Tag Archives: Japan

The 9th quarter review

17 Oct

The last quarter has flown by – it seems like just last week I wrote my last post celebrating Zhongguo Jumble’s two year anniversary.  Even though there was only one major trip in the last quarter (our trip to Greece) – I feel like I have been all over.

The posts show that as it was in the last quarter that I published many of my travels from the previous quarter as I got caught up with such a busy summer.  Travel posts were very popular and the following especially so:

Posing over 50 floors up

Posing over 50 floors up

1) Roppongi Hills & Tokyo City View – a post on my visit to Tokyo in May and getting swallowed by a spider (not quite)

Ready to dig in!

Ready to dig in!

2) The Pineapple Cake Wars – tasting two competing pineapple cakes in Taipei, Taiwan and hearing which kind others will choose.  The food in Taiwan was so good.  I would like to go back just so I can eat.  Taiwanese sausage has now become a staple in my kitchen.

The Parthenon

The Parthenon

3) And We’re Back… – the initial post on our trip to Greece with just enough of a taste to keep people coming back to see what will happen.  I’ve only had time to get through the first day so far.

There were also two posts that sparked a lot of comments based on their topics which were more philosophical –

My mandarin accent – where I thought back to how I got my mandarin accent prompted by a taxi driver in Taipei, Taiwan

The Chinese dream – looking at the propaganda campaign that the Chinese government has been pressing lately and talking about what your dreams are.  Make sure you check out the comments on this post if you haven’t before, lots of good commentary that made me think even more.

And finally – two posts that I especially liked with some great photos to share.

The pavilion perched on the river with a tall building in the background

The pavilion perched on the river with a tall building in the background

A walk in Hefei – where I saw the possibility of a beautiful park over the Mid-Autumn Festival

Hammock with feet

Without a care in the world – photos from our trip earlier this year to Michigan, the place where I can put up my hair and dance crazy circles on the lawn.

It was a wonderful quarter and I look forward to the next one.  Did I miss your favorite post?  I’m still debating about the book possibility, so maybe more to come on that front.

More changes to come, so stick around and keep reading!  I anticipate more trips and of course, more views of Shanghai.  Autumn is my favorite season.  Happy Fall!

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Roppongi Hills and the Tokyo City View

29 Aug

On our last full day in Tokyo we decided to try to see the city from above even though it had turned cloudy and was threatening to rain.  There is a newer tower – the Tokyo Sky Tree, but we went for the old standard – the Tokyo City View in Roppongi Hills.

Roppongi Hills is a high end shopping mall/residential complex in the heart of the city.  The upscale stores are framed by sculptures and modern art.  We did a little window shopping as we made our way to buy our tickets inside.  One of the unique elements in the complex is an enormous metal spider that takes over the entrance.  Of course – I had to get a picture with it!

What a spider!

What a spider!

I think I could be swallowed alive!  Look how long the legs are!

I think I could be swallowed alive! Look how long the legs are!

We decided we didn’t need to go all the way to the top for the open air view – it is really high and instead made our way to the glassed in viewing area on the 52nd floor.

Tokyo City View

Tokyo spread out below us – I could see the density of the city – the number of high rise buildings – small swimming pools on the top of some, others with gardens – trying to capture every single inch of space.

Green - in patches

Green – in patches

To the northwest a large park spread across the city – an expanse of green among the man-made structures.  Like Central Park in New York or People’s Park in Shanghai – the green becomes an oasis in the center of the city.

The helpful guide to the sights (in Japanese)

The helpful guide to the sights (in Japanese)

Different views pulled me in as I snapped photos. I even noticed the buildings under construction.  Because of the density, renovating a building is more dangerous in Tokyo than other cities.  That means that keeping all pollution – noise as well as materials – low is key.  The buildings are wrapped as tight as presents and then the construction can be done without disturbing the neighbors.

A main highway - flanked by tall buildings

A main highway – flanked by tall buildings

I enjoyed my visit up to the Tokyo City View and would recommend it for anyone who wants to see Tokyo from high above.

Posing over 50 floors up

Posing over 50 floors up

What do you notice high in the sky?  I realize I have been to towers all over the world now – Tokyo, Shanghai, Taiwan, Chicago, New York, Paris… What next?

