Tuesday, 27 April 2010

The different sides of Shibuya

{ Japan April 2010 - Day 3 - Shibuya, Tokyo }

We spent the day around Shibuya, spending our day in Meiji Shrine and around Harajuku, and the night in the famous Shibuya shopping area. 

The Traditional Culture

Meiji Shrine, or Meiji Jingū (明治神宮) as it is called in Japanese, is a Shinto shrine. You could easily recognise that it is a shinto shrine by the torii gates that are found at the entrance and along the walkway leading to the shrine. There were also sake and wine barrels displayed along the way that were offered to the shrine.


We managed to pick up some of the practices and etiquette when visiting a Shinto shrine. Before going into the shrine, we were supposed to rinse our hands and mouth on the washing basin in front of the shrine. In the main shrine, the steps for prayers were as follow:
  1. Put some coins into the offering box
  2. Bow twice
  3. Clap twice
  4. Make a wish
  5. Bow once again
We also noticed various boards with wooden tables right outside the shrine. They were full of wishes and prayers of people from all around the world (judging by the different languages) and ages (some with words and others with only drawings). There were also papers and envelopes nearby where one can write their wishes in a letter to the deities.


During our short time in Meiji Shrine, we were lucky enough to witness several wedding ceremonies being held, or rather, just the processions that were part of the wedding ceremony. The procession was a relatively solemn affair, with the bride and groom walking slowly in a procession that were being led by some priests, and followed by family and friends. I do hope that they have some celebration and parties held after the ceremony!


The Fashionable Youths

Right outside the Meiji Shrine, and on the way to the Harajuku Station, there were usually groups of young people dressing up in all styles and fashion imaginable (and some, unimaginable!) every Sundays. I was looking forward to seeing them - arranging my visit to Shibuya on a Sunday - but unfortunately, there were not that many on that day. If not for the language barrier, it should be quite interesting to talk to them. Wonder what made them dress up the way they did!


The main shopping street in Harajuku was filled with people! The shops catered mainly for the young Japanese with lots of fashionable clothing being sold here.


The Modern Japan

After spending some time walking around Harajuku, we took the train to Shibuya Station. Just right outside the station, was a statue of a dog - Hachiko (ハチ公). I have been wanting to see the statue ever since I read about his story. The dog was owned by a professor at the University of Tokyo. At the end of everyday, Hachiko would greet and wait for his owner at Shibuya Station. This continued on everyday until May 1925 when the professor did not return on the train because he had suffered a heart attack at the university and died. He never returned, but his loyal dog continued to wait for him every single day at the same time for the next nine years. He died on 8 March 1935 on the steps of the station while waiting for his master. The statue in Shibuya Station was erected in 1934 with Hachiko himself being present during the unveiling of the statue.


And, Shibuya Crossing! My, that must be the biggest and most interesting pedestrian crossing I've ever seen. Crossing it was pretty exciting, too! With people all around you, it was easy to lose track of which section of the crossing you were planning to go to.

Shibuya was full of energy, neons, people and lots and lots of shops and shopping opportunities! We spent some time walking around the area and shopping too, of course!


All in all, it was an amazing day out around Shibuya. From the solemnness and traditions in Meiji Shrine, to the amazing energy in Harajuku and Shibuya. Couldn't wait to see what else Tokyo have to offer!

::: Footnotes :::

{ Meiji Shrine } Meiji Shrine (明治神宮 Meiji Jingū) is a Shinto shrine in Shibuya, Tokyo. There are various practices and etiquette in a Shinto shrine. Visit this website for the details

{ HarajukuHarajuku (原宿) means meadow lodging. Once you step out of the Harajuku Station, you can easily experience the youthful energy of the area. Do visit on a Sunday when young people dressed up in cosplay and costumes hang out around the area. 

{ Shibuya } Shibuya is written as 渋谷区 and pronounced as Shibuya-ku. Hachiko (ハチ公) and Shibuya Crossing is right outside the Shibuya Station. Enjoy the neons and all the shopping!


Saturday, 24 April 2010

Double helix bridge in Marina Bay

The pedestrian bridge that is shaped like a double helix, will be opened officially today. We were planning to drop by this evening, as many events had been arranged for the opening - street performances, fireworks and of course, the unveiling of the official name. Maybe they should name it the DNA Bridge! =)

The bridge would connect various old and new landmarks around the area, including the Esplanade, The Float @ Marina Bay, the Singapore Flyer, Merlion Park, and all the new, yet-to-be-completed Marina Bay Sands and Gardens by the Bay.

The artist rendition of the bridge made it looked interesting and futuristic. Will definitely posts photos of how the "real" bridge looks like if and when we go there!


