Why exploring Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park was so emotional

The whole world knows about the atomic bomb that hit Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 where as many as 140 000 people were killed. Since then, thousands more have died from injuries or illness attributed to the radiation exposure of the bomb. Each year a memorial ceremony is held on 6 August for those who died and the few who still survive as well as pray for the realization of everlasting world peace.

They built what I think is a magnificent Peace Memorial Park,not only to memorialize the victims, but also to establish the memory of nuclear horrors and advocate world peace. On 6 August they hold the annual peace memorial service in memory of the atom bomb victims. I attended this service a couple of years ago and had the chance to explore the whole memorial park.

 

There are a couple of monuments spread out in the park each with a sad story to accompany it.

The saddest monument for me is the Children’s Peace Monument, a statue dedicated to the memory of the children who died as a result of the bombing. The statue “Tower of a Thousand Cranes” is of a girl with outstretched arms holding a folded paper crane over her head. It was erected in the memory a Junior High School girl, Sadako Sasaki, who died of an A-bomb disease (leukemia). When Sadako became sick, she decided to fold a thousand cranes (a Japanese symbol of good luck and long life) in the hopes that they would bring her health back. When she died, Sadako’s classmates decided to build a statue in her memory. This was a reminder of how children still believe in miracles even when there is no hope. This story brought tears to my eyes and made my heart ache for all the children who died this way.

Nearby were thousands of brightly covered origami paper cranes that people bring daily to place next to the Sadako statue.

People from around the world fold paper cranes and send them to Hiroshima where they are placed near the statue in glass cases. Family and survivors all added brightly coloured streams of origami cranes to the collection that day.  I attended the free crane folding class held by students that day and added a few bright origami cranes of my own to the collection.

A-Bomb Dome right at the centre of the bomb
A-Bomb Dome right at the centre of the bomb

At one end of the large, green park was the atomic bomb dome also known as the A-Bomb Dome. It is only the skeleton of the building that remains and is a stark reminder that this place was once reduced to ashes. This was one of the few buildings that remained standing after the atomic bomb hit Hiroshima, although only the dome and some of the outer walls survived the blast. The skeletal ruins of the former Industrial Promotion Hall were the closest structure to the hypo-center of the nuclear bomb.

Most of the other city buildings were destroyed, along with an estimated 78,150 people who perished that day. After walking through the park and listening to all the horror stories that accompany the statues and memorials I was emotionally drained!!

I was disgusted at the horrors that we as humans inflict on each other and all the pain and destruction we cause.

I just wanted to sit in a corner and cry!

Published as part of Throwback Thursday,  a weekly reminiscent movement where you re-post past events or photos. They can be from years ago or from just a few days ago. Its a great way to look back fondly on some of your favourite memories…… 

Throwback Thursday: Experiencing Sumo Wrestling in Tokyo!!

Just as geisha is synonymous with Japan so is sumo.  I was fortunate enough to be in Japan during one of their six Grand Sumo tournaments and wasn’t going to miss it.  My friends, Michael, Shaun and I headed of to The Sumo Hall at Ryogoku Kokugikan Station in Tokyo, early morning to be there in time for the cheap seats. By 11am all the cheaper seats were sold out and we were lucky enough just to make the cut off.

Not knowing a lot about sumo we entered the arena just after buying the tickets. The wrestlers begin their warm up fights around 9am in the morning and from 11am you could watch some lower lever club wrestlers doing their thing. Some of these fights were really mismatched, with a really thin dude against a huge dude. It was funny too see the thin dude actually outwit the huge dude.

During the warm up bouts the stadium was quite empty
During the warm up bouts the stadium was quite empty

Sumo is a very competitive full-contact wrestling sport where a wrestler is declared the winner of a sumo bout by being either:

  1. The first wrestler to force his opponent to step out of the ring.
  2. The first wrestler to force his opponent to touch the ground with any part of his body other than the bottom of his feet.
Wrestlers are crouch down and ready to start the bout
Wrestlers are crouch down and ready to start the bout

 This sport originated in Japan, the only country where it is practiced professionally. I was very excited that I would get the opportunity to witness this sport here in Tokyo!!

The wrestlers really have a great girth and when they stamp their legs before the fight their whole body wobbles and it’s a bit nauseating to watch. When a couple of them fell flat on their stomachs everything wobbled like blubber, it was quite something to see. A lot of the wrestlers are renowned for their great girth as body mass is often a winning factor in sumo. 

The wrestling ring with aroof resembling a shinto shrine
The wrestling ring with aroof resembling a shinto shrine

The sumo matches took place in a ring, of rice-straw bales on top of a platform made of clay mixed with sand. A new dohyō (ring) is built for each tournament. At the center are two white lines, the shikiri-sen, behind which the wrestlers position themselves at the start of the bout.[A roof resembling that of a Shinto shrine was also suspended over the ring.

The wrestlers walking into the arena dressed in their ceremonial suits.
The wrestlers walking into the arena dressed in their ceremonial suits.

The REAL fights started around 3pm. The opening was spectacular with them all walking into the arena dressed in their ceremonial suits. During the ceremony the wrestlers were introduced to the crowd one-by-one in ascending rank order and formed a circle around the ring facing outwards. Once the highest ranked wrestler was introduced they turned inwards and performed a brief ritual before filing off and returning to their changing rooms. The crowd waved and cheered and got ready for the excitement to start.

They performed their ritual before exciting the arena again
They performed their ritual before exciting the arena again

The build up to each fight took about 4 minutes with each wrestler performing a number of rituals derived from Shinto practice. Facing the audience, they clapped their hands and then performed the leg-stomping shiko exercise to drive evil spirits from the dohyō as the referee announced the wrestlers’ names once more.

Clapping their hands and then performed the leg-stomping shiko exercise to drive away the evil spirits
Clapping their hands and then performed the leg-stomping shiko exercise to drive away the evil spirits
Both wrestlers stepped away and were given a ladle full of water ("power water")
Both wrestlers stepped away and were given a ladle full of water (“power water”)

They then Stepped out of the ring into their corners, each wrestler was given a ladle full of water (“power water”), with which he rinses out his mouth; and a paper tissue  (“power paper”), to dry his lips. Then both stepped back into the ring, squatted facing each other, clapped their hands, then spread them wide (traditionally to show they have no weapons).

The wrestlers would each throw salt into the air to purify the place
The wrestlers would each throw salt into the air to purify the place

 Many ancient traditions have been preserved in sumo, and include many ritual elements, such as the use of salt purification, from the days when sumo was used in the Shinto religion. So with the stomping the wrestlers each also throw salt into the air before getting into position. It looked as if this challenging part was very important and it took each wrestler a while to get into position and signal that they were ready for the fight.

The bout or fight would only last a couple of seconds
The bout or fight would only last a couple of seconds

The wrestlers would then crouch down at the starting lines and try to stare the other down. When both wrestlers placed both fists on the ground they then sprang from their crouch for the initial charge. Sometimes after staring at one another for a while they returned to their corners for more mental preparation. More salt was thrown whenever they stepped back into the ring to start the bout.

Half time adverts!!
Half time adverts!!

The fight or bout however only lasted about 30sec to 1 min before it was over. If you looked away for a second you could have missed the whole wrestling match!! Each match is preceded by an elaborate ceremonial ritual, and was very interesting to watch.

Two wrestlers greeting each other before they start the bout
Two wrestlers greeting each other before they start the bout

There were obvious favourites among the wrestlers and the crowd would go crazy when they were introduced, and especially if they won their match. I know too, little about sumo to actually appreciate the nuance of the fight and watching this for the first time I didn’t actually know what detail to look for.

