Categories
Japan Travel

YOKOHAMA, THE CHIC COASTLINE

I left my friend’s home, towards Yokohama, after three “norikais” (the change of trains or “transfers”) between Odawara, Kaiyama, Ebina and Yokohama, I arrived. It was closer than Tokyo in the same province as Kanagawa.

Yokohama is a seaside town being the second largest city in Japan after Tokyo, very beautiful, pleasant and prosperous, like almost all the cities here. It has 3.7 million inhabitants, the largest port in Japan and the Yokohama Landmark Tower, the largest building in Japan, with 296m high and 70 floors, as well as other futuristic buildings. In the past it was a fishing village. Today it is the capital of Kanagawa Prefecture.

I did the “walking tour” circuit along the seafront, passing through Minato Mirai 21 (the port), Yamashita Koen (a park), Chinatown and Sankei-en Garden. Chinatown here is very “niponized”, unlike other countries, here is very clean and people are polite!?! The price of things in Yokohama was even more expensive than the average in Japan. It’s the only place in the world where Chinese stuffs and restaurants are more expensive than local things and cuisine.

On the way back to Odawara I stopped by Ebina, and bought seafood on sale because it was already evening.

Categories
Japan Travel

A LIGHT ATMOSPHERE

It was another rainy day in Tokyo. From the hotel I walked to Asakusa, passing through Kappabashi, an avenue full of household items stores, mainly kitchenware. The temple of Asakusa (Senso-Ji Buddhist Temple), in the old town, is the main attraction of this neighborhood, very beautiful and with dozens of stalls selling souvenirs and typical local foods, it worth a visit. The original temple built in 645 AD was destroyed in 1945, like almost everything in Japan during World War II. This region has a more relaxed and less hectic atmosphere. As the Sumida River was nearby, I decided to go there and take some pictures.

I found the cheapest “bentô” (lunch box) in Japan, so I decided to eat two for USD 2.50/each, after all here is extremely expensive. I continued walking to Ueno and Akihabara Park, from there I took the subway to Ikebukuro, another neighborhood full of entertainments and shopping malls in addition to many Japanese. Ikebukuro station is the second busiest in the country.

Categories
Japan Travel

MORE FROM THE METROPOLIS

Another bad weather day, I left my friend’s home late and I had already lost the entire morning. To my frustration, the Imperial Palace (or Edo Castle, or even Tokyo Castle) was closed. This palace, surrounded by a moat and a garden, was built in 1457 during the Shogunate of Tokugawa Ieyasu of the Edo period.

I had lunch with a high school friend, I ve found her at Orkut, we hadn’t seen each other since that time, like 18 years ago. We went to a very nice restaurant near her work, the Bank of Brazil, near the Imperial Palace.

We said goodbye to each other after lunch and I crossed the Rainbow Bridge to the islet of Odaiba by monorail, a complex with impressive entertainment! Odaiba, also known as Rainbow Town, is an artificial island built on rubble that is 3.7 miles from Tokyo. Built from a major architectural project in 1986, the island was erected on top of 110 million cubic meters of land and incineration waste. On the island was built an artificial beach with whitish sand and lawn, used to sunbathe or practice water sports. It has some futuristic-style buildings, such as Fuji TV (with a sphere in the middle of the building) and Tokyo Big Sight (with four up-side-down pyramids), as well as some companies, amusement park, restaurants, hotels, shopping malls, museum, artificial hot-springs and the Little Hong Kong.

I had dinner with Yoshi at a Japanese restaurant. Yoshi was a gentleman I have met in 2003 in Prague (capital of the Czech Republic), we talked for five minutes at that time and we keep in touch to this day. To save time the next day, I decided to stay that night in Tokyo, at the Oak Hotel, it was better located than the previous hostel.

I couldn’t avoid but try the famous toilet seats (washlets) in Japan! Well, there was one in the hostel. I sat down and pressed all the buttons possible, it was heated and squirted warm water, it was possible to control the height of the squirt (tickled!). And to finish it was enough to activate the dryer with hot air.

The toilet
Categories
Japan Travel

THE DAY OF THE SEA

Due to the bad weather, me and my friend decided to go to Tokyo. One option would be the Mount Fuji, but it would not be so pleasant bellow the rain. Catching the train or subway in Japan is a real adventure. The rail system around here, although expensive and very confusing for those who are not accustomed, is very efficient. You will find no shortage of confused tourists (like me) and people from smaller cities (like my friend) in the Tokyo transit system. There are several lines and several companies which makes the process even more confusing for the unprepared. To save ourselves some hassle (and money), we bought the daily pass for about USD 10, which gave us unlimited trips, a bargain if you are going to use the system a lot. At peak hours, there are workers with white gloves from the transportation company that push people into the car. I was surprised when I realized that there were exclusive cars for women, it was a way to avoid male harassment.

