Friday, December 31, 2010

Show Me Japan: Nankinmachi 南京町

Buddhist monk slowly traversing the few blocks of Nankinmachi (Kobe's Chinatown), offering prayers to each storefront as he passes.

Photograph is my entry for this weeks Show-Me-Japan (Vol.1 Issue 7).

Thursday, December 30, 2010


The history of Kobe is largely a story of its ports. Kobe city established itself within Japan and abroad after the opening of Hyogo Port (in the Hyogo area of Kobe), in 1868. Hyogo-tsu has a naturally good port because it rests on the calm Seto Inland Sea, and Wada cape and Mt.Rokko block the wind - especially in winter. As Kobe city grew, newer port facilities were constructed eastward one after the other, forming the more modern ports in what is now called Kobe port. Consequently, Hyogo-tsu has not maintained the same prosperity and vitality as it had in the past. The area is now less commercial than industrial, and some areas are falling into disrepair. However, I am attracted to these older buildings and I am especially attracted to rust - on signs, doors, and other objects. The atmosphere can be a bit odd in this area, as not many people are about - but it is full of visual history.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Tokyo Sticker Graffiti

Stickers (slaps) are the most popular form of graffiti is Tokyo. Graffiti in general is more prevalent in this region then in Kobe. However, many of the pieces seem to be older, which causes me to wonder if graffiti in general is waining in popularity and or law enforcement and consequences has become more strict?

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Tokyo Sky Tree Revisited

Progress has been made in the construction of the Tokyo Sky Tree, I last visited in April and it is visually quite a bit taller and even more impressive then on my previous visit. They have now completed the observation deck and have moved on to the top antenna section; seen here reflected in a near-by building.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Sunday, December 26, 2010

German Christmas Market in Osaka

Visited the German Christmas Market in Osaka which is held under the Umeda Sky Building and offers an atmosphere of German-esque Christmas. The event was rather enjoyable, but crowded, and includes a 27-meter-tall Christmas tree decorated with about 100,000 lights that is surrounded by many quaint antique wooden shacks selling traditional handicrafts and various Christmas ornaments. Also on hand is a 110-year-old merry-go-round brought from Germany (pictured here in action), a manger with life-size figures, and fellow dressed in an elaborate German santa suit (Heilige Nikolaus). He might have been the real santa, I just didn't ask. The food was also enjoyable, warm Glühwein (a traditional composition of spices and red wine served hot) beer on tap, Lebkuchen (German gingerbread), sausage, roast ham, Tropfkrapfen (German donuts), and pretzels added to the festive atmosphere.

27-Meter Christmas Tree

Tree from the German Christmas Market in Osaka, a stage was erected next to the tree that hosted live music, carols, and even an abbreviated production of the Nutcracker Suite (pictured). The event is organized, in part, by the German Consulate General of Osaka-Kobe.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Happy Holidays

Holiday lights in Sannomiya 三ノ宮, hope everyone has a peaceful and enjoyable weekend.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Show Me Japan: Kaminarimon 雷門

A mix of modern and traditional architecture, in the foreground is the Kaminarimon at Sensō-ji and in the background is the Tokyo Sky Tree; a mammoth new tower being built overlooking the Asakusa district. The legend surrounding the Sensō-ji involves two brothers who, in the year 628, fished a statue of Kannon out of the Sumida River. Kannon is the goddess (bodhisattva) of mercy and compassion. The brothers attempted to return the statue back into the river, however, it always returned to them. Consequently, Sensō-ji was built in honor of Kannon and completed in 645, making it Tokyo's oldest temple.

Photograph is my entry for this weeks Show-Me-Japan (Vol.1 Issue 6).