The crowd throwing their red cushions into the air as the wrestling ended
The crowd throwing their red cushions into the air as the wrestling ended

In the tournament that we watched the best wrestler was a Bulgarian guy named Kotooshu. When he won at the end the crowd stood up and everyone threw his or her little pillow they were sitting on into the air.

We really enjoyed our day out at the wrestling and got exposed to a whole different part of Japanese culture than what I have up until now.

  Throwback Thursday, is a weekly reminiscent movement where you re-post past events or photos. They can be from years ago or from just a few days ago. Its a great way to look back fondly on some of your favorite memories…… 

Wordless Wednesday: Tokyo night

Some photos depicting the busy and bright night life of  Shinjuku in Tokyo!

Published as part of Wordless Wednesday

Walking through Yokohama’s China Town

Yokohama’s Chinatown is the largest Chinatown not only in Japan but also in Asia and it is one of the largest in the world. There are roughly 250 Chinese-owned/themed shops and restaurants scattered throughout the district, with the highest concentration centered around a 300 square meter area. As I walked towards Chinatown from Yokohama train station it was easy to spot the colourful gate that marks the entrance to this crazy world.

I wondered around the little streets and alleyways popping into some very interesting little shops. Trying to figure out what the products were and what they were used for kept me busy for  quite a while. The only product I had some luck with was the tea, but also not 100% sure that it was tea I didn’t buy any.

During my exploration I came across Kanteibyo shrine, a richly colored temple in the center of Chinatown. It is dedicated to the Chinese god of good business and prosperity.

The main attraction of the Yokohama Chinatown was definitely the cuisine offered at its many restaurants and little food stands. I tried some steamed buns, ramen noodles and some other Chinese dishes that I was quite doubtful to try at first as I didn’t actually know what they were. I must admit all the dishes from these food stands turned out to be delicious!!

Chinatown is filled with so many little hidden gems, I am sure you will come across something new in every visit. It’s the perfect place to spend a couple of hours exploring.

Wordless Wednesday: Japanese toilets

Some toilets need a manual to work!

Published as Part of Wordless Wednesday.

Becoming the “Local Foreigner” in Japan

Becoming the "Local Foreigner" in Japan
The small restaurant sladh bar that became my Favourite place to eat and spens an evening

To experience the cuisine of the country I love trying out the local places. It is here that you get a true taste of the culture as the dishes are not prepared for tourists or changed according to tourist expectations. While living in Japan I came across this very quaint and small restaurant slash bar in the neighbourhood where I lived. This little place became my regular stop on Thursday and Sunday evenings.

Becoming the "Local Foreigner" in Japan
The owner busy preparing a dish at the grill

The owners were an old Japanes couple who hardly spoke any English but they were so welcoming. I would sit up front at the grill area and watch as the owner prepared all the delicious dishes. I would always have my little phrase book at hand and he would point to the dish name he was preparing and sometimes made some amendments as he would use different ingredients.

I would usually try out a new dish that one of my students had told me about but my favourite was definitely Okonomiyaki, a Japanese savoury pancake containing a variety of ingredients. The name literally means “grilled as you like it” in Japanese . Toppings and batters tend to vary according to region or city where I would try them out.

In most versions okonomiyaki is made with shredded cabbage and a pancake-like batter, but that’s where the similarities end. There are a two general styles of okonomiyaki: Hiroshima-style and Kansai-style. Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki is layered like a giant omelette and often includes yakisoba on the inside, with a fried egg on top. Kansai-style okonomiyaki on the other hand is mixed together before being cooked like a pancake. I asked the owners permission to take some photos as he was preparing this dish for me and a friend that I brought along to taste Japanese pancake for the first time.

Every now and again one of the customers would be able to speak a bit of English and would always translate questions and answers between me and the owner. He loved hearing about my home country South-Africa and I would always have loads of questions about the dishes he prepares and the Japanese food customs. I got to practice my very bad Japanese and the other customers go to practice their limited English.

This went on for a couple of weeks and one night a local walked in and seeing me seated at the grill area  gave me the evil eye and turned to the owner. He then asked quite rudely “who is this foreigner  and why is she sitting in here.”

The owner gave him a puzzled look and said: ” she is the local foreigner, so she is welcome here.”

The guy nodded and then actually turned towards me and greeted me. And just like that I was part of the local community and got invited to the local events that spring.

Throwback Thursday: Thousands of Red Torii in Kyoto

  Throwback Thursday, is a weekly reminiscent movement where you re-post past events or photos. They can be from years ago or from just a few days ago. Its a great way to look back fondly on some of your favorite memories…… 

I visited the Fushimi Inari shrine in Kyoto a couple of years ago and it is still one of my favourite shrines up to date. Fushimi Inari Shrine is the most famous of several thousands of shrines dedicated to Inari across Japan and if you ask me, it is also one of the most beautiful. If you only get top visit one shrine during your visit to Kyoto, make sure it is the Torii fulled Fushimi Inari shrine. Inari is the Shinto god of rice, and foxes are thought to be his messengers. 

This shrine had a very peaceful and spiritual atmosphere and was filled with offerings by worshippers.Fushimi Inari Shrine is famous for the thousands of red and orange torii gates. The shrine grounds is said to hold over 10,000 Torii gates. Experiencing these numerous and well-preserved gates at Fushimi Inari Shrine are like touching a piece of human history. Just imagine if we could see all that they have seen over the years. The red and Orange Torii cover the hiking trails of Inarisan, the wooded mountain behind the shrine’s main buildings. A lot of people make the journey to this shrine just to walk through these pathways winding through the mountains.

A very unique thing about the Torii gates at Inari Fushimi, is their background or whats painted on them Each gate has been donated by a company or organization giving thanks for their prosperity and in hope of good fortune in the future. I only wished I could read all of the names engraved on each gate, but it still remains a beautiful artwork representing Japan’s past.

Here the path splits and you have to choose the short or long route!!
Here the path splits and you have to choose the short or long route!!

Essentially you had a choice of two paths, short or long, but there were a couple of different routes for each one. It takes about two hours to walk along the whole trail, if you stop along the way to take thousands of photos like me. These pathways wound through the mountain and you got to walk through tunnels created by thousands of bright orange and red torii gates all the way. Every now and again there would be a fork in the road and I would  just pick and choose an entrance as all of the different routes ended up back at the main shrine in the end.

I didn’t really have a plan and had the whole morning to explore the temple and its grounds. The varying sizes and faded colors surprised me the most. Since pictures don’t do it justice, you have to see all of it for yourself in person.

I had a very leisurely walk and even stopped for a drink and something to eat at a sweet little place next to the road between all the shrines and statues that lined my way. Kitsune Udon (“Fox Udon”), a noodle soup topped with pieces of aburaage (fried tofu), a favorite food of foxes, is served at most of these small restaurants along the hiking trail so I had to try it. It was lovely and very filling.

I enjoyed exploring this shrine and was very reluctant to leave.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Fresh – Spring in Japan

The Freshness of Spring creates the perfect atmosphere for rejuvenation and well-being. Seeds sprout, flowers bloom, and the sun warms the earth. There is definitely a sense of renewal and new life all around. The appearance of the Cherry blossoms in Japan bring with it an energy of change and something new. The fragrance of the fresh blossoms drift throughout the city of Tokyo and fill the parks and nearly every open space in the city.

