Archive for April, 2005

Okazaki Castle

Okazaki Castle's bridge

Okay, I’m not even supposed to write this now since I have a conjugation test in the next 2 days and I still haven’t studied for it. But I can’t concentrate anymore, so I thought I’ll write few paragraphs. Anyway, I have to say that I’ve been rather lucky during my trip here in Japan. I think it was a really good decision to go during Spring instead of Summer. Apparently there are many things to see and do almost every season in Japan. It’s just that they are different things to see and do. Having said that, I’ve always wanted to experience Hanami (flower watching) for a long time so I thought it’s better if I go around Spring time.

Anyway, if you do plan to go in Spring, make sure that you arrive between mid March to mid April. You’ll lose a chance to see the Sakura if you go afterwards. This is because the flowers constantly fall within this one month. So by the time it’s the middle of April, you don’t see them anymore. Maybe there will be one or two left in some areas but you’ll be hard-pressed to find it. I was quite lucky that I went to Okazaki Castle while the Sakura were still in full bloom. I’m sure the Castle will still be awesome even without the Sakura but the addition of Sakura all around it makes the Castle looks better.

Sakura-covered streetNight stallsRed Bridge
Okazaki Castle's lakeOkazaki Castle's lakeTurtle statue

Well, I started my trip using the bike that I just rented from a local bike shop. The Castle turned out to be quite far from the place where I stay. On top of this, I also ended up taking a wrong side at one point in the journey. Having said that, I have to say that I really enjoyed riding the bike while Sakura petals were blowing all around me. The photograph that I have here don’t really do any justice to the actual place. After asking some locals for directions, I eventually find the Castle itself. Bikes, however, are not allowed to go around the Castle area so I parked it a couple of meters away from the Castle.

The first few things that I saw around the area (apart from the Cherry Blossoms) are the various merchants trying to set up stalls for the night festival. I will write about this after I completed my exam but right now I just don’t have the time for it. Anyway, a short walk eventually took me to a red bridge that connects the outer area to the inner Castle surrounding itself. Once again, you have to be there to really see how good the view was. Everything in the area (the river, the bridge, the vegetation) seems to be perfect – as in an element nicely complements the other. As a result it wasn’t that difficult to take a good photograph of the place.

VegetationOkazaki Castle

After crossing the bridge, you’ll start to see more Food merchants inside the area as well. They’re selling everything from bite-sized cookies to Takoyaki. The Castle itself sits neatly at the top of the area so I thought it’d be nice to get a good shot of it. Unfortunately I couldn’t get any good angle of the Castle. But if you’re interested to see what the entire Castle looks like, just click on the last image that I placed on this entry. I didn’t take that photograph myself. It was actually an image of the castle taken by someone else and framed inside the castle. I simply took a photo of the picture with my camera. No plagiarism was intended.

I decided to pay 200 Yen to enter the Castle. I am not sure if that was a good decision or not but I have to say that there wasn’t much to see inside the Castle itself. According to the folklore, the Castle was apparently built back in 1455 by the Saigo family. However, during the 16th century, the Saigo family yielded the Castle to Matsudaira Kiyoyasu, the 7th lord of the Matsudaira family, who will eventually become the grandfather of Lord Ieyasu. For 3 centuries, Okazaki Castle were honored as the birthplace of Ieyasu and the Tokugawa Shogunate. The Castle was guarded heavily by hereditary vassal daimyos who wield enormous power during their time.

WishSideCastleDragon statue

During the Meiji Restoration period, the feudal clans were abolished and in 1873-1874, Okazaki Castle itself was demolished, leaving only its moat and stone wall. In 1959, however, the triple-roof, five story Castle, as well as its annex and wellhouse were masterfully reconstructed according to the original model. Today, the castle is simply a museum for local and international visitors. It basically displays the history of the Castle as well as the city. If you’re interested, Okazaki is now known as the producer of fireworks materials. Okazaki is particularly famous of its Hanabi – fireworks (not to be confused with Hanami – which is flower watching) festival.

You can actually go all the way up to the fifth level of the Castle and get a view of the entire city. Unfortunately, there are bars around the area so it’s rather hard to enjoy the view when you feel as if you’re inside a prison. Nevertheless, I was quite happy with what I saw and I don’t think I will ever forget the experience of entering the Castle itself. It may have been refurbished to suit its new purpose as a museum. Having said that, I can still see traces of how the Castle may have been used back in the olden days. And of course, I did manage to snap tens of pictures around the area, which in itself made me quite happy.


Nihon Ryouri

「日本料理」 – Japanese dish

Display foods

Well, I hope you guys are hungry because there are a lot of food pictures here :P Kidding aside, one thing that you should do while you’re in Japan is, of course, taste all of the foods that this country has to offer. And by that I don’t mean the Teriyaki Burger from McDonald’s. Although that will be kind of interesting to try as well since this type of burger doesn’t exist in my country. Anyway, Japan has different kind of foods. Just looking at them already makes one wants to be a glutton. Not only that the foods taste good, they normally are packaged rather well.

