Friday, October 30, 2015

Cherry Blossoms at Horioseki Park- Gojo Riverside

Cherry Blossoms are abundant all over Japan. There are quite a few spots across the country which are well known for viewing Cherry Blossoms. While some spots are popular due to the variety of Cherry Blossoms, others are known for the scenic beauty of the place with the added charm of Cherry Blossoms. Some spots are known for the number of Cherry Blossom trees. There are a few such spots in and around Nagoya, where hundreds of Cherry trees create a seasonal tourist attraction. One such spot is the Gojo riverside near Nagoya which we visited in Spring 2015.  
The spot that we visited was the Horioseki Park in Oguchi-cho. 

A riverside promenade, some stone buildings, the Ki-bashi and Saidan-bashi bridges and the blossom laden cherry trees make for a pretty sight.

Needless to say, this is a popular Hanami spot among locals. We enjoyed a barbecue lunch under the Cherry trees and it truly was a memorable experience. 

About 1400 cherry trees line both sides of the Gojo river. 

Further along the Gojo riverside,in Iwakura city, an unique event called 'Nonbori arai", washing of Carp streamers (known as Koi nobori in Japanese), in the Gojo river is held on a weekend. 

The lanterns hanging from the Cherry trees are lit up every evening between 6pm and 9 pm during the Sakura matsuri, (Cherry Blossom festival).

Elsewhere in Iwakura city, Japanese festival floats, known as Dashi in Japanese, are paraded through the streets during the annual Cherry Blossom festival. The floats are decorated with mechanical dolls well known for the display of acrobatic movements. 

Address of Horioseki Park:  Aichi Prefecture 480-0136, Niwa gun, Horioseki 1 Chome

Phone no: 0587-95-1111 ( Oguchi Town Urban Development Division) 

Parking: Free parking available for 30 cars

Entrance Fees: Free

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Kyoto : Toji temple

On our most recent trip to Kyoto, one of the temples we visited was the To-ji temple. This trip was to visit few temples and shrines that we had skipped on our earlier trips to Kyoto. While we had never been to Daigo-ji temple or Uji's Byodoin temple, we had been in the vicinity of the To-ji temple during our very first trip to Kyoto in 2010. We could not visit the temple on that trip as we had reached just as it was closing for the day. However having seen the lit up wooden Pagoda of the temple, we had decided that some day we will make it to the temple. 

The story behind the construction of the To-ji temple is interesting. In 794, the capital of Japan was transferred from Nara to Kyoto. Two years after this, two huge guardian temples were constructed on the east and west sides of Kyoto (then known as the Imperial City of Heian kyo). Sai-ji, the temple constructed on the west side no more exists but To-ji temple is the surviving temple of Kyoto's east side. The name of the temple 'To-ji' translates to East Temple. The formal name of the temple is 'Kyo-o-gokoku-ji' which translates to ' The Temple for the Defense of the Nation by Means of the King of Doctrines' 

To-ji temple has been one of the important temples of the Shingon sect of Buddhism. It has been the headquarters of the Shingon Toji-ha branch from 823 when the Emperor Saga honored Monk Kukai (Kobo Daishi) by handing the temple to him. Many additional buildings and the wooden pagoda were added at the time. The original buildings have suffered damages due to fire over the centuries but have been rebuilt and can be visited now. 

The Five story pagoda of To-ji is 55 meters high and is the tallest wooden tower in Japan. The original pagoda was built in the 9th century but was burned down 4 times due to natural disasters. The current pagoda was constructed in 1644 (Edo period) by the order of Tokugawa Iemitsu, the third Shogun. The Pagoda is considered to be a symbol of Kyoto. Visitors cannot enter the Pagoda, except on certain days each year. 

The central Hall of the temple, 'Kondo', is the largest structure in the To-ji complex. The original building was built in the 8th century but was destroyed in a fire in 1486. The current building dates back to 1603. A statue of Yakushi Nyorai, the Buddha of Medicine, is placed in the centre of the hall. The statue is surrounded by two smaller statues of Nikko Bosatsu and Gakko Bosatsu, the Bodhisattvas of the Sun and Moon respectively. 

