Tohoku Sandai Matsuri

The Tohoku region is located north from the Kanto region. There is a very unique week called the Sandai Matsuri where you have the chance to participate or watch the three greatest festivals in this region in 3 different prefectures. I want to briefly introduce those festivals and the prefectures in this post, since for me it was well worth it and the time spend has been used very effectively.

 

Akita

Akita is a prefecture in the northern region of the Tohoku area and is famous for the Akita Shiba Inus. My itinery for visiting Akita can be found in my diary.

Akita City

Kakunodate

Kakunodate is famous for being a Samurai town since it still has originally preserved houses which were lucky enough to be not destroyed through natural catastrophies or the World War II. You can enter some houses for a small fee and there is even one where a guide explains the facilities of such a samurai home.

Lake Tazawa

The lake Tazawa is actually the deepest lake in Japan. Besides the beautiful blue water and tranquil surrounding there are also 2 sightseeing spots which you can reach by boat. Namely the Gozanoshi Shrine in the north and the Tatsuko statue in the west. The legend around the statue goes like this:
There was once a beautiful woman, but because she knew her beauty doesn’t last forever she prayed to the Buddhist goddess Kanon day and night to preserve her beauty eternally. After the 100th night she received a message to find a sacred spring and take a sip from it. She travelled mountain after mountain and eventually found the spring and did as the goddess told her. However she felt an immense thirst and kept drinking until she realized she transformed into a large dragon. The mountain around here collapsed  and a deep lake was formed – which is today’s Lake Tazawa. (trip101.com, authentic-visit.jp, Accessed: 21.10.2019)

Kanto Festival

At the Kanto festival people show off their skills in balancing a huge stick equipped with lanterns on either their forehead, hip or palm. Lifting up the heavy poles is said to drive away evil spirits and helps in praying for good harvest(japan.travel, Accessed: 22.10.219).

 


Aomori

Aomori is the most northern prefecture of the Tohoku region and is actually famous for its apples. My itinery for Aomori can be found here.

Hirosaki

Hirosaki is a city in the Aomori prefecture. It is home to the Hirosaki castle which is said to be the oldest still standing castle which was not destroyed by natural catastrophies, World War II or the Meiji Restoration period.

Aomori City

Aomori City is the biggest city in the Aomori prefecture and is the most northern city on mainland Japan.

Oirase Gorge

While you are in Aomori you could also check out the Oirase Gorge a stream which is around 13kms  long and starts from the lake Towada. You can hike along the stream on a hiking path which is very well maintained and lets you pass through several waterfalls.

Nebuta Festival

There are a lot of stories how the Nebuta festival originated. According to one legend, once a general used big lanterns and made people dance and produce noise to distract the enemy. In the early days, the Nebutas have been made by people of different towns however nowadays they are mostly made by bigger businesses and organizations.   (wiki, en-aomori.com, Accessed: 22.10.2019). The parade is divided in several smaller groups. Each group has leading drummers followed by a pack of people who dance and make noise. Behind them a big cart having the lantern is being pulled / pushed by around 10 people. The Nebuta on the big carts mostly depict historic sceneries or old myths.

 


Sendai

Sendai is the biggest city in the Tohoku region and is located on thes West side in the Miyagi prefecture. Sadly i couldn’t stay here for much longer. My corresponding diary entry can be found here.

View from the AER building

Tanabata Festival

The Tanabata festival is not a Sendai specific festival but is mostly held all over Japan around the 07th July (because of different calenders and moon settings in some cities it is held on the 07th August as in the case of Sendai). The legend around the star festival goes like this:
There once was a gifted weaver, named Orihime, who was very deligent in her work but also sad since she was occupied by her work she couldn’t find true love. Her father, Heaven’s emperor, was worried and arranged a meeting with Hikoboshi – a cow herder. It was love at first sight, however backfired immensiely since both lovers neglected their duties. In response to this Heaven’s emperor got angry and seperated those two lovers by the river in heaven. Orihime having no chance to see her lover again began again to weave all day. Seeing that the Heaven’s emperor changed his mind and allowed those two to meet each other, however only once a year on the 7th day of the 7th month ( as 7 being a lucky number).
This story translates into two stars – Altair and Vega – which according to the legend are seperated by the milky way and only meet once every year. At the festival people would write their wishes and hang them on a bamboo tree. Additionally streamers would be floating all around the fetival area. The long streamers representing the weaver’s threads and the decoration on the outside called “amakazari” represent a fisherman’s full net. (nippon.com, japansociety.org, Accessed: 23.10.219)

Fushimi Inari

If you wander around Japan for a while you will realize that there are a lot of smaller shrines which portrait a fox statue with a red cape. These are Inari shrines and there are around 30000 of them with the Fushimi Inari as the head shrine (inari.jp, accessed: 14.10.2019).

