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Nishiki Food Market Kyoto, Japan

Top Left: Raw fish on a Stick . Top Right: Assorted Fried Foods. Bottom Left: Fried Fish Bones Nishiki Market is a narrow, shopping street, lined by more than one hundred shops that houses’ a wide verity of strange foods. It depicts a culture welling to try it all. The first assignment was to try a food completely different than anything you’ve tried before. I picked fried fish bones. From the jagged and razor-sharp edges, I felt this would be a good start to the many different and wonderful things I will be trying here in Japan. As I picked it up it felt very stiff, and without thinking about it, I put it in my mouth. The taste reminded me of a funion.

The Night Life of Osaka Osaka, Japan

Top: Canal Electrifying Bottom Right: Building Ciaos (in a good way). Bottom Left: Building Facade as a glowing sign. The Night Life in Osaka was electrifying and vibrant. Streets were packed with people all enjoying shopping, restaurants, and bars. We stayed until midnight where we caught the last train ride back to Kyoto and even then my mind was still going through shock. Everything here is new. Even in Kyoto where it’s considered to be tamed down compared to Osaka and Tokyo, the Japanese culture is so unique and different. From how things are tightly packaged to how the food is presented to you in a restaurant, Japan is defiantly a culture shock, but in a really good way.

Gekû and Naikû Shrines of Ise Ise, Japan

Bottom Right: roofs made of thatched reed. Bottom Left: Ise Shinto Shrine. Ise Shrine, dedicated to the goddess Amaterasu Omikami, is arguably one of the Shinto’s holiest and important sites. Made out of Japanese cypress, every 20 years the shrines are rebuilt to preserve its integrity. They’re lifted and rest on pillars set directly in the ground. Each shrine has a small wooden hut to its side containing a wooden pole hidden from view defining where the previous shrine once stood and where the next will be built. The sacred central pole defines the most sacred area of worship. The site had a certain spiritual presence. It was set in a large wooded forest with trees overpowering the human scale. What I found most interesting in the architecture was the thickness in the roofs made of thatched reed with its distinctive projection of the bargeboards crisscrossing each other. The design looked very primitive and blended in the natural landscape very well.

Hôryûji Nara, Japan

Top Right: The Chūmon (Inner Gate). Top Left: One of the first distintive uses of a round coloum. Hôryûji is a Buddhist temple and widely acknowledge having one of the oldest wooden buildings existing in the world. The architecture is largely different from the Ise Shrines, but surprisingly, they were built during the same time. This is due to the influence of China and Korea’s Buddhist architecture. But what makes Hôryûji unique is it breaks the Chinese and Korean prototypes of having a central main axis. Hôryûji is asymmetric in plan and unbalanced with a Pagoda on the left and the Hall of Dreams on the right. It’s hard not to compare my experience of Nara with Ise. I felt Ise to be very unique and enlightening both by its setting and modest materials. This is in contrast with Hôryûji were I felt it was more about making a statement than blending in with the site. However, it did enlighten me with its elegant detailing and elaborate woodworking.

Arashiyama Sagano Kyoto, Japan

Top: Bamboo groves. Bottom:Monkey Park Iwatayama We decided on our first weekend in Kyoto to take a day trip to go explore the beautiful scenery. We first started our trip along a bamboo forest that’s still used today to manufacture various products. It was amazing. I’ve been in a bamboo forest before in Hawaii but the scale of these grow five times the size. We then crossed the river up the mountain to visit why really came to the Arashiyama Sagano – to see the monkeys. We were told not to look them in the eye because if we did, they might attack. As we made our way to the area where the mothers take care of their young we felt comfortable enough to sit next to them and enjoy the experience.

Katsura Kyoto, Japan

The Katsura Palace has captivated many important architects and is a great example of how Japanese view space - fluid and boundless. It sits on a beautiful man made garden intended to frame views as one moves through. As I was walking around the garden, it was designed in such as way that prevented me from seeing the garden as a whole. It took me through a journey of new experiences and made me take pieces of the views to form my own interpretation of the whole. The experience was progressive and inspiring.