Meiji Shrine in Tokyo

4 Aug

After a busy day exploring in Tokyo we found ourselves at the Meiji shrine in late afternoon.  After exiting the subway station we turned and suddenly found ourselves in a huge park.  The trees towered overhead, shading us from the late afternoon sun and welcomed us into the ground of the shrine.

It was an interesting contrast between the ultra modern subway and train system and the shrine which looked as though it has been there for hundreds of years.  Tokyo is a city of contrasts and this was one of the largest ones I felt during my visit there.

As we entered through the large main gates it felt like we were stepping back into another world.  In fact, though, the Shinto shrine – dedicated to Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken was rebuilt after World War II in the late 50s.

Posing in front of the entrance gate

Posing in front of the entrance gate

Lighting the way (though not needed during the day)

Lighting the way (though not needed during the day)

After the main entrance was a display of sake barrels that were donated to the shrine.  The bright colors and intricate wrappings almost made me want to try the sake inside.  Almost – that was one part of Japanese culture that I wasn’t up for sampling on this trip.

Barrels of sake - which is your favorite?

Barrels of sake – which is your favorite?

I like the red colored barrels.

I like the red colored barrels.

Then, before the official shrine itself was a place of purification.  There were ladles available to wash your hands, head and mouth prior to praying.

Washing area to purify before the entrance

Washing area to purify before the entrance

Walking around the inner area there was also a wall of prayers written in many languages where people put their wishes and dreams.  We didn’t write our own, but viewed what others were hoping for.  It reminded me of the wishes I saw in Seoul and the locks attached to the Buddhist shrines in China.

Approaching the main shrine

Approaching the main shrine

Spotless grounds with blue skies

Spotless grounds with blue skies

Blessings

Blessings

And more blessings

And more blessings

Like everywhere else we went in the city – the shrine was spotless.  It was a place of prayer and intentions and the tourists that mixed in with the visitors were respectful.  We were even interviewed by high school students practicing their English and trying to see where the visitors to the Shrine were from.  I haven’t had that type of interaction with language students for quite and it brought a smile to my face.

I was lucky to be able to see this side of Tokyo on my visit and would recommend a visit to the shrine if you have time.  The grounds are extensive and with the large trees a peaceful contrast to the hustle and bustle outside.

Where do you find peace in busy cities?  This was the first Shinto shrine that I have been to – it is different than Buddhism or Hinduism, less gaudy – different rituals.  Does anyone have insight on the differences?

Sumo hotpot and other Japanese delicacies

28 Jul

One of the things that I wanted to experience in Japan was the food.  The Japanese are known for being the ultimate foodies – from the perfect tuna sashimi to the strange watermelons that are square shaped so they can fit in the refrigerator.  Both the appearance and the taste are equally important, which results in beautiful, tasty treats.  I am happy to report that during my trip to Japan – the food did not disappoint.

I managed to experience a wide range of different foods during my short visit, including the one that is in the title of this post – sumo hotpot!

Sumo hotpot

Sumo hotpot

We found our way to a small restaurant after following very confusing directions from one of my colleagues and the restaurant didn’t disappoint.  The restaurant had a sumo theme – and one individual hot pot was enough for the two of us to have dinner, so perhaps it also refers to the portion size.  The staff was welcoming and when we left, they presented us with a program to one of the recent sumo matches.  The characters were so small it was impossible for me to make them out – but it was a very interesting snapshot into a part of a culture that I don’t understand.

Everything has its place.  We gobbled it up!

Everything has its place. We gobbled it up!

Less esoteric, but still a lot of fun was the bento boxes that we purchased for a picnic one day.  Each element of the bento is chosen for its beauty as well as taste and there are tricks to fool the eye as well.  For example – the “egg yolk” in this bento was actually a water chestnut that had been soaked in dye to turn it yellow.

Another sweet treat that was unexpected was that the landlady of the apartment we were staying in left a small gift of two sticky rice treats for us.  She told us they were from one of the oldest specialty stores in Tokyo.  Japanese sweets are not too sweet and these just hit the spot – both for the eyes and the stomach!

Sticky rice sweets - freshly made

Sticky rice sweets – freshly made

Finally – as a bit of a tribute to the wacky vending machines that are on every Japanese street corner, I snapped this photo of one that I found in the subway station.  Anyone need a banana?

