Sunday, 30 September 2007

Driving on Sunday morning

I just took a spin this morning and saw something interesting on the road.

(1) Underground Radio?

What could this be? Makes me really curious.

(2) Speed monster in action

I was approaching a speed camera where the limit is 90km. Something played trick on my eyes, I reduced my speed to only that below, thinking it was 90km. I think I have slept too little lately that I lose concentration quite easily. Maybe it is a sign of old age.

These photos are taken from my Sony Ericsson mobile phone (while I was also driving). The quality is quite okay considering it is only a 2 megapixel camera. Makes me wonder if it has got something to do with the skill of the person handling the camera. Somehow I think my 7 megapixel canon produced photos of similar quality as this. Hmm... think I got to work on my photography skills a lot more!

Saturday, 29 September 2007

Imperial Palace East Garden (*yawn*)

My goodness, this is such a boring place to visit! The admission to the garden is free but visitors are not allowed to enter the palace. I inquired with my Japanese colleagues and was told that only on special occassion (like the Emperor's birthday) that visitors will be allowed inside the Imperial Palace ground.

An interesting sight. This is where modern and tradition come together. Look at all the tall buildings standing behind the historical palace. Interesting isn't it?

I felt like an uncivilised boar in this place as I really do not know how to admire the trees and flowers in the garden. Oh well, yes the greenery is soothing but it is also boring to spend the whole morning walking through the garden.

Fortunately, the photos turned out okay. So let's just admire the peace and serenity and say nothing more about it.

I should count myself lucky that I could still see all these greenery in end September. This is the hottest summer for Tokyo in history and is unusually long. As my Japanese colleague told me, the strange weather is the result of global warming.

Green beatle, swan and butterfly... how relaxing their lifestyle is.

The red flower is something that interests me. Many Japanese tourists were admiring it intensely and using SLR to take pictures of it. I must find out what it is and why the Japs are so passionate about it.

Yawning.... enough of the garden already. I felt just as boring typing this.

Yasukuni Shrine and my dilemma

The Yasukuni Shrine (靖国神社) is a place that I have decided to visit as soon as I knew I was going to Tokyo. This place is so full of controversy that I just had to take a look at it myself to find out why.

The Yasukuni Shrine is not a main tourist attraction in Tokyo and some of the maps did not even mark its location. In fact, I do not believe many Japanese think much about it. It is about just as simple as you can see in the pictures here.

Built in 1869 by the Emperor in the Meiji era, the shrine is where the dead soldiers who lost their lives fighting for Japan are remembered. Out of the 2.5 million dead souls commemorated here, more than 2 million are war deaths from WWII. It is said that amongst the names listed in the "Books of Souls", 14 are suspected or convicted by the International Military Tribute of the Far East as Class A war criminals. It is no wonder that everytime a Japanese leader visit the Yasukuni Shrine, it evokes plenty of protests and controversy internationally, for this is viewed as embracing the militarism past of the Empire of Japan.

As I walked into the shrine, I could feel that the air was filled with solemn. Honestly, I also felt a little intimidated. Afterall, being a Chinese and armed with nothing but a compact camera, I was rather worried what the Japanese will do to me if they discovered my origin. Not that they will spit at me or throw stones at me but the look of discontentment would be enough to kill me.

At the altar, many people were observing the simple ritual of "pray, clap and bow" (一拜,二拍,一鞠躬). I deliberated a long long time and decided that I will not be doing so. As a Chinese, it may be too much to ask for me to pay respect to those "enemies". You may say it's the little of the Chinese pride left in me that caused me to do so, but we simply have lost too many of our people during WWII under the terrible regime of the Japanese Imperial army. I don't hate them, but I just cannot forgive or forget.

Lots of Japanese who visit the shrine will write their wishes on a piece of paper and tie it around a tree. Make a wish, say a prayer... is it love, health or fortune that one wishes for? Anyone put a note in there to wish for world peace?

