Japan 12 June until 3 July 2015

Japan, a trip from Tokyo via Takayama to Kyoto.

Friday 12 June 2015 we took our flight to Tokyo via Helsinki. Two hours Amsterdam to Helsinki, 9 hours from Helsinki tot Tokyo. Our trip ended 3 weeks later. Fantastic.

Tokyo (13 until 19 June)

We arrived early Saturday morning. Our plan was to meet out friends from the US, Kathy and Martin (our special guide and interpreter) who was due to arrive 2 hours later. Some slight technical problems with Martins flight made him come 2 days later. So the three of us started our Japan trip. Our hotel Centurion Hotel Ikebukuro was conveniently situated.

On Sunday 14 June we went to Tokyo Sky Tree, a 650 m high television tower with 2 platforms for visitors. The visibility was not very good so we took the low level, 350 m high to view Tokyo. It was rather crowded in the building and it took us some 1½  hour to get to the viewpoints. Later that day we went to our first of many temples, Senso ji. It was very crowded, many people offering, asking for predictions, praying. Senso ji is in its origin a very old temple dedicated to the Buddhist goddess of mercy Kannon.
For more information see Japan guide (JP) page e3001.
pictures Senso-ji

Monday 15 June we visited Meiji shrine (still without Martin) and the district Shibuya. Meiji Shrine is a Shinto shrine dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji, who died in 1912 and his wife, Empress Shōken. Construction began in 1915 under Itō Chūta, and the shrine was built in the traditional nagare-zukuri style, using primarily Japanese cypress and copper.
For more information see JP page e3002.

The name "Shibuya" is also used to refer to the shopping district which surrounds Shibuya Station, one of Tokyo's busiest railway stations. This area is known as one of the fashion centres of Japan, particularly for young people, and as a major nightlife area. That evening Martin joined us for a beer.
pictures Meiji Shrine

The next day the Imperial palace and a Kabuki performance are on the program. Since Martin arrived our tempo increased. No time to waste, we have to see more of Japan. The imperial palace, residence of the Japanese imperial family, is – except the imperial East gardens - not open for visitors. The palace is located at the site of the former Edo castle, which  used to be the seat of the Tokugawa shogun. He ruled Japan from 1603 until 1867. In 1888 the new Imperial Palace was completed, destroyed during World War Two, but rebuilt. Some remains of the former castle tower are still present.
The gardens are the former site of Edo Castle's innermost circles of defence, the honmaru ("main circle") and ninomaru ("secondary circle"). None of the main buildings remain today, but the moats, walls, entrance gates and several guardhouses still exist.
For more information see JP page e3017.

After visiting the imperial palace we went to a Kabuki performance. It took 4 hours with some breaks to enjoy a drink or food in the well assorted shops in the foyer. Kabuki is a classical Japanese dance-drama. Kabuki theatre is known for the stylization of its drama and for the elaborate make-up worn by some of its performers. All the roles are played by men. The acts did not bore even one moment. No pictures allowed.
For more information about Kabuki.
pictures Imperial palace

Nikko (17 June)

Nikko is a village developed around three temples. The famous shrine of Nikkō Tōshō-gū was completed in 1617 and became a major draw of visitors to the area during the Edo period.
Tōshō-gū is dedicated to shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate. His remains are here entombed. The Tōshō-gū includes the richly decorated Yōmeimon, a gate that is also known as "higurashi-no-mon”.
For more information see JP page e3801.

The original five-story pagoda was donated by a daimyo in 1650. It was burned down during a fire and rebuilt in 1818. Each story represents an element - earth, water, fire, wind and aether or void - in ascending order.
pictures Nikko

Kamakura (18 June)

Kamakura is a coastal town less than an hour south from Tokyo by train and became the political centre of Japan in 1192. The Kamakura government continued to rule Japan for over a century. Kamakura is nowadays a very popular tourist destination and sometimes called the Kyoto of Eastern Japan with numerous temples, shrines and other historical monuments.