The Cherry blossoms of Japan is the perfect reminder that spring brings with it new life. Suddenly the city of Tokyo is filled with life again and everywhere you look people are walking around appreciating the beautiful blossoms. Even a bit of rain can not dampen the high spirits of people in this city as spring takes over and chases away the last remnants of winter. People travel from all over the world to come and look at these beautiful blossoms and there is no way that the sight of these blossom lanes can disappoint anybody. 

New to The Daily Post? Whether you’re a beginner or a professional, you’re invited to get involved in our Weekly Photo Challenge to help you meet your blogging goals and give you another way to take part in Post a Day / Post a Week. Everyone is welcome to participate, even if your blog isn’t about photography.

Bikes of Japan by Jacqueline Hadel

Bikes of Japan  by Jacqueline Hadel
Me hiding behind Bikes of Japan by Jacqueline Hadel

Bikes of Japan is the third book by my friend the photographer and blogger Jaqueline Hadel from TOKIDOKI. Her blog is a documentation of life in the different countries she travels through. Not only is it a “Street Art” lovers paradise, you also get to experience the “everyday” activities of strange cultures and interesting people.

Bikes of Japan  by Jacqueline Hadel
Bianca takes some time off to relax with Bikes of Japan by Jacqueline Hadel

Jacqueline has been working and travelling through Japan for a while now and Bikes Of Japan is a compilation of all the beautiful bicycle related photos she has taken in Japan. It gives a glimpse of what life in Japan is like and how the ordinary can become the extraordinary in the eye of the traveler.

Bikes of Japan  by Jacqueline Hadel
Nicole picked her favourite pgotos in Bikes of Japan by Jacqueline Hadel

As Japan is a bit dry in the area of street art, her first love she decided to start capturing general street images and after a while noticed that bikes tended to feature very prominantly in her photos.

Bikes of Japan  by Jacqueline Hadel
Milette didnt want to give the book back…….

I shared the book at work and everyone in the office wanted a look and some even wanted to keep it.

It is definitely true that as you page through the book that there is something artistic and beautiful about the bikes of Japan.

Bikes of Japan by Jacqueline Hadel
Bikes of Japan by Jacqueline Hadel

This photo book is filled with stunning photos, most of which are not on her amazing blog so you will have to order your own to get a look.

Among the bicycle art you will find some interesting tidbits and famous quotes regarding the uniqueness and significance of bicycles.

You can buy your copy on Amazon.com NOW, it is a great presant.

Bikes of Japan  by Jacqueline Hadel
Bikes of Japan on a South African Bike

Weekly Photo Challenge:Signs

From the street signs we see on our commute to work each day to the random signs we come across during our travels, signs are functional, but can also be decorative or entertaining. Signs can direct us where to go, but they can be very confusing when translated wrongly or with a sense of humour.

Dont Hurt Me For Your Pretty
Dont Hurt Me For Your Pretty

I have come across a couple of different entertaining signs while travelling through Asia and the above one I found in China in one of the beautiful parks there.

Why can the fire escape not squeeze?
Why can the fire escape not squeeze?

Some signs are just confusing. Like the above one found in a hotel corridor next to the stairs and the one below found on a garbage can?!

Then what should I throw aeay?
Then what should I throw away?

One of my favourite signs is this sign I found along the path I walked through Miyajima Island in Japan. This shrine filled island is very peaceful and people were all strolling around and appreciating the peaceful atmosphere. I couldn’t imagine anybody being in a hurry while exploring this lovely island. But just in case you were, it was good to know that you could reach the ropeway station in 7 minutes if you were pressed for time!

Just in case you were in a hurry, you could reach the rope way station in 7 minutes....if you run a little!!
Just in case you were in a hurry, you could reach the rope way station in 7 minutes….if you run a little!!

WPC: Japan’s Eerie and mist shrouded Kegon Waterfall hidden in Nikko’s mountains

The mountain Forest was thick with white mist
The mountain Forest was thick with white mist

While living in Tokyo I heard from many people that I couldn’t visit Nikko and not explore the mountain area around Nikko.

The bus traveled up the winding road of Route 120 further into the mist covered mountains and I got peaks at waterfalls and rivers down below. It is not a ride I would recommend to anybody who gets car sick easily as the bus is constantly swerving as it makes its way up the winding narrow road. I definitely understood then why this was called the winding road of 100 turns.

The surrounding forests were shrouded in mist wich definitely gave the place an Eerie feel.

The mist was so thick that we couldnt go up the mountain in the cable car
The mist was so thick that we couldn’t go up the mountain in the cable car

A photo doesn’t have to be blatantly macabre to be eerie. But it can have a mysterious, otherworldly vibe — the viewer wonders what lurks in the shadows. Something eerie has a story to tell — one you aren’t quite sure you want to know.….

The mist was so thick that at times I couldnt see more that a meter in front of me. This thick shroud of mist over Lake Chuzenji crested an eerie atmosphere. Seeing as eerie means mysterious, strange, or unexpected as to send a chill up the spine  it is perfect to describe the day.

Looking down at the tallest waterfall in Japan!!
Looking down at the tallest waterfall in Japan!!
Had to go down stairways, through tunnels and down a lift to get to the bottom of the gorge
Had to go down stairways, through tunnels and down a lift to get to the bottom of the gorge

A short walk up the mist covered road of  Lake Chuzenji I reached Kegon Waterfall, the tallest waterfall in Japan. It was covered in mist and looked like something out of a fairy tale. The lift goes 100m down into the gorge with the temperatures dropping all the way down.

It feels quite strange travelling that far down and then having to emerge out of the mountain and still be above the river.  Here at the bottom of the gorge was viewing platform and I got to see the waterfall from below.

Keagon Waterfall from the viewing platform in the gorge
Kegon Waterfall from the viewing platform in the gorge

From below the mist covered gorge you would be excused if you thought you were cut off from civilization and in a world of mystery. The place was quite deserted due to the thick mist which just added to the eerie feeling of being separated from reality.

The Yudaki Falls up the mountain
The Yudaki Falls up the mountain

The bus took the winding roads even higher up into the mountain, crossing over the Yukawa River and passing the Yudaki Falls. Here I got off the bus to relax with a hot coffee next to the waterfall.

Arriving at Lake Yunoko
Arriving at Lake Yunoko

Further north we stopped at Lake Yunoko an area filled with “onsen” hot springs.

A hot spring where you can rest your tired feet!
A hot spring where you can rest your tired feet!

There were some hot springs along the path that were free like this one where you can come and rest your tired feet after exploring the surrounding countryside!

 

The Onsen - Hot Spring!!
The Onsen – Hot Spring!!

I got a Nikko and area tourist brochure beforehand because they had some discount vouchers for most of the onsens in the area attached to the brochure. After walking around the lake area I spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing in an Onsen with a book before heading back to Nikko. It was fabulous, the place was so deserted that I was all alone in the hot spring!

 

A one eyed Japanese Good Luck Dharma

These little Good Luck Dharma dolls are so cute!!
These little Good Luck Dharma dolls are so cute!!

A Daruma or rather Dharma doll is a small Japanese paper-mache doll which is painted a bright colour according to the luck it represents. These little dolls that I came across while in Japan fascinated me and I just had to get myself one. There are seven different “Dharmas” of Good Luck so I had to choose carefully.