Phoenix Hall Uji, Japan

The Phoenix hall is a Buddhist temple consisting of a vertical hall, flanked by twin wing corridors on both sides and a tail corridor. The shape of the building is said to resemble a phoenix with outstretch wings and a tail. We were fortunate enough to see the interior. After taking off our shoes, my perception changed as I could feel the attention to detail like the extremely smooth surface of the hardwood floor. Inside the Phoenix Hall housed the statue Amida made out of Japanese cypress covered with gold leaf. What I found fascinating was the statue was composed of multiple pieces of wood carved out like shells and joined from the inside.

Byôdôin Museum Uji, Japan Architect:: Kuryû Akira

The Byôdôin Museum is located behind the Phoenix Hall underground becoming unobtrusive to the historical site. The use of heavy materials was contrasted with natural and artificial light creating an expression of floating planes. The slits in the wall glowed putting emphasis on the floor and ceiling – which is a characteristic of Japanese Architecture. I enjoyed this building a lot because it was simple in use of materials, but by using their distinctive qualities, it placed an emphasis on them (concrete as a solid material). Unfortunately we were not allowed to take any photo graphs but I did manage to sneak a few. It also had a strange similarity to our design project.

Nijo Castle Kyoto, Japan

Nijo Castle was built in the early 1600s by Tokugawa Ieyasu, founder of the Tokugawa shogunate. The castle complex is surrounded by an outer moat and a high stone wall. Outside was a garden designed to display the best of the four seasons. In its centre there was a small lake containing islands connected by bridges. The ingenious security feature built into the structure was very intriguing to learn. To prevent intruders from sneaking up on the Shogun, ‘Nightingale’ floors were placed throughout the castle. I didn’t know this fact before my visit, but the squeaking noise caused from every step I took was intentional to let the Shogun know if any unwanted guest were approaching.

Cherry Blossoms & Philosopher’s Path Kyoto, Japan

Top: Bamboo groves. Bottom:Monkey Park Iwatayama The Philosopher’s Path gets its name from Nishida Kitaro, one of Japan’s most famous philosophers, who was said to practice meditation while walking this route on his daily commute to School. Early April is the season where the cherry trees explode with color, making this one of the city’s most popular spots. The walk started at the Silver Pavilion and ended two hours later in the neighborhood next to our University. Walking along the path I was amazed by the tradition and how much the Japanese take time to slow down and enjoy nature.

Ryoanji Kyoto, Japan

The Zen garden of Ryoanji is simple yet remarkable. Of all the temples and wonders of Kyoto that I saw, I must say that the peacefulness and serenity here was the most affecting (minus the construction). I really did not want to leave this place. Basically the small temple houses one of the best examples of Zen gardens in which rakes grey stones. Fifteen large stones are located intentionally through the garden and represent steep mountainsides, waterfalls, and misty clouds. As a whole, they form a composition that moves the eye through the garden and create a contemplative ‘garden’ space. You can sort of idle ponder or not ponder the universe, the oceans, existence but basically you’re just sitting. One interesting features is that there are fifteen stones in the arrangement and there’s only one spot from which you can see all fifteen.

Golden Pavilion Kyoto, Japan

The Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku) consists of three types of architecture, each one given its own floor. The 1st floor is Shinden-zurkuri, the palace style, and uses modest materials such as wood and white stucco. The 2nd floor is taken from the style of the samurai house while the 3rd floor is Karayo style or Zen temple style. These two floors are covered with gold-leaf thus the name the Gold Pavilion. It’s quite an interesting mix of styles. One’s eye is immediately drawn to the upper two levels while the lower level tries to blend in the natural surrounds creating a floating elegance of gold.

Fushimi Inari Kyoto, Japan

What made Fushimi Inari special was the journey walking course up the mountain. The path was arrayed with thousands of orange Torii (gates) and had several quaint, smaller shrines on the way. Inari is the Shinto god of rice and sake, two essential commodities both in the culture and history of trade and life in Japan. With the rise of industry and the diminishing importance of agriculture, the role of Inari shrines has grown to represent success and prosperity in business. Traditionally, prayers were made at Inari shrines for a good harvest, nowadays, Fushimi Inari Shrine draws thousands of business and trades people seeking blessings for their enterprises..

Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art - And么 Tadao Kobe, Japan

Designed by Tado Ando.

Church of Light - Tadao Ando Ibaraki, Osaka, Japan

The Church of Light, designed by Japanese architect Tadao Ando, is a building that balances space and light. Located in the quiet suburb of Ibaraki, Osaka, Japan, he was faced with a minimal budget resulting in a simple structure. This, however, is what makes the space so sacred and powerful, combining only the basic architectural elements of floor, wall, and ceiling, with few openings. The way the openings are designed work with the space giving it a dramatic and abrupt change between dark and light. This building proves that one doesn’t need the most complicated structure to be considered “good architecture”. In fact, from what I’ve experienced here thus far, Japanese architecture is more about an understanding of materials and how their relation to space.

Peace Memorial Park, Hiroshima Hiroshima, Japan

We visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park located at the center of Hiroshima, Japan. It is dedicated to the legacy of Hiroshima as the first city in the world to suffer a nuclear attack (August 6, 1945). There are a variety of monuments and buildings in the park, each dedicated to a different aspect of the bombing. The most famous of its landmarks is the Atomic Bomb Dome. A portion of the building escaped destruction, because the air blast arrived from almost directly overhead of it. We then made our way to the museum done by Kenzo Tange. The museum‘s intent it to make you forget about who was right and who was wrong and instead think about what is right for the future. It’s to make you believe that world peace may be possible in a world where it doesn’t seem to be a priority for so many.

Itsukushima Jinja, Miyajima Miyajima, Japan

During our travel week, we spent one day and night in Miyajima, a small island located across the bay from the city of Hiroshima. Miyajima is famous for its large torii gate, which seems to float in the water at high tide. Miyajima was once considered a holy site, and it houses Itsukushima Shrine, located on the bay behind to the torii gate. It was constructed on a series of pier-like structures because historically, visitors were not allowed to set foot on the island. They had to approach by boat, entering through the torri gate to the main dock.

Mt. Misen Miyajima, Japan

Mount Misen is the highest spot on Miyajima island rising about 535 meters above sea level. A group of us guys climbed to the top and I noticed a rock hard to get on top of, but symbolizing the highest point so I decided to climb it. The view was amazing. The day was clear enough to see the Shikoku Mountain Ranges and the Islands of the Seto Inland Sea.

Naoshima Naoshima, Japan

Naoshima is an island located in the Seto Inland Sea of Japan. It’s known for its collection of contemporary art galleries, exhibits, and most importantly, numerous works from Tadao Ando and James Turrell. We stayed one night in the “Oval”, one of four buildings in the Benesse House complex by world famous Japanese architect Tadao Ando. Like his work such as the Church of Light, Ando again takes a simple approach to form and focuses on detail, materials and light. The following day we saw the Chichu Art Museum also designed by Ando which seeks to integrate art and architecture. It housed work from Monet, Walter de Maria and James Turrell and was very complementary to the simplicity of the building. All the galleries were naturally lit.

Naoshima Naoshima, Japan

Tokyo International Forum Tokyo, Japan

The forum is an exhibition, concert hall and conference center designed by architect Rafael Vinoly. Completed in 1996, the buildings shape comes from the railroad tracks at the eastern boundary of the site. The most prominent feature is its elegant swooping curves of steel trusses. The immense glass and steel enclosure is supported by a dramatic truss system, supported at two points on either end. The repeating structural supports create a gracefully expressive curving ship.

Tokyo Giants vs. Yokohama BayStars Tokyo, Japan

The Tokyo Dome is home to the Yomiui Giants and the largest concert facility in Japan. The area surrounding is known as Tokyo Dome City which includes a roller coaster named Thunder Dolphin that penetrates through a shopping mall. Six of us guys went to see the Tokyo Giants play the Yokohama BayStars. They’re rivals so we watched one of the most important games of the season. The fans were very into it.