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Massive Paper Lantern

When last in Tokyo I visited Sensō-ji for a second time. As you enter the temple the first sight you encounter is the Kaminarimon or "Thunder Gate." Dominating the gate entrance is this much-photographed giant paper lantern flanked by two statues of the guardian gods Raijin (thunder) and Fujin (wind). First built in 942, the gate has been destroyed numerous times and the current incarnation dates to 1950. The lantern is dramatically painted in vivid red-and-black tones to suggest thunderclouds and lightning; the wood carving at its base is about 3 feet across.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Tokyo Waterway

One of the many waterways that are woven into metro Tokyo, this one is located near Akihabara 秋葉原.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Coming in For a Landing

Just one more image from the bridge in Ueno, this post is truly for the birds. . .

Monday, December 20, 2010

Birds In Ueno 上野

On my visit to Tokyo went to Ueno, a district in the Taitō Ward, as I was crossing one of the bridges a fellow was feeding the birds by throwing crumbs and seeds over the side. As I stood next to him to watch, a large group of hungry aves surrounded us and I had a change to get out my camera and snap a few interesting shots.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Gundam In Action

As mentioned earlier, this is the Gundam in action.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Gundam Close-Up

Gundam is ready for its close-up.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Show Me Japan: Gundam

The Gundam statue that watched over Tokyo's Odaiba waterfront area last year has recently touched-down in the city of Shizuoka, 125 miles west of Tokyo. The 18-meter-tall statue faces the tracks near JR Higashi Shizuoka Station and can be seen from the train against the backdrop of Mount Fuji (sadly Fuji-San is blocked by buildings when you actually get up-close to the Gundam). This time Gundam is armed with a gigantic “beam saber” (in 1:1 scale). The statue was put on display to commemorate the 30th anniversary of TV broadcasts of the "Mobile Suit Gundam" and is a replica of the RX-78-2 from that series.

Shizuoka is home to many plastic model kit manufacturers including GUNPLA (Gundam Plastic Model) and is a pilgrimage site for enthusiasts. A small museum is located inside the fair site to showcase the history of the city's 50-year-old plastic model kit industry. The event runs through March 27, 2011, with the statue on display throughout the period. Entry is free, however travel to this out of the way (and frankly sleepy & industrial) town is quite expensive. You can opt for the Seishun Juhachi Kippu if you have the time (more then 3.5 hrs from metro Tokyo) and you are on the cheap.

Plenty of Gundam swag to be purchased and even a small Gundam cafe for "themed" eats. Twice daily a 30min display showcases the lights, smoke, and movement this statue is capable of, pictures to come in the following days. . .

Photograph is my entry for this weeks Show-me-Japan (Vol.1 Issue 5).

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Pepsi NEX x Mobile Suit Gundam Be@rbrick

Back in August Pepsi NEX collaborated with Zozotown and Be@rbrick to provide omake (bonus) cellphone straps that make fools, such as myself, actually seek out and buy their junk product. Well they have done it again, this time featuring the classic anime Mobile Suit Gundam. These four wee fellows join my growing collection of Be@rbrick 70%, Gundam RX-78-2, Amuro Ray, Zaku II, and Char Aznable. This series offers 16 types and was released this week, so if you are in Japan and you happen to be an anime fan - then this inexpensive little diversion might just make your week.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Kobe Luminarie Reflection

Another view of the front entrance to the first section of the Kobe Luminarie, this time in color and reflected in the side of a retail building. Hope you are not bored of the Luminarie yet, I did go overboard with taking photographs at this festival.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Kobe Luminarie Cables

This is the view from inside the "castle of light" that might give you an idea of how many cables are used to secure this grand structure.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Castle of Light

This is the central element in the Kobe Luminarie, which is like a castle of light, that the first section empties out into. The bottom of the photograph captured the screens of some of the thousands of cell phone cameras that everyone in Japan has, and uses on a regular basis - especially when special lights are involved.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Crowds at the Kobe Luminarie

This is the view as you exit the first section of the Kobe Luminarie and look back at where you just came from. This photo might give you an idea of what the crowds are like at the peak of the evening.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Inside the Kobe Luminarie

This is the view as you start to make your way down the main street where the Kobe Luminarie is erected. I have been watching over the last few weeks as the skillful crews set up these whitewashed wooden structures, that have all the lights attached to them. They look rather heavy and special metal poles are located along the street (year-round) that a tangle of mooring cables are attached, securing the Luminarie from winds.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Show Me Japan: Luminarie

December in Kobe means it's time for the Luminarie (神戸ルミナリエ), which is a festival of lights held every year since 1995. Originally the festival was enacted to commemorate the Hanshin - Awaji earthquake. The lights and the grand wooden structures that house them were donated by the Italian government after the quake.

