A September 2004 trip
to Japan by onesundaymorning
Quote: I've never been to a place like Japan before where modern society is mixed with centries old tradition.
Attraction | "Uji"
A short train ride out of the fast pace Kyoto on the Keihan train, is the small town of Uji. Uji seems almost untouched by tourists and left behind by the high tech boom seen throughout Japan. In other words Uji is a far cry from Tokyo (I left my camera on a table at a bakery. When I came back 30 minutes later it was still there).
Byodo-in is the main attraction that draws tourists to this peaceful town. Head towards the river; the train station is about a 10 minute walk to the temple. The Buddhist temple dates back to 988 during the Heian period. The most famous building is the Phoenix Hall, which is the only original building on the grounds. The Phoenix building is now a museum, which houses several images of the Buddha and Bodhisattvas, as well as statues of Phoenixes. At the end of the museum tour there is a small gift shop selling various extremely over priced items. Although the museum isn’t great unless you are looking for great, historical statues, however what makes it note worthy is the fact that that the UNESCO has listed it as a World Heritage Site and the grounds are beautiful. Lilly pad covered ponds and beautifully manicured trees. Entrance to the temple is very cheap only about 300 yen.
Among its other claims to fame is the tea that the town produces. They were one of the first cities in Japan to have a tea plantation and it still is evident to this day. Every shop, restaurant, and bakery that I stopped by had tea related items to offer. Not being someone who likes tea, especially green tea, I begrudgingly tied green tea ice cream after my friend talked me into it. I was blown away by the flavor. Unlike American food that almost blows you away with artificial flavor that is so processed the natural flavor is lost, Japanese food is the complete opposite. The green tea ice cream had a light taste of tea that was enough to satisfy, but not so over powering that I felt like I took in a years worth of preservatives or sugar.
I finished the day with a stroll down the Uji-gawa river. The path along the river is lined with lanterns that offer light as the day comes to an end. From here there are beautiful views of the not only the river but small fishing boats that took me out of the 20th century and took me back in time to when the feudal system ruled, shoguns were in charge, and Zen was being introduced to the country. To help this feeling continue, a short walk away a stone bridge, the oldest of its kind in Japan. The walk ended when we passed the Byodo temple on our way back to find the main road leading to the train station. Inside the gates of the temple were monks chanting.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on August 20, 2007
Uji Genji Museum
Attraction | "Hemiji Castle"
Himeji isn’t hard to find. I took the subway from Kobe to Himeji in the Hyogo Prefecture of Japan. Once off the subway I started wandering around trying to find the castle. My strategy was to walk in a straight line and hopefully find it, it’s a freaking castle from medieval time after all surrounded by twenty-first century buildings. My strategy worked because a minute into my walk the castle rose over the horizon. It was beautiful and after entering it’s easy to see why it is considered the first Japanese National Cultural Treasure and the most visited castle in the country.
A moat and beautifully manicured grounds surround the castle, which sits on top of a hill. At the base of the castle was the entrance where I paid 600 yen and walked up to the main building. Before entering the castle I had to take off my shoes to walk around the inside. In return I was given some oversized slippers to wear. About a quarter of the way though I along with the entire non-Japanese tourist took them off because we couldn’t walk. Before going I suggest brushing up on basic Japanese history mainly focusing on the hierarchy system including the relationship between the emperor, shogun, samurai, etc…
The inside of the castle is set up similar to a museum. Artifacts are found through out the different floors along with commentary on the history of the time period that the castle was built in. The castle itself was built in 1580 by Toyotomi Hideyoshi and throughout its life over 40 lords has lived there.
The castle is five stories tall and surrounded by walls that have opening for guns to shoot through. Past the wall there are smaller donjons that are smaller then the main building of the castle. These also have openings on the side, but instead of shooting through them, attackers who have passes the main wall would have boiling water poured on them.
