Archive for March, 2013

Cherry blossoms (also called Sakura in Japan) have started blooming a couple of weeks earlier than usual this year. I went to the Ueno Park so I could see the cherry blossoms. The Park is just outside the Ueno JR Station and entry to the park is free. Though I’ve been to Japan many times, this was my first time seeing the cherry blossoms. The whole park was filled with these flowers. It was especially beautiful to walk through some of the pathways that have the cherry blossom trees on both sides.

Sakura - White

Sakura at the Ueno Park

There were two types of cherry blossoms at this Park. One was white whereas the other one was pink. There were a lot more of the white flowers.

Sakura - Pink

Sakura at the Ueno Park

Ueno Park is a great place to spend time. This time of the year is really good because of the Sakura. The Park also has other attractions like some Museums and a Zoo. Since I had been to some of the Museums before, this time I went to the Zoo. One thing to take note of is the fact that the Museums and the Zoo have free entry on certain days of the year and luckily for me, entry to the Zoo was free this day!

Sakura at the Ueno Park

Sakura at the Ueno Park

The Main attraction at the Zoo is the two Giant Pandas that have been brought from China. Since it was one of those free entrance days, the zoo was quite crowded and I had to wait for about thirty minutes to see the Pandas.

Ueno Zoo

Ueno Zoo

The number of animals in the zoo is quite limited. But it’s definitely worth paying a visit once. Coming from India, I found it interesting that they had cows and goats in the zoo. The birds section and the little mammals section had a good collection of animals.

Ueno Zoo

Ueno Zoo

Ueno Zoo

Ueno Zoo

Apart from the Zoo and the Museums there are also some shrines around this area. They sell a lot of traditional Japanese food near the Bentendo Temple. The smell of food is so amazing here.

Bentendo Temple

Bentendo Temple

Ueno Park

Ueno Park

I’m planning to go to the Shinjuku Park next week so I can see the cherry blossoms there too. Where are you planning to see the Sakura this year?

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ENOSHIMA AND KAMAKURA

Posted: March 17, 2013 in Japan
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Enoshima is a small island in the city of Fujisawa and Kamakura is an old historic sightseeing area. There are a lot of beaches around this area as well. I had heard about Kamakura and when I looked up what places to see in Kamakura, I realized that Enoshima is also quite close and it makes sense to see both places in a single trip.

Getting There

The best way to see Kamakura and Enoshima is to get the Enoshima-Kamakura Free Pass. The Pass costs you 1430 Yen and it includes one round trip from Shinjuku to Fujisawa and then unlimited rides on both the Enoden Line between Fujisawa and Kamakura and the Odakyu Railways between Fujisawa and Katase-Enoshima. The pass can be bought at Shinjuku. We took the Odakyu Express line from Shinjuku to Fujisawa which is about a one hour ride. Then at Fujisawa, which is the last station we changed to the local Odakyu train and reached Katase-Enoshima.

Enoshima

The Enoshima Island is about a 15 minute walk from this station. The Katase Enoshima station has a unique structure. It is apparently designed to evoke the image of Ryūgū-jō, or Dragon Palace, the underwater dwelling in the Urashima Taro fable. The view of Mt. Fuji from the long bridge that connects Enoshima island to the mainland was amazing.

Fuji

Mt. Fuji from the bridge to Enoshima

On the Enoshima island we visited the main complex of the Enoshima Shrine. There is no entrance fee for this place. It was interesting to see people washing their money (coins) at the shrine’s pond and then offering it to the statue of a god there.

Enoshima Shrine

Enoshima Shrine

Then we walked back to the Enoshima station, which is about a 10-15 minute walk from the Katase Enoshima Station. From here we took the Enoden line (also called the Enoshima Electric Railway) to Hase. This train ride is quite nice. It is like a tram system that runs through the town and along the coast. The view of the beach from the train is really good.

Enoshima shrine statue

Enoshima Shrine

Kamakura

At Hase there is a temple called Hasedara that we visited. Admission is 300 Yen for this place. The complex is very good. It has a beautiful garden with different types of trees and flowers. There was one Sakura tree that had already blossomed. The complex also houses a huge shrine at the top. You can get a good view of the city and the beaches from here. There is also a small cave inside this place.

Hase Temple

Hasedara Garden

Then we went to see the Great Buddha of Kamakura also called the ‘Kamakura Daibutsu’. It is a bronze statue of Buddha which stands in the grounds of Kotokuin Temple. The height of the statue is 13.35 metres. This statue was built in 1252, so it is a very important national monument for Japan. Admission to this site is 200 Yen and it’s another 20 Yen to go inside the statue.

Hase - Buddha

The Great Buddha of Kamakura

Next we went to the Kamakura station. While we were looking for directions in a map outside the Train station, a kind Japanese man asked us if we needed help. I told him that we were looking for Tsurugaoka Hachimangu. Then he pulled out an English Map of Kamakura which showed all the important places that are in and around Kamakura. I later found that this map is available in this website also. We visited the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine. This is apparently Kamakura’s most important shrine. The road leading to the shrine is quite nice. It’s a long road with a couple of Torii gates along the way. As with many other shrines, this shrine is also on top of a small hill.

