A few random shots from our travels around the island.

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This bridge was bombed by the Americans during WWII. The remnants reminded me of a Tori gate. I am sure there is some form of irony there.

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An old concrete machine gun bunker.

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The old Japanese communications building. You are not allowed in, as the back collapsed during a hurricane in 2012.

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The memorial to the US 81st Infantry. It was a cemetery but years ago Congress went around the world and brought their war dead back to the US.

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The old runway that was so precious to McArthur. If you watch The Pacific (HBO) they show how this area was an open field with all vegetation bombed and burned to the ground. Nature has reclaimed the airfield.

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A plaque on a memorial from the Japanese people.

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I would agree and let us all hope and pray for those around the world who are suffering through war today.


Scattered around the island are remnants of the fierce World War II battle. The US LTV(A)-1, LTV(A)-4s, rusting under the hot Pacific sun. A few of my favorite shots (Config: Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-70mm f/2.8)

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Believe it or not, some of the wheels on the tanks still turn.

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The spot where the enemy shells went in.

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It was surprising how much smaller the Japanese tanks were. This Type 95 Ha-Go Light Tank was half the height of the American tanks. I do not know how a full grown man would fit into it – must have been tight. It was sitting on the old airfield.

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Nature is slowly trying to reclaim the vehicles.

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Spot the faded star.

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The Japanese tanks had little effect on the battle and were destroyed almost immediately during a poorly executed counter attack:

The 5th Marines made the most progress on the first day, due to their distance from the heavy gun emplacements guarding the left and right flanks. They pushed toward the airfield, but were met with Nakagawa’s first counterattack. His armored tank company raced across the airfield to push the Marines back, but was soon engaged by tanks, howitzers, naval guns and dive bombers. Nakagawa’s tanks and escorting infantrymen were quickly destroyed.

They had very small guns.

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Fascinating to see.


We had rented a car and were driving the roads of Palau in search of a waterfall. Along the side of the road we noticed a concrete pyramid rising out of the jungle. What was that?

We backtracked and found the entrance with a set of tire tracks through the grass, no “official” road in sight and everything overgrown. What was it?

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As we moved closer, we started to notice the writing on the walls – definitely Japanese. But so overgrown … so un-Japanese.

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On the left were names of companies. All of the companies you would easily recognize; JAL, Toshiba, Panasonic and others.

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On the right are the names of people. I assume people who have donated.

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One of the first names is very interesting … Ryoichi Sasakawa who has a very interesting and mixed history.

Ryoichi Sasakawa (笹川 良一 Sasakawa Ryōichi?, May 4, 1899 – July 18, 1995) was a Japanese businessman, politician and fascist[1][2][3] born in Minoh,Osaka. He was imprisoned as a Class A war criminal after World War II but later released without a trial,[4][5][6] kuromaku (political power-broker), and the founder of the Nippon Foundation. While he is widely known throughout Africa and much of the developing world for the wide-ranging philanthropic programs that he established, he is at the same time viewed with hostility by many intellectuals[7][8] for his right wing ideals and ties to Japan’s motorboat racing industry and support for the Unification Movement

I found his quote “I am the world’s richest fascist” particularly interesting when he is also recognized for leading significant charity efforts in poverty stricken nations and a peace organization that bears his name.

The black marble triangle with the dirt darkened inscription and long dead wreaths reads (roughly translated)

As a memory of fighting in this war we built this to take care of the spirits of the soldiers.

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To Japan …

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A place to sit and contemplate.

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You can find the monument at Longitude 7 27 51.71, Latitude 134 31 40.878 (embedded in the metadata). How quickly nature creeps back …


Our first stop on our exploration of the island of Peleliu was bloody nose ridge. Along the road was a small sign about a few Japanese men who held out well after the war.

On 21 April 1947, a small band of Japanese holdouts was discovered on Peleliu. They formally surrendered only after considerable effort to convince them the war was over. Lieutenant Yamaguchi, who had maintained military discipline in the group for the intervening years, led 26 soldiers to a position in front of 80 battle-dressed Marines where he turned over his sword.

You can read more about the account here. (Config: Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-70mm f/2.8)

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Their cave is 50m that way.

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The fighting in Peleliu was inhuman. It was not a strategic battle with cleaver maneuvers and tightly managed strategies. With 22,000 combatants surrounded by hundreds of ships and planes on a 2 mile by 6 mile island, it was a meat grinder – a battle of brute force. While the US Army wanted to execute a conservative strategy to beat the Japanese after extensive bombing/artillery, inching their sandbags forward; the controversial leader of the US Marines Colonel Chesty Puller had one strategy, drive ahead at all costs. That cost was divisions going in with 280 men and walking out with 70 left days later. Many say that Marine Corps. casualties did not need to be so high.

It was fought hand to hand and due to the Japanese Imperial Army’s mentality of too the death for the Emperor, it lead to some of the highest casualty rates in American history and almost no Japanese prisoners. I read With The Old Breed before flying over, and while I found the writing of the book rather simplistic, he describes the rawness of Peleliu very clearly:

to those who entered the meat grinder itself, the war was a nether world of horror [in which] time had no meaning; life had no meaning. The fierce struggle for survival in the abyss of Peleliu eroded the veneer of civilization and made savages of us all. We existed in an environment totally incomprehensible to men behind the lines — service troops and civilians.

In addition to rotting corpses and organic waste, the litter of smashed and worn out equipment of every type became more abundant as the battle dragged on and the size of the Umurbrogol Pocket shrank slowly. The ridges and ravines were littered with the flotsam of fierce combat. Debris of battle was everywhere and became more noticeable as the weeks dragged on.

That debris is everywhere. In fact, it is still quite dangerous in the jungle as they are still clearing it out.

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Along the trail, you see remnants of the war scattered everywhere (including the occasional human bone).

Old mortar rounds were everywhere.

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As were caves. The Japanese adopted a new strategy at Peleliu after their many previous failures and learning that the banzai charge was not a successful strategy. They adopted a defense in depth strategy with extensive tunnels. This meant that they would hide until the American shelling let up and then pop up and surprise the US troops. This approach created the most vicious of battles, with the Americans having to root the soldiers out one by one using some of the most terrible of weapons (such as the flame thrower). According to one source, the US military expended 1,500 rounds of ammunition for every Japanese death (All but 280 of the 12,000 Japanese soldiers were killed).

A cave filled with anti-aircraft cartridges.

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A plaque and memorial to Elmer Lowe, Sgt USMC who died on this ridge. Over 2,000 marines were killed or wounded in this tight battle with the Japanese (8,500 Americans were killed or wounded in Peleliu – a battle that was supposed to be over in 3 days).

Another quote from The Old Breed that seem particularly apt at a place like this:

War is such self-defeating, organized madness the way it destroys a nations best. I wondered also about the hopes and aspirations of a dead

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The infamous water barrels of the Peleliu battle. Soldiers had been assigned to steam clean 55 gallon oil drums, which the military would repurpose for drinking water. The problem is that the job was not well done or inspected. The fresh water that arrived for the troops was full of rust and oil. In the 120F heat, many tried to drink it anyway and became violently ill.

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Shells and guns lay strewn along the walk.

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From The Old Breed:

None of us would ever be the same after what we had endured. To some degree that is true, of course, of all human experience. But something in me died at Peleliu. Perhaps it was a childish innocence that accepted as faith the claim that man is basically good. Possibly I lost faith that politicians in high places who do not have to endure wars savagery will ever stop blundering and sending others to endure it.

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I have had Palau on my bucket list for a long time for two reasons; Jellyfish Lake in the Rock Islands and Peleliu, the island the US/Japan fought a vicious WWII battle.