Tokyo Tower Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo Tower stands slightly taller than the Eiffel. It was completed in the year 1958 as a symbol for Japan’s rebirth as a major economic power, and serves as a television and radio broadcast antenna and tourist attraction. We ascended to the main observatory right as the sun was setting so we could experience both the city during the day and electrifying night life. We had panoramic views of Tokyo and even Mt. Fuji. Underneath the tower was a shopping mall with restaurants and lots of souvenir stores as well as a wax figure cabinett and the Modern Science Museum. Very bizarre, but very Japanese.

Ryogoku - Sumo Ryogoku, Japan

The Ryogoku Kokugikan is where three of the largest annual sumo matches are held and we fortunately got to experience one. Sumo is Japan’s national sport and a type of martial arts, but it originally was a religious ritual of Shinto, thus the fake Shinto shrine above the wrestler’s ring. In the 16th century, it became an entertainment sport and during the Edo period came the current professional Sumo we see today where many people enjoyed watching Sumo at shrines and temples. The day started off in the early morning for lower rank wrestlers and continued until late afternoon for higher rank wrestlers. The tournament was one of the cooler sporting events I’ve been to and I was very impressed with how much tradition the sport has been able to retain in the face of pressure for stimulation and commercialism. During a match, wrestlers mount the sandy platform and perform a Shinto ritual to ward off evil spirits involving swaying and leg stomping then it’s on. Wrestlers squat in front of each other, clap their hands as a show that they are weapon less and wait for the charge. It was over no more than 30 seconds.

FOA’s Port Terminal Yokohama, Japan

We traveled half an hour south of Tokyo to Japan’s second largest city, Yokohama. In the 1980s Yokohama, which is traditionally a port town and entry gate for foreigners, began to transform as a harbor city. As we visited the project by FOA you can’t help but think how extraordinarily complex it is. Spaces and surfaces are woven together and flow continuously from one end of the building to the other. Ramps link the different levels and blur the divisions between enclosed space, the cantilevered decks, and the undulating and fully accessible roof deck. A group of us visited the terminal 3 times – one being at night. It was that good.

Toyo Ito’s Mediatique Sendai, Japan

As soon as we arrived from our 2 hour Shinkansen train ride to Sendai we checked our bags in Toyoko Inn, and immediately went to the Sendai Mediatique by architect Toyo Ito. This sleek complex includes a library, an art gallery, audio-visual library, film studio and cafe. 13 vertical tubes act as the main structural members and also a vector for light and all of the utilities, networks and systems. Each vertical tube varies in diameter allowing for a free form plan varying from floor to floor. This design hardly has any walls with focus on light – natural light during the day and striking illumination at night which we observed on a roof top across the street. Because the structure doesn’t accommodate walls, a thin curtain can be seen on many of the floor levels dividing space. It’s attached on a track system that is pinned to the structural steel ceiling members. The pins then can be moved and configured to expand or contract space as desired. What Ito defines as floors, tubes (columns) and skin, allows for a complexity of activity and information systems. I didn’t know this before, but the Mediatique is very similar to traditional Japanese architecture. It’s fluid, clear expression of structure, and flexible.

House of Light TĹ?kamachi, Japan

The House of Light is situated high on a mountain side, secluded and removed from the town and its community. Designed by American artist and Architect James Turrell, the House of Light is a traditional Japanese guest house with many interesting features making use of different elements of light and shadow. As the sun began to set, we gathered in the sleeping area to see a special light show, where the roof skylight opened and the room’s lights slowly change to match with the setting sun. It was quite an experience. The entire ground level, housing a hot spring bath and a guestroom, was treated in solid concrete contrasting from the light framed courters above. The concrete had an earthy tone, and hearing the elements of water and faint glimpses of light along with it, created a unique architectural experience unlike any other. The hot spring was another light installation. A simple fiber optic wire ran around the pool and door frame creating the only source of light, besides the little moonlight coming through a large window.

