Tokyo & Kyoto, an introduction

Do you want to stay on earth but travel to a different planet? You can go to Japan! From the outside it may look like a technologically advanced, rich, modern but traditional Asian country, but everything is hidden in the details. When you are there pay attention to every thing you see, you will then realise that from the salt on the table to the chestnut package you buy on the street everything is in an aesthetic harmony; from the gate keeper on the subway to the cleaner every one moves with...

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Tokyo: A Walk from Akasaka to the Hills of Roppongi

Tokyo is hardly a historical city; most of the city was destroyed during the Second World War. It is a miracle of Japanese discipline and hard-work that it thrived into one of the most developed centers of the world in such a short time. Although some historical sites remain, they are limited to the Asakusa region and Chiyoda region that includes the old palace. I am staying in the Asakusa region; to the south of here is Roppongi which has recently become popular, especially with the art...

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National Art Center

There are the National Art Center, Mori Museum and Suntory Museum in the district called Roppongi Art Triangle. National Art Museum is a place mostly devoted to traditional art. We came across two Japanese calligraphy exhibitions here. Japanese calligraphy is an art we are familiar with: writings in ink, on long and narrow pieces of cloth, in the Japanese alphabet, similar to hat, the Turkish calligraphy art. They are very aesthetic visually and not knowing the meaning of writings does not...

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Takashi Murakami in Mori Modern Art Museum

Our next stop is Mori Museum which is in walking distance from the National Art Center. This museum is in an upscale district and located on the top floor of Mori Tower. The person after which it is named, Mori Minoru, was apparently a real estate tycoon and one of the wealthiest businessmen of the world, who played an important part in the construction and development of the Rappongi district into its present state. We visited a very interesting exhibition here: the exhibition of the...

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Edo Tokyo Museum

Taking the Ginza line from Akasaka Mitsuke station, I am heading to north, and getting off at Ryogoku stop. My destination is Edo Tokyo Museum. Lucky that there are signs starting at the stop which point to it; otherwise it would be a problem to find the way around here. As soon as you enter the museum a childish cheerfulness takes over you, as if you entered into an ancient Tokyo made with toys. A wooden bridge, wooden houses, palaces, and toy figures which are the replicas of the old town...

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Asakusa, Tokyo

Asakusa District is one of the few remaining historical sites of Tokyo. It is hard to see a historical building in Tokyo because the city was re-built after the end of the Second World War. Asakusa is a historical neighbourhood and its main attraction is Senso-ji Temple. The road to the temple is abundant in shops; gift shops, ice cream parlours, candy shops, walnut shops…It feels like a fair here with hundreds of people who came to visit the temple even on a working day. The temple looks...

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A River Journey from Asakusa to Hamarikyu Gardens

I am taking a tourist ferry departing from Asakusa and travelling down the river. It is a sunny day and I like getting some sea air. But it is not a sea but a river, Sumida River which connects the two sides of Tokyo through many bridges. The silhouette of the city is composed by skyscrapers. Tokyo may not have a geography or city silhouette you would admire looking up like Istanbul or Rio de Janeiro, but the things which may pique your curiosity are the details; the shops you enter, its...

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Hamarikyu Gardens

I am getting off the ferry at this spot and walking at Hamarikyu Gardens. Originally the private residence of the Shogun and his family in the 17th century, the Hamarikyu Gardens are today open to the public. It is a green spot for some fresh air in the massive city of Tokyo. There is a tea house over its lake: you enter taking off your shoes, they serve you fluorescent green macha tea in ceramic cups and you start watching the ducks on the lake, ordering one more cup of tea. The several cups...

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Ginza

Ginza is one of the most posh neighbourhoods of Tokyo which offers internationally renowned brands and shopping centres. Tokyo is a quiet expensive city and this place is one of the most expensive neighbourhoods. Though funny enough, you can have an amazing meal at a reasonable price at one of the kiosk-like eateries which are located in every corner here. I am coming across a tempura place: noodles boiling in water, with fried prawns on top, which is very cheap. It tastes better with one of...

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Travelling by Train in Japan: from Tokyo to Kyoto

Most of you must have heard of the famous speed trains of Japan, those which approach the station like space ships. They are called Shinkansen, the speed trains which travel the around 450 kilometres between Tokyo and Kyoto in 2 to 2.5 hours. These trains which actually operate between Tokyo and Osaka stop in Kyoto. The tickets are hardly cheap, and you pay a lot more if you book a seat but if you don’t just as I didn’t, you can easily find a seat because they depart in every ten minutes....

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Kyoto Tour by Bicycle: Kennin-ji

Kyoto is a city of rivers, bicycles and most importantly temples. I rented a bicycle and explored first the east side and then the west side of the city for two days. It is a flat city except for a few sloped roads. There are so many cyclists that they have bicycle roads and bicycle parking slots here. I am riding on one of the bridges over the river and heading east. The first attraction I stop at is obviously a temple. I am parking my bicycle, buying a ticket and walking in the temple. I...

