Tag Archives: travel

Where Does All the Concrete Come From?

29 Nov

Hi blog.

This just arrived in my mail box –  a post from fellow blogger, sometime hiking partner, former workmate and general nice-guy, I.G. “Goat” Fraser.  It’s a good read, so I’ll re-blog it here.

http://iangfraser.com/2016/11/29/where-does-all-the-concrete-come-from/

Do yourself a favour and follow the link.

 

Where Does All the Concrete Come From?

“Where does all the concrete come from?”That was my first thought, back in 2000, as I gazed, dumbstruck, through the (hopefully extremely thick) glass of the observation deck of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, 45 floors and 202m above the streets of the western side of Shinjuku station.

View of the twin towers of the Tochō from the courtyard.

View of the twin towers of the Tochō from the courtyard.

I don’t remember which deck it was, North or South — the building, 48 storeys tall, splits into identical twins from the 33rd, with a viewing deck (the whole floor) at the same height in each. Both are free to visit.

There’s not much that will take me to the western side of the tracks in Shinjuku. It’s mostly offices, government departments, and what the tourist guides like to call “skyscrapers”, really quite tame in size when compared to, say, New York. Oh, and a couple of camera-gear megastores which are quite irresistible to geeks of a certain style and undeniable handsomeness.

The Tochō from one of the alleys at its feet.

The Tochō from one of the alleys at its feet.

It’s the eastern side that has the crowds, youth, restaurants, bars, sleaze (again, tame by world standards; this is a polite society) and, if you’re not in the mood and just want to grab that last train home at midnight to your futon on the tatami mats, annoyance. Because every other drunk bastard in Shinjuku wants to share that last train with you…

But let’s stay on the far more sedate west side for now — and resume pondering all that concrete. You remind yourself that this city, the world’s largest conurbation, with more people than my entire country, was all but obliterated in WWII.

At any point on the perimeter of the deck, you’re afforded a similarly limitless (haze permitting; cooler months are best) vista:

Fellow spectator on the observation deck. A special prize (enduring fame) awaits those who can translate the German on her bag.

Fellow spectator on the observation deck. A special prize (enduring fame) awaits those who can translate the German on her bag.

On the extreme right, you can see fellow Tochō spectators in the next tower.

On the extreme right, you can see fellow Tochō spectators in the next tower.

Suitable for framing.

Suitable for framing.

The mountains ringing the city, many of which you might have hiked, are there beyond the rooftops. Outside Summer, you may well enjoy the privilege of a view of snow-capped Fuji-San herself, startlingly close to all this humanity (just 60m south-west), especially when you ask yourself if and when she’ll blow her top again.

mmm

“Hey, that’s a coincidence. I think I went to school with that guy down there.”

The building, known colloquially as the Tochō, opened in 1991. It was designed by Kenzo Tange, apparently to approximate the look of a computer chip, and as that description would imply, it doesn’t exactly radiate warmth and welcome. It also feels, whenever I return there, remarkably quiet and uncrowded for a structure presumably jammed tight with bureaucrats.

As for all that concrete: numerous walks through rural and off-the-beaten-tarmac Japan have provided at least part of the answer. Little concrete plants (is that the term?) on some backwater road, standing silent amid mountainous piles of gravel. Fleets of trucks waiting politely for their next load. The monster must be fed.

Another monster, Godzilla herself, trashed the building soon after its opening in a 1991 movie, which seems rude and petulant even by Godzilla’s standards. Fortunately the Japanese exhibited their standard genius in the art of reconstruction, and nowadays you’d never even notice any signs of his/her handiwork.

The views come free.

The views come free.

~ 山羊 ~

Photos in Kyoto

24 Jan

Hi blog.

Rumours of my demise have been greatly exaggerated.  Rumours of me being too lazy to put together a decent blog post are pretty well spot-on.

Of course, I will try to rationalise it away – it’s cold out there, I don’t have my own camera, family commitments, the trip to Kyoto…

Ah, Kyoto.

Everyone who is someone, or even anyone, in Japan has been there.

Ryoma was here. This was a spot we stumbled upon – it was on a main street on our way to Gion.

