wot u been doing?

11 02 2011

So you might have noticed that yamaonna has changed a little recently. Since I’m leaving this job soon I’ve started some preparation for my next adventure – the 88 Temple Pilgrimage in Shikoku! Whist I’m taking my ‘walkabout’ I plan on blogging at iHenro (link above in the menu bar), but until then yamaonna will still be my primary blog. To be honest, after I leave Japan I’m not sure if yamaonna will be continuing, and that’s why I’ve moved my Hikes page to my main page. Anyway, we’ll see how it all works out.

Also talking about preparations for leaving, I spent most of my free time in January working through my ‘Tokyo to-do list’. Part of my list included quite a number of museums, galleries and zoos in Tokyo, so I decided to take advantage of the Grutt Pass, a pass that gives you access to over 70 facilities in Tokyo for 2000 yen. In a month I was able to go to 21 different places, basically for free 😀

Not surprisingly the things I enjoyed the most have been the science museums. I had been to the National Museum of Nature and Science and the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation previously, but with the pass I revisited the first and also went to the Science Museum and Risupia. I can say all of them are top quality science museums and very engaging for kids, but unfortunately there wasn’t much English, except for Risupia. Risupia is quite unique in that it makes maths fun! It was the biggest surprise out of everything I went to. I did not expect it to be so well done, but as it’s also a showcase for Panasonic I shouldn’t have been so surprised that everything was shiny.

My other surprise was in the Tokyo Zoos. I had always heard bad reviews of Ueno Zoo, saying it only had small concrete cages and seemed quite cruel to the animals, but it’s obvious that the zoo is undergoing renovations and what has been done looks really good. And they have quite a variety of animals. Tama Zoo was also very good, with some very interesting exhibits like a huge butterfly dome, a bus ride through the lion enclosure and koalas (^-^)v Lastly was Inokashira Zoo in Kichijoji park, which is great for kids with a petting area filled with guinea pigs and a squirrel enclosure that puts you right up close with the scary little things.

ready to attack!

ready to attack!

Other than museums and zoos, I also went to a few galleries. The Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo is one that I always enjoy, although this time I was a little surprised at one display in the permanent exhibit (sorry, but a Penis Kaleidoscope is not my idea of art. really, I kid you not.). And the Domani exhibit at the National Art Centre was very enjoyable. I particularly like Kanae Toyama’s work, but unfortunately photos don’t do her work justice. The Crafts Gallery of the National Museum of Modern Art was displaying a very impressive selection of it’s doll collection, and it was amazing to see what can be done with just paper in some cases.

Kiyosumi Gardens

Kiyosumi Gardens

There are a couple of places I wanted to mention lastly. Overall my best day out was at Kiyosumi, where the above mentioned Museum of Contemporary Art is located, as well as a charming little history museum – the Fukugawa Edo Museum, which shows a mock-up of life in Kiyosumi approximately 170 years ago, and the Kiyosumi Gardens, which is small, but very pretty and well priced at only 150 yen. And finally, although not part of the Grutt Pass, but free and quite interesting was the Konica Minolta Plaza in Shinjuku. At the time they had an exhibition by George Steinmetz, who is an amazing photographer for National Geographic, and takes beautiful and amazing photos. Definitely worth looking at!

So, it’s been a busy January. And there still are a few more places I want to visit. Luckily I still have over a month left in Tokyo, although I know it will fly!

Shinjuku Gyoen Kiku and Roses 新宿御苑 菊とバラ

28 01 2011

Ogiku Chrysanthemums

Ogiku Chrysanthemums

Kiku 菊 (Chrysanthemum) are another symbol of Japan, particularly the Imperial Family, and the Imperial Family’s Chrysanthemum crest can found all over Japan on buildings, and even on the Japanese passport. Fittingly, the Imperial Family Household holds a Kiku Exhibition in Shinjuku Gyoen from November 1st to 15th.