My Trip:

The nearest station would be the Inari station. The mountain area is freely accessible without any opening hours. You can try to get there as early as 5 am to enjoy a quite hike until the first tourists arrive. When i took the pictures presented below i arrived at the mountain at 05:45 am and already encountered at least 10 other early access hikers.
The hike of the 233 m tall mountain is quite straight forward. After around 30 minutes I reached an intersection where a nice chilling morning view was presented to me. Since this observation spot is facing West i imagine this is also a nice and easy to access sunset viewing spot. It took me another 30 minutes to reach the top – passing through many many many Tori gates. On my way back i somehow made a wrong turn and ended up at the Araki Shrine. The hike was very pleasant and a nice morning activity however i believe it could get quite stressful at rush hour times since the width of the tori gates, which determine the throughput of people. is only wide enough for 2 lanes. And since this is a very desireable selfie spot bottlenecks will most likely emerge

Some background information:

The Fushimi Inari Shrine was first documented as early as in the 8th century belonging to a clan who originally came from Korea. 3 gods were enshrined here and were collectively called Inari. One of them was the goddess of agriculture which might be why today Inari is characterized as god of rice. Over the years the popularity of the Inari shrine spread out, first to other neighboring clans then by merchants of developing cities throughout Japan.
The depicted foxes are thought to be Inari’s messenger although the god of Inari is also believed to have the form of a white fox itself. The red cape is being added as it is believed to chase out evil demons.
People pray at an Inari shrine in hope of household wellbeing, business and general prosperity. The Tori gates along the trail are actually donations by people or companies and are inscribed at each gate. The costs starts at around 400000 Yen (3500 €) and can go up to over one million Yen. This might sound much but if you see your competitor having a Tori gate you want to improve your own luck as much as possible as well.

 

Araki Shrine:

additional sources:

https://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3915.html, accessed: 14.10.2019

https://www.univie.ac.at/rel_jap/an/Bauten/Bekannte_Schreine/Fushimi, accessed: 14.10.2019

Gotokoji Temple

The Manekin Neko – beckoning cat – has many different stories of origin. The most popular story takes place at the Gotokoji Temple. Here again there are differen versions but the story which the Gotokoji Temple itself tells goes like this:

A long time ago when the temple faced some financial problems, the monk told to his cat, whom he took care of despite the crisis, to go and bring some fortune. One summerday a group of sumurais came by and apperently they saw the cat waving – drawing their attention and making them decide to rest at the temple. Suddenly the sky began to darken and heavy rain and thunder fell down. As it appears one of the samurais was the king of Hikone and he attributed the cat’s beckoning as Buddha’s will. Soon after the king returned home he donated fortunes to the temple – because of the beckoning of the cat.

Today the Manekin Neko can be seen in a lot of shop entrances in hope to lure customers in and bring good luck and fortune. The middle sized temple area does look like any ordinary temple except for one small area rright after the main entrance gate turning left. There you can find hundreds of beckoning cats, some of them are inscribed probably by people who returned the cat because their fortune has been fullfilled.

Trips: Osaka, Nara, Nagoya

This is definetely not extensive enough but i still want to outline some of the sights in the cities Nagoya, Nara and Osaka.

1. Nagoya

I travelled through Nagoya on my Tokaido hike (see diary).

Atsuta Jingu

The Atsuta Shrine is a famous and important shrine with several millions low and high ranking visitors. The surrounding park area all reminds a bit of a smaller version of the Meiji Jingu in Tokyo. I am not too familiar with japanese religion but according to wikipedia (accessed:13.10.2019) many gods are enshrined here.

Osu Kannon Temple

There is quite a backstory of this temple but essentially a priest retreated for 100 days and prayed to know who he should enshrine in a newly built temple so that people would be rescued and blessed. On one day he received enlightenment which said “The great Compassion of Kannon offers compassion which is of infinite benefit and is therefore venerable to all people” and so he did. The Temple itself is quite big and centrally located next to a shopping street.

