Nikko is a city in Tochigi prefecture, north of Tokyo, famous for several well-known shrines and temples. 2 shrines and 1 temple are collectively a UNESCO world heritage site.
At Tobu Nikko Station. In early December, there was still a surprising amount of fall foliage to be seen.
The first stop on my World Heritage tour was Rinnoji temple.
Outside Rinnoji temple.
Rinnoji temple is currently being restored, so there is a plastic shell with a picture of what the temple will look like covering the real temple. You can still go inside during restoration.
More pictures after the jump (more…)
Lake Biwa (琵琶湖) is the biggest freshwater lake in Japan. It is in Shiga prefecture, not too far from Kyoto. Having grown up around the great lakes, when I hear “largest lake,” I imagine something pretty big. When you stand on the shore of any of the great lakes (Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, or Ontario), you can’t see the opposite shore. The lakes are enormous. Even the smallest of them, Lake Erie, would talk about 11 hours to drive around. (According to Google Maps. I looked up Buffalo, NY to Toledo, OH to Detroit, MI to Buffalo, NY and Google told me it would take 10 hours and 59 minutes.)
But looking at Lake Biwa last month, I was disappointed to see that even Japan’s largest lake is not large enough for the opposite shore to remain unseen. And a similar search on Google Maps told me that it would talk only 4 hours and 15 mins to drive around the lake, even though the drive around Lake Erie was mostly on highways and much of the drive around Lake Biwa was on local roads (with much lower speed limits).
Still, despite my disappointment about the size of the lake, it was very beautiful. I took these pictures about an hour after sunrise.
See that shore in the distance?
Built-up shore of Lake Biwa
The sky and water seems to fade into one color.
My time to tour around on Dogo was very limited, but I did manage to see the Dangyou falls. We rented a car to get there and while I think it’s possible to get there without a car, even with a car it was a bit of an ordeal. The road was very narrow and I would have been even more spooked trying to ride the steep narrow road up the mountain on a bicycle. With the car we rented, I was constantly afraid of another car coming from the opposite direction. The road is 2-way, but it barely fits one car.
In the end, we made it to the waterfall completely unscathed. And the waterfall was beautiful, so it was worth the trip.
Before going to the waterfall, you are supposed to toss a stone onto one of these gates. It's harder than it looks to get a stone to stay on there!
Towards the waterfall
The sign says that this waterfall is one of the top 100 waterfalls in Japan.
More pictures after the jump (more…)
Last month, I took a short trip to the Oki islands. (Correction: Waaaaay too short. I only saw the tiniest fraction of all the beautiful spots there are on the islands there.) The Oki islands are roughly 3 hours away from the largest Japanese island of Honshu by ferry. There are 4 islands clustered together. (In addition, there is an island that is disputed between Japan and South Korea. It takes another 3 hours to reach by boat from the Oki islands. It is called Takeshima in Japanese and Dokdo in Korean.)
On this trip, I only went to the largest island, Dogo. The Oki islands are currently working hard to bring more tourists and are promoting the islands as a Geopark.
Even though it was mid-November, we really lucked out with beautiful warm weather. The following pictures are mostly from the ferry ride.
Looking back at Honshu just after the ferry leaves for Oki
On the ferry
More pictures after the jump. (more…)
There’s one reason the Adachi Museum of Art (足立美術館) gets so many visitors despite being in the middle of nowhere and it’s not the paintings. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of beautiful paintings on display. They simply aren’t the main draw of the museum. The reason everyone goes to the museum is to see the garden.
Although the museum garden is not counted as one of the three great gardens of Japan (日本三名園), it has been ranked as the best garden in Japan by the American Journal of Japanese Gardens for 8 years running! (2003-10) (I’ve been to one of the top 3 gardens as well, Korakuen in Okayama.) The museum was also given 3 stars in the Michelin Green Guide for Japan, putting it into the must see category.
The museum was opened by Zenko Adachi in 1970 when he was 71 years old. The museum’s garden and collection have been preened over to years to become the shining gem they are today. The museum does not allow pictures of the artwork, but I have some pictures of the garden to share.
This is what the best garden in Japan looks like.
Due to an unseasonably warm fall, the autumn leaves were not up to their usual brilliance this year (throughout Japan), but I still found a few trees that managed to produce some nice color.
I assume that they were so happy about being named the best garden that they got in engraved on stone, but then they got the prize again and had to improvise because carving a new stone each time is costly.
See more of the best garden, after the jump. (more…)
Japan loves its UNESCO World Heritage sites. And throughout the country there are 16 designated World Heritage sites. (Not too many compared to some other countries, but not too shabby either.) The Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine became a World Heritage site in 2007. The silver mine area is nestled in the mountains about 2 1/2 hours north of Hiroshima in Oda city, Shimane prefecture.
