Saturday, September 10, 2016

Asakusa, Tokyo, Japan

The Asakusa neighborhood, northeast of central Tokyo, is home to the largest Buddhist Temple in the city. As is typical throughout Japan, Shinto Shrines are often located near the Temples as most Japanese practice both religions.

Lines of stalls selling food and souvenirs line the way to the temple


Near the shrine is the popular Hoppy Street. The name 'Hoppy' is derived from a nonalcoholic beverage that was developed after WWII as a mix to dilute and give some flavor to the lousy alcohol that was available during that era. I tried some mixed with shochu, the distilled Japanese liquor, and the combination tasted just bad enough that I quickly switched to beer.

I capped off my stay in Tokyo with a visit to the Robot Restaurant show in the raucous Kabuchinko entertainment district.

Last stop was the sushi bar at the Ritz Carlton, for exceptional fish, terrific sake, and spectacular views of Tokyo at night.

Osaka, Japan

Have toured Osaka before, but this incredible city has so much to offer that I engaged the services of an excellent guide, Toyoko Michino, to show me some of the sites that I'd never visited before. We toured a local shopping arcade and the always energetic Dontobori entertainment district, jammed with stores, bars, restaurants, and people.

The Umeda Sky Tower is a striking piece of architecture, with an an open-air walkway that affords terrific views over the city.

After lunching on a popular dish in Osaka, a fried 'pancake' of cabbage and assorted ingredients, we traveled to the beautiful Sumiyoshi Taisha shrine, known for the 'circle bridge' pictured below. An absolutely tranquil setting.

Osaka pancakes

Sake is viewed as a way of bringing together Gods and people and are common sights at Shinto Shrines

Koyasan, Japan

Southeast of Osaka is the religious retreat of Koyasan, tucked in a basin about 1,000 meters above sea level and surrounded by forested mountain peaks. Originally founded in 816 A.D., and devoted to the Shingon Sect of Buddhism, there are now over 100 temples and sub-temples in the region. Some temples accept guests, and we stayed at the Kondo-mae temple. A few temple photos:


The stay included an excellent vegetarian dinner and breakfast, and the opportunity to listen to the lyrical chanting of the monks during the morning service. Meals are prepared Shojin Ryori style, which originated in China, and consists of five flavors, five cooking methods, and five colors. Each meal should include a grilled dish, a deep-fried dish, a pickled dish, a tofu dish, and soup.


My room at the temple

Beautifully presented dinner

The Koyasan Reihokan museum is a good place to begin a visit of the area as it displays numerous artworks and implements that are important in Shigon Buddhism. Nearby is the Danjo Garan complex with the striking Konpondaito Pagoda, nearly 50 meters tall.

Also impressive is the Kongobuji Temple, with beautiful painted sliding doors and the largest rock garden in Japan.

Perhaps the most interesting site, however, is the Okunoin cemetery, with more than 200,000 tombs flanked by a mountainside and nestled among cedar trees. At one end of the cemetery is the mausoleum of Kobo Daishi, the founder of Koyasan.