  1. Purple for Appreciation
  2. Yellow for Prosperity
  3. Blue for Happiness
  4. Red for Dreams To Come True
  5. Pink for Smiles
  6. Orange for health
  7. Green for Luck
Each little doll represents a different "Wish" or "Luck"
Each little doll represents a different “Wish” or “Luck”

These little dolls are considered to bring good luck because they always come back to an upright position after being tipped over. They are all weighted at the bottom which makes this possible. Some Daruma actually have no eyes and look a bit spooky but I was told that they were “Wish” Daruma. You have to paint one eye in right after you receive it while wishing for something to come true. The other eye is then supposed to be painted when the wish is realized. I immediately bought myself a little bright red Dharma for Dreams To Come True quite excited about making this “wish”!

I am still waiting to paint in the second eye of my now little weird looking Dharma doll….

Anime Cosplay in Tokyo

To dress up for Cosplay looks like so much fun!!
To dress up for Cosplay looks like so much fun!!
This is such a cool costume!
This is such a cool costume!

Cosplay is the big Anime convention in Tokyo.

Cosplay, short for “costume play”, is a type of performance art in which participants wear costumes and accessories to represent a specific character or idea from a work of fiction, in this case Japanese Anime.

I would not be able to live in Japan and not attend one of these cosplay events. When I arrived at the venue I had to stand in line to get into the main exhibition hall. This hall was filled with exhibitions of all the different Anime characters and even of the Anime Porn you can find. I never knew Anime porn existed so was quite shocked and then intrigued by it.

This just reaffirmed my notion that the Japanese are Anime crazy!!

A lovely group effort!!
A lovely group effort!!
This just reaffirmed my notion that the Japanese are Anime crazy!!
This just reaffirmed my notion that the Japanese are Anime crazy!!
Currently in Japan, cosplayers are more commonly called kosupure
Currently in Japan, cosplayers are more commonly called kosupure

Currently in Japan, cosplayers are more commonly called kosupure more often used to describe layers (i.e. hair, clothes, etc.). Those who photograph “players” are called “cameko”, short for “Camera Kozō” or “Camera Boy”. So for one day I was a “Camera Boy” walking around trying to get pictures of people dressed up as their favourite characters.  I was only allowed to take photographs within a designated area removed from the exhibit hall. Most of the people participating in the cosplay were quite willing to stand for photos.

Loving Anime Cosplay
Loving Anime Cosplay
This is soooo cute!
This is soooo cute!

It looked like loads of fun dressing up as your “hero” and spending the day with other Anime characters. They made me want to be a part of this and also be dressed up in a crazy outfit!

I would love to own this outfit!!
I would love to own this outfit!!
Most of the participants didnt mind posing for photos from strangers
Most of the participants didnt mind posing for photos from strangers

 

Summer festivals and evening parades in Japan

Getting a closer look at the costumes of the dancers
Getting a closer look at the costumes of the dancers

Japan is the Land of gods and they are the reason cities and towns pulse with festival excitement. The intense spectacle and traditions of these renowned matsuri draw millions of people each summer. Matsuri is the Japanese word for a festival or holiday. In Japan, festivals are usually sponsored by a local shrine or temple and the whole community takes part in the festivities. I lived in Higashi-Rinkan, a suburb of Tokyo, for a while and was fortunate enough to be there for their summer festival.

The whole main road of the district is filled with dancers and bands creating a very festive summer evening
The whole main road of the district is filled with dancers and bands creating a very festive summer evening
One of the many "bands" creating a festive summer atmosphere
One of the many “bands” creating a festive summer atmosphere

The main road running through this district was closed off for the whole day. A procession of bands and dancers walked down this street all the way up to the small shrine at the end of the road.

During summer evening I got to experience and enjoye Bon-Odori (dance) happening throughout the whole street. This tradition was originated when the farmers thanked the Rice Paddock God for the good summer crop. The Dance movement is simple and repetitive. You can actually learn it within a few minutes. Even people like me with no rhythm can do it and it was loads of fun to actually be part of this celebration and not just standing around looking like a tourist!

 

Their costumes were beautiful and very elegant
Their costumes were beautiful and very elegant

I walked down the street admiring the dancers on their weird wooden shoes listening to the strange music played by the small bands walking in the procession and just loving the festival atmosphere! All along the road there were little stalls set up that sold snacks and drinks to the spectators.

 

I stood in line to buy myself some candyfloss and was stared at by all the little kids who stood with me. After staring at me for a while they pushed me to the front of the line and had me taste all the different sweets on display before I was allowed to buy my candyfloss. They had loads of fun laughing at my reactions to the weird tasting sweets especially the sour sweets!

I loved watching the parade of summer festival dancers and musicians
I loved watching the parade of summer festival dancers and musicians

 It was a small local festival so I really stood out as a foreigner but the people made me feel welcome and were very friendly. I loved living in Japan!

Travel theme – Japan’s Summer festival Costumes

Ladies dressed up and dancing down the street as part of the summer festival parade!
Ladies dressed up and dancing down the street as part of the summer festival parade!

I love the reed hats the ladies in this group were all wearing!
I love the reed hats the ladies in this group were all wearing!

This weeks travel theme is costumes and I immediately thought of the colourful costumes the dancers wore during the Japanese summer festivals. I lived in Higashi-Rinkan, a suburb of Tokyo, Japan for a while and was fortunate enough to be there for their summer festival. Matsuri is the Japanese word for a festival or holiday and draws millions of people each summer.  Japan is the Land of gods and they are the reason cities and towns pulse with festival excitement.

The main road running through this district was closed off for the whole day. A procession of bands and dancers walked down this street all the way up to the small shrine at the end of the road. Each group had on different colourful costumes. 

Their costumes were beautiful and very elegant
Their costumes were beautiful and very elegant
I loved watching the parade of summer festival dancers and musicians
I loved watching the parade of summer festival dancers and musicians

During summer evening I got to experience and enjoy Bon-Odori (dance) happening throughout the whole street. This tradition originated when the farmers thanked the Rice Paddock God for the good summer crop. The Dance movement is simple and repetitive but quite beautiful. I just don’t understand how the woman actually balance or dance on those wooden shoes they wear!

Unfortunately a bit blurry, but don't know how the woman balance on these shoes!
Unfortunately a bit blurry, but don’t know how the woman balance on these shoes!
The Dance movement is simple and repetitive but quite beautiful
The Dance movement is simple and repetitive but quite beautiful

Weekly Photo Challenge: The Sign Says

This sign was along the path I walked through Miyajima Island while exploring some of its many shrines and temples. This shrine filled island is very peaceful and people were all strolling around and appreciating the peaceful atmosphere. I couldn’t imagine anybody being in a hurry while exploring this lovely island. But just in case you were, it was good to know that you could reach the rope way station in 7 minutes if you were pressed for time!

Just in case you were in a hurry,  you could reach the rope way station in 7 minutes....if you run a little!!
Just in case you were in a hurry, you could reach the rope way station in 7 minutes….if you run a little!!

Another reason I loved exploring this island was because in the past, women were not allowed on the island. Even old people were shipped elsewhere to die, so that the ritual purity of the site would not be spoiled!!

New to The Daily Post? Whether you’re a beginner or a professional, you’re invited to get involved in our Weekly Photo Challenge to help you meet your blogging goals and give you another way to take part in Post a Day / Post a Week. Everyone is welcome to participate, even if your blog isn’t about photography.

Here’s how it works:

1. Each week, we’ll provide a theme for creative inspiration. You take photographs based on your interpretation of the theme, and post them on your blog (a new post!) anytime before the following Friday when the next photo theme will be announced.

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Foggy view of Tokyo from the 53rd floor!

