Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Japan: Nagano

Karuizawa, 軽井沢,a town situated in the mountainous prefecture of Nagano.
With several churches built in this area, the main train station has adopted a Western stained glass style in its design.

Situated at at altitude of more than 900m above the sea level, it is much cooler than the nearby city of Tokyo. During the summer months, many Tokyolites escape the summer heat by cooling off in places like Karuizawa. Of course, people who can afford such luxury are the rich and the elites. In any case, people living in Tokyo do have the option of taking a break, and escape away from the stress of the city, to put themselves in the serenity of the mountain ranges and get in touch with nature. Well, most city dwellers around the world do have this choice.

Karuizawa had played host to the Winter Olympic Games in 1998

and the Summer Olympics in 1964. Certainly a unique place to visit.

The influx of city dwellers might not miss any stress from their studies or work, but certainly they will miss consumerism. Spacious malls housing branded labels have been built just outside the train station so that the tourists will not be too homesick.

The rail tracks.

With land spaces to spare, wide shopping alleys were built with a view of the golf course and the forest area.

With shopping to do, with golf to swing, with nature close to heart, and stress faraway over the mountains, many have chosen Karuizawa as their second home. And many of them have spectacular gardens around their houses.

Mirror, flowers, trees, crossroad junction.

Mount Asama, the highest peak in this region.

The Shinano Rail serving the area. Although it might be more countryside than city-like, the fares can be a little daunting. It cost 210円 for a 2 minute ride.


Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Japan: Nara

Horyuji, a World Heritage Site, located in the province of Nara.

The garden walkway into the temple.

It is one of the oldest existing wood structure dating back into the 7th and 8th century, in the world and the first site to be declared as a World Heritage in Japan.

The wonderful scenery of the surroundings.

However, the entrance fees of 1000円 is quite forbidding.

Nara was the capital of Japan from 710 to 784. The old structures, temples, monuments and culture made Nara another World Heritage Site.

In Nara, there are many deers in the park.

Todai temple.

Kofuku Temple.

Yakushu Temple. All these 3 temples comes under the list of World Heritage Sites of ancient Nara.
Streams of students.

Lines of students on their class outing.

Tons of students.

Ever more students who are more interested in shopping than history lessons.

The park without any students.

Temples with hills as backdrop.


Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Japan: Food Culture and Osaka

Food, everyone loves food. The love of it is deep ingrained that it can be a large of a culture. The love of it is so great that it is often used as a tool to tempt visitors to a country for extra revenue.
The fact is, with every travel guide and travel shows, just have to introduce some food in some land with the host exclaiming that either he has tasted nothing this good ever before or that everyone must come and try like he does. Food on television is much akin to pornography on video; the watcher is dying to participate what is on screen but is hopelessly unable to.

This is of course without a doubt that the promotion of the Uniquely Singapore slogan cannot disconnect itself with the claim that Singapore is a food paradise. As with most places, Vietnam, Morocco, or the Carribean, everywhere on television is a food paradise. The thing is most people like to imagine the best food is the food they grow up with, the comfort food that accompany them through the years. So Singapore's uniqueness is just like everywhere else in the world, which makes it not very unique.

Osaka, as with many parts of Japan, boost its own special cuisine unique only in that region. But Osaka takes it up another level and has incalculate food deep into their culture. It goes, if 3 ladies from Kyoto, Tokyo and Osaka respectively were given a thousand dollars each and they have to spend on a thing, the lady from Kyoto would spend all on shoes, the lady from Tokyo would spend it on bags, and of course the lady from Osaka would spend it on food. Not only the love of food is so deep, it can even be deadly with the culture of kuidaore, which mean eat till one drops.

Combining bread and noodles, costing 150円,from a convenient store.

In Osaka, they even combine theme parks with food.

Indoor air-conditioned malls, emulating the old side streets selling food.

Takoyaki shop.

Takoyaki, the original version has to be from Osaka.

It has seeped ingrained in the local culture, that comicwriters write about not just food, but in specific, Takoyaki.

Even the humble gyoza find its special place in this food obsessive city, that they have to set up a place that specially caters to gyoza, and gyoza only, and nothing else.

The escalator up to gyoza land.

Without the packaged sauce in the picture, this gyoza has to be the best. In fact, sampling three different gyozas from different stores, they all prove to that it is possible to achieve temporary heaven entrance with the bite into it. Actually, no place in Singapore have been found to come close to the standard of this. And this is not a television show or a paid travelling guidebook, this is the truth.

Dohtombori, a shopping district, with a great number of restaurants.

The sign of yet another food themepark.

Grilled and barbeque chicken over a counter,

With a oolong shochu to accompany, and with an entertaining lady trying to bridge the language barrier while serving food.

Okonomiyaki, with the odd mix of noodles, flour, lettuces, parsley, fish flakes, bean sprouts with a sweet and sour sauce, has to be odd since the taste can really be so unforgettable.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Japan 16: Osaka

Reaching Osaka takes less than one hour by express train from Kyoto. Although there is the option of taking the bullet train, the train arrives at Shin-Osaka Station where passengers need to transfer to the local train to reach Osaka Station, the main station in this city.

Osaka, the second largest city of Japan.

Visitors to Osaka can choose to purchase a 2000円 one day pass, where there is an unlimited rides on the metro system, free entry to some of the attractions and some others having a discount. It is probably a real good deal especially for visitors who have limited time and want to visit as many places as possible in a single day.

One important site in Osaka is the Osaka castle, which is a remodel of the previously destroyed castle. It probably makes some magnificent view during the sakura season in the Osaka Gardens surrounding the castle.

A view of the city from the top of the castle.

In order to make full use of the day pass, visitors can take a complementary shuttle service in the form of a carnival train to the nearby train station. Along the way, there was an expected groups of school children having their class excursion.

Japanese children are generally well-behaved, but could not resist the checking the passing train.

The kid on the left probably reminds one of the character in the famous comic series of Doraemon.

A sea cruise around the port of Osaka.

Initially, visitors might find it quite exciting, but after just viewing bridges, warehouses, buildings along the coast for more than one hour, it can be really exhausting. The ride cost more than 2000円, so visitors should only come to visit this cruise ferry only if they have the pass.

Several ferris wheel can be seen around the city. And unfortunately, the day pass does not cover this attraction.

Domtonburi, an extremely long shopping alley. It caters more to the local people rather than the bargain hunters from abroad.

One interesting visit with the pass will be the observatory tower of the Mori tower, the tallest building in this part of the world.

The view of the Osaka castle through the lens of the free binoculars. There is a coin slot for the binoculars, but probably no one utilises it; it will do good to mankind to make free for all the visitors. This is of course in contrast with the commercial image of Osaka.

The staggering amount of concrete jungle.

The urbanised landscape with hills as the background.

The sunset of Osaka.

The daily pass allows free access to the metro system of Osaka.
But certain restrictions do apply.
Even though the attractions are worth a visit.


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