Gyotoku Bird Sanctuary

The Gyotoku Bird Sanctuary is a wonderful getaway spot that you can reach using the Tokyo Subway. It’s home to a huge variety of birds, including herons, egrets, and cormorants.

The sanctuary used to be part of a huge expanse of tidal flat that contained lotus ponds, reeds, and paddy fields until the 1960s. It was known for the large number and vairety of waterfowl, and when the land was going to be reclaimed and developed, there was a dispute between local nature lovers and the authorities. The land got developed, but the Gyotoku Bird Observatory was set up as a compromise.

It has a bird hospital filled with hawks, owls, and other varieties of birds, and there is a great observatory filled with 25 X telescopes that you can use to watch the birds for free.

If you’d like to go in and see the birds close up, there are tours every Sunday that start at 2:00 PM. At Gyotoku, birds come before people’s convenience, and except for the observatory, there are few places that you can see them well, so it would be really worth your while to show up on a Sunday. The tours can be cancelled in case of rain, and it’s recommended that you phone ahead. (See contact information below.)

If you’re a photographer, you’ll probably want at least a 300 mm lens to shoot from the observatory.

The whole place is free, remarkably uncrowded, and is just 30 minutes or so by subway from central Tokyo. Definitely worth checking out if you’re a nature lover.

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Getting there:
The sanctuary is accessible from both Gyotoku and Minami Gyotoku Stations on the subway Tozai Line. The fare is 230 yen from Otemachi Station and it takes about 20 minutes. From the subway station, it’s a seven-minute bus ride or a 20-minute walk to the sanctuary.
By bus:
Take the Keisei bus bound for High Town Shiohama/Shin Urayasu Station. Get off at Gyotoku  Ko-ko (high school) and walk 10 minutes.
On foot:
From Gyotoku Station, go out the South Exit. Walk south to the third stoplight, where you’ll see a 7-11 on the corner. Turn right here and walk to the fourth stoplight, going past the Eki Mae Koen. There should be a Family Mart on the corner. Turn left here, and walk seven blocks until you come to a big road. Turn right and walk to the first stoplight. This road takes you into the sanctuary. There may be a better way, but this is how I did it.
Opening hours: Open every day except Monday (if Monday is a national holiday, it will be closed on Tuesday), the last Friday of every month and Dec. 28-Jan. 3.
Admission: Free
Bird watching tour – every Sunday, every national holiday, last Saturday of each month.

Here’s a link to a Google Map of the area (Japanese only): http://www.google.co.jp/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=ja&geocode=&q=%E5%8D%97%E8%A1%8C%E5%BE%B3&sll=35.605411,139.661023&sspn=0.050663,0.06918&ie=UTF8&ll=35.677117,139.913614&spn=0.012654,0.02547&z=16

Address: 4-22-11 Fukuei, Ichikawa, Chiba 272-0137
Tel: 047-397-9046
Official Site: http://www.city.ichikawa.lg.jp/english/guide/0089.html (English)
Official Site: http://www.city.ichikawa.lg.jp/env02/1411000001.html (Japanese)

Sekigahara War World

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Photos courtesy of FunkyBuddha Experience

Sekigahara was probably the most important battle in the history of Japan. It was fought in Gifu Prefecture in a tiny village called Sekigahara, which is viewed today as the dividing point between eastern and western Japan. It was the Gettysburg of Japanese history.
On one side, were Ieyasu Tokugawa, a powerful feudal lord from the east and his allies, and on the other were the forces of Mitsunari Ishida, the most powerful man in western Japan. After the death of Hideyoshi Toyotomi, the de facto shogun of Japan in 1598, Tokugawa conspired against Toyotomi’s young son, Hideyori, who was supported by Ishida. He created an alliance of feudal lords from the eastern prefectures, and moved against Ishida and the western army in 1600. After much manouvering, the two forces came together at Sekigahara, a village on the Nakasendo Highway, which joined Tokyo and Kyoto.
The battle was a terrible bloodbath in which the soldiers of a divided country slaughtered one another to decide the fate of the nation. More than 170,000 men fought at Sekigahara, and some 60,000 men were killed on the losing side. The Tokugawa alliance won the battle after several of the western generals turned traitor and fought on the their side. After the battle, the Tokugawa Shogunate took over Japan, ruling the country for the next 250 plus years.
On the actual battlefield, of course, there is a solemn monument, but some business person seems to have decided that that was not enough. They decided the area also needs a 30,000 square meter theme park with lifesize concrete statues of the battle, complete with recreations of hand-to-hand combat, beheadings, and ritual suicides.
As you wander the grounds enjoying the carnage, a song entitled “Ah, the Decisive Battle of Sekigahara” serenades you on an endless loop. There are 202 statues in all, including an image of Takeda Shingen (who died 25 years before the battle) holding a standard that says “No More Sekigaharas!”

