Delivery of Happiness

It has been almost two years since I went to Kobe, until yesterday night I watched a Taiwanese documentary show talking about the Great Hanshin Earthquake (阪神大地震) happened in 17th January 1995. The earthquake is devastating and causing a lot of death.

During the memorial, an old man was interviewed why he was here. With tears, saying he was here to told his mother, “it’s been 19 years and I’m still remember you.”

Another woman was asking the same question, she said, “I was pregnant during that time, but lost my child due to the injury. I came here every year because I want to remember I used to own the baby before.”

A school teacher at Kobe written a song called “しあわせ運べるように” after the earthquake, to encourage the people to raise hope for tomorrow and rebuild the city.

One of the lyric said, “亡くなった方々のぶんも 毎日を大切に生きてゆこう”, means “we shall cherish every day for the lost one”. It bring me tears.

Japan trip – Afterthought

Japan is an beautiful country with breathtaking scenery, exotic culture and building that make full use of splendor and wisdom. Below are a few comments/suggestions:

  • However, this country is well-known for being one of the most expensive country in the world. However, there are places still offering nice food with reasonable price. If you are on tight budget, you can try the food from the convenient store, which offer food as low as 100 Yen, and yet delicious.

I found this cheap Ramen store located at the train station platform, yes, you heard me. It served as a convenient place for the fast-paced Japanese to fill up their stomach. The ramen is cheap and start from 200++ Yen.

  • You can hardly find any rubbish bin at the street, not even in some toilets. So, if you wanted to eat while walking, think twice. However, you can always find one rubbish bin in the train platform.
  • Some souvenir shops and historical attractions does not allow photography, so don’t act like a mad tourist and keep pressing the shutter.
  • Put your phone in vibration mode (or they called it manner mode) when taking a train. But SMS and checking email is still allowed. However, do not use your phone at all when standing close to the priority seat. Talking over the phone in the train is considered very uncivilized act in Japan.
  • Most of the historical attractions closed around 4-5 pm. So try to visit these places in the morning or early afternoon, and shopping for souvenir in a later time.
  • While a lot of people still wondering is it safe to travel to Japan due to the radiative pollution from Fukushima. The answer is yes, very safe. The radiation level in Tokyo is similar to the one at New York City. There is a daily radiation records with comparison to international one at this website: http://www.jnto.go.jp/eq/eng/04_recovery.htm

So plan your trip now to Japan, Yokoso!

Keihanshin (京阪神) Episode 20: Arima Onsen (有馬温泉) – End

After taking the meal at Kobe, I took the train from Sannomiya Station, with a few transits, to the Arima Onsen station. Upon arrival, I realized that the weather here is cooler and temperature is slightly lower than the town area, due to this place is located at higher sea level place.

Arima Onsen is the oldest hot spring area in Japan. The hot spring here is actually carbonated hot spring, the people living here using the carbonated hot spring to make “Tansan Senbei” or carbonated crackers. The shop below is right in front the train station, selling the crackers and also providing samples for visitors to taste.

River running across the town and you can actually going down, long bench are available down there too.

walking along the uphill road, there are many shops and restaurants at the sides.

On one side of the road, there is this food bath hot spring which is free of charge. The hot spring contains iron, thus the color of the hot spring looked muddy. The temperature of the water is 42.3 degree Celsius and higher if near the source. The benefits includes soothing the muscle pain and fatigues of feet. I soak my feet for about 15 minutes and it really feel great after that.

There is a drinkable spring water nearby and you can drink the water for free. It was depleted in 1993 but it become active again after the Hanshin Earthquake in 1995. But during that day there was no spring water coming out too. It was said that the water taste salty and hot.

A shop selling Matsutake (Japanese mushroom) Konbu.

This shop on the right is where the carbonated crackers originated.

A fortune cat (Maneki neko) in front of a souvenir shop.

A shop selling Arima Writing Brush, a traditional craft work and only available in Arima. It is a traditional writing brush in which if you stand it up and write something, a miniature doll will pop out at the brush holder, while you lay it down the doll will be retracted into the holder.