Road

Pathway to Myohon-Ji Shrine

The final place we visited was the Myohon Ji Shrine. This was a really cool place. There weren’t many people here so it was nice and quiet. The architecture of this shrine looked a bit different from all the other shrines we had visited. The shrine complex also had a graveyard. This was the only shrine where the graveyard wasn’t blocked off.

Myohon-Ji

Gateway of the Myohon-Ji Shrine

There are a number of other shrines also around the Kamakura region that we didn’t visit. From Kamakura we took the Enoden line back to Fujisawa and then the Odakyu Express line to Shinjuku. It was exciting to see all these places in a single day but it was quite long and tiresome too. The weather was pleasant, so that was helpful.

Have you been to any of these places?

TOKYO TOWER AND ZOJOJI TEMPLE

Posted: March 9, 2013 in Japan
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Last week I finally got to visit the Tokyo tower. The Tokyo tower stands at 333 metres and is the second tallest structure in Japan. The view from there was absolutely amazing.  On route to the Tokyo tower I also visited the Zojoji temple which is a Buddhist Shrine.

Getting there

There are a few stations that are quite close to the Tokyo tower. But I took the Yamanote line to Hamamatsucho station and walked from there. It’s almost a straight road from the station to the Tokyo Tower

Zojoji temple

Entrance fee: No entrance fee, it’s free!

The Zojoji temple comes before the Tokyo Tower when you walk from the Hamatsucho Station. It is the main temple of the Jodo sect of Japanese Buddhism in the Kanto Region. Interestingly, though this temple was originally built around 1400, it was almost completely destroyed during the Second World War. So all buildings except the Sangedatsu Mon which is the main gate, are re-constructions.

Zojoji 2

The Main Hall

There is a Main Hall which is somewhere in the middle and some other smaller buildings around it. When I was there they were performing some Buddhist ritual in the main hall. People were sitting in lines and they had a small drum kind of thing next to them. Then when the ritual started they uniformly started banging the drums in rhythmic manner. It was quite interesting. There was a message board that said that we’re not allowed to take pictures during the ceremony. In all other places you are free to take photographs as you please.

Zojoji

Sangedatsu Mon – The Main Gate

Behind the Temple there were some graves but access was restricted to this part of the compound. In another building next to the Main hall there were some other Buddhist statues and they were also selling souvenirs. I mostly never buy these kind of souvenirs in Japan. They are simple overpriced. Chopsticks or a small key chain for 500 Yen? – No Thank You!!

Tokyo Tower

Entrance fee

Main Observatory: 820 Yen
Special Observatory: 600 Yen (total 1420 Yen)

Tokyo Tower

Tokyo Tower

The Tokyo Tower is just behind the Temple. To go up to the main observatory the cost is 820 Yen. Once you reach the main observatory, you can get another ticket to go to the special observatory if you want. There is a waiting time of about 45 minutes after you get the ticket at the main observatory to go to the special one. But you can use that time to take a look at things from the main observatory. The main observatory is at 150 metres and the special observatory is at 250 metres. The best time to go is probably in the evening at about 5-6 PM so you can watch the sunset and also view the city in the night. Tokyo looks really beautiful in the night. There is a place in the main observatory from where you can look straight down. It is a glass floor and you can look straight down through it. You can also stand on it. Though you know it is probably a really strong glass it does feel a bit scary because if it breaks, it’s a 150 metre drop. But the chances of that happening are nil.

Sun

View from the Main Observatory of the Tokyo Tower

On the way back I had ビーフカツカレー (Beef Cutlet Curry) at Coco Ichibanya Curry House  – one of my favourite food dishes from one of my favourite restaurants in Japan.

Have you been to the Tokyo Tower or the Zojoji temple?

SIMPLE PLAN – JET LAG

Posted: March 3, 2013 in Music
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Apple opened its iTunes Music Store in India only recently, at the end of last year I think. Since then it’s been really great to be able to download music (legally!!). There’s also Flipkart’s Flyte Music Store, but they don’t really have the same kind of English Music collection like iTunes. The best part about digital music and especially iTunes is the competitive price that they offer in India. The most expensive albums (Usually deluxe versions with some bonus tracks) come up to INR 150 which is about 2.7 USD or 255 YEN right now. So I’ve been downloading and listening to a lot of new music.

 

 

About a week back I heard a song on the Radio called Jet Lag by Simple Plan. The tune was really catchy. So I googled the song and then eventually downloaded the whole album. Get Your Heart On! by Simple Plan. It’s one of the best albums I’ve listened to in a while. There are just so many nice songs. It’s quite rare for me to like so many songs in a single album. Some songs are kind of kiddish and I’m not a teenager! But the songs are good. These are the songs I like in the album.

  • You Suck At Love
  • Jet Lag (Feat Natasha Bedingfield)
  • Astronaut
  • Loser Of The Year
  • Anywhere Else But Here
  • This Song Saved My Life
  • Jet Lag (feat. Marie-Mai)

My favourite song is definitely Jet Lag. I downloaded the Album because of that song. There is also a French version of this song in the album. French really sounds beautiful even though I don’t understand a word of it!!

If you listen to any of the songs do let me know what you think!