The exhibition not only gives you a chance to see some beautiful and unusual varieties of Kiku and traditional ways to display them, but also coincides with autumn roses (‘bara’ バラ in Japanese) flowering in the French garden, and the start of leaves turning to their autumn colours all over the park. Entrance to the park is 200 yen, and it can be accessed from Shinjuku-gyoenmae Station (1-2 minute walk), Shinjuku-sanchome Station (3-5 minute walk), Shinjuku Station South Exit (10 minute walk), Sendagaya Station (5 minute walk), and Kokuritsu-kyogijo Station (5 minute walk).

Here are a few photos I took on November 13th.

A traditional Ozukuri bed of Kiku

A traditional Ozukuri bed of Kiku

Edo Variety of Kiku, which changes in appearance as it opens

Edo Variety of Kiku, which changes in appearance as it opens

Ichimonji variety of Kiku, from which the Imperial Family crest is inspired

Ichimonji variety of Kiku, from which the Imperial Family crest is inspired

Fallen autumn leaves

Fallen autumn leaves

Cream Delight Rose

Cream Delight Rose

More photos can be seen in my flickr set.

Six Months (and not counting)

18 10 2010

Well, it’s official. I’m moving back to Australia sometime next year. I’ve decided not to sign a new contract, so from April I’ll be a free agent. I can’t tell you how much I look forward to not teaching (the little sh*ts).

Actually, my job is still pretty good, and the holidays are still brilliant, but it’s time to move back to the ‘real world’ and get a career. I never wanted to be an English teacher for the rest of my life, and so, I need to start trying for what I want.

Living in Japan for a long period of time has been great. I came (this time) with 3 goals in mind – travel as much of the country as I can, climb Mt Fuji, and pass the Japanese Language Proficiency Test Level 2. I’m pretty happy to say I’ve achieved the first two, and I’m going to make my final attempt of Level 2 in December.

But there are still things I have yet to do. Like go to Ueno Zoo, or Shikoku even… So I made a list (If you haven’t noticed, I like to list things). My 6 month list has a lot on it already, so I won’t bore you with the details, but most things I’ll post about over the next 5 months or so will be things from the list.

For example, the other week I went to the Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum. I’ve been meaning to go there for years, and I just lucked out in that on the day I went it was free admission.

The museum is in Kogane park, and contains a number of buildings from Tokyo over the last 200 years or so. In particular, I wanted to go because some of the buildings were used as inspiration for the Studio Ghibli movie Spirited Away. Like the Public Bathhouse –

And the Stationary Store –

But the thing that really struck me was how much I’m going to miss the little details when I leave Japan, like shaped windows and rice paper –

bamboo –

lattice work –

carvings –

and of course gardens –

Although it wasn’t the best examples I’ve seen, the museum was a pleasant day out.  And just enough to satisfy my taste for the Japanese aesthetic.  Check out my other photos on flickr!

Kairakuen Ume 偕楽園 梅

18 04 2010
Kairakuen Gate

Kairakuen Gate

Another very famous place to see Ume (Japanese Plum) is Kairukuen 偕楽園 in Mito 水戸, Ibaraki 茨城県.  Kairakuen 偕楽園 is actually known as one of the Three Great Gardens of Japan, and has over 3000 plum trees.  The Mito Plum Festival 水戸梅まつり is held every year from February 20th to March 31st, and lends the garden a fun, festival feel on top of the plum blossom viewing.

Kairukuen 偕楽園 is accessible from Kairukuen Station 偕楽園駅 during the festival, but trains are irregular.  It is also approximately 30 minutes walk from Mito Station 水戸駅.  Entrance to the park is free, but to enter Kobuntei 好文亭 (The traditional Japanese house) is 190yen.  More details are available on the Kairukuen 偕楽園 website.

Here are some photos from my visit to the park on March 18th.

View towards the lake

View towards the lake

As you can see, on a Sunday during the festival there are a lot of visitors at the park



Kobuntei was also really popular, with lines over 30 minutes just to enter.