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For those of you who do not know Palau;

Palau (Listeni/pəˈl/, sometimes spelled Belau or Pelew), officially the Republic of Palau (Palauan: Beluu er a Belau),[4] is an island country located in the western Pacific Ocean. It is geographically part of the larger island group of Micronesia. The country’s population of around 21,000 is spread across 250 islands forming the western chain of the Caroline Islands. The most populous island is Koror. The islands share maritime boundaries with Indonesia, Philippines and theFederated States of Micronesia. The capital Ngerulmud is located in Melekeok State on the nearby island of Babeldaob.

It is a breathtakingly beautiful set of islands, with the friendliest of people and an interesting history. First colonized by the Spanish, then sold to the Germans, occupied by the Japanese in 1914 and now supported by the US as a United Nations protected territory, Palau has seen its share of foreigners.

Like many islands, the buildings are crumbling with the people surviving on a mix of subsistence farming/fishing, tourism and international aid which allows the government to employee roughly half of the population. The US is at the forefront of that aid, providing a $250M package in 2010 and remains in a tight military compact with the island (although the only US forces in Palau are there to support civil projects such as school and road construction).

The reason why so few have heard about it is due to the location and a coastline of mangrove swamps that do not allow the country to compete with the beaches of Hawaii or Tahiti. The airlines don’t help either, our flight from Tokyo was one of the only directs and the return flight left the island at 4:20am (less than ideal). But a bucket list is a bucket list …. and so we went. Glad we did, it is a truly unique place.

When you get there, the island culture starts to seep into you. It is a beautiful island and despite a week of way too much rain, we had a few great adventures .. which will kick off a few posts.

All of that being said, the view from our hotel, the PPR, was fantastic.

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The problem with traveling to Asia in the summer? It is the wet season. It was very wet … all week unfortunately.

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View from the hilltop.

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Beautiful place. Maybe we need to sell everything in a decade and go live near a beach …. there are definitely worse things in life.


Tokyo is a big city and there is always something new to find. I decided to head over to Yoyogi Park area for a wander and came across a break dancing competition under the bridge. People were crowded around as this fellow spun the tunes.

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Yes, breakdancing survived the 80’s. It started with 4 groups .. getting warmed up.

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Then they broke into a competition. I stood in the middle and couldn’t help but think that this looked like some kind of dance off … like you have seen in movies (that you turn off). In person it is very entertaining. They were extremely talented and agile. 

A few shots as the two sides (left and right) went at each other.

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A coordinated taunt.

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As each new dancer started they would usually face the crowd and make a taunt or two before they began throwing themselves into it.

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The crew on the right had a few kids in it. And the little batman took his turn.

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If you are wondering about athletic prowess .. check out the height.

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And then it was over, just as this fellow stepped out. He turned to the DJ and they all asked .. one more!

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He has the hat for it and they let him go. Good thing they did, he was the best and what a finish.

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Got to love Yoyogi Park .. even during Obon when half the city is empty.


I didn’t know what to expect when we arrived at this museum as I have never been to an outdoor museum.

Set in the stunning landscape of Hakone, the Hakone Open-Air Museum opened in 1969 as the first open-air art museum in Japan. Constantly changing with the seasons, our spectacular grounds are the permanent home for approximately 120 works by well-known modern and contemporary sculptors. We also have 5 exhibition halls including the Picasso Pavilion, as well as pieces where children can play, a footbath fed by natural hot springs, and a variety of other facilities where our visitors can relax and enjoy the splendor of art in nature.

It was as one would expect; open, beautiful grounds at the foot of the mountains. Config: Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-70mm f/2.8 with a mix of handheld HDRs.

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“Intersecting Space Construction” …

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Japanese maples are beautiful all year round and plentiful here. They do not grow well in my home country due to the winters.

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I saw this ball’s cousin at the Vatican … Sfera con Sfera (sphere within a sphere).

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The “symphonic sculpture”, a wonder of colored glass. It became a symphony of children’s laughter and screams about 3/4 of the way up as the school kids streamed in (smile).

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The grounds are scattered with sculptures and beautiful flowers.

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A few hours well spent.


I have had this shrine on the “While living in Japan” list. It is one of the more famous Tori gates in Japan, the Hakone Shrine. The massive Tori sits at the edge of the Lake Ashi.

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It was dark, cloudy and about to rain that day.

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While taking a shot of the family under the gate we all started chuckling at this sight … she was working very hard on the windy lake so that her husband, in the life jacket, could get a photograph.

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Supposedly it is a great place to view Mt. Fuji. Unless it is cloudy. For reference, Mt. Fuji is that way. You know .. behind the clouds.

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There is a long stairway from the Lake Ashi Tori to the shrine at the top. This shot gives you a perspective off the surrounding forest with it’s very large trees.

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The shrine at the top ..

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and the dragons at the purification fountain.

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An important monk .. but I have no idea who he is as it was all in Japanese.

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Will have to go back to see Fuji another day.


One of the reasons why you travel to the Hakone region is for the views of Mt. Fuji. Fuji-san has been quite problematic for me, seems like whenever I have my camera it hides away. It is also the reason why the region is so busy and with Fuji-san’s new world heritage status, tourism is booming.

That being said, while we were there Fuji-san was nowhere to be seen, hiding in the dense cloud cover. Mt. Komagatake is supposed to be the best place to view Fuji from and as the cloud cover was so dense, the ropeway to the top was almost empty.

On the plus side, it meant no waiting .. we went up anyway. Configuration: Canon 5D Mark III, handheld HDRs and Canon 28-70mm f/2.8.

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As you head up you see a golf course to the right. I think we will need to add that course to the list.

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It was very, very foggy.

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Very, very foggy.

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At the top there are trails ringing the mountain with great views .. on any other day. I can honestly say that I fretted a little bit about getting lost. At one point, visibility was down to a meter or less.

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But the wind blew in and it started to clear (for 2 minutes).

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I would wager it is a good view on a clear day (smile).


Owakudani is a valley in the Hakone region south of Tokyo where you can see the volcanic activity up close.

(大涌谷 lit. "Great Boiling Valley"?) is a volcanic valley with active sulphur vents and hot springs in Hakone, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan. It is a popular tourist site for its scenic views, volcanic activity, and especially, Kuro-tamago (黒卵 lit. "black egg"?) — a local specialty of eggs hard-boiled in the hot springs. The boiled eggs turn black and smell slightly sulphuric; consuming the eggs is said to increase longevity. Eating one is said to add seven years to your life. You may eat up to two and a half for up to seventeen and a half years, but eating a whole third is said to be highly unadvised.

It looked like a bit of a moonscape to me. Configuration: Canon 5D Mark III, shooting a mix of handheld HDR with a Canon EF 28-70mm f/2.8.

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As you take the short hike to the viewing area, the smell of sulfur (rotten eggs) becomes stronger and stronger.

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There is a reason there are signs like this. The sulfur is very strong, a few times I felt a bit lightheaded when the wind shifted (and nauseous). It is clearly signed that if the sulfur gets too bad, they close the area down.

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At the end of the hike you come to a viewing area which also happens to be where they are cooking the eggs. They have these large metal baskets, which they place into the hot water.

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I just realized that I didn’t take a lot of shots with the eggs. But they are as black as night. The taste? You will have to find that out for yourself (smile).

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As we hiked back we watched the eggs shoot down the hill on their own ropeway. I would wager they sell a lot of eggs everyday.

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As we left the valley, I began wondering about the volcanic gases. Japan is a hotbed of geological activity, with almost daily earthquakes and 2 volcanoes that rank in the top 5 for most “dangerous” to a population. In fact, the volcanic gases can be very dangerous for the unaware:

Hikers have died on volcanoes in Japan after taking a wrong turn on a trail and being overcome by volcanic gases, In April 2009, a U.S. poet, Craig Arnold, disappeared after setting off on a hike on the volcanic island of Kuchinoerabujima, 50 kilometers off the cost of southern Kyushu.

