Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Budda, Beaches and Big Temples

Well rather than try and tackle another hiking trail Etsuko and I decided to inject a good dose of culture and history into our bodies. The method of such injection would be a place called Kamakura. It is about one hour from my place and has been likened to Kyoto which is the big daddy of temples/shrines etc. We arrived in Kamakura at about 10am and hit the first temple we came across.

It was rather nice. Very well kept grounds and although I doubt that the temple was ‘original’ it still conveyed a pleasant atmosphere. The name of this temple is Kencho-ji. You will note there is a photo below of a very large bell. I bet you would need a huge dong to ring it, and of course something sizable to hit it with too. The Bell is apparently a national treasure of Japan. Along with myself.

Following that we discovered a walkway to a view above the temple. Some pretty spectacular views from here, and for the first time since arriving in Japan I saw the real ocean (rather than the Port). Ultimately I am glad that we climbed something like 500 steps to see this view.

Then it was on to another famous temple Tsurugaoka Hachimangu. I am not exactly sure why it is the most famous, although it was the most big! Etsuko let 20 New Zealand cents rip into the prayer collection. I am not sure if her prayers will be answered in New Zealand currency or whether Budda has access to online currency conversion?

We then decided to have some lunch. Of course being one of the four top tourist destinations in Japan the food shops literally had us by the throat. So we settled for the Japanese equivalent of Cobb & Co. called Watami. Very nice, and we were now empowered to see ‘the big Budda’. This was actually pretty cool. It was bronzed in 1252 and is not a ‘recreation’. This is the fair dinkum real McCoy. It used to be inside a temple but a rather large Tsunami smashed it. Luckily the fat boy survived. He isn’t actually that fat, in fact he is full of air, I know this because I went inside him. As you can imagine the photos of the inside of a dark place are not that impressive and therefore I haven’t published them here.

After this we hit the beach in time for the sunset. The wind was rather chilling but it was nice to get down to the beach. Like all trips to popular touristy places you end up taking pictures of everything, I walked away having taken like 100 photos. Tomorrow I wont remember which temple was which but at least I can say I’ve been there! I think I don’t need to see another temple until at least January 1 2005. When I am planning on going to Osaka and Kyoto.

Ding Dong Merrily....

Looking Down on the Temple and Out to Sea

Oooh, doggy.....big doggy!

The Fat Boy!!...and bronze Budda

It seems to take a good photo you need to remove the human from the camera.

Yes ''Be Careful about Tsunami When You Feel the Earthquake''


Making the most of the hiking season in Japan can be very tiring! Today was a pretty good day for hiking although a little cloudy and hazy, but still good enough to get a nice view!

Today I tackled the same course where I saw the bear but I pushed on a little farther this time and made the Summit of Mt Jimba. It is 857m high, or so the signs said. On the way up I met an elderly Japanese couple, the woman was an English teacher to small children. I said konnichiwa to them and she immediately commented that I ‘ speak very good Japanese’! Not that I am complaining I’ll take any compliments when I can get them. They were seasoned campaigners and were doing a pretty sizeable walk themselves. We chatted about New Zealand and she said that she and her husband hadn’t been to New Zealand but had been to 20 other countries, obviously the NZ tourism board is doing something wrong! I told her my bear story, she misunderstood and told me not to worry because there were no bears in this area!! I related my story and for about 5 minutes any passers-by were retold my story in Japanese. I assume that it was my story being retold rather than ‘this guy is nuts!!’ She then told me I need to put a bell on my pack…umm well…anyway

Before we parted and I went to the summit and them to Mt Takao, she commented that my English was very good. The previous compliment was eroded further. And she wouldn’t let me leave without taking some mandarins. This type of hospitality is of the type that I have read about. Was very nice of them and the citrus was perfect while I studied the map at the summit.

It was about 3 hours to the summit. Once at the top I was a bit confused as I had a map in English but the signage at the top was in Japanese kanji. Ultimately I had to buck my genes and ask the friendliest person I could see for directions. My guess was right and he was very helpful. It’s actually him standing next to the statue which looks like a cross between a horse and some kind of phallic symbol.