Today our schedule was quite eclectic, from department stores to fish markets, we went to:

•            Tokyo Tower: near the Ueno line, the tower resembled the Eiffel of Paris. I didn’t make a point of going up, since the weather was bad.

•            Ginza: the neighborhood with wide avenue and full of department stores, the first neighborhood to modernize and build buildings in the Western style, being the most expensive piece of Japan. It is where there is the pedestrian crossing that you can cross the avenue diagonally. During the peak business hours this intersection is so full that you can easily lose your friends!

•            Tsukiji Fish Market: the largest seafood market in the world. Today due to the holiday, almost all the stalls were closed, but we spent a buck to eat in a conveyor belt sushi restaurant (also called sushi train or rotation sushi), I have tried exotic things like sushi of horse meat, king crab and scallop.

•            Akasaka: We visited a temple in Akasaka. Nothing extraordinary! Don’t be confused with the nice one in Asakusa.

•            Shinjuku: another neighborhood full of department stores, entertainment and neon lights. Shinjuku station is the busiest in Japan, like the subway station of Praça da Sé in São Paulo, at peak times multiplied by one hundred.

The Sea Day, Ocean Day or Marine Day (海の日, Umi no Hi) was established in 1996 as a national holiday. Since then, every third Monday of July has become a holiday. The date is to celebrate and thank for the blessings of the sea, since the country is entirely dependent on the sea. But no ceremony is held in celebration.

Categories
Japan Travel

FROM THE MOUNTAIN TO THE SEA

My friends live in a small and quiet town, and go to work by bike, the house is surrounded by rice paddies. Odawara is a city in Kanagawa Prefecture with 200,000 people west of Tokyo.

As it was Sunday, he was off duty so we went to Lake Ashi by car. There we took a boat across and headed to a mountainous and touristic region called Hakone, famous for the sulfurous hot springs. Due to the sulfur, the smell of rotten egg dominated the environment, we took a cable car to the top. The only view I had from Mount Fuji was from here, a little far away, but at least I could go back and tell everyone I saw the mountain. One ritual of tourists was buying eggs cooked in the hot springs and eat on the spot, due to the sulfur the shell was black and the egg tasted like even eggier. They were not very cheap – half a dozen eggs cost $5!

The traffic was very bad, single lane and steep, it was a parade of cars. There were many big and beautiful cars for a country so lacking in space.

We had western food on the way to the beach and went to Enoshima, an islet between Odawara and Tokyo, 4 km in circumference. The place is beautiful and pleasant to ride, with some surfers on the beach. We crossed on foot the 600 meters long bridge to the islet full of shops and typical foods and climbed a tower. There was a temple on the islet and a procession with about 50 people, probably Shinto.

That day wasn’t as hot as yesterday. After we dropped another friend off near her house on the way to Odawara, we stopped to eat noodles at a local restaurant. “Ramen-house” is very abundant here and the food here is better than the Japanese food in Brazil.

Categories
Japan Travel

The Impersonality of the Technology

In the morning I left the hostel before any employees has arrived but, as instructed, I paid my fee through a machine. Nothing more practical – but nothing more impersonal either. Technological life makes human contact as little as possible.

The heat was unbearable, about 38ºC and very humid, giving you the feeling of being in a sauna. I have never sweated so much! It was the worst heat of my life, I was wet with sweat all day.

I met my friends at 10:00 a.m. in Akihabara, also known as Electronic Town for its hundreds of electronics stores. They were a couple of friends who moved to Japan with their daughter to work. We went to buy a camcorder that had not yet been released in Brazil and was well priced here compared to other countries. I have done some research on the internet and knew this was the best place to get it. I bought one of JVC that was turned out later to be over the USD 500 customs limit in Brazil.

After the purchase, we went by subway to have lunch near Ueno park, one of the most famous in Japan, in a beautiful and chic Japanese restaurant, Bambo Garden. After lunch, we met another friend from Brazil, and we went to walk in a park which was very green and had a lake and annexes such as zoo, cemetery, museums and temples.

In the middle of the afternoon, we went to Harajuku, the meeting point of young people and teenagers, there were many strange “types”, young people dressed as dolls, cartoon characters and “punks”, today I know it is called Cosplay, I found everything very artificial.

