maple Leaf” Temple. Lit up at night!
Evening hours are 5:30 to 9:00. Due north of Nanzenji Temple. From Kyoto Station, take city bus #5, and get off at “Nanzen-ji Eikando-michi.”

Gots to Sleeps Some!

MTWR 16-19 Jimbocho Sakura Hotel, Tokyo.
2-21-4 Kanda-Jimbocho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 101-0051
Jimbocho Station, exit A6 (Been there before; don’t need directions ;) )

RFSU 19-22 Nara Ugaya, Nara
4-1 Okukomoricho, Nara City, Japan
From JR Nara station (5min): After coming out the station, go past a Lawson (a convenience store you can see on your right) and cross the street. Keep walking straight and you will find UGAYA guest house on your right just before the end of the street.

UMTWRF 22-27 Guest House Yahata, Kyoto
544 Yahata-cho, Gojo-agaru, Nishinotoin, Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto-shi 600-8455
Take Kyoto city bus and alight at Gojo Nishinotoin.1 minute walk from any bus stops on Gojo Nishinotoin.

FS 27-28 Jimbocho Sakura Hotel, Tokyo


Narita -> 東京 Tokyo 1000 円
1. Take the Keisei express train.
2. At Oshiage station, change to the Hanzomon subway line.
3. Get off at Jinbocho Station Z07.

東京 -> 奈良 Nara 14050 円
1. Tokyo Station
2. JR Nara Station

奈良 -> 京都 Kyoto 610 円
1. JR Nara Station
2. Kyoto Station

京都 -> 東京 13520 円
Should be obvious ;)

Because Mac Tech is boring…

Sunday, June 14th, 2009

A pair of pictures from Japan that I’m slooooowwwwlllllyyyy getting through…

Holy water, temple, Nikko, Japan

Kaminarimon Gate, Sensoji / Asakusa Kannon Temple

On Japanese

Sunday, April 26th, 2009

One question everyone is asking me since I got back from Japan is “How well did you do with your two semesters of Japanese? Were you able to get by?”

The answer is yes and no… I have the vocabulary of your average three-year-old child, and grammatical structures to match. In English, I would be able to say “I would like to buy a ticket on the Shinkansen to Toyko,” in Japanese I could get the point across with “ときょに しんかんせんで いきます おねがいします”, which literally means “To Toyko using Shinkansen Go Please.”

In fact, “___ please” turned out to be quite a useful little phrase. Ordering in restaurants became a matter of looking around, seeing someone eating something that looked good, and saying “that please.” Of course, it didn’t always work out – Theoretically, if nobody was eating anything that I wanted to eat, I would have to leave, hang around outside for 10 minutes, then go back in and try again.

Another thing I wasn’t prepared for was all the kanji. You see, Japanese is written in a combination of two alphabets and thousands of Chinese characters called kanji. And my courses don’t teach any kanji.

Because of this, you find yourself left in situations such as arriving at the train station and wondering when the next train to your destination is leaving…


Then you have to find the station on a map and figure out how much the ticket will cost…


And, of course, once you figure it out and buy a ticket, you have to try and discover (a) which track the train is departing from, (b) which car you should be in (because sometimes the trains end up splitting and going in two directions), and (c) which seat you have to sit in.


By the way, awesome bokeh in the background on that picture!

Sometimes it didn’t matter that I couldn’t read kanji, because the meaning was completely obvious:


And other times, my lack of kanji-ability didn’t matter, because I doubt it would have helped me figure out what some things were:


The English on the box says “Flash Over: Here is the thing I have been longing for. Transformation of extra quality is now completed. Experience yourself with this satisfaction.” Given that this was on a shelf near the boob cream, my theory is that it’s either a herbal anti-depressant or a vibrator.

I had brought my Japanese textbook with me, and I decided to go back to the beginning and start looking up all the Kanji for words that I didn’t know. Of course, studying isn’t exactly barrels of fun while you’re on vacation, so I decided to force myself to learn – I decided I would only order things in restaurants if I could read the name of it (with the help of a dictionary, of course) off the menu. Of course, I was buying most of my meals at convenience or grocery stores – this was to save money, not an unintended consequence of not ordering food I couldn’t read. (yeah right, says the peanut gallery.)

I had some success and some failures. For example, I decided to have coffee and cake in Shibuya, and managed to figure out how to say the name of the one at the bottom right of this picture:


Of course, when the waitress came and asked for my order, I opened the menu and immediately mental-blocked on whether the ショート at the end was pronounced “shouto” or “tsuuto”, so I just said the first part. Which, of course, is the name of the dessert at the top of the menu. Incidently, it’s “shouto” for “shortcake.”

I also discovered that riding the train or bus became a free game of kanji-flash-cards, as they both would display on a screen the same of the next stop in both kanji and english. Sometimes I had no clue – Sometimes I had almost one part. And this was my great triumph; three weeks in, I successfully read the name of this bus stop.


Obviously, I’m easy to please – “His great transformation occurred when he read the name of the bus stop.” If my life was a novel and that was the back-cover copy, I don’t think I’d buy it.