Friday, September 28, 2012

Fujiyoshida Sengen Shrine

On our way from Lake Yamanaka to Lake Kawaguchi, we stopped by the Fujiyoshida Sengen shrine.

The Fujiyoshida Sengen shrine is dedicated to Konohanasakuyahime, the Shinto deity associated with Mt Fuji. The formal name of the shrine is Kitaguchi Hongu Sengen Jinja which means North Entrance Sengen Main Shrine and the name derives from the fact that this is the Main Sengen shrine on the north side of the shrine. There are more than 1000 Sengen shrines dedicated to Mt Fuji across Japan, but the main deity of Mt Fuji is believed to be enshrined in the Fujiyoshida Sengen shrine. 
The shrine served as the focal point of Mt Fuji worship during the Edo period.

Traditionally, climbers would begin their Mt Fuji ascent after praying at the Fujiyoshida Sengen Shrine. The old trail begins from behind the Shrine’s main hall. A wooden trail behind the shrine marks the beginning of the traditional trail. 
Even to this day, few climbers, mostly those undertaking the climb as a pilgrimage begin their climb after offering prayers at the shrine. However, most climbers prefer to begin their ascent from one of the several 5th stations of Mt Fuji, Kawaguchiko 5th station being the most popular starting point. It is said that if the climb is begun from the Fujiyoshida Sengen shrine, it takes about 8-10 hours to reach the summit.

The shrine is surrounded by a dense pine and cedar forest. 
The path leading to the shrine is lined by stone lanterns on either side.

The large wooden torii gate of the Sengen shrine is over 18 m high and is counted amongst one of the largest wooden gates in Japan. 
According to tradition, the torii is rebuilt slightly larger, every six decades. Near the top of the Torii, a signboard reads "Sangoko Daiichizan", which translates to the highest mountain among three countries- Japan, India and China.

The shrine buildings are painted in red, as in most other Shinto shrines.

The main hall dates back to 1615 and the altar is decorated in ornamental style.  
Many murals and wooden masks adorn the walls and ceilings of the shrine. 
Three of the original cedar trees are believed to have survived over the centuries and these are adorned by the holy rope.

Fuji Five Lakes

Mount Fuji needs no introduction. It has always been a symbol of Japan till this day remains on every tourist’s list of must visit places in Japan. Mount Fuji’s near perfect conical shape is the result of its multiple eruptions and lava flows.

Mount Fuji’s multiple eruptions have also resulted in the formation of the Fuji Five Lakes, also known as Fuji-go-ko. Fuji Five Lakes is the area located around the base of Mt Fuji’s northern half and is located in Yamanashi Prefecture. In recent years, Fuji Five Lakes which form part of  the Fuji-Hakone Izu National Park, has become a much visited tourist attraction. The lava flows from Mt Fuji’s eruptions dammed rivers and resulted in the formation of these five lakes. All of the lakes are considered to be excellent fishing spots and have been developed into tourist spots atleast to some extent.

The Five Lakes that form part of Fujigoko are Lake Kawaguchi, Lake Yamanaka, Lake Saiko, Lake Motosu and Lake Shoji. All lakes also provide good views of Mt Fuji, on days when the sky is clear and weather is good. Spring and Autumn when the flora and foliage are at their best and most colourful are preferred seasons for visiting Fuji Five Lakes.

On our recent trip to the Fuji-Hakone area, we visited two of these lakes- Lake Yamanaka and Lake Kawaguchi. Our first stop was Lake Yamanaka. Yamanaka-ko as the lake is also known is the easternmost and largest of the five lakes. 
 Located at an altitude of 980 metres above sea level, it is also the third highest lake in Japan. The lake has a circumference of 13 kms and offers good views of Mt Fuji from its northern shore on clear days. 
However on the day of our visit, the sky was cloudy and as such we could not see even the slightest trace of Mt Fuji. 
Yamanaka ko is popular among visitors for Boating, fishing and other water sports and ranks as the second most developed of the five lakes behind Lake Kawaguchi.
In recent years Yamanaka ko is emerging as the most popular of the Fuji Five Lakes.

After visiting Lake Yamanaka, we drove up further to Lake Kawaguchi. On the way to Lake Kawaguchi, we briefly stopped at the Fujiyoshida Sengen shrine.

Lake Kawaguchi also known as Kawaguchi ko, is the most popular of the Fuji Five Lakes. This lake also has a circumference of 13 kms and this too offers good and unobstructed views of Mt Fuji on clear weather days and is a photographer’s delight. Most images and calendar pictures of Mt Fuji forming the backdrop of a lake are said to be taken from one of the shores of Kawaguchi-ko. 
Unfortunately we visited the lake on a cloudy day and as such we could not view Mt Fuji. Kawaguchi is the only lake amongst the Fuji Five Lakes to have an island.
 Kawaguchi ko is the most developed of the five lakes and there is no dearth of hotels and other accommodation in Kawaguchi town which has turned to a popular holiday resort.
Visitors can indulge in various water sports at Lake Kawaguchi. The Subaru toll road which leads up to Kawaguchi ko 5th Station begins from close to the Kawaguchi IC. Kawaguchiko 5th station serves as a starting point for climbing Mt Fuji.