Nagoya Castle

The castle site consist of a (recently rebuild) palace and several towers including one very remarkable castle tower. Nagoya castle used to be the residence of one of the three branches of the ruling Tokugawa family therefore ranking high in political and economical importance1. The castle site is big and includes some tea houses and a Japanese garden area. It is possible to spend several hours here but you should calculate with at least 1h. Especially the rebuild palace was amazing and reminded me a bit of the palace of Versailles. It also had several waiting rooms, was very spacious and luxurious. The entrance fee was 500 Yen.
Fun fact: The main castle tower was built with the help of several other feudal lords. To indicate their support and help they marked every building stone with their respective crest.

Oasis 21 area

This area’s theme is “Space Ship Alpha”. The ground level is the “Field of Green” and is a very well maintained park area with lights marking the path in the dark and many seating possibilities. The main attraction would be the “Galaxy Platform which is 14m above ground and freely accessible. On the glass deck is a pool like water area to create an interesting ripple pattern when seen from below. The changing lights keep the platoon interesting, it is not too crowded, quite high (sadly not high enough to see the city) and the distance to other buildings is far enough to not get a suffocating feeling. The nearby Aichi Arts museum provides a good overview on the Oasis 21 Area on the 11th floor.

 

2. Nara

I visited Nara on a half day trip. To be honest i only went to the Nara Park and surrounding area but felt it was enough already.

Nara Park

The Nara Park with it’s bowing Nara dears have always been subtily going around on social media. Besides the dears however the huge park also provides an almost forrest like hike feeling with many shrines and temples along the way. The station you want to aim for is Kintetsu station and is easily accessible directly from Kyoto by train.

Todai-Ji Temple

This huge temple also shelters a huge buddha statue. In fact with 15 meters, it is the tallest bronze buddha statue in the world. You can see some windows above the front entrance. On specific festivals these windows are opened and you can see the head of the Buddha looking outside.

 

 

3. Osaka

On my way back from the Kansai region to Tokyo i did a short detour to Osaka which i documented here.

Osaka Castle

Although the exterior looks kind of oldish, the interior has been completely renovated and now offers a very informative museum. One of the floors tells the story of Hideyoshi – the succesor of Nobunaga and almost uniter of Japan. On the top floor you are presented with a great view over the city feeling the wind blowing through the deck. The entrance fee is 600 Yen

Dotonbori

Dotonbori is one of the downtown areas of Osaka. It is said, that you can have a great night life experience in Osaka, which is probably a reference to Dotonbori. It does remind of Shinjuku.

Kyoto – Vibes

This post includes some images which depicts Kyoto’s feeling and which i couldn’t categorize in any other parent category yet.

Kamo River

There is a continous road next to the Kamo river which invites you for a nice stroll. The grassy ground was mostly well maintained. At some point the river devides into a smaller canal. People began to extend their property to the canal side by using pillars and a extension platform which resulted in a somewhat romantic vibe.

 

Kyoto’s cityscape

Kyoto has mostly smaller buildings and a flat landscape. Therefore if you can get onto a roof in most cases you will already have a great overview of the city.

 

Railway in Kyoto

The railway is not as etensive in Kyoto as in Tokyo. I am not sure whether this is just me being ignorant but i realized that there were more bridges to cross a railway in Kyoto than in Tokyo (because in the latter trains would go above ground).

 

a bar street near Higashiyama

a small canal in the midst of the busy city

Kyoto – west

This post will mostly cover the Arashiyama area which has a lot to offer on its own with souvenir shops, tea houses and also Onsen. I would recommend spending a whole day here since it is also a bit remote from the center.

Kimono forrest

The Kimono forrest located on the leave side right after leaving the gate of Arashiyama station. Kimono fabrics are displayed in seethrough tubes. At daylight it does not seem to be too impressive but it provides nice photos at night when the lights are turned on. There is also a metal ball in a water basin depicting a dragon. It is said that if you wash your hands here you will receive luck.

Kameyama Park

If you are aiming to go to the bamboo forrest you might as well go to the nearby Kameyama park. The path is easy to walk and it features a view point into the valley were the sun sets.

Bamboo forrest

The Bamboo forrest of Kyoto is probably one of the more iconic spots of Japan. However it is smaller than expected – way smaller. The path which has up to 15 meter tall well maintained bamboo left and right stretches only about 100 meters. Since amboo is thin and more packed the term forrest is legit, however quite compressed.

Monkey park

There is a paid monkey park were you can observe wild monkeys. After a hike to the observation area you are supposed to get a nice city view. I did not have enough time to visit the monkey park anymore, however a friend told me that it would have been worth it.

