Spending the Golden Week in Kansai (1-4 May 2010)

Japan is not really big on non-working holidays (unlike in the Philippines), so I figured that since the Golden Week is the longest holiday in the year, I might as well spend it exploring places far from Tokyo. So for my 4-day holiday, I decided to visit Osaka, Nara and Kyoto.

Since I was a gaijin-on-a-budget, I opted to take the overnight bus to and from Kansai. There are a variety of private and JR buses that offer good deals, but I usually take Willer Express because of their English reservation service and accessibility. Their boarding station in Tokyo is conveniently situated near JR Shinjuku station, and payment can be done in convenience stores. In other cities, they would set up make-shift check-in counters in places that are also really easy to find. (Their website also provides very detailed maps directing you to the location of their boarding stations.)

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Zambales

(photos taken in February 2009)

I MISS THE BEACH.

The clear blue waters that glisten with the sunlight. Smooth powdery sand that can literally hurt your eyes with its perfect whiteness. Colorful fishes unabashedly pecking at your feet, letting you know how unwelcome you are in their turf (haha). Seeing a gorgeous sunset while riding a boat from some small island that you and your friends have called your own for a day.  Barbecue and ice-cold Coke. Damn.

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Shinjuku-gyoen National Garden(Dec 2009)

location: Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan

Nearest station:  Shinjuku-gyoenmae; Sendagaya

Don’t get me wrong, I love travelling alone. I get to enjoy every detail of it – the scents, the sounds,the sights, the tastes. I get to stay a while longer in places that I really love, and just pass by the areas that I’m not so keen on seeing.  I get to focus on taking lots of pictures of a single sight, without minding if someone is getting bored, waiting for me to take the perfect shot. But the thing is, when you have a perfectly serene and beautiful scene in front of you, you can’t help but feel sad and nostalgic. It makes you think of the people back home that you miss, and makes you wish you can share this perfect sight with them.

It would have been a remarkable moment.

The Shinjuku-gyoen National  Garden had that effect (on me). Though one of the most famous and largest parks in Tokyo, it is a very serene area, perfect for a quiet afternoon solitude or an intimate conversation with a loved one.  An unmistakeable contrast from its neighbour, the Yoyogi -koen.

Shinjuku-gyoen is one of the largest green area in Tokyo, perfect for just lounging around

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Autumn in Heirin-ji Temple

location: Niiza, Saitama, Japan

nearest station: Shiki station

My trip to Heirin-ji was my first real adventure in Japan. It was already the 3rd of week of November, and I figured that I needed to go someplace where I could see and take pictures of autumn leaves. Niiza was actually near from where I was staying (Wako-shi), but I was hesitant to go because I have not tried riding the bus and train here in Japan by myself. But since winter is fast approaching and I was afraid that I might lose the chance to take pictures of the glorious autumn colors, I decided to face my fear and just go. After walking for what felt like 5 km or so (I wasn’t sure which train station was the nearest), I finally saw the lush forests that surround the Temple, and the long line of people at the entrance. 🙂

entrance to the temple grounds


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Yoyogi-koen (Yoyogi Park)

Nearest stations: Harajuku (JR Yamanote), Yoyogi-koen (Chiyoda subway line)

Just a few steps from Meiji-jingu shrine in Shibuya is one of the largest parks in Tokyo – Yoyogi-koen. The park is not a manicured garden, but more of a huge area with an open grassy space and forest area, where people play with their children, walk their dogs, go jogging or just simply hang out with friends. On weekends, artists also abound in the area – some are practicing their music or dance, while others are simply performing for free. On Sundays, the park serves as a hangout of Lolita girls and some cosplayers. A dashing display of Japanese youth culture. 🙂

I was quite surprised that even though there were a lot of people in the park (entrance is free, by the way), I found it very relaxing to just sit on a bench or under the shade of a tree, watching people go by. This remains to be one of my most favorite places in Tokyo. 🙂

Here are some sights from my first visit in November 2009:

Near the Harajuku entrance is this beautiful patch of colorful flowers


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Meiji-jingu (November 2009)

(Nearest station: Harajuku)

Meiji Jingu is a Shinto shrine, dedicated to the divine souls of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. Emperor Meiji’s reign, I believe, is more for the opening of Japan to the world after its long isolation, thus laying the foundations of modern Japan. The empress, on the other hand, was greatly admired for her efforts to promote women’s education.

To commemorate their virtues and venerate them, people donated 100, 000  trees from all over Japan and from overseas, creating the forest that surrounds the main hall.

Torii - gate to the Shrine grounds

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Christmas in Tokyo

Christmas in Japan is nothing really special or significant. With Christians comprising only 10% of the Japanese population, December 25 is treated as an ordinary working day. But, I must say, while this may be very different from what I was used to in the Philippines, the Christmas season here is never dull.

Weeks before Christmas, malls, parks and busy (and more famous) streets are geared up with sparkly lights and decorations that are very hard  to miss. Here are three of the most famous and grand Christmas illuminations in Tokyo that I was able to visit:

CARETTA, SHIODOME

view from the footbridge connecting Caretta and the subway station

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