Monday 30 April 2012

My Japan: Nagoya

We arrived in Nagoya (in the late afternoon) after a shinkansen and local train ride from Kyoto, where the Cypress Hotel we were checking into was rather near the station. So it was just a matter of lugging/pulling/dragging our now heavier bags there across a pedestrian walkway.

Our room at the Cypress Hotel (CNB 2012)

Nagoya skyline from our window (CNB 2012)

Yukari went home to come by later with her car to take us out. Our first stop was to see the beautiful cherry blossoms along the Yamazaki River at twilight. Indeed they were surreal (read: magical) at this time of the day.

Cherry blossoms as far as the eyes can see. Note the sakura
petals in the river (CNB 2012)

Can't help but pose! (YT 2012)

AH also poses! (CNB 2012)

Another magical sight (CNB 2012)

Then we stopped by an upmarket 'supa' (supermarket), Sapure, for Yukari to buy our dinner that we would have at her apartment home. (We'd agreed that there was no time for any cooking, only sight-seeing and shopping!). At the supa I could not help taking pictures of the huge array of premium foods there.

Sushi packs to go (CNB 2012)

Octopus tendrils for you? (CNB 2012)

Hello delicious food! (CNB 2012)

And the fruits and vegetables - so juicy and fresh, they were just asking to be bought and eaten!

Premium grade melons (CNB 2012)

Yummy in-season strawberries! (CNB 2012)

Vegetables so luscious! (CNB 2012)

Dinner was graciously hosted by Yukari at her home, because she wanted us to experience a Japanese home atmosphere. Hadakimasu ('I will receive'). We truly appreciate this very kind gesture, and truly enjoyed being her dinner guests.  Gochiso-sama deshita (It was a real feast).

Our gracious host Yukari (CNB 2012)
Sushi, so oiishi (CNB 2012)

Grateful guests in a Japanese home (YT 2012)

After dinner Yukari took us to the Aeon Depato for some retail therapy. We all bought something or other that we needed (like socks and bags for more shopping!).

I liked this blue display in the depato (CNB 2012)

The next morning it was raining cats and dogs when Yukari came to fetch us to go to the Noritake Garden, which is made up of two gardens and many buildings including the Craft Center (where we experienced 'the drama of transforming earth into porcelain with fire..'), the 'Celabo' Noritake Showroom, the 'Canvas' Morimura-Okura Museum (red brick factories which was the birthplace of the modern ceramic industry and where Noritake's products were sent out to the world), the 'Stage' Noritake Prestigious Shop, the 'Palette' Lifestyle Shop (where we spotted some 'Made in Malaysia' Noritake tableware) and the 'Box' Outlet Shop.

Nagoya ceramics are well-known worldwide, and Noritake is a leading brand. The history of Noritake goes a long way back to 1904. In the Noritake Museum we were able to see beautiful pieces of 'Old Noritake', some in the art-nouveau and art-deco styles. Suffice to say, we were thoroughly impressed. Before leaving, we bought some (affordable) souvenir pieces at the outlet shop.

The Noritake 'Square' Cafe and Nagoya skyline (CNB 2012)

A Noritake table setting (CNB 2012)

Fish lanterns between 2 of the 6-chimney monument at the
Noritake Garden (CNB 2012)

It was still raining when we left, but Yukari took us to the Nagoya Castle area anyway, where we managed to take some pictures of the castle. In the vicinity of the castle are said to to be 4,000 cherry blossom trees!

Nagoya Castle in the rain (CNB 2012)

In the pouring rain, we catch a glimpse of some of the 4,000
trees around Nagoya Castle (CNB 2012)

Then we had a very quick lunch at a St. Marc Cafe, before Yukari had to send us back to the hotel where we said our arigato and sayonara. "Thank you for sharing a part of Nagoya with us".
We then hurriedly claimed our luggage, and took a taxi to the station to catch the 2.24 pm Hikari shinkansen to Tokyo (and thence onward home).
I think we must have set some kind of record - nine Japanese cities/towns in nine days! Our Japan Railway passes were very definitely put to good use, and I really loved the trains!

Our last shinkansen ride approaches (CNB 2012)

From a JR train crew: 'Peace' and have a good journey (CNB 2011)

3-12 April 2012

My Japan: Nara

Nara for us, was a day-trip from Kyoto, by train. Nara, just 42 km south, is an even older capital of Japan than Kyoto. Kumiko and Yukari led us to the famous Nara Koen (Park), also known as the Deer Park, because here the deer rule! Our first encounter with deer was one that was walking up some steps before nonchalantly crossing a road to the other side!

A lone deer climbs up some steps (CNB 2012)

We saw even more later and were quite overwhelmed by these creatures. If you think deer are nice, calm and cute animals, think again when you see this signage (below) at the Nara Park. "The deer of Nara Park are wild animals. They can occasionally attack people, so please be careful". And what can these 'wild animals' do? Apparently they can bite, kick, butt or knock (you) down!

