Electronic donations in a Japanese shintoist shrine

At the shintoist shrine of Atago (Tokyo, Minato-ku) they have installed a system that allows the visitors to donate money using their electronic wallets. Usually, at Japanese shrines there is a big wooden box where the visitors throw coins as a donation before praying. The word in Japanese for this box is saisenbako 賽銭箱 (sai 賽: offering to the gods, sen 銭: money, bako 箱: box). This is how a typical saisenbako looks like:

These boxes are big because originally people offered rice to the kami (gods) instead of coins like nowadays. The system installed at the Atago shrine has a keyboard where you type the number that you want to donate and then touch with electronic device on the sensor at the right side.


Left: electronic version. Right: traditional wooden seisenbako.

Via ANN News.

Atago Shrine location

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Best Japan pictures, 2016 (Black and white)

And today the best pictures in black and white I captured here in Japan in 2016. Do you like more the color series from yesterday’s blogpost or the black and white series of today?

Do you take black and white pictures? Why? For me is a question of how I feel, sometimes I would feel like black and white and I take only b&w pictures for days and even weeks. Then my mood changes for some weird reason and I go back to color 🙂

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Best Japan pictures, 2016 (Color)

I don’t like the feeling of time fading into eternity, that’s why use my camera to immortalize moments of it. These the pictures which I consider to be best ones I took here in Japan in 2016. I will divide them into two posts: this one with color photos and the next one that I will publish tomorrow with black and white photography.

I took all these using my Nikon D800 except the picture at the sushi restaurant, that one I captured it using my iPhone 5. At the end of this post I’m also sharing a video with some scenes of my life here in Tokyo, also shoot using iPhone5 and edited using iMovie.

If you want a high resolution version of any of the pictures you can download them from Flickr (Feel free to use them any way you want, even commercially, as long as you mention Hector Garcia-A Geek In Japan as the author of them)

Best photos of Japan from previous years:

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Shirakawa-gō

Shirakawa-gō was the last very famous Japanese touristic spot that I hadn’t yet visited since I arrived to Japan in 2004. The main reason why I had not yet visited this UNESCO World Heritage is because the access to it is not easy.

During our trip to Gifu I decided that it was the perfect chance fulfil my dream of seeing this place. We used our rented car from Takayama and drove all the way to Shirakawa-gō. It was a very easy ride, it was almost all the one hour travel driving on highways with no traffic at all and going through 11km long tunnels!

Walking through the streets of Shirakawa-gō is as beautiful and idillic as it looks like in pictures. When we arrived at nine in the morning, we were almost the first to arrive and it felt like time traveling to an old Japanese village. After ten in the morning hordes of tourists invaded every corner of Shirakawa-gō. So, here is my little piece of advice: if you can, and if you like loneliness when contemplating something beautiful as I do, visit Shirakawa-gō as early as posible.

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Random Japanese curiosities

I share here a series of pictures that I took randomly. These are details of Japan that I personally find interesting. I think there are some hints in them about this culture that can’t be explained in words.

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Ear cleaning and massage advertisement

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Diagram showing how a port is protected from tsunamis

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Advertisement offering trunk room space to store things that you can’t fit in your apartment. This is very normal in Tokyo where living space is very limited.

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Poster by the Japanese Government to increase awareness of the “limits” of the Japanese territory. Notice the Senkaku islands in the South and the northern territories disputed with Russia.

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Wilkinson cool hipster

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Oden being sold in a vending machine.

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A door that opens using the energy generated with the user’s footstep energy.

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Street that is acting as a firebreak

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Temple offering fortune in English, Korean and Chinese

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Campaign to increase awareness that drinking water is a healthy. “Drinking lots of water is healthy”

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Found at the entrance of Condomania. A Condom store located in Harajuku.

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Bathing in a free access rotenburo

Rotenburo 露天風呂 are outdoor hot-spring water baths. Usually, you pay an entrance that will give you access to the bathing area. An onsen 温泉 (Hot-spring) dedicated business, a hotel or a ryokan are most of the times managing the baths. But if you go to remote areas, sometimes you can find baths in the wild where you can just get naked and soak in warm water for free. Bathing in onsen waters is one of my favorite things to do in Japan, especially after a nice hike.

This is the exact google maps location (Shin hotaka yu, 新穂高の湯) (Gifu Prefecture) of the bath we found.