The other strange thing I found at the summit was a plethora of shops and picnic tables. I could buy a cup of noodles for about 400 yen. Even pick up a bear bell for 350 yen!!

Some of the scenery on the way back to the station was quite nice as the station is about as close to the middle of nowhere as you can get near Tokyo. The ‘robot’ at the entrance to the station was out of character with the sleepy frontier nature of the town. I would liken it to Taihape (the town not the robot).

I think Etsuko and I are going hiking tomorrow so hopefully some more boring scenery pics for you then!! For more info about Jimba look at this.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Watashi wa Summit Mt Jimba

Autumn Colours - Summit Mt Jimba

The Phallic Horse - Summit Mt Jimba

View Summit from Mt Jimba - Noodle and Souvineer Shop in foreground!

Some of the scenery on the way to the train station after the walk

''Robot Man'' Fujino Station

OK maybe it is Christmas

Thought I had better share with you the Christmas Tree below. It has been put up, conveniently, close to my place. I get to see it every time I use the subway. Judging by the size of it, it will take a serious number of presents come Christmas Morning. I am gonna make sure I am there nice and early so that I can get the good pressies, but don’t worry I wont get there so early that I see Santa.


I don’t know what the monstrosity is next to the tree (other than the obvious – a piece of modern art). In my mind I imagine it represents the human heart with all the valves etc.


Oh and the shelter between the tree and the art is the place people who work in the building can smoke, complete with Phillip Morris sponsored ashtrays.

How Lovely are thy...light bulbs

Christmas Tree - MetroSquare 150m from my place.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Cold Beer, Chicken and a Great View

The picture below was taken from a Yakitori restaurant in a place called Ebisu, which in near the centre of Tokyo. A Yakatori restaurant is literally a BBQ Chicken restaurant. The food is usually cheap as is the beer. Because of the lofty altitude of this place the prices were a bit higher (30 floors higher in fact) than usual but understandable when you see the view. The place is set up with a counter that faces the outside of the building so that you can admire the view while you dine. The beer glass is resting on the counter.


Even the bustling metropolis of Tokyo looks peaceful and amazing from 30 floors up.


Anyway I only have one more day to work before the weekend. I will try and work overtime on Monday but am unlikely to get any so may do some more sight seeing around Tokyo. The plan is to go hiking again this Tuesday but the weather has been perfect all week so it is highly likely that there will be a torrential downpour soon. Wow am I pessimistic or what? On the weather front it is starting to cool down a bit and I can see that within the next three weeks the winter jacket will have to come out. Kev in Korea is reporting that it has already started snowing. Its quite good in a way that it is getting cold as it doesn’t seem like Christmas at all and therefore I am not missing home too much. Once again all Christmas presents can be directed to my parents house!!


Today I was given my schedule for next month and it looks as though I am working in a very small school and chances are that I will be the only westerner there. Should be a fun day. OK now remember…all presents can be sent care of my parents. ;-)



Saturday, November 27, 2004

Tokyo Through a Beer Glass

Photo from Ebisu Yakatori Bar

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Who Says Tokyo has no Trees?

Today I could not have planned it any better. The sun was shining, the wind was non-existent, a great day for hiking. Etsuko, my intrepid companion, and I set off bright and early for a place called Mitake Mountain which is about an hour and a half West of my place. As today was a public holiday the train was literally packed with hikers. Two things I found interesting about this. First that the hikers were all, and I mean all, dressed in basically matching outfits, they had bright coloured gore-tex jackets, thermal leggings, tramping boots, woollen hats, gloves and these ridiculously unnecessary tramping poles (similar to ski poles). The other funny and eventually annoying things was that many of them had these tiny bells attached to their massively overfilled backpacks. I have heard two possible reasons why people carry these bells, firstly and I can understand, they warn bears that you are coming so that the bears have time to run away rather than risk a nasty confrontation. The second reason is that the spirits like the sound of bells, so this improves your safety. Maybe both are correct? Strangely most of these ‘well’ equipped hikers got off the train a couple of stops before what I would consider the main hiking area. On our train there was probably 150 people. So over the course of the morning I would imagine that about 500 people were hiking in the same area as us.