Warning on deer misbehaviour! (CNB 2012)

But they are such deer dear creatures! (CNB 2012)

We stopped at a scenic spot in the Deer Park for a picture of all six of us, kindly taken by one of our taxi drivers. Then we spotted inmates of a nursing home, all in wheelchairs, being helped by the staff to position them for a very nice photo. Also, a rikisha puller took photos for his customer. Spring was definitely in the air.

The six of us at Nara Park (2012)

Cheesu! Smile, you are in Nara Park (CNB 2012)

We proceeded to the famous Great Eastern Temple or Todai-ji, which is the the largest wooden temple in the world. It is connected to Nara Park, so there were still deer, deer everywhere (over 1,000, I am told). This Buddhist temple, built during the Nara period (710-794) has a 53 ft. high Daibutsu/Buddha statue sitting on lotus petals. The Daibutsuden (wooden hall) that houses the statue was rebuilt in 1709, one-third smaller than the original. But it still remains the largest wooden structure in the world.

In front of the gate into Todai-ji (AH 2012)

A class picture at the Todai-ji (CNB 2012)

There was a lot of activity at the temple that day because it was the registration day of the school attached to it. There were 'class' pictures taken, also blessing sessions for the children.

In front of the Todai-ji (KT 2012)

With Kumiko on the steps of the temple (YT 2012)

With Yukari in the temple grounds. Solve this puzzle - are our
heads sprouting branches of cherry blossoms or have we
turned into tree trunks?  Heh heh heh! (KT 2012)

In the temple, the wooden pillars are certainly big and tall (160 ft). Then there is the colossal Buddha in bronze, consecrated in 752 but damaged over the centuries and last repaired in 1692. Still looking okay.

The pillars inside the daibutsuden (CNB 2012)

The Great Buddha of Nara (CNB 2012)

Deer attack! As we left the temple area, we spotted many deer in the path ahead of us. The reason? There was a 'deer food' stall there and obviously the deer knew that some kind tourists were inevitably going to feed them! But they thoroughly overwhelmed Yukari as she tried to give them some of the special bisquits/crackers she'd bought.

 Help! Get away from me! Shoo! (CNB 2012)

Deer attack no. 2! Now Kumiko was being 'attacked' by the hungry (?) animals. She had carried a paper bag and this was ripped off her, spilling her things onto the floor. Before we could help to salvage everything, one deer managed to gobble a gift card that SH had given to her! Nevertheless, there was no biting, kicking, butting or knocking down involved, thank goodness!

Kumiko's paper bag gets ripped off (CNB 2012)

"Got anymore delicious gift cards for us?" (CNB 2012)

Nice doggie deer! (KT 2012)

We said sayonara to the cheeky deer of Nara Park and proceeded to get taxis back to the Nara-eki. Along the way to the taxi-stand, we spotted trees that had prayer notes tied to the branches. I wonder if the pieces of note paper become litter afterwards, although I think not (because everywhere in Japan seems super clean). There were also confectionary shops selling the usual wide array of sweets, cakes, desserts, and aisukrimu. Yay!

Prayers tied to branches (CNB 2012)

A confectionary shop (CNB 2012)

'Peace" and a matcha aisukrimu! (2012)

We could only manage a hurried lunch at a cafe outlet at the Nara-eki, the Vie de France. But they do serve some very delicious cakes and buns, including the delicious spinach & cheese buns. This time though, I had some colourful doughnuts of matcha, red bean and sakura flavours and a strawberry & milk drink. All very oiishi!

A view of the Nara-eki (CNB 2012)

My lunch at the Nara-eki (CNB 2012)

Here at Nara-eki we said sayonara to Kumiko (and a million thanks for being such a gracious host), before going on with Yukari to Kyoto-eki (where we had left our luggage) to take the shinkansen to Nagoya.

On the train from Nara to Kyoto (CNB 2012)

3-12 April 2012

Sunday 29 April 2012

My Japan: Kyoto

We arrived in Kyoto in the evening and headed for our accommodation - the Oyado Ishicho Ryokan. We got to experience staying at a traditional inn and sleeping the traditional way - futon* on tatami. There was also the yukata to wear and the public bath to enjoy, though we never had the time (or inclination, really?) to do the latter.

Our futon all laid out for the night (CNB 2012)

Pretty in-room tea set (CNB 2012)

Beautiful ikebana style flower arrangement in the dining room
(CNB 2012)

About Kyoto; it was Japan's capital for more than 1,000 years and became the repository of the country's art, culture, religion and thought. Kyoto now has more than 2,000 Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. With so many historic monuments/world heritage sites (17) to savour, we could only manage three during our stay in Kyoto.

The Kyoto main station (CNB 2012)

The librarian in me took this picture (CNB 2012)

On the first morning after our (buffet) breakfast at the Ryokan we took a taxi to the Kyoto-eki to meet up again with Kumiko and Yukari, another ex-classmate of SH.