 

Kinkaku-Ji

If you google iconic pictures of Japan this is one of them. The golden building in the picture is not even a temple but just a pavillion, a teahouse so to say. However this golden pavillion is most photogenic, since no people can actually intrude the photo and it’s color is as golden as the photos convey. The garden area itself is nice but in comparison with the other garden areas nothing too significantly more amazing. it is more remotely located but there is a nearby bus station. The entrance fee is 400 Yen.

 

Kyoto – northeast

This post covers the area north of the Gion area / Higashiyama station.

Heian Shrine

If you get off at Higashiyama and continue following the streat to the east you will cross a street which directly leads to the Heian Shrine. You will not miss that street since a gigantic big Tori gate welcomes your entrance. The shrine is freely accessible with a seperate paid garden area. Sitenote: it was quite hard to find any bicycle parking lots.

Higashi-Tenno

The Higashi Tenno, or Okazaki Jinja, is a very small shrine featuring rabbit statues. Rabbits are said to have been the messenger of the shrined god but through the years the symbolic meaning of the shrine changed and now the rabbits, who are known for great production of offsprings, stand for success with conceiving and a safe birth. No wonder at the time of our visit we saw a lot of women (japan-visitor.com, 13.10.2019).

 

Konkai Komyo-ji

The Konkai Komyo-Ji is a shrine complex with quite a beautiful garden area. You can get quite a nice city view on top of the hill next to the Pagoda.

 

Philosophers Path

The Philosophers Path is a approximately 1.8 km road along the Lake Biwa canal leading to the Ginkaku-Ji. It is actually chosen for the 100 Best Japanese Roads and indeed it is a pleasent walk among trees and a paved road.

Ginkaku-Ji

Contrary to its name Ginkaku-Ji, the silver pavillon, this pavillion is actually brownish. It comparison to other “garden” areas in Tokyo this one is rather small nonetheless well maintained. There is a straight path which you can follow to see the garden architecture modeled after natural landscapes. In combination with the Philosophers path it does provide a good afternoon activity. The entrance fee is 600 Yen.

Takaragaike Park

This more remotely located park is around the same size as the Yoyogi park in Tokyo however it doesn’t has as much open space. The area is devided by trees and features quiet a big lake.

 

 

Kyoto – east

This post will cover the Higashi-Yama area South from the Gion district and east of the Kamo River.

Ryozen Kannon

This temple in tribute to the unknown soldiers fallen in World War I features among others a memorial hall dedicated to foreign fallen soldiers, a big bronze ball which provides luck if you circle around it 2 times and a shrine in memorial to the fallen japanese soldiers. The most eye catching structure though is that of the  24 meter tall sitting Kannon statue – the goddess of mercy in memoration of all the fallen japanases soldiers and for the establishment of a peaceful Japan. THe entrance fee was 300 Yen.

Kiyomizu-Dera

The Kiyomizu Dera temple area awaits  you at the end of the road after walking through the medium steep streets of Kiyomizu. Since it is located on a Hill at the east side you can catch a superb view over the sunset if you face to the west side. The terrace of the temple facing to the south are supported by 13 m tall wooden pillars which makes this temple so unique. Unfortunately the main temple was under construction in 2019 and mostly covered.

 

Gion

Gion is a famous Geisha district in Kyoto. It is said, that if you are lucky enough you can see a dressed up Geisha on her way to work. The main street houses more touristic related shops while you can will discover expensive traditional teahouses in the back streets. You can see the Yasaka Shrine at the eastern end of the main road.

Kiyomizu

The Kiyomizu in Higashiyama, ultiamtely leading to the Kiyomizu-Dera, seems like the aquivalent of the Asakusa district in Tokyo. Especially here you can see a lot of old buildings and a lot of girls a dressed in Kimonos. The streets mostly of coffee and souvenir shops. There is one hidden Starbucks coffee shop within all those old buildings which you would miss if you don’t know of it’s existence. This particular Starbucks actually has a more tradional oldish interior furnishing.

Rengeoin Sanjusangendo

This temple is 120 meters long and has pillars every thirty-three spaces thus the name of Sanjusangen-do – a hall with thirts-three spaces between columns. This hall features 1001 Kannon statues: 1000 smaller standing and one big sitting statue in the center. The statues were built in the 12th and 13th century. Outside you can get a look at some greenery and a wide long pebbled path. This area has in fact been used for another purpose – archery. The Toshiya event was a famous archery event with 4 different disciplines having to shoot from one end to the otehr end of the temple. One of those disciplines was to shoot as many arrows as possible within 24 hours. Wasa Daichiro shot 13053 arrows from which 8133 actually hit the target. This also meant, that he shot on average 9 arrows per minute.