In the centre of the temple complex, stand the Kodo, the lecture hall. The original building was built in 835 but having suffered substantial damage in natural calamities, the structure had to undergo several repairs. The present building dates back to 1491. The 19 statues inside the Kodo are placed in line with the ' Mandala', which represents the world of enlightenment. The principal Buddha statue is that of Dainichi Nyorai (Vairochana) .  The statue is surrounded by statues of Bodhisattvas, The Myoo ( Wisdom Kings) and the Tenbu ( guardians of the remaining statues). The statues are said to have been brought by Kobo Daishi from China. 

Near the Nishimon gate, stands the 'Miedo', Founder's Hall with a statue of Kobo Daishi. It stands at the site of the residence of Kobo Daishi. 

The temple grounds feature a typical Japanese style garden complete with a pond in which turtles and Koi (carp fish) swim. 

On the 21st of every month, a flea market is held on the grounds of the temple. This market is popular and visitors flock to the market for antiquities, art works, clothes, pottery among other things. The largest market is held on the 21st of December. Parking lots around the Toji area have higher prices on 21st of each month.  

Address: Kyoto Prefecture 601-8473, Kyoto shi, Minami ku, Kujo-cho, Toji 1

Opening Hours: 8:30 hrs - 17:00 hrs (closes 16:00 hrs from mid Sep-mid March)

Admission Ticket: Adults 500 yen ( 300 yen extra when Pagoda is open to public on special                                days )

Closing Days: None


Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Kyoto : Daigo-ji Temple

Over the last few years we have travelled to many places in Japan. If I have to choose one place as my favorite, it is undoubtedly Kyoto. An ancient capital, Kyoto is the perfect example of the coexistence of history, culture and modern life. Our first visit to Kyoto was in 2010 and I immediately took a liking to this beautiful city. In the last couple of years, we have visited Kyoto many more times but I always look forward to that next visit. A trip to Kyoto is rewarding in any season. And if the season is colorful like Autumn or Spring, that's like icing on cake !

Kyoto has so many temples and shrines that it is virtually impossible to visit all of them even over a few weeks. While we have been to the 'Must visit' temples and shrines many times, this time we decided to visit few places which we had skipped until now. One such temple is the Daigo-ji temple in southern part of Kyoto. The temple is designated as a World Heritage site under ' Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto'. 
Daigo-ji temple is the headquarters of the Daigo branch of the Shingon sect of Buddhism. It was built by a Buddhist monk Shobo Rigen Daishi in 874. 

Daigo-ji is spread out over a large area spreading from Mt Daigo to its foothills. Kami-Daigo (Upper Daigo) is at the top of the mountain and has to be accessed by a long hike. Shimo- Daigo (Lower Daigo) and Samboin are at the base of the mountain. Separate admission tickets are required to enter each of the three parts- Samboin, Shimo Daigo and Kami Daigo. A combined ticket can also be purchased. 

Samboin comprises of many walled complexes connected by streets , and also feature a temple, a tea garden and a museum among other buildings. It is popular among visitors especially during Cherry Blossom season. 

Shimo Daigo is a large enclosed area consisting of many buildings and open spaces. One such building is the five story wooden Pagoda built in 951 making it the oldest building in Kyoto. The pagoda is about 38 meters tall. 

Kondo, the central hall was originally built in 926 but it suffered damage from two major fires. 

The current structure is said to date back to 1600.
The Kondo houses a seated statue of Yakushinyorai, the Healing Buddha.

In Fudo-do Hall, statues of Myo-o and Fudo Myo-o are enshrined. A Goma Dojo ( Fire ritual place) can be seen right outside the Fudo-do. 

The Benten do Hall is dedicated to Benzaiten, the Buddhist name for the Hindu Goddess Saraswati. 

The Benten do, a vermilion lacquered building and the vermilion lacquered bridge across the pond make a pretty sight.

Shimo Daigo attracts many visitors during autumn when the colorful foliage adds to the beauty of the complex.   

Every spring, a Cherry Blossom viewing event, 'Ho-Taiko Hanami Gyoretsu' is held at Daigo-ji temple. It features a parade modelled after the 'Daigo no Hanami' , Cherry Blossom viewing party held by Toyotomi Hideyoshi in the Momoyama period. 

