Sankei-en gardens

If Shinjuku-gyoen is my favorite park in Tokyo, Sankei-en 三渓園 is my favorite one in Kanagawa. It was a private garden owned by a family of silk traders one hundred years ago. Sankei Hara was the family member who first bought the land. He loved Japanese gardens and architecture so much that he decided to design the garden by himself, he also brought traditional wood houses that he loved from all over Japan.

If you visit it early during a weekday it is a very quiet place with areas where the forest and the Japanese style houses will be for you and nobody else. I recommend it to everyone who complains about being tired of visiting temples and shrines filled with tourists when traveling around Japan for the first time.

sankeien

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Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line – Crossing Tokyo Bay

Since I looked up Tokyo bay for the first time in Google Maps in 2005, I have always been wondering what is that tower that comes out of the sea, more or less on the middle of the bay.

Tokyo bay tower

If you zoom in this is what you get:

Tokyo bay tower

Its name is 風の塔 “Tower of the Wind” and was built by Kajima Corporation. It seems like an antenna but it turns out that it is a ventilation system for the highway that crosses the bay under the sea. The name of the highway is Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line and it is actually a combination of a bridge and a tunnel. The Tower of the Wind can’t be visited, but the rest area 海ほたる Umi-hotaru “The Sea Firefly”, which is right at the end of the tunnel, can be accessed by anyone.

The other day we cross Tokyo bay using the Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line, we passed under the Tower of the Wind and we stopped at The Sea Firefly to have a coffee and take photos. To best way to access the Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line from the center of Tokyo is to go to Odaiba first using the Rainbow Bridge.

Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line

Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line

Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line

Crossing the bay under the sea. Speed limit 80km/h (50mph).

Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line

When we arrived to the rest area 海ほたる Umi-hotaru “The Sea Firefly” we parked our car and walked around for a while. We had the sensation that we were on a boat. The building has several floors, all of them full of shops, restaurants and, of course, a Starbucks.

Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line

Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line

Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line

Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line

Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line

Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line

Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line

Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line

Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line

Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line

That thing by the sea that looks like a monument is part of the machinery that was used to drill the highway tunnel.

Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line

Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line

Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line

Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line

Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line

Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line

Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line

Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line

Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line

Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line

Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line

Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line

Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line

Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line

Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line

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Walking Around Residential Areas – Setagaya

One of the tips that I usually give people that come to Japan for the first time is to “not to worry” too much and wander around without a clear destination in mind. One of the things that I enjoy the most about living in Tokyo is to get lost with my camera in residential areas. The residential areas don’t have anything special like tourist attractions do, but that’s why I find them so cool and charming.

These are some of the photos that I took around Setagaya in Tokyo. I’m not saying that you should go to Setagaya, any residential neighborhood in any Japanese city has a similar spirit: small houses that look like they have been taken out of a Doraemon or Shinchan episode, low-rise buildings, narrow streets where almost no cars pass, a lot of green areas, stressed out people going to the supermarket riding a bicycle…
Explore and get lost in any neighborhood near your hotel when you come to Japan! :)

Trivia: Setagaya-ku is the second largest district in Tokyo after Ota-ku and was the neighbourhood chosen by Akira Kurosawa to “retire”.

setagaya

setagaya

setagaya

setagaya

setagaya

setagaya

setagaya

setagaya

setagaya

setagaya

setagaya

setagaya

setagaya

setagaya

setagaya

setagaya

setagaya

setagaya

setagaya

setagaya

setagaya

setagaya

More photos of my walks around Tokyo in my Flickr and in my Instagram

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Mount Tsukuba

Mount Tsukuba, like mount Takao, is an ideal location for a one day trip while staying in Tokyo. Mount Tsukuba is topped by two peaks of similar heights: Nyotai-san 877 m./2,877 ft. and Nantai-san 871 m./2,858 ft. Legend has it that the deities that created Japan remain in mount Tsukuba, the goddess Izanagi is associated to the lower peak Nantai-san while the god Izanami is associated with the higher peak Nyotai-san.