Tour guides can also be found within the walls of the castle. A few do speak English, but from what I found out at the gates it’s a hit or miss if you happen to show up on the same day and time that the English speaking guides are there. Not to worry. All of the displays that are in the castle have small plaques that describe what you are looking at in English as well as other languages.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on August 26, 2007
Nijo-jo Castle was the only saving grace that I found in Kyoto. After taking the train from Kobe to Kyoto my friend, Andy, and I spent a good two hours circling the Kyoto Station in search of the tourist information center, TIC, which was suppose to be located in a building across from the station…it wasn’t. By complete chance we headed to a mall across of the station out of frustration and accidentally ran across another TIC, however this was for Japanese tourists only. We were told that the international traveler TIC would be found further up a staircase. The stairs lead us past several floors in the mall and ended up in what appeared to be a department store. A sales associate told us to follow signs that were posted to get to the TIC. The signs looped us around the store and down a hallway that appeared to have been abandoned for a while. In short we did find the TIC, but it was completely hidden and more of a hassle then anything to find. The one good thing was that we ended up with maps of the area and were pointed in the direction of Nijo-jo Castle. In front of the mall is a bus station. Here we got a ticket for bus number 9 that took us right to the castle.
Nijo-jo castle is nothing short of beautiful and its legendary Nightingale floors make it a fun place to walk around. Built in 1603 it was the home of the Tokugawa shogun, Ieyasu. The castle was built not only to function as his home, but also as a reminder as the shogun’s ever-increasing power over that of the Emperor. Admission is 600 yen, which is paid at the gate. This allows access to the Ninomauru Palace, which is divided into five buildings. Each building is filled with fabulous period art and spectacular screen paintings. In some of the rooms mannequins are placed in period clothing to mimic the day-to-day activities that would take place in a particular room. The interior of the palace is fitted with Nighingale floors that were to alert everyone if there was an intruder in the building. Even the lightest set on these floors will produce the sound that is loud enough to be heard throughout the corridor. Shoes are not allowed to be worn inside the castle. There is a large area with cubbies, where shoes can be placed upon entering and collected on the way out.
The buildings aren’t the only attraction on the grounds. The gardens outside rival the beauty of the art inside and the sound of the Nightingale floors. The Ninomaura Palace Garden was designed by Kobori Enshu and incorporated streams that wind through the grounds with beautifully manicured shrubs, trees, and hills. The garden itself seems to be a masterfully constructed work of art in itself.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on August 26, 2007
Nishi Nijojo Nijohorikawa Nakagyo-ku
Kyoto, Japan 604-8235
+81 075 841 0096
At the heart of Kansai is Osaka, one of the largest cities in Japan only surpassed by Tokyo. My trip here wasn’t about finding any historical or cultural attractions, but instead to find one of the greatest impacts that Japan has on the world: fashion. When most people think of trendy cities London and Paris are the first to come to most minds, but where do these fashion forward cities look for their inspiration, Japan. Due to time constrictions I wasn’t able to make it to Tokyo; the fashion mecca of the world, but instead I was able to go to Osaka and find view something that I’ve waited a life time to see, Tokyo Street Fashion.
In the late nineties a new form of fashion started to appear in the Harajuku district of Tokyo. Teens began to rebel against the norms of society that was placed upon them; there method of speaking out was through their clothing. This imaginative style combines designer brands such as Louie Vuitton, with local brands like Milk and Super Lovers, with handmade items. Although Tokyo is still the main hub of Street Fashion, Osaka is the second best place to view this fashion.
I headed off to Amerkia-Maura (American Village), where I was told by some locals the best shopping was to be found. Although it is meant to be a place where kids can live out the "American myth" there is nothing American about this place. Everywhere I looked trendy shops sold the most unusual, but very Street Fashion looking clothing. If you plan on shopping here an unlimited budget is the best. One girl tried to sell me a hoodie for $900.
Although there were many people in just jeans and T-shirts I did spot several teens clothed in Lolita style clothing (very doll like), and others in a mishmash of clothing that in any other place would have looked like someone had just fallen out of their closet but somehow here it made sense.
Tokyo Street Fashion has a rich history that is often ignored by the average traveler, but this unique blend of fashion captures the Japanese spirit in every sense. It shows an undeniable sense of independence and an "I’ll do it my way" attitude mixed with influences of the past, but modernized to reflect the progressive spirit of today. It leaves the viewer to walk away with the sense that they just saw something uniquely Japanese. This isn’t Gwen Stefani’s version of Harajuku.
Los Angeles, California