Tag Archive | Japan

Deception at the Trick Art Museum

A day trip to Mt Takao would not be complete without visiting the Takao Trick Art Museum, across the road from Takaosanguchi Station in Hachioji-shi. After enjoying the splendid views of Tokyo and Mt Fuji from the summit of Mt Takao, exploring the mysteries of trick art was a fun way to end our day.

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The deception began even before we entered the museum, with a ticket office so realistic we nearly bought our tickets there. This was just the first of many experiences this afternoon where our eyes would play havoc with our minds.

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We were met at the real entry by a friendly girl who instructed us on using our 3D glasses to get the best out of our visit. Then, with a gracious bow, she sent us off into a realm of trickery and optical illusions. We put on our 3D glasses, turned the first corner and found ourselves transported to the streets of old Cairo.

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Peepholes offered tantalising glimpses of a mysterious world beyond the wall, until we passed through a hidden door and were transported back over 3000 years to the world of ancient Egypt and the time of Tutankhamen.

Danger lurked around every corner, as we balanced precariously over snapping crocodiles, watched as stampeding elephants passed by and hoped the hungry lions would stay behind bars.

In the Ames room and the Mirror room, where all was not what it seemed, our thoughts began to unravel like the wrappings on this Mummy.

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Our entry included a free drink from the vending machine out on the balcony. While some of the choices seemed a little strange, at least the vending machine was not an illusion.

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We relaxed in the autumn sunshine, sipped our banana milkshakes and realigned our minds, while this artist continued his work.

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Wait! Was this deception or reality? It was hard to tell…

Find out how Justin Beaver nearly met his end at the Trick Art Museum!

Big and Little – Weekly Photo Challenge – Scale

The Ames Room at the Takao Trick Art Museum in Hachioji-shi creates an amazing optical illusion – we appear either gigantic or tiny depending on where we stand. It’s a clever play on perspective and I’ll leave it to Wikipedia to explain how an Ames room works.

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Weekly Photo Challenge

Unusual! Unexpected! Unbelievable!

When we travel, we like to find somewhere a little different to visit, so with this in mind I googled “unusual things to do in Tokyo”. My search found classes in calligraphy, Ikebana and Tea Ceremony, but it was “mountain temple walk” which caught my attention. Some more research revealed that the mountain was Mt Takao, the temple was Yakuo-in, and both were located in Meiji Memorial Forest Takao Quasi-National Park. With the added attractions of a cable car, a chair lift, and hiking tracks this seemed like the perfect day trip for us.

We travelled by train from Shinjuku to Takaosanguchi Station, a 50 minute journey through the suburbs past temples, shrines and cemeteries, schools and homes to the western edge of Tokyo. A shaded footpath which wound its way along the river bank led us to Kiyotaki cable car station. The six minute cable car ride was the beginning of our ascent of Mt Takao and we rose steeply through the forest to Takaosan Station.

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From the station we began our uphill walk, passing food stalls and souvenir shops until we came to Tako-sugi – the Octopus Tree. The roots of this 450 year old cedar tree have wound themselves tightly around the stones at its base like the legs of an octopus. Legend tells how the tree roots which blocked the path moved themselves rather than be chopped away; today the tree is symbolic of a path leading to good fortune.

We continued upwards, the track lined on one side with red lanterns and prayer walls and an avenue of giant cedars on the other, until we came to the gate to Yakuo-in Temple.

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The entrance to the temple was guarded by several tengu, long-nosed mystical beings who drive away evil and welcome the good. Beyond the gate was the temple complex with Yakuo-in, established in 744, at its centre. The area around the Buddhist temple was busy but the atmosphere was one of peace and prayer, with people making offerings at tiny fountains and buying charms at the colourful stalls. Worshippers fanned the smoke rising from the enormous incense burner towards themselves in the hope of absorbing some of its reputed healing powers.

