During September and October 2000, I toured around Japan for three weeks. I took over 700 photos and am presenting around 300 of them here.
Below is a brief diary of my journey outlining the places I visited. The links are to photos I took and there is the odd comment on the places visited.
The trip began with a flight from Toronto to Narita (Tokyo).
The tour started in Tokyo and on the first full day I went to
a large shrine and a nice garden in the west side of Tokyo. Despite
what people may say about Tokyo, there are nice gardens and the one at
the base of the Egg Dome is one of them,
Koraku-en. From there I visited the new
International Centre, where the Japan travel bureau
is located. In downtown Tokyo is a park,
it has a music shell, trees, ponds, plants and plenty of homeless fellas.
This another nice garden in Tokyo,
almost downtown. Met a girl who had studied English in Calgary, she
had the same backpack as me, from Mountain Equipment Co-op.
It was raining on and off when I went to the Imperial Palace, so not many shots. It was still raining when I visited Shibarikyu-teien, but still got a few shots. The center of the garden is nice, but they need to fix the area around the outside a bit. It wasn't raining when I visited this really nice Japanese garden, don't know what it is called, but it is behind Yasukuni Shrine. Worth a visit if you are near the Imperial Palace.
After a ride on the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Nagoya, I took the Hida line to Takayama. The river is very beautiful and rugged looking in this area. My trip was later in the afternoon and early evening, it takes more than three hours on the limited express, so I only got a few good shots. The Hida Folk Village is a collection of buildings from the Hida region of Japan, this is the central area between Nagoya and Tokyo in the mountains. Most of the buildings are several hundred years old. On the way down the hill, as the Folk Village is on a mountain side in Takayama, is the Hida Takayama Teddy Bear Eco-Village. I cute museum of old teddy bears and neo-eco art with a teddy bear theme, some of it sad, but mostly in a fun sense. The Takayama Jinya is the old regional seat of power for the Hida region. It is being extensively being rebuilt, having been mostly destroyed after the Meiji restoration. The Kusakabe House is a merchants house in Takayama, that is supposed to display merchant life in the period after the restoration.
Close to Nagoya is Inuyama and there is a castle, Inuyama-jo on the river. It is rather small now, but offers nice views of the surrounding city. The main attraction of Inuyama is Meiji-mura, a collection of buildings dating from the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. This was a day trip for me, and I returned to Takayama for the night and in the morning tackled the Takayama Walking Course. A very nice walk around some rather unspectacular temples, and a huge disorientating park and castle ruins. Nice for the energy it takes for the walk, but unremarkable. After the walk, I took the Hida line back to Nagoya and then the Shinkansen to Okayama, staying there the night. Went to Koraku-en in the morning, one of the top three gardens in Japan and one I had visited last time in Japan. Overlooking a portion of the garden is Okayama-jo, a concrete reconstruction of the old castle, but still interesting (make sure you get the combo ticket though to save on entrance). From there I went to Takahashi in the interior and to Raikyu-ji, a small and mostly unremarkable temple with a small garden. Down the street is a Samurai Residence, much nicer. Takahashi has the highest castle in Japan, Bitchuu Mastuyama-jo and I walked up the road, for more than two hours to get there, and then from the parking lot it was another 15 minutes or so to the top. It was very difficult and I saw four cars while walking up the road and no one else walking up at all. It was beautiful day and the view was worth the hike. There are several shrines in the town behind the station and I wandered around them for a while, as I waited for the train.
The next day in Matsue, I headed for the castle (of course), Matsue-jo. There is the house and museum dedicated to L. Hearn as well as a Samurai House. Lake Shinji is supposed to be a great spot for photographers, but it was busy with construction so I couldn't see much, as I was heading for one of the three trains a day to Tsuwano. Tsuwano has one main stake at fame and that is Tonomachi, a street with thousands of Koi in canals along side the streets. It is very popular with Japanese tourists, but is not very well known with westerners. Don't think I saw any other foreigners, while I was there. It was raining and the red of the Taikodani Inari Shrine was very bright, the thousand and one torii going up the mountain was interesting, but I used the road instead. The high winds and rain did not help the death-curdling fear I felt as I went up on the chair lift (no one else was on it) to the castle ruins and other pictures of Tsuwano.