We finally arrived at Mitake and asked the local information officer about some of the walks in the region. He put us on to the ‘Mount Takamizu Sanzan Course’ which roughly translates to the Three Mountains of Takamizu  Course. This is an 11km course that traverses three peaks. The components of the Course add up to about four hours walking time. This sounded like a bit of us we thought and off we set at about 9.30am….we soon discovered why most of the other people on our train had got off at the earlier stop as the course begins with a very steep uphill then downhill then UP HILL section. My intrepid companion became slightly less intrepid and I became the proud wearer of two backpacks. Once we reached the first summit at 759m we were over the worst of the walk.


The scenery was quite lovely, although as the day wore on so did the amount of haze and visibility dropped substantially. For example on the train ride to the Course we could see Mount Fuji, but at the highest peak there was no sign of it. The Japanese are quite fanatical about doing the right thing in the right season, and it seemed that everyone was taking their Autumn leaf watching very seriously!


The walk was fairly uneventful (compared to bear sightings that is). There were a couple of very steep sections which required a bit of care, but nothing which required the brown shorts to come out of the back pack. We thought we would have a nice and quiet peaceful lunch at the second peak. So did the 150 other hikers that were coming from the other direction! It was amazing the equipment that they packed such as stoves and blankets. Unnecessary I thought but after all they were eating hot Noodles when I was tucking into a semi-cold Onigiri (rice ball with some tuna stuffed inside it). Something which we found rather funny while at our lunching ground was that we set the camera up for a self timer photo and a nosy old lady was walking by and saw the camera. The picture below is the end result of this!


Walking the gentle downhill section was rather relaxing although the constant bells gives me great sympathy for Quasimodo.


The Course was littered with Jinja, or temples and shrines (there is a Japanese word but I can’t remember it). These are quite impressive things which are often placed in sacred places such as on the top of mountains.


We continued on our course and finished up at about 2.30pm. All in all a great days hiking. It’s a pity that the sun sets now at about 4.30pm, it was a beautiful area to explore and I would have loved more time. If you are interested in reading about this area then look at http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3036.html


OK better go.

A little too Nosy

Nosy This nosy parker got a touch of the caught redhanded when she stumbled in to the worlds most obvious situation, a camera on a post with a flashing light and two poeple standing nearby with moronic grins on their face staring at it!!

The Call of the Wild

Just like home...

A Long Way Up

Believe it or not this is acutally quite steep!

Ah, the Serenity

Nice view of the Okutama Region near Mitake

Who says I don't go to Church?

Jinja - Buddist Temple

The Lunch Spot

This is where we lunched with the masses

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Free Entertainment at Ueno Park

Just a little off the....

Fancy a free haircut.

To the back of the line

The queue for the dinner.

Its a Hard Knock Life

Homeless People enjoying their dinner.

Ueno. Where? Ueno.

Now that my concern over jamming your mailbox full of my ramblings are over I will try and pass on more of my day to day activities. Of course now you don’t need to worry about pressing delete on the email you can just not look at this site. Easy eh?


About a week ago I found myself slightly hung-over thanks to fellow NOVA teachers Adam, Peter and Chris who flat together (they organised a party, it was very seemly until Raoul turned up, but that’s a whole other story). Being hung-over in Tokyo doesn’t allow many options which don’t involve huge numbers of people and/or expense. But I heard of a place called Ueno Park. Great I though I would love to sit on the grass in the sunshine sipping my mineral water and watch the world go by.


However, Ueno Park is a very large ‘park’ which houses the National Museum (Japan’s Te Papa), the a Science Museum, a Western Art Gallery and a Zoo! Not bad for walking distance to my place. So off I set….


Initially I was surprised by the size of the ‘park’ the ‘  ’ refers to lack of similarity between a New Zealand park and what I encountered in central Tokyo. Back in NZ a park is usually a large green thing, usually with lots of trees, maybe a toilet block and possibly some rugby posts or a see-saw. In Japan they tend to be heavily concreted with a focus on trees rather than grass. There is (in the central Tokyo Parks anyway) a real concentration of Shrines and Temples, which make these places very popular at New Years.