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The walking track circled behind the temple and continued uphill, mostly shaded by the forest with the occasional gap in the trees revealing tantalising glimpses of distant mountain ranges. We sat on one of the many benches along the track to eat our picnic lunch, the cool shade giving us some respite on this warm autumn day.

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After a rest we ventured on, signs pointing the way up a final flight of steps, until suddenly, we stepped out of the forest into the open air at the summit of the mountain. At an elevation of 599 metres, we could see where the outer edges of Tokyo met the forest while far away in the distance the skyscrapers of the city were softened by the heat haze of midday.

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A short walk to the northern side of the mountain revealed the majesty of the Tanzawa Mountain Range, and there, nestled amongst the blue-tinged line of mountains was Mt Fuji, delicately framed by a backdrop of pale cloud. Yoshi, our guide on our day trip to Mt Fuji, had said the mountain top is only free of cloud an average of two days each week and here it was; beautifully clear for the second time. Nowhere in my research had I read that Mt Fuji was visible from Mt Takao, so seeing the sacred mountain again was an unexpected surprise and the perfect reward for our uphill walk.

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Reluctantly we bid farewell to Mt Fuji, retraced our steps from the summit of Mt Takao past Yakuo-in to the tree-lined path below. After hiking up the mountain we chose the easy way down, on the chair lift from Sanroku Station to Sanjo Station. It was only a 12 minute ride downhill, but it seemed much longer as we glided silently through the trees and caught our last glimpses of Tokyo stretching away into the distance.

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Our day trip out of Tokyo was more than unusual. It had turned out to be the most memorable day of our holiday; a day filled with walking, temples, mountains and a breath-taking view – unexpected, unbelievable – truly a privilege!

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Two Museums, One Story

There are more than 100 museums in Tokyo covering such diverse interests as stamps and sumo, bicycles and beer. With such a variety of choices, how does a visitor decide which museum to go to? On our day trip to Mt Fuji our guide Yoshi gave us an invaluable piece of advice. “If your time is limited, go to the Edo-Tokyo Museum and the Tokyo National Museum. There you will find all you need to know about Tokyo.”

Edo was the historical name of Tokyo and the Edo Museum recounts the history of the city from 1603, the beginning of the Edo period, to the present. Outside, the building resembles the shape of an old storehouse in the Kurazukuri style, while inside a reconstruction of Nihonbashi, the old bridge into Edo, leads visitors to the exhibition hall of the museum.

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Full-size replicas of important buildings are placed side by side with scale models of the old city in a display where the smallest details of Japanese life are captured. Elaborate carvings, paintings and giant paper lanterns decorate the façade of the Nakamura-za Kabuki Theatre where musicians play traditional Japanese instruments. On the stage actors in lavish costumes and ornate props are ready for a performance of the kabuki play Sukeroku.

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The view changes from life-sized to miniature in the dioramas of street scenes in Edo. They are populated by dozens of tiny figures going about their daily lives: men take their day’s catch to the market while a washerwoman hangs out a yukata to dry. My favourite: the kimono-clad lady shading herself with a brilliant red parasol as she walks along the street.

While the Edo-Tokyo Museum tells of Tokyo’s architectural and social history, the Tokyo National Museum houses a vast collection of art works including 87 Japanese National Treasures.

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Archaeological and cultural pieces dating from antiquity through to the end of the Edo period are displayed on the first floor – allow a few hours to take in the delicately executed calligraphy on scrolls from the 16th century, exquisitely embroidered 17th century kimonos, and beautifully worked Samurai armour.

Yoshi was right – for an overview of the history and culture of Tokyo, a half day spent at each of these two museums is perfect. Now, how do I get to the Beer Museum?

Japan From Behind!

Shopping in Asakusa

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Surveying a building site in Jiyugaoka

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Preparing for prayers at Yakuoin Temple

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Painting a watercolour at La Vita in Jiyugaoka

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Cycling past the Imperial Palace

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Dressing up at Harajuku

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Adding the finishing touches before a wedding at Meiji Shrine

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Walking to the National Sumo Hall

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Hoping for an early morning catch in Funabori

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and getting ready for a walk!