In Nagasaki I toured the Dutch Slopes but did not find it very interesting, of much more interest is Glover Gardens. The Dejima Museum is of increasing interest as it is currently being built. I visited a shrine in Nagasaki, but I am not sure of the name and took a walk under Spectacles Bridge. One night I ventured up to Inasa-yama to view the lights of Nagasaki. I took the cable car to the lookout, and it was a very nice view, a very popular place for couples.
Outside of Nagasaki is BioPark, a `modern' Japanese zoo with the motto, `Feed the animals and they will be your friend'. An interesting concept and an entertaining visit. It was raining off and on, and I was among the very few there, it was also rather early in the day. Of less interest is Holland Village, often partnered with BioPark as a day trip. Aside from the cute and friendly cashier (who unfortunately didn't speak English), Holland Village is a place to avoid. Go to the much better, though more expensive, Huis Ten Bosch. You will be totally wasting your money if you go to Holland Village. It might have been nice a few years ago, but it is not worth visiting and it is just waiting for the local authority to close it down and redevelop it.
In Kumamoto, the beautiful garden of Suizen-ji koen is well worth the visit. There is little to do in Kumamoto for the average visitor, but there is a castle, Kumamoto-jo that has nice views. The temple of Honmyo-ji is said to be a good temple to visit, but I am at a loss to say why. I am not really a temple person, I go for the gardens and there didn't appear to be any here. From Kumamoto I travelled to Kagoshima and the Aquarium was first on my list (well actually second, but I didn't get off the bus in time). I then took a long walk back to a garden, Sangan-en with a nice Japanese house of a local feudal Lord, with two lovely hostesses (my preference was for the younger and taller of the two) giving tours of the house. I went to Shiroyama Park (and view from hotel) to view Kagoshima and them to Sakurajima, which dominates Kagoshima and is an active volcano. I took the ferry across to the volcano and visited the Arimura Lava Observatory. The Hirakawa Zoo is rather cheap at 200 yen, but has 24 koalas and a very good collection of animals, mostly well taken care of. I was pleasantly surprised by most of the zoo. Palm Gardens is a very nice botanical gardens with a good banana display and many nice greenhouse displays.
I took all day to travel to Osaka by train, wandered around and the next day went to Kyoto, before leaving my bags before heading for a day at Nara. First on the list was a walk to Yashiku-en and then Isui-en. Since they are beside each other, it is worth visiting both gardens. A visit to Todai-ji didn't warrant any pictures, or much time for that matter. I went to Daibutsuden (the Great Buddha Hall), the largest wooden building in the world, with a huge Buddha inside. I didn't go in as I wasn't sure of the price and it was packed. I bumped into the Manyo Botanical Gardens and took a wander, they are having a literary display of plants from a famous book this year.
In Kyoto, I met up with Cam for the day (a friend from university) and we toured Higashi-Honganji and the nice gardens of Shosei-en (Kikotutei) which has the very nice system of paying what you want to enter. I wish more places did that. Unfortunately I didn't put as much in as I might have usually paid, but I will pay more when I return. It is a nice garden and worth the visit. We walked over to Ni-jo and its wonderful gardens and the castle itself. There are no pictures from the rest of the day which included mostly walking around shopping arcades and dodging pouring rain and thunderstorms. The next day I went to Tenryu-ji, one of the best examples of hill terrace gardening and a premier temple. This was my second visit, as I was there two years ago, on my last trip. From there I went to Seiryo-ji Temple and Gio-ji and some small gardens. On riding around on the bus I noticed the Kyoto Botanical Gardens and Conservatory. It is a very nice gardens, many different sections and displays, the greenhouses are nice and it is a good place for a walk or to spend a few hours. A definite place I will return to spend time next time I am in Kyoto.
My last day in Japan was spent travelling the short distance from Kyoto to Osaka and I went to Karukayu-en Aquarium, the Rim of Fire. I have been here before, this time I was swamped by thousands of ankle biters who ran willy-nilly around causing a huge ruckus in the aquarium halls. The aquarium is worth visiting, school kiddies or not. From Osaka I returned to Canada....
The End, again for now....