I’m actually quite surprised at how affordable foods in Japan turned out to be. I mean if you keep going to the restaurants, then obviously you’ll be running out of money in no time. But you can save money by getting a bento box for around 500 Yen (around 4-5 US Dollars) from local convenience stores. And don’t look down on convenience stores here. In Japan, convenience stores are light ahead in comparison to convenience stores in other countries. Not only Japanese convenience stores have more variety, the foods in the shelves are normally very fresh. The foods are re-stocked every couple of hours, so there’s little chance that they will go stale.

VegiesBentofish cakes

But if going for a pre-cooked foods is not your thing, then there’s always local ramen/tonkatsu (fried chicken/pork)/sushi place where you can get cheap foods. Having said that, please note that I’m talking about my experience so far in Tokyo and Okazaki city. I’m not sure about other cities just yet. I’ve heard that Kyoto is a tourist trap and that everything is expensive over there but I haven’t been there myself. But in Tokyo, at the very least you don’t have to worry about not having enough money to buy foods. If you’re strapped for cash, there’s always one of those Onigiri (those triangle-shaped rice) or breads which you can get for around 150 Yen.

I have a lot of favourite Japanese foods and these includes: Takoyaki (squid-filled fried balls), Chicken Katsu Curry (fried chicken topped with curry sauce), Flower-topped Hamburger (Hamburger meat patties topped with flower-shaped egg – must take a picture of this next time I eat), not to mention the various breads, drinks, pocky (did you know that there’s a lemon cheesecake flavour?), and fruits. I wonder why I haven’t gone fat with all of these foods even though I haven’t gone to the gym for the last 2 weeks. Maybe it’s because in most cases, the portions are not too big. Or maybe all of those bike riding that I do every day eliminates the need to go to the gym.

MeatMos BurgerKatsu Curry

Anyway, the best food I’ve had so far was this meat dish on a hot plate when I visited Akihabara. The eatery is called Pepper Lunch and it basically serves fresh meat and vegies which you then cook yourself on a hotplate. It doesn’t take long before everything are cooked well and since it’s not overcooked, they taste really fresh and the meat remains tender. I also had a good experience at one of Japan’s fast food outlet called Mos Burger. Their burger is much better than anything that McD’s serves and the Matcha (thick green tea) drink that they have at the place is rather good.

And oh, for those of you who are still wondering about Kibidango, I just realised that I have some photos of them which I didn’t discard after all. The Kibidango is the one with brown sugar coating. I personally haven’t tried the black or the yellow-coloured ones. But the next time I see them again, I’ll make sure that I do just that. Anyway, I think I think if you go here, it’s a good idea to try different food variety. What’s the point of going all the way here and only end up eating McD’s day in, day out? Make sure you make the most of your time while you’re in Japan and that means having some of the local foods.


Akihabara and PSP


One of the reasons, sorry scratch that, the main reason that I chose to stay at Asakusa was its close proximity to Akihabara, the one place where electronic, games, and anime fans gather to satisfy their expensive hobby. If you already have an addiction to any of the things mentioned above, it’d take a lot of willpower and restraint to stop yourself from going on shopping spree. I don’t know what actually stopped me from blowing all of my budget at once but I’m glad I managed to restrained myself.

On the weekend, some streets are purposely off-limits to cars so pedestrian can run around the area safely while spending their hard-earned money. This place is simply *unbelievable*. Here we have an entire suburbs dedicated to selling electronics, games, and anime. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like this anywhere else in the world. Hell, there are many buildings that has nothing from its first to sixth level but anime, manga, and character merchandises.

AkihabaraAkihabaraMai Hime

The best thing about the place is that if you look hard enough and have enough luck, you can probably find one of those ‘limited edition’ anime box/DVD that the Japanese online retailers don’t carry any longer. Strangely for some reason there’s nothing that I want to buy at that point. I saw some Mai Hime DVDs but there’s nothing unusual about them so I don’t want to waste money buying them. I also think that this is because my mind was mostly on a ‘find the cheapest PSP available’.

So in the end I ended up getting a PSP and a game. I have to say that this thing unbelievably good-looking. I love the sensation of playing Ridge Racers on a moving Shinkansen. It has to be experienced to be believed. I also managed to re-encoded some of the anime that I have and put it into the memory stick. And the result, as you can see in the picture above, is quite stunning. It’s really fun to be able to watch Tsubasa Chronicle or Speed Grapher while I’m at a food court, etc.


Vending Machine and others

Ice Cream

Vending machine is probably an attraction of its own when you go to Japan. I have to say that they really are convenient and can be found almost everywhere, including in front of some people’s house sometimes. I wonder if they have a say on whether or not they agree to have a vending machine placed in front of their house. Anyway, these vending machines dispenses many thing from normal stuff such as drinks (both hot and cold) and tickets, to something that are a bit unusual such as Ice cream, toys, and camera. I’ve heard about vending machines that dispenses underwear but I haven’t seen one so far.