Hasedera, a temple of the Buddhist Jodo sect with a beautiful garden, is most famous for its statue of Kannon, the goddess of mercy. The statue shows Kannon with eleven heads, each representing a characteristic of the goddess, and is 9.18 meter tall. Another well-known attractions is the Great Buddha of Kamakura (Daibutsu), a bronze statue, 13.35 m high, which stands on the grounds of Kotokuin Temple.The statue, dated 1252 was originally located inside a large temple hall, which was destroyed by typhoons and a tidal wave in the 14th and 15th centuries. Since then the Buddha has been standing in the open air.
For more information see JP page e3101
 and page e3100.

Because of the rainy weather we started ánd after 3 minutes stopped and skipped our tracking through the hills where lots of various temples can be seen. We took the train to Kita-Kamakura, and visited first Enkaku-ji and then Tsurugaoka Hachimangu, Kamakura's most important shrine. It was founded by Minamoto Yoriyoshi in 1063, and enlarged and moved to its current site in 1180 by Minamoto Yoritomo, the founder and first shogun of the Kamakura government.
For more information see JP page e3102.

After a great day we met our friend from Langkawi Malaysia, Naoko. She took us to a famous Sashimi & Sushi restaurant Kikuzushi, with excellent food and a very cozy atmosphere. Just one of the places  where you have to be introduced. And indeed it was very special, “So, and what do you like to eat now?”
pictures Kamakura

Tokyo (19 June)

Friday 19 June Tokyo. We visited the Ueno park and the National Museum, the oldest and largest museum of Japan. The museum house the largest collection of national treasures and important cultural items in the country. The Ueno park, which is a large public park, is originally a part of the Kaneiji temple, a family temple of the ruling Tokugawa clan during the Edo period.
For more information for Ueno park see JP page e3019 and for the museum see page e3054.
pictures Tokyo museum

Takayama (20 until 22 June)

Saturday 20 June we left Tokyo for Takayama with the shinkansen train, maximum speed of around 320 km/hour. Takayama is a city still in the old style of the Edo period. It retains a traditional touch like few other Japanese cities, especially in its beautifully preserved old town, the Sannomachi district, dating from the Edo Period (1600-1868), at the time a wealthy town of merchants.
Our hotel was a ryokan, named Sumiyoshi, a type of traditional Japanese inn that originated in the Edo period (1603–1868). Typical at a ryokan are tatami-matted rooms, communal baths, and other public areas where visitors normally wear yukata (a kind of kimono). So, after returning from our daily work, we take a bath, dress up in the yukata and have diner in the ryokan, sometimes with beer and sometimes with sake.
For more information about Takayama see JP page e5900. 

On Sunday we went to the Gassho-zukuri houses in Hida Village. It is an open air museum of 30 houses which show the way of life in earlier days. The name of the house is based on the design of the roofs in the form of gassho, praying hands. The houses are built without the use of iron nails. From the village we have a beautiful view of the Japanese alps.
For more information about Gasshou.

The last day in Takayama, Monday 22 June we visited a former government building from 1615, built for the lord of Takayama. In 1692 the shogun made it a province house, the only still existing one. Objects concerning torture and rice taxes are exhibited.
pictures Takayama

Kanazawa (22 June)

From Takayama we continued our trip to Kanazawa. The Kanazawa castle was one of the biggest in the feudal Japan, but was almost completely destroyed by the flames in 1881.  A part of the castle is rebuild. After visiting the castle we went to the Kenroku-en garden, one of the 3 big gardens in Japan, originally applied in the 17th century. Kenroku-en means “garden with the 6 characteristics”, requirements for a Chines garden: space, seclusion, a tinge of antiquity, genius, flowing water and view.
For more information see JP page e4202
pictures Kanazawa

Kyoto (23 until 29 June) 

The next day we arrived in Kyoto and just walked a bit around the city ending in a typical Japanese bar to have a drink and a Korean bbq restaurant for diner. We stayed in hotel Itoya, rather conveniently situated, but too small for such a long stay.
pictures Kyoto