Address: 22 Higashioji-cho, Daigo, Fushimi Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 601-1325

Phone: 075-571-0002

Timings: 9:00-17:00 hrs ( closes 16:00 hrs from early December- end February)

Admission: One Complex - Adults 600 yen; Jr High-High School- 300 yen
                  Two Complexes- Adults 1000 yen; Jr High and High School- 500 yen
                  All complexes- Adults 1500 yen; Jr High and High School- 750 yen;
                  Children attending Primary school and younger enter free. 
Closing days: None

Paid Parking available for 700 yen Standard sized cars.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Visiting Uji

When we were planning our first trip to Kyoto back in 2010, my Japanese friend had suggested that we should try to visit Uji if possible. Unfortunately, due to time constraints we skipped Uji on that trip. We have been to Kyoto a couple of times after that but never made it to Uji. In September this year, we finally decided to visit Uji. 

Many overseas travellers skip Uji because it is a bit offtrack. And since Kyoto has so much to offer, people choose some place within the city over taking a trip outside of Kyoto. If time is not a constraint, it is definitely worth taking a day trip to Uji.
Uji is best known for the historic Byodo-in temple. Originally constructed in 998 AD, Byodo-in was not intended to be a temple. It was built as a countryside retreat villa for a powerful feudal lord of the Fujiwara clan, Michinaga. It was Michinaga's son, Yorimichi, who converted it into a temple and also ordered the construction of the Phoenix Hall in 1053. T
he Phoenix Hall, Hoodo in Japanese, gets its name from the two Phoenix statues which adorn its roof. The Phoenix Hall is depicted on the back of the Japanese 10 yen coin.

The temple with its garden, is a classic example of the Buddhist Pure Land architecture. Over the centuries, many of the buildings forming part of the Byodoin temple complex were destroyed by fires and other calamities. However, the Phoenix Hall was never destroyed and survived intact. A statue of Amida Buddha (Amitabha Tathagatha), dating back to the Heian period, is housed in the Phoenix Hall. The walls surrounding the Buddha are adorned by statues of the Bodhisattvas on clouds. Wall and door paintings depict the Buddha's life. An additional ticket costing 300 yen is required to enter the Phoenix Hall. 

Some more pictures from the Byodoin temple complex.

The Hoshokan is a museum where various exhibits and treasures from the Byodoin are on display. A Buddhist temple bell, pair of Phoenixes and statues of Bodhisattvas on Clouds are among the various treasures on display.

Opening Hours: 8:30 hrs-17:30 hours ( Hoshokan opens from 9:00 hrs- 17:00 hrs)

Admission Fees: 600 yen (for Garden and Hoshokan Museum); Additional 300 yen for                                    entrance to Phoenix Hall.

Address: Kyoto Prefecture, 611-0021, Uji shi, Renge-116

Phone: 0774-21-2861 


Apart from the Byodoin, Uji is popular for a couple of things. It is home to the Tales of Genji Museum. Tales of Genji, (or Genji Monogatari as it is known in Japanese) is widely believed to be the first modern novel of the world and offcourse the first Japanese novel. It was written by a Noble woman, Murasaki Shikibu, a lady in waiting during the 11th century. The novel depicts lifestyles of the high courtiers and other aristocratic families during the Heian period. The final ten chapters of the tale are set in Uji. 
A statue of Murasaki Shikibu can be seen next to the Uji Bridge, across the Uji river. The Tale of Genji Museum has various exhibits based on the storyline and the characters. 

We skipped the museum and instead chose to walk along the Uji river. Uji river is one of the few places in Japan where a traditional kind of fishing, Ukai, the Japanese name for Cormorant fishing is conducted in the evenings in summer. 

The fishing boats set out for fishing after sunset and visitors can board the boat to view the cormorant fishing. 

A thirteen story stone pagoda stands along the banks of the Uji river. 

Uji, is also well known among the Japanese for its Matcha (green tea). I was told that Uji's green tea is considered to be one of the finest quality and Uji is also referred to be the tea capital of Japan. A Japan Post post box shaped like a Jar of green tea is perhaps testimony to Uji's green tea !