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In the Middle of the City – Weekly Photo Challenge – Serenity

Close to the Edo Museum in Tokyo, tucked away in the corner where two streets meet, is a hidden gem. The Old Yasuda Garden was first created in 1701 by a feudal lord, Honjyo Inabanokami Munesuke, and even though it has undergone several restorations, retains its original heart shaped pond and plants typical of the Meiji era. Although this garden is listed as a Notable Place of Tokyo we didn’t know of its existence until, by chance, we noticed a simple sign at the entrance and decided to explore. Surrounded by the towering landscape of the city, the garden is a peaceful haven for both people and animals.

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Weekly Photo Challenge – Serenity

A Beginner’s Guide to Disneyland

Disneyland – it’s one of those places I’ve always known about but never thought I would go to. So when we were planning our holiday in Tokyo, a day at Tokyo Disneyland was definitely on the agenda.  As a Disney first-timer I was very excited but the enormity of the place was a little overwhelming at first. A little planning ahead of time can make a big difference to the success of the day, so here are my recommendations for having a wonderful day at Disneyland.

Do some research. I searched on Google for “the best day to go to Tokyo Disneyland” and the results were very helpful. On the Disneyland website there is a table of predicted attendances, using past numbers and resort bookings. The days are graded on a scale from 1 to 100, with 100 being “we are so full we are closing the gates”. For the week we were going to be in Tokyo, Tuesday and Wednesday were going to be the best days with a rating of 52. So the decision was made…Tuesday would be Disney Day.

Buy your tickets before the day. Also on the Disney website I read that it is better to buy tickets before the day at a Disney store than wait to buy them at the gate, which means avoiding standing in a long queue. When planning Monday’s outing, we included a stop at the Disney Store at Takashimaya Shopping Centre. Tickets purchased with no waiting – great decision.

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Get a map at the entrance. Tokyo Disneyland covers a large area and it would be very easy to wander aimlessly and waste time just looking and marvelling. With a map each, we could see exactly where we were and where we wanted to go next.

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Plan your day. The first thing we did after entering the park was to sit down and work out our plan of attack. With no children to cater for, we eliminated the children’s rides and activities. We decided which attractions we definitely wanted to see and worked out a route which took us around the park. This meant we didn’t waste precious time retracing our footsteps.

Use the Fast Pass system. Having a Fast Pass means you don’t have to queue for rides. When you scan your ticket you get a pass with an allotted hour during which you can go on the ride. You can’t get another Fast Pass until that hour begins so check which rides have passes and decide which ones you most want to do. We found that the passes filled up quickly so make sure you fast pass your preferred ones first.

Take your lunch with you. We bought lunch at our local 7/11 store and carried water bottles which we refilled several times. It was far cheaper and saved us from wasting time waiting in the queue. Because we were at Disneyland all day we still needed to buy our dinner, but we waited until there wasn’t a line-up.

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See all the parades. There are three amazing parades and while they all feature the favourite Disney characters, they are all very different. With thousands of LED bulbs glowing in the darkness, the night time parade was simply spectacular. You don’t have to save a space too early. The parade goes right around the park and there are plenty of great vantage points.

Stay all day. We arrived at 9 am and left when the park closed at 10 pm. Even with a full day we couldn’t do everything but we were satisfied with all that we managed to fit in.

Have fun. I did!

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Ready, Set, Go!

At first glance the pedestrian crossing outside Shibuya Station is just like any other. People stand quietly and wait for the crossing signal to light up. When the lights change to red, all the traffic halts and then the scramble crossing comes to life. It’s the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world and those who’ve been waiting patiently suddenly surge out across the road in all directions – up to 2500 at any one time.

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After negotiating your way to the other side of the road and experiencing the crush of the crowd first hand, the best way to watch the hectic comings and goings is from Starbucks in the Tsutaya building on the corner. The coffee shop fits in well here; it’s one of the busiest in the world. You don’t have to buy a coffee. Just go up to the second floor and look down from the full length windows. It’s great entertainment.