I was greeted by a huge iron spider as I arrived at the Mori Tower in Roppongi Hills
I was greeted by a huge iron spider as I arrived at the Mori Tower in Roppongi Hills

The 54-story Mori Tower.
The 54-story Mori Tower.

Roppongi Hills in Tokyo is an expansive shopping and entertainment complex. It is very sleek and modern. I usually stay away from shopping centers but the Mori Art Museum is on the 52nd floor of the 54-story Mori Tower.

Completed in 2003 and named for builder Minoru Mori, the tower is the centerpiece of the Roppongi Hills urban development. The building is primarily used for office space, but it also includes retail stores, restaurants and other tourist attractions.

Sitting in the beautiful courtyard of the Mori Tower having a coffee
Sitting in the beautiful courtyard of the Mori Tower having a coffee
Heading for the Mori Art Museum on the 52nd floor of the Mori Tower
Heading for the Mori Art Museum on the 52nd floor of the Mori Tower

My main reason for going to this shopping district was to attend the Turner Prize winner exhibition that was on at the time. This art center includes various tourist attractions spread over the tower’s top six floors which can keep you busy for a couple of hours.

After spending a couple of hours walking through the exhibition I headed for the observation deck on the 54th floor of the Mori Tower.

I have heard that from Here you have a great view of Tokyo City and I was looking forward to looking out over the city.

 Unfortunately it was a bit foggy that day so I only had a very limited view of Tokyo which was very disappointing.

Fortune sticks and Prayer wheels in shrine filled Miyajima

Itsukushima shrine built in the water.
Itsukushima shrine built in the water.

Miyajima is a small island close to Hiroshima that I visited when things at the memorial service got to emotional; for me. This island’s real name is Itsukushima , and Miyajima is just a popular nickname meaning “Shrine Island”.

Chinese fortune telling sticks
Chinese fortune telling sticks

Shake and mix the fortunes inside the cylinder
Shake and mix the fortunes inside the cylinder

While at the floating shrine, Itsukushima I really wanted to do the Chinese fortune telling sticks but unfortunately everything was in Japanese. Kau Chim or Chinese Fortune Sticks is a fortune telling practice where a person requests answers from a sacred oracle lot.

You have to think silently or whisper your request to the deity while holding the cup with the sticks between your palms. You then shake the cylinder, tip it slightly downward, letting one stick slide out of the cylinder. Each stick, with its designated number, represents one answer.

Get your fortune according to the number on the stick that fell out of the cylinder
Get your fortune according to the number on the stick that fell out of the cylinder
Sitting down with an ice-cream looking out over the bay
Sitting down with an ice-cream looking out over the bay

The number will correspond to the 100 written oracles with an answer on it. The writing on the piece of paper will provide an answer to the question.

After exiting the shrine I walked up a winding path leading to the other temples spread out over the island. I came across Tahoto Pagoda (photo 9507) hidden between the trees of the reserve.

I bought an ice-cream and sat in the shade watching the deer harass people before I felt cooled down enough to walk to Daisho-in Temple. When I arrived at the temple and saw all the stairs I had to climb to the top I almost fainted!

Couldn't believe I had to climb all these steps up to Daisho-in Temple
Couldn’t believe I had to climb all these steps up to Daisho-in Temple

The Prayer Wheels I got to turn all the way to the top!!
The Prayer Wheels I got to turn all the way to the top!!

At least I got to perform a very interesting Buddhist ritual while walking up the temple’s steps. Along the stairs is a row of spinning metal wheels known as prayer wheels that are inscribed with sutra (Buddhist scriptures). Turning the inscriptions as one walks up is believed to have the same effect as reading them. So, without any knowledge of Japanese, you can benefit from the blessings that the reading of sutra is believed to entail.

 

Love that without any knowledge of Japanese, you can benefit from the blessings that the reading of sutra is believed to entail
Love that without any knowledge of Japanese, you can benefit from the blessings that the reading of sutra is believed to entail.

When I eventually reached the top I walked into the main shrine and through the Kannon-do Hall filled with a lot of small Kannon statues or warriors that look ready to attack or defend the shrine.

The pathways through the temple is lined with little statues
The pathways through the temple is lined with little statues

The Shrine grounds are filled with some very weird statues and I even found a small shrine with an offer place for Old kitchen knives!!

Shrine for Old kitchen knives!!
Shrine for Old kitchen knives!!
Henjokutsu Cave
Henjokutsu Cave

I came across Henjokutsu Cave while walking through the temple grounds. Inside this cave was a fascinating and very eerie collection of 88 Buddhist icons related to the 88 Temple Pilgrimage in Shikoku.

A very eerie collection of 88 Buddhist icons
A very eerie collection of 88 Buddhist icons

I had a great day although at times I thought I was going to faint in the heat. On the way back to the ferry I walked past a picturesque 5-story pagoda, a great end to an amazing day!!

What a stunning sight, a 5-story pagoda!
What a stunning sight, a 5-story pagoda!

Floating Torii and Tame Reindeer in shrine filled Miyajima island

My tram all the way to the docks!
My tram all the way to the docks!

I traveled to Hiroshima to attend the Atom bomb memorial service which turned out to be emotionally draining. I needed a break from the reminder of destruction and death so took the streetcar down to the ocean. From the port I took the ferry over to Miyajima Island for the day.

In the past, women were not allowed on the island and old people were shipped elsewhere to die, so that the ritual purity of the site would not be spoiled; in fact, the island’s real name is Itsukushima , and Miyajima is just a popular nickname meaning “Shrine Island”.

The giant torii gate which seems to float on the water.
The giant torii gate which seems to float on the water.

It is most famous for its giant torii gate, which at high tide seems to float on the water. The sight is ranked as one of Japan’s three best views.

The main street filled with shops and deer!
The main street filled with shops and deer!
There were even some bargain shops along the way!
There were even some bargain shops along the way!

It was a very hot day and within 20 minutes of walking around I was covered in sweat. I went into a little local shop to buy a fan and the owner, seeing that the heat was really getting to me, also gave me an ice pack to carry with me. This helped for a while.

 

The whole shopping area has white sheets hanging over the road providing some shade for shoppers. The sheer number of souvenir shops is mind-boggling. They mostly sell the same things, all sell rice scoops, miniature floating toriis, and souvenir boxes of sweets. So after walking through 2 I had seen everything there was to buy. Even Hello Kitty has her own Miyajima-themed shop and I couldn’t resist buying something here.

As soon as I got off the ferry I was greeted by deer!!
As soon as I got off the ferry I was greeted by deer!!
Deer are considered messengers of the gods.
Deer are considered messengers of the gods.

All over the island there are deer that roam free and some even followed me around for a while. It looked like they would eat anything from paper to towels. Deer are thought of as sacred in the native Shinto religion because they are considered messengers of the gods.

Nobody seemed bothered by the deer roaming around the island
Nobody seemed bothered by the deer roaming around the island
The path to the main shrine runs all along the shore of the island
The path to the main shrine runs all along the shore of the island
Itsukushima shrine built in the water.
Itsukushima shrine built in the water.
The whole shrine seems to be floating in the sea
The whole shrine seems to be floating in the sea

Itsukushima is a small island and I walked along the beach to the Itsukushima shrine built in the water.

 Like the torii gate, the shrine’s main buildings are built over water. The whole shrine seems to be floating in the sea during high tide. I was quite excited at the prospect of getting to see this and not even the heat could keep me from the shrine.