Even if you climb up both peaks the hike is not very long. It is quite enjoyable because along the path there are several rest areas with restaurants and Shintoist shrines.

One day trip to Mount Tsukuba

One day trip to Mount Tsukuba

Mount Tsukuba

Mount Tsukuba

Mount Tsukuba

Mount Tsukuba

Mount Tsukuba

Mount Tsukuba

Mount Tsukuba
At the top of Nyotai-san, the highest peak.

Instructions on how to get to mount Tsukuba at jnto.

Related posts about hiking in Japan:

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Matsushima

Matsushima is a group of almost 300 islands that lay inside a small bay in the Miyagi prefecture. Matsushima is written in Japanese using the characters 松:pine and 島:island because it turns out that most of the islands are covered by pines. The views from the mountains behind the town of Matsushima-machi are considered as one of the three most beautiful views in Japan. The other two are Itsukushima (Miyajima) and Amanohashidate.

The days we were in Matsushima we were not lucky at all. It was cloudy all day, from dawn until night. This one is the best photo I was able to take of the famous view:

Matsushima

The truth is that the famous panoramic view is not the most beautiful thing the islands have to offer, but walking around them and enjoying the breeze from the Pacific ocean is.

Matsushima

Matsushima

Matsushima

Matsushima
Fukuura island is accessible by foot from the esplanade at the seafront of the town.

Matsushima

Matsushima

Matsushima

Matsushima

Matsushima

Matsushima

Matsushima

Matsushima
Ukiyo-e of the Matsushima islands by Hiroshige.

How to get there from Tokyo: Take the Tohoku Shinkansen until the Sendai station. From Sendai change trains to the Senseki line which will take you to Matsushima-kaigan station.

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Daibutsu Hiking Trail in Kamakura

At the end of the 12th century, the imperial family lost their military control over Japan. After several years of civil wars between the Minamoto (Genji) and Taira (Heike) clans, Minamoto no Yoritomo defeated the Taira clan. He rose to power as the shogun (military dictator) taking control all over Japan, establishing the capital in Kamakura and starting a new era known as the Kamakura Shogunate. This was the start of the aristocracy decline, which would maintain the imperial court in a secondary role during almost seven centuries until the Meiji restoration.

Kamakura, surrounded by sea and mountains, is a natural fortress. A city that you can only reach using Seven Passes. The strategic location helped to protect the city and maintain the military control over Japan during more than one century.

Last July we decided to go around the city along the mountain range that connects Kita Kamakura with the north of the bay. We set out from Kita Kamakura station and went into the forest at the point where Jochi-ji temple is located. Jochi-ji temple is one of the main Buddhist temples of the city.

Kamakura

Hidden in the Jochi-ji temple we found a statue of Hotei, the god of happiness, one of the seven gods of fortune. According to popular belief rubbing Hotei’s belly will bring wealth, good luck and prosperity. That’s why you can see his belly is so well polished on the photo below.

Kamakura

Kamakura
A tanuki family!

We had just immersed ourselves into the forest and soon we bumped into another temple, the Zenirai Benzaiten, founded by Minamoto no Yorimoto not long after he took control over Japan. Legend has it that Minamoto dreamed with a kami that pointed him to the exact spot where he had to build the temple: “over there in the mountains in the northeast where miraculous water springs”. After exploring the mountains that surround Kamakura, Minamoto found the water spring and started to build this temple, which mixes characteristics of Buddhist temples and Shintoist shrines.

Kamakura

Kamakura

Kamakura

Kamakura

During our hike we found several areas with bushes of ajisai (hortensias) that looked really beautiful. Ajisai blossom in the raining season bringing great colors to the start of the Summer.

Kamakura

We ended our hike in the Daibutsu in Kamakura, one of the most visited Buddha statues in Japan. Minamoto no Yorimoto, after taking control over Japan, attended the inauguration of the Daibutsu of Todai-ji in Nara, he was so impressed that he decided that he had to build a similar or better one in Kamakura to show his power to everybody. Unfortunately he died four years after becoming shogun and he was never able to see his dream come true.