This is the "Statue of a Mother". It is dedicated to women who had lost their husbands in the wars and had to single handedly raise their young children. Alas, I was so touched by this. Who in this world is not the child of a mother? It must have given so much grief to mothers who lost their children in the wars, doesn't matter if it was a Chinese or a Japanese. Maybe I was wrong earlier, the deads have no nationality or political positions. At that moment, I really don't know what to think. It may be best that I leave the place as soon as possible.

People don't forget do they? Look at how these 2 old gentlemen are still promoting the spirit of militarism, carrying a Japanese national flag and military flag. I saw one lady crying by the side of the road when she saw this.

My visit to Yasukuni Shrine has created great emotional drift in me, not to mention the dilemma that I can still feel as of today. I have decided that this is a place that I will never visit again, for it is where hatred and misgivings concentrate. In fact, I think none of the Chinese should ever step foot in it.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Tsukiji wholesale market

What could have motivated a night owl like me to wake up at half past 4 in the morning? Yes, it is the world famous Tsukiji wholesale market! 早起的人有鱼吃! I've seen this market featured on Discovery Travel Channel too many times that it is a must see for me in Tokyo.

I already reached Tsukiji market before 6am that morning. Joining me was my Japanese colleague who was there for the first time. My gosh, the place is bursting with colours! Look at the variety of seafood, fruits and pickles that you can find in this market. Did you see the squarish persimmons?

The selections of food stuff available here are of such wide varieties and some are unique to Japan. My colleague was busy using her Jap-English translstor to explain to us the various names of the food we saw and some of them literally have no English translation.

The market is well renowned for the tuna fish auction. I was amazed to see the fish in whole for the first time. My, they were huge! One man was busy shouting the bids while the rest examined the fish carefully, putting up offers for those which they thought were the best. Unfortunately, even my Jap colleague could not figure out what exactly was the man shouting.

Can't tell what these are? Look so much like beef but they are not (the market does not sell meat or poultry). These are flesh of whale. On the right are the skin and fat of the whale fish. Reminds me so much of the pork lard which the Chinese use in their cooking. Once again, 大开眼界!

This old gentleman was handling a bucket full of prawn-like crustacean. Eeks, they were all alive and crawling while the old man put his hand into it.

Ta Da! You must learn about this vegetable. This is wasabi, our favourite condiment on Japanese restaurant tables.

Tsukiji is absolutely a great place to visit and I recommend those visiting Tokyo not to miss it. Furthermore, the market is located just beside a subway station and the train services start real early in the morning. So, you will have no problem getting there by yourself. However, do note that the market is close on Sundays (according to internet source).

Monday, 24 September 2007

Tokyo --> Home (Day 7/8)

I'm home! Finally!

After 1.5 days of wandering around Tokyo city, I have become master of the metro and subway system.

On Day 7, I visited the Imperial Palace Garden and Yasukuni Shrine. Please wait for my next post, I've got so much more to tell you about my trip.

Can't say more for now, going to bed. Today is a working day!

Saturday, 22 September 2007

Hakone - Boat Cruise and Shinkansen (Day 6 cont'd)

(3) Pirate Boat Cruise on Lake Ashi

I have become "Pirates of Hakone"!

I do not understand the meaning of this, why does the cruise boat have to be made into a pirate ship? Anyway, it's a 25 minutes boat trip on Lake Ashi. Lake Ashi is not the best lake I have ever seen (of course nothing can beat Lake Baikal in Siberia), but sitting on the open air deck right on the top of the boat and letting the cool breeze blow into my face, it was a marvellous experience.

Free as an eagle, I wish!

Sunset on Lake Ashi

Where the boat docks

(4) Shinkansen ---> Tokyo

Time to return to Tokyo. Took the bullet train, Shinkansen. Nothing to boast about really. Fast, efficient and clean trains are not unique to the city of Tokyo. Many European cities have even faster bullet trains than this.

Taking the 18.17 train to Tokyo although my ticket was for 18.47, About 30 mins ride on Shinkansen is equivalent to 1.5 hour by coach.

The bullet "flying" towards me

Hakone - Gondola ride and Hot Spring (Day 6) - Updated

After a disappointing visit to Mt Fuji, I continued my journey to Hakone (where is that? Er... somewhere near Mt Fuji, or so).

