One of the major attractions that we looked forward to on our trip to Japan was a visit to Kyoto’s Golden Pavilion. The original strcuture (Kinkakuji), a Zen Buddhist temple, dates back to the 14th century, but unfortunately it was destroyed by arson. The temple was reconstructed and opened to the public in 1955. It is a beautiful, gold leaf-covered building oriented so the reflection in the surrounding water enhances its beauty.
Looking at the photo of the entrance below, one might think it was raining, but these were “sunbrellas” which proved very popular in Japan.
Throughout our trip to Japan in 2015, I was taken in by the architectural elements that were so different from those found in other places I have visited. The very intricate designs incorporating contrasting and complementary materials were very creative as evidenced in this roof detail on a building at the Golden Pavilion compound.
Here is yet another example
Of course the main attraction was the Golden Pavilion itself…
which had some of its very own interesting roof detail in the form of a golden bird.
There are, of course, other interesting things to see on the compound grounds. The photo below shows a coin toss venue where guests try to get the coins in the metal cup which they hope will bring them good luck. The symbolism of the statues was not clear, but one might intuit that they are religious in nature or at least cultural/spiritual.
The guide explained that the 500+ year old tree below was pruned to resemble a ship and if a bit of imagination is employed, one can imagine a large main sail and perhaps the bow of a ship pointing straight toward the viewer. If you look carefully, you might be able to see the wooden superstructure supporting the branches in the front.
After visiting the atomic bomb site in Nagasaki, we took a bus ride to Dejima. This was an interesting stop which highlighted the closed nature of Japan’s society for much of their history. The small island was established to house Portuguese traders to help Japan keep a “foot in the door” of international trade and still keep foreigners segregated to avoid the spread of Christianity and perhaps other undesirable customs. According to Japan Visitor, the literal translation of Dejima is Exit Island.
Close to where the tour buses park, there is a small schematic of Dejima
This is the body of water on which the island was constructed. Dejima is pictured in the foreground on the right
A model replica of the village is on display to help visitors gain an overall understanding of the island’s geography.
The small opening was used for moving cargo and allowing passengers to enter the cloistered island.
As elsewhere throughout Japan, gardens were represented.
This man is wearing the traditional clothing of the day in Dejima
As though Nagasaki and Dijema weren’t enough for one day, we had another very engaging attraction to visit. I was looking forward to this particular stop because I enjoy gardens and this one was somewhat special.
In contrast to the horror of the devastation of the atomic bomb hypercenter in Nagasaki, Glover Garden was a place of beauty and a celebration of nature.
Thomas Glover was a business-minded Scotsman who was instrumental in opening Nagasaki to foreign trade. He also is given credit, at least in part, for the development of the Mitsubishi steel works as well as the Kirin beer company. He has been dubbed “The Scottish Samurai” to underscore his contribution to the industrialization of Japan.
From the dock area, we took a short upward trek toward the hilltop garden.
Near the crest of the hill, just outside of the garden, was Oura Catholic Church constructed around 1865. It is considered the oldest standing Christian church in Japan and was originally built for the foreign merchants who were moving to Nagasaki at the end of the era of seclusion to take advantage of trade.
The sides of the street leading up to the church and Glover Garden contained copious shops which catered to a wide variety of tourist and non-tourist interests. For those with a passion for Halloween or Dia de los Muertos …
Formal columned lamp posts support an ornamental metal sign signalling the entrance to the garden.
As one might expect, there were a number of well-groomed, smaller display gardens.
Also spectacular were the views from the top of the hill as the threatening clouds began to roll in.
Below is a photograph of a group of houses alongside the hill with the top of the Oura Church jutting up between them and the garden.
More houses could also be seen near the garden from the opposite side of the overlook.
A panoramic view of he harbor shows our ship and a number of buildings in the foreground near the port.
Formal gardens often have sectioned off areas sometimes referred to as “rooms” which create a mood of their own. This alcove with a variety of shrubs and small trees, pays homage to a more classical Japanese style.
There is an association of Glover Garden with the story of Madame Butterfly.
