Sunday, January 23, 2005

Scene 1 Take 1 : Universal Studio

With a population of 2.5 million, Osaka is Japan's third largest and second most important city. It has been the economic powerhouse of the Kansai region for many centuries.

Universal Studio of Japan, located in Osaka, is a spectacular movie theme park (I guess everybody knows that, right ?).

One can experience all the excitment that one cannot get from just watching movies. How about posing beside the Ogre eh ?

The park has 31 shops stocked with a complete range of gifts, fashion and film memorabilia. You'll find the perfect souvenir to match your perfect day at USJ.

For more information, click here :

Kaiyukan Aquarium is one of the largest aquariums in the world (kaiyukan literally means playing in the sea pavillion). Visitors start their tour of the aquarium on the 8th floor and slowly spiral down floor by floor around the central tank. Above are the ferocious piranhas. How about some top-grade piranha sushi ?

The aquarium exhibits numerous creatures including this striking and ugly looking lizard !

Outside the aquarium complex, this giant Ferris Wheel began its operation on July 12th, 1997. It is one of the largest ferris wheels in the world with 100m in diameter and 112.5m in height.

Osaka Castle is one of Japan's most famous castles, and played a major role in the unification of Japan during the 1500's.

Osaka has more to offer. Click here :

Tokyo Disneyland - 20th Anniversary

Tokyo Disneyland Park is the first Disney theme park outside of the United States. It was opened on the April 15th, 1983 and it is located in Chiba Prefecture.

In 2003, Tokyo Disneyland celebrated its 20th anniversary with a huge parade.

Disney Dreams on Parade highlighted the many classic Disney stories and characters that have contributed to the magic of Disneyland.

The parade was highly entertaining. But I must say that I am probably too old for this magic kingdom. I was really tired of waiting in long lines - not 15 minutes but as long as 2 hours for a 5 minute ride. Phew.

Even to get this cute 'Mickey Mouse' ice cream, we stood under the sun for 30 minutes. Arrrgghhh (I mean though it was early spring, but still....).

"Life is playfulness... we need to play so that we can rediscover the magical around us." -- Flora Colao

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Nara - A Journey to the Ancient City

Japan's first real capital, Nara, is the number-two tourist atttaction in Kansai after Kyoto, with eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Not to be missed -Todai-ji Temple, I probably been there 10 times.

Todai-ji (literally means Great Eastern Temple) is one of Japan's most famous and historically significant temples and a landmark of Nara. Todai-ji was constructed in 752 as the head temple of all provincial Buddhist temples of Japan and grew so powerful that the capital was moved from Nara to Kyoto in 784 in order to lower its influence on government affairs.

The temple surrounding is home to hundreds of freely roaming deer. These deers are not harmed or driven out of the area because they are considered to be divine messengers. Knowing they're protected, the deer are self-assertive and may even try to eat your purse.
In Japan before entering a temple or calling upon any deities, we wash our hands and face and even rinses out our mouth with water - an act of purification.

Not only is Todai-ji housing Japan's largest Buddha statue (Daibutsu) - Buddha Vairocana, but it is also the world's largest wooden building, even though the reconstruction during 1692 is only two thirds of the original size.

Vairocana - the name means 'he who is like the sun' or 'the radiating one', is also called the Supreme Buddha, one of the five Great Buddhas.

There is a wooden column with a hole through its base. Popular belief maintains that those who can squeeze through the hole, which is exactly the same size as one of the Great Buddha's nostrils, are ensured of enlightenment. It is fun to watch the kids wiggle through nimbly and not to mention a few adults became firmly wedged inside the column.

Picture of a statue in the Great Buddha Hall.

Kofuku-ji Temple has a five-story wooden pagoda, first built in 725 by the Empress Komyoh and reconstructed in 1426. At 50 meters, it is the second highest pagoda in Japan.

Nigatsudo Hall, founded in 752, is noted for its raised veranda supported by pillars and the fantastic view it offers of Nara city. Omizutori, officially called the Shuni-e, is a water-drawing ritual held from late February through mid-March at the Nigatsudou Hall.

Oh deer ! Nara's deer have become a symbol of the city and have even been designated a National Treasure.

Yakushi-ji Temple was constructed by Emperor Temmu in the late 7th century for the recovery of the emperor's sick wife, Empress Jito. It was dedicated to Yakushi, the Healing Buddha. But...
In a strange twist of fate, the Emperor died, and the temple was finished by the Empress.

The oldest wooden buildings on earth are at Horyu-ji Temple. Horyuji's history begins in 587 AD, when the ailing Emperor Yomei ordered the construction of a Buddhist temple, probably to cure his illness. Unfortunately, Yomei died shortly after his directive, but his heir Empress Suiko and her regent, Prince Shotoku, kept the project alive, completing it in 607.

Picture of Horyu-ji Daikoudo (The Great Lecture Hall).

