Sunday, March 30, 2008

Snow Monkeys

I took two guided tours this weekend, one to see the Japanese Snow Monkeys and Matsumoto Castle, and one to tour around the Mt Fuji area. was too overcast to see Mount Fuji but I did enjoy several nearby lakes and villages. Near Lake Yamanashi is the Yamanashi Gem Museum which was one of my favorites; the gems displayed were spectacular and rival any I have seen in the Smithsonian.

As for the snow monkeys, they were a very unusual sight - I'll leave the pictures below to tell that story. In an area buried in snow for much of the year, the macaque monkeys live in and around a natural hot springs near Nagano. We hiked 30 minutes through a snowy mountain forrest to find the hot springs and a nearby waterfall. The monkeys were fearless and harmless as they swam in the hotsprings, jumped out into the snow to eat small plants and insects (buried in the snow), and walked between our small group to find their food.

Trip pictures are shown below. Click on a LARGER IMAGE.

Snow Monkeys and Me

Snow Monkeys ot Springs Pool

Snow Monkeys

Waterfall Near Snow Monkey Hotsprings

Matsumoto Castle

Matsumoto Castle

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Gora & Tokyo

Allright - yesterday I bagged two small peaks near Gora, then Sunday I visited the Tokyo book and music district.

Gora and Beyond - Taking the train from Yokosuka to Gora (a long ways away), I was determined to go hiking and get a couple of peaks. I did. From Gora, I hiked up along the road to around Kowakidani, found a trail system, hiked past the Chisuji Falls then up the mountain to the summit of Mt Sangen, then the summit of Mt Takanosu. The peaks were pretty small and the view wasn't very spectacular, but it was fun hiking through tall bamboo reeds and visiting with friendly Japanese hikers.

The main challenge to this hiking was finding the trails. I had no idea where I was headed after getting off of the train in the small town of Gora. I asked around and received directions that I could only vaguley understand since no one spoke English. Finally, I did receive some directions from a young couple also walking along the road and sightseeing. After asking them, I could see they weren' 100% certain of the directions, but I spotted a group that looked like they were going hiking so I followed them and ended up at a trailhead.

It seems like I am always wandering around Japan, not sure of an exact destination, but finding it anyway, and being surpised by chance encounters with friendly Japanese and with events that I could never have planned for.

The next day I visited the Tokyo Ochanomizu book and music district. I counted about 15 guitar stores, all on two blocks, and I visited every one of them. My lasting impression - even the Japanese recognize American guitars as the world's finest - all of the high end acoustic guitars for sale were American. While wandering around Ochanomizu I discovered three large Temple complexes. At one such temple "city" Japanese pauperazzi were swarming around a half dozen scantily clad Japanese models , the models posed inside temple grounds (sorry, no pictures here, I had forgotton my camera).

Check out the hking ipictures below. CLICK ON PICTURE TO GET A LARGE VIEW.

View from Mt Sangen

Bamboo Forrest along trails to Mt Sangen and Mt Takanosu

Summit of Mt Sangen

Summit of Mt Tokanasu

Trail Sign

Trail to Mt Sangen (a few roots in the way)

Bamboo Forest Video

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Odawara Castle

I'm getting pretty good at hopping trains, switching to different train lines, and actually finding my way back to Yokosuka where I am living.

It's the weekend again and time for me to get out and see Japan. I read about a castle in Odawara and, empowered by my growing train traveling skills, set-out to see the castle, it's nearby zoo, and to walk around the not-too-distant beach. Odawara, population 170,000, was a nice place to visit but I wouldn't characterize it as quaint.

Crossing the moat bridge, as I entered the castle grounds, now a park, I could hear traditional Japanese koto music. To my surprise, the music was issuing from an open area in the park where a samurai skill contest was in progress - this was by far my favorite experience of the day.

Japanese dressed as samurai warriors, galloping horses adorned with red and gold blankets and tassels, were racing at break-neck speed while shooting at bullseye targets off to their left side. All of this was happening with amped-up spectators rooting for their favorite samurai while soothing (but loud) traditional Japanese koto music blared through the PA system (see YouTube video and pics below).