White and Pink Plum Blossoms

White and Pink Plum Blossoms

The day I went to the park the blossoms were about 80% in bloom, and there was quite a variety.

Green Plum Blossoms

Green Plum Blossoms

These blossoms were unusual as they have a green center.  I was listening to a guide who said that even a week before the green was very strong.

White Plum Blossoms

White Plum Blossoms

Kairakuen also has a bamboo grove and cedar wood –

If you want to see some more pictures check out my flickr set.

Also, keep an eye out for my food report from the festival!

Hike – Kamakura Ten-en Hiking Course 天園ハイキングコース

25 01 2010

Meigetsu-in Main Hall

Quick Overview

Another pleasant hike from Kita Kamakura Station 北鎌倉駅 to Kamakura-gu Shrine 鎌倉宮.  There are a few temples of interest along the way, and great views of Kamakura town 鎌倉.  On a clear day you can even see Mount Fuji 富士山.  Unfortunately not well signed, and has many stairs and steep rocky areas.  Probably not for the kids, but easy for most people of average fitness.

If you are interested in this hike, you might also be interested in the Kamakura Daibutsu Hiking Course.

Distance: 7 km
Duration: 2 – 2.5 hours
Difficulty: easy – medium
Season:  Suitable all year (but a bit dangerous when wet – slippery rocks)
Starting point:  Kita Kamakura Station 北鎌倉駅
Finishing point:  Kamakura-gu Shrine 鎌倉宮 


A map of the hike  can also be viewed at GPSies

There are a number of nice walks in the hills surrounding Kamakura 鎌倉.  The Mapple website has a map of the area that includes the trails – http://map.mapple.net/_mdspot_sc40000_sidG01401136102_lon139.5506925_lat35.3307686111111/index.htm, but is only in Japanese.  The trail head for the Kamakura Daibutsu hiking course is marked by the flag, and all walking trails are marked with a blue dashed line.

The Hike

Meigetsu-in Entrance

From Kita Kamakura Station 北鎌倉駅, take the Enrakuji Temple 円覚寺 exit and turn right.  Only a few meters down the road is Engakuji Temple 円覚寺, the second in Kamakura’s top five Zen temples (admission is 300 yen).  It’s quite an extensive temple, and is also known for its changing leaves in Autumn.  Continue along the road for about 10 minutes and you will see a sign for Meigetsu-in Temple 明月院 (admission is 300 yen).  Take the road to the left, and the temple isn’t far along, it’s just where the road bends.  I can highly recommend this temple, it has a small but lovely garden famous for hydrangeas (June/July), and the main hall has a round window with beautiful views of the garden.

Entrance to Kenchoji

Entrance to Kenchoji

Returning to the main road next to the rail lines, keep headed away from the train station, following the signs to Kenchoji Temple 建長寺 (admission is 300 yen).  Kenchoji 建長寺 is on the left hand side, and to access the trail head you have to enter the temple.  There is another trail head close to Meigetsu-in 明月院 in the residential area behind it, but personally I couldn’t find it.  Within Kenchoji 建長寺 head past the main hall on the left hand side, and you will reach stairs.  Follow these stairs to the top where you will find a temple.  On the right hand side of the temple you can walk a little further up to an observation platform where you can see Kamakura town 鎌倉 and Mount Fuji 富士山 on a clear day.From here the real hike begins.  For the first half of the hike follow the signs to Ten-en 天園 or Zuisenji Temple 瑞泉寺.  You will pass a few small bamboo groves and many Yagura, which are cave tombs from the Kamakura era.  Now, this trail has many unmarked trails leading from it, so it can be a little difficult to navigate.  My advice is to keep going in the same direction, keeping Kamakura town 鎌倉 on the right, and stay to the most used path.  This should get you to Zuisenji 瑞泉寺.