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Kiyomizudera, Kyoto

This attraction located in the Higashiyama region of Kyoto is on the UNESCO heritage list: its construction goes as far back as the 8th century and it is a building rising on a wooden platform on the outskirts of a mountain. Its interior is packed with people. Although it is the second week of December, the surrounding mountains are dressed in a thousand hues of red and yellow. Local Japanese tourists in their kimonos are striking a pose many times perhaps to capture both the colours of the...

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Maruyama Park and Chion-in

I am riding my bicycle up Kiyomizudera and somewhat towards the west. My destination is Ginkakuji, but I cannot help stopping on my way because there is a temple or a park in every corner on my route. I am arriving at a park: all autumn colours here deserve admiration. This is Maruyama Park, with a pond in the centre and red trees around it. I am coming across a temple at the exit of the park. Again I am parking my bicycle and entering it at once. This is Chion-in, the centre of Jodo-Shu, a...

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Ginkaku-ji, Kyoto

Today’s last stop is Ginkaku-ji located to the north of the east side of Higashiyama District of Kyoto. It is getting dark and I know that the place closes at five p.m. It takes longer to get there by bicycle than I expected. I am passing over the main roads, stopping to ask people for directions and somehow managing to get there before it closes. This is another temple on the UNESCO heritage list: the Silver Pavilion Temple. It was originally built as a mountain house and was later on...

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Shimogamo Jinja Temple

This is one of the oldest Shinto temples in Japan, built in a forest in the 6th century. I am passing through a park and then the red Shinto doors to enter the temple. Like other Shinto temples, it consists of a few halls where you can make a wish and pray. My curiosity is piqued by families with babies, and groups of brides, grooms and their families who came here to have their pictures taken, probably because it is Sunday. I am watching them for a while. All smart and perfect in their...

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Kinkakuji (Rokuon-ji), Kyoto

My last stop on the west side of The Hiroshiyama region of Kyoto is Kinkakuji Temple: just like Ginkakuji, this place too was originally built as a Shogun residence and altered into a temple. Its name is taken from the villa facing the west which is covered in gold. The reason why they used gold is, apart from being a precious metal, gold symbolises purging the mind of negative thoughts about death and creates a nice effect with its reflection on the water. There are ten isles in the pond in...

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Nara: the First Capital City

I devoted one of the days I spent in Kyoto to Nara. You can travel to Nara in about 40 minutes, taking a train from Kyoto Station. Just as Kyoto seemed peaceful and quiet compared to Tokyo, even a quieter atmosphere welcomed me in Nara: this small city which has historical importance as the first capitol city is located on the outskirts of a mountain. You can walk to most of the attractions. The park, the deer strolling around and mountain air will do good to you. When you exit the station...

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Todai-ji, Nara

This is a Buddhist temple dating back to the 8th century which accommodates the biggest bronze Buddha statue in the world. The temple building itself held the world record for the biggest wooden building for a long time and it is also the centre of the Kegon sect of Buddhism. After the first entrance, you pass through a courtyard and arrive at another door: if you buy a ticket here and walk in, you will pass through another courtyard and find yourself at the building which houses the famous...

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Kasuga-Taisha, Nara

Another example, illustrating how Shintoism and Buddhism coexisted as two major religions, is in Nara: After passing by Todai-ji, you would walk through a park and arrive at a Shinto temple. The deer may surround you while walking through the forest: because they are considered to be holy animals, they move around freely in this area. After visiting many Shinto temples, I look around for and spot the big red door at the entrance following the big wooden sign with an up-to-down writing in...

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Arashiyama, Kyoto

This is my last day in Kyoto and my destination is the west side of the city called Arashiyama District. Because it is farther away from the centre, I decided to take a bus instead of riding my bike. The buses operate perfectly just like the trains here. After stopping at each stop, we arrive at the riverside. It is starting to drizzle and the mountains surrounding the river look more enchanted in the colors of autumn. ;

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Arashiyama and Tenryu-ji Temple

This is my last day in Kyoto and my destination is the west side of the city called Arashiyama District. Because it is farther away from the centre, I decided to take a bus instead of riding my bike. The buses operate perfectly just like the trains here. After stopping at each stop, we arrive at the riverside. It is starting to drizzle and the mountains surrounding the river look more enchanted in the colours of autumn. My first visit is to a zen temple, Tenryu-ji. This is the main temple of...

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Sagano Bamboo Grove and Okochi Sansou Garden

If you walk up from the northern exit of Tenryu-ji temple you will end up at a path with a canopy of bamboo trees overhead. Long and thin bamboos shoot upward to the sky sporting leaves and form a roof over your head. It is like another planet here. So chilly like a fairy tale land. As I finish the path of bamboos I am coming across another garden at the end of the road surrounded by bamboos to the left. This place was built as the private residence of Denjiro Okochi , the famous film artist...

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