The Lights are kept up for about two weeks and turned on for a few hours each evening. Each light is individually hand-painted and the scene is quite colorful (in photographs it is also stunning in B&W, however I will post color images in the coming days). Major streets in the vicinity are closed to traffic to allow pedestrians to stroll down the streets unimpeded, and enjoy the lights.

Luminarie will take place from December 2 through December 13. The starting time is at 18:00 during the week and 17:00 on the weekends. It ends at 21:30.

If you plan to visit, I suggest that you don't go at the beginning of the evening, as there will be many people waiting in long lines that wrap around the area. It is best to wait as late as possible, when fewer people will be there - unless you like long lines and shoulder to shoulder peoples.

At the end of the route, there are yatai food stalls where you can get lots of festival-type dishes, treats, games, and drinks. Toward the back of the final gathering area a tent is erected where people who experienced the earthquake share their stories and insights - well worth a visit if the mood strikes you!

Photograph is my entry for this weeks Show-me-Japan (Vol.1 Issue 4).

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Kobe Docks

Fishermen and a cargo crane at the industrial seaside dock near Harborland (神戸ハーバーランド) in Kobe.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Spare Change

Statue of a Shishi (or Jishi), which translates as "lion” but it can also refer to a lion-dog with magical properties and the ability to repel evil spirits. A pair of shishi often stand guard at Japanese Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. Shishi are usually found in pairs, one with an open mouth (Ah) and one with closed mouth (Un). “Ah" is the first sound in the Japanese alphabet, while "N" (pronounced "un") is the last. These two sounds symbolize beginning and end, birth and death, or all possible outcomes (from alpha to omega). Photograph is from Sumadera Temple where it is apparently common to place an offering inside the mouth of the Shishi.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Shopping In Kobe

logo for the fashion retail store COMME ÇA ISM, brightly illuminated and located down a long dark hallway; this is the location in the shopping mall near the harbor in Kobe.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Fire Brigade

Last shots from the disaster-preparedness drill; this was a demonstration by the fire brigade setting up hoses in three different locations on the school yard surrounding one of their water disbursement trucks and another small controlled fire. They then all released water straight up and as the water showered down the flames were extinguished.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Disaster-Preparedness Drill

Attended the annual disaster-preparedness drill for the ward that I currently reside in. The drill consists of activities, displays, and information provided to the local citizens to inform them about disasters that could potentially befall the area including tsunami, earthquakes, and fires; and what measures they might take to prepare for such events and what to do when and if they occur. The local police, fire, road, and disaster management organizations were on-hand for this rather interesting event. Does the neighborhood you live in have such events? Pictured is a hands-on demonstration of a fire extinguisher by a local elementary student.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Toy Camera Kouyou

One final shot from The Kobe Municipal Arboretum, which is also known as the Kobe City Forest Botanical Garden. Used the LX3 Toy Camera Setting.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Show Me Japan: Psychedelic

This is a pagoda located within the Kobe Municipal Arboretum. It is fairly non-discript from the outside, located up a small hill in the center of the park. The treasure is when you actually walk into the pagoda and lookup at the intricately decorated celling. During this visit also noticed a few signs that mentioned a wasps nest, the signs also insured it was from "awhile ago." On closer inspection you can see the nest even in this photograph, it is the round object off-center at the top. Wow am I glad that nest was not active, in person is was quite imposing. Photograph was taken by getting all my settings the way I wanted them, and then setting the self-timer on the camera, and then setting it on the center of the floor and walking away.

