Sunday, August 03, 2014

Mount Takao (高尾山)

My last full day in Japan was spent visiting Mount Takao. Takaosan is located a little over an hour outside of Tokyo by train and is a nice day trip for those looking for a hike or a chairlift-assisted trip to a scenic picture taking spot with vending machines.

The soba shop lined street at the base of the mountain offers many places to eat lunch. My friends and I picked one of the many local soba shops. Soba with "tororo" (sticky grated yam) seems to be the speciality of the area based on all the menus I saw.

Takaosan offers some great views of the surrounding area and even Mt. Fuji on a clear day. The hike we took down was a bit strenuous but not overly long. It only took us 1.5 hours to get back down to the base. There are several shrines located on the mountain associated with the kami Tengu.

There is also a monkey habitat theme park where you can pay 500 yen to see sad monkeys in cages. I didn't pay admission because I had already seen a wild Takaosan monkey climbing on the chairlift system. He somehow managed to crawl inside one of the pillars before I could take a picture.


We took the chairlift up the mountain and hiked down. The ride was pretty fun and made me wish that the chairlift option had been open when I visited Whistler in BC. As an aside, I appreciate how touristy chairlifts and cable cars only cost around $5 in Japan compared to something like $30 in the U.S. and Canada.

Here is the view from atop Mount Takao. It was a bit hazy when we went so you couldn't see very far. Word is that on a clear day climbers can even spot Mt. Fuji.

Can you spot all the tiny stone statues hidden in the grass?

ANSWER: 5 (I think...)

Here is the adult tengu guarding the top of the mountain. There was also a "child" tengu who looked more like an eagle. While I have seen many tengu in my day, this is the first one I had seen with such a realistic human body and strange angel wings. He looks all ready for his anime debut!

We took a 1.5 hour nature hike down from the top of the mountain. This photo represents the most treacherous part where we had to balance on rocks so as to not get the bottoms of our shoes wet.

On the way down we stopped to visit the waterfall. Sadly they had already chained the gate to the small viewing area, forcing us to love nature from afar. 

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Yokohama Snapshots (横浜の写真集)

I have been staying with my friends in Yokohama for the past week. I had only been to the city two times prior to this trip, so I have been enjoying walking around and seeing the sights.

Below are a few pictures I snapped, mostly of the city skyline, while walking around. Yokohama contains lots of preserved architecture from the 1930s as well as a muted internationalized atmosphere that contrasts nicely with the hyper-illuminated bustle of Tokyo.


Presenting Yokohama's beautiful skyline as seen from the Minatomirai neighborhood. Included is the Landmark Tower (left) and the Cosmo Clock 21 Ferris wheel.

A similar view of the skyline taken behind the Akarenga "red brick" warehouse, one of Yokohama's premier tourist attractions. The building looks pretty neat from the outside, but inside it features your standard selection of food stalls and overpriced clothing shops. They were setting up some sort of Pokemon themed beer garden. Sadly they were not yet open for a Pikachu beer.

Here is a view of the dock area near the station home to the (formerly) world's tallest ferris wheel and the Nippon Maru Japanese museum ship.

Yokohama's Landmark Tower used to be the tallest building in all of Japan. Now it is sadly reduced to number two behind some building in Osaka. Or, number three if you count the Tokyo Skytree Tower. Honestly, with all this former glory, they should just name the place, "The City Formerly Known as Yokohama."

The Minatomirai neighborhood of Yokohama is having a special summer Pokemon campaign in conjunction with the new film. Here is a strange overstuffed Pikachu balloon piñata in one of the major shopping malls near the station.

Here is another installation art from the train station. I call him (her?) Trash Man.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Enoshima (江ノ島)

Today my grad school friends and I took the train outside of Yokohama and spent the day on the tiny island of Enoshima near Kamakura.

Enoshima makes a great day trip from Yokohama, and, while the weather was nothing short of scorching, we still had a really nice time walking through the island and seeing the sights. There are of course many restaurants and souvenir shops. The main attraction is the "Sea Candle" lighthouse / observation tower that offers great views of the island.

This tiny island is also a destination for those who love eating shirasu or tiny baby whitebait sardines. They are in everything here from the rice bowls to the tofu to the crackers to the ice cream. There is no escaping these tiny white fish so come hungry.

Enjoy the pictures below!


Welcome to Enoshima Island - Shirasu capital of Japan!

Heading up the main shopping / souvenir drag on the island.

View looking back the other way from atop the hill.

The local specialty at Enoshima is the nama shirasu-don. Shirasu are tiny whitebait baby sardines. They are served here raw over a bowl of rice. The fish can also be boiled or deep-fried as well. They have a light salty taste.

Coincidentally we had watched a show on TV the night before where a businessman ate this exact same dish at the exact same restaurant on Enoshima so we knew where we wanted to try. The restaurant was super popular and we had to wait for close to one hour before being seated.

If you can believe it, my ice cream is made from the same tiny fish! The shirasu added a light salty flavor which complemented the overall sweetness. Iron Chef Morimoto would be proud!
There were also many nifty temples and shrines throughout the island. 

Enoshima is proudly sponsored by the Triforce from The Legend of Zelda.

The "Sea Candle" lighthouse is the tallest structure on the island and offers great views of the surrounding area.

Here is the view from the top of the Sea Candle looking back across the bridge towards Kamakura.

We made it all the way to the other side of the island where there was a rocky beach area.

There were also tons of hawks circling around. Bye for now!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Tokyo Snapshots (東京の写真集)

Ginza* sure is pretty at night!

*Please don't ever write or say "The Ginza"

This makes total sense due to the ubiquity of plastic food in japan. Now you can turn your iPhone into a delicious piece of tonkatsu!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Okamoto Tarō's "Myth of Tomorrow" (明日の神話, 1969) completed at Shibuya Station. 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Asakusa Returns! (浅草行き)

 I think all campuses should have gates with giant wooden doors at the entrance ala U of Tokyo.

I Went to my old neighborhood in Asakusa today for a stroll. I remember these restaurant koi from when they were tiny fish years ago. Look how much they've grown!

It's been five-years and Pac-Man is the only new character added to Ban-Dai's character walk-of-fame outside their
I think they're running out of ideas for museums...
The recently completed successor to the Tokyo Tower, known as the Sky Tree. This alien probe / lightsaber looking structure sits next to the Asahi Beer Building and adds to the distinctive Asakusa skyline.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Made it to Japan (駒場刑務所)

Well, I made it safe and sound to my Komaba Lodge at the University of Tokyo. I will be living here for the next two weeks during my workshop. I think I now have a good approximation for what prison would be like in Japan. One bed - one desk - and a communal shower. The door is even the super loud clangy metal type.

Welcome to the glamorous life of the international student.

I'll write again when the warden okays it.


On a more positive note...the soba from the neighborhood joint was downright amazing!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Back in Japan! (ただいま)

After 5 long years I will finally return to Japan this July for three whole weeks (arriving on Sat. July 12th)! Two of those weeks will be spent attending a super nifty Japanese pop culture workshop at The University of Tokyo. The other week will be filled with daily trips to that cafe where they seat lonely and depressed single diners at tables opposite giant stuffed animals.

If I have any stories to tell or pictures to show you will find them here.

Stay tuned,