Wednesday 24 June. The Kyoto Imperial Palace, or Kyōto Gosho used to be the residence of Japan's Imperial Family until 1868, when the emperor and capital were moved from Kyoto to Tokyo. It is located in the spacious Kyoto Imperial Park, Kyōto Gyoen, in the centre of the city. Also the Sento Imperial Palace is situated there. Later that day we went to Kinkaku-ji, the temple of the golden pavilion, a beautiful site with a Zen garden, Ryoan-ji, dated from 1450. Kinkaku-ji was built by the 3th Ashikagashogun, Yoshimitsu around 1400, when he decided to become a Zen monk. For more information see JP page e3917 , e3935 and e3908.
pictures Kyoto imperial palace

The next day pictures  were not allowed in the big hall, the Sanjusangen-do, 1164,. In the world’s longest wooden building 1001 wooden statues of Kannon, the god of mercy are shown and the statues of the 28 helpers of Kannon. The biggest statue has 1000 arms and dates from 1254.
Later that day we saw less from the Higashi Hongan ji than expected. Partly under construction, but still very impressive. Visiting the Nishi Hongan ji, also a sect temple from the Jodo-Shinsu, we had a nice surprise. Walking to this temple we met a man who not only showed us the way to the temple, but also arranged a special tour for us in the – “not open for public part of the” - temple. He was, lucky for us, the director of de education department of the temple. But, pictures were not allowed off course.
For more information about the Sanjusangen-do and JP page e3920.
pictures Kyoto Sanjusangen-do

Osaka (26 June)

On Friday 26 June we took the shinkansen to Osaka. A rainy day with consequences: the baseball game was cancelled, a big disappointment. In Osaka we visited the Osaka shogun castle and the Museum. The castle, 1586, was the biggest castle in Japan at that time. It was almost completely destroyed by fire. The impressive donjon was reconstructed in 1931.
For more information see JP page e4000.

The historical museum shows a lot of live size reconstructions and miniatures of the city in the old and the recent years.
Because of the disappointment we allowed our self to have a splendid diner at a sushi-go-round bar. The colour of the plate indicates the price . . . Red is expensive, but so delicious . . .
pictures Osaka

Saturday we went to another interesting part of Kyoto,, Ginkaku-ji, Heian Jingu and Gion, the former geisha district. At the Ginkaku-ji, also called the silver pavilion,  lots of schoolchildren and Chinese tourists were present. The temple has a beautiful garden which, according to insiders, is a masterpiece of garden architecture. At the temple we “walked the 8” in the gate of Heian Jingu several times, all for family happiness, read more in JP page e3907. 
We had the lunch of our Japanese trip, a present from Martin and Kathy, in a small traditional Kyo-ryori, restaurant, named Minoko (“strong, good taste”) in the Gion district. Very special atmosphere and very, very tasty (“haute cuisine”).

The next on our schedule is Kyomizu-dera, which was very, very crowded with lots of mostly Chinese girls in kimono (recognisable because of their busy behaviour and they wear no socks).
For more information, see JP page e3901

We finished the day with a long walk in the Gion district with small street, typical houses and many tourist shops, see JP page e3902.  

Normally you do not see geisha’s (geiko’s in Kyoto) on the streets. To meet these artists you have to be invited by people who already are known to the houses. For us it was more than nice that, when walking back to the hotel and passing the Kyoto theatre some geiko’s (“child of art”) and maiko’s (student geiko’s, only in Kyoto) crossed suddenly and very fast our path.
For diner we had Shabu-Shabu and Sukiyaki organised by and with Naoko and her husband Takahiro and her friend Yuko (who I know both from a diving trip at Langkawi in 2002).
pictures Kyoto Ginkaku-ji, Gion

Himeji (28 June)

Sunday 28 June we made another beautiful and interesting trip to Himeji. The castle of Himeji is one of the 12 still original and the biggest shogun castle in Japan. Himeji Castle dates from 1333, when Akamatsu Norimura built a fort on top of Himeyama hill. It was rebuilt as Himeyama Castle in 1346. After a long period of restorations the castle was open for the public again since 27 March 2015. When the sun broke through later that day we enjoyed the beautiful views of the castle.
For more information see JP page e3501.
pictures Himeji

Monday 29 June another beautiful castle, Nijo Castle, Nijōjō was built in 1603 as the Kyoto residence of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shogun of the Edo Period (1603-1867). Its buildings are probably the best surviving examples of castle palace architecture of Japan's feudal era.
For more information see JP page e3918.
The Ninomaru garden has a beautiful tea-house with a very nice view. We had enough time to visit the Fushimi Inari (god of rice) shrine, an important Shinto shrine, famous for its thousands of vermilion Torii gates, which straddle a network of trails, leading into the wooded forest of the sacred Mount Inari, at 233 meters.
For more information see JP page e3915.  