The healthiest vending machine I have ever seen

The healthiest vending machine I have ever seen

Of course we ate the traditional Japanese foods as well – we had tempura in a small shop, I ate ramen and yakitori and a beef with rice bowl around a counter that reminded me of a small diner.  I had sushi (of course) and went to the ubiquitous 7-11 and tried their snacks.  It was all there.  If you go to Japan – eat and eat and eat!

Where have you gone where the food has drawn you in?  Which of these delicacies would you most like to try?

As a final word – my last meal in Japan was at the airport.  I ordered a traditional Japanese breakfast – Salmon with salmon roe over rice and miso soup.  It was delicious.  When can I go back?

The miso soup is in the teapot then you pour it over the rice and salmon.  Very healthy and very delicious!

The miso soup is in the teapot then you pour it over the rice and salmon. Very healthy and very delicious!

The Hakone Open-Air Museum

14 Jul

My trip to Japan at the end of May was completely by the seat of my pants.  I had no travel material and did no research prior to landing at Tokyo’s Narita airport.

Why?

My best friend was there for work and I knew that whatever we did was secondary to having the opportunity to spend a few days together.  Of course, we had a wonderful time and the first full day I spent in Japan we decided to go to Hakone, a city outside of Tokyo to see if we would be lucky enough to view Mt. Fuji.

According to our internet research the night before, there were museums and mountain views, fresh air, boat rides and all kinds of good things to see.  It seemed like the perfect antidote to Shanghai’s traffic and pollution.  We were off.

We hopped a train and after sitting in the very front car, landed at the Hakone railway station about an hour later.  We took a type of gondola/sky train to the top of the mountain and decided to work our way down.  After a quick lunch of ramen at a small restaurant our first stop was the Hakone Open-Air Museum.

It was more than I could have hoped for.  The weather was perfect, not hot and not cold – the blue skies contrasted with the green of the forested mountains and the sculptures appeared as if they had been placed by a helicopter – such that each was in a spot that was enhanced by the natural beauty surrounding it.

Tumbling through the sky

Tumbling through the sky

And why is the face crying?

And why is the face crying?

We wandered up and down the mountain viewing each piece.  Some were surreal, others more classical.

The muses - protecting and inspiring thought

The muses – protecting and inspiring thought

Another muse

Another muse

A classic beauty - is she doing yoga?

A classic beauty – is she doing yoga?

Sculpture can be multidimensional.  Do you see me?

Sculpture can be multidimensional. Do you see me?

We saw installations intended for children to crawl through, which tempted me, but I thought I may get stuck inside the glass pyramid.

Who says children don't appreciate art?  This one seemed like a tribute to the IM Pei entrance to the Louvre in Paris.

Who says children don’t appreciate art? This one seemed like a tribute to the IM Pei entrance to the Louvre in Paris.

Ready, set, crawl!

Ready, set, crawl!

There was also a Picasso exhibition space where they focused on his later work.  Seeing Picasso half a world away from Spain/France was surreal, but obviously many people had come just to focus on him because that part of the museum was most crowded.

IMG_20130523_140644

Picasso-esque sculpture

Picasso-esque sculpture

After walking for more than an hour we soaked our feet in the hot spring that ran through the corner of the property.  Hakone also has many onsen (hot springs) perched in the mountains so while we didn’t spend the night, we did get to sample a touch of the specialty.

The last exhibit we entered was my favorite.  It was called “Symphonic Sculpture” by Gabriel Loire.  It was a tall tube which was completely covered in stained glass.  However, you viewed it from within and could also then climb to the top – surrounded by the colors and images from the walls.  Within the panels were classic symbols and new things like cars and airplanes that shouldn’t be in such a traditional medium, but they fit and they made me smile.

Viewing "Symphonic Sculpture" from the inside

Viewing “Symphonic Sculpture” from the inside

The staircase allowed you to view each part individually

The staircase allowed you to view each part individually

What modern images do you see?

What modern images do you see?

Any surprises?

Any surprises?

IMG_20130523_143151

I would highly recommend visiting this museum if you are in the Tokyo area with space for a day trip, even though Mt. Fuji remained elusive, it was worth it.  The museum was unexpected and alive and if we had a specific travel plan, we probably would have missed it.

Sometimes it is the things that you accidentally wander into that are the most memorable.  Please share any “unexpected” travel memories that you’ve had.

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