Monthly Archives: December 2015

A Day Trip to Kamakura

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Koto-kuin, “The Big Buddha”

Of the many day trips you can take from Tokyo, Kamakura is one of the easiest ones to access! If you make your way to Tokyo Station, you can take a quick peek at their “character street” (as they have a Ghibli store, Hello Kitty store, etc.) and then ride onto the Yokosuka Line straight to Kamakura Station. Or, if you want, you can head there earlier to get a headstart on some of the hiking trails. Either way, there’s a bunch to be seen and explored!

Even in the autumn/winter season, the days can be really nice. When I went, it was only about 15 degrees Celsius (about 60 degrees Fahrenheit), so we didn’t have to go around lugging our heaviest jackets (Tokyo is actually not that cold yet — just some windier days). The grounds of Kamakura show the seasonal changes:

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Autumn leaves on the temple grounds

Close by is Yuigahara Beach, which is really refreshing to see when you’ve been in the city for so long!! Even though the back looks a little like an abandoned fishing town…

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Yuigahara Beach

The shoreline is really smooth and everyone really enjoys the open ocean air. Weirdly, it didn’t smell as salty as you’d imagine an ocean to normally smell like… the air felt very clean and brisk!

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The shoreline

After Yuigahara Beach, we walked back up to take a bus to Kamakura Station, and then walked through Komachi Street (another alley of street vendors and gift shops) to visit Hokokuji Temple.

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Many people have made many prayers and wishes here

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I’m not sure what these say, but they’re hanging on a bamboo grove, which is one of Hokokuji’s treasures

Seeing the gate, I think this is one of the biggest temples in Kamakura…

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The gate to Hokokuji Temple

This isn’t quite as mountainous as the pictures might make you think… I came here dressed as if I was going to go hardcore hiking/camping, but if you avoid the trails, it is really easy to stay on the concrete sidewalks. Still, there is much to be walked and you should be ready to walk up and down a lot of stairs at the temples and Komachi Street. But I guess this is good because (if you’re like me), you’ll constantly be snacking on all the delicious foods at Kamakura!

A few of the tastiest, most interesting snacks I sampled in Kamakura:
– Hokkaido purple potato soft serve ice cream
– Apple peanuts (which I really regret not buying…)
– Flattened octopus crackers
– Almond & chocolate pancake sandwich

To be honest, I think the stores that sell the peanuts and dried fruits are where it’s at. They have so many different kinds of flavors and everything tastes really fresh — definitely recommend buying some while you’re there!!


Plant Festivals


One of the first things that I did when I came here was go to Kiyose to see the end of the summer sunflowers… but there are still plenty of festivals to celebrate nature in the autumn and even winter season! And with the fall semester coming to close, I thought it would be nice to see how Japan changes with the seasons. It really is very unique in its geography — once you take Intro to East Asia: Japan with John Mock here, you will learn a lot about the climate and how much Japan has changed over the course of a hundred years. Apparently Tokyo was almost like Venice in the past, with a bunch of canals running through the streets! Most of that is covered up now with all the concrete, but there are still spots in the city that you can see the rivers peeking out (I think Naka-meguro is a good example for this).

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Rikugien Garden illumination

One of the biggest autumn illuminations/plant-viewing festivals is the one at Rikugien Garden, which is an old garden that belonged to a feudal lord from the Edo Period. This garden was designed to reflect famous scenes from waka poems (although I wouldn’t be able to tell you which ones…) and was built in the Heian style. Even tending the gardens has a large place in history! It wasn’t really a fancy LED-bulb illumination like some of the other places in Tokyo, but they used bright spotlights to just emphasize the beauty of the existing foliage (but probably most notably, the bright reds of the autumn leaves).

Some of the other plant-viewing festivals I’ve been to this year:


Hagi Matsuri – a festival specifically for viewing bush clovers

They grow the hagi in a tunnel, so you get to walk through it!


Crooked trees in the Mukojima-Hyakkaen Gardens

In the same garden as the hagi, the workers tend to all the plants and make sure they are being supported properly — literally, as this crooked tree is doing its best to keep itself up. Reminds me of something from Tim Burton.


Sunflower merchant from the Kiyose Sunflower Festival

And, coming all the way from the very beginning, the Kiyose Sunflower Festival. This still tops my list as the awesomest plant festival you can see while you’re here.

As much as Tokyo is a concrete jungle, they really do appreciate their nature a lot. To be honest, I’m still used to people just not really caring about nature. Coming from California, which is still suffering from a terrible drought, there’s definitely a less amount of green to be seen. Of course, there are some people in America who still appreciate nature and try to preserve what is left, but I think this is a difference you can distinctly feel when you’re in Japan.

2121 Design Sight


Japan is at the forefront of a lot of scenes: art, fashion, technology — but whenever I thought about these things, I always thought about them separately. It’s a very black-and-white way of thinking on my part, even though I know that art has so much to do with science! I think it’s easier to see art from a scientific perspective (since the mechanics of some installations are really so crazy), but a little harder to appreciate science as an art. But an exhibit at 2121 Design Sight is trying to change that perspective:

Motion design is a form of art that has brought “movement” to expressions. The techniques of motion design have helped to spread vehicle control systems, map applications, communications technologies and SNS, supporting our stress-free, convenient daily lives. They also enable dynamic depictions in products, graphics and video images, creating even richer expressions that appeal to our sensibilities … Seeing one’s idea take shape and begin moving – the genuine joy of witnessing such moments may be said to represent the enjoyment of creating itself.

Huh! I never really thought about technology like that. I guess if you boil it down, creation is really at the basis of all advancements in technology. Somebody had to have been imaginative and creative to think of the things we now have in our super plugged-in society.