After walking a lot we arrived in Roppongi, a neighborhood known for the nightlife, with another public, more mature. We strolled a little through the neighborhood and said goodbye to my couple friends who were leaving for another city, to Otawara, northeast of Tokyo.

I had a dinner at a restaurant with those sushis and sashimis on a conveyor belt at the counter, like luggage at the airport, just choose what you wanted to eat and grab it! After the dinner, we took the train to Odawara (almost two hours from Tokyo) and went to sleep at another couple friends’ home. Makio came to pick us up at the station at night and we went to eat again in a “ramen house” (noodles).

My friends’ house, like any Japanese house, has a “tatame” and it was not a big place, but it met well the needs of the couple who spent more time working outside.

Watch some videos of my Japan Playlist in Youtube:

Categories
Japan

Tokyo, The Eastern Capital

Arriving at Narita airport in Japan at the end of the next day due to the timezone, I was impressed by the organization, cleanliness, education and attention of the Japanese people. As soon as I arrived there was a sign with my name on it, I was surprised after all I wasn’t expecting anyone. The lady told me that one of my bags had been lost. I actually brought very little stuff with me, other than luggage for a friend who had moved to Japan.

Talking to someone else, I was informed that they located the suitcase in San Francisco and it would be sent to Narita the next day, the staff apologized to me many times but it the U.S. staff’s fault. For me it was very convenient, the airport staff was going to send it straight to my friend’s home, it was her luggage and she could even save money!

Here in Japan it is convenient for travelers to send luggage using the “takiobin” (a type of courier, such as DHL), to the home or to the airport. That way you are free to ride the subway and train more comfortably. I have sent my suitcase to another friend’s home where I would be staying, I have used the company called Kuro Neko (Black Cat), paying about $34. As I needed to talk to my friends, I borrowed the phone from the young and friendly attendant, in gratittude I gave him a can of “guarana” (a Brazilian beverage), he was very surprised and happy.

From the airport I took a train to the subway station, and from the subway I walked to the hostel, it took me more than one hour and half to arrive, it was very hot that night. The rate was USD 20.67 (Yen 2400) including the reservation fee. This time I preferred to make a previous reservation, contrary to my habit of arriving on the spot and looking for available room. The hostel was very clean, and very quiet. I arrived after the check-in time and has found only a sticky note to the entrance door. Next to the message there was the pin code of the door, after the access to the main door, I have found at the reception the bed linen and next to it another door code for my bedroom. Although it was not a warm welcome I felt completely safe and the service was reliable.

I chose the Tokyo Backpackers, an independent hostel, instead of the International Youth Hostels Association (or Hostelling International), because I don’t like this association, it has to have a membership card and it’s more expensive. I tried to find something cheap and easy to access by subway and near the tourist attractions.

That was just for the first night, I didn’t want to make a long train ride to my friends’ home they would be hosting me near Tokyo, one hour and half away, it would take about three hours to get there from Narita Airport. Besides it I had just arrived from a 32 hours trip, apart from the time zone and the fact that I couldn’t sleep on planes. Yes, travelers also have a very tough life!

This is the hostel:

Tokyo Backpackers

2-2-2, Nihon-Zutsumi, Taito-ku Tokyo, 111-0021, Japan

Phone: +81 3 3871-2789.

E-mail: packers@eg-wave.com

Tokyo, meaning “Eastern Capital”, is the capital and largest city of Japan, it has a province status, with a population of 12.6 million people, located on the island of Honshu.

Tokyo’s ascension can be attributed to two men: Tokugawa Ieyasu and Emperor Meiji. In 1603, after unifying the warrior states of Japan, Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu founded his base in Edo (present-day Tokyo). As a consequence, the city developed rapidly and over time became one of the largest cities in the world, reaching a population of one million in the eighteenth century. It became the capital of Japan even when the emperor lived in Kyoto, the Imperial Capital. After 263 years, the shogunate was overthrown in order to restore imperial rule. In 1869, the Emperor Meiji moved to Edo, which had been renamed “Tokyo” a year earlier. Tokyo was already the political, economic, and cultural center of the nation, with the emperor’s residence it became the Imperial Capital, as well as the Castle of Edo which became the Imperial Palace.