Around 50 years after his death, the Kamakura statue was inaugurated (first made of wood and afterwards rebuilt in bronze). After almost eight centuries, it is still here, imperturbable, staring at the sea after having weathered the effects of several tsunamis and earthquakes.

Kamakura

How to do the same hike: from Kita Kamakura station walk until Jochi-ji temple. It’s located 500 meters walking along the road that goes to Kamakura. From Jochi-ji temple you just have to follow the hiking trail that starts in the path that borders the temple. After around two hours walking slowly you will get to the Buddha statue.

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Hotels in Tokyo

I recently received an e-mail from a friend asking me about hotels in Tokyo. A lot of people have asked me about where to stay in Tokyo but I find it difficult and delicate to recommend a hotel or restaurant that afterwards won’t meet expectations. Let’s try! 😉

Now it gets complicated: hotels, by reading your books I can’t decide, I don’t know which one is the “best” neighborhood for us. We are looking for a neighborhood with nightlife. Shibuya? But the hotels in Shibuya don’t look as good as the hotels in Shinjuku. How is the public transport at night? The train/metro is closed as, for example, in Madrid?

Neighborhoods, trains, public transport at night
In Tokyo I usually recommend staying in Shibuya or Shinjuku, as both have the best atmosphere in the city. Another option is to look around in the Ueno/Asakusa/Akihabara area or near Tokyo station where the hotels are somewhat cheaper in general; however you will be half an hour away by train from Shibuya/Shinjuku/Harajuku. Shinagawa is also an area that is well connected and with good hotels. As a general rule, any hotel located inside the Yamanote line circle could be considered to be in a good location.

Regarding trains, the lines close between 12:00pm and 1:00am (depending on the line) and open again starting at 5:00am. Using taxis is quite expensive.

Cheap hotels (below 10,000 yen per person/night)

Mid-range hotels (between 10,000 and 20,000 yen per person/night)

  • Shinjuku area: Sun Route Plaza Shinjuku
  • Shibuya area: Granbell (Good, cheap and next to Shibuya station)
  • Shibuya area: Shibuya Tokyu (Sometimes it can go above 20,000 yen per night, but it’s one of the best located hotels in Shibuya)

Expensive hotels (More than 20,000 yen per person/night)

Related posts:

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Niijima

“Even if it rains you will not get wet” – that is the first thing I read in a sign last Summer when we arrived to Niijima (新島, 新: new, 島:island). At the same time we were seeing the cloud of drizzle that seemed to have followed our boat from Oshima (大島, 大: big, 島:island) turn into a rainbow.

Niijima

Niijima

Niijima

“Hello! Are you the guys staying at Fujiya pension?” – a girl asked us.

“Yes, that’s us”

“My name is Michi. How was the trip? You just arrived with the Friday night boat coming from Tokyo, right? You should be very tired” – she kept asking us.

“It’s been long but we have slept almost all night”

“Perfect, in any case I will take you to the pension right away. It will take us five minutes by car”

Soon we were on our way to Fujiya pension in a road bordering the sea. We passed under another cloud of rain that sprinkled our car during some seconds. Michi was driving.

“The good thing about driving around Niijima is that there’s barely any traffic lights!” – Michi told us with a proud smile while she looked at me out of the corner of her eye, as I was sitting on the front passenger seat.

“And you know what’s the best of all? You can park anywhere.” – she said knowing how difficult it is to park in downtown Tokyo.

When we arrived at the pension an old woman received us with a smile, we guessed she was Michi’s grandmother. She looked like she was older than 80 but she moved inside the pension nimbly. She opened our rooms and when we still hadn’t had time to leave our bags on the tatami she asked us:

“Have you come here to surf?”

“No, we just came here to visit the island”

“That’s weird, most of the young people that come to Niijima, just come here to surf” – she told us while she spread a couple of maps of the island on the table.

“Could you tell us where can we find the missile test range of the Japan Self-Defense Forces?” – I asked, as I had read about the island being an strategic location to protect Tokyo in case of it being under attack.