A little hard to see, but a spinning mirror was casting all these broken shadows down this hallway

It was a little difficult to get pictures for this exhibit because it relied so much on motion, that pictures make it all look very static. But all of the pieces were collaborations between inventors, artists, and even students!


2121 Design Sight looks quite short/small on the outside, but the interior has much more depth than appears

The building itself is pretty small, but has really interesting architecture. From the outside, it almost looks like an envelope, but when you walk in, the building drops down in two flights of stairs and the exhibit is mostly underground (the ground floor has a gift shop that is free to explore, but with only some sneak peeks of what’s on the lower levels).


One of my favorite parts of the exhibit: distortion of light projections through curtains

There was also a white field of small triangular structures that would point to wherever you pointed, if you stood in the center. But I couldn’t get a picture because this was the most popular of the pieces and the line was very long… but a bunch of kids were having fun, so at least it was being properly enjoyed and appreciated!

2121 Design Sight, though small, has made me change my mind about the relationship of art and science. I think I’ve started to prefer the smaller spaces that house exhibits for shorter periods of time, as opposed to big museums that have large collections for about half-year periods. Perhaps the essence of wabi-sabi?

Japan Loves Themed Restaurants


I mean, who doesn’t? If I think back to my childhood, some of my most vivid memories were eating at Rainforest Café, a rainforest-themed restaurant filled with jungle flora and fauna and animal robotronics, or Medieval Times, a medieval-era themed restaurant that sometimes even held dramatic jousting tournaments! The waiters and waitresses were always so in character and everyone was always enjoying the new atmosphere! Themed restaurants are super fun and a unique dining experience, and Japan is all about that.

Earlier this year, both of my parents were here with me in Japan, and one of the things we decided to do was visit the Ninja Akasaka restaurant in Chiyoda. We almost missed it because the entrance itself was so concealed (as is befitting a ninja-themed restaurant)!

We were escorted to a little cave and told to hide there until we receive word from the next ninja. The space itself was really cool because the ceiling was actually pretty high, and they lit the area with faux candles and dim lighting – much like ninjas in hiding would do! We could also hear the water droplets hitting the stone walls, making the cave feel super realistic.


Black charcoal throwing stars and foie gras

This was the first of the courses to be brought out. Foie gras seems to be a really popular appetizer in Japanese restaurants… though I’m honestly still getting used to the flavor…


“Ninja” fried chicken with black charcoal breading

At this point, I stopped taking pictures of the food and started just eating the rest of the dishes because I was so hungry… sorry!

The rest of the courses were really fresh and followed the last of the season’s best harvests – which is kind of new to me. Coming from California, we’re pretty spoiled with our produce, as most of them are available year-round. But the seasonal harvests in Japan have definitely made me appreciate food on a much higher level! And themed restaurants in Japan usually follow a 6, 8 or 10-course set, which I found to be interesting because I feel like most American restaurants would let you choose a specific dish from the menu to be the family-style dish to share for the night, and maybe a few other sides.

Between courses, a ninja came to perform some “ninja” magic for us. Unfortunately no pictures because she said they were prized techniques that can’t be shared with those outside of the clan! Haha. I think my family and I are a little bad at reacting because we just gasp a little when we’re surprised… so if you come to a themed restaurant, make sure to have your best reaction expression ready!! It’s only more fun if you let yourself in on it!

Other notable themed eateries:
– Alcatraz (prison-themed restaurant)
– Alice’s Fantasy Restaurant (Alice-in-Wonderland-themed restaurant)
– Vampire Café or Maid Cafés
– Yurei (ghost-themed restaurant)
– Zauo (fishing-themed restaurant)
– Etc, etc, etc.; there are so many in Japan!!!

Hiking through Japan


The past couple of weekends I have been hiking in various places throughout Japan with my friends. This weekend I went to Mt. Takao on the outskirts of the Tokyo Prefecture. It was a pretty easy climb, but very crowded. One of the problems with hiking in Japan is that if it’s a weekend, the trail will be crowded. Even on the train to the trail you can easily tell who is going hiking and there are a lot of them. It can be a problem when the trail at some points is literally backed up with foot traffic.


Mt. Fuji from the peak of Mt. Takao. It was gorgeous!!


We started the hike at about 10:30 AM and slowly made our ascent. Right from the beginning, it was gorgeous. We passed by a buddhist altar in a cave and a Shinto shrine with a waterfall. The hike was a steady ascent and soon we found ourselves at the top. We saw a crowd of people near the look out point and were struck with one of the most beautiful landscapes I have seen in Japan. It was a bunch of rolling mountains and in the distance, Mt. Fuji. The picture above really does not do it justice. It was beyond beautiful. The problem was, again, it was very crowded and we had to fight through the crowd to get a decent shot of the view.

Perhaps that is one of the greatest drawbacks about living in Tokyo–you miss nature. While the urban sprawl is lively and convenient, you miss the beauty and the calm serene of nature. That’s why many Japanese tend to want to get out of the crazy city life and just enjoy nature for a weekend. If you ever come to Tokyo and stay for an extended period, trust me, you are going to want to get out of the city environment.

Hiking is the perfect way to explore a country. You get a sense of what ancient Japan looked like, according to my professor, while in these areas. I figured out why the ancient Japanese did not travel so much and why there used to be (unfortunately, it’s slowly dying) so many dialects. One of the highlights of one trip up in Akita was when I was hiking with a couple of Japanese friends and I was invited to one of my friends’ grandparents house. It was a huge honor. It was funny that the other student could not understand the Akita dialect in the slightest. So the other student had to translate for him and he translated it to me. Unfortunately these local dialects are dying and with it, some of the unique cultural aspects that came along with it. All in all, hiking in Japan is awesome. If you ever get the chance, pick a place to hike in Japan and just go. You’ll love what you see.