Lake Saiko, also known as Saiko-ko is located just about 1 km to the west of Lake Kawaguchi and thus is also called the Western Lake. The western side of Lake Saiko shares its banks with the Aokigahara Jukai forest. The lake has a circumference of 10.5 kilometers but the lake is not much developed. However, there are many camp sites located along the lake’s shores.

Lake Shoji, also called Shoji-ko, is the smallest of the five lakes wth a circumference of 2.5 kms. Rocks jutting out of the lake are remnants of lava flow and these days used by locals fishing in the lake’s water. Fishing and boating are popular outdoor activities at Lake Shoji.

The last of the five lakes is Lake Motosu, which at 140 meters, is the ninth deepest lake of Japan. Motosu lake along with Lake Saiko and Lake Shoji was formed by lava flowing through the area which is now Aokigahara Jukai Forest. The lava separated a large prehistoric lake in the area thus resulting in the formation of the three lakes. These three lakes are still connected by means of underground waterways and are also said to maintain the same surface level of 900 meters above sea level. The lake has a circumference of 13 kms .The picture of Mt Fuji on the 1000 yen note is said to be a depiction of the view of Mt Fuji from near Lake Motosu. The shores are not much developed barring few camping grounds.

The Aokigahara Jukai Forest is an expansive forest south of Lake Saiko which has a network of hiking trails and is reputed to be easy to get lost in. This area is also infamous as a suicide spot. Past lava flows have also resulted in the formation of several caves around the Aokigahara Jukai Forest. Three of the lakes – Ice Cave, Wind Cave and Bat Cave have become popular tourist destinations.

The main city in the Fuji Five Lakes area is Fujiyoshida city, which is also popular for the Fuji Q Highland. Kawaguchiko area also has a variety of museums like the Yamanashi Gem museum, Kawaguchiko Music forest, Kawaguchiko Museum of Art etc. Udon noodles are a popular delicacy from the region. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Yokohama Yet Again : Chinatown

Yokohama is one city in Japan that we love visiting. We have been there many times before, but every visit makes us love Yokohama even more. Located less than 1 hour away from Tokyo, Yokohama has almost everything that Tokyo has with perhaps more breathing space. On our earlier visits we have visited the MinatoMirai area, Yamashita Park, Anpanman Museum and even drove past China town. On our recent trip to Yokohama, we finally visited China Town.

Yokohama’s China town, known locally as 中華街 Chūkagai, is Japan’s largest China town. It is also believed to be among one of the largest China towns in the world.
The port of Yokohama was one of the first ports in Japan to be opened for foreign trade . For almost 200 years during the rule of the Tokugawa shogunate, Japan had no trade relations with the outside world. In 1853-54, the Treaty of Peace and Amity was signed and Japan opened few ports for trading. The sleepy fishing village of Yokohama transformed into the Port of Yokohama and was opened for foreign trade on 2nd June 1959. Overnight, Yokohama turned into Japan’s base for foreign trade. The Chinese traders were amongst the earliest traders to settle down in Yokohama.The tiles on Chinatown's sidewalks depict the Chinese influence on Yokohama. 

Initially, as per Government regulations, foreign traders were not allowed to live outside designated foreign settlement areas and as such the Chinese traders built Chinese school, community centre, and other infrastructure for their community. About 2000-3000 Chinese families still reside in the Chinatown. 

Four colourful gates mark the entrance to Chinatown and five more gates can be seen within the Chinatown.

 Kantei byo is a temple dedicated to the Chinese god of accountancy, business and prosperity. 

The temple built in 1887 stands in the heart of China town.

Chinatown has emerged into a touristy place thanks to the large number of stores selling Chinese dresses, knickknacks and other goods.
The streets of Chinatown are filled with Chinese restaurants and food stands selling Chinese noodles (ramen), Manju (steamed stuffed buns) and grilled meat etc.

 Chinese fortunetellers can also be found aplenty.
Many Chinese sculptures can be seen around Chinatown.
Various Chinese festivals are celebrated in China town, the most prominent being the Chinese New Year in February, when the entire area wears a festive look.

Access: Chinatown is located close to the Yamashita Park area and can be reached  within few mintues by foot . The nearest railway station is Motomachi-Chukagai Station on the Minato Mirai Line and Ishikawacho on the JR Negishi Line.


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Tokyo: Asakusa's Sensoji Temple at Night

We have been to Asakusa’s Sensoji temple quite a few times before. However our recent visit was our first visit to the temple during the evening. Since I have written in detail about the temple complex in an earlier post, this post contains only photographs. The temple is illuminated every evening from around sunset to 11 pm. Visiting the temple in the evening has another advantage – the place is free from tourist crowds and even the shops are closed or nearing closing time, so one can enjoy the beauty and peace of the temple.