Since the Senkaku islands dispute, we all have been more informed about this kind of things. It is quite sad that two neighbour countries like Japan and China have such a bad relationship. Why don’t we share the three Senkaku rocks? One of the first things that I tell Japanese people when they ask me what do I miss the most about Europe is that one of the best things we have in Europe is “our union”; although sometimes we disagree about money, uncontrolled migrations or how to deal with international conflicts, we never feel threatened or have to worry about a not very friendly military around the corner like China or North Korea. In Europe the conversation between countries is fluent, here in Asia the leaders of the different countries barely talk with each other.

“Rocket launchers… They are in the South, but I don’t know where exactly…” – she told us while she looked closely at the map squinting her eyes.

I then decided to check Google Maps but in the south of the island there’s absolutely nothing. However, eventually she told us quite convincingly:

“I am sure it’s to the southwest. You should go there in the morning, I am sure the sunrise will be lovely there.”

On the next day we woke up at 3:30 a.m. and we set out to head south. We crossed the Honson village, one of the two villages in Niijima and we soon were on the only road that can be taken to go to the south of the island: a narrow and dark road which was full of tree branches. We drove slow, we were not in a hurry, we had until five to find the military area which is a good spot to see the sunrise.

We finally arrived until the end of the road, we were at the top of a reef. It was still night time, the only light came from the stars.

Niijima

We got our cameras ready for the sunrise…

Niijima

Niijima

And the light didn’t let us see where exactly the road ended.

Niijima

We found part of the military compound, but it seemed that it was not the rocket launch area. It was the electrical substation that provides energy to the rocket launch area and also to the nearly 3,000 civilians that live on the island.

Niijima

We continued with our search going down a secondary track but again we bumped into a fence with a sign that said “技術研究本部航空装備研究所新島支所, 防衛庁: Research & Development Centre for equipment (weapons) of the Air Force in Niijima, Ministry of Defence”. On the other side of the fence we could see a couple of hangars and two or three trucks all surrounded by the forest. I hope it will always be used as a R&D centre and it will never have to be used to launch missiles.

We came to the conclusion that that was all we could ever see of the military compound and we decided to go on and look for our next objective, the largest moai in the island. Yes, like the moais in Easter Island but much smaller. There are several moais in Niijima, all of them are sculpted by an artist that lives in Honson, two streets away from our pension.

Niijima

Niijima

Niijima

Niijima is a volcanic island, in fact locals say that it was “born” from the earthquake of 1703, which divided one island into two different islands Shikinejima and Niijima. And that is why it is called “New Island” (Niijima, 新島, 新: new, 島:island). Its volcanic nature makes the island orography spectacular: forests, mountains, deserted beaches, cliffs with impossible formations…

Niijima

Niijima

Niijima

Niijima

Niijima

Niijima

Niijima

Niijima

Niijima

Best thing to do in Niijima? The 24-hour open-air onsen (hot springs) decorated to imitate the ruins of a greco-roman temple. Bathing in volcanic waters enjoying the sea breeze:

Niijima

Niijima

Moai in Niijima
Can you spot the moai in this photo?

Or maybe the best was to walk on the beaches with my new camera lens, a Sigma 500mm 😉

Niijima

We spent three days exploring every corner of the island, it was almost always raining intermittently, but… we never had to use an umbrella! I wonder if this is the island of the eternal intermittent rain. It should be true what the locals say about Niijima:

雨が降っても「濡れないぞう」- Even if it rains you don’t get wet – Niijima island proverb

We got in Michi’s car. Her grandmother, always smiling, came out of the house to bid us farewell. While standing on the middle of the pavement she waved us goodbye, it seemed like she couldn’t stop waving her hand from left to right until we turned right in the first crossing and we couldn’t see her any more.

“My grandmother has been working for 46 years in the pension and it seems like everyday is like the first day for her” – Michi told us when we entered the road that had to lead us to the pier.