House of Light (Cont.) TĹ?kamachi, Japan


Gokayama, Japan

Gokayama is a close collection of ancient rice-cultivating villages hidden deep inside the snowy mountains of Central Japan. Coming from a busy week of traveling, Gokayama felt quiet and relaxing as villagers carried out their unhurried, self sufficient farming giving us a glimpse of an old feudal lifestyle. The farmhouses are composed of cedar beams and pillars held together with only hand-woven ropes, and covered with a thatched roof two feet thick. This style of architecture is known as Gassho-zukuri which translates to “clasped hands”. It is said the steepness of the roof resembles the pressing together of the hands during a Buddhist prayer. This was developed, of course, as a defense against the region’s heavy snowfall, which had isolated this region from the outside world for centuries and contributed to the development of its own unique culture. We arrived at Gokayama’s largest village, Ainokura, during the May rice-planting season. We were able to see the rice paddy fields artificially flooded a couple inches deep in preparation for the planting of rice seedlings. We watched a man and a boy rolling a wooden cage creating a grid which was then followed by the placing of seeds into the mud by hand, row by row. With an entire village of thatch roofs and lush green mountain peaks in the backdrop, it was a peaceful retreat and felt a million miles away from our next destination - Tokyo.

A Day with Fujimori Tokyo, Japan

Fujimori uses simple, elemental materials that highlight the relationship of architecture to the ground from which all its materials come. Following the tradition and role of an architect, he designs and builds himself, maintaining total control over the construction. His interest as an architect lay in pushing the limit and constraints of traditional Japanese architecture, and as a result, he has created highly expressive pieces of architecture. We had a chance to spend half a day with Fujimori and lunch with him and his wife. He took us to see one of his recent projects entirely clad in copper that had been wrinkled reminiscent of split wood shingles. Then we saw his personal residence. The exterior is composed of living plants linking architecture to nature. There’s something about his interiors that primitive but still warm and comfortable. His balance is almost perfect.

You Scream, I Scream, We All Scream For Whale Flesh Shibuya Ward, Tokyo, Japan

During my time in Japan, the biggest change for me was exploring new foods. While in Shibuya, three of us made our way to a whale restaurant – Ganso Kujiraya. The prices of the meals were equivalent to $15 per dish, which are quite high for college students, but split three ways, we decided to try four. When can you order whale in the States? We ordered two types of whale meat, tongue, and my favorite raw heart. Where the raw heart melted in my mouth, the whale tongue was chewy which I literally had to chew for an unpleasant minute before swallowing. It was gross. Maybe it was the thought that my tongue was touching a tongue of a dead mammal. The steak we ordered was good. It had been slightly seared on both sides locking the juices in and had been marinated in a sweet soy sauce that brought out the flavor. No wonder so many people in Japan love eating whale. With beer or sake, the meal was strikingly good.

Tuskiji Fish Market Tokyo, Japan

There aren’t many things in this world that can get me up before the sun rises, but this is one of them – the chance to visit one of Tokyo’s busiest fish markets, Tuskiji Fish Market. It’s the largest fish and seafood market in the world, and also one of the largest wholesale food markets of any kind. With Japanese eating one quarter of the world’s total supply of tuna fish each year, tuna fish sold in Tsukiji market come from all around the world as far away as New Zealand and Tahiti. We got on the first train from Yoyogi-Koen Station at 5:01 am and entered the market in Tsukiji in central Tokyo just in time to see the tuna action begin. Once we got there, we had to constantly be out on the lookout because the traffic was insane. Workers shoot around on little turret trucks navigating through tiny walkways only wide enough for their trucks to fit through. Besides the constant paranoia of being run over, the tuna auction was interesting to watch. Tails of the tuna were chopped in half allowing bidders to pick at the meat to check its quality before bidding. The record of the most expensive tuna was an enormous Bluefin tuna fish auctioned in January 2001 with a shocking price of US $184,000. We were getting rather hungry by now, since we hadn’t had breakfast before leaving (seriously, who can eat at 5:00am?) so we wandered over to the section of the markets which had restaurants. We picked the one with the longest line and headed inside, to be greeted by the very enthusiastic and cheerful chef. The sushi was extremely fresh and, being our last day in Tokyo, it was a great way to start the morning off.

Japan Travel Journal  

3 months traveling all across the country Japan.

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