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Photo courtesy of FunkyBuddha Experience

Links:
There are tons more photos at the wonderful FunkyBuddha Experience website, an incredible guide to bizarre places in Japan. Unfortunately, it’s all in Japanese, but even if you don’t understand what it says, just click through and look at the photos: http://www41.tok2.com/home/kanihei5/asano-sekigahara.html. The main page is at: http://www41.tok2.com/home/kanihei5/index.html
Another good place to see photos is this page full of pictures of two guys clowning around on the statues: http://underzero.net/html/tz/tz_432_1.htm
There’s a good historical description of the battle here: http://everything2.com/title/battle%2520of%2520Sekigahara
Official website: http://www.kanko-sekigahara.jp/kankou/ko-02.htm (Japanese only)

Getting there: 20 minutes walk from Sekigahara Station on the JR Tokaido Line.
Address: Gifu Perfectuere, Fuha^Gun, Sekigahara-Chou Ikedera
Tel. 0584-43-0302
Hours: (Apr.-Oct. 9AM-5PM, Nov.-Mar. 9:30-4:30
Admission: 700/400
Closed: 12/30-1/2

Mito Tower and Botanical Garden

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Most visitors to Mito in Ibaraki Prefecture head to the famous garden Kairakuen and the Kodokan, an old school for samurai, but once you’ve seen them, there are a couple of other places worth checking out as well. One is the Mito Art Museum. It was built in 1989 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the city’s municipalization and hosts concerts, art exhibits, and plays. You can ride up to the top for just 200 yen.

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Mito Kodokan

This Golden Week, I went to Mito, an interesting city that deserves to get a lot more visitors than it does. I’ve already written about Kairakuen garden, the city’s most well-known attraction, but there are also some other attractions that make this city a nice getaway spot if you live in Tokyo. This is called the Kodokan. It was an academy for the nobles of Ibaraki Prefecture,  and I can’t say I’ve ever seen a high school or university campus that was as beautiful as this one.

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The school was founded in 1841 by the ninth feudal lord of Mito, Nariaki Tokugawa. Pupils studied the Chinese classics, warrior arts, mathematics, astronomy, and medicine.

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The building is filled with beautiful calligraphy and furniture from 19th century Japan. Unfortunately, most of the buildings burned down in a fire, but the front gate and the main hall have been preserved.

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An English pamphlet is available.

The Kodokan is open from 9 to 4 every day of the year. Admission is only 190 yen ofr adults. Address: Mito-shi, Sannomaru 1-6-29. It’s seven minutes’ walk from the station. Tel. 029-231-4725

Odd Scenes From the 2009 Tokyo Marathon (Part 1)

The 2009 Tokyo Marathon took place last Sunday, March 22, 2009. I’ve never seen a marathon before, and I have to say that it was really entertaining and of course, completely different from watching the professional runners on TV.
It’s quite amazing to see hundreds of people rushing by you every minute. I heard that 27,000 people entered the marathon this year, and I figure I must have seen about 20,000 of them rushing by me. If you ever want to get a real feel for what a big number like 27,000 means, the Tokyo Marathon is a good way to really understand just how many it is, and get a feel for just how many different kinds of people there living in Tokyo.

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This is a namahage.

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Bizarre Photos from the Japanese Interwebs

Fuji-Q is bear habitat. There are bears everywhere. If you find one, defintely don’t try pro-wrestling moves on them. Do not tackle them.

