Kyoto opens hidden treasures to the public


Established in 794 AD as the official seat of the imperial court, Kyoto truly is one of the last places in modern Japan where you can sip and savor a cup of green tree while mediating on the finer points of a centuries-old Zen rock garden. Of course, like any tourist destination the world over, Kyoto has its seasons, which is why the city is jam-packed when the sakura bloom in the springtime, and when the leaves fall in the autumn. Indeed, Kyoto can be stiflingly hot in the summer, and frigidly cold in the winter. However, if you can get over your sensitivity to the harsh elements, there are some serious deals out there to be had. For the second year in a row, the city is sponsoring the “Kyoto Winter Special” to lure in foreign tourist dollars. Although the global economy is dropping, and the value of the yen is rising, it’s worth parting with some cash this winter, especially if you want to catch a glimpse of Kyoto’s hidden national treasures. As part of the Kyoto Winter Special 2009, which runs from January 10, 2009 to March 18, 2009, the city will be temporarily opening up twelve cultural heritage sights to the public. Kyoto is something of a mountain town, which means that the winter chill can run deep to the bone. However, it’s worth a bit of mild frostbite to catch a glimpse of ancient sights that are normally hidden from the public eye. Here are a few of the highlights:

Anrakujuin: An ancient temple that marks the location of the detached Imperial Palace of the Asuka Period (538-710).
Kodai-ji: A Rinzai Buddhist temple built in 1606 to commemorate Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the great unifier of Japan.
Ninna-ji: First built in 888, this temple is now the world headquarters of the Shingon Buddhist sect.
To-ji: This temple houses a veritable treasure trove of ancient books and scriptures of incredible value.
Myoshin-ji: The largest Zen temple in all of Kyoto contains no less than 46 sub-temples.
Myokoji: Completely surrounded by a dense bamboo forest, this is the head temple of the Rinzai Kenninji sect.


Christmas Mood in Japan

christmas-japan-08Christmas time is also visible in Japan, where many light sculptures colour the streets. Left: Fukuoka Tower is illuminated in blue for the Christmas season in Fukuoka; right: An aurora-themed illuminated installation is pictured at Shinjuku Terrace City near Shinjuku Station in Tokyo (Source: The Mainichi Daily News).

Kamakura Buddha in Blue Light

daibutsu-blueThe Great Buddha in Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture, was illuminated with blue lights in commemoration of World Diabetes Day on Friday, Nov. 14.

About 50 famous structures across Japan, including Tokyo Tower and Nagoya Castle, were illuminated in blue as part of the diabetes awareness campaign in over 90 countries and regions around the globe.

Around 18.7 million people in Japan are estimated to be diabetic or in danger of developing the disease.

(Soure: The Mainichi Daily News)

Hiroshima peace calligraphy exhibition

calligraphyLeft: Contribution by Kanae Yamamoto (6th-year elementary school student from Kure, Hiroshima Prefecture); right: Wasen Goto from Iwakuni, Yamaguchi Prefecture

Winners of the 26th “Hiroshima Heiwa Shodo-ten” (Hiroshima peace calligraphy exhibition) were announced end of October. This year’s exhibition drew some 4,889 entries from around Japan, which represent messages of peace. About 900 works, including 303 winners of the exhibition’s Special Award, were on display at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum from Nov. 2 to Nov. 4. The exhibition was co-organized by the Mainichi Newspapers and the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation. Hiroshima was declared a City of Peace by the Japanese House of Representatives in 1949, at the first step of its city mayor, Shinzo Hamai. As a result, the municipality of Hiroshima had more worldwide attention as a suitable location for organizing international symposiums on peace as well as public and social issues. Now Hiroshima is a modern city of wide avenues, crossing rivers and a crowded city center. It is situated along the sea coast of the beautiful Seto Inland Sea in the Chugoku region of western Japanese Islands. Although many people only really know it for the terrible split second on hot August 6th, when it turned into the place of the world’s 1st atomic bomb attack, it is today a new, cosmopolitan city with a great food and night life. In July 2006, spiritual leader and peace advocate Sri Chinmoy (1931-2007) gave a concert in the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima.

New TV headphones only available in Japan

Nikon Corp. announced that it will start selling on its official website the “UP” series of headphones with small display screens attached to allow the users to enjoy audio and visual simultaneously. Orders will be accepted from October 15, and deliveries will be made starting in the middle of December. The headphones are about the same size as ordinary around-ear-type headphones and they are attached with small-size display panels with VGA (640px x 480px) resolution. Watching videos on these panels gives the same impression as watching videos on a 17″ display panels placed one meter away. They are capable of playing videos by the Windows Media Player format. Besides playing music and videos, they also have the device for accessing the internet. They work on two AA size batteries. The batteries would last up to 120 minutes of continuous video playing. They allow the users to enjoy both videos and music anywhere at anytime easily leaving their both hands free. There will be two models, one with 4GB memory capacity, a second one with 8GB. They also have a new motion sensor that will enable to control the sound volume by shaking of the user’s head up and down. There is no information if the new TV headphone will also be available outside Japan. (Source:

