Archive for the 'Temple and Shrines' Category

Miyajima/Itsukushima Island

Miyajima Island

Miyajima is a town within Itsukushima Island, South of Hiroshima. To get here, you can catch JR from Osaka to Hiroshima then from Hiroshima’s JR station, take a train to Miyajimaguchi station. Once you arrive at the station, take a JR Ferry which takes you to the island. This is why if you have JR Rail Pass, it’d make things easier for you and your budget. Anyway, Summer was the wrong time to go to Miyajima because the weather was unbelievably hot. I don’t even know how I managed to stay that long to take some photos because it’s impossible to stand there underneath the sun and not get drenched by your own sweat. In addition to this, due to the heat, the sea water drops down to below the usual level, making the place not as good as it would have been if the water level is normal. I think Spring or Autumn would be better times to visit the place. Winter would probably be good as well since everything would be covered in snow.

Once the ferry arrived at the Miyajima port, the first things that you see after exiting the dock would be a bunch of deers. These are relatively tame deers you can also encounter in Nara. I do feel sorry for some of them though because their antlers have been severed (to protect visitors). Having said that, they seem to enjoy the presence of the humans, who are more than willing to feed them all sorts of foods. In order to get to the Itsukushima Shrine and The Floating Torii, the Miyajima authorities have cleverly force everyone to go through the Miyajima shoutengai (shopping street), probably in the hope that you’d buy some souvenirs. I saw the world’s largest spatula here. I should have included that as part of the photos but it’s late night now and I’m too tired to process an additional photo. If you go through this shopping street, I’d recommend the Nigiriten (Nigiri Tempura). This is basically a very tasty Kamaboko (Fish cake) stuffed with other ingredients like onions, camembert cheese, bacon, etc. Obviously it’s high in calorie since it’s fried but if you just have one after walking for a couple of kms, I think it’s well-justified. :P

Miyajima IslandMiyajima Island
Miyajima IslandMiyajima Island
Miyajima IslandMiyajima Island

The main attraction of Miyajima Island is the Floating Torii (Gate) located at front of the Itsukushima Shrine. The Torii is basically half-submerged by sea water. When the tide is low during afternoon, you can see the marks of the highest water level. I really wish I had visited the place at a better time of the year because I would have stayed longer and shot some video. I did shot a video but it was very jerky since I couldn’t hold the camera still enough without feeling the heat and the sweat creeping up on me. I was also slightly disappointed to see the low water level since I think Itsukushima shrine would look better when it is half-submerged in water. When I got there, the place looks like it’s a barren wasteland. Well, not exactly, but it’s definitely not as pretty as it would have been if the sea water covers the Shrine’s foundation. The shrine itself is beautiful and is colored in bright red. I wish I had taken more photos of the place but my camera ran out of batteries.


Nara – Todaiji Temple: Kyon

Cute little Kyon giving death glare'

I went to Nara a few days ago with the intention to visit Todaiji Temple. Unfortunately the weather was not that good and as a result, the photographs have this overcast look to them. Still, it could be worse. The rain has been falling rather heavily in the past few days so the fact that I only got an overcast sky was a blessing in disguise.

The first thing that I saw when I arrived at the entrance were a bunch of Kyon (Deers). These creatures are amazing. They are really cute but I would not try pissing off one of them. As you can see on the picture above, that little guy was giving me the death glare for taking his picture while he’s trying to rest. Or maybe he was thinking “How dare you taking pictures of my kind while we are having private licking session“. Nevertheless, I didn’t care and continued taking pictures while maintaining a rather safe distance.

5 stories Pagoda5 stories PagodaTodaiji temple entranceLion StatueQuiet temple5 stories Pagoda

After I got satisfied taking pictures of these animals in various compromising positions, I decided to aim my intrusive camera towards the 5 stories pagoda. Unfortunately a bunch of tourist were sitting in the area and despite my attempt to give them the glare from hell, they would not move from the area. Back then I realized what those deers must felt when I took their pictures. As a result, the angle of the pagoda that I like the most contains shots of these attention-seeking exhibitionist. Oh well, it’s not like my composition skill was that good to begin with.

I then decided to move away from the pagoda and head towards a nearby temple. There was two lion-like statue guarding the temple which are actually pretty creepy up-close. Or maybe I just felt that way because because I was the only person who entered the temple ground and took pictures of the statue. I hope the temple wasn’t run by Oyashiro-sama. Still though, it felt amazing to be there surrounded by all the quietness. Although I always like to take a trip down to Akihabara, I think I like this kind of trip a lot better.

The Torii gate leading to the templeAss kissingThere should be a ninja perching on that roof

After the temple, I made my way towards the main ground of Todaiji temple. Before I arrived there though, I noticed this wall where I thought it looks similar to one of those places where Ninjas usually are spotted. Yeah I know it sounds silly but that’s what I thought when I first saw it and I couldn’t help myself from taking pictures of it. Anyway, although the Pagoda and the rest of Nara park are free, you are actually required to pay 500 Yen to enter the Daibutsuden (the Great Buddha temple).

