Japan

Discussion in 'Asia' started by leelai, Nov 26, 2013.

  1. leelai

    leelai Administrator Staff Member

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    Japan - The land of the Rising Sun

    We recently spent some time in Japan and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. There is just so much to see and experience, the many ancient Temples, Shrines, beautiful gardens and other amazing sights and then there's the culinary experience, so totally different to anything we have ever tasted before. And then there is the Japanese people themselves, who are just a lovely gracious people who will go out of their way to help total strangers in their country.

    In Japan, everyone bows.......We really enjoyed it and it is a very gracious act, everyone you meet will bow to you in greeting, from hotel staff to shop vendors and everyone you interact with in between. It really is a lovely experience although at times quite humbling. Even people you sit next to on a train will bow to you when they alight, the same for catching an elevator, they will also bow and offer a greeting.

    They were so very helpful to us even though not many spoke any English. They are also very honest and will go out of their way to assist you in any way they can. We were amazed at the lengths they will go to help, but more on that later on in our journey.

    Osaka is the third largest of Japan's cities with a population of 2.6 million people......surprisingly this is the population at night. During the day it surges to over 3.7 million people, highlighting its status as Japan's second most powerful economic city. It was formerly known as Naniwa and was the first Capital of Japan under the rule of Emperor Toyotomi Hideyoshi. This was before the Nara Period when the Capital moved with each new Emperor.

    We stayed in Namba which is known as the entertainment district of Osaka.....it's a bustling area at any time of the day or night and is a great base from which to explore the city and surrounds. Our hotel (Swissotel) was above the major train station in Namba and as train travel is the best and quickest way to explore the city, we were so glad we had made this decision.

    The view from our Hotel



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    It took us quite a while to work out the train system, we do not normally use trains and travelled on more trains in our time in Japan than we have in our whole lives at home. The train stations are huge, mainly underground and have so many different tracks, systems and levels that our first venture into them had us standing there, bewildered, laughing and lost with oodles of people darting everywhere around us. The lines are owned by many different companies also which adds to the confusion. Luckily there is a site which combines all these different lines and services from which you can find the best train/s to get you where you want to go.....Hyperdia.

    Our first train trip from Kansai Airport found us on the wrong train but on the right track, which we were so very thankful for. Taking a train from the airport is one of the easiest and probably the cheapest way to travel to the City....there is a station at the Airport and this takes about 40 minutes depending on where you stay.

    Our second train trip also found us on the wrong train, but the right track but when we emerged from the station, we didn't have a clue where we were. We were surrounded by tall buildings so couldn't see anything that was familiar to us and this is where my iPad mini 3g came to the rescue. I had downloaded maps of the Cities we would be visiting in Japan before leaving home, so it was just a case of opening my map and the GPS locator revealed where we were. We were then able to make our way to where we should have been. This is 1 great reason to buy a cellular iPad.

    It's also a very good idea to find out which exit to take from any station because it literally can take you an hour of walking to get back to the exit you should have taken, which we also certainly discovered.

    In regards to Internet and phone usage. For security reasons you cannot just buy a sim from a store in Japan, although you can hire one and there are many companies on the net offering this service. But be aware, Japan runs on CDMA protocol and therefore there is no guarantee that one of these sims will work in your phone. For this reason, you can then just hire a phone with a sim. We didn't look into the pricing for this as we elected to take our own phones for emergencies only and opted to use our iPads to keep in touch with our families. There is not many places which offer free wifi either, well Starbucks do (yes, for all you coffee lovers, there are Starbuck stores in all major cities) but to register you will need Internet coverage first to do so. Most hotels do offer wifi, some, at an extra cost. We elected to hire a mifi which came with unlimited downloads for when we weren't in our hotel. There are many of these Companies on the net and the price will range from about $100 to $170 for a 2 week period, so it pays to shop around. We went with a Company called Japan Wireless. You can arrange to pick the mifi up from the Post Office of any Airport or can elect to have it delivered to your hotel. They supply a reply paid addressed envelope to return the mifi and this can be dropped off at the Post Office at the Airport before you leave on your flight home. It really was very simple and even though there is no guarantee that it will work everywhere, ours did have very good coverage and speed whenever we used it and this was even while travelling on many trains.
    The mifi will allow you to link up to 5 devices to it at any one time which comes in handy.

    One of the first things you will notice about Japan is how very clean it is, second will be the vending machines. They are literally everywhere with banks of them selling every type of hot or cold beverage there is, so you will never go thirsty, and they are well priced, a bottle of water or can of soft drink will cost about $1.50 or less. You can even buy Alcoholic beverages from some of them, and food and cigarettes as well as some others things I won't mention here.

    Etiquette is ranked very highly in Japan, it is very rare to see anyone walking down the street, eating, drinking or smoking. It will most likely be tourists if you do see anyone doing this.

    We took a day trip to Nara which was once also the Capital of Japan, lending its name to the Nara period. It is approx a 40 minute train trip from Namba......many choose to stay the night here as there is so much to see, so if you're not going to stay the night, go early.