Enjoy that onsens and hot springs, they come from an interesting source.


While in the Hakone mountains south of Tokyo we happened across the Venetian Glass Museum (also called the above) after debating whether it was a worthwhile destination.

Really glad that we did, as it is one of the most beautiful places we have been to. Not the museum, but the grounds around the museum set to a mountain backdrop. There were glass flowers and sculptures everywhere.

Five shots from our day, via Canon 5D Mark III, 28-70mm.

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In the back of the property is a stairwell and a walkway that loops through the forest near the river.


The glass hydrangeas were particularly beautiful.


Actually, 6 shots .. the glass waterfall.


If you can get out there, I would highly recommend a stop. A really nice cafe too although I wasn’t too fond of the Italian fellow belting out Volare (smile).


One of the more famous temples in Kyoto is Kiyomizu Temple, and it has a grand view of the city.

It is a hike up a hill to get to the temple, which is half the fun as the road is lined with shops. It was very hot in Kyoto (32C+humidity), so the ice cream shops were very busy with their special Japanese flavours.

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And a few uniquely Japanese treats on a stick.

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Our guide pointed out the woman in the hat (center near building in the hat). He said she has been standing there for 20 years and is a fraud. She chants nothing (he has leaned in many times) collecting gifts from tourists … he stops his clients.

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I could pop a Wikipedia reference in, or post this simple explanation. Thanks Fujicolor.

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It has a grand entrance and in 2007 was nominated as one of the “new” 7 wonders of the world.

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Inside the temple are the oldest wood based paintings in Japan, depicting the Samurai.

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And if you look across the forest, past the hydrangeas, you see a beautiful temple peaking out of the trees.

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We hiked over.

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A view of the Kiyomizu Temple from across the forest.

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Thanks for dropping by.


Our 3rd day included the Monkey Park (previous posts) and a boat ride down the Katsura River which runs below it. Across the river is a famous bridge that people like to photograph, the Togetsukyo or “Moon Crossing bridge”. It provides beautiful views of the river and mountain.

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It was very bright and hot that day.

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At the base of the mountain (right outside the gates of the Monkey Park) are many boats. The covered boats are moved up and down the river by the boatmen using long bamboo poles.

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It was a very tranquil setting until a boat slid up beside us, engines blaring and food steaming.

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It all seemed to fit right in. Grilled octopus and squid, cold beer and other Japanese delicacies at your finger tips.

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I would imagine this is the most amazing of boat trips in the fall, when the entire mountain is coloured red and orange. I think we will need to go back.


There were plenty of monkey babies at the Iwatayama Monkey Park. This little fellow didn’t look old and wobbled like a new born.


He also stayed very close to his mom.


It was interesting to watch the mothers. At one point a commotion broke out behind me between this very angry mother …. (baby hanging on tight) ..


and this frightened male, who clearly did not want to tangle and kept retreating. Perhaps he forgot to take out the garbage?


These two little fellows were having a great time, chasing each other around and playing.


Glad we stopped at the park.


I am not sure if people know about Iwatayama Monkey Park in Kyoto. It wasn’t listed as one of the “must see” in Kyoto as I researched for our trip. But as an animal loving family, when we found out about it we quickly added it to our itinerary.

The park is on the top of a mountain and sanctuary to 140 monkeys.

Iwatayama Monkey Park (Japanese: 嵐山モンキーパーク, Arashiyama Monkī Pāku) is a commercial park located in Arashiyama in Kyoto, Japan. The park is on Mt Arashiyama, on the same side of the Oi River as the train station. It is inhabited by a troop of over 170 Japanese macaque monkeys. The animals are wild but can be fed food purchased at the site.

It is a 20-25 minute climb up the small mountain and as you get closer to the top, you start to see the monkeys in the trees. The macaques are everywhere.



This was a very different experience than Bali. The sanctuary is very well controlled, you do not feed the monkeys as they are conditioned to 2 feeding patterns; pre-set feeding times (we arrived at for the 1pm feeding) and the option to buy food and feed them from behind caged windows in a single building.

Upon reflection, this makes the entire experience safer for both the animals and humans.


This fellow made me laugh. The entire time we were there he sat on the post, waiting for a tourist to hand him some nuts.



I could have stayed all day photographing the macaques. These are the same monkeys that enjoy the hot springs in the winter.


This fellow was sitting on the edge and a big yellow koi kept flitting around his feet. Every once in a while he would just reach down and flick it away.


Fun to watch them .. just “hanging out”.




A Kyoto must-see .. and all of the babies were an added bonus.


One of the more famous sites in Kyoto is the Golden Pavilion at Kinkaku-ji:

The site of Kinkaku-ji was originally a villa called Kitayama-dai, belonging to a powerful statesman, Saionji Kintsune.[8] Kinkaku-ji’s history dates to 1397, when the villa was purchased from the Saionjis by Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, and transformed into the Kinkaku-ji complex.[8] When Yoshimitsu died, the building was converted into a Zen temple by his son, according to his wishes.[7][9]

A few shots from across the pond.


Our guide explained that it is not an original, having been burned down by a young monk who felt that the gold was contrary to the Buddhist ways:

During the Onin war, all of the buildings in the complex aside from the pavilion were burned down.[8] On July 2, 1950, at 2:30 am, the pavilion was burned down by a 22-year-old novice monk, Hayashi Yoken, who then attempted suicide on the Daimon-ji hill behind the building. He survived, and was subsequently taken into custody. The monk was sentenced to seven years in prison, but was released because of mental illnesses (persecution complex and schizophrenia) on September 29, 1955; he died of tuberculosis shortly after in 1956.[10] During the fire, the original statue of Ashikaga Yoshimitsu was lost to the flames (now restored). A fictionalized version of these events is at the center of Yukio Mishima‘s 1956 book The Temple of the Golden Pavilion.[2]

The name’s origin:

The name Kinkaku is derived from the gold leaf that the pavilion is covered in. Gold was an important addition the pavilion because of its underlying meaning. The gold employed was to mitigate and purify any pollution or negative thoughts and feelings towards death

I cannot remember the exact cost, but the gold cost is significant (20KG of gold rings a bell?). I could not find it, so feel free to drop a comment if you can fill in that gap in my memory!


The pond is filled with koi and turtles, including a few very long necked and rather vicious looking snapping turtles.


Beside the pavilion is a main building with a tree that has been shaped to look like a ship over hundreds and hundreds of years. The mast and bow are clearly seen, with the pebbles representing the ocean.



Our guide mentioned a few interesting facts:

You clean gold walls very carefully, every day.

The pipes are for shuttling the rain off the roof.

On the right you can see a single wire going to the top .. a lightening rod protecting the wooden building.


A beautiful garden and sight.


Part of having a guide is that he takes you into different places (if  she is good). Our guide took us out of the city of Kyoto to show us the countryside and the rice fields. It was a 15 minute detour, but worth it.

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I didn’t get a shot of their planting machines but they reminded me of a celery planting machine that relatives used on their farms in Canada.

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As mentioned, the hydrangeas were in full bloom. Not a white one in view.

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This pond is privately owned and once a year the farmer who owned it would drain it and “harvest” the fish.

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It is beautiful land. Which reminds me of a random observation on Kyoto. If you do travel there, you will find it a city of contrasts. The city itself is like many Japanese cities, clean but wall to wall people, large drab concrete residential buildings with shops jammed in-between. Rather uninspiring, until you turn a corner and come headlong into Japan’s historic buildings which are beautiful, unique and well crafted.