I suppose the experience was heightened by the fact that it was totally unexpected.

Oh, I also stopped by a nearby flea market, also on the castle grounds, and examined some woodcrafts this carpenter was selling. He saw me examining some of his decorative wooden boxes (yes, I have been making my own and think I am an expert) and he exclaimed "5000 yen". I looked up, having heard him, and he immediately followed with a stream of Japanese language that I assume supported his 5000 yen selling price.

Hey I thought, I'm only examining these boxes for quality of craftsmanship so, in my best Japanese I said "I don't understand the Japanese language". The carpenter and his buddy got a pretty big horse laugh out of that - obviously I understood what 5000 yen meant. Oh well, it was a nice try at feigning ignorance - I think I'll choose my words more carefully the next time I try that dodge.

Anyway, here are some pics and a video I think you will enjoy. I recommend clicking on the pictures to get the LARGER image - I have scaled the large images down some so they shouldn't take so long to load.

Odawara Castle

Castle Gardern

Samurai Horseman Parading Ceremony

Samurai Horseman Preparing For Skills Contest

Samurai Horseman Preparing For Skills Contest

Samurai Horseman Not Always So Serious

Samurai Galloping Horseman - A Very Short Video

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Imperial Gardens in Tokyo

Today, I hopped a few trains to Tokyo to visit the Imperial Gardens. The gardens were the size of a fair sized park which included the ancient Imperial Palace. The palace was obscured from view and basically off-limits so I spent much of my time wandering around the park (gardens) admiring isolated hidden garden scapes.

Not too many trees or shrubs were in bloom, but those that were blooming were pretty spectacular. The gardens/ palace were surrounded by a moat with koi swimming about.

After visiting the gardens I checked-out the nearby museum of modern art which contained four floors of some pretty eye-popping paintings.

It's still amazing to me how such serene areas, like these gardens, coexist with this hustling, skyscraper laden megatropolis. Such is Japan, and not only in Tokyo, but seemingly everywhere. I am still in search of a town with less than one or two hundred thousand people - I know I'll find one soon.

Anyhow, I did take a few pictures of the gardens so have a look below.

Click on picture for a LARGER image.

Plum Tree

Yellow Blossomed Tree

Plum Tree with Birds

Garden Grounds - One Small Area

Reflection Pond



The END.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Tokyo Gov Muni Tower

Today, accompanied by a seasoned traveler J, I hopped a few trains for Tokyo. Our destination was the Tokyo Government Municipal Towers.

Sound interesting? Well it was. We entered on the first floor, then rose to the 45th floor of the twin towers where, from a circular observation deck, we had 360 degree views of all known as Tokyo; wall to wall skyscrapers for as far as the eye can see.

Nested within those skyscrapers were parks, temples, ancient bridges, gardens, and a castle (with moat) with its own vast garden. For now, here are a few pics taken with a perspective of a wide-eyed traveler (me), wandering around in one small Tokyo neighborhood.

Click on picture for a LARGER view.

An Enormous Interesting Skyscraper as Seen From Ground Level

Twin Towers (middle in background) - Remember 45th Floor here.

A View From the 45th Floo of the Twin Towers

Oh, and here is a short YouTube video I shot from the 45th floor observation deck.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Great Buddha, Kamakura3/1/08

I returned to Kamakura today to see the Great Buddha, the second largest Buddha statue in Japan. Getting off of the train, myself and a few others decided to hike along a ridge which circled around, back into town.

Along the way we saw a number of shrines, the Great Buddha, and a long stretch of seaside boardwalk where over 100 surfers were seen catching waves.

Below are a few pictures I took along the way. Click on picture for a LARGER image.

Entrance to Shrine Near Trail

Shrine Near Trail

The Great Buddha

The Great Buddha (See hawk flying to right of Buddha's head)

The Great Buddha and Me

Shu Genji Temple - Former Residence of Shigo Kingo, a shogun
who killed himself in 1271 on the day of Nichiren's execution.

Here is a short YouTube video of the Great Buddha

John, here is your picture - it was too big to email.