Sunday, September 24, 2006

Sightseeing in Kyushu - Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine

Dazaifu is a small city about 30 minutes by train from Fukuoka. However, it has been the administrative center of Kyushu for about 400 years until the 12th Century A.D. It was built in 903 A.D. and dedicated to the spirit of the poet Sugawara Michizane, who was later deified as the god of literature and calligraphy (Tenman Tenjin).

The entrance to the shrine is lined up with souvenir shops.

Taikobashi (the drum bridge) with two humps separated by a flat middle. The three sections correspond to the past, present and future, in the order you pass them when entering the shrine.

The pond and the buildings are quite nice.

The gate to the main building of the shrine

The main building

The shrine has several statues of the ox, believed to have carried the coffin of Michizane. This one is believed to have healing powers. These kids are touching various parts of the ox's body, wishing for healing of ailments of corresponding parts in their own bodies. Of course, the horns are not likely to serve any purpose in this case. :o)

This bird, known as "Uso", is believed to drive bad luck away and bring goodluck. Wooden replicas of Uso are popular souvenirs of Dazaifu.

A couple of random photos

You will find that the shop owners in Dazaifu are extremely friendly. They take their time to talk with the visitors, even the small kids who are the least likely to buy souvenirs. Even if you dont know any Japanese, some simple English and a few hand gestures will be enough for a good conversation and travel tips.

Dazaifu is said to look best during late winter (end of February to mid March) when the plum trees (around 6000) bloom. June must be nice too, with the Iris bloom in the ponds and the fresh green leaves. Hopefully I will get a chance to visit again to see these.

English home page of the official Dazaifu Tenmangu website

Friday, September 22, 2006

Need Travel Advice

I will be in Santa Barbara for about a week from the 23rd of next month, for a conference. Well, I will have a bit of time for sightseeing :o). Any recommendations?

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Yatai - Mobile Food Stalls

Fukuoka is the largest city in Kyuushu. It took me only about two and a half hours to reach Fukuoka from Himeji by Bullet train. The city is best known for the mobile, open-air food stalls named "yatai", where I had my dinner.

Yatai are foodstalls made in the form of hand carts. The vendors bring them to the Naka river bank at dusk, and keep them open until about 2:00a.m. Many visitors have two dinners, one early and one very late, so that they can try more food during the limited time they have. :o)

The foodstalls 'have a break' during the daytime, like this.

The most popular food are: Hakata ramen (soup noodles in pork bone soup) yaki-tori (grilled chicken) and mizutaki (steampot meal with lots of chicken). You can order beer and sake (Japanese rice wine) too.

The river bank offers a pleasant view, which brings additional value. You can find a few yatai in places other than the river bank, too.

Random photo: Stone lantern against a neon signboard

I learnt that Yatai used to be there in other cities too, but disappeared due to problems with parking and traffic. You can still find vans converted to yatai in some cities, often starting to sell food at about 9:00 p.m. The association of yatai owners in Fukuoka keeps things going, by working closely with the city office. One of the owners told me that there are around 200 yatai in Fukuoka city.

Yatai is a must visit if you visit Fukuoka. The food is cheap, and delicious, with a different taste from the same food sold elsewhere. Depending on your choice, you can either sit among unknown persons and join a conversation, or find a less crowded yatai and eat leisurely.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Japan Toy Museum

The Japan Toy Museum is located about 10 km northeast of Himeji city. This is not a favorite tourist spot, but I decided to have look as I used to teach kids back in my country.

The museum is dedicated for old-fashioned toys from various countries, although there is a section for new toys as well. The museum possesses about 80,ooo toys from 140 countries.

The usual visitors are children accompanied by their grandparents, so the receptionist was a bit curious about my visit. A brief self introduction (that I am a traveling student insterested in toys and kids :o)) resulted in a personally guided tour by the director of the museum, Mr. Shigeyoshi Inoue.

Inoue-san is a kind and nice person. He explained to me how he built the museum starting from his personal toy collection, and many other things.

After I finished seeing the toys, Inoue-san had a few presents waiting for me: two books written by him about toys, and two Japanese dolls (one of which belonged to a very old collection).

Sorry for the lack of close-up photos; flashes are not allowed inside the museum. Please visit the official web site for more details. If you are interested in toys, this place is definitely worth a visit.

Finally, one guideline for traveling in Japan. Travel off the beaten track, and talk to people!

Friday, September 15, 2006

Himeji Castle

Himeji castle is one of the oldest and the most famous castles in Japan. It takes about 40 minutes to go from Kobe to Himeji by train.

The castle has been built about 700 years ago. However, the keep (the central part of the castle) has been rebuilt about 400 years ago.

The garden of the castle is separated into a number of sections, using gates and walls with peeping holes.

Entrance to the "suicide quarter"

Stone coffins used for building the foundation of the castle, due to the lack of stones.

The keep

Inside of the keep

Small entrances to hideouts for soldiers, in case the castle was captured

Views from the top of the castle. The fish-like structure on the roof is called "Shachi" (dolphin).

Unlike some oher castles which have been converted to exhibition halls, Himeji still preserves its military features. Therefore, many of the samurai-movies are filmed here.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Minatogawa Shrine - Kobe

These photos were taken at Minatogawa shrine, Kobe at about 9:00 a.m.

The main gate of the shrine premises

Some images from inside.

There were very few visitors; the priests and assistants were busy sweeping the garden.

Torii gates are donated by those who wish for good fortune, and who are successful in business and want to be grateful to gods.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Meirken Park

A few photos from Meirken Park, a waterfront park near Kobe port. Having arrived at Kobe in the morning by night bus from Tokyo, it was a good place to have breakfast and a small break.

The port tower and the maritime museum

Some seacrafts, both old and modern

Old warehouses, converted to restaurants

A section of the waterfront preserved to show the damage after the great earthquake in 1995

Old drawbridge

Ferry rides around Kobe start from the boat quay located here. With a ferris wheel and an entertainment center, Meirken Park is a popular attraction among both locals and tourists.