It seems to me that during their post war rush to modernization, their architects discarded the intricacies and beauty of Japanese style for function, people per square meter, concrete and efficiency. This isn’t a stretch of the imagination as one colleague imparted that when he was a child living in Tokyo, the city was rapidly industrializing and as polluted as Beijing until the government took drastic action (as the country became wealthier and was able to afford it).

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Too bad. Even concrete can be beautiful, with some thought. (Above: The entrance to Chion Temple)


Our first stop on our big “day tour” was Nijo Castle, samurai and shogun home.

In 1601, Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate, ordered all the feudal lords in Western Japan to contribute to the construction of Nijō Castle, which was completed during the reign of Tokugawa Iemitsu in 1626. Parts of Fushimi Castle, such as the main tower and the karamon, were moved here in 1625-26.[1] It was built as the Kyoto residence of the Tokugawa Shoguns. The Tokugawa Shogunate used Edo as the capital city, but Kyoto continued to be the home of the Imperial Court. Kyoto Imperial Palace is located north-east of Nijo Castle.

There is so much history hidden in these very thick walls.


A few interesting facts from our guide on the castle:

The building is raised off the ground. The shogun would sit on his mat with a large piece of wood under him to protect him from someone shoving a sword up and through the floor

The 500 year old paintings were made from crushed shells to add white color

In the main hall where the shogun received guests he would keep 15m between himself and the guests. Beside him was a sliding door filled with samurai ready to jump through in the event of a threat. Although the threats often had a large preamble, where someone would stand up and honourably declare “I (insert name), son of (insert name), grandson of (insert name) from the city of (insert city) will kill you” – giving the samurai lots of time to line up.

The roof of the entrance to the main hall is made of thatch. It is a small section, but costs millions to replace. (The brown sections at the front)

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The floor boards are built with a U shaped device to hold the board and a nail through it. This is built to make the floor boards creak when someone walks on it to warn of intruders. I got the sense that being a shogun was not the most “secure” of positions.

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A corner guard house.

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The handle on a large bell in the main courtyard.


The gardens beside the main hall.


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The entrance to the main castle, which is a reproduction as the original burned:

In 1788, the Inner Palace was destroyed by a city-wide fire. The site remained empty until it was replaced by a prince’s residence transferred from the Kyoto Imperial Palace in 1893.

In 1867, the Ninomaru Palace was the stage for the declaration by Tokugawa Yoshinobu, returning the authority to the Imperial Court. Next year the Imperial Cabinet was installed in the castle. The palace became imperial property and was declared a detached palace. During this time, the Tokugawahollyhock crest was removed wherever possible and replaced with the imperial chrysanthemum.

We crossed the bridge, but did not enter.


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What I found amazing is how the intricate work has survived, even though it is exposed to the elements.


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Thanks for dropping by.


It is one of those must go places (they say). A simple bamboo forest where a single stock of bamboo can grow up to 1.3M overnight. Another ‘short’ visit location on our day tour of Kyoto. Our guide drove to the top, we walked down and back (perhaps 300m each way).


Yes, it is beautiful. Serene.


What I found most interesting was not the bamboo but this long, long line of ants walking along the bamboo fence. They went on and on and on .. until near the top of the hill the started to thin out, heading down the fence into the forest.

In this shot you can see them on the posts …


A little clearer .. the march on and on.


Thanks for dropping by.


Off the beaten path is a small temple called the Moss Temple, or Gio-ji. It is lesser known than the famous and Y3,000 larger moss temple. The history of the temple is one of lost love:

A Shirabyoshi dancer Gio was loved by Taira-no-Kiyomori but was jilted when he was enslaved by the beauty of another Shirabyoshi, Hotoke-Gozen. Gio, her sister Ginyo and their mother Toji left Kiyomori and after all they entered a nunnery that was present day Gio-ji. Then, Hotoke-Gozen joined them as she knew that she would be eventually jilted also by heartless Kiyomori. It was when Gio was 21 years old and Hotoke-Gozen was 17. The four women lived here remainder of their life.

Best viewed during a wet period in time (dry seasons see the moss go brown) and down a remote road, the temple makes for interesting viewing.

Walking down the entrance path you are covered by a thick canopy of leaves.


The moss is everywhere, growing on every roof and fence.



Turning the corner you come upon an open area in front of the temple. It was a bit surreal, the glowing greens. Looked like a movie set (I don’t know why, but that is what popped into mind).


If memory serves me, there are 19 different mosses. A few that are quite invasive and needed to be regularly culled back to ensure they do not take over the other mosses. Including this moss that was furry to the touch.


Of course, hydrangea. At least I think it is a hydrangea ….


Rounding the corner there is a cemetery and in the hundreds and hundreds of times Yoshida-san our guide has been here, something he had never seen. A lone monkey.


Sad to say he was injured (bad left hand). He did sit and enjoy eating a few daisies though.


Interesting place. Not busy, serene and the vibrancy of the mosses were visually stunning.


Worth a visit.


As mentioned in my initial post on Kyoto, we enjoy learning the history and culture of Japan. We did not know what to expect with our dining with a maiko/geisha/geiko experience. When the maiko-san originally arrived, our interpreter quickly helped us make introductions.


She sat down with our family and the conversation began, a free flowing discussion of her life over 2 hours.


In no particular order, a few highlights from the conversation.

She is 17 and grew up in Nagoya. She chose to become a maiko after going on a school trip to Kyoto. She watched a geiko perform and decided that she wanted to join the profession.

Her upper lip is white as she is a maiko. When she becomes a geiko she will decorate both lips.

Every month she changes her hair decorations. This month I believe it is the willow.

She often entertains school groups and when asked what the funniest question she gets, she laughed and said one question always come up – does she have a boyfriend? (answer is no – not allowed to).

In her first year prior to becoming a maiko it was like an apprenticeship. She learned what the years ahead would be like, and whether she wanted to continue.


It is not an easy life. She starts the day at 10am with training in the arts. She then dresses, doing her own make-up (it takes 40 minutes) and having assistance from a man who comes to the house daily to assist with the kimono which weighs 10kg. The sash is 7m long. She then visits 20 tea houses that her house is affiliated with, and starting at 6pm does 2 hour hosting sessions until midnight. At midnight she heads home, has a hot bath and a few hours of personal time (reading, TV, music) until she heads to bed at 3am.

She is not allowed to have a cell phone.


When she contracted with her mama-san to become a maiko, she made a 5-7 year commitment until she becomes a geiko at 20-22 years. The mamma-san pays for everything (training, food, clothing, lodging) and in return takes all profits from the days work.

She lives with 8 other maiko.


She only does her hair once a week, sleeping with it made like this (which can be awkward)

Because she keeps her hair in this style all the time, she must be careful where she goes when she does have time off as people will recognize her as a maiko. (i.e. no junk food places)


She only gets 1-2 days off a month and time at New Years to go home.

When asked what do people think at home – she said that she is growing apart from her old friends. Her grandmother has never approved.

If she needs money she has to ask the mamma-san. I got the impression that was not something that was done often or lightly.

She enjoys listening to music on her Sony Walkman. She likes Avril Lavigne.


Dinners are mostly with business men, although they are starting to see women. If it is after dinner, it often involves karaoke and evenings at bars.

Tourists are always trying to take her picture. She would prefer if they asked first.

She will often take the train to Tokyo for events (entertaining events, Sumo tournaments) fully dressed.


To formally enter her maiko apprenticeship, she had a ceremony involving her performing for the mamma-san and an important client.

Many maiko do not become geiko (50/50). They decide to go back to their homes, head back to school or get jobs. In effect, starting a different education.