When I visited the place that day, there were many school kids on excursion so it was rather busy to say the least. Unfortunately, I’ll have to end this mini article for now but I’ll continue this soon with pictures of the great Buddha and some ‘exciting’ statistical numbers about the statue itself. The pictures are quite dark though since there wasn’t any light inside the temple itself so don’t hope for an awesome shot of the Buddha himself. Having said that, there will be more pictures of When Deers attack.

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Okazaki City

Miso Factory Museum

Okazaki is a mid-size city located in the Aichi Prefecture, 30 minutes from Nagoya. The city has a population of approximately 350,000 people. My first impression of the city was a rather funny one because the first landmark I encountered was actually a Denny’s restaurant. It’s not exactly the kind of building that one associates with Japan. But since I was hungry and was too afraid of entering other restaurants, I went to Denny’s and ordered a Flower-topped hamburger (just because I’ve always wanted to try it – Thanks, Rozen Maiden!) and a dessert containing Nata De Coco.

Next to Denny’s there is a 100-yen shop called ‘Daiso’. I would eventually peruse this store many times to buy several things from notebooks to buckets because everything was so cheap (generally only costs 100 Yen). Looking back, I really miss these two places. I often went to these places with my friends either by bike or by walking from the student accommodation. We often stayed until late or came really late at night (1 am) just to study at Denny’s. The place was open until 4am so if we felt hungry, we could always order something there.

My first major trip within the city was a visit to the Miso Factory. Apart from fireworks, Okazaki is also known for its Hatcho-Miso. There is actually a Miso factory not far from the Okazaki Castle. So one day, my friends and I decided to give the place a ring and see if we can take a look at the factory/museum. It was quite memorable for me because it was the first time many of us knew each other. It was quite awkward at first but we really had fun cycling together and tasting some unusual Miso products such as Miso Ice cream (it was really good actually).

Denny'sFruit IceGyoza restaurant
Japanese houseMini ShrineRainy day

I also like some of the houses that we got to see in the city. These houses are not exactly traditional houses but they retain some of the Japanese characteristics that made them look different from houses in other countries. For example, I often encountered this small mini shrine in front of a house. I’m not exactly sure about the function of the shrine but it’s really beautiful to look at. I noticed similar shrine in front of the Miso Factory and in some other places. So maybe they serve as some kind of protection for the place.

When we’re not busy studying at the school, we often went out and explored the city. Some of the unusual building we encountered includes a place called ‘Wedding Plaza’. Apparently it’s a plaza where people go to shop for their entire wedding needs. I thought it was quite amusing because here’s this one big plaza and it sells nothing but wedding supplies. There is also a church next to the plaza and at one point I did see a wedding took place inside the church. So all in all, the area is one handy location for people who want to get married.

Okazaki also has some small temples scattered all around the city. The nicest one, in my opinion, is this small one located not far from Okazaki Castle/Park. I accidentally stumbled upon it while I was looking for Okazaki Castle. It’s such a small and quiet temple. At a glance, it looks deserted but the temple was in a rather good condition so I think it’s simply not used that often. But other than that, it is quite functional. I tried to take a panoramic shot of the temple and you can check it out below after I stitched them using photo manipulation program.

Wedding PlazaTempleFunny Car

I have so many memorable moments of this city. One of the moments was this one rainy night where we all went to an all-you-can-eat restaurant to bid farewell to two friends who were leaving earlier than the rest of us. It was a nightmare walking to the restaurant in such heavy rain. But we all had good fun even though the event itself was a reminder that many of us would soon leave the city as well. I also still remember going to Karaoke with these guys or going on a 5+ hours bike ride to somewhere outside the city.

These days, I can’t help but missing the city every now and then. Every time I open my Japanese textbook, for some reason I’m being reminded of the time I spent together with the friends that I made in that city. I actually try not to remember it as much because doing so makes me a bit depressed. I know that none of us who came to this city will ever have a similar experience like the one we had a few months ago. All of us are now living in a different country and doing different things. I even wonder if some of my friends still remember about it.

I often think it’d be nice if we can see each other again. But even if we plan some kind of a reunion, the chances that all of us can make it to the city within the same time frame is quite small. I mean some of my friends are now busy studying at University while others are interested in going to other countries to do working holiday. Oh well, I think it was one of those rare experiences that most of us don’t get to experience more than once and besides, I’m still in contact with some of those friends. I do want to go back this city again one day just to relive it all over again.

17/7/08 Addendum: I just read the whole article through again and realized how sappy the whole article sounds. Having said that, it really was one of the best times in my life and I was lucky to have had the chance to experience it. It’s hard to believe that 3 years have passed since I last spent my time there.


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.


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.