{ Click on this page for the post on my walk around Marina Bay the day after the opening of the bridge}

Thursday, 22 April 2010

View of Tokyo from Roppongi Hills

{ Japan April 2010 - Day 2 - Roppongi Hills, Tokyo }

After spending the afternoon around Shinjuku, we travelled to Roppongi Hills. Roppongi Hills is a mega-complex in Roppongi, or written in Japanese as 六本木 which literally means six trees. Roppongi Hills is a major development which includes various buildings in a large plot of land, developed by Japan's real estate tycoon Minoru Mori.


We had dinner around the shopping area before walking along a walkway with sakura trees all brightly lit. It was an interesting and different ways to look at the sakura, after spending a day around "natural" sakura trees in Shinjuku Gyoen.


There was a kimono exhibition in the shopping centre. Kimono is a traditional Japanese garment, which, today, is worn mostly by women on special occasion. This is usually matched with sandals.


Our next stop was the Mori Tower. We went straight up to the 52nd floor to the Tokyo City View, which was self-dubbed as the "observation deck in the heart of Tokyo".


Tokyo was brightly lit at night. However, apart from the tall and imposing Tokyo Tower, there were no other major landmarks that were clearly visible from the observation deck. The Tokyo Tower which stood at 333 metres is the second tallest man-made structure in the whole of Japan! It was probably the frequent earthquakes experienced in the country that prevented tall buildings and structure from being built.


The Mori Art Museum shared the same admission fee with Tokyo City View. The exhibition when we were there was "Roppongi Crossing 2010: Can There Be Art?". It was an interesting thought-provoking art exhibition. However, some were too interesting that I could not comprehend what the artist was trying to portray. That's art, for you!


::: Footnotes :::

{ Roppongi Hills } Roppongi Hills (六本木ヒルズ  Roppongi Hiruzu) is in Roppongi. Directions to the area can be checked here.

{ Tokyo City View } Tokyo City View is on the 52nd floor of Mori Tower. It costs 1,500 yen to go to the observation deck. However, the fee includes admission to the Mori Art Museum. 

{ Mori Art Museum } Mori Art Museum is on the same floor as Tokyo City View and admission is for both Tokyo City View and the museum.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Springtime in Shinjuku

{ Japan April 2010 - Day 2 - Shinjuku, Tokyo }

Actually, springtime in any places in Japan would mean that the people awaits for the first sakura tree to bloom. There were forecasts and detailed reports of the percentages of bloom and the best places to watch sakura. They even have a phrase for that - hanami 花見 - which literally means flower watching. As the cherry blossom, or sakura as it is called in Japan, blooms only for a week or two, everyone watches the forecast closely in preparation for hanami.

So, we were extremely lucky to plan our holiday in Japan just at the right time this year. The sakura started blooming less than a week before we were there, and it was in full bloom by the time we were there. After 7 hours of flight, and lugging our luggage and taking the train for almost 2 hours to travel from the Narita Airport to Yokohama where my brother's place was, we rested for the night and decided to join visit Shinjuku Gyoen the next day for hanami. Only we didn't know that the rest of Tokyo were planning the same thing.

Once we got to Shinjuku station, we could just follow the crowd to the direction of Shinjuku Gyoen - a huge park which was a favourite hanami spot for the locals. There were queues outside the park and lots of people having a picnic under the sakura trees. Luckily the park was huge and it did not feel as crowded as it looked. The park should be pretty spacious if it wasn't for the sakura.


We could easily see why the Japanese love to go there during springtime. The flowers were blooming all around the well-kept garden, with many varieties of the cherry blossoms and many other flowers.


After we found an opening under a sakura tree, we spread out our picnic cloth and lay out our food. Our simple bento with sushi and desserts paled in comparison with feast prepared and enjoyed by the locals. However, it was great being there, knowing that it would be pretty unlikely that my next trip to Japan would coincide exactly with the time when the sakura is in full bloom. We continued walking around the park after lunch, enjoying the beautiful flowers, gardens and lake all around. 


We continued walking around the Shinjuku area after leaving the park. Shinjuku has many shopping centres including the huge Isetan departmental store (below).


And, of course, when in Japan, you have to snap a photo of Hello Kitty!


After spending some time walking around the shopping area (but not buying anything), we took the train heading towards Roppongi Hills.


That, however, would be in another post.

::: Footnotes :::

{ How to get to Tokyo } Many airlines fly directly to Narita Airport from Singapore and other countries. From Narita Airport, you can take the Narita Express or other standard trains to Tokyo or Yokohama.

{ Getting around } Trains and subways are the most convenient public transportation in Tokyo. While it may be daunting when you first look at the railway map, the sheer number of lines mean that you can get to almost anywhere in Tokyo on the train. Hyperdia is an extremely good website to search for possible train routes. If you plan to travel around Japan, you should get a Japan Rail Pass, especially if you plan to take the Shinkansen (bullet train) to another city. The Japan Rail Pass can only be purchased outside of Japan and