Tag Archives: japan

Japan: Matsumoto

This is already turning into a trip of contrasts. Tokyo was all rush and all people, all the time. Mount Fuji (or at least Lake Kawaguchiko) was quiet, with very few people and little noise except the occasional clank from the bike chain. Matsumoto, a city near the Japanese Alps, strikes a balance somewhere between the two.

The main feature, right in the centre of the city, is Matsumoto Castle. It’s one of the oldest and best preserved castles in Japan.

It looks quite stunning with the sun setting. Because it’s mostly black it is also known as the “Crow Castle.” Contrary to a fact that I may have made up at the time, it was not built by crows.

It’s interesting to contrast a Japanese castle with one from Europe1. Matsumoto castle is made of wood and is not located on a hill, though there is the moat and some of the defences are similar, such as the arrow slits and apertures where unpleasant objects can easily be thrown down but not up. European castles have a mass, a presence but none of those that I’ve seen have the aesthetics and lines as this one.

Of course, no visit to a Japanese city would be complete without looking at some temples. I think this is the first time I saw statues like these with fetching little hats and bibs, though I would see many more the next week in Kyoto and Nara.

On the Saturday morning I went to a flea market. I always thought of Japan being gleaming and modern with people shunning old stuff, well, except for the really old stuff. But thrift clearly plays a part for many Japanese people.

There were huge crowds and kids running riot. Things for sale ranged from clothes to food to toys. This guy was clearly proud of motorised toys.

The following day I left Matsumoto city looking to get back to nature. That’s what tomorrow post will be about.

  1. As will quickly become obvious, this is not something I know much about. But I feel qualified to discuss as — taking notes from Eddie Izzard — all Europeans live in castles. []

Japan: Sleeping

The Japanese, at least those in the big cities, clearly have a “work hard, play hard” mind-set. I can recount the stereotype of the salaryman carefully arriving at work before and leaving after his boss, or going for drinks with his colleagues at the expense of his family.

Of course I didn’t really see that. While they were working I was sight-seeing.

In the evenings I saw gangs of men in suits in bars. But really the defining factor was that everywhere you looked, no matter the time, there were people asleep. On tube trains. On benches in parks. On seats in exhibition centres.

Of course, not all Japanese people are sleep. Some are just chillin’.

And others are just zoning out.

I probably could have taken a full memory card of sleeping people but in the end I only took a few.

Japan: Mount Fuji

If there’s one thing that Japan is famous for it’s Mount Fuji1, which, despite its name, is actually a volcano. That meant that it had to be on the itinerary when on my first trip to Japan.

In order to get the best view I went to Kawaguchiko, which sits between Kawaguchiko lake to its north and Fuji-san to its south. When I first arrived I couldn’t see the mountain as it was covered in mist. I quickly found the lake instead.

October is out of climbing season so I couldn’t very easily get to the top of Mount Fuji, so I decided instead to cycle around the nearby lake.

The last two images show views either side of a busy road bridge that bisects the lake. I’ve seen uglier bridges but I didn’t have a huge urge to take many pictures of it…

The Japanese obsession with cute extends even to the boats, many of which were shaped like furry animals including a panda. I’m not sure how many of those animals are either native to Japan or, more importantly, good in water.

You’ll note that I’ve been talking a lot about the lake and not very much about the mountain I came to see. There’s a reason for that. This is the best view of Mount Fuji that I got the whole time I was in the area.

Not as spectacular as some of the more famous pictures of the area but clear enough that I now believe that there’s a mountain there! Until a few minutes before that I thought the five lakes were on a vast, flat plain…

Almost as a consolation there was a very beautiful sunset. When the lighting can make a supermarket look attractive you know you’re onto a winner.

After Mount Fuji I headed inland to the Japanese Alps, to a city called Matsomoto. That’s what I’ll be writing about next.

  1. You lose points if you were going to say Sony or Toyota. []

Japan: Tokyo

Tokyo really is a city of contrasts. Is it the high-tech, bustling, Bladerunner-esque landscape you see on TV? Absolutely. However not all of the districts are quite as frenetic as Ginza or Shibuya. If you look hard there are also back-waters of serenity in some of the temples.

Straight off the plane I decided to lean more towards the quiet side and went to the Imperial Palace. I went straight for the canonical picture of the palace, Nijubashi Bridge.

And here are the guards outside the front.

Part of the joy of travelling is always the people-watching. I loved this little boys outfit.

Once I’d woken up a bit I decided to see some of the busy cross-walks and hustle and bustle of Ginza and Shibuya.

Shibuya:

Harujuku:

Ginza:

Roppongi:

That last picture was taken from the top of Tokyo Tower, which looks rather like the Eiffel Tower but is painted red. And is in Tokyo.

When I first went up to the observation floor it was still pretty much day light. Very quickly the sun set. A got a few shots before and after. Tokyo really seems to come alive at night.

After doing all the busy stuff, the next day I went to the Meiji Shrine. It wasn’t exactly tranquil — still lots of people about — but it made quite a contrast after all the lights and people elsewhere.

People, both locals and tourists, took advantage of the praying facilities.

And most shrines had these little good luck tiles. Some of them were funny, others were touching. I’m not entirely convinced that this was written by an eight year old, though.

However, I think these sake casks are more in my style of worship…

Meiji Shine has the good grace to be in a park and, therefore, be relatively calm and quiet, if not by the standards of most temples then by the standards of Tokyo as a whole. This description does not apply to Sensö-ji Temple which is situated at the end of one of the most packed markets I’ve seen for a while!

After all the stalls but before the temple you see people wafting incense over themselves, and breathing in deeply. They believe it wards off poor health and cures various ailments. I would think that breathing in smoke is more likely to bring on some unpleasant lung disease, but each to their own I guess.

Of course you expect to see the temples and the bright lights and the commerce. There were, however, some things that I can’t say I was anticipating.

Perhaps the most bizarre is the concept of a “Maid Cafe.” Check out the ad:

“Welcome home, master and mistress!”

As the headline suggests, it’s not just for men. I think in the West something like this would be sexual but, while I understand that regular customers might bring flowers for their favourite maid, people also go to them on dates. I think it’s fair to say that it’s uniquely Japanese.

You might also imagine that it could work as a one-off novelty but there are many of them, so much so that they need to hand out leaflets in the street in order to drum up trade.

Very odd.

Finally, when you think of the Statue of Liberty, where do you think of? New York? Bonus points if you remembered that there’s also one in Paris. A huge bonus if you knew that there was one in Tokyo Bay.

I can’t claim that it looks very much like the Eye in London, but there’s also a ferris wheel nearby.

These last two images were taken in Obaiba in what looks like a new development. Much of Tokyo is pretty new but only this bit is not quite finished yet!

And that was pretty much all of my whistle-stop tour of Tokyo. If you want to see more, there are a few extras on Flickr. After Tokyo I went to see the iconic Mount Fuji, so that’s what I’ll be posting next.

Japan

Imperial Palace, Tokyo

At the beginning of October I visited Japan for the first time. I landed in Tokyo, travelled out to Mount Fuji and then west to Nagano Prefecture, finally heading back to Tokyo via Kyoto and Nara. It was a lot to try to pack in to two weeks but it worked out pretty well all things considered.

Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be documenting in words and pictures my trip, focusing mainly on the locations but with odd entry about the things that seemed constant throughout my time there.

Speaking of constants, I picked the above image to front this series of posts because it seems to combine both elements of the historic and the modern, a motif that was present throughout the trip in many different forms.