Niijima

You can buy tickets for the boat trip to go from Tokyo to Niijima in this website.

More photos in this Flickr set.

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Mount Fuji at Night

We started our day with the surprise of being able to see mount Fuji greeting us from among the clouds for some minutes over lake Kawaguchi. It was cloudy all day, even some raindrops fell, but after having dinner the sky cleared up, we could see the stars and even mount Fuji let us see him again.

We parked our car in the east shore of lake Yamanaka and we could take pictures like the one below. It was a pity that not all clouds went away and they spoilt our pictures a little bit. Also some lights in the border of the lake didn’t let us frame our pictures with more freedom.

The lights seen in the mountainside are people that are climbing to the summit. The climb to the top of mount Fuji is usually started at the end of the evening to reach the top just before sunrise.


In the larger version of the photo
the stars can be appreciated.

Posts about our day exploring haikyos around the lakes next to mount Fuji:

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Mount Fuji from Lake Kawaguchi

We meet in Shinjuku at 6:00am to set out on a road trip to the lake area around Mount Fuji. The objective of the day is to take photos of haikyos; it seems that the area was a very attractive holiday destination during the Japanese economic bubble of the eighties, and many hotels, resorts, restaurants and houses for wealthy people were built.

The first destination that we introduce in our GPS is lake Kawaguchi. The GPS decides that the best route to get there is using the Chuo highway, one of the elevated highways that crosses Tokyo. It’s only 120 kilometers but, being a Saturday, there is already a traffic jam to get out of the city. Until Hachioji exit the traffic is dense and it takes us two hours, then from Hachioji until the lake the traffic is more fluid and we exit the highway to enter National Road 128 around 9:00am.

We are almost arriving to our destination, we pass by in front of Fuji-Q Highland, an amusement park with many famous roller coasters, Carlos looks at the horizon and says:

“That which is hiding behind the clouds looks like Mount Fuji, isn’t it?

I look to the side and respond:

“If you doubt if it is or not, it will most likely not be Mount Fuji.”

We cross a bridge that takes us to the north part of the lake and we park our car next to a building that looks abandoned. We walk around it and it seems like it was some kind of hotel but it seems like we can’t go inside. Even being Summer, the area is surrounded by green grasslands. At the horizon we can spot a small house that seems taken out of Heidi.

Mount Fuji from Lake Kawaguchi

Mount Fuji from Lake Kawaguchi

Mount Fuji from Lake Kawaguchi

Mount Fuji from Lake Kawaguchi

We come back to our car and start surrounding the lake following the north road. We stop half-way to try to find another abandoned hotel but it seems like it has been demolished and there is nothing where it was supposed to be. Up until now we have not been very lucky in our haikyo hunt. We are in the car now ready to continue investigating, but just when we are going to start the car…

…suddenly Mount Fuji rises timidly from behind the clouds, changing our luck for the day. We jump out of the car, we walk to the lake shore and we take photos.

Lake Kawaguchi

We can’t see it completely in any moment and only five minutes pass until the clouds cover it almost completely. But it’s enough for us, to see Mount Fuji from so near in Summer is not that easy, and we are quite happy about what we have seen and the pictures we have taken. Most likely we won’t see it again during the rest of the day… or maybe we will?

Mount Fuji from Lake Kawaguchi

Mount Fuji from Lake Kawaguchi

Mount Fuji from Lake Kawaguchi

Mount Fuji from Lake Kawaguchi

Mount Fuji from Lake Kawaguchi

Mount Fuji from Lake Kawaguchi

Mount Fuji from Lake Kawaguchi

Mount Fuji from Lake Kawaguchi

Mount Fuji from Lake Kawaguchi
Photo taken by CaDs

Mount Fuji from Lake Kawaguchi
Photo taken by CaDs

Mount Fuji from Lake Kawaguchi
Photo taken by @GamiSatoko

Webcam in lake Kawaguchi-ko where you can see in real time if Mount Fuji can be seen: Webcam in Kawaguchi-ko.

Map of the lake area: Map of the lakes

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