The boardwalks connect all the halls of the shrine
The boardwalks connect all the halls of the shrine
Love that the shrine is build on stilts and looks like its floating!
Love that the shrine is build on stilts and looks like its floating!
I had to wash my hands before entering the shrine
I had to wash my hands before entering the shrine

The shrine complex consists of multiple buildings, including a prayer hall and a main hall which are connected by boardwalks and supported by pillars above the sea.

 I loved walking along these paths and looking out onto the sea with the lone Torii gate out there looking a bit lost. I was very lucky to have arrived during high tide, otherwise it would have just been a Torii gate standing in mud as low tide drains all the water around the gate.

The "floating Torii Gate" was spectacular to see
The “floating Torii Gate” was spectacular to see
I was very lucky to have been here during high tide!!
I was very lucky to have been here during high tide!!

Watching Thousands of lanterns floating down Hiroshima River

The river that runs through the memorial park
The river that runs through the memorial park

The whole world knows about the atomic bomb that hit Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 where as many as 140 000 people were killed. Since then, each year a memorial ceremony is held on 6 August for those who died and the few who still survive as well as pray for the realization of everlasting world peace.

You can buy and make your own lantern to float down the river
You can buy and make your own lantern to float down the river

A group of children made their own lanterns from scratch!
A group of children made their own lanterns from scratch!

A big part of the memorial service is the lanterns that they light and float down the Hiroshima River at sunset. That afternoon there were lots of groups making lanterns out of coloured paper dotted all along the river. This Lantern ceremony is held to send off the spirits of the victims on lanterns with peace messages floating on the waters of the River.

 Hiroshima choir gathering along the banks of the river
Hiroshima choir gathering along the bank of the river

Each year the Hiroshima choir will start the evening’s service by standing next to the Hiroshima River singing songs dedicated to the victims of the bomb.

Before sunset people started placing their lanterns on to the river
Before sunset people started placing their lanterns on to the river
`These colourful lanterns looked so peaceful drifting along
`These colourful lanterns looked so peaceful drifting along

Lanterns floating down the river
Lanterns floating down the river

That evening as the Hiroshima choir sang, families of the bomb victims all came and put a lit lantern onto the river. It was amazing to see all these blue, green, red, pink, and white cube-shaped lanterns floating down the river in the twilight. Japanese Buddhists believe that every year the souls of the dead visit their descendants. When the dead return, the lanterns on the river light the path, guiding the spirits of the A-Bomb victims back to heaven.

The lanterns on the river light the path, guiding the spirits of the A-Bomb victims back to heaven.
The lanterns on the river light the path, guiding the spirits of the A-Bomb victims back to heaven.

Despite the large crowds of people, the memory of the solemn event that occurred 63 years ago was still so beautiful and serene.

Peace candles decorated by the children
Peace candles decorated by the children

On the other side of the river, next to the A-Bomb Dome, people were committed to decorating and painting candles.

Peace candles packed around the A-Dome
Peace candles packed around the A-Dome

These rows upon rows of Peace Candles were so Beautiful!!
These rows upon rows of Peace Candles were so Beautiful!!

Kids had loads of fun drawing on these peace candles that that were then lit and put all around the A-dome and even arranged in a peace sign on the banks of the river. 

This whole evening was very peaceful and serene. Watching the thousands of lanterns float down the river and walking past the hundreds of peace candles while the Hiroshima choir sang was one of the most moving experiences I have ever had the opportunity to be a part of.

What an amazing sight the place was at sunset!
What an amazing sight the place was at sunset!

This was a beautiful yet emotionally draining evening and I will remember it for the rest of my life. 

Meeting atom bomb survivors at the Hiroshima memorial service

The entrance to the Hiroshima memorial park
The entrance to the Hiroshima memorial park
Arriving early morning at the start of the memorial service
Arriving early morning at the start of the memorial service

A visit to Japan is not complete without visiting Hiroshima the horrific site of the first nuclear bomb and when better than on the anniversary of that horrific event. The whole world knows about the atomic bomb that hit Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 where as many as 140 000 people were killed. Since then, thousands more have died from injuries or illness attributed to the radiation exposure of the bomb. Each year a memorial ceremony is held on 6 August for those who died and the few who still survive as well as pray for the realization of everlasting world peace.

I arrived in Hiroshima early the morning of 6 August, the day of the memorial service. I headed straight to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park where they were holding the annual peace ceremony in memory of the atom bomb victims.

 

Memorial statue at the entrance of the park
Memorial statue at the entrance of the park
The striking statue sets the sad tone for the whole park
The striking statue sets the sad tone for the whole park

The location of Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park was once the city’s busiest downtown commercial and residential district. The park was built on the open field that was created by the explosion. Today there are a number of memorials and monuments, museums, and lecture halls which draw over a million visitors annually. 

The purpose of the Peace Memorial Park is to not only memorialize the victims, but also to establish the memory of nuclear horrors and advocate world peace.

The Cenotaph for the A-bomb Victims
The Cenotaph for the A-bomb Victims
People burning incense  in front of the cenotaph
People burning incense in front of the cenotaph

This ceremony, which is attended by many citizens, including those who lost family members in the bombing, is held in front of the Cenotaph for the A-bomb Victims, a Monument for Hiroshima, City of Peace. This cenotaph is an arched sculpture with a register of the names of all the people who died as a result of exposure to the Atomic bomb and contains over 181,000 names.

 A small stone at the base of the arch reads, “Let all the souls here rest in peace; for we shall not repeat the evil.”

The peace flame!
The peace flame!
The pond in the center of the park
The pond in the center of the park

Looking through the arch of the monument I could see the Peace Flame which has burned continuously since it was lit in 1964. It is said that the flame will burn until the entire world if free from nuclear weapons.

 At exactly 8:15 a.m, the time the atomic bomb was dropped, the Peace Bell was rung, sirens sounded all over the city and for one minute people at the ceremony grounds paid silent tribute to the victims of the atomic bombing and prayed for the realization of everlasting world peace.

 

People lined up to pray at the memorial
People lined up to pray at the memorial
Hiroshima peace memorial park
Hiroshima peace memorial park

There was a sadness that covered the crowd as the mayor of Hiroshima read a prayer and talked about world peace, urging the rest of the world never to repeat what happened in Hiroshima. It was a very emotional experience and you could see that this memorial opening had touched a lot of people.

That whole day there were numerous activities and events all over the park commemorating this horrific event.

 “Let all the souls here rest in peace; for we shall not repeat the evil."
“Let all the souls here rest in peace; for we shall not repeat the evil.”

I attended a memorial speech where 3 different survivors of the atom bomb told their stories. They told us what they went through on the day of the bomb, what they saw and what went on after the bomb fell. It was very moving and shocking at the same time. They delivered their speeches in English and had translators help them with questions from the audience. They were all three still young children when this happened but remember that day in vivid detail. You can see that it’s still hard for them to tell their stories even after 60 years has passed. They live with the fear that any day they could die of some radiation related decease.

The Atom bomb survivor who took us on a tour of the park!
The Atom bomb survivor who took us on a tour of the park!

One of the survivors then took us on a tour of the memorial park and told us what each monument meant. It was a very emotional experience and it felt at times as if my heart was breaking and as if the sadness was seeping into my bones.

I remember thinking that I hadn’t felt that sad in ages and just wanted to sit on a bench and cry after we walked through the whole park.

Toon Town and Roller-coasters at Disneyland Tokyo!!!

Arriving at Disneyland just as the gates open!
Arriving at Disneyland just as the gates open!