The Bridge across the Uji river is also featured on Uji's manhole cover. 

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Nagoya : Atsuta Shrine

Today I visited the Atsuta Shrine with a friend. We wanted to visit Kami no Ondo, a shop that specialises in all kinds of paper and paper craft supplies. Since the shop is close to the Shrine we decided to visit it as well. 

Atsuta Shrine is one of the important Shinto Shrines in Japan. Infact it is considered the 2nd most important shrine after the Grand Shrines of Ise in Mie Prefecture. The Shrine stands amidst tall trees in Nagoya's Atsuta Ward. The Shrine buildings are built in the Shinmei-zukuri architecture and are said to be modeled after the Grand Shrines of Ise.  

Many of the shrine buildings were destroyed in the World War II bombings. The main Shrine Building, the Honden and other buildings were reconstructed in 1955. 

The Atsuta Shrine enshrines the Sun Goddess Amaterasu and the Five Gods of Atsuta. The Shrine is also home to ' Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi', a sword which is one of the Three Sacred Imperial Treasures. It is believed that three treasures, Yata no Kagami (a mirror), Kusanagi no Tsurugi (a sword) and Yasakani no Magatama (a jewel) were brought to earth by Ninigi-no-Mikoto, the grandson of the Sun Goddess Amaterasu. The Japanese Imperial Family are descendants of Ninigi-no Mikoto. The three sacred treasures are considered to represent, valor, wisdom and benevolence. The Three Sacred Treasures find a mention in the Kojiki and Nihonshoki, the oldest Chronicles containing explanations about the origin of the Japanese islands and the Kami.Since these three treasures are legendary, the exact locations of these treasures are not disclosed but it is believed that the Sword is located in the Atsuta Shrine in Nagoya, the mirror is located in the Ise Grand Shrine and the jewel is located at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. Traditionally these three sacred treasures can be seen only by the Emperor and certain priests and these treasures are presented to the Emperor at the time of his enthronement ceremony, which is a private affair.

The Treasure Hall, Bunkaden, houses about 4000 articles donated by the Imperial family, Shoguns, feudal lords and even common people. The collection contains articles like ancient documents, sacred garments, masks, furniture and even household items. 

There are many halls where various ceremonies like weddings etc are conducted.

We saw few Plum blossoms on the Shrine grounds. 

Address: Aichi Prefecture, Nagoya, Atsuta Ku, Jingu 1-1-1

Phone: 052-671-4151 

Nearest station: Jingu Nishi and Tenma cho Stations on Subway Meijo Line and Jingu mae Station on Meitetsu Line

Opening Hours: Shrine -Open 24 hours
                          Treasure Hall: 9:00-16:30 hrs 

Closing Days: Shrine - Open 24 hours 
                     Treasure Hall- Closed on last Wednesday of each month and Dec 25-31

Entrance Fees: Shrine: Free
                         Treasure Hall: 300 yen 

Parking: Ample Parking Available

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Coffee Crazy : Latte Art

These days Latte Art seems to be the trend in Japan. There are a couple of Coffee shops specialising in Latte Art in Nagoya.     

What exactly is Latte Art ? It involves turning the foam on top of a Cafe latte or Cappuccino into a piece of art, like a sculpture or a tile. 

My friends and I tried out a couple of Coffee Shops specialising in Latte Art.
One of these Coffee Shops - ELK Cafe, specialises in 3D Latte Art.
The other shop, Presto Cafe specialises in Latte Art. 

The owner also conducts workshops for those wishing to learn Latte Art. 

At another Coffee Shop - Air Cafe, the Cafe Latte had this cute girl image on top.

Many local Baristas offer Latte Art workshops for those willing to learn the basic skills. But trust Japan to come up with a gadget for anything ! Toy maker Takara Tomy has introduced a 3D Latte Art Making gadget "Awa Taccino". It is ideal for people who want to try making their own latte art at home. Its blender dispenses milk foam in a controlled manner such that it makes the foam easy to sculpt. 

So go ahead, Indulge !