Photograph is my entry for this weeks Show-me-Japan (Vol.1 Issue 3). Click on the previous link to see the other entries.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Kobe Municipal Arboretum

Last weekend visited the Kobe Municipal Arboretum (神戸市立森林植物園), and this is a view of Mount Maya from one of the mountain hiking trails. The weather in the Kobe mountains is a little cool this time of year, but the views make a few hours of wind chilled extremities totally worth it.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Bottle Gourd Arbor

This is one of the curiosities at the Kyoto Botanical Garden called the bottle gourd arbor. It houses many kinds of gourds that have been grown in a large metal lattice "hut," and as the gourds mature they hang down over the heads of the garden visitors. This is the Lagenaria siceraria, called hyoutan in Japanese. The Kyoto Botanical Garden has more then just Kouyou and sakura, it features more then 2,000 species of plants and trees, and is well organized into specific gardens including: bamboo, bonsai, camellia, european, hydrangea, iris, Japanese native plants, lotus, useful plants, and an uma grove.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Autumn Leaves

Another shot from the Kyoto Botanical Garden, I really enjoy Autumn with its crisp cool air and the sweet pungent smell of the damp leaves that crackle under your feet. The vibrant colors that speckle the mountainside and blanket the corners of gardens and street sides. Kyoto is really charming in this season and might be the best city in Japan to enjoy Kouyou, at least in my opinion.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Kouyou Black & White

Normally, perhaps these days at least, the vibrant autumn landscapes are captured in color. For this scene I was drawn to try black and white, in this case with a red filter applied. I learned some about black and white printing in a photo lab with enlargers and color filters back in my school days. These days I work mostly in digital but still like to use filters, and the red filter actually filters out the "red" wavelengths of light - so the brilliant red and orange hues of the autumn trees fall to white. The effect is almost infrared photography like.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Kouyou 紅葉

Fall colors (Kouyou) are to the Japanese autumn what cherry blossoms (Sakura) are to spring. The viewing of autumn leaves has been a popular activity in Japan for centuries and today draws large numbers of travelers to famous kouyou spots both in the mountains and in the cities. As you can probably tell I am a big fan of autumn and its kouyou, and will be boring you with many shots like these over the next few days. Consider yourselves duly warned. This is another image from within the Kyoto Botanical Garden.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Kyoto Botanical Garden 京都府立植物園

Took a trip with some dear friends to the Kyoto Botanical Garden, which is a very nice place to view the many changing colors of the autumn leaves. The Kyoto Botanical Garden was founded in 1917, and opened to the public in 1924. After the World War II, it was occupied by the Allied Forces and fell into disuse, but was reopened as a botanical garden for relaxation in 1961.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Show Me Japan: Autumn

A statue of a monk on pilgrimage at the Sumadera temple surrounded by autumn foliage.

Last weekend the blog Budget Trouble: Travel and Trouble in Japan, hosted a photo meme called Show Me Japan (Vol.1 Issue 2), and now it is a weekly event. I really enjoyed seeing all the images from around Japan last weekend and was introduced to some wonderful folks; so I am participating again, and here we are.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Love Padlocks

Some may be under the impression that padlocks are just to keep personal property safe, well you may be surprised to hear they have another purpose. A custom has secured itself in Europe and Asia where romantic, and sometimes superstitious, couples inscribe messages on padlocks and then attach them to certain landmarks in specific areas - more often than not railings and fences near romantic hangouts - and then toss away the key. The practice, as well as symbolizing a couple’s unending love, is also thought to bring good luck to a developing relationship. Let's hope these two made it. . .