Will she continue on and become a geiko? She didn’t know. It is a hard life.




Using the concierge at the Westin we booked Yoshikawa in Kyoto with a room overlooking the garden.

Attached to a Japanese Inn that has played host to the rich and famous, it was a beautiful traditional restaurant and amazing staff who quickly settled us in for our dinner.

Our room was on the left.




The dinner received mixed ratings from the family (Two really enjoyed it, two were not impressed). It was a traditional 8 course Japanese meal, tempura, sashimi, seasonal grilled fish and all. I really enjoyed it. Although on the seasonal grilled fish … I never eat the head, too bitter for me .. the rest is delicious.


Our interpreter was already waiting for us. She had done this many times before and her English was perfect. She quickly started answering our questions and explained that “Yes”, I could take 400 pictures if I wanted (I didn’t – I took 99).

She also corrected our first misperception. We would not be joined by a geisha, we would be joined by a maiko – a geiko in training.

Maiko (舞妓?) is an apprentice geisha in western Japan, especially Kyoto. Their jobs consist of performing songs, dances, and playing the shamisen(three-stringed Japanese instrument) for visitors during feasts. Maiko are usually aged 15 to 20 years old and become geisha after learning how to dance (a kind of Japanese traditional dance), play the shamisen, and learning Kyō-kotoba (dialect of Kyoto), regardless of their origins.

The term Geisha is not a term they used in Kyoto. On the internet they assert that this is a dialect issue, but it was explained to us that the difference between a “true” geisha and a geiko relate to training. A geisha does not go through the arduous and extensive training in the arts, dance, culture and protocol that the Kyoto maiko/geiko goes through. Perhaps this is related to the post WWII occupation and the rise of the geisha girl:

“Geisha girls”[78] were Japanese women who worked as prostitutes during the period of the Allied Occupation of Japan. They almost exclusively serviced American GIs stationed in the country, who referred to them as “Geesha girls” (a mispronunciation).[78][79]

These women dressed in kimono and imitated the look of geisha. Americans unfamiliar with the Japanese culture could not tell the difference between legitimate geisha and these costumed prostitutes.[78]

It also became clear that this was a dying profession. 100 years ago there were 80,000 geisha where we were told there were only 300 left in Kyoto.  In Kyoto there are 5 Hanamachi, or houses that Geisha align themselves with:

Hanamachi typically contained a number of okiya and ochaya, along with a kaburenjō; the kaburenjō was a meeting place for geisha, usually with a theatre, rooms where geisha classes can be held, and the kenban offices, which dealt with geisha’s pay, regulation and similar matters. Gion also has a vocational school, called Nyokoba. Many of the teachers there are designated as Living National Treasures. Today, hanamachi are rare outside of Kyoto.

At which point, our maiko-san entered; a term that would catch me off guard multiple times through the night as the pronunciation is close to Michael-san.

With a kneel and a bow, our dinner with a maiko began.



This is a very interesting post to write as it elicits mixed feelings.

Part of living in a different culture is that never ending quest to understand, learn and to grow while trying not to use your own cultural biases to judge. After all, perception is reality.

As I have often joked with friends back home, living in Japan is like living on Mars. It is just so fascinatingly different.

The Japanese think differently than North Americans, and different than Canadians. How can it not be the case? Canada is a country of every culture (Asian, European, African) where Japan is comprised of 98.5% Japanese and non-existent immigration. Canada is a country with only a few hundred years of history while Japan is one of the world’s oldest societies, with 3,000 years of history and a clear isolationist bent where foreigners were killed on sight until the late 1800s. Canadians are individuals, in a society where they cut their lives out of the unconquered wilderness with an understanding that merit leads to fortune while Japan is about the group good, where the notion of paying a high performer more than others in the team is at odds with their values.

At a very fundamental level, culture, history, education and values, Japan is different than most other countries in the world and the Geisha is one of those cases.

Prior to leaving for Kyoto, we watched Memoirs of a Geisha and I could not help but find it disturbing on many levels. Obviously the selling of young girls into a brothel and a Geisha house was disturbing as were many of the scenes, but this type of abuse is unfortunately, common around the world.

The uniquely Japanese part that was disturbing was the whole notion of the Geisha. Reading broadly, the information was varied. Prostitution is disputed and the truth hard to determine; in this post it is clearly stated it does not happen yet another quote says that in 1929 3/4 of geisha were prostitutes.  While there is an elegance to the appearance of a Geisha, the information on “what a Geisha is” left us wondering about the profession … Noble undertaking or a veneer hiding a seedy underside of sex for sale?

Nothing made us wonder more than this question: what does it mean that this profession is funded by older business men, where the Geisha’s sole purpose is to entertain them every evening? I find the feminism assertions hard to swallow and cannot think that it is good for marriages.

It is with those questions in mind that we did something that is not common for a gaijin.

We booked a dinner in a wonderful restaurant with a room by the garden, a Geisha and an English interpreter to learn.

We were not disappointed.



After our first temple we headed to Nishiki market. A cab dropped us off at one entrance and we started down this very long covered walkway past hundreds of interesting stalls.



Uniquely Japanese is a good way to describe it; pottery, restaurants, fish markets, vegetable stands and everything in-between.


Lots and lots of pickled choices. The Japanese love to pickle things.



I believe this is grilled eel. Had I not just eaten, I would have grabbed some. Love grilled eel.


The young lady at the stand tried to sell me one of these .. only a couple hundred yen. Look closely, it is a small octopus with a quail egg stuffed where the head use to be. I regret not trying it. Had to chuckle at the little cartoon ad guy saying “It will eat” …  not sure what that means.


At some point in the near future, our family will be buying special chopsticks. As of right now, we use them frequently but haven’t made the “special” purchase yet. Perhaps metallic is in order?


This fellow was making the circular Japanese cakes. They are delicious.


And last, check out this flower stall. My Uncle Frank would have loved the colors .. I know I did. So vibrant.


Thanks for dropping by.


After checking into the Westin our first stop (after a big Japanese lunch) was this hall, home to 1001 life-sized wooden statues of Kannon, goddess of mercy.


Like many of the temples, they offered souvenirs and in this case, an important question.


The temple itself is amazing (but as you can see – no pictures allowed).


It is the home to a ritual where Buddhist priests touch people’s heads with a sacred willow to cure headaches and popular for an annual archery (long bow) contest that started hundreds and hundreds of years ago. As you can see by the length of the building, there is lots of room for the 1001 carvings in this 800 year old building. I wish I would have been allowed to shoot the carvings, the detail was jaw-dropping.



Surrounded by other shrines and beautiful gardens, it was a great first stop on our Kyoto tour.



Good start.


We spent 3 days in Kyoto recently and it was a fantastic trip, although complex to organize.

I present this itinerary for others, with a few suggestions that I hope help.

TripAdvisor City Guides. If you have not downloaded this application, you need to. I lived on it with my iPhone. It has all of the top restaurants, sites and hotels which you can easily search at any moment via a map. One of the best features is that I “saved” the sites we wanted to see and as we visited, I “checked-in” (turning the post to Facebook option off – no one needs to see we are not at home). At the end of the tour, it provides a complete list by day of what we visited, in chronological order as a journal and provides an area to write notes. Amazing app, available for many cities.

Our trip journal can be found at The trip via Lightroom – quite a lot of ground covered.


We spent 3 days there and that was the perfect amount for us.

The first day was the Shinkansen from Tokyo, arriving at 11AM. Quick check into the Westin, an afternoon of exploring followed by private dinner with a Maiko (geiko/geisha in training) .. and yes, the experience was a once in a lifetime.