The silver was discovered in 1526 and the mines were in operation for the next 400 years. When production in the mines were at their peak in the 17th century, 1/3 of the world’s silver was extracted here. But the area is not industrial. It is well-off the beaten path and you feels more like a mountain valley than a once prosperous silver town. Perhaps that is why the official UNESCO name for the site is “Iwamai Ginzan Silver Mine and its Cultural Landscape.”
I went to visit the mine on a rainy day in May.
Like most people who visit the mine, I began with a visit to the World Heritage Center. I was driving to the mine by myself and I got lost for a while on the rural back roads. There is virtually no English signage leading people to the mines and even the Japanese signs are confusing. Eventually, I found the World Heritage Center, parked my car and went inside. Inside is a small museum about the mines, a 3D model of the region and several peppy volunteers, happy to give information about the mines and offer sample itineraries, based on the amount of time you have available. (I was a bit surprised to discover that there are no staff members there who speak any English.) They pointed me towards the bus that runs between the Center and the center of the old mining town every 15 minutes.
The mountains surrounding the mines.
Looking down the main road of the tiny mining town.
Lots of old style architechture around the silver mines. It feels like stepping into the past. Can you see the rain pouring down in this picture?
More on the silver mine after the jump
This year, I was invited to see a local fall festival (秋祭り). It was held in a small neighborhood nestled deep in the mountains. In good weather, this neighborhood is a 20 minutes drive from the nearest store. Once the snow falls, it takes even longer. The festival involved bringing a large object from the elementary school to a local shrine. (The school only has 5 students and will be shut down at the end of the school year.)
On the bottom left is the object that will be transported. The building on the right is the school gymnasium. The blue jacket like things that everyone is wearing are called Happi. They say 祭, or festival, on the back and are a very common sight at any local festival in Japan.
Everyone had interesting outfits for the festival.
I thought this guy was pretty funny. He had a bunch of daikon raddies and he kept grating them in a menacing way throughout the day. He would go up to small children, scare them with his creepy mask, and then hand them a piece of candy. The confusion on their faces was priceless!
It took 15 or 20 men to carry the heavy...thing. (I'm not really sure what to call it...) They had a lot of trouble keeping it steady.
More pictures after the jump (more…)
The autumn fog obscures the Chugoku mountains on an early October morning.
Chugoku mountains when the leaves are just starting to to change color.
Fog over the Chugoku mountains
Ok, there is no train called “Nostalgia Train,” as far as I know, but I rode one of several trains that run through rural regions of Japan and are meant to be reminiscent of old time-y trains. We were hoping to go on a sunny, spring day, but we had to settle for a rainy day. To me it was more of an overpriced rural train than a nostalgia train, but it was still fun.
The nostalgia train! It costs twice as much as riding the normal train! Yay!
Inside the train. They only use this train for these special "nostalgia train" trips.
The view from the train. We waited until cherry blossom season had started, hoping to see some beautiful scenery, but we hadn't counted on the fact that the train moves farther and farther into the mountains. We saw great scenery pulling out of our local station, but as the altitude got higher and higher, the scenery got browner and uglier. This is near our local station where the scenery was still nice.
When we pulled into one station, this kindergarten class was waiting on the platfom to serenade us and hand us origami tulips through the window. It was adorable.
One of the little kindergateners singing a song about tulips. Did I mention that it was raining that day?
Watching the scenery pass us by through the window with no glass.
Another highlight of the trip is supposed to be hopping off at this station to get water that is said to be so healthy that it will lengthen your life. (Not scientifically proven)
This is a part of one of the most overrated tourist sites ever. It's just a part of a roadway that curves up and loops around by this mountain (the bridge in the picture leads to the loop). The local government is trying to get more people to visit the area so they advertise this road loop as a tourism hot spot. At the loop itself is a small shop and a little art museum, but the loop is very far off the beaten path and the museum is not worth the trek, in my opinion.
In front of the Takadono, the building housing the last extant Tatara iron furnace, there is a tree. In the winter, the tree is a bare, skeletal eyesore. But during March, leaves slowly begin to appear, and for 2 days in early April, the trees leaves magically turn red, as if the tree itself is on fire. (Shall I call it a tree that burns but is not consumed?) It is called a Katsura tree, also known as a Japanese Judas tree. After the red color fades, the tree turns yellow and then slowly becomes greener and greener throughout the rest of April.
A group of people gathered on the hill that overlooks the town to get a nice view of the tree. Everyone wants to see the tree just as the sun is going down, when it is said to be most spectacular.
The tree glowing red and the takadono that houses the tatara furnace to the right.
The one street that makes up the town, where a score of people still make their homes.