Japan 2016

01st July 2016
In May (late Spring)my Cousin Wendy Biggs and I embarked on my SMH "Big Picture" prize winning holiday to Japan.
Tokyo: Unfortunately our three days in Tokyo were dampened by rain but we still thoroughly enjoyed the Park Hyatt Hotel and a day trip to Nikko. Nikko in the rain was atmospheric as the trees were heavy with moisture and the green mosses were glowing with life. The majesty of the beautiful cedar trees disappearing up into the mist was inspiring! Our visit to Lake Chezenjii in the rain showed us how cloud and fog can envelop an entire lake. We did manage to see a tiny edge of the lake but the highlight here was a couple of tiny Cherry blossoms still attached to their tree! Kegon Falls was hidden from view but we trusted our dedicated guide, Amy, who assured us that the roar of water we could hear was actually the waterfall! We also did a day trip to Hakone especially to see Mt Fuji and sadly the rain increased to torrential and the wind howled around us. The Gondola ride and lake cruise were cancelled due to two foot waves on the lake! On our final morning in Tokyo the sun emerged and from our Hotel window we had a magnificent view of a sparkling clean city, bright blue sky and Mt Fuji in all her glory smiling back at us!

Now the sun had reappeared we packed our bags, conquered the Shinkansen and travelled south to Kyoto!
Kyoto: Kyoto was a fascinating old world city full of ancient wooden houses and narrow soft lit streets. Stunning vermilion coloured temples and Tori Gates drawing in the ancient atmosphere and traditions of days gone by. Beautiful Geisha (Geiko) and Maiko and young girls dressed up in their formal kimonos also added an old world charm and hint at an era long past. The maple trees were alive with new growth and the sunlight sifting through the iconically shaped leaves was just stunning!

Kyoto was full of history, colour and ancient structures. Each had a fascination of their own. The Golden Pavilion (Kenkak-ji) and the Silver Pavilion (Ginkaku-ji) were gorgeous but I think the "Nightingale Floor" at Nijo Castle was the most amazing - it squeaked loudly as you walked on the aged floor boards - specially designed centuries ago to prevent enemies sneaking up on the Shogun! The Fushimi Inari Shrine which sits at the base of the Inari Mountain consists of vermilion coloured Inari Tori Gates trailing up the mountain for about 4 kms with many sub-shrines leading off from the main track - we ran out of time to do this justice!
The famous Bamboo Grove at Arashiyama was intriguing as was the Tenryu-ji Temple and ancient Sogen Pond and Zen Garden. Again we ran out of time to see and appreciate it fully. A gentle stroll down the Philosopher's Walk was quite relaxing. It is a pedestrian path that follows a cherry-tree lined canal with little cafes and shrines sprinkled along the way. One of the highlights of Kyoto was our very own audience with a Maiko. Ichy Koma San was a young first year trainee Geiko and simply gorgeous!

Takyama: Takyama is located in the heart of the Japanese Alps and is renown for expertise in carpentry and wood carving. The "Old Town" has very narrow streets which are lined with wooden merchants' houses dating back centuries. Tucked away in the centre of town is a small Shinto Shrine with a 1200 year old Ginko Tree as its centre piece. It was a magnificent tree and we found it hard to believe it was so ancient - if only it could talk! We visited Shirakawa which is a mountain village on the Sho River at Mount Haku. As a consequence of frequent heavy snow in the winter months, chacteristically thick thatch roofed houses are a cultural heritage of this village - called "Gasso-zukuri" which translates as sloping roofs like hands in prayer.

Hiroshima: Today Hiroshima is a bright bustling colourful city which defies its tragic history. We all leant about the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima at school, however, I was not prepared for the emotion that gripped me when I visited the Peace Park. The Atomic Dome is the ruin of the only building left standing as it was directly beneath the bombs epi-centre. It is a symbol of Hiroshima, conveying to the world the horror of nuclear weapons. The Cenotaph is a saddle shaped monument holding all the names of the people killed. The saddle shape represents a shelter for the souls of the victims.
The Children's Peace Monument commemorates Sadako Sasaki and the thousands of innocent child victims of the bombing. Sadako died 10 years after the bombing of radiation sickness and is immortalized at the top of the statue, where she holds a wire crane above her head. An ancient Japanese legend says that if you fold 1000 paper cranes you will be granted a wish by the Gods. Sadako didn't finish making her cranes before she died and her classmates finished them for her. Beneath the statue is a bell that is rung for remembrance and adds to the haunting atmosphere of the park. Millions of paper cranes from Japanese children and from children from all over the world are offered at the monument, many with messages for world peace and love written in children's handwriting. As I was watching, a group of school children arrived and presented their cranes to the monument. It was very poignant as they prayed, hung their cranes and then rang the bell for Sadako.

Miyajima: Mirajima in Japanese means Shrine island and is often referred to as "An Island of Gods". It is known for its floating Tori gate - the "O-Torii Gate". It is a large vermilion tori gate that appears to float on water at high tide. Because the island is seen as sacred, trees may not be cut for lumber and the deer and monkeys roam free. The deer were a bit cheeky when we visited sticking their noses in our pockets looking for treats! It was a stunningly beautiful island and we were lucky to have perfect weather for our visit!