The second day went from 9AM to 6PM with a private tour guide hitting all of the highlights of Kyoto. A private guide is expensive but as we found out in Rome and in Egypt, worth every penny as it leads to a very different trip than going from site to site on your own and really not learning anything.

One of our frustrations with Japan is that it is very hard to learn the history and culture due to the language barrier. 3,000 years of isolationist history means that Japan is not really fussed about not sharing what happens at a location. We connected with Kyoto Limousine which was highly recommended by expat friends of ours and is well known among the concierges. Our guide Yoshida-san has hosted many celebrities, princes and even Jean Chretien the former Canadian Prime Minister (I apologized on behalf of Canada) and he was UNBELIEVABLE. At every site he shared the deep history of what had happened there, different religious insights and more history than we could ever retain. It was 9 fascinating hours learning about the real Japan, seeing the best sites in Kyoto (including many hidden gems that are off the beaten path) and truly enjoying his company. He was an amazing host and even followed up our day with an email listing every site we saw with internet links. Just look at the 2nd day of our itinerary and you will see just how much we covered, and more importantly – learned.

On the third day we hit the Monkey Park, explored a shopping area, had lunch and then trained home.

For us, 3 days was perfect.

On the seasons, this is also difficult to understand until you get hold of someone. Here is a rough guide; May brings the cherry blossoms and millions of people. June brings the sun and lots of Japanese children on school trips. It also gets hot, it was 32C and humid while we were there, and we were lucky to avoid rain. July and August are insanely hot but the slow season if you are brave. The fall brings the spring colors, with October and November being the best seasons for viewing the fall colors. We were there in green June and I visualized what it would be like in the fall – beyond stunning.

As an aside, 50M people visit this city of 1.3M every year … 50 million.

As many Japanese will tell you, Kyoto is the cultural center of Japan. A thousand temples, beautiful forests, castles, amazing cuisine, culture (geishas) and incredibly rich in history. It truly was an adventure of a lifetime and I have a few pictures and stories to share ahead.

Hopefully these few simple insights help others. If you can get there, you will not regret it.


(Golden Pavilion, Canon 5D Mark III, handheld HDR, Canon 28-70mm)


Another temple near us, hidden up a long road – Kensoji temple (which has zero internet footprint and no information).

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Surrounded by a beautiful cemetery, the history makes an interesting story. Hidden in the back corner is the cemetery of the fallen 22, who attempted an uprising in 1936 and are often celebrated by the anti-foreigner, nationalistic Japan parties.

The February 26 Incident (二・二六事件 Niniroku Jiken?) (also known as the 2-26 Incident) was an attempted coup d’état in Japan on 26 February 1936. It was organized by a group of young Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) officers with the goal of purging the government and military leadership of their factional rivals and ideological opponents.

Although the rebels succeeded in assassinating several leading officials and in occupying the government center of Tokyo, they failed to assassinate Prime Minister Keisuke Okada or secure control of the Imperial Palace. Their supporters in the army made attempts to capitalize on their actions, but divisions within the military, combined with Imperial anger at the coup, meant they were unable to achieve a change of government. Facing overwhelming opposition as the army moved against them, the rebels surrendered on 29 February.[3]

Unlike earlier examples of political violence by young officers, the coup attempt had severe consequences. After a series of closed trials, 19 of the uprising’s leaders were executed for mutiny and another 40 imprisoned. The radical Kōdō-ha faction lost its influence within the army, the period of “government by assassination” came to a close, and the military increased its control over the civilian government.

If you read the entire background, it is the classic story of the under-privileged rising up against ruling class, in this case coloured by a nationalistic zeal, an Emperor, westerners and socialism. I cannot help but sympathize with the meritocracy elements of their campaign even if it is at odds with their allegiance to the Emperor.

Their well tended grave. Luckily, there were not ultra-nationalists at the site to protest our being there.

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The grave across from this one, with beautiful blooming Azaleas.

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The other interesting thing about the site is the state of the original cemetery. Fenced off and difficult to see, the original cemetery is surrounded by monuments to the elements and the (rich) family entombed. However, the site has fallen into disrepair which seems at odds with the Japanese respect for ancestors.

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Of note, the monuments are all individual pieces of stone, balanced on top of each other. Only a few have fallen over during the various earthquakes. A testament to 1,000 year old craftsmanship.

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An interesting hidden find.


Near our apartment is a small temple of significance, a temple dedicated to the dragon and the harvest, Hiroo Inari Jinja.


Located on a side street near Hiroo station, tucked under hundred year old trees.


The courtyard houses the temple building and several smaller shrines.



Including the chozuya, for purifying yourself before entering the shrine.



I liked this request outside the temple …


As mentioned, it is a dragon temple. Etched into the wooden roof is the most magnificent dragon. Step to a different side and the entire picture changes.

It is said that Inari (the god of harvests) was invoked as the guardian deity of the Shogun�fs villa, Azabu Fujimi Goten, during the Genroku period (1688-1703). It was formerly called Fujimi Inari or Chitose-dera Inari. The dragon drawn on seven consecutive panels on the main hall�fs ceiling is the final Japanese-style painting of the great master Takahashi Yuichi. Three towers dedicated to the repose of the souls of the departed (Minato City Cultural Assets) stand by a stone moat and the three monkeys (�gSee no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil�h) are carved on the front.



And more dragons carved into the entrance.


Amazing to find out what is tucked around a corner. A city full of hidden treasures.


The American government set up in one of Tokyo’s oldest temples, Zenpuku-ji temple, after the signing of the first commerce agreement in 1859.


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They have a monument set up for Townsend Harris who played a pivotal role in Japanese – US relationships. Our guide Lilly provided colour to his life. While he did great things for the countries, he did it while ruining the life of a poor Japanese woman. She was a serving girl and in love with a carpenter (as the story goes), but Townsend wanted her for himself. Forced by the Japanese government to spend time with Townsend (either to improve relations between the countries or as a spy), she was forced to become his mistress only to be discarded when he left Japan;

She was labelled a “Toujin” (mistress of a foreigner), though she was not a mistress like “Chocho-san“.

Becoming a mistress of Western men was regarded as shame and Kichi was despised as “Toujin”. The disdain and prejudice of the society disturbed her seriously and she gradually indulged in alcohol. She could not live a peaceful family life with her beloved Tsurumatsu. She ruined a restaurant presented by a sympathetic patron and could not run a hair salon in Shimoda due to the disdain of local people. In her 40s, Kichi became homeless and killed herself by jumping into the Inouzawa River.
Toujin Okichi became a heroin of popular novels and her stories were staged many times. Though the truth still remains a mystery, her story was interpreted in various ways and exploited as a tourist attraction.

Read more here. The relationships was also incorrectly romanticized in a John Wayne movie.


As with all shrines, a cemetery accompanies it. Right beside the shrine is the grave of Fukuzawa Yukichi, the man on the 10,000 Y note ($100).

Fukuzawa Yukichi (福澤 諭吉?, January 10, 1835 – February 3, 1901) was a Japanese author, Enlightenment writer, teacher, translator, entrepreneurand journalist who founded Keio-Gijuku University, the newspaper Jiji-Shinpo and the Institute for Study of Infectious Diseases. His ideas about government and social institutions made a lasting impression on a rapidly changing Japan during the Meiji Era. He is regarded as one of the founders of modern Japan. He is called a Japanese Voltaire.

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It is also home to the oldest ginko tree in Tokyo with a girth of 10m and estimated age of 800+ years.

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As one would expect, the cemetery is well tended with people decorating the statues and leaving behind flowers, offerings and other remembrances to honour the departed.





An interesting tour. Thanks for dropping by.


Rich families would keep their valuables in a building like this.