I don’t normally like theme parks as roller coasters scare me but I was beyond excited about going to Disneyland in Tokyo!!  I felt like a little kid in a candy store. I could barely sleep the night before and made sure that we arrived at the gate just as the park opened.

My friend Yvonne and I spent the whole day at Disney land and only left when our feet hurt so much that we couldn’t walk any more!!

There are seven themed areas in the park: the World Bazaar; the four classic Disney lands: Adventure-land, Western-land, Fantasy-land and Tomorrow-land; and two mini-lands: Critter Country and Mickey’s Toontown. We couldn’t visit all seven areas in one day so had to choose carefully.

The World Bazaar is the main entry corridor
The World Bazaar is the main entry corridor
Disneyland parade!!
Disneyland parade!!

World Bazaar is the main entry corridor and primary shopping area of Tokyo Disneyland. Despite the use of the word “World” in its name, the general look and theme of World Bazaar is that of early 20th-century America, matching the “Main Street, U.S.A.” areas of other Magic Kingdom-style parks. 

We started our adventure in Adventure-land with the Pirates of the Caribbean cruise, which was definitely worth the 45 minute long wait in the line!! These rides are definitely not only for children as we enjoyed it just as much as they did. I especially loved the detail that went into the puppets and the sets for the Pirates of the Caribbean ride.

I love my Stitch ears!!
I love my Stitch ears!!
The long line we have to stand in for the ride!!
The long line we have to stand in for the ride!!

We walked around trying on all the funny Disney hats and animal ears you could buy-making sure we got pictures of each other in them.

 Western-land is an “old west” themed area, the counterpart of Frontier-land in other Magic Kingdom-style parks. Here after another 50 minute wait at the Jungle Cruise ride we got to see most of the park and its rides from above.

Baby stroller "car park"!
Baby stroller “car park”!

Toon Town!!
Toon Town!!

Toon Town was a hit and my favourite place!! It looked just like I remember from the movie. Toontown (called “Mickey’s Toontown” at other Disney parks) is heavily inspired by the movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit. This was actually my very first movie inside a movie theatre so it brought back very good childhood memories.

My friend Yvonne even got me to go on a mini roller-coaster which didn’t end up scaring me to death. This was the first time I actually enjoyed being on a roller-coaster. 

I actually enjoyed going on this roller coaster!
I actually enjoyed going on this roller coaster!

Queen of Heart Banquet Hall
Queen of Heart Banquet Hall

I am a huge fan of Lewis Carol’s Alice in Wonderland so we just had to go and explore the Alice’s Tea Party and the Queen of Heart Banquet Hall. His restaurant has a invitingly bizarre entrance. The place is themed beyond belief and totally warped and my photos can only give you an idea of how weird it was. Didn’t get to see Alice but found the Queen of Hearts guards all over the place.

Disney land is definitely fun for people of all ages!!!

Pirate ships and hot springs at Lake Ashi in Japan

My friend Yvonne and I left on the Romance train from Tokyo to Hakone. Hakone is part of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, less than 100 kilometers from Tokyo. Famous for hot springs, natural beauty and the view of nearby Mt. Fuji across Lake Ashi.

Lake Ashi
Arriving at Lake Ashi
A glimpse of Lake Ashi on our walk
A glimpse of Lake Ashi on our walk

It was a lovely hot sunny day and we could make out the tip of the mountain in the distance.

We took a bus to the lake and then intended to take a ferry across. It took us a while to find the dock as we missed the turn off and walked a 2km detour next to the lake and up the mountain.

Finally found the right pier from where to cross the lake
Finally found the right pier from where to cross the lake
The "pirate ship" we took to cross Lake Ashi
The “pirate ship” we took to cross Lake Ashi

Lake Ashi is crisscrossed by cartoonishly decorated “pirate” ships for tourists and we couldn’t resist also going on one of these. Lake Ashinoko was formed in the caldera of Mount Hakone after the volcano’s last eruption 3000 years ago. Today, the lake with Mount Fuji in the background is the symbol of Hakone.

This boat cruise from one end of the lake to the other took us roughly 30 minutes and gave us enough time to admire the beautiful lake and its surroundings.

View of Lake Ashi from the cable car
View of Lake Ashi from the cable car
I would definitely recommend the cable car ride across the mountain for the beautiful views!
I would definitely recommend the cable car ride across the mountain for the beautiful views!

Waiting line for the cable car
Waiting line for the cable car

Once we reached the other side we had a long cable car ride across the mountains. From the cable car we had fabulous views of the countless hot springs dotted all over the area and the huge forest expanse.

No trip to Hakone would be complete without a dip at a Japanese hot spring (onsen)We ended our Hakone trip by relaxing in one of these natural hot springs. We went to a small place named “Kappa Tengoku”.

It had lovely outdoor baths and was situated very close to Yumoto Station. The wooden bath house was slightly run-down but was very atmospheric. The mist that rolled in with dusk gave the baths a very relaxing and calming atmosphere.

The Hot spring we relaxed in at  Kappa Tengoku
The Hot spring we relaxed in at Kappa Tengoku

 I just loved relaxing in these hot springs!!

Eating Sea Urchin sushi, an experience I don’t want to repeat

Daikokusan sushi bar
Daikokusan sushi bar

I LOVE sushi and while living in Japan I made a point of eating sushi at least once if not twice a week! My favourite sushi bar in Japan was a conveyor belt sushi restaurant in Machida named Daikokusan, a couple of metro stops from where I lived.

 I love these places where you sit at the bar and just take sushi off the conveyor belt. All the plates are different colours and at the end of the meal you pay according to the colour you took.

The first time I sat down the chef put a glass with forks on the conveyor belt and looked quite happy when I took hold of chop sticks and ignored them. Guess they get lots of foreigners who want to eat sushi but cant use chopsticks as this area had a lot of tourists.

The "kitchen" is situated within the conveyor bar
The “kitchen” is situated within the conveyor bar
Chef "wasabi overkill" at work
Chef “wasabi overkill” at work

He made the best sushi ever!!
He made the best sushi ever!!

Before moving to Japan I was not a fan of wasabi and rarely had any on my sushi. At this restaurant the sushi chef actually puts wasabi on the sushi before handing it over to you. In any other place you would be able to sctatch it off but here I sat at the counter and he could see me. I didn’t want to insult his food so ate it and felt my nostrils and taste buds burn away. I tasted wasabi for the next couple of hours so couldn’t really appreciate the sushi I was eating! I dubbed him “Chef Wasabi Overkill”!!

After a few weeks of slowly and meticulously burning my taste buds away with all this wasabi I actually started to like it. I started to add extra wasabi to my sushi whenever I ordered it at another restaurant.

Having a salmon sandwich before my Une sushi experience
Having a salmon sandwich before my Une sushi experience

Once in a while I would try out a new unknown sushi just for the fun of it, some turned out to be great others I never tried again.  The one night “chef Wasabi Overkill” handed me some UNE sushi to try. This is sea urchin sushi and was most definitely the worst thing that I have ever tasted!!! Actually I have never up until know tasted anything as foul ever again. It tasted like seawater filled snot and I would have definitely spit it out if the chef wasn’t staring at me to see if I liked it or not. I had to focus very hard to smile and swallow while all I wanted to do was spit it out and wash out my mouth!!

First time ever that I wanted to be sick while eating sushi!

Luckily most of the kinds of sushi I tried were great and here I got a taste for eel, it is now always on my order list at a good sushi bar.