After orienting myself (no pun intended) I made my way in a roughly anti-clockwise way around the Park. I decided that I would not attempt to focus on the Museum or Art Gallery in the umm…slightly tired state that I was in and it was just before pay day so my wallet was looking rather grim. I discovered some free entertainment in the form of the joke telling, juggling, contortionist magician. (Who said that men cant multi-task?) Of course the jokes were hard to pick up being in a different language and all, or maybe the Elvis Costello still ringing in my ears didn’t help either, but he was pretty amazing for a street performer. It was sad when my camera flash caused him to lose balance…again another story…


After a while my attention was grabbed by a very large queue of people near the road by the National Museum. I though to my self oooh goody time for some free stuff. But upon my arrival I though that the queue  members were dressed rather shabbily. Even though I fit in with their style of clothing I though it better to investigate further. I then discovered how the homeless survive in the Ueno area of Tokyo. The local Church groups go to the park everyday and distribute food to the homeless in the form of soup, a piece of fruit and something hot to drink. I would estimate that there was probably at least 1500 people taking part in this free service. The homeless were also treated to a complimentary haircut.


On a serious note it was rather sad to see such a concentration of people being helped, not by the National Government or the City Government but by a volunteer group. The homeless were also surprisingly sad, yet dignified. Many of them wore suits, which had obviously been thrown out by  the better off.  I would guess that most were suffering from some kind of mental health disorder. I felt bad taking photos of these people but I tried to be discreet and told myself that raising awareness of their plight was tolerable to my conscience.


I found it dichotomous that right next to the beauty of the park and the majesty of the National Museum and related cultural sites that such a concentration of destitute people call the same place ‘home’.  It has been said by many other tourists before but Japan is truly a land of contradiction.


OK the night drags on and I am hoping to go hiking  tomorrow (weather permitting) and I will update you of this as and when I can.



Tough Day at School

These students in Ueno Park are recording some of the greenery which probably dosent abound at their school.

Ochanomizu Station

This is a picture of Ochnomizu Station which I walked past on my way home from Ueno Park

Monday, November 22, 2004


Thanks for checking out this rather geeky invention. I thought it was time to get a little more high tech with my communication. Some would argue that this isn’t really high tech at all, however, it took me about three hours just to figure out how to log on to the thing!

The plan is of course to update all my exciting happenings on this site, in a kind of diary fashion. So you can check it out at your leisure with all the pretty pictures easily viewable and not having to worry about `Grenfell sending another bloody 2MB email with boring pictures of himself!!`

Anyway some news of what’s happening in my near future…..

December I will be working :-( Unfortunately this includes December 25, which has some kind of festival attached to it back in New Zealand I can’t remember what…Easter maybe? So please think of me as I struggle to work in the freezing temperatures, as you tuck into the Christmas Ham!

January 16-20, 2005 - I will be visiting the rather chilly nation of South Korea and will be based slightly south of Seoul (about 1 hour or so) in a place I call Suwon and a place that Kev calls home. Kev will be proving to be that drinking large amounts of cheap Korean beer does in fact distract you from the sub-zero highs! I plan to visit the border with North Korea and hopefully not get kidnapped in the process. There are however very safe organised tours of that part of the world so I should be relatively safe? Also we will look at the sights and sounds of Seoul and maybe even grab a fast train and run the length of the country (it only takes about 2.5 hours one way at about 250km/hr).

On February 16, 2005 I get on a plane and head to NEW ZEALAND!! YAY!! I arrive in NZ on the morning of Thursday the 17th and will probably fly to Tauranga arriving at about lunch time. I will kick around the Bay of Plenty (and Hopefully get to the old TA stomping ground for a bit during the week) until Wednesday, 23 February when I, sadly, depart for Japan. Of course my birthday is the 19th, and hopefully I will be able to organise a bit of a bash on the Saturday night, so keep your diaries open. If you cant make it please forward my present to my parents.

I will be doing a bit of hiking hopefully in the near future, as long as the weather plays its part. Will update this site with any exciting photos etc. from that mission.

Hope all is well and don’t forget to email me!


This was taken at Ueno Park. The foreground is the Temple Coumpound and the backgroud is a swampy area with a rather large apartment building protruding. Ugly, yet artistic?