Oh, and to all those folks in the states Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Old Factory

Abandoned factory near the docks in Hyogo.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Goshiki-zuka Kofun 五色塚古墳

The Goshiki-zuka Kofun, or barrow cemetery, is a key-hole shaped tumulus (mound of earth and stones raised over a grave or graves). This 18 meter high tumulus sits in Tarumi, on a hill in the middle of a residential neighborhood overlooking Awaji island across the channel. The key hole shape can really only be appreciated from a birds eye view of the tumulus, however, you can get some idea of its shape from the top (which you can climb to via a stone walkway). The tumulus dates from the late 4th or early 5th century and is 194-meters long. Quite an impressive site, made more impressive by its suburban surroundings and the many school children and residents that pass around it unbiased; as to them it is just the normal backdrop of an everyday commute.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Tarumi-ku 垂水区

Trying something a little new, I am afraid that this blog template doesn't display this type of image well; but if you click on it you can get a better view. This is a stitched panoramic image (done in camera) taken along the coast between Suma and next ward to its west Tarumi. Tarumi is suburban area of Kōbe, with a quiet residential feel that also provides many sea side views, beaches, an outlet mall and a port that hosts a modest coastal fishing industry. The Akashi Kaikyō Bridge connects this ward with the neighboring island of Awaji. I am especially attracted to these concrete "jacks" that are interlocked and stacked along most of the Japanese coast. In the States the coast is not really protected in such a homogenous and aesthetically pleasing manner.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Show Me Japan Photo Meme

Security officer overlooking Akashi Kaikyō Bridge.

Anna Ikeda, author of the blog Budget Trouble: Travel and Trouble in Japan, has started a photo meme called Show Me Japan (Vol.1 Issue 1) and has been kind enough to invite me along. So here is my entry, be sure to check out all the other interesting posts and photographs from around Japan.


Saturday, November 20, 2010

Umeda Sky Building View

It had been a very long time, almost 12 years, from my last up-close and personal visit to the Sky building - which is one of my favorite buildings in Kansai; I just cannot help but feel like I have entered some 1980's esque science fiction film when I am transported through the tube like suspended bridges that connect the towers. However, this was my first trip inside the building and my first visit at night, you do have to pay to access the uppermost outdoor rooftop observatory called The Floating Garden, but from my point of view it is worth the cost (if it is after nightfall) just for the romantic kitch and the views. So now my inner 1980's child is wondering when the Japanese will complete the flying cars and personal robots to complete the view.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Umeda Sky Building 梅田スカイビル

The seventh-tallest building in Ōsaka and, at least for me, one of the city's most recognizable landmarks. It consists of two 40-story towers that connect at their two uppermost stories, with bridges and an escalator crossing the wide atrium-like space in the center. In the photographs you can see the bridges, from the bottom looking up, the top looking down, and from the inside riding down.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Kōbe Street Art

Street art is still being made in Kōbe, recently the city has painted over some older works, and the fresh blank walls have attracted new artists like moth to flame. Love it or hate it, these artists are persistent and they constantly mold and manipulate the landscape.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Tempozan Ferris Wheel

Located in Ōsaka at Tempozan Harbor Village, near the Kaiyukan Aquarium, this wheel is the 5th largest in the world; with a height of 112.5 meters and a diameter of 100 meters. Tempozan Ferris Wheel opened to the public on July 12, 1997 and features colored lights that provide a weather forecast for the next day: orange lights indicate a sunny day, green lights a cloudy day and blue lights indicate rain.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Ōsaka Castle 大坂城

Last week visited Ōsaka castle and was pleasantly surprised to see that it was decorated with a very large landscape-like artificial hill composed entirely of flowers (represented a waterfall complete with bamboo bridge) for the chrysanthemum festival. Every year there are chrysanthemum festivals organized throughout Japan, as this particular flower is a prominent symbol of Japanese nobility. Known as the “sun” flower, the chrysanthemum was formally a symbol of the emperor, who was believed to be a descendant of the sun goddess. The highest order of Japan is even called the Grand Order of the Badge of the Chrysanthemum, which is the highest possible honor a Japanese citizen could be awarded during his or her lifetime.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Coins At Kinkaku-ji

A water filled bowl carved out of the center of a large stone, located at one of the smaller shrines at the Rokuon-ji temple complex. The bowl also collects coins offered to the Kami 神 (spirit) of that particular shrine.