“Another claim to fame is that Glover’s Japanese wife Tsuru, whom he married in 1867, is said to have been the inspiration for “Madame Butterfly”, a story written by the American author John Luther Long, and later turned into the famous opera by Puccini and first performed at the Scala, Milan, in 1904. Tsuru had been obliged, at the age of 17, to divorce her first husband, a samurai, due to political differences between her family and his at the time of the overthrow of the Tokugawa Shogunate, and was thus separated from her baby daughter, Sen. However, there the resemblance between Tsuru and the fictional character ends, for although there may have been a suicide attempt, she lived to marry Thomas Glover, and to give birth to Hana and Tomisaburo (“Tommy” to his father). Tsuru’s nickname was “Och-san”, from the butterfly motif on her kimono, hence the name of the popular opera heroine.” Via Rampant Scotland
A statue of Puccini, with a small butterfly on his left shoulder, was placed in the garden to acknowledge this strong association.
Nearby, the likeness of diva Miura Tamaki as Madame Butterfly further underscores this relationship.
Water features provide a sedate aura to a garden and this wall of dripping water with cascading foliage achieved this goal.
Another feature, similar in style, added flower boxes in front.
It would not be a garden in Japan without a koi pond …
which even pleased the birds!
Heading back to the ship, a stone planter with lantana attracted a real butterfly.
Descending the steep street on the way to the pier, this courtyard beckoned with the decorative path and neatly trimmed garden.
Upon approaching the pier, I noticed a parking area that had a bright yellow wall with a dragon statue across the top.
This did not appear to be the friendly dragon from a Disney film.
We were physically and perhaps a bit emotionally tired from the exploits of the day and were glad to board the ship and have a respite before dinner.
After a bit more than three days in Tokyo, we boarded a cruise ship to head to other interesting Japanese ports. Whoever coined the phrase,“Getting there is half the fun”, must have had cruising in mind. We certainly enjoy the restful days and evenings at sea while reliving the novelties of the day and anticipating those to be next.
Here is a panorama from the deck of our ship soon after boarding. It was a very nice, sunny day at the pier.
As we strolled the deck to review the location of important ship venues, we found this beleaguered Noctuid moth (perhaps a positive omen of some sort!).
The first port of call was Nagasaki and the day was appropriately bleak for visiting this somber, historic site. The grayness and drizzle lent to the solemnity of the occasion. For those too young to know or remember, Nagasaki was the site of the second atomic bomb detonation by the US during WWII.
We were brought to the Nagasaki Peace Park and one of the very first things that grabbed my attention was this large statue known as The Prayer Monument for Peace created by Nishimo Kitamura.
The right arm (pointing to the) sky means the threat of (an) A-bomb.
The left arm stretching horizontally means the peace.
And the closed eyes means praying for the victims of A-bomb.
As we continued to walk south, we noticed what appeared to be an old foundation which we later learned was the ruins of the Urakami Branch of Nagasaki Prison that was located at the site. All of the 134 prisoners reportedly remanded there at the time were killed.
As one might expect, the peace theme predominates. The Peace Bell statue depicts small children holding up a bell similar to the bell of the Urakami Cathedral which was destroyed in the blast.
Fortunate visitors can find Iinosuke Hayazaki, member of the Nagasaki Peace Movement Association, at the park explaining how he experienced the blast as a fourteen year old. His life was spared because his supervisor changed his working location at the weapons factory that day. (Read more here)
As part of a ritual “cleansing,” people can water flowers and plants that are near the peace bell where Iinosuke Hayazaki sometimes stands.
A distance away from this statue, at the south end of the park, is the circular Fountain of Peace.
Near the Fountain of Peace is a brick walled staircase which is an entryway and exit for those walking to the park. It was festooned with a beautifully juxtaposed wave of flowers.
Part of the walkway near the fountain was constructed of red and grey bricks to symbolize flames, heat and explosion.
A Peace Symbols Zone was established in the park and other nations, states, etc., from around the world have contributed monuments in support of peace and against nuclear proliferation.
“‘Constellation Earth’ from St. Paul, Minnesota, USA (Nagasaki’s sister city), 1992; the plaque reads: ‘The seven human figures represent continents. The interdependence of the figures symbolizes global peace and solidarity.'” Via Wikipedia
Yet another solemn memorial was a black cenotaph which marked the hypocenter of the explosion.
There are signs and statistics detailing the explosion.
“More than 2.5 square miles of land were leveled. Tens of thousands of homes were either entirely burnt, reduced to rubble or partially destroyed. With an estimated population of 240,000 close to 74,000 perished and nearly 75,000 were injured.” Via
Not wanting the world to forget, and perhaps to serve as a warning, there were other statues portraying the horror of the event.