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Japanese Alps hiking

On our third day we drove one hour to the East from Takayama and found ourselves in a valley that reminded me of Switzerland. The first western explorers, after the Meiji opening of Japan, found the mountains of the Hida range that divide Gifu and Nagano prefecture to be utterly similar to the European Alps and decided to name them Japanese Alps. The name stuck with the Japanese people and now the the Hida, Kiso and Akaishi mountains are all officially called Japanese Alps.

We arrived at the Shinhotaka ropeway and parked our car before nine in the morning. We were almost alone, surrounded by nature and the sound of the water hiting the rocky river. But suddenly, three buses filled with old Japanese people (probably retired) arrived and we found ourselves queuing in order to ride the Shinhotaka Ropeway. I’ll never get used to queuing in Japan, there always queues even in remote places where you would not expect it 🙂

The views from the top of the Shinhotaka Ropeway are astounding, pure nature beauty. From there, we started walking up into the mountains following a beginners route called Nishihodoku (西穂独標): Shinhotaka Ropeway ― Nishiho Mountain Cottage ― Maruyama (丸山) ― Nishihodoku. There was no snow at this time of the year and it was a very easy hike that we enjoyed very much. But beware, in winter it can be a very dangerous area: more details about the difficulty of Hotaka hiking routes.

 

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Photo of us with a Japanese Post at 2,156 meters of altitude

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This is the Nishiho Mountain Cottage. There is food (Ramen!), drinks and you can spend the night here.

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Photo of us at one of the summits.

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Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine

Our second day in Takayama was NOT planned.  I’m a very J on the last component of the Myers-Briggs personality type indicator, I like to plan everything beforehand. In order to “fight” against my personality (My confort zone) sometimes I do things that are totally against how I would normally do. For example, not planning a trip is something that brings me out of my confort zone 🙂

We parked our car near the Takayama station and started strolling on the east side of the city. We soon found ourselves walking in streets filled with traditional houses. Beautiful alleys but also filled with tourists, ironically, not planning our day, brought us to the Sanmachi Suji, the most touristic place in Takayama. We crossed several bridges, contemplated the carps swimming in the river and walked northbound until we found ourselves almost alone.

It was then, when we serendipitously found the Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine surrounded by green nature and lightened by the sunset ocre tones. The legend says that this shrine was build to protect Takayama against the monster Ryomen Sukuna, a beast with two heads and eight extremities.

When we entered the grounds of the shrine nobody else was there, it was magical to be there alone. Planning the day would have make it a totally different experience.

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That’s me taking the previous picture!

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Hida Folk Village

Hida Fold Village is a beautiful open air museum in Takayama (Gifu Prefecture). Since we were travelling by car, we chose it as our first place to visit, access from the 41 road (crossing Takayama from south to north) is almost direct (Turn left on the crossing with the 158).

Although it is located near the city, the Hida Fold Village is totally surrounded by nature. Walking around its pond and randomly entering its more than 30 traditional houses is a pleasure and feels like travelling back in time to the Edo Period (1603 – 1867).

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Most of the houses are build following the gassho-zukuri style. This architecture is characterised by high roofs with very step angles that help with the snow season. The shape of the roofs looks like the position of the hands when performing the buddhist prayer “gassho”, that’s why the name of the style is gassho(Hands joining together in prayer)-zukuri(making or building).

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I loved walking inside the houses and imagining the lifestyles of the people who lived in them in the old times. I learned that their lifestyle revolved not only around agriculture but they where involved in handcrafting, logging and even silk manufacturing (You can see silk worm raising devices). Almost all houses have an “irori” cooking area in the middle that helps to heat the entire place in winter when meters of snow cover all Gifu prefecture (Hida region).

The visit to this open air museum was an appetiser to before our visit to  Shirakawa-go days later.
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Access:

Hida Folk Village entrance ticket price:

  • 700 yen

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Still discovering new places in Japan

During the last two weeks I’ve been traveling and discovering new places I’ve never been before here in Japan. I’ve been living in Tokyo more than ten years but I feel that I still don’t know anything about these islands and that’s probably what keeps me here. I like the feeling of wonder when I walk randomly and discover a hidden shrine in a forest or find an utterly beautiful garden in an area where there are apparently only ugly buildings (Yes, Japan is also ugly).

I always travel by train, it is so convenient! But this time I chose to challenge my comfort zone and drive a car. I thought I could reach almost anyplace in Japan by train, but I was wrong. Japan by car is really beautiful and I will repeat in the future.

During the next days I will write here about the places I discovered during this trip to Gifu and Fukui. These are two of my favorite pictures from the trip 🙂

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