Gion: Geisha Street In Kyoto

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Gion, one of the symbols of Kyoto, was founded in the Middle Ages in front of the Yasaka-jinja Shrine. It is a brilliant geisha district located on both sides of the Kamo-gawa River. The area has been developed for tourism and a part of Gion is a national historical preservation district. The City of Kyoto has recently completed a project to restore the streets and to preserve the original beauty of Gion.

There are beenold-style Japanese houses called machiya (townhouses), some of which have been known as ochaya (tea houses) since the late 1500′s. The patrons of Gion—from the samurai warriors to modern-day businessmen—have been entertained by maiko (geisha in training) and geisha for centuries in these traditional buildings.

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In the private world inside ochaya, the evening entertainment often includes cocktails, chatting, games, as well as traditional Japanese music, singing and dancing. Shinbashi-dori Street has some traditional ochaya and okiya (geisha houses) that you can see geisha and maiko in kimono in the evening when they walk along the street to and from their engagements. Particularly, maiko draws visitors’ attention by wearing their pokkuri, high-sold clogs.

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Gion is often mistaken for a red-light district. In fact, geisha is not prostitutes but entertainers.

Another attraction is the Yasaka-jinja Shrine, popularly called Gion-san. The shrine has a pleasant garden that is a popular site for hanami (cherry blossom viewings). The shrine is the venue for Gion Festival that attracts millions of people during the festival period in July.

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Okinawa's Best Aquarium: Churaumi Aquarium

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The Churaumi Aquarium in Naha is arguably the best aquarium in Okinawa. It was the main attraction of the Ocean Expo Park built on the former grounds of the 1975 International Ocean Expo in northern Okinawa. The aquarium was renovated in 2002. The highlight of a visit to the Churaumi Aquarium is the massive Kuroshio Tank, one of the largest in the world. The tank gets its name from the warm Kuroshio current which plays a large part in the variety of marine life near Okinawa.

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It contains a wide variety of species. The most striking  are the giant whale sharks and manta rays. Past the Kuroshio Tank are a few more interesting tanks and displays including an area dedicated to tiger sharks and bull sharks. Another area is dedicated to deep water marine life including various bioluminescent fish.

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In addition to the main aquarium building, there are a few outdoor pools near the waterfront where shows of dolphins, sea turtles and manatees can be viewed free of charge. There are only a few shows per day, so visitors might want to check the schedule beforehand.

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Himeyuri War Memorial

Located in southern Okinawa, Himeyuri no To (Himeyuri War Memorial) was established for the 219 high school students and teachers of the First Prefectural Girls’ High School and Women’s Normal School, who sacrificed their lives during the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. They were working as war nurses in the “Himeyuri (or red Lily) Corps.” The age of girls working as nurses were between 15 to 19.
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This young nursing cohort was called the Himeyuri Corps. During the Battle of Okinawa, they were forced to join the corps. An estimated 222 students and 18 other personnel were stationed in the hospitals. They were forced to serve while under intense fire and finally, sadly killed themselves as an “honorable death” after being surrounded by the US soldiers.

Himeyuri Peace Museum is located by the Himeyuri War Monument. A number of visitors come here to learn about the tragedy and pray for peace. At Himeyuri Peace Museum, there is a room full of pictures of Himeyuri Corps which show most of the sacrificed girl’s background and the cause of her death. Visitors will see many young faces.

 

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Nikko Sightseeing: Lake Chuzenji

Lake Chuzenji (Chuzenji-ko in Japanese) is a scenic lake in Nikko National Park. It was created 20,000 years ago when Mt. Nantai (2,484 m) erupted and blocked the river. Lake Chuzenji’s shores are mostly undeveloped and forested except at its eastern end where is the small hot spring town of Chuzenjiko Onsen.

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The lake is especially alluring in mid to late October, when the autumn leaves reach their peak along the shores and surrounding mountains. The Chuzenjiko Skyline road offers you a panoramic view from the hill.

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Visitors can also take a boat tour which takes an hour to go around the lake.

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In the vicinity area, there are some other sightseeing sites such as the Futarasan-jinja Shrine, which is a part of the Toshogu Shrine complex, and Ryuzu (Dragon Head) Waterfall.

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Futarasan-jinja shrine tower gate

The name of the falls comes from its shape, which resembles the head of a dragon. This waterfall is one of the most famous autumn leaves destinations in Nikko.

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Ryuzu waterfall

 

Fishing are quite popular in the lake, and many restaurants in the area serve trouts caught from the lake. During the autumn color season, traffic can be very busy around this area. Thus visiting during weekdays is recommended. Lake Chuzenji Boat Cruise cruises depart from the pier in Chuzenjiko Onsen. You can take a 10min. shuttle across the lake to Chuzenji Temple (150 yen) or a 60min. round course (1,500 yen).

 

Address: 2478-21 Chugushi, Nikko-shi, Tochigi
Phone: 0288-55-0360 (Chuzenjiko-Kisen)
Hours: 9:30 AM – 3:30 PM
Closed : Dec. through Mar.

[ Information ]
Transportation:
From Nikko:
Take the Tobu bus bound for Chuzenji Onsen or Yumoto Onsen to Chuzenji Onsen bus stop. (50min.)
A 2-day pass for unlimited bus rides between Nikko and Chuzenjiko Onsen is available for 2,000 yen at Tobu Nikko station.

The Hakone Open-Air Museum

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The Hakone Open-Air Museum opened in 1969 as the first open-air art museum in Japan, consisting of five exhibition halls. There are as wide as 70,000 square meters grounds of lush greenery and permanent display of approximately 120 works by well known modern and contemporary sculptors.

The exhibition halls include the Picture Gallery and the Picasso Pavilion have as many as 300 works on rotating display. Other exhibitions are paintings, prints, large assortment of pottery along with gold and silver items.

The Henry Moore Collection is another recommended exhibition hall, which displays huge collections of works by the famous English sculptor Henry Moore.

Additionally, the museum has artistic play sets for children, restaurants and shops, as well as a foot bath of natural hot spring where visitors can relax and enjoy the splendor of art in nature.

Nara National Museum

Photo courtesy of 663highland
Photo courtesy of 663highland

The Nara National Museum, situated in the Nara Park, is one of the four prominent national museums in Japan, along with Tokyo, Kyoto and Kyushu. It houses about 1,400 collection items which are extensively represented by Buddhist art including a number of National Treasures and Important Cultural Properties.

The museum was founded in 1889 during the Meiji Period as the Imperial Nara Museum, in concurrence with its counterparts in Tokyo and Kyoto, and was opened to the public in 1895. The original building, designated as an Important Cultural Property, represents a fine example of the Meiji-Period Western style architecture.

The museum offers both permanent and special exhibitions in its four galleries, with the latter held twice a year in spring and fall. In fall it hosts the annual Shoso-in exhibition, which is the world’s most visited exhibition attracting around 15,000 audience per day.

The two-week exhibition, started in 1946, provides a rare opportunity to see a selection of exquisite treasures from the 8th century stored in Shoso-in Repository of the adjacent Todai-ji Temple. The collections belonged to Emperor Shomu and his wife Komyo, who were the founder of the temple, and include many exotic objects brought to Japan through the Silk Road.