Ryoanji – 龍安寺

Over the last 14 years I’ve visited the zen garden Ryoanji (龍安寺) several times. I love that every time I visit this beautiful dry garden (karesan-sui) it feels different. It is like watching the same movie while noticing that you are growing old, and each time you notice and feel different details.

The first time visiting Ryoanji I was twenty three years old and I had just finished graduating from computer science. At that time, my rationalistic approach to engineering made me try to explain the beauty of this place in a scientific way. I even wrote a long post about it in my Spanish blog explaining how you could mathematically divide the geometry of the garden by analyzing the empty space between the rocks.

I learned that the important thing are not the rocks but the space between them, but I was a fool thinking that we can explain beauty following a scientific approach. I think I fabricated all the mathematical explanation just to feel comfortable with the fact that an art piece so simple as rocks placed on gravel is of such beauty and importance for the Japanese people.

This time I visited the place with different eyes and heart. I just sat down and enjoyed the scenery without wondering why it is so beautiful and trying to explain it. Now, I’m 36 years old and I grasp the fact that art is never complete without taking into account the subject observing it.

It is my consciousness, through the act of observing the dry garden, who makes the place beautiful and unique.

Is not enough to explain the garden in order to understand its beauty, you have to know yourself.

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Fukui

After visiting Shirakawa-go we went north all up the way until Fukui. It was my first time in Fukui prefecture. We decided to only visit Fukui City, it was a big mistake… the city is disappointing and boring. The castle was so unimpressive (there is not even a castle, it is a dull government building) that I didn’t even take a single picture of it! If you are curious, this is a picture of the “castle” I just found on Fukui’s government website:

Don’t bother too much visiting the castle. The only beautiful and worth place to visit around Fukui’s city center was the Yokokan garden. The Matsudaira lord, who ruled Fukui at the beginning of the Edo Era lived in these gardens considered by the Japanese Government as a National Designated Place of Scenic Beauty.

One morning is enough to visit the Yokokan gardens. I would not recommend spending the night in Fukui City, leave to the northern coast. Next time I go to Fukui I will focus on visiting the villages on the seaside which they say are beautiful.

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Old Shinjuku pictures

Shinjuku 新宿 is my favorite area in Tokyo. I’ve been taking pictures of Shinjuku since 2004. During these 13 years I’ve seen this neibourhood transforming and I feel some kind of nostalgia when looking at my old Shinjuku pictures.

Shinjuku developed as a neuralgic point of activity in Japan since the beginning of the Edo area when a “juku” 宿, a place to stop and rest, was stablished on the side of Koshu Kaido, one of the five main routes of commerce in Edo Japan. Nowadays, Koshu Kaido is the avenue on the south exit of Shinjuku station that is used by more than 3 million people everyday.

Shinjuku was totally destroyed in the war and rebuilt from scratch after it. These are pictures from old Shinjuku, ranging from the 50s until the 70s. I love the general structure of the station and the surrounding streets hasn’t changed too much.


This is Shinjuku in the 70s. On the left side you can see a building with the sign Sakuraya さくらや, it is an electronics and home appliances shop.


This picture I took it in 2004 and also shows the same Sakuraya さくらや building. Sakuraya is no longer there, now it is a Bic Camera.


Shinjuku west exit area in the 70s.


Shinjuku west exit area in now.


Naito Shinjuku 内藤新宿 (Second dot from the right to the left on the map) was the first stop after Nihonbashi on the Koshu Kaido route during the Edo period. Naito was the name of an important daimyo who lived where now Shinjuku Gyoen park is located.

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Chair designed to play video-games

One of the first things that surprised me when I arrived to Japan was how much of the daily life inside houses happens laying down on the floor. Once you get used to it is nice because you can sit down wherever you want. The fact of not depending on chairs gives you a certain feeling of freedom.

But it can also be uncomfortable if you want to be a long time sitting down in the same position. In this case the best option is to use a zabuton 座布団, or much better: a zaisu 座椅子.

These are pictures of one of the most popular zaisu right now in Japan. It is used by gamers because it has an arm rest designed to hold the weight of your arms when you have your hands facing the screen with the game controller.

You can buy this chair here.

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Mikasa park

After visiting the Dobuita street we walked to the seaside. The water was clear and sarushima could be seen in the horizon 猿島 (猿:monkey, 島:island)… Monkey Island!

We ended up entering a park dedicated to Mikasa, a battleship that was used in the Ruso-Japanese war at the beginning of the 20th century. It sank near Nagasaki in 1905 but it was recovered and fixed in 1906. Now the ship is attached to the park in Yokosuka and its interior is a museum that can be visited. The cannons are filled with cement as a symbol that the Mikasa will never again participate in a battle.

This is the Mikasa Park exact location on google maps.

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Dobuita street at Yokosuka – Shenmue どぶ板通り

We went for a walk to Yokosuka, it is one of those places that don’t usually show up in travel guides. We are a bunch of nerds so we decided to find a good reason to go to this city hidden south of Yokohama where we have never been before.

My friend Antonio is a big fan of the video-game Shenmue, he keeps playing it on his old Dreamcast after more than 15 years. The hometown of the protagonist of Shenmue is Yokosuka and the majority of the action of the first part of the video-game happens in the virtual version of the Dobuita street. We had the perfect excuse to go and spend a day exploring Yokosuka.

The Dobuita street is located near a US naval base. The influence of United States military culture can be seen in every corner, the street is filled with shops and restaurants things in their menus like the Trump burger or Perry curry. In several places they accept US dollars for payments.


I took this pictured and found the same shop in the Shenmue videogame. If you are studying Japanese, can you find the main difference?

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