Ready… 

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Set…

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Go!

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At night brilliant neon signs and three enormous television screens illuminate the crossing, which seems just a little less busy.

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Perhaps a few people have gone home for dinner!

 

A Day Trip to Mt Fuji

Mt Fuji is an instantly recognisable icon of Japan so it was at the top of our list of places to go while in Tokyo. Our original plan was to take ourselves to the mountain and the national parks around it, but after researching we realised that an independent day trip was going to be difficult to achieve. The different vantage points and places of interest around the mountain are spread far and wide and without a car we would not be able to visit most of them. So we decided to go on a guided day trip to see this majestic mountain.

To meet the coach for our day tripping adventure we had to make our own way to Hamamatsucho Bus Terminal in the city centre. We were careful to follow the detailed directions in our reservation email and allowed for peak hour train travel, so we arrived at the bus terminal with plenty of time to spare. Our guide Yoshi began his commentary before the coach had even left the terminal and he continued to entertain and enlighten us throughout the day with interesting information and anecdotes about the mountain and its surrounds, including the disconcerting fact that the mountain, an active volcano, erupts around every 300 years and the last eruption was 306 years ago!

It didn’t take long before we left the centre of Tokyo and soon we were travelling through lush green farmland, dense forests and small towns as we headed into the mountains. Yoshi said: “The top of Fujisan is only visible on average two days every week. Hopefully we will be lucky enough to have a clear view from the Visitor Centre today.” With a cloudless blue sky the day was picture-perfect and so was our first view of Mt Fuji, framed by a touch of autumn colour.

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From the Visitor Centre we travelled into Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park to Fuji Subaru Line 5th Station, halfway up the mountain at 2300 metres. The station is located just below the tree line and the steep slopes of volcanic rock. Instead of visiting the souvenir shops and hotels, where climbers stay in readiness for early morning departures, we followed the uphill path through the red torii gates to Komitake Shrine. From here we could see Lake Yamanaka nestled in between the deep blue mountains of the national park.

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Mt Fuji is surrounded by five lakes and it was to Lake Kawaguchiko we went for our lunch stop. Instead of upgrading to a Japanese lunch we decided to bring our own, purchased at our local 7/11 store in the morning. While everyone else on our tour spent 50 minutes inside a restaurant eating udon and miso soup, we sat on the shore of the lake watching tourists paddling their giant swan boats across the water.

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We even had time for some exploration along the lakefront where we met the local shopkeepers. “Your Japanese is very good,” said one after I thanked her for my purchase. Little did she know that “Arigatou gozaimasu” was one of the three Japanese phrases I know.

After leaving the sparkling waters of Lake Kawaguchiko we headed to another large lake for a leisurely cruise. Lake Ashi, a crater lake in Hakone National Park, is a popular holiday spot and we cruised past several resorts on the shore of the lake, surrounded by thick forests of Japanese cedar.

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Our destination was the Mt Komagatake Ropeway, a cable car which travels 1800 metres in seven minutes to the summit of Mt Komagatake. From 1357 metres there are spectacular views of Lake Ashi, Mt Fuji and the volcanic mountains of Hakone and even though by late afternoon, after a very humid day, it was quite hazy, we still had a sense of the majestic beauty of this area.

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After spending our day at one famous symbol of Japan we finished our tour on another national icon. We travelled from Hakone back to Tokyo on the Shinkansen. There’s a reason it’s called the Bullet Train. On the normal express train from Tokyo Central Station to Hakone the journey takes 85 minutes, but we hurtled through the darkening countryside at breakneck speed and were back in the city centre in half an hour.

As independent travellers, guided tours are not often included in our travel plans, but taking this day trip, on an air-conditioned coach with an English-speaking tour guide, to destinations we wouldn’t have been able to reach on our own was definitely a great choice. We just need to go back again and spend a few days. There’s much more to see around Mt Fuji.

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