My Ryokan breakfast (CNB 2012)

The colourful breakfast buffet spread (CNB 2012)

Friendly kitchen staff at the Ryokan (CNB 2012)

Together we took a bus to the Heian-Jingu (a Shinto shrine). A 24-metre high (80 ft) torii leads to the vermilion-coloured gate of this shrine. The shrine, dedicated to Kyoto's first and last emperors, was built in 1895 when Chinese influence was at its height. A wide white-pebbled courtyard leads to the Daigoku-den  (main hall).

Torii leading to the Heian-jingu (CNB 2012)

The gate into the Heian-jingu (CNB 2012)

The purification well in the white pebbled courtyard (CNB 2012)

Then we walked along the canal (though we did not have time to go along the 'Path of Philosophy') and Biwa Lake, and past the old railway tracks to our destination for lunch.

A boat passes along the canal bordered on both sides by
sakura trees in full bloom (CNB 2012)

Modern meets traditional - two bridal couples along the old
railway tracks of Kyoto (CNB 2012)

Our pre-booked lunch was at a very famous traditional Japanese Restaurant, at the Ryokan Yachiyo. Thank you Kumiko for enabling us to experience a wonderful meal in such beautiful surroundings. The little garden there had a serene koi pond as well.

AH and I and our food at Yachiyo (KT 2012)

The restaurant with a view of the garden (CNB 2012)

Koi in the pond ... tranquility (CNB 2012)

After the very good meal, we walked to the Nanzen-ji, located at the base of Kyoto's forested Higashimaya mountains. It began as a 13th century retirement villa of Emperor Kameyama and was later converted into a Zen Buddhist temple. But somehow I missed seeing the famous Hojo Rock Garden there. I read later that the Nanzen-ji Sanmon (main gate) of this temple features in Kabuki theatre.

Nanzen-ji sanmon (main gate) roof detail (CNB 2012)

The Nanzen-ji sanmon (CNB 2012)

A young couple poses for my camera at the
Nanzen-ji (CNB 2012)

We then took taxis to Kiyomizu-dera, a Buddhist temple building I very much looked forward to seeing. Kiyomizu Temple, a contender for the new seven wonders of the world,  is known for its wide wooden verandah jutting out over a beautiful valley extending to a panoramic view of the city. First we had to negotiate the steps on a steep slope to get there. But it was a fun walk because there were shops/eateries all the way up.

Steps leading up to the Kiyomizu-dera (CNB 2012)

A traditional fan shop. Oops, no photography! (CNB 2012)

Three girls in kimono stop for a breather and a meal (CNB 2012)

The Temple was founded in 788 and dedicated to the 11-faced Kannon (God of Mercy). In the temple grounds, the Otowa-no-taki is the waterfall where visitors sip water from a spring said to have many health benefits.

Kiyomizu-dera overlooking Kyoto (CNB 2012)

Me at a (contender) wonder of the world (KT 2012)

The Otowa spring in the temple grounds (CNB 2012)

Yukari & Kumiko at the Kiyomizu-dera (CNB 2012)

We took taxis again to the city centre for a tea break before beginning our visit to the Nishiki Market for a look see. The Kyoto Nishiki Ichiba (market) is touted as 'the kitchen of Kyoto'. It is a narrow shopping street with some 126 shops/stalls selling traditional Japanese foods, ingredients and other novel items. Almost everything here is said to be locally produced or procured. Interestingly, this market started as far back as 1311.

An oyster bar at Nishiki (CNB 2012)

'Sushi' in a haberdashery shop (CNB 2012)

A shop selling chestnuts, etc. (CNB 2012)

From the Nishiki Market we later went to the Daimaru Depato (department store) to buy our dinner in the depato chika (i.e. its basement food hall).

We never got to go to Gion, Kyoto's famous geisha district. I read that the geisha in Kyoto are known as maiko and geiko because the word geisha in old Kyoto referred to male entertainers dressed as women (although in Tokyo and Osaka it came to mean women). Maiko debut at 16 and advance to geiko rank at about 21. My only brief encounter with maiko/geiko in Kyoto was just before we began our walk up to the Kiyomizu-dera.

A serendipitous encounter with two Kyoto maiko (CNB 2012)

Back at the ryokan, a group of students from the US had just checked-in and were excitedly posing in their yukata. I was mistaken for a 'local', and received Japanese greetings from them and their teacher. Ha ha, sorry I do not speak Japanese, unfortunately. I wish I do, though. (Learnt it in uni, but never mastered it.)

American students at the Ryokan (CNB 2012)

We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at the ryokan, albeit for two nights only. From Kyoto, it was on to Nagoya.
Sayonara, Kyoto...

Sayonara, we hope to return to Kyoto (CNB 2012)

* Futon is traditional Japanese bedding comprising a shikibuton (bottom mattress) and kakebuton (thick quilted bedcover).

3-12 April 2012