Go die in Tokyo. The Beautiful Mt. Fuji Preservation Organization.
(The forests around Mt. Fuji are a popular suicide spot in Japan)

Casual part-time job! Work! No motivation necessary. No energy necessary. Looks not important. 900 yen plus per hour.

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Walking sleeping bag. They say that “With one of these, even if you were chased by a bear in the middle of the night, you could stand up and escape.” Whether you could run fast enough is questionable, though.

No Titanics.

All members of the humanities department, the law department, the economics department, the science department, and the engineering department have passed, with the exception of the below numbered students: 00260. That is all.

All these photos come from http://himazin.jp/

Hamamatsu Kite Festival

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Ready to launch a giant kite at the Hamamatsu Kite Festival. The festival features giant kites flown by teams of people from the local area, and they try to cut the strings of rival group’s kites. It’s held on May 5 (Children’s Day), the last day of Golden Week and is well worth a visit if you’re looking for something to do during the Golden Week holidays.

More kite-related posts: http://qjphotos.wordpress.com/?s=kite

Bonsai-mura

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If you were opening up a shop in North America, you would probably check to make sure that there wasn’t too much competition nearby. It always seemed like common sense to me when I was living in Canada, but since I’ve been living in Japan, I’ve come to question the assumption.
There are a large number of districts in Tokyo where similar businesses are all grouped together. Ochanomizu has a couple dozen music shops, Kanda has a street of used book stores, Asakusabashi has bead shops, Akihabara has electronics, and on and on. It seems that the shops have a synergy, attracting more customers because people know that they can get a good price and selection if they go to the area, increasing patronage to all the shops.
One of the oddest shopping districts I’ve come across is Bonsai Mura in Saitama City. There are about 10 nurseries here, and people come from all over Japan to visit them. Apparently a number of Tokyo bonsai masters decided to move out there after the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, and set up their own little community with strict rules and regulations about buildings, fences, and behavior, one of which is that they have to open their gardens to the public.
It’s quite fascinating to wander around, and the staff seems to enjoy talking about the trees. By the way, photography is not permitted, and I was lucky that the old lady who worked there offered to turn her back while I took my picture.
There’s quite a good website with history of the area and information about visiting at: http://members.iinet.net.au/~jold/bonsai-in-asia/japanomiya.html

The official site (http://www.seikouen.cc/) is almost all in Japanese, except for this profile of the gardeners: http://www.seikouen.cc/bonsai1/cafe/cafe1.html

Kawagoe

If you have an interest in traditional Japanese architecture and can’t get out of the Tokyo area, Kawagoe city in Saitama Prefecture is definitely worth a visit.

It’s an old castle town and has quite a few old kura (stone buildings) and an interesting temple called Kita-in. Kura were originally small stone storehouses that were built beside a person’s house to store valuables in. Most Japanese buildings were made of wood, but the kura’s stone construction helped to prevent fire and theft. In Kawagoe, however, the kura have evolved into regular shops and houses. Kura were very expensive to build, and they were only common in wealthy commercial centers, such as Kawagoe, which provided rice and timber to nearby Edo (modern-day Tokyo).

There used to be about 200 kura in Kawagoe, but, now, just a few dozen remain. Most of them are in the “Kura-zukuri” zone north of the station. Kawagoe doesn’t compare with Shirakawa-go, Takayama, or the old post towns of the Naka-sendo, because most of the houses are on crowded streets with heavy traffic, but some of the buildings are gorgeous.

Kawagoe’s symbol is the Toki no Kane, the Bell of Time. Built between 1624 and 1643, it was destroyed three times in the numerous fires that swept through the city. The latest incarnation was rebuilt in 1893. You can’t actually go in it, but everyone stops by to take a photo.