(1) Hakone Sky Gondola

The gondola or double wired cable car offers breath taking view of the Hakone Mountains. On a clear weather day, Mt Fuji would be visible from the gondola. However, it will not be today.

Two wired gondola

The gondola

See steam coming out from the mountains? This is the hot spring area of Owakudani.

(2) Owakudani Valley (Valley of Hell) - Hot Spring

View of mountains of Owakudani

At altitude of 1,044 metres

The gondola ride took me to the hot spring of Owakudani. It was repeatly told by the tour guide that the hot spring could cook an egg and tourists can buy eggs to try "cooking" at the site. Sorry I don't do things like this, so no further comments about this other than I heard it takes 10 mins to cook. You can also get hard boiled eggs cooked at the hot spring at the souvenir shops nearby.

It's a boiling pool in Valley of hell!

* Updates *
It is not right of me to leave open comments like "I don't know where is it" in my blog. Ok let me tell you a little bit more about Hakone.

Hakone is situated 90km west of Tokyo, and on a clear day, you can get a magnificent view of Mt Fuji from there. Hakone is a volcanic area and the earliest volcano activity dated back to 400,000 years ago. Today, the volcano is dormant.

The Owakudani Valley (Valley of Hell) is created by previous volcano eruption. Because of the hot spring resources underground, you can see the hill slope steaming with white vapour. The valley smell foul of sulphur and the spring water has certain level of sulphur in it. That is why eggs turned black when you cook them in this water. However, it is also said that sulphur consumed this way (through the eggs cooked in sulphur water) is beneficial to health. I think there might be some truth to this... remember 硫磺鸭in大长今? Same theory.

Mt Fuji disappeared in front of my eyes

Been so excited all week because I would be visiting Mt Fuji in this trip. Today is the day and the weather was bright and sunny in the morning. I was really happy as I thought on a clear day like this, I should be able to get a fantastic shot of Mt Fuji.

The traffic was heavy because it is a long weekend in Japan starting today and many people were travelling to places for short vacation. Our tour bus was caught in the jam and as the schedule was slightly delayed, we did not get to the Mt Fuji 5th station and had to settled with the 2nd station only. Unfortunately, it was unusually cloudy and hazy that not only was the peak of Mt Fuji not visible, the entire mountain almost disappeared in front of my eyes at one moment. The view was so lousy that I am embarrassed to even post the photos which I took at the 2nd station! So disappointing!

Where's the summit?

Mt Fuji almost disappeared

You must have seen many great photos of the holy Mt Fuji so for a change, here are some bad ones. Honestly, I could go to any hill side and take a photo like this and claim that it is Mt Fuji.... who will know, if this is how Mt Fuji can look sometimes.

It took me as much effort to produce these bad photos as what I would need if I had produced some good shots. I think I did well, though the weather ruined everthing. Until next time, I'm not going to tell people that I have been to Mt Fuji (and see no Mt Fuji).

When all else failed, it is time to buy some postcards.

Where's the rainbow at Rainbow Bridge? (Day 5)

This is by far the most tiring travelling experience that I had. Everyday, it's work, sightseeing, dinner entertainment and blogging.

I'm dead tired today since I work up at 4.45am this morning to visit Tsukiji. Tsukiji was great as there were so many fascinating things to see. But the climax of the day has to be stunning Rainbow Bridge!

It was an unexpected arrangement as our colleagues knew that I wanted to see the Rainbow Bridge and hence made dinner reservation at an extremely posh Italian Restaurant with a full view of the bridge. How posh is the restaurant? It is one where the prices are not available on the guest's copy of the menu (i.e. only the host gets a copy of the menu with price listed on it). And of course, "Still or Sparking?"

Please click to see large view... promise you it's worth a click

I am extremely touched by the hospitality of my Japanese colleagues. So many of them came together and made all my wishes come true. It may seem like many small and convenient acts but they meant a lot to me.

The whole time that I was at Rainbow Bridge I was exclaiming "Oh my god, it's so beautiful!" I am still high with excitment at this moment, mostly also because tomorrow I will be going to see Mt Fuji!