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Away from the main house, lacking windows, big metal locked doors and often behind the gates.

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One would think it was a good plan. The problem? Thieved learned that in the soft Japanese soil it is easy to dig your way in.


On a recent tour, near this street we heard all about Juzo Itami.


Standing at the bottom of the building where he “committed suicide”, we heard the story about how this Japanese film maker made fun of the establishment and organized crime:

On May 22, 1992, six days after the release of his anti-yakuza satire Minbō no Onna, Itami was attacked, beaten, and slashed on the face by five members of the Goto-gumi, a Shizuoka-based yakuza clan, who were angry at Itami’s film’s portrayal of yakuza members as craven, dishonorable bullies. This attack led to a government crackdown on the yakuza. His subsequent stay in a hospital inspired his next film Daibyonin, a grim satire on the Japanese health system.

Looking down the alley, our guide explained his “death”:

He purportedly committed suicide on December 20, 1997[1] in Tokyo, by leaping from the roof of the building where his office was located, after a sex scandal he was allegedly involved in was picked up by the press. The suicide letter he reportedly left behind denied any involvement in such an affair.

Many consider his death suspicious. Citing unnamed sources, Jake Adelstein of Yomiuri Shimbun, who wrote a number of articles dealing with Japanese yakuza, directly accused Goto of murder. Adelstein stated that, according to his sources in the Japanese underworld, Juzo Itami was planning a new movie about Goto’s yakuza faction and its relationship with the religious groupSōka Gakkai and that “A gang of five of his people grabbed Itami and made him jump off a rooftop at gunpoint. That’s how he committed suicide.” According to Adelstein, Itami had said that his wife was aware of his alleged affair and that Itami’s purported suicide note was typed on a word processor.[2] At the time, the police treated it as a possible homicide. Itami’s surviving family have never publicly commented on the circumstances surrounding his death.

We continued walking. I love the way that Japanese streets are filled with people’s pots filled with flowers and bushes. They may not have a yard, but they are trying.


In some cases, the grasses are overgrowing. An oddity in Japan. Why would someone leave their motorcycle like that? (even if it is broken).


Passing this shop I looked in, there was barely any room to move … He/she is certainly not pressing any clothes.


As we turned a corner our guide explained that the area we were in used to be a slum in Tokyo. The locals were cleaning it up and banding together, trying to stop developers who were buying up the buildings with a goal of tearing it all down and putting up high rises.


Down a stairwell was a tiny little statue, dedicated to a site where something happened .. at some point in history. Perhaps someone fell down the stairs and died, or an incident happened here. That history is lost to us gaijin, but it was amazing to see the statue hidden between the buildings.


And in every Tokyo cement crack, something is trying to grow.


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There are a surprising number of abandoned buildings in Tokyo. On a recent tour we were told that this happens when something “bad” happens in a building. People find out and do not want to live there.


In this case, something bad happened about 10 years ago … and no one has lived there since, except the every expanding vines.




Through the gate lies tradition. This little outpost has a group of people living the “old way”. I do not know the difference from others as we did not have an opportunity to see how contemporary Balinese live, but here are a few shots. (Canon 5D Mark III, armed with my 28-70mm f/2.8).

Through every gate lies a new visual experience.



Of course, a family temple. Decorated and ready for a festival.


A simple shot. A Balinese home.


He smiled as he carved.


In the middle of the country, in a little town with a name I did not know. Just another town along the road and another breathtaking temple, built by locals over hundreds of years. Famous? No. Breathtaking? Yes.


A lot of the gates had lions. I wonder why?



The owner of this scooter was no where to be seen. Because it was about to rain again … hard.


This shot gives you a sense of this rural Balinese village temple. It is huge and multi-sectioned .. and yes, about to rain.


Deity carvings were everywhere.



And many of the carvings were decorated.


The intricacies of this door are remarkable.


It was the entrance on this kori agung gate (roofed) with a candi bentar gate beside it (right).


And the detail across the temple caught the eye at every turn.



They had not gotten out all of the decorations yet, but were starting.



Truly amazing. So much care and beauty .. in a remote location. One of a thousand temples, that will never be famous.


Glad we stopped. And thanks for stopping by.


As mentioned, Bali is filled with temples. It is a Hindu province in a predominantly Muslim Indonesia. The notion of the Balinese temple is very different than the traditional Christian North American or European geography, where there is a church in a small village. In Bali, temples are every few meters.

There are large temples, small temples, village temples, temples near bridges, temples in the middle of the jungle, temples in homes. They are everywhere. We had selected Gunung Kawi as the temple we would visit.

It was getting later in the day and as we approached it started to rain. Hope was high that it would pass. Our driver explained what to do; you must acquire a sarong which can be rented at the temple for a dollar or buy one. We made our way to the entrance and were accosted by some very motivated sellers. $15 later we had 4 very nice sarongs. There are very strict on this cultural tradition. Configuration: Canon 5D Mark III and 28-70mm f/2.8.


Alas, the weather was not cooperating. It rained harder.


We made our way down to the temple (275 steps) … and then after a wait, headed back. It was not lifting. We were at the end of the day and began our trek home. After 30 minutes the rain lifted and we stopped as a “temple” was on the to-do list. This time the bathing temple, 9th century Goa Gajah:

At the façade of the cave is a relief of various menacing creatures and demons carved right into the rock at the cave entrance. The primary figure was once thought to be an elephant, hence the nickname Elephant Cave. The site is mentioned in the Javanese poem Desawarnana written in 1365. An extensive bathing place on the site was not excavated until the 1950s.[2] These appear to have been built to ward off evil spirits.

The weather cooperated.


As a Canadian I always marvel at the age of things. This temple is very old.


A step down to the water.



The mouth to the elephant cave, a sanctuary.



We did not linger. The storm had caught up …….


As I mentioned in a previous post, driving in Bali is different than in South American countries. In Bali every meter has some form of life jammed into it. I don’t know how to describe the press of humanity, at every corner and every meter. We just stared out the window and watched as scene after scene passed by. A few observations ….

You would see bottles of Vodka or other large glass alcohol containers at the front of many stores. It is not Vodka, it is petrol. I saw very few gas stations except in the more modern towns. Correction, these are the gas stations.

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As in most 3rd world countries, their use of the scooter was impressive.

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And helmets were discretionary, as were the number of passengers.


Surprised to see a little bit of Canada, on a remote road. Life insurance anyone?


The shops are visually fascinating with ornate carvings, huge pieces of wood for tables and the most amazing doors.

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We were feeling extra safe at our hotel (Westin Nusa Dua) as there was a big conference going on. There were military and police everywhere.


I understand that a few different Presidents were in town, with impressive motorcades.


One morning we took a walk outside of the tourist campus (As you can see above, very clean and well manicured). The economic collapse has hit Bali also.


I stopped at this abandoned shopping complex to take a few shots.



Things are tough all over.



Is it the best coffee?

The prices would indicate that it needs to be. At the plantation 200g of coffee is $100USD. In town, 50g of beans is $150USD.

It is a great experience on the farm, starting with a full tasting of their coffees, tea and cocoa. There is a pineapple coffee, and a host of others topped off with amazing cocoa.

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They then ask if you would like to buy a cup of Civet coffee for $5USD a glass. It struck me as humorous that people pay $5 multi-times a day for a simple Starbucks. We ordered 3. They bring out a “made in Japan” coffee brewing system, that looks intriguing to me.

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The water slowly moves up into the container above and then filters back down.

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The pour.

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I normally drink my coffee with a little cream and honey.

In this case, it seemed heresy to try it with something in it, so I drank the Civet coffee straight up. It was smooth, bold and surprisingly, without any bitter aftertaste.