"Happy is he who has lofty and noble aspirations. Happy is he who enriches the lives of others. Happy is he who allows others to live in peace. Happy is he who makes this world a better place to live in. Happy is he whose work, chores and daily tasks are labours of love. Happy is he who loves love." -- Ven K. Sri Dhammananda

Saturday, January 22, 2005

A Big White Heron - Himeji Castle

Himeji Castle is located in Himeji of the Hyogo Prefecture. Along with Nagoya Castle and Kumamoto Castle, it is one of Japan's 'Three Famous Castles'. It is occasionally known as Shirasagi-jou (literally means White Heron Castle) because of its brilliant white exterior.

While European castles were built of stone, Japanese castles were predominantly wooden structures. A total of 360 tons of wood and 75,000 tiles weighing 3,000 tons were used in the construction of Himeji Castle.

Once you reach the main donjon you'll see a 31.5 m tall, five-story structure from the outside, but inside, there are six stories plus a basement.

Himeji Castle is famous for not only this huge main tower but also the highly effective and complicated defensive design, which is just like a maze.

However, Himeji Castle in its present form has never entered into war. In a sense, the White Heron Castle is - and may it continue to be - a symbol of peace.

Himeji was bombed in 1945, at the end of World War II. Although a nearby middle school was burned completely to the ground, the castle survived almost entirely unscathed, except for a few stray impacts from nearby.

"No one would be foolish enough to choose war over peace--in peace sons bury their fathers, but in war fathers bury their sons." -- Georg Lichtenberg

Sunday, January 16, 2005

The Great Hanshin Earthquake


The Great Hanshin earthquake (Hanshin-daishinsai) measured at 7.2 on the Richter Scale, occurred on January 17th, 1995 at 5.46 am in the southern part of Hyogo Prefecture and lasted for approximately 20 seconds.

6,433 people, mainly in Kobe, lost their lives. It was the worst earthquake in Japan since the Great Kanto earthquake in 1923, which claimed 140,000 lives.

The earthquake caused several portions of the Kobe-Osaka Express Highway to collapse.

"The loss of a friend is like that of a limb; time may heal the anguish of the wound, but the loss cannot be repaired." -- Robert Southey

Nankinmachi (Kobe Chinatown) developed as the residential area of Chinese merchants, who settled in Kobe after the city's port had been opened to foreign trade.

Kobe has been an important port city for many centuries. Its port was opened to foreign trade in the late Edo Period (1868).

Meriken Park is a nice waterfront park in Kobe's port area. It has become a popular dating spot among young couples.

The view of the waterfront park during night.

With a height of 108m, Kobe Tower is a distinct landmark of the city.

From left to right (Khyou Bun, Chia Yee, Nadzrul, Ah Fu and Siew Ping).

Some 30 of the Western-style homes, called ijinkan, remain on a hill north of Sannomiya Station called Kitano-cho. This picture was taken at the Weathercock House, built by a German merchant in 1909.

I have no idea why there is a buddha bust in one of these homes, the Uroko no le.

I visited Kobe several times, hanging out just around downtown and harbourland. Perhaps one day, I should hike up Mount Rokko. I heard one could enjoy a splendid view from the top of the mountain.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Colours of Autumn

If you are planning to visit Japan and are wondering when is the best time to go, autumn is a good choice. Each year, starting in late September, the 'koyo front' (koyo literally means colorful autumn leaves) is slowly moving southernwards from the northern island of Hokkaido until it reaches the lower elevations of central and southern Japan in the end of November.

During autumn, festivals of harvest and thanksgiving prevail. It is time for rice farmers to give thanks for the abundant harvest that will result from their carefully and laboriously tended fields. Rice is offered to the gods, showing that the farmers themselves feast on the same foods as the gods. In this way, they believe that they will receive power from the gods.

One can take a two hour boat ride down the Hozu River, from Kameoka to Arashiyama (Kyoto), to enjoy the changing color of the mountain trees. Once you arrive in Arashiyama, everyone just walks from place to place and there are lots to see.

In Kyoto and Nara, the colorful leaves match with their historical architecture and are beautiful.

Food for thought :
"Whatever you are by nature, keep to it; never desert your line of talent. Be what nature intended you for, and you will succeed." -- Sydney Smith
"We are all travelers in the wilderness of this world, and the best that we can find in our travels is an honest friend." -- Robert Stevenson

Cherry Blossom Viewing - Hanami

Hanami (literally means 'flower viewing') is the Japanese traditional custom of enjoying the beauty of flowers. From late March to early April, cherry blossoms (sakura) go into full bloom all over Japan. In modern-day Japan, hanami mostly means of having an outdoor party beneath the sakura, which are pretty in daylight and enchanting at night. Hanami at night is called Yozakura (literally means night sakura).

In Japan, spring indicates the beginning of both the academic and the fiscal years. The blooming of the cherry blossoms inspire people to start the new year afresh.

"Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm." -- Sir Winston Churchill

"When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us." -- Helen Keller

"My philosophy is that not only are you responsible for your life, but doing the best at this moment puts you in the best place for the next moment." -- Oprah Winfrey

"Little by little, one travels far." -- J. R. R. Tolkien

I find this site cool :