“The mother’s plea for peace and prayers as she shelters her child. This statue by Naoki Tominaga commemorated the 50th anniversary of the atomic bombing at its hypocenter in Nagasaki.” Via
As we made our way to the Atomic Bomb Museum we passed the decorative tower which, by special permission from Greece, temporarily held the Olympic flame.
“Received by the City of Nagasaki from Greece in 1983, the Flame of Commitment burns to symbolize the pledge that Nagasaki shall remain the last city on Earth to experience nuclear devastation, that nuclear war shall never again be waged, and that there shall be no more bomb victims. The construction of the monument was undertaken to promote this pledge and commitment, and the flame of peace continues to burn.” Via
The Atomic Bomb Museum housed much of the history and artifacts related to the Nagasaki bombing.
Among the items was a replica of the A-bomb, code named Fat Man, which was dropped over Nagasaki.
There was a display of glass bottles that melted from the heat of the blast.
Shards of stained glass shown below were displayed and some were so strongly heated, they formed balls.
Perhaps most poignant was this metal helmet containing remains of a human skull.
On the way back to our tour bus, we passed the Gold Peace Statue constructed to commemorate the lives of students and teachers lost in the bomb blast.
While this was a “heavy” visit, it was an interesting part of history. On the way out of town, I couldn’t help but notice all of the criss-crossed wires and cables along the side streets which reminded me of a long ago era.
Naturally, we were interested in seeing other sections of the city so once again, we made our way “downtown” to the Ginza area where some decorations from the Tanabata Star Festival were in evidence.
Our group remained intrigued by the large street crossing at Shibuya Station (reportedly the third busiest station in Tokyo and sometimes noted as the world’s busiest street crossing*) which hosts crowds waiting to cross in many different directions.
Shibuya Station Interesting Note
There is an underground river running under the station, to the east and parallel to the JR tracks. Unlike most other Japanese department stores, the east block of Tokyu department store (which constitutes the east exit of the station) does not have retail space in the basement because of this. An escalator in the east block built over the river stops a few steps above floor level to make space for machinery underneath without digging. Rivers are deemed public space by Japanese law, so building over one is normally illegal. It is not clear why this was allowed when it was first built in 1933. [emphasis mine ]
As we watched the crowds, we saw that umbrellas were often used as parasols to shield the sun.
Below is an elevated view from inside Tokyu department store.
Also at the Shibuya Station is a park-like area where people can sit and rest in a relatively shaded area.
This park, however, is noted more for a famous statue of a dog. Hachi (Hachikō) was a very loyal Akita who so loved his owner that even after the death of his master, he remained vigilant for his return at this station each day. The people of Japan were so impressed with this display of loyalty, they erected a statue to honor his spirit.
Shortly after our stop at the crossing, we headed for the Shinbashi, district of Minato in Tokyo where we came across the curious Nippon TV Tower Building made so by the ornate sculpture(below) attached to its side. It may be difficult to determine what this is, but the Nittere Ohdokei is the world’s largest animated clock.
Below is a YouTube Video of the animation:
Another short walk brought us our third city area garden, the Hama-rikyu Gardens, but this one had a special treat in store!
The park was once an active duck hunting pond which is commemorated by this statue.
With this history one would expect interesting and beautiful water features.
As we strolled past the lawn and shrub areas…
we could see “the treat” (a quaint old-style building) in the distance.
It was a traditional Japanese Tea House. Yama, our guide, explained the rituals associated with having tea in this setting.
As you can see below, this was green tea, very green tea!
The tea was not bitter, but it was far from sweet. The cake served with it, however, was very sweet and when eaten with sips of the tea, proved palatable although our western tastes were not accustomed to the nuances.
Some patrons dressed in a more traditional garb.
A view from the outside deck of the tea house was a reminder of the city location of this tranquil venue.
A very intriguing feature of the garden is this pine tree which was planted in 1709 and thus more than 300 years old.
A short walk from the garden was a building I was very interested in examining, the Nakagin Capsule Tower designed by architect Kisho Kurokawa. This was a very innovative building for its time. (seen in the middle of the picture below with the stacks of cube-like blocks.)
The building was designed to enable the compartments to be detachable, replaceable and connectable to accommodate various needs.
The building has been quarantined as there are asbestos and other structural issues although it was my understanding that it is still used by a few people.
Tokyo has many new buildings that are beautiful as well as functional. The modern architecture provides a strong contrast to the older buildings and long history of the city.
Of course what would a visit to a special place be without a souvenir or two (or even three)? So off we went to another city area for some shopping. The scene pictured below was typical.