This shop is selling another famous traditional craft work called Arima basket, or Arima Kutsuwa (有馬籠). They are using the bamboo from the nearby Rokkosan (六甲山) as the material from the baskets and other craft works. It has a long history and their products are admired even by Toyotomi Hideyoshi (豊臣秀吉), and even awarded grand prices in the Vienna World Expo during Edo Era. More info: http://www.jcrafts.com/eg/shop/special.asp?id=arimakago

Found a kitty lazing in the afternoon and watching passerby and visitors crossing the street.

Another grey kitty did not bother about the outside world and just woke up from its power nap.

Continuing the uphill route, you will soon reaching the Tansan Spring.

A pond of spring water with carbon dioxide bubbling out under the water. This place is where the carbonated spring originated from in Arima.

There is a water tap nearby, where you can taste the carbonated spring water. Upon loosen the tap, a strong smell of sulfur emitted from it. However, the the water taste like soda water. I burped a few time after drinking the water. That no wonder people living here used to use the water mixed with sugar to make soda.

There is a signboard which advice people not to drink too much to avoid stomachache, and not to bring out due to deterioration.

A well nearby which I didn’t dare to stay close to it, look scary and reminding me of Sadako.

There are a couple of Buddhist Temple and Shrine at Arima with long history. This is Gokuraku-Ji Temple, which dedicated to Amitabha.

This is the Onsen Zen Temple. This temple was built by the Buddhist, Gyouki, who was conducted by Yakushi-Nyorai(Buddha who deals with medicine) to Arima Hot Springs in 724. Wooden images of Gyouki and Ninsai are enshrined, and they are purified by the first hot spring of the year in Irizomeshiki on January 2 every year. This temple possesses a lot of other treasures, such as a standing image of Haira-Taishou(an important cultural property) at the main shrine of this temple.

There are many cute dolls placed at the entrance of the temple. You can take one and put the money into the donation box.

This is where the hot water are supplied to the Onsen.

Hey pal, you also came to Japan.

After exploring the area, I came to this Onsen called Ginnoyu for a relaxing hot spring experience. It’s not crowded and I enjoyed the facilities. After finished, I sit at the resting area near the lobby and having my drink there.

After that, I took the bus and headed back to Osaka. Arima Onsen is a lovely place, I will bring the memory back with me, and I will come back here again.

Information:

By Train: From Sannomiya or Shin-Kobe Station, take the subway to Tanigami Station (10-15 minutes, 4-5 departures per hour). Then, take the Shintetsu Arima-Sanda Line to Arima-guchi and transfer to the Arima Line to Arima Onsen Station (20 minutes, 4 departures per hour). The entire journey takes 30-40 minutes and costs 720 yen from Shin-Kobe and 900 yen from Sannomiya Station.

From Osaka: Hankyu Bus and Nishinihon JR Bus operate one or two highway buses per hour from Hankyu Umeda Station or JR Osaka Station (60 minutes, 1330 yen) via Shin-Osaka Station (50 minutes, 1200 yen) to Arima Onsen. Nishinihon JR Bus offers round trip tickets for 2400 yen and 2200 yen respectively.

 

Keihanshin (京阪神) Episode 19: Kobe Beef (神戸牛)

 On my second last day at Japan, I took the train from Osaka to Kobe. The distance is short and it took around 20 minutes by train to reach Sannomiya Station (三宮駅).

One of my purpose to Kobe is to taste the famous Kobe beef. It was a little early as the restaurant opened at 11:30 am. So I went to the nearby Tokyu Hands to shop around.

Tokyu Hands is a one-stop department store selling home-improvement and lifestyle products, under the basement also stuffs to sustain disaster period.

I spot this interesting mug where you can pour the beer inside, and with one press on the handle, it will generate bubbles as if you pour it fresh from the bottle!

After almost 11:30, I went to one of the famous Kobe beef restaurant, Moriya. The restaurant had been in business since 1885.

My budget is tight, so I order the Moriya beef lunch set, which costs 5000++ Yen. The Moriya beef is the ancestor of Kobe beef. The bloodline is quite identical and was said taste very similar to Kobe beef.

I am honored to be the first customer entering the restaurant. After I placed my order, the chef started with necessary preparations.

A plate of salad was served for appetizer.