Categories
Japan

Japan – A Brief Introduction

Capital: TOKYO

Political System: Constitutional Monarchy

Economy: 2nd largest economic power in GDP

Population: 126,5 million, 10th most populous country in the world

Religions: Shinto, Zen Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Christianity and others

Facts and curiosities:

Japan (this is the entire name of the country), “Nippon” or “Nihon” in Japanese, means “Land of the Rising Sun”, has more than three thousand islands, is one of the richest and most developed countries on the planet, land of technology and people super educated, but bad in English, was the target of two atomic bombs. The largest islands are Honshu (the largest and main), Hokkaido (to the north), Kyushu (to the south) and Shikoku (also to the south), and is divided into 8 regions and 47 prefectures (also called provinces). Situated east of Russia, Korea and China between the East China Sea and the Okhotsk Sea in the Pacific Ocean. Before developing two other writing systems (Hiragana and Katagana), he adopted Chinese ideograms, and currently merges the three writing systems, when he does not use Latinized writing, the “Romandi”.

The Portuguese arrived here in the 16th century, but did not establish a colony. With the restoration of the Meiji Era in the 19th century, imperial Japan underwent profound changes in politics and launched the country into the industrial era, with the end of the Shogunate of the Tokugawa clan in 1867, becoming a major power in Asia and beginning Japanese expansionism throughout Asia. Japan is what it is today, due to this history, the destruction of Japan in World War II only slowed the modernization process.

Watch my videos in my Youtube Channel: Traveler Ni

Categories
china

Tulou 土樓, the Earthen Building in China

Hukeng in Yongding County, southwest of Fujian (China), is almost on the border with Guangdong Province. The region is famous for its old buildings, still habitable, called “Tu Lou” or clay buildings. They are sets of “apartments”, made of clay, stone and wood, with a perimeter in the circular shape, some squares, built on the edge of streams and rivers. Dated between 100 and 700 years ago, in the region there are some twenty thousand of these houses, the largest fit a thousand people with six hundred rooms, from three to four floors. In the past they were built with the defensive function. Some shapes have half-moon, half-square, oval and pentagonal perimeters.

“Tu Lou” are built by the Han subgroup known as Hakka, which means “guest”. The culture here is basically subsistence, here they live as if they were stuck in time, they have their own customs and language. I don’t understand Hakka at all. In the center of the condominium, animals such as chickens, ducks and pigs are raised, and the plantations are outside, as are the bathrooms. Depending on the construction, in the center there is a temple where ceremonies and weddings are held. The largest group even had a school. The kitchens are typically located on the first floor, the bedrooms are located on the other floors and there are windows to the outside. There is only a single entrance and exit door or main gate, which at night was always closed.

The region began to be explored for tourism after American satellites discovered the buildings and thought they were missile silos. Progress has progressed fast here, talking to locals in their 30s and 40s, they say the region was totally isolated, with no car, horse, electricity, telephone, running water and rare bicycles. The roads are recent with less than five years old, the reservoir was only two years old. Telephone and electricity are a little older, between five and ten years. It was a very poor region, but with the arrival of tourism – an important factor – life has improved a lot for the locals.

Some Hakkas keep their faces turned against tourists, after all, nobody likes to have their houses invaded all the time to take pictures. But there are many who are very hospitable, unlike most Chinese, who are rude and just want to make money from tourists. Hakkas are kind – but children don’t like taking pictures very much.

From the balcony of my room I had the view of a “Tu Lou”, right in front, which was also an option to stay, but without a shower and a very rustic room. I have decided to stay another night here. As far as I know, I was the first Brazilian to appear here. My friend and I took a motorcycle-taxi ride to see more houses in this interior. We have passed by bucolic landscapes and have seen peasants and farmers working. We also have seen many houses today and have entered some, although similar, each one has its own peculiarity.

I have seen how they made dry persimmon, first peel them one by one manually, then let them dry for a long time, knead them to stay flat and let them dry a little longer, all very artisan and slow. Women peeled hundreds a day. The region smelled of rotting bark in the bush. A sachet that should be about twenty units cost only RMB 4 or USD 0.50 – in Beijing it cost five times more.

This region exceeded my expectations! In fact, I didn’t even plan to come here, because I had never heard of these buildings. Fujian is a province full of contrasts. China’s coastal cities are well developed while those in the countryside live isolated from civilization.

See more details and enjoy the video below:

Categories
USA

Lemos Farm – Florida, USA

I stumbled upon this place quite by accident when on an across-the-US road trip. I had never been to a farm like this before and thought I would give it a try. The wife and I had a great time and, best of all, entrance was free!

You can find more information at their website. They are closed right now because of the COVID-19 but they are doing Goat Yoga right now!

Location in case you’re watching this in the future and they are open again: