May 30, 2011

Cheung Chau Island (Part 1)

During my first full day in Hong Kong, my friend took me to one of the outlying islands of Hong Kong, Cheung Chau island (長州). Hong Kong is basically made up of 4 areas: Kowloon and the New Territories on the mainland, Hong Kong Island across the bay, and the Outlying Islands, the other 232 or so islands. Cheung Chau is one of the easier to get to islands and fairly small island, making it easy to go to for a day trip. It mostly functions as a little fishing port. Fishing is the main industry for the 30,000 people who live on (and around) the island. (But “around the island,” I mean that some people live in their boats.) It takes about an hour and 4 USD to get to Cheung Chau from Central port in downtown Hong Kong.

Cheung Chau Port. Unlike Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and the New Territories, this island has no high-rises, making it less overwhelming. But it is by no means laid back. We were swimming through massive crowds all day long.

So many people! Rumor has it that many Hong Kongers get the idea that it might be nice to getaway for a relaxing weekend trip to this island. But with so many people, visiting Cheung Chau is not at all relaxing.

Starfish for sale. I asked my friend if people eat starfish. She told me that they use it to flavor soups.

Click to see more more more pictures! (more…)


May 19, 2011

Riding the Nostalgia Train

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.

May 18, 2011

The Judas Tree at Sugaya Tatara Iron Town

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.

May 17, 2011

Sanouji, a Japan top 100 Terraced-Rice Field

I apologize for the delay in new posts, but I am back from my travels and have many more pictures to post in the coming weeks. I went to Hong Kong and Thailand during my 2 week trip. But I have yet to sort through those photos, so for now I will keep posting some pictures taken in Japan before my trip.

Not too far from the Japan top 100 pond from my previous post, is another Japan top 100, a top 100 terraced-rice field (棚田日本100選). When I visited, it was still barely spring and the lush green that I could probably see in the summer time was still a lazy brown. But it was still very…terraced. I can see why it’s in the top 100!

Several levels of the terraced rice field

These rice field levels are all smushed together

This tree was blooming by the rice fields.

April 22, 2011

Sawaike, A Japan Top 100 Pond

Last week, I posted pictures of Ryuzugataki, which was declared one of the top 100 waterfalls in Japan. Today I have pictures of a pond that was declared one of the top 100 ponds in Japan. Yes, some group really bothered to pick out the top 100 ponds in the country. This is not a joke.The pond is called Sawaike (沢池) and it is a good ways off the beaten path. The road to get there was extremely narrow and a bit frightening. The pond was quite nice though.


My friend looks out over the pond. I can see a house in the background. I can't believe that someone lives there!

April 21, 2011

Cherry Blossoms Part 4 – 70% Bloom

Continuing with the Cherry Blossoms. The 7 stages of the blooming cherry blossoms are bud (tsubomi つぼみ), beginning to bloom (sakihajime 咲き始め), half bloomed (gobunsaki 5分咲き), 70 percent bloomed (nanabunsaki 7分咲き), full bloom (mankai 満開), beginning to fall (chirihajime 散り始め), and completely gone (hazakura 葉桜). The cherry blossom full bloom that everyone is always clamoring to see only lasts about 2 weeks! Many people plan to travel when the cherry blossoms are in bloom, but it’s hard to predict exactly when they will blossom and the spring season is busy, so good luck getting a hotel room in Kyoto or other major cherry blossom viewing areas during this time.

These pictures were taken during the main event of my town’s cherry blossom festival. They usually have a schedule packed with events, including fireworks and musical performances. This year, they had a very limited schedule because of the earthquake and tsunami in Northeastern Japan. They still lit up the trees at night and had a few food stalls and added one extra event, which they called candle night. They were asking everyone to buy a candle for disaster relief and they placed the candles on the ground in the shape of a heart.

Sakura by the river at night.

Look at those lovely blossoms. Sorry they are a bit blurry. I did not have a tripod and was doing my best to brace my camera against the tree trunk.

From a bit farther away

They had a candle night. Buying a candle gave money to the earthquake victims. It was in the shape of a heart.

The heart from farther away.

April 20, 2011

Cherry Blossoms Part 3 – Half Bloom

In my previous post, I included some pictures of the cherry blossoms as they were just starting to bloom. Once again, the seven stages of cherry blossoms, according to Yahoo Japan,  are bud (tsubomi つぼみ), beginning to bloom (sakihajime 咲き始め), half bloomed (gobunsaki 5分咲き), 70 percent bloomed (nanabunsaki 7分咲き), full bloom (mankai 満開), beginning to fall (chirihajime 散り始め), and completely gone (hazakura 葉桜).

These pictures are of roughly half-bloomed cherry blossoms (sakura).

half bloomed. More like...some of them have bloomed and some are being stubborn.

Walking the pink(ish) path

April 19, 2011

Cherry Blossoms Part 2 – Beginning to Bloom

A couple weeks ago, I posted some pictures of the local cherry blossoms, pre-bloom. These pictures were taken on April 2nd, when the cherry blossoms were just starting to bloom. That would put them in the second category of the yahoo Japan cherry blossom blooming categories or beginning to bloom (sakihajime 咲き始め). (To recap, these are the 7 categories: bud (tsubomi つぼみ), beginning to bloom (sakihajime 咲き始め), half bloomed (gobunsaki 5分咲き), 70 percent bloomed (nanabunsaki 7分咲き), full bloom (mankai 満開), beginning to fall (chirihajime 散り始め), and completely gone (hazakura 葉桜).)

April 2nd and 3rd was initially supposed to be the day of the big cherry blossom festival because it fell during the period that the Japanese Meteorological Agency had predicted that the trees would be in full bloom. The festival didn’t happen that day for 2 reasons: 1) The cherry blossoms weren’t blooming like they thought they would. 2) Out of respect for the earthquake victims. Japan fell into a state of jishuku(自粛), or voluntary restraint, after the earthquake and the general feeling that everyone needs to pull together and cut back seeped into aspects of everyday life all over the country, even in places far removed from the disaster area like my little town in the West.

Looking at the cherry blossom tree path.

You can see how the trees are turning slightly pink.

Not many people were on the path, but even without cherry blossoms, the weather was lovely and some people came to walk along the path anyway, including this family.

Looking at the trees from across the river.

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