If you ask me if there are few things that I don’t like about Japan, I’d say that it’ll be the lack of rubbish bin and the Earthquake. It never ceased to amaze me how a country that is as clean as Japan managed to get by with as little rubbish bins on the street as possible. I’d often go and buy a drink from a vending machine only to regret it later on because I’ll have to carry the empty drink bottle for the remainder of the journey until I find a rubbish bin somewhere. Usually I can do nothing but hope that there is a McDonalds or other fast food chain nearby so I can dump the rubbish on their rubbish bin. :P

For me this was a very uncomfortable thing to experience, especially when you have to carry 3 heavy luggages with you at the same time. I was informed that the lack of rubbish bin is mostly because eating and drinking while you walk is not considered a polite behavior here according to some Japanese people. So you’d normally finish your food from where you buy it then dump the rubbish in the nearby rubbish bin. But this becomes problematic when it comes to night festival where you’ll want to buy an oden, for example, and it eat while you look at the other attractions around the festival.

Drinks vending machineDrinks vending machineDrinks vending machine

But the worse thing that probably can happen is Earthquake. I got to experience 2 rather big Earthquake moments when I was in Tokyo. There I was just checking my email and hoping that my download of Speed Grapher will be completed as soon as possible when suddenly I felt a bit dizzy. My room felt as if it’s swaying from left, right and back left. But imagine my surprise when I realized that I didn’t have a headache whatsoever. What I experienced at that time was a rather huge Earthquake that is enough to rock the hostel where I stayed left and right.

Of course, since there was no one around to ask (I was too lazy to go down and ask the receptionist) I just shrugged it off. Plus, I got Speed Grapher on download. I was too confused as to what I should do. Well, now that I think about it, I know that I should have unplugged the cable, gathered my stuff, and got out as soon as possible. But my mind wasn’t working properly at that time. Anyway, the Earthquake subsided after 1-2 minutes and later on that day, I asked the receptionist if we indeed had an Earthquake. She confirmed yes and it was a rather huge one. The thing is, she said it in such a casual manner as if this happens on a daily basis. :0


Sensoji Temple


Well, this is basically a continuation of the previous entry. After brunch, I decided to go to Sensoji Temple (Asakusa Kannon Temple). I started by going into the front of Kaminarimon Gate. Since this was on Sunday, the place was packed full of tourists. There are also these rickshaw drivers trying to offer people a ride on their carriage. I’ve seen this on Japanese Drama but I never thought that there really are rickshaw drivers in Japan. Anyway, Kaminarimon Gate is basically an entrance to the Nakamise shopping arcade and of course, the Sensoji temple itself.

Kaminarimon GateRicksawKibidango

Once you past the gate, you basically will see rows of traditional shops lining up from the start of the gate to the front of the temple. These shops sell many things including Foods, Kimono, Sweets, Biscuits, and other types of souvenirs to take home. Like I said on my previous entry, I had to restraint myself from buying anything because I’d travel to Central Japan and possibly elsewhere so it wasn’t a good idea to buy too much things at this point in time. In the end, all that I bought was a pack of Kibidango. After 5-10 minutes of continuous shops, I ended up in front of Sensoji-temple.

Nakamise shoutengaiYakisobaTemple

The first thing that I did was washing both of my hands in a fountain underneath the general statue. To be honest, I wasn’t sure if this was a requirement of entering the temple. But everyone else did it and I didn’t want to be the only one who breaks the rule and offends someone. Anyway, a bit of history here, Asakusa Kannon Temple is basically named after the Kannon/the Goddess of Mercy. The inside of the temple is heavily decorated. Unfortunately, there is some kind of bar that separates the visitors from the altar, so I couldn’t take a good picture of the altar.


There’s also this place where you can throw coins and wish for something. I can’t remember what I wished for but I sure hope it will come true :D. Anyway, the top of the ceiling contains these two paintings that alternate with each other. One of the painting is that of a Goddess, and the other is a dragon. Both are equally impressive and I kept wondering what kind of back pain the painter must endured during the creation of these work of art. Anyway, apart from the temple, there is also a shrine built based on the order of the 3rd Tokugawa Shogun to commemorate the 3 fishermen and a very zen-like park.

Goddess paintingBird housePark

Some of the highlight of the park includes: a statue of Buddha, a tranquil pond complete with Koi fish, Sakura petals flying all over as one passes the park, a cute bird house, and a Spring festival around the park. I have to say that I’ve been enjoying this particular temple. I know that some part of it sounds really commercial (the store stalls, etc). Having said that, it’s such a minor part that I don’t think it’ll ruin the entire experience of visiting the temple itself.


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