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    There are bus tours which begin at Nara Station but as the first sights are only a 15 minute leisurely walk from the station, many choose to just walk. There is a Tourist Travel shop at the station where maps are available for free.

    A wonderful experience here are the many tame deer. Legend has it that a mythical god arrived in Nara on a white deer to guard the newly built Capital, since then they have been regarded as heavenly animals protecting the city and country. They scavenge for food and even scraps of paper to eat which I found out when one of them snatched my map away and promptly ate it. There are vendors who sell wafers to feed the deer and it really is an experience not to be missed.



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    If you hold a piece of wafer in front of a deer and raise it high, they will then nod their heads up and down as if to ask for the food. They really are lovely and very tame and like to be petted but as with any animals, you need to be cautious at times.



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    Nara encompasses many World Heritage listed Temples and Shrines, many set within large gardens with green lawns, rambling brooks and beautiful shrines scattered amongst it. It's a beautiful peaceful area to stroll through with the deer rambling around you.

    5 story Pagoda, Tokondo and the National Treasure Museum. The Pagoda is the second tallest in Japan, standing at 50 metres. It was first built in 730 and was most recently rebuilt in 1426.



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    It really is a lovely walk from here past parks where there are many deer. You will find many others doing the walks with you, so there really isn't a need to keep referring to your map. There are many shops along the way for food or drink. A fav of ours was the soft serve ice cream cones being sold in many shops for just over $1. They are delicious, green tea flavour being a favourite of the Japanese. I found the vanilla and chocolate to be very nice.



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    What we saw next appear between the trees astounded us with it's immense size. The Nandaimon Gate.....a large wooden gate which houses 2 fierce looking statues. These represent the Nio Guardian Kings and are National treasures as is the gate itself.



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    This is the approach to Todaji Temple which has its own very majestic gate.



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    Todaji Temple also known as the Great Eastern Temple is one of Japan's most famous and historically significant temples. It was constructed in 752 as the head Buddhist Temple.



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    The main hall, the Daibutsuden is the worlds largest wooden building despite the fact that it was rebuilt at two thirds it's size in 1692 after a fire. It houses one of Japan's largest statues of Buddha which is 15 metres tall and flanked on either side by Bodhisattvas (one on the path to enlightenment)



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    There are several smaller Buddhist statues here and models of former buildings which were once part of this site. One of the main pillars of the building has a hole through it at the base which is the size of the nostril of the Buddha. Those who can squeeze through this opening are said to be granted enlightenment in their next life.



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    This statue, which we found kinda scary is Pindola Bharadvaja. If you have an ailment, it is said if you rub the area on the statue where your ailment is and then rub the same area on your own body, the ailment will disappear. Hmmmm.....



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    The Great Bell of Todaji Temple. It is the second largest bell in Japan and weighs 48 tons. It has a beautiful tone when struck and resonates for quite some time.



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    You can wander all around this area and see many other Temples and Shrines. You will also see many school children at all the major Temples in Japan and they will practice saying hello to you, one after the other.....it's quite funny and very sweet. My hubby bamboozled them all by answering back G'day, I would then counter with a Hello.

    There are rickshaws for hire here also and it's very nice to be able to sit down and rest while being taken on a leisurely ride to the next Shrine.



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    Kasuga Taisha Shrine was established at the same time as the Capital and is Nara's most celebrated Shrine. It has been rebuilt every 20 years over many centuries as was the custom but this has now ceased.
    Although while we were there they did have certain areas closed off and were in the process of rebuilding.



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    Kasuga Taisha is famous for its lanterns and there are thousands which have been donated by worshipers. These lanterns are lit twice a year at the time of the Lantern Festivals. We would have loved to have seen this as there is just so many of them and it would be such a beautiful sight.



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    There are over a dozen other shrines in the woods surrounding Kasuga Taisha.




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    Osaka did once have many Temples and Shrines but sadly most of these were lost during the war. We did however visit Osaka Castle.
    Nothing prepares you for what you will first see when coming upon it. The Castle is surrounded by a moat and not just any old moat, this one is just huge and awe inspiring.



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    The construction of the Castle first began in 1583 but then was destroyed in 1615. It was then rebuilt in the 1620's but it's main castle tower was struck by lightning in 1665 and burnt down. It was not until 1931 that the tower was rebuilt. It somehow miraculously survived the city wide air raids during the war.



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    The Castle is surrounded by other citadels, gates, Shrines, turrets, huge stone walls and of course the moats.



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    The Castle parks are just beautiful with hundreds of cherry blossom trees planted around it and covers an area of 2 square kilometres.
    We can attest to the size of this amazing structure, having walked around the entire perimeter wandering around the extensive gardens.



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    We were so very excited to see inside this castle especially after being so delighted with the many beautiful gardens but it was a disappointment to find that it has been totally modernised and now houses a museum on the Castle.....very informative, yes, but we would have loved to have seen what it once was.

    Well by this stage it was absolutely pouring rain, so we decided to do some other type of exploring.

    Dotonbori......which is actually pronounced Dotombori. It is a single street running beside the Dotonbori Canal and is one of the principal tourist areas in Osaka. It was a former Pleasure District and was then famous for its historic theatres which are now all gone. It is now all shops, restaurants, pachinko parlours, karaokes and amazing neon signs and full of people no matter what the time of day or night. It is a street that never sleeps.




