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…)

December 13, 2011

Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine

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


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




August 30, 2011

Bangkok – Wat Arun

Filed under: abroad, Thailand, Trips — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , — myyearinjapan @ 7:04 am

Just across the river from the Grand Palace and Wat Pho, is Wat Arun. (You can easily use a ferry to cross the river.) The Wat Arun temple is especially beautiful at sunset.

Wat Arun rises out of the river bank and turns a dazzling golden hue as the sun goes down.

Temple guards

Looking across the river towards the Temple of the Emerald Buddha from Wat Arun


August 29, 2011

Bangkok Find: Reacting Trash Can

Inside the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre, my friend and I found a a trash can with a video screen on it. And whenever you throw something into the bin, you can see your trash on the video screen. Kind of.

Inside the art and culture centre.

The trash can.


August 28, 2011

Getting around Bangkok: River Ferries

Take the BTS skytrain to Saphan Taksin station and you can walk to the pier to hop on the Chao Phraya Express Boat. From there, several boats go up the river. Every 30 minutes, a tourist boat runs. It costs a little bit more, but it has announcements in English telling you where to get off to get to certain places.

Living on the river

Prow of the Chao Phraya Express Boat.

The pier. Tires prevent the boat and pier from colliding.

Another river boat


August 27, 2011

Jim Thompson House, Bangkok

Filed under: abroad, Thailand, Trips — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , — myyearinjapan @ 6:27 am

Jim Thompson was an American army officer who came to Thailand in 1945. He soon left the army and started a business selling Thai silks. His company’s silks were featured in the Rodgers and Hammerstein movie The King and I, making his company well-known and allowing business to prosper. Jim Thompson enjoyed antiques and collected many pieces to display in the house that he had built along the canal in Bangkok. Many of the antiques he collected were broken or incomplete. He believed in saving the treasured artifacts, but Thai people believed that such buying such broken objects was bad luck. And perhaps they were right because in 1967, while traveling in Maylasia, Jim Thompson disappeared and he was never to be found. His house on the canal is now a museum. You aren’t allowed to take pictures of much of the inside, so here are some pictures of the grounds.

Jim Thompson House

Jim Thompson company store on the house grounds. The silk is not cheap, but it is quite lovely.


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