Many of the young girls appeared to be more “dressed up” for a trip to the city area and often wore hats. This is another example of a small umbrella serving as a parasol.
In preparation for our visit, we read that Japan had artistic sewer covers.
In America, we have so many commodities from Japan, that this sign advertising pork “raised from high quality grain from fertile American soils” appeared noteworthy.
After a rest at the hotel and dinner, there was some exploration of the area to be had this evening of our last day in Tokyo!
One of our most anticipated forays while we were visiting Tokyo was a one day journey to Mount Fuji. It was no problem rising early in the morning to catch the sunrise in expectation of the adventure ahead.
We took a short bus trip to the larger transportation terminal where we picked up our guide for the day and boarded a pleasant motor coach. As we left Tokyo proper, we passed the Tokyo Tower (not to be confused with the Tokyo Skytree)
On the bus ride to Mt. Fuji we were educated and entertained by our energetic docent. One of the facts she told us was that Japan is quite mountainous – “More than 50% of the country is mountainous and covered by forests.[emphasis mine]”*
Here is a picture of our guide, Marie, explaining family customs and routines in Japan. She had a flip pad with drawings to highlight key points.
As we approached Mt. Fuji we could tell that clouds and fog were setting in and that visibility would probably be poor. This is what it looked like at one of main staging points for those who want to hike the volcano.
Some of the hikers were warming up or getting ready by doing some exercises.
While others reserved their strength for the climb ahead or perhaps resting while recovering from the climb they just finished!
After a brief stop at the visitor center and souvenir shop, the bus headed down the mountain. Luckily, as we reached one point, the sky cleared and Mt. Fuji became visible.
We were glad to catch this glimpse of the volcano as many of this day’s visitors were not so lucky. We headed to a town (which may have been Kawaguchikocho, but I am not sure) on the coast of Lake Kawaguchi where we had a traditional Japanese lunch.
During our Japan tour, we generally did not eat the raw fish, but the pot-like structure in the upper-left was actually set atop a heat source and was boiling. This was a tasty enough broth with noodles and vegetables. There were also other vegetables and cracker-like offerings on the prepared tray.
This was one of the first places we stopped that did not have a western-style bathroom. This is a more traditional Japanese unisex toilet. All personal business is done here mostly by squatting! Many attractions and more popular locations have both types of toilets from which to choose.
NOTE: At our hotel, we had what could only be referred to as the Cadillac of toilets. This appliance had more buttons and gizmos than some entertainment systems. It had a heated toilet seat; amazing!
After lunch we took a walk along the street where one of our group purchased a lavender-flavored, soft-serve ice cream cone.
This town had a funicular which we were going to try to ride because it promised a distant view of Mt. Fuji. Lightning, however thwarted that plan.
Before boarding the bus for our next stop, we took a quick jaunt down to the lake area.
As you can see, there were swan boats (perhaps paddle boats) for hire during the more pleasant weather.
Little did we know as we boarded the bus that further views of Mt. Fuji were not going to elude us for the remainder of the day…
After we visited the Meiji Shrine in Tokyo, we boarded the bus and headed for the Imperial Palace East Gardens.
The Imperial Palace East Garden (Kokyo Higashi Gyoen Garden) stands on part of the former grounds of the Edo Castle and has been open to the public since 1968. The Imperial Palace is the official home of Japan’s emperor and imperial family.
Close to the Ote-mon Gate entrance to the garden is a statue of a Fire Fish (Shachi) which is used as a talisman to ward off dangers from fire. Edo, now Tokyo, had numerous fires and is sometimes known as the “City of Fires.” Fire Fish can be traditionally found on rooftops or near entrance ways.
Remnants of the ancient stone wall used to protect the castle and which also served as part of original foundation now stand as the outer perimeter of the palace and castle grounds.
One of the guard houses on the garden/palace grounds.
Decorative roof tiles atop the guard house.
An ornate lamp post reminds us of the artistry of times since passed.
The shades of light and dark pink stood in contrast to the palette of greens.
Many Japanese gardens contain a tōrō or “light basket.” These traditional lanterns can be made from a variety of materials such as wood or stone. Stone lanterns found their way to Japan from other oriental cultures and were originally used in temples and shrines as votives or to light pathways, but have since found a place as a more general purpose decoration.
The beauty of the garden grounds, even on this overcast and rainy day, brought artists to the park.
Another artist sits in harmony with the solitude of the pond.
Nearby, koi could be seen swimming in and around a walking bridge.