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    And crossing this canal and running for block after block are covered shopping arcades filled with everything you can think of and more. It really is an amazing experience to wander down these arcades and eat, shop and gawk till you drop.



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    Next stop is Kyoto......and that's a whole other story....stay tuned!

    References : Site Brochures, Japan Guide
     
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  2. scifan57

    scifan57 Super Moderator Staff Member

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    What a wonderful article! I await part 2.
     
  3. giradman

    giradman iPad Super Guru

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    Thanks for the commentary & the numerous pictures - very nice, indeed! Dave :)
     
  4. skimonkey

    skimonkey Administrator Staff Member

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    Wow--pretty awesome pics of your trip Leelai! The history there is just so fascinating. It's nice to see that these temples are restored every 20 years or at least they were for a time. I also wasn't aware of the number of deer there. Had no idea that they were considered "Heavenly"--what a treat to be able to feed it up close like that!

    Now those arcades...were they game arcades like our casino slots here? Did you also venture out and eat at some of the local eateries there? We often like to do that to get a flavor of the surroundings we're in.

    Anyways, looking forward to the next log! :)
     
  5. col.bris

    col.bris Administrator Staff Member

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    Fantastic Picts and story Leelai, We are planning a Japan holiday 2014 so will come knocking on your door for hints and tips.


    Colin
     
  6. leelai

    leelai Administrator Staff Member

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    Thank you everyone.....glad you all enjoyed this!

    Ski......the deer are just beautiful, it was such a treat to be so close and to be able to pet them. I was thinking of you here actually and of the deer who roam at your place!

    The pachinko parlours do have regular slot machines also. They all take tokens as gambling is not allowed, but then you can cash in your tokens and also collect prizes.



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    Hubby trying to get away from 2 deer who just didn't want to let him go.



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    Photos aren't allowed in these parlours but I managed to get 2 shots before being told. ;)

    There are traditional eateries everywhere with those silicone examples of the food on offer. It's very hard sometimes to work out just what is represented at times. But yes we did eat at many of these and soon realised that just like we only have westernised Chinese food at home the same holds true for Japanese food also. I looked for teriyaki chicken everywhere and just didn't find it. You won't find Sushi trains either, well we never did and the sushi is the sashimi kind, which I really didn't take to. We did eat a traditional meal but I will show you that later on in our trip. The food was very nice though and quite the surprise at times.

    Col......I've got plenty of tips anytime you need them. I'm excited at the prospect that you will also visit this amazing country.
     
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  7. skimonkey

    skimonkey Administrator Staff Member

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    I love that pic of the two deer taking a liking to your hubby! Did he have treats that he gave them and that is why they won't let him leave? My husband would love seeing all that deer! They all looks so well fed and quite healthy. A bit smaller then a Northern Whitetail though!

    Plachinko--yes, I've heard of that here, but never played with one before.
     
  8. leelai

    leelai Administrator Staff Member

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    Yes, he did have wafers in that bag he has but he was trying to share them around, these 2 just kept following him for ages. :D

    I've played pachinkos here, they can be a lot of fun but so frustrating!
     
  9. scifan57

    scifan57 Super Moderator Staff Member

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    Leelai, did you see any of those fancy coffee vending machines with the video screen on the front, so you can see your cup of coffee being brewed inside the machine?
     
  10. skimonkey

    skimonkey Administrator Staff Member

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    Aha! I wondered if he had treats! Deer has such a good sense of smell! ;)
     
  11. leelai

    leelai Administrator Staff Member

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    No.....didn't see those, that would have been cool!

    Their train passes work on the vending machines though....I thought that was very clever.
     
  12. leelai

    leelai Administrator Staff Member

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    In the mornings they are all around you trying to get at those wafers, by the afternoon, they've had their fill from scavenging from everyone and will then just lay around everywhere.....sooo cute.

    Forgot to post this sign too.....didn't see them behave badly though, but I guess they have to have them just in case.



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  13. skimonkey

    skimonkey Administrator Staff Member

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    Oh my goodness, I love the illustrations on the warning sign!! That's too funny, especially the "bite" pic! Did you see a lot of deer with antlers roaming around? Just curious--I didn't see any in the pics you posted!
     
  14. leelai

    leelai Administrator Staff Member

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    They had some great signs like this.....which were very funny.....especially the smoking signs.....I'm saving those ones for now. ;)

    No, none of the dear have antlers, these are cut off every year in a special ceremony. I did see some youngsters though with very small nubs.

    Maybe they just show them in the sign for illustration purposes.....I don't think you'd know it was a dear without them! ;)
     
  15. The OB

    The OB Super Moderator Staff Member

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    Wow leelai I just came across this while browsing. Now that is the way to do a travelogue! Great photos and a fantastic write-up. You obviously enjoyed Japan and learned a lot of its culture. Reading this...a great way to spend an evening. Thank you for a very entertaining and informative post. Can't wait for the next episode:)
    Andrew


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    Last edited: Nov 27, 2013

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