Great Buddha and thousands of Jizo statues

Hase-dera temple
The entrance to Hase-dera temple

Kamakura was Japan’s capital for more than 100 years beginning in 1192 and is filled with shrines and temples. It is also here that the Great Buddha statue is found. My friend Yvonne and I walked around the Kamakura area one sunny Saturday and on our way to the Great Buddha we stopped of at Hase-Dera temple.

The wooden statue of Kannon
The wooden statue of Kannon

Hase-dera is one of the great Buddhist temples in the city of Kamakura and famous for housing a massive wooden statue of Kannon.

The statue is one of the largest wooden statues in Japan, with a height of 9.18 metres and is made from camphor wood and gilded in gold. It has 11 heads, each of which represents a different phase in the search for enlightenment.

Because it was a Saturday the temple was quite crowded so I stayed out of the interiors of the shrines and the main temple. I am very claustrophobic and huge crowds in small confined spaces scare and I always end up getting a panic attack or just freaking out a bit.

Hase-dera temple
The gardens of Hase-dera temple were beautiful!
Countless Jizo statuettes standing along the pathways
Countless Jizo statuettes standing along the pathways

Hase-dera temple has beautiful gardens and I had a great time walking through these. The garden is filled with flights of steps as the garden is laid out in terraces.

Along the flights of steps leading to the Main Hall are countless Jizo statuettes made of stone. They are called Sentai Jizo, meaning literally ‘one thousand Jizo’.  Historically, parents came to Hasedera to set up these statues in hopes the deity would protect and watch over their children.

Hundreds of Jizo statues stand all over the temple grounds
Hundreds of Jizo statues stand all over the temple grounds
Statues fill the beautiful gardens of the temple
Statues fill the beautiful gardens of the temple

These statues are much less monumental in size but had a far greater visual impact than the huge Kannon statue. Today, though, the Jizo statues represent the souls of miscarried, stillborn or aborted children.  Jizo is believed to be a guardian deity of children, both alive and dead, including stillborn babies and aborted fetuses. Grief-stricken parents who lost children dedicate the statuettes and pray that the god may protect the poor little ones wandering in the netherworld. Usually, the parents offer dolls and baby clothes to the statuettes.

The beautiful hydrangeas of Hase-dera temple
The beautiful hydrangeas of Hase-dera temple

The temple is famous for its hydrangeas, which bloom along the Hydrangea Path in June and July, the main reason we visited on a busy Saturday. Most of the temple garden was filled in blue hydrangea blooms and hundreds of people walking around taking photos of these blooms. It was very crowded so we before long we left and walked up to the Daibutsu. 

Great Buddha Statue (Daibutsu)
Great Buddha Statue (Daibutsu)

Kamakura is famous for the Great Buddha Statue (Daibutsu) which dates from 1252. This Buddha stands on the grounds of Kotokuin Temple and originally located inside a large temple hall. However, the temple buildings were destroyed multiple times by typhoons and a tidal wave in the 14th and 15th centuries. So, since 1495, the Buddha has been standing in the open air.
This 37-foot-high bronze Buddha is the second largest statue in Japan. The Great Buddha is seated in the lotus position with his hands forming the Dhyani Mudra, the gesture of meditation. With a serene expression and a beautiful backdrop of wooded hills, the Daibutsu is a truly spectacular sight.

Great Buddha Statue is an amazing sight to see
Great Buddha Statue is an amazing sight to see

From a distance it didn’t look that big. It was only when we got close up that we were amazed by the actual size.

Great Buddha Statue was bigger that I expected
Great Buddha Statue was bigger that I expected

Japan is filled with really amazing statues and temples and I just loved exploring them!

Stalking girls in Kimonos at Yokohama’s Firework festival

Girls all dressed up going to the fireworks festival!
Girls all dressed up going to the fireworks festival!

Grand-scale fireworks festivals are one of the most exciting events that represent summer in Japan, and are held in various locations across the country!! People get dressed up in their beautiful summer Kimonos and go to parks during the day and attend firework shows at night. These popular firework festivals generally attract from around 700,000 to 1.3 million people in one night, and can make you feel as though you are on a rush-hour train for 4-5 hours. The fireworks display, with over 6,000 fireworks launched from the waters just offshore from Yamashita Park, draws more people than any other event of the year in the Yokohama area.

 I set off to watch the fireworks at Yokohama in Tokyo as it was the closest festival to my place.

Even the children were dressed up for the festival!
Even the children were dressed up for the festival!

All the way there the trains were filled with girls in Yukata (summer Kimonos) and even guys in their Yukatas. All of the places were crowded from the train and bus stations to the streets of Yokohama some roads were even closed for the night because thousands of people were there.

Girls hurrying to get a view of the fireworks
Girls hurrying to get a view of the fireworks

It was a beautiful night with spectacular fireworks lighting up the sky and Yokohama waterfront. I spent most of my time people watching and taking pictures of the girls in their beautiful kimonos, sometimes getting great shots of their reactions to some of the spectacular fireworks!

Turning around to have a last look at the fireworks!
Turning around to have a last look at the fireworks!

On the way back after the fireworks show it was nearly impossible to get onto a train. They were all stuffed to capacity and we had to wait nearly 40 minutes before we could actually squeeze on to a train.

The summer fireworks festival is definitely a must for any traveler. 

Drinking Japanese Green Tea at Hamarikyu Gardens

Tokyo Bay waterfront
Walking past the Tokyo Bay waterfront to get to the park

I actually planned on visiting the famous Tsukiji fish market but it turned out to be closed today for some or another reason. Not wanting the trip to be a waste I went to Hamarikyu Gardens just around the corner from the market.

Hamarikyu means detached palace on the coast, I guess it got this name because it is on the Tokyo Bay waterfront. The garden is surrounded by high-rise buildings of Shiodome business area, a big contrast between the old and the new is clearly visible here.

This massive garden was once part of a shogun’s villa and even the two ponds in the park were originally there. The ponds were used for wild-duck hunting in the shogun’s time.

One of the pods in the middle of the park
One of the pods in the middle of the park with the modern city as a back drop

One of these ponds is the only tidal pool in Tokyo. It has a lock that controls seawater entering from Tokyo Bay. In the middle of this tidal pool is an island with a restored tea-house  This tea-house was definitely the highlight of my morning visit to the park.

The tea-house in the middle of the tidal pool!!
The tea-house in the middle of the tidal pool!!
The tea-house is situated on a small island
The tea-house is situated on a small island

I crossed beautiful wooden bridges to get to the teahouse and was quite relieved when they had English menus. Even the hostess could speak a bit of English and helped me with my green tea order. Here I got to enjoy lovely Japanese green tea with some kind of sweet cake that they served with it. They supplied me with an English instruction leaflet on how to drink the tea and eat the cake.

I love these little rituals that the Japanese have when doing things like drinking tea.

My Green Tea, Sweet cake and the instruction leaflet
My Green Tea, Sweet cake and the instruction leaflet
The sweet cake with my wooden "cutter"
The sweet cake with my wooden “cutter”

I followed all the instructions to the letter and enjoyed it immensely! I had to place the cake on my left hand, cut it into pieces with the wooden “cutter” using my right hand then poke and eat them piece by piece.

Next was the tea drinking instructions. Who would have thought there is a correct side to drink from a round cup?

I had to pick up the tea bowl with my right hand then place it in my left hand. I was then instructed to turn the bowl clockwise twice (180 degrees). It said I had to finish my tea in 3-4 sips but it was a bit strong so I took a bit longer to drink it than instructed.

I got to sit on the tea-house deck looking out over this picturesque Japanese garden while drinking my green tea!!