That soy sauce could kill you…

My first experience of Kyoto was during my stint as an exchange student back in 1989.  It would be more than 25 years until I visited again, this time as guide and chaperone to my niece (on her second trip – she had to wait less than one year).

 

This isn’t a travel blog, so I’ll let the pictures do most of the talking.

Kyoto had received its heaviest snowfall in over 60 years, and we were warned to expect snow and extreme cold.  Luckily, there was almost no trace of that snow, nor was it particularly cold during our stay.

We arrived on January 10th at a little before 11.  After leaving our luggage at the hotel, the first stop on the agenda was the Gion area, specifically the Yasaka Shrine.

The entrance to the Yasaka Shrine from across the road.

My own reasons for visiting this shrine were very much WIJ themed – I remembered another blogger’s post about the kirin there.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have my the wife’s camera (I was forced to leave that home), and my mobile phone doesn’t quite cut it in less than optimal conditions, so please excuse the quality of my photos.

The lion dogs which guard shrines are known as komainu (狛犬), but you’ll notice that one of the guardians of the Yasaka Shrine has a single horn.  This has led some people to believe that it is not a lion dog but in fact a kirin (麒麟), or unicorn.

The horned guardian.

You can see the horn more clearly in this shot.

(There are bizzare theories that this is related to the lion and unicorn on the Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom, suggesting a Semetic origin of the Japanese!)

Komainu or kirin?

 

From Yasaka, an easy walk to the famed Kiyomizu Temple, my favourite spot on my previous visit… only to find that it is currently under repair!  No photos there!

Pagoda on the Yasaka Road heading towards Kiyomizu.

OK, I lied. I got one photo at Kiyomizu. This is a decorative roof tile known as an onigawara (literally “demon tile”) Many temples have their own distinct onigawara.

 

A bus ride to Ginkakuji, whose garden is well worth the entrance fee.  I hadn’t visited this before, so it was quite a treat.

The main pavillion.

 

Now, that’s a sandcastle! The Kogetsudai is said to be to reflect the moonlight, or to repesent Mt. Fuji.

View of the pavillion from across the sand garden.

The other main temple building and pond.

Raked sand art.

The pavillion viewed from the hill. Note the Chinese pheonix on the roof.

It was here that my niece asked me about various Japanese plants, and I was able to explain about Aucuba, coral bush, and several other plants.  She astutely observed the lack of flowering plants and that most of the colour to be seen was fruit.

After Ginkakuji, we took a short stroll along the Philosopher’s Walk and stumbled upon another temple, the Honen-in.  It cost us nothing to enter the grounds, but the garden was quite good.

Sand art…

 

… and more sand art.

 

We decided to call it a day – most temples and shrines close to the public at 4:30 in winter – and made our way back to the hotel.  There, I plotted out our route for the next day.

The first stop on day 2 was Kinkaku-ji.  No-one seems to care that the current building dates from the 1950’s, and after all, it is a very nice piece of real estate.  My niece was interested in the carp in the pond, while I pointed out the night heron waiting in a tree.

The main gate and entrance to Kinkakuji.

 

The pavillion on the pond.

 

A closer view.

 

Note the phoenix on the roof again. This one is also featured on the ¥10000 note.

 

Ryoanji was next on the agenda.  This was my first visit, but I had heard and read a lot about the famous rock garden.  It is certainly worth visiting.

The onigawara on the main temple building at Ryoanji.

♬ I am a rock, I am an island ♫

“Enlightenment?” “Nah, it’s just a bunch of rocks”

On a warm day I coud just sit and watch these things for hours.

Door post decoration. I reckon I was one of the few people who weren’t too distracted by the rocks to notice this.

I have to admit, that rock garden is a pleasant distraction.

 

Next, we paid an impromptu visit to Ninnaji.  A couple of the buildings were under repair, and for me it lacked something – maybe I was suffering from temple overload.  Still, we were able to enter the grounds for free.

Pagoda.

 

One of the temple gates.

 

Nio statue.

 

 

From there, a bus ride to the Arashiyama area.

The bamboo forest walk was quite impressive, and no camera can capture the feeling of being surrounded by huge bamboo stalks.

World’s tallest grass?

 

I don’t think any of the other tourists stopped to take photos of the bamboo until I did.