The chef will show you the beef and asked whether the beef is OK for you.

After the confirmation, the chef will start to cook the beef and the veggies on the hot plate.

The fat portions of the beef will be cut off during cooking, and the fat will not be wasted and reserved for later use.

The whole full set which include salads, beef with seasoning (salt, sauces, and wasabi), rice, pickles and Miso soup. Do not mistaken on the number of steaks on the plates, the rest are still on the hot plate.

The fats from the beef will be cooked together with the bean sprouts.

The steak and the Japanese rice is a heavenly combination. Personally I prefer to paste the steak with a little bit of salt.

How I consider a dish is good or bad is based on the mood and how I feel during and after the meal. My personal feeling after that, is great. Juicy, tender, nicely cook. The only drawback is the quantity.

After finished the meal, I went to this nearby Shinto Shrine called Ikuta Shrine (生田神社). It was built in 3rd century, one of the oldest shrine in Japan.

After taking half an hour rest in the Shinto Shrine, I was heading back to the train station and continue my journey to Arima Onsen (有馬温泉).

Information:
Moriya Hoten Kobe Beef Restaurant (モーリヤ 本店): 5 minutes walk from Sannomiya Station

Lunch: 11:30am ~ 3:00pm

Dinner: 3:00pm ~ 9:30 pm

http://www.mouriya.co.jp/en/head/index.html

Keihanshin (京阪神) Episode 18: Nijō Castle (二条城)

After completed my visit at Ryoanji, I continue my tour by bus and heading south to another UNESCO World Heritage — Nijō Castle (二条城). The castle was originally built in 1603 as the official Kyoto residence of the first Tokugawa Shogun, Ieyasu. It was completed in 1626 by the third Tokugawa Shogun, Iemitsu, with the addition of some structure transferred from Fushimi Castle.

In 1867m when Yoshinobu, the fifteenth Tokugawa Shogun returned sovereignty to the Emperor, the castle became the property of the Imperial family. In 1884, it was renamed the Nijō Detached Palace. It was donated to the City of Kyoto and renamed Nijō Castle (Nijo-jo) in 1939.

This is the only entrance to enter to the Ninomaru Palace (二の丸). However, back then, those visitors or VIP taking the oxcart will be alighting here. So there is a shelter above from sunlight and rainfall. Thus this place is called 車寄 (Kurumayose).

The building is one of the fine example of early Edo period and Momoyama culture in Japan, as it makes splendid use of early Edo period building design, lavish painting and carvings that Iemitsu generously commissioned.

The carving is spectacular and full of meticulous details.

Unfortunately, photography is prohibited inside the building. One interesting to highlight inside the palace, when you walking over the floor inside, the floor will squeak. This type of floor is called Nightingale floor. This type of mechanism is to aware of any intruders coming in.

The two giant bells used to make emergency announcement but is now placed in front ht palace for visitor to take photograph.

Another view at the back of the palace.

The Ninomaru Garden, is a large scale garden called Shoin-zukuri style. In the centerof the pond stands one large island (representing Horai-jima: The Island of Eternal Happiness) flanked by two smaller island (representing Tsuru-jima, Crane Island; and Kame-jima, Turtle Island). The original garden is said to have been the creation of Kobori Enshu, a master garden designer.

The route leading to the remains of Tenshu (天守閣), the central tower or main keep of a Japanese castle.

The tower was built in 1626, but was burned down by a lightning strikes in 1750. Today, it only left a raised platform and 4 long benches.

However, the height of the platform allowed me to have a higher view of the surrounding.

From the platform, you can spot the Moutain of Daimonji (大文字).

A pathway in the middle of two giant walls with huge stone piled up one on top of another.

There is also a Karesanshui, but a smaller scale one, along the pathway in Nijo Castle.

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A restoration was going on and I admired their effort in keeping the historical site in tip-top condition.

Information:

Nearest subway: Nijojomae Station (二条城前駅).