Kita-in, an important temple was founded in the ninth century. It’s dedicated to Muryoju (Amitabha), the Buddha of unending life, and was formerly the main temple of the Tendai Sect, but to me, it’s the Nose Picking Buddha Temple. There are hundreds of rakan butsu-zo, statues representing the 500 disciples of Buddha. Although many Buddhist sculptures are carved to represent exquisite beauty or terrifying ferociousness, rakan almost always seem to be carved in the spirit of humour and good fun. For more details on the temple, visit the official homepage in English at: http://www.kawagoe.com/kitain/english/index.html

Another place of potential interest is the Honmaru Goten, a palace that was once part of Kawagoe castle. It was built in 1848 and is interesting because many palaces in Japan were were built of wood and have not survived as well as the stone castles they were attached to. (In this case, however, the palace has survived and there is nothing left to see of the castle.)

Address : 2-13-1 Kuruwa-machi, Kawagoe City, Saitama Prefecture, TEL : 049-224-6015, Hours : 9:00 – 17:00, Admission : Adults 400 yen, Students (primary school, junior high school) 200 yen, Holidays : Every Monday (excluding Mondays that follow a holiday or the Kawagoe festival), days following holidays (excluding Saturdays and Sundays), 4th Friday of the month (excluding holidays), Dec 28 – Jan 4

The city’s museum is actually quite a good one, very modern and with attractive, interesting displays. It starts with displays on the ancient history of the area, and some of the artifacts from the Jomon Period are amazing. The next sections detail life for the samurai class during Japan’s middle ages, and in the Edo Period (1603-1867), and there are lots of beautiful examples of Japanese handicrafts, clothes, and weapons. There’s also a section on more recent history, and an area dealing with the city’s famous festivals.
Address : 2-30-1 Kuruwa-machi Kawagoe City Saitama Prefecture, TEL:049-222-5399, Hours : 9:00 – 17:00 ( Admission until 16:00 ), Admission : Adults 200 yen, Students (senior high school, university) 100 yen, Children under junior high school Free, Holidays : Every Monday (excluding Mondays that follow a holiday or the Kawagoe festival), days following holidays (excluding Saturdays and Sundays), 4th Friday of the month (excluding holidays), Dec 28 – Jan 4 http://museum.city.kawagoe.saitama.jp/ (Japanese only)

Kawagoe has a popular festival held on the third weekend in October, in which huge floats are pulled through the streets. Photoguide.jp has lots of pictures of the festival. If you’re not there in October, you can see two of the city’s 29 floats at the small but interesting festival museum.
Kawagoe Festival Museum
Address : 2-1-10 Moto-machi, Kawagoe City, Saitama Prefecture, TEL:049-225-2727, Hours : April – September 9:00 – 18:30 ( Admission until 18:00 ), October – March 9:30 – 17:30 ( Admission until 17:00)
Admission : General 300 Yen, Students (elementary school, junior high school ) 100 Yen, Holidays : Every 2nd and 4th Wednesday (in case of holidays, the next day) Dec 29 – Jan 1

There is also a huge fireworks display held every year in mid-July. Check the Japan Times festivals page for details.

Getting there:
JR, Seibu Railways, and Tobu Railways all operate services to Kawagoe.
JR: Saikyo Line to Kawagoe Station, 650 yen, 44 min. (The JR station is the furthest from the main sights)
Seibu: Honkawagoe Station, 450 yen, 51 minutes (Change at Tokorozawa, Honkawagoe Station is closest to the main sights)
Tobu: Kawagoe Station or Kawagoe-shi Station, Tobu Tojo Line, 450 yen, 37 minutes (Kawagoe-shi Station is closer to the sights)

The Kura-zukuri area is about 15 minutes walk from Honkawagoe Station, and about 20 minutes from the Tobu and JR stations. Kita-in and the Honmaru Goten are about ten minutes from the Kura-zukuri area. There’s more travel information here.

Other information in English:
Official site: http://www.koedo.or.jp/foreign/english/sight/sight_high.html
Japan Guide – http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e6500.html
Map in English at: http://www.koedo.or.jp/foreign/english/pdf/kawagoe_map_english.pdf
Event information listings: http://www.koedo.or.jp/foreign/english/pdf/kawagoe_event_e.pdf

Hard Gay Toy

A children’s game for ages eight and up based on the popular “Hard Gay” character. It’s nice to live in a country where you can sell an innocent toy and not have puritans protesting that the manufacturer is trying to turn the nation’s children into leathermen.web analytics