 

 

Next was Tenryuji, a large temple with a nice garden and large pond.  Here, many of the plants were labelled – how thoughtful!

The pond at Tenryuji. Yes, that is my fiinger on the top left.

 

Onigawara.

 

Nice rocks in front of the temple building.

 

Nicely twisted and gnarled red pine.

 

Finally, we walked down to Togekkyo.  The bridge was a disappointment – a modern concrete structure, complete with traffic.  A bridge too far?  Oh, well… tomorrow is another day.

Anyone for bridge?

 

The morning of the 13th brought snow, but it stopped during our late-ish breakfast.  My plan was to visit Fushimi Inari Taisha and maybe one other location, time permitting.  Time didn’t permit – no-one told me that the shrine complex extends up a hill and needs at least 2 hours to complete the circuit!

The first torii gate and main shrine building.

A guardian fox.

And so it begins… the circuit of thousands of torii gates and pockets of Inari shrines.

Shrines everywhere!

Mossy fox. Inari is usually either depicted as a fox, or foxes are the god’s messengers.

There are a few Buddhist dieties here and there among the foxes…

… and the occasional toad.

A sign proudly states that the shrine complex was voted the most popular destination in Kyoto among overseas tourists in 2014.  Each to their own, I guess.

There were other places I would have liked to visit, and I really needed more time for those unplanned “stumble upon” experiences.  I just hope I don’t have to wait another 25 years for my next Kyoto visit!

 

Many thanks to my sister and niece, without whom this trip wouldn’t have happened.

 

 

 

 

Daddy’s takin’ us to the zoo

20 Nov

We’re goin’ to the zoo, zoo, zoo

How about you, you, you?

You can come too, too, too

We’re goin’ to the zoo, zoo, zoo.

“Going to the Zoo” Peter, Paul & Mary

 

November 14th is Saitama Prefecture Citizens Day, making it a day off for me.  (Well, a day when there are no classes, but I have to take a paid holiday if I don’t want to go to work…)

The weather was fine and I decided to take the kids to Ueno Zoo.   At only ¥600 for me and no admission fee for the kids, it was a relatively cheap day out.

 

I have mixed feelings about zoos.  I would rather see animals in their natural environments, but that just isn’t possible.  Modern zoos are improving their enclosures and keeping methods, and often play an important part of animal research and conservation.  Would we know, or care, about the conservation status of pandas if we couldn’t see them in zoos?

 

Ueno houses the only pandas in Tokyo (I believe they are on lease from China), and that keeps visitors coming.  Luckily there was little in the way of queues that day, despite the thousands of people there.  I had ideas other than pandas, however…

 

…but no good photos to show for it.  (The window style enclosures affect our camera’s ability to focus, plus I would be in real trouble if there were photos of animals and not kids)

No, this is not one of the kids.

 

I almost had my first encounter with a Japanese badger.  I say almost because the critter was asleep in its shelter, only a patch of fur being visible.  Also disappointing was the lack of marten and weasel displays.  We were, however, able to see most of the other important Japanese mammals – the Hokkaido brown bear was particularly impressive, and was the favourite of a certain little boy.

 

We also had our first view of the masked palm civet, albeit from a distance – it was up a tree!  Enclosures which display the animal in a close reproduction of its natural environment are most welcome.  Some of the Japanese bird enclosures were also excellent, as was the squirrel cage.  I just wish I could say the same for the larger birds of prey.  (Admittedly, each one would need an enclosure roughly the size of the entire zoo to fully appreciate them, but they seemed so cramped)

My first encounter with a masked palm civet.

 

The zoo had a special display (actually, a reboot of one they did a few years ago) on defences used by reptiles and amphibians.  This one actually has some English explanations, but the zoo could do with a better proof-reader – “…these animals defense themselves…”

My special interest is local wildlife, so it was refreshing to see more Japanese reptiles and amphibians on display.  A certain little boy was excited to see fire bellied newts just like the pair he has at home, while my interest was in the giant salamander and Japanese keelback snake.

 

The day was a little too short – I would have liked to arrive earlier, seen some of the other parts of Ueno Park, and stayed at the zoo longer.  Still, given that my daughter said she would like to go again with her friends, that day may not be so far off.

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