Hours: 8:45 to 17:00 (entry until 16:00)

Closed: Tuesdays in Jan, Jul, Aug and Dec (or following Wed if Tue is a national holiday)December 26 to January 4

Admission: 600 Yen

Keihanshin (京阪神) Episode 17: Ryoanji Temple (龍安寺)

After visiting the Kinkakuji, I took the bus heading south to another UNESCO World Heritage — Ryoanji Temple (龍安寺), which literally means The Temple of The Dragon at Peace. The Japanese Rock Garden, or Kare-sanshui (枯山水), is considered the finest and best Zen garden in Japan.

A bamboo water pipe appear out of no where from the bush. I can’t help to use the water to wash my hand and my face. It’s cooling and refreshing.

The stone-staircase leading to the main hall. The staircase is made up of different sizes of stone piled up one after another side by side. There is an unity in this arrangement.

Upon entering the main hall, you need to take off your shoe. The air in the main hall is full of a sense of Zen, the tranquility is unexplainable. Walking over the wooden floor is like walking on the marble floor, it’s cooling but with more human touch than the hard and concrete marble floor.

There are a lot of people standing at the platform as if there is a splendid show going on. What are they looking at?

This is where the reason why Ryoanji Temple is famous for. The Karesanshui, or Zen Garden, consists of only rocks and sands. They are arranged in different patterns to imitate the essence of nature to serve an aid to meditation about the meaning of life. The Karesanshui in Ryoanji is believed to be built in 15th century.

The wall surrounding the Karesanshui is called “Oil earth wall” which is made of loam mixed rapeseed oil so as to protect it from the garden’s white sand. The wall is very durable and able to withstand years of exposure and changes of climate.

The rocks are usually considered as popular mountain in Japan, the moss as land and the sand as sea.

There is something very interesting about this garden. There are all together 15 stones in the garden. However, regardless of where you look at it, you could only count 14 stones, which means there is always a blind spot which block your sight from the stone. Some researcher from oversea even came over to study the layout of the garden and come out with some form or mathematical analysis!

There is a miniature display at the main hall.

At the back of the main hall, is another famous wash basin called Tsukubai (蹲). There are 4 Kanji characters inscribed on the surface of the stone, and a squarish water trough at the center. The 4 characters are 吾唯知足, which utilize the squarish water trough to construct the four characters in full. The inscription, 吾唯知足, means “I learn only to be contended”. He who learns only to be contended is spiritually rich, while the one who does not learn to be contended is spiritually poor even if he is materially rich. The concept is an important one in Zen spirit.

The Tsubakai is said to have been contributed by Mitsukuni Mito, a feudal lord and the compiler of the great history of Japan known as “Dai-Nippon-Shi” (大日本史), the Great History of Japan.

The giant bell is to commemorate 500 years of establishment of the temple.

While most of the people after completed their visit to the Karesanshui, they will head straight to the exit. In fact, there is actually a restaurant selling vegetarian food near the way towards exit.

The restaurant is of traditional Japanese style. Customers can sit on the tatami floor having the food, facing the Japanese garden.

Right here you can order the Seven Herb Tofu, a clay pot with “Momen Tofu” topped with the aromatic seven herbs. It is pure vegetarian and it’s called Shojin Ryori (精進料理), is actually injected Zen spirit into cuisine. The cooking made use of tofu and vegetable and basically the soup is tasteless. The Shojin Ryori was originally prepared for monks, and the cuisine served different purpose other than just filling up your stomach.

  • Reflect the effort that bring us food
  • Reflect our imperfection as we received the meal
  • Reflect on mindfulness to be free from attachment, anger and ignorance
  • Reflect on taking this food as a medicine to sustain good health
  • Reflect on the fulfillment of our practice as we accept the offerings

I chose a cheaper one, with lesser ingredients, the Soup Tofu.

The soup come with “Momen tofu”, cabbages, spring onion,carrots, mushrooms. The soup taste natural without artificial coloring and flavouring. The tofu is smooth and the rest of the ingredients are fresh and crunchy.

The dish also come with soya sauce and tea. Everything is taken from nature, presented in their own nature and having in front of a Japanese greenery garden.  Burger, fries, go away.

Information:

How to get there: Nearest subway Ryoanji station, from there walk 12 min to Ryoanji.

Hours: 8:00 to 17:00 (8:30 to 16:30 from December through February)

Admission: 500 Yen

Keihanshin (京阪神) Episode 16: Kinkakuji Temple (金閣寺)

The next day morning, I headed to another popular attractions of Kyoto. The Kinkakuji Temple (do not mistaken with Ginkakuji temple). The kinkakuji (金閣寺) literally means Golden Pavilion.  It is located at the north of Kyoto, and taking the bus from Kyoto station will take approximately 40 minutes.

Upon reaching the entrance, there is a greenery pathway towards the main gate. It is a breezing morning, the ray of sunlight is penetrating the branches and leaves. My mood is good.

Rule number 1 when come to free and easy tour, is to understand the area well before exploring. The map near the main gate is a useful one.

In front of the main gate, Somon, is a big stone inscribed with “World heritage, Kinkakuji, Rokuon-ji”.

After buying the ticket, not far away from the main gate, is the well-known Kinkakuji. For those of Apple OS X user, you might be familiar with it as it is one of the pre-installed wallpaper for the OS’s desktop.

The site was originally the site of a villa called Kitayama-dai (北山第)and owned by a stateman, Saionji Kintsune (西園寺公園). Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, the third shogun of the Muromachi period, took a liking of the area and acquired it from the Saionji family in 1397. He then built his own villa, which he named Kitayama-den (山莊北山殿).

After Yoshimitsu died, in keeping with his will, the villa was converted into a temple bu the priest Muso-Kokushi (夢窓國師), who then became the first abbot.The temple’s name, Rokuonji (鹿苑寺), was derived from the name Yoshimitsu was given for the next world (法号), Rokuon-in-den.

The Pavilion had been destructed by a fire setup by a young monk in 1905. But it was rebuilt in 1955 and follow the exact original layout.

The Pavilion is also called Shariden (舎利殿) where it housed the Relics of Buddha. Each floor is utilizing a different architectural style. The first floor is called “The chamber of Dharma water” (法水院), is rendered in Shinden-zukuri (寝殿造り) style associated with the residential style in Heian Period.

The second floor is called “The tower of sound waves” (潮音洞), and it is built in Samurai architectural stylen, Buke-tsukuri (武家造り).

The third floor is called Kukkyo-cho (究竟頂), is built in traditional Chinese Zen style.

The top floor is a bronze phoenix ornament which presenting prosperity.

The garden and buildings, centered on the Golden Pavilion, were said to represent the Pure Land of Buddha in this world. The villa is also functioned as a guesthouse, welcoming Emperor Gokomatsu, 後小松天皇 (the father of Zen teacher, Ikkyu 一休禪師) and other members of the nobility.

The Golden Pavilion is not opened for public. The picture below depicted what is the interior and their architectural style.

The pine tree, 陸舟之松, which literally means the “Pine tree of the boat on land” is planted by Yoshimitsu. It is already 600 years old. It was arranged and looked like a boat, facing to the west, towards the Pure Land of the West (西方浄土).

A pathway towards the hill nearby.

A lot of carps in the ponds.

At the end of the pathway, a small stalls selling souvenirs.

I bought an amulet, or Omamori (御守) from the stall. The talisman on the right is actually the ticket for entrance.

Yoshimitsu is an enthusiast of Japanese tea ceremony. He used the spring water to prepare the tea. However, the spring water is depleted at the present.

The Ryumon Taki and the Carp Rock.

There is a place for resting and having Japanese Tea – Ocha. The red color seat and the tree and plants made a strong contrast.

This is the Fudo-do (不動堂) and the main image is a stone staue of the Budhist deity Fudo-myo-o. The statue is thought to have made in the 9th century by Kobo-daishi (弘法大师), founder of the Shingon sect of Buddhism. Although normally hidden from public view, the image has long been revered for miraculous power. Open door rituals are held on Setsubun (in early February) and on August 16.

The incense and candle for praying. Each candle representing different wishes, choose your desired one, and put the money in the donation box nearby.

The way back to the exit is a long and steep pathway. How I wish I could take a bicycle and rushing down with great speed.

Information:

How to get there: From Kyoto Station take bus number 101 or 205 (45 minutes)

Hours: 09:00 ~ 17:00

Admission: 400 Yen