Ten-en Tea House

Ten-en Tea House

Once you reach Mt Ohirayama 大平山, the highest point along the trail, you will see a country club and golf course on the left.  Keep going ahead, and shortly after you will reach the Ten-en Tea House 天園茶屋, where you can buy some lunch or snacks.  To continue on, head past the tea house, and down hill a little, past another house.  Turn to the right and walk through a large bamboo grove before turning left to head to Zuisenji 瑞泉寺.  From now, follow any signs pointing towards Zuisenji 瑞泉寺.

There are a number of alternative paths again from this point, but if you follow the advice of staying to the most travelled paths you should get to Zuisenji 瑞泉寺.  If worse comes to worse, you are only in a small wooded area, and suburbia isn’t far away if you take a wrong turn.

Entrance to Zuisenji

Entrance to Zuisenji

The end of the trail is a small staircase with a map at the bottom, and then the street.  Take a right, and then another right to get to Zuisenji 瑞泉寺 (admission is 300 yen).  Zuisenji 瑞泉寺 is famous for its caves that overlook a pond (see my header picture).  It also has lovely narcissus (January), plum (Febuary), and hydrangeas (June/July).When leaving Zuisenji 瑞泉寺 keep following the road ahead.  It will eventually turn right, and on this corner is Kamakura-gu Shrine 鎌倉宮 (admission to the grounds free, Treasure house 300 yen).  A little bit further around the corner from the main gate is the bus stop for the bus back to Kamakura Station 鎌倉駅 (Bus #20).

To and From

As always, the following routes are just recommendations.  Please use Hyperdia or Jorudan’s Train Route Finder to find the most suitable route for you!

From Tokyo 東京, catch the JR Yokosuka line 横須賀線 to Kita Kamakura 北鎌倉駅.  It takes 50 minutes and costs 780yen.  Or from Shinjuku 新宿 you can catch the JR Shonan Shinjuku line 湘南新宿線 to Kita Kamakura 北鎌倉駅.  It takes 52 minutes and costs 890yen.  Trains run regularly on these lines.  Sometimes a train won’t take you the whole distance and you might need to change to go further on.

From Kamakura-gu Shrine 鎌倉宮 #20 buses leave regularly Kamakura Station 鎌倉駅 for 190yen.  Or you can walk back to the station in about 45 minutes.


Kamakura Today  http://www.kamakuratoday.com/e/index.html an English site with information on the sites in Kamakura

Mapple Map of Kamakura in Japanese http://map.mapple.net/_mdspot_sc40000_sidG01401136102_lon139.5506925_lat35.3307686111111/index.htm

Map of hike on GPSies http://www.gpsies.com/map.do?fileId=krlwluqtzmqdquny

My photo set on Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/michelelisa/sets/72157623260903464/

Useful Kanji

Kamakura 鎌倉
Ten-en Hiking Course 天園ハイキングコース
Kita Kamakura Station 北鎌倉駅
Kamakura-gu Shrine 鎌倉宮
Mount Fuji 富士山
Enrakuji Temple 円覚寺
Meigetsu-in Temple 明月院
Kenchoji Temple 建長寺
Ten-en 天園
Zuisenji Temple 瑞泉寺
Mt Ohirayama 大平山
Ten-en Tea House 天園茶屋
Kamakura Station 鎌倉駅
Tokyo 東京
Yokosuka line 横須賀線
Shinjuku 新宿
Shonan Shinjuku line 湘南新宿線

Kyushu Photo Blog

5 01 2010

My apologies for the irregular postings over the last few months.  Between the parental unit invasion and travel I’ve hardly been on the internet.  But I finally got around to sorting out my photos from Kyushu, and without further ado, here’s the photographic evidence. (warning, very image heavy!)

Day one in Nagasaki:

Oura Catholic Church, which is Japan’s oldest standing wooden church.

Glover Garden, a garden that is the home to 7 western style residences from the Meiji period.