For diner we found close to the hotel a small Japanese “pub restaurant” (izakaya) with delicious food, named Tuzuri. Off course we took the Kobe beef which was on the menu and several small other portions of specialities and some beer  . . .
pictures Kyoto Nijo castle

Nara (30 June)

It is Tuesday 30 June and we have so much energy .  .  so the city Nara is on the program, famous for its Bambi's (small deer) and temples of course. Heijo, nowadays Nara, is Japan’s first permanent capital, from 710 until 784. Due to its past Nara remains full of historical treasures including some of Japan’s oldest and largest temples.
We visit Kofukuji, which used to be the family temple of the Fujiwara clan  around 710 and consisted of over 150 buildings. Some parts under construction. The National Treasure Museum exhibits part of the temple's great Buddhist art, like the three-faced, six-armed Ashura Statue, one of the most celebrated Buddhist statues in all of Japan.
For more information see JP page e4101

The Todaiji (“great Eastern temple”) was constructed in 752. Todaiji's main hall is the world's largest wooden building and houses one of Japan's largest bronze statues of Buddha, 15 m tall.
For more information see JP page e4100.

Finishing at Yakushiji temple, which was constructed by Emperor Tenmu in the late 7th century for the recovery of the emperor's sick wife. It is one of Japan's oldest temples, Yakushiji has a strictly symmetric layout, with the main hall and lecture hall standing on a central axis, flanked by two pagodas. One was under construction.
For more information see JP page e4105
pictures Nara

Our journey is slowly coming to the end. Still we have energy for enjoying the Imperial gardens of Kyoto on a very rainy Wednesday 1 July. The first is the Shugakuin Imperial villa which is the most spacious garden in Kyoto with beautiful views (in spite of the rainy weather, raincoats and umbrella’s). Later, while the weather was a bit better we went to the Katsura Imperial villa. The weather makes it more easy to enjoy gardens like this, also with beautiful views and special architecture, see Japan guide page e3936 and page e3914. Gardens like this invites you to visit them in all the seasons of the year. So we have some trips to make. We went for  diner in restaurant Cocoon Mayu, next to the hotel, only a Japanese menu on the wall, but the food was (again) great.
pictures Kyoto imperial Villas

Thursday 2 July, our last day in Japan and back in Tokyo..We had a trip we will not forget soon, very tiring but so impressive, so much impressions, so much really delicious and special food, a great atmosphere, maybe not the best season, but who cares. We will come back, that’s for sure. The last day we still have time to visit the Edo-Tokyo Museum, situated in a modern looking building, see JP page e3070.
We finally finished the day with a splendid diner in a small pleasant restaurant, finally ending up in Denny’s for some beer and counting our last coins.
pictures Tokyo, Edo museum

Friday 3 July, on our way home. Early birds with the Narita express directly from Ikebukuro station to Narita airport. Off course finishing with a traditional breakfast at the airport. We fly with (too bad) Finnair via Helsinki to Amsterdam.
pictures Tokyo, Narita to Amsterdam

Special attraction of the trip was the Japanese food. To enjoy as much as possible specialities of Japan cuisine we made a list, which helped us to make the right decisions at the right moment. Probably otherwise we would still be walking around what's next to eat or hesitate too long in front of a restaurant. “Japanese cuisine, Washoku, offers an abundance of gastronomical delights with a boundless variety of regional and seasonal dishes as well as international cuisine. Restaurants range from mobile food stands to centuries old ryotei, atmospheric drinking places, seasonally erected terraces over rivers, cheap chain shops and unique theme restaurants about ninja and robots.” For the Japanese cuisine see this articles, About Japanese food and Japan food.
pictures Japanese food during our trip