February 1, 2012


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…)

January 12, 2012

Lake Biwa, Japan’s Largest Lake

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.

December 21, 2011

Dangyou Falls (壇鏡の滝)

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…)

December 20, 2011

Off to Oki

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…)

December 19, 2011

Adachi Museum of Art

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…)

October 25, 2011

Industrious Spiders

We have some very busy spiders outside my apartment. They make their webs bigger and bigger everyday and at the moment, they are taking advantage of the warm fall to make their webs bigger then ever. Their webs now cover most of the telephone pole in front of the building. The other day, as I pulled into the apartment parking lot, the light was hitting the webs and they looked gorgeous. I posted different pictures of spiders last year (some of which were taken around my apartment building). Those can be seen here.

A telephone pole that is now property of the spiders.

Sorry I'm not home right now, walking into spiderwebs, so leave a message and I'll call you back...

October 17, 2011

Autumn Festival

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…)

October 7, 2011

Autumn Fog

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




July 13, 2011

Day Trip to Lantau Island

Lantau island is the largest of Hong Kong’s islands, almost twice as large as Hong Kong island. Most visitors to Hong Kong arrive first in Lantau because the airport is on this island. Hong Kong Disneyland is on Lantau island as well. Most people visiting Lautau island will either be heading to the airport, Disneyland, or the Tian Tan Buddha, allegedly the world”s largest outdoor Buddha.

Until 1997, Lantau island was only accessible by ferry and walking around the Tung Chung area (the end of the line of the MTR train) or the airport area, everything does seem pretty new. During my day trip to Lantau island, I took the MTR to Tung Chung and then took the nearby Ngong Ping Cable car up to the peak. At the top, there is a very fake model of a “traditional Chinese village” (meaning the souvenir shops are supposed to look like Chinese architecture from the outside) that you walk through to get to the Po Lin Monastery and the Tian Tau Buddha. The cable car is supposed to have gorgeous views, which I was looking forward to, but unfortunately, it was raining so I couldn’t see much.

Like most of Hong Kong, high-rise apartment buildings are the norm on Lantau. This is in Tung Chung, near the MTR station.

Giant outlet mall next to Tung Chung station.

Walking around Lantau in the rain.

Click more to see my cable car ride and the giant buddha.


July 8, 2011

The Peak

In the blink of an eye a month has gone by without updating my blog. My sincerest apologies! I hope to catch up in the next few weeks.

And now, a return to our regularly scheduled programming:

Every day tourists visiting Hong Kong flock to the peak. The real name of the area is Victoria Peak (太平山 in Chinese). Many Europeans built homes up on the peak during the colonial days, and in those days, they were carried up to the top on chairs. I feel bad for the people who had to carry them up this horribly steep hillside. In 1888, the first tram was completed, and now it’s mostly a tourist center with shopping malls and souvenir shops.

The Peak Tram. Hint: try to get a seat on the right hand side of the tram to have a panoramic view of Hong Kong.

Inside the pretty packed tram.

The stunning Hong Kong skyline, the reason people come to the peak.

Old and new

A closer-up view of some of the Hong Kong skyline.

Rickshaw driver waits for customers at the Peak.

The Peak Tower: basically a tourist trap. There's a big mall inside with your typical chain stores and souvenir shops. You can also pay to see the city from up there instead up on top of the hill like the regular folk.

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