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Posts tagged Japan

Yanaka 谷中 Tokyo

The Street of a Thousand BlossomsI just started reading a book called The Street of a Thousand Blossoms by Gail Tsukiyama. I say “just started,” but I’m actually more than half done with it in just two days. It is conjuring up all sorts of memories of my time in Japan.

Even though we only spent a few nights in Yanaka last year, it became a magical place in my head. This probably has more to do with the fact that it was the first place I’d been to in Japan in 20 years than anything else. But maybe, just maybe, Yanaka is a magical place.

Tsukiyama’s book is set mostly in Yanaka (for the first half of the book anyway), and I really feel like I’m there again as I read it. When she speaks of the temple bell (or gong) being stuck 108 times on the New Year (joya no kane) I think back to visiting Zenshoan (全生庵寺院‎) in the Yanaka neighborhood with its gold Buddha and beautiful Zen Buddhist bell pictured below.

Yanaka Zenshoan Bell

The title of the book refers to the path through Yanaka Cemetery (谷中霊園) between Tennoji and Jomyoin (loads of jizo here and all over the streets and temples in the Yanaka area).

I’ll post more once I finish the book in a few days.

Yanaka Zenshoan Jizo

The above photo shows some Yanaka jizo.

Yanaka Ginza

The above picture is of the Yanaka Ginza (谷中銀座) frequently mentioned in the book.

Tennoji Yanaka Buddah Statue

We got lost one time coming out of the wrong exit at Nippori Station and ended up at the large Buddah statue in Tennoji pictured above. We then walked through the Yanaka Cemetery, the “street of a thousand blossoms,” purchased and ate yakiimo (baked sweet potato) from an old man selling them out of the cart he cooked them in, and chatted with some people who were enjoying the evening hanami (the cherry blossom viewing parties; there weren’t yet really many blossoms in Tokyo though).

That experience was, by far, the best time I’ve ever had getting lost.

Seibuen Yuenchi (西武園ゆうえんち)

Amusement parks are very popular in Japan, not only with the Japanese locals but also with foreign tourists. I really don’t understand the latter. For instance, why would an American going to Japan want to go to a more crowded, more expensive version of what they can already get at home (while in a country like Japan with so many things that are unique and foreign to normal experiences)?

I’ve never been to Tokyo Disneyland, and I hope it stays that way. I did go to Universal Studios Osaka and regretted it. However, when traveling with kids it can be difficult to avoid the amusement park trap; I mean trip. My suggestion is to avoid the ones everyone knows about and find something a little different.

Flashback to 1989… I was living in Tokorozawa, Japan. Nearly every night during the summer I was treated to a fireworks show from my apartment thanks to a nearby amusement park called Seibuenyuenchi (西武園ゆうえんち). I only went there once and my recollection was that there weren’t many rides. I remember animals there–especially a peacock. Either my memory is bad or things really changed at Seibuen Yuenchi between 1989 and 2007.

While surfing the net before going to Japan in 2007 I told my kids that I once went to an amusement park in Japan that now appears to have a Hello Kitty Marchen Town. They had to see it so we put it on the agenda. Plus, I wanted to check out my old Tokorozawa neighborhood which in my memory looked like scenes from Hayao Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro (となりのトトロ). (Miyazaki lives in Tokorozawa.)

Given that the cost of Seibuen Yuenchi is a small fraction of what you’ll pay at Universal Studios Japan or Tokyo Disneyland I was happy that if we were going to do an amusement park it would be this one.

hello kitty angel coaster

Although most of the park consisted of your typical rides, this section of the park, for younger kids, is what I will share with you in pictures. Here my kids are heading off to the Hello Kitty Angel Coaster.

hello kitty

Hello Kitty and her friends were all over the place in this section of the park. I’m guessing that Sanrio Puroland (サンリオピューロランド) is like this on a much larger and much more expensive and crowded scale.

seibuen yuenchi hello kitty cups

The above ride was like the Mad Tea Party ride at Disneyland except that you get to spin in Hello Kitty and her friends.

The above video is of my kids on the Hello Kitty Angel Coaster. We were the only foreigners in the park that day and it wasn’t very crowded, even though it was a holiday week.

If you want an inexpensive amusement park experience in Japan then Seibuen Yuenchi isn’t bad. Nearby is an indoor skiing facility called Sayama Ski Slope. To get there take the applicable Seibu line from Ikebukuro or Shinjuku. Coupons are sometimes available on the website linked above.

Alex Cabrera カブレラ アレックス

If you are a U.S. baseball fan the name Alex Cabrera probably doesn’t ring any bells. Or maybe the first you heard of him was when his name was included in the Mitchell Report late in 2007. (Note that Cabrera has never tested positive for steriods and denies ever having used them.) Most probably don’t know that he could have had the record for most home runs in a season in Japan had he been pitched to in 2002. He hit 154 home runs between 2001 and 2003. Baseball seasons are shorter in Japan so to hit 154 home runs in under 400 games is practically unheard of. That’s Barry Bonds territory.

But because he didn’t play in the states, and he is originally from Venezuela instead of the states, virtually no one in the U.S. knows about him. That isn’t the case in Tokorozawa, Japan.

I wrote a bit about a Seibu Lions game we went to here. I thought I’d also share a video I made of the fans cheering for Cabrera.

Each player had a different cheer (or two). Since it was early in the season (this was only the second home game of the year), the words to the cheer were written on the cards male cheerleaders are holding up in the above video. It didn’t seem like anyone needed the cue cards though.

Manga! Manga!

Manga! Manga!I’m going to be out of town the next few days so I thought I’d post about a book I just finished before heading out. Manga! Manga! by Frederik L. Schodt (and with a foreward by the famous Osamu Tezuka 手塚治虫) was an interesting read. The contents are very dated now, and it wasn’t as fun to read as Mangajin, but I still found it hard to put down.

I’m currently reading Autobiography of a Geisha (along with about ten other things), and it is even more of a page turner.

My kids’ blog is now up here. Hopefully, they will use it so you can read about our adventures through their eyes.

Some Japanese related sites that I visit

For Spring Break 2007 my family and I went to Japan. It was the first time I had been back to Japan since living there in the late 1980s. Before returning in 2007 I stumbled upon a number of websites, a few of which I still visit on a regular basis. These are all travel related for the most part. I’ll post some of the Japanese language related sites that I like another day. This is probably the best travel related site for Japan. It’s a bit “busy” with all of the ads, but if you can cut through them there is a wealth of content. Just about any question you have about traveling in Japan can be answered. And if you can’t find what you are looking for? Just ask in the Forum and you’ll get a good answer (or more than one good answer) within a few hours usually. Blue Lotus is the only blog I check out on a daily basis. She doesn’t update it everyday, but I still check in to see if she has. She is into food more than I am, but all of her thoughts aren’t about food. She has some wonderful takes on life in Japan, and can tell a story in a very enjoyable fashion. Some of her pictures are really well done too. This makes getting around Japan easy, fast, and cheap as you can always find the best train route for your needs in an instant. The quality of the questions and answers isn’t always that great, but occasionally there is something worthwhile here. I haven’t actually used Gaijinpot, but it may come in handy if I need work while in Japan.

That’s it for now. Post your favorite travel-related Japan links in the comments.