Kakuni Manju, BBQ pork in a steamed bun.  Very very yummy!

Dejima is the island where Dutch traders were allowed to trade with the Japanese during the Tokugawa period.  Due to the Shogun closing Japan to westerners, Dejima was built to allow trade with the Dutch to continue.  Over the years the island was lost to reclaimed land, but recently the island and the buildings have been restored.  I found Dejima to be really fascinating.

Saru Udon

Champon, a Nagasaki speciality, is a cross between Japanese and Chinese food.  Many of the dishes in Kyushu have Chinese influences.

Day Two in Nagasaki:

A visit to the Peace Park, which is just up the road from the hypocenter of the atomic bomb blast.

Here is the monument (on the right) which marks the hypocenter, and a piece of the Urakami Cathedral that survived the bomb blast.  The Atomic bomb museum is only a short walk from here, and really, I can’t use words to describe it.  Going to a museum like this is one of the most sobering and somber experiences you can have.  If you have the chance, go!

Another relic of the bomb blast, the other half of this Torii gate was knocked down by the explosion.


Nagasaki City night view, said to be one of the three best in Japan.  Here you can see Nagasaki Station in the center of the picture.

Day 3 from Nagasaki to Kumamoto via Shimabara:

We caught the train from Nagasaki to Shimabara this day, and had a quick look around Shimabara Castle.  Shimabara is the peninsula where many Japanese Christians were killed in a revolt, and the castle had many relics of hidden Christians in the area on display.  However, the castle was nothing compared to the one at Kumamoto, so I won’t post any photos apart from this –

A Shimabara food, Rokobe Manju, a black steamed bun with sweet potato inside.

After that we went to the ferry and were in Kumamoto by sundown.

Day 4 in Kumamoto:

We started out by going to Kumamoto Castle, which was built by Kato Kiyomasa (above).

A castle turret with the walls of Nimaru and Honmaru (inner and second circle of the grounds).

A close up of the stone walls.

The main tower of the castle.

View from the main tower, looking at the reconstructed palace.

The guided meeting room of the lord of the castle (inside the palace).

Although a lot of the building are reconstructed, there are a few originals, and plenty to see.  We literally spent all morning there, and didn’t even realize we had missed lunch!

Next off to Suizenji Jojuen garden, which was first started in 1632, and depicts the 53 stations of the old Tokaido highway.  You can even see a miniature Mt Fuji.

Dinner that night was Kumamoto ramen.

Firstly Tonkotsu ramen.

Then a salt flavored broth.

And finally a Chinese style simmered pork on rice.  All very very yum!

Day 5 in Kumamoto:

We wanted to make a day trip to Aso, but unfortunately the weather didn’t agree with us, and instead we went to the Former residence of Hosokawa Gyobu, a Samurai house.

Mum and Dad found it really interesting because they had never been into a Samurai house like this.  There were quite surprised at how big it was.

Day 6 returning home:

Finally, on the plane home we were able to see Mt Fuji, and final treat to the holiday.

To see some more photos, please check out my Flickr set!

Kyushu day 4- Kumamoto day 1

18 12 2009

Today was our first day in Kumamoto. After eating breakfast at the hotel we set off to explore the Kumamoto castle grounds. The complex is actually quite extensive and includes a number of original stone walls, a few original buildings, and a few replicas. The main donjon is a replica, but looks spectacular, and the replica palace in the honmaru was gorgeous. All in all, it was really intresting, and we spent over 4 hours there before we even realised.
Next it was across town to Suienji Garden. This garden was built in the 1600’s, and simulates the Tokaido highway from Tokyo to Kyoto. It even had a minature Mt Fuji. It was very pretty, and mum was particular happy.
We ended the day with some Kyushu ramen (pictured below). Kyushu is famous for it’s tonkotsu ramen, which is my favourite, so I was really happy. We had one tonkotsu ramen, one salt flavored, and one meat and rice dish. Overall a rich meal, but really tasty!