The Suwa no chaya is a tea house that was reconstructed in its original location in 1912 and moved to its current location when the East Garden was developed.
Among the gardens was a stand of bamboo.
A closer view reveals the variety of colors and textures.
A groundskeeper’s bicycle with an old-fashioned broom, still used to sweep the grounds in many of the Japanese parks, awaits the trip hoome.
As we were leaving the garden grounds, I took a picture of the city area of Tokyo in which the Imperial Palace is located and which shows part of the moat that served to protect the Edo Castle.
Last summer my wife and I were part of a group of friends who traveled to Japan together. We stayed three plus days in Tokyo and then boarded a cruise ship for other ports of call in Japan.
We were excited to be going to a country where the culture is reported to be significantly different than our American way of living and to be sharing this experience and time away with dear friends.
The flight was long, needless to say, and the day after we arrived we were anxious to get an early start. Unfortunately, the weather was a bit dreary. This is the view out of our window at the Keio Plaza Hotel, Tokyo that day. The hotel was a beautiful, modern facility that provided superb service and was very welcoming to westerners.
Notice the tall structure way in the back. That is known as the Tokyo Sky Tree built in 2010 which is a broadcasting, restaurant and observation tower. There is a bit of confusion because Tokyo has another tall structure called the Tokyo Tower which is an older (1958) communications and observation tower located more centrally (but more about that in another post).
We boarded a bus to begin our adventures. First up was the Meiji Jingu Shrine (Shinto). Because this was the summer, nearly every bus had personal fans to be used by the passengers until the air conditioning “kicked in” or in the event it just wasn’t cool enough.
Like any metropolitan area, there is usually something interesting to see along the way while looking out the window. This modernesque motorcyclist stopped alongside us as we waited for a red light to change.
Along the way we passed some interesting and quite different construction barriers.
Although the day was just getting started, some on our bus, like this young fellow being comforted by his sister, were a bit tired.
The first impressive sight one sees as they approach the shrine’s park area is the torii (gate) from of an old cypress and which marks the entry to the shrine grounds. Torii are used to signify a sacred area.
As we walked the pathway toward the main building, the rain became more plentiful, but did not detract from the beauty of the area.
I appreciate the design elements used in various countries like the top of this light post along the path.
Approaching the main shrine area, visitors encounter colorful, stacked sake barrels. These are donated by the various sake brewers in Japan to honor the deities and underscore the use of sake as part of some of the religious ceremonies.
Across from the array of sake barrels is an impressive line up of wine barrels. Emperor Meiji was interested in embracing some aspects of western culture such as enjoying wine with his food. The wineries of Bourgogne, France have gifted barrels of wine to the shrine in the spirit of promoting world peace and friendship.
There are several large trees in the courtyard as one approaches the main shrine entryway. These two trees have a rope strung across them with paper cutouts hanging from the rope.
Shimenawa rope is used for ritual purification in the Shinto religion and is often decorated with zig-zagged shaped paper (Shide) resembling lightning bolts. These elements mark a sacred place.
In the courtyard visitors can purchase ema which are wooden placards containing wishes or prayers of those who visit or worship at the shrine. These need not be too serious and some may contain messages asking for forgiveness from a loved one, etc.
Notice how many of the placards are shaped in the form of a house with a slanted roof.
Another torii at the entrance to the Meiji Shrine complex.
The main building of the Meiji Shrine
Our guide explained that this wooden post has many small nicks on it, which show as black marks, caused by coins being tossed at it during some of the ceremonies held at the shrine.
More interesting design elements: Above – A carved medallion that adorned this wooden door. Below – An ornately designed light on the outside of the main hall.
Many of the attractions and places of interest in Japan draw large numbers of people and thus each docent needs a way to enable visitors to keep an eye on them or to locate them in these crowded areas. The guides usually have a telescoping rod or long pole to which they attach a personal token. As we returned to the parking lot, our guide was raising her stuffed bear aloft for us to see.
We boarded the bus and headed for our next adventure this day, The Imperial Palace East Garden. Watch for more posts about our trip to Japan!
Photographers Note: Because of the rain this day, most of these pictures were taken with my very old Canon PowerShot A590 IS, 8 MP point and shoot; mainly jpegs.
Japanese photographer Mitsuaki Iwago obviously has a passion for cats and one cat in particular. He has created a travelogue series featuring cats from around the world. In the clip below, he is filming in Okinawa, Japan where enjoys an up close and personal moment with a very cute kitten.