Japanese climber scales Mount Manaslu without oxygen

A Japanese climber reached the summit of the 8,163-meter-high Himalayan mountain Mount Manaslu on Sunday, without using an oxygen tank. Supporters in Sapporo said that 26-year-old Nobukazu Kuriki had contacted his base camp by radio and reported that he’d reached the top of the world’s eighth highest mountain. “I was tired this time, and it was tough. But thanks to your support, I successfully scaled the mountain. Thank you very much,” he was quoted as saying. A representative of his support office quoted a Himalayan Association of Japan official as saying, “We’ve never heard of any other Japanese climber scaling Manaslu alone without an oxygen tank; but we aren’t sure, since climbers aren’t required to file a report.” Kuriki is aiming to be the first solo Japanese climber to scale all the highest mountains in seven continents. Kuriki left Camp 4, set up at a location about 7,400 meters above sea level, at around 10 p.m. on Saturday, local time (1:15 a.m. on Sunday, Japanese time) and reached the summit of Mount Manaslu at around 9:45 a.m., local time on Sunday (1 p.m. on Sunday, Japanese time). He’s suffering from mild frostbite, but is otherwise in good shape, according to his supporting office. Kuriki climbed Manaslu as part of his altitude training in preparation for an expedition up 8,848-meter-high Mount Everest, the world’s highest mountain, next spring. He has scaled six of the highest mountains in seven continents, including Mount McKinley in Alaska. (Source: The Mainichi Daily News)

New English Guide to Kamakura’s Temples & Shrines

We knew the Big Buddha wasn’t the only religious artifact in Kamakura (Japan), but we had no idea there were a full 170 (Buddhist) temples and 40 (Shinto) shrines scattered around the city. Of these, 119 are profiled in a new English book, “An English Guide to Kamakura’s Temples & Shrines,” written by two long-term local residents.

The meticulously researched work is divided into seven districts, each with a sample itinerary for the dedicated culture buff. The small, black-and-white photos aren’t much to look at, but then again, the book itself is small enough to fit in a large pocket and guide you to the actual sights. Other sections include a brief history of the area, sidebars on the finer points of temple-hopping like “omikuji” (fortune-predicting strips of paper) and ema (votive wooden tablets), plus write-ups on attractions like the “10 Famous Wells of Kamakura.” (Beau Miller/Metropolis).

If you are interested to view a short film on the Daibutsu (the Great Buddha), the main spiritual and touristic site of Kamakura, you can watch my film on vimeo.

Japan wants to preserve seeds of endangered species

The Environment Ministry in Japan is set to dry, freeze and preserve the seeds of 1,690 species of plants that it fears are on the verge of extinction, ministry officials said. The ministry has designated 1,690 of about 7,000 types of plants, including nonflowering plants such as fiddlehead ferns, as endangered species, and intends to preserve the seeds of most of them. “The method of drying and freezing seeds allows us to preserve a large number of seeds. It’s effective in preventing their extinction,” a ministry official said. In the project to be launched in October, the ministry will cooperate with botanical gardens and research institutes across the country to collect seeds of the endangered plants from their habitats. It will then dry them while maintaining their ability to put forth buds and preserve them in a freezer at Tokyo’s Shinjuku Gyoen park that is 20 degrees Celsius below freezing point. Experts say seeds can be preserved for tens of years if frozen. The protection of plants on the verge of extinction is important for conserving biodiversity. A total of 26 botanical gardens across the country are cooperating in growing endangered plants, but there has been no example of systematically preserving seeds of such plants until now. (Source: The Mainichi Daily News)

Replica of oldest Japanese Bicycle

An iron replica of Japan’s oldest bicycle made in the early Meiji Period attracted visitors to the Cycle Festival on Sunday. The “sangensha” was invented in 1876 by Mitsumoto Suzuki, the mayor of the former village of Yaji (current Koori Town). The bicycle, with two front wheels and one rear wheel, can move forward and backward when it is pedaled. The municipal government and local residents have been making efforts to completely restore the sangensha with zelkova wood and other materials of the time. The new version of Japan’s oldest bicycle will be completed next year. “If the sangensha is restored, the first Mitsumoto will be happy up there,” said 83-year-old fifth-generation Mitsumoto Suzuki. (Source: The Mainichi Daily News)

The photo shows a model wearing a traditional costume from the Meiji Era riding a replica of the “sangensha,” Japan’s oldest bicycle, in Koori, Fukushima Prefecture.

Plans for new high-speed train in Japan

Plans announced by Kawasaki Heavy Industries could see a new record set for high-speed trains in Japan. The design for the rail vehicle dubbed the “Environmentally Friendly Super Express Train” (efSET) is expected to be completed by the end of 2009 and its promised operating speed has been pitched around the 217mph (350 km/h) mark, quicker than the fastest trains currently operating on the country’s high-speed Shinkansen network which clock around 188mph (300kmh). There’s not much detail accompanying the announcement of the concept, but according to the company release the new design will focus on aerodynamics, reduced body-weight, energy-savings through regenerative braking systems and enhanced passenger comfort using active damping technology to smooth the ride as well as providing a high-level of sound insulation and panoramic views through the adoption of large windows. Kawasaki also hopes to export the new design to the world’s growing network of high-speed railways, noting that several countries including the United States, Brazil, Russia, India and Vietnam have plans for new high-speed railway construction projects totally approximately 10,000 km in the next 20 years. The final stage of design verification for the new train is timetabled for completion in March 2010.