A folded paper crane I received from a group of grade-schoolers in front of the silver pavillon 銀閣寺 in Kyoto 京都. I usually detest getting caught by them, but this group was kind of nice, so I decided to answer them properly. If you have been around Japan, you may know those groups of grade-schoolers swarming major tourist destination with their teachers to get some hands-on experience with foreigners, usually by presenting you some kind of questionnaire with always the same questions. They usually get really confused when a foreign-looking person answers with a place name in Japan confronted with the question “where you are living”. They took their usual “I’m with a gaijin”-photo and quickly dispersed, like they usually do after getting their desired answers. But hey, I got a crane.
I did some previous blabla about the mingling of modernity and tradition in Japan, so here you go: Tokyo Skytree 東京スカイツリーand Sensoji 浅草寺 in Tokyo’s Asakusa 浅草area, Taito ward 台東区. The whole area maintains a nice atmosphere of old edo Japan with it’s temple, pagoda and shopping streets. However, as almost every building in Tokyo. the main hall 本堂 is a postwar structure dating back to 1956, the pagoda 五重塔 was finished not before 1973. Anyway, it’s a pleasent area that recently got more attention because of the opening of the nearby Skytree with it’s shopping center. You can combine some tradition and ultra-modernity in one trip, if you want to do so.
Tamatorizaki observation point 玉取崎展望台is one of the major tourist attraction on Ishigaki island 石垣島. It is a free observation point at the northern part of the island, where the Hokubo peninsula 平久保半島starts. It took me more then 3 hours by mamachari bycicle to get there. The road along the coast is quite challenging with a bycicle without gears, because it has lots of small slopes. However, the view is very rewarding with a perfect emerald blue ocean on both sides of the island. And some cool trees. With cows. Very beautiful, indeed!
Kohama island 小浜島 is a small island between Ishigaki 石垣暇 and Iriomote 西表島. There is not much to see there except a great 360° view of the Yaeyama archipelago. Most other small islands there like Taketomi 竹富島 and Kurojima 黒島 are flat like a pancake, so the view is quite exceptionel. It also means that cycling is not as quite as pleaseant as on those flat ones. Anyway, on the way to the top of the observation point you have to cross a small jungle-like forest which is inhabited by giant fruit bats. 大蝙蝠 Horses are just meandering around, too and the small shop at the beach facing Iriomote was quite unique.
Last year I went to Ishinomaki 石巻, one of the cities that was hit hardest by the Tsunami auf March 2011. Though, or maybe because most of the debris has been carried away the scenery is still very depressing. The port area was devestated and we were told the story of two school buses. One brought the students directly to higher ground, the teachers of the second bus decided it would be best to bring them to their parents. From the second bus, only two adults survived, one of them later committed suicide out of remorse.
Although almost everyone in this city has some kind of tragic story to tell, people are carrying on. We visited a local NPO who tried to improve the situation through a special care-sharing service and a group of old women who creatively use old kimono fabric donated from all over Japan to create new goods. In short: we met lots of people who suffered, but who are still full of life, not thinking about giving up.
I think as long as people like that live there, the area will surely recover. At least I hope so, because they are great people.
Ohara 大原 is a small village nestled between the mountains north of Kyoto 京都. Administratively it belongs to Kyotos Sakyo-ku 左京区but it cleary is no part of the capital. There is no train connection so you have to take a bus from Kyoto, which takes no longer then one hour from the city center. The villages main attractions are it’s natural beauty consisting of charming farm houses and diverese fields and rice paddies. There are two big temples that attract tourists, Sanzen-in 三千院 and Jakko-in 寂光院, a waterfall that is supposed to be “without sound” 音無し滝 but in reality is quite noisy, and a few smaller buddhist establishments.
Additionally I am pretty sure that I saw Venetia from one of those NHK shows (猫のしっぽ カエルの手)who supposedly lives in Ohara, but I prefer not to annoy people during their daily-live activities in their hometown.
Masugata shopping street 桝形商店街 (1) was made famous by Kyoto Animations Tamako Market. It is one of many shopping streets in Kyoto that preserved a unique atmosphere and a certain level of intimicy. It is conveniently located near Demachi Yanagi 出町柳 (2) and in walking distance of Kyoto University 京都大学. I grabbed some nice donuts there during the lunch break of a conference I attended there and got attacked again by the birds at the river. This time I successfully defended my bento box, though!
A Tohoku-Hayabusa Shinkansen arriving at Sendai station 仙台駅. There are two free observation decks on the top floor of the AER building with quite a good view of the whole city. One is facing north, the other one south. The building is right next to Sendai station and provides a very good first orientation if you just arrived. It does not open before 10:30 though, so if you arrive early in the morning like me, you have to wait some time.
Sendai itself is a very attractive city with lots of green spaces and some cool places to see. Aobayama 青葉山 with its castle ruins and Date Masamunes mausoleum Zuihoden 瑞鳳殿 for example. The cities nickname is 杜の都, capital of trees.
Hoshizuna no Hama 星砂の浜 or star-sand beach at Iriomote island 西表島. (1) The name derives from those unique sand grains, shaped in the form of little stars. Nearby Taketomi island 竹富島 is the most famous location for finding it, but the sand there has been filled into bottles ready to be bought by tourists, and it is very hard to find it there. (2) Iriomote’s star-sand beach on the other hand consist almost entirely of those grains. (3) Also, there is a facility for renting snorkeling sets which I would recommend without hestitating, because the shallow water and the coral reef you can literally walk into are fantastic spots for watching fishes in diverse color palettes.
By the way, the stars are not really “sand”. They are the remains of Foraminifera, small organisms who develop a calcium carbonate hull around their monocellular structure. So you’re kind of walking on corpses.
Among the exchange students of Kyoto University 京都大学 there was always one big argument going on, when it came to popular tourist sights in the city. There where those who fancied Rokuon-ji 鹿苑寺, better known as Kinkaku-ji 金閣寺 or golden pavillon. No doubt, the thing is shiny and stuff… but yet another rebuilt. Burned down in 1950 by a buddhist monk (for those interested, see Mishima Yukio’s 三島由紀夫 famous novel “Kinkakuji” 金閣寺) it has been rebuilt in 1955.
Most of us actually prefered Jisho-ji 慈照寺 which you may know under his nickname ginkaku-ji 銀閣寺 or silver pavillon. The white sand garden, meant to reflect the moonlight, and the overall artistic understatement of the whole complex was a lot more compelling to me than the shiny golden counterpart. On top, as far as I know, the silver pavillon underwent massive restoration, but still is somewhat the original thing.