Fushimi Inari

The Fushimi Inari is the head shrine of the more than 30000 Inari shrines found across Japan. Since the backstory as well the hike is quite interesting and i took a lot of photo material a dedicated post can be found here.

Kyoto – central

This post describes the sightseeings north from Kyoto station, west  from Kamo River and east from Nijo Castle

Kyoto Tower

The Kyoto Tower is the tallest building (131m) in Kyoto. Although it’s observation deck is “only” at the 100 meter mark according to a friend you can get a very nice city view because the landscape of Kyoto is generally quite flat. The deck even provides free stationary binoculars. The entrance fee is 750 Yen (~ 7 €).

 

Kyoto station

Kyoto station provides a rooftop garden with quite a nice central view over the city. Unfortunately though, the side towards the West / sunset has no view-friendly accesspoint.

 

Nishiki Market

The Nishiki market consists of many covered shopping streets. There are various shops ranging from fashion to indian music instruments. You can spend some time here losing yourself to this labyrinth.

 

Manga Museum

I was expecting something from the Manga museum but to tell the truth in the end it was rather something more of a library instead of a museum. Some intersting facts are displayed and the library does hold some really old Mangas. One of the highlights is that you can get yourself a manga themed self portrait for (i believe it was) 1500 Yen. The museum was formerly a primary school so you can get an impression on how it looked like back in the days. The entrance fee is 800 Yen.

 

Kyoto imperial palace and park

The Kyoto imperal park with it’s imperial palace is freely accessible. Before the Capitol of Japan moved from Kyoto to Tokyo this used to be the residence of the imperial family. It’s a good short tour but you can’t really go inside the residence. The imperial park is spacious with wide pebbled roads. Trees do provide shadow but you should still be careful in mid summer.

 

Nijo Castle

Nijo castle was build in 1601 on command of the emperor Tokugawa Ieyasu – the first emperor who united Japan. It used to be a residence for the emperor as well as place of important announcements. The area is big and the greenery is maintained well. The palace insides reminds of Nagoya castle or the palace in Versailles. There are many different styled waiting rooms depending on the visitor. For example a waiting room to intimidate other lords would have wall paintings depicting tigers. Though funny enough at that time noone actually knew how a tiger looked like and they used chinese descriptions as templates. Another one to convey a calm atmosphere would depict sakura trees. This sightseeing spot provides a lot of information material. The entrance fee was 1000 Yen.

 

Asakusa

After the Meiji Restoration in 1868, Asakusa grew as an entertainment district. However after the World War II it lost it’s popularity as such never to be able to regain its status again. Nonetheless today it is still one of the most frequently visited touristic spots in Tokyo.

Sensoji Temple

Founded in the year 628 it was later rebuild and strengthened with steel pillars after its destruction in the second World War (gotokyo.org, accessed: 06.10.2019). Today it is a very popular place for tourists thus offering a lot of touristic souvenirs as well. The strong red color looks even more amazing by night.

 

Kappabashidogugai street / Kappabashi area

If you are still looking for authentic japanese souvenirs you might find something here. As i heard this area used to be an area of craftsmen selling pottery and kitchenware. Today there are around 30 shops along this street which sell handmade knives and potteries such as bowls and tea cups. I had serious problems to find a tea can called banko Yaki and found one in one of these shops. Interestingly enough there are also some shops which sell plastic food for displaying purposes.

Asakusa Culture Touristic Information Center

The information center is located just on the opposite side of the Kaminarimon – the first gate to the Senso-Ji temple. You can actually go to the 6th floor by elevator to get an overview of the northern parts of Asakusa.

Sanja matsuri

The Sanja Matsuri is one of the bigger festivals held in Tokyo and includes the transportation of mikoshis (transportable small shrines) through the cities to the Senso-Ji temple. Some impressions can be found in my diary.

Other festivals

There are some other festivals held in or near Asakusa. For example there was a floating lantern event, where lanterns would be released on the Sumida river to welcome the summer. There was this Tanabata festival which was held at a street leading from Ueno to Asakusa. The oldest and biggest firework in Tokyo is also held in Asakusa at the Sumida river. This year, in 2019, over 1 million people actually came to see the firework.