Is it the best coffee in the world? It might just be.

I am curious what others think .. have you had it? Do you consider it the world’s best coffee bean? If not .. what is?

Thanks for dropping in.


One of our stops in Bali was a coffee plantation that serves Civet coffee, or Kopi Luwak coffee.

The coffee is made from coffee berries that have been eaten by the Asian Palm Civet, excreted and processed.

Producers of the coffee beans argue that the process may improve coffee through two mechanisms, selection and digestion. Selection occurs if the civets choose to eat coffee cherries containing better beans. Digestive mechanisms may improve the flavour profile of the coffee beans that have been eaten. The civet eats the berries for the beans’ fleshy pulp, then in the digestive tract, fermentation occurs. The civet’s proteolytic enzymes seep into the beans, making shorter peptides and more free amino acids.[2] Passing through a civet’s intestines the beans are then defecated with other fecal matter and collected.

I love coffee. I am on my 2nd Jura and I start each day by making cappuccinos for myself and Narda. On Saturday and Sundays I usually follow that up with an espresso.

We arrived at Luwak Civet Coffee Farm in the rain. It really isn’t a farm, it is retail establishment with a tour, coffee tasting and the opportunity to buy Civet coffee. I had my Canon 5D Mark III with the 28-70mm for the tour.

The grounds are beautiful. Coffee berries enjoying the rain.

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Oh durian, you sweet smelling fruit … and acquired taste. They clearly enjoy it on the plantation.

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There were a couple of these around the farm; they are bee hives made of animal hair.

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Looking out on the jungle, I was amazed at how thick it is. My son hypothesized that the lack of farmable land was a key contributor to the economic differentiation between Europe/NA and countries such as Bali … The AP history class is going well.

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The plantation had displays of the coffee as it progresses through the processing stages. I did not see the Civet excrement separation stage.

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Is it the world’s best coffee? Next post …. And thanks for dropping by!


The Bali Bird Park is also filled with flowers and a few very interesting animals. The only Komodo Dragon I have ever seen is through a very, very thick glass at a zoo.

This fellow was a few meters away. Amazing that they are so fast that they can catch and eat a deer.

Everyone else had moved on so I was the only one standing there. He just slowly turned his head and stared at me … not blinking. I wonder what he was thinking?


Scattered through the park are beautiful bushes and flowers. Sharing a few photos of a beautiful, sunny day.


In Canada it is so hard to grow flowers like this. They are often cut and only stay beautiful for a few days. In the jungle, they are everywhere.



The commonly beautiful.





Bali is a lush and beautiful country and one of the “must do’s” is to stop at a small town with the rice fields new Ubud. You look out on the river flowing through the terraced fields .. and all you see is green. As viewed through a Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-70mm f/2.8, mostly shot in handheld HDR.



You hike down one side, cross a bridge and hike back up to the other side. Along the way there are a few farmers collecting “donations” .. donation 1 was at the bridge.


It is quite steep.




Row upon row of rice, with carefully crafted ledges around each terrace to keep the water in.



And a simple mode of getting the water from level A to level B.


What is at the top of the hill?


Nothing but a great view of this spider, who is almost impossible to spot .. even after I edited the photo to bring out highlights and confirm that she/he was the focus point.


A great hike.


This has been an odd winter. A couple weeks of warm weather meant that the trees began to blossom 2 weeks early. With our family heading to Bali for March break, we were essentially missing the season.

Plus the temperature has dropped again. But we did get out on Sunday to Yoyogi park in an attempt to see the blossoms before they are gone. Sure enough, the park was filled with young revellers enjoying a picnic and drink below the blossoms. A lot of revellers. A lot of drink. Shooting Canon 5D Mark III with my 28-70mm f/2.8.


They all looked cold. 🙂 I found the lighting difficult to shoot – it was so grey and gloomy.


Many were in unique outfits, which candidly, is not that unique in Tokyo .. and no longer very surprising. I liked the zombie theme.


This is much more traditional Japanese.



OK, this fellow was a little surprising.


These folks actually had a sign up that said “No photographs” in English. Sure, go out in public dressed like that at Yoyogi Park and demand no photographs .. isn’t going to happen. People were lined up.


Oh, almost forgot, the blossoms ….


As it is the end of the season, they fall and make a beautiful pink carpet.


I wish they were around a little longer. It was grey, overcast and 9C.



Beautiful. Thanks for dropping by.


There are shrines everywhere in Tokyo. What I didn’t know is that many of them are family run, generations and generations.

Near us is a shrine with a wall around it. I have not gone in yet, and when I walked by on Equinox day it seemed closed (which is odd). I did hear drumming. I had to get going, and will return, but I snapped a few photos (usual configuration shooting handheld HDR). It looks like an interesting place for future exploration.

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Love the flowering bushes in Tokyo.

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The not yet “awoken” contrasted by the blooming.

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The view over the fence.

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In contrast to a hazy white sky.

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Warrants more exploration.

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It was Vernal Equinox Day on Wednesday this week.

Vernal Equinox Day (春分の日 Shunbun no Hi?) is a public holiday in Japan that occurs on the date of the Northward equinox in Japan Standard Time (the vernal equinox can occur on different dates in different timezones), usually March 20 or 21. The date of the holiday is not officially declared until February of the previous year, due to the need for recent astronomical measurements.

Vernal Equinox Day became a public holiday in 1948. Prior to that it was the date of Shunki kōreisai ( 春季皇霊祭?), an event relating to Shintoism. Like other Japanese holidays, this holiday was repackaged as a non-religious holiday for the sake of separation of religion and state in Japan’s postwar constitution.

Even though it is a non-religious holiday, many people visit their ancestor’s graves. I walked past a cemetery near our apartment that I wanted to visit .. and clicked off a few photos using my Canon 5D Mark III and my go-to lens: Canon 28-70mm f/2.8.

Pink peeking out behind the red.

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The bell at the cemetery. People would walk up randomly and hit the bell, followed by a bow of respect.

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A mix of very old, and very new graves.

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Of course, people leave behind flowers.

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The grave stones are all grey and covered in moss. Intermingled with shots of color from the fresh flowers.

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A beautiful place.


Mount Fuji continues to elude me. Bring my camera, clouds role in. Don’t bring my camera .. clear as a bell. On this day I thought that Tokyo could double for Gotham city.

Shooting with my Canon 5D Mark III and Canon 28-70mm f/2.8. A mix of handheld HDRs and RAW.

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The weather has been odd in Tokyo. I am told it was an extra cold winter, but that it is also warm earlier. This means the trees are blooming weeks earlier. As I walked home with the wind blowing, I clicked off a few pictures.

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A school yard.

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Walking a dark path. Not scary in Tokyo.

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Trees in bloom.

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Beautiful time in Tokyo.


A fantastic photographer has been coaching me on shots. He is one of those “I picked up a hobby and there is no halfway” personalities.

Part of that is framing the shot. Here are 3 of the same shot at different crops. A cherry blossom on an old roof. I like 1 and 3. I just can’t decide which I like best? Although number 2 shows the roof top. In the end .. went with number 1.

Opinions appreciated on which way you would go?

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Configuration: Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-70mm f/2.8.


Last week I was at a meeting at the Happoen Garden. The conference center and gardens are beautiful. All of the trees are not in bloom yet, but they are started. Definitely on my Fall visit list.

Today’s configuration: Canon 5D Mark III, handheld HDRs, Canon EF 28-70mm f/2.8.


A beautiful open space right in the middle of Tokyo.




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The cherry blossoms are beautiful.


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I stood outside at lunch and took a conference call, snapping off a few shots as I listened.


Of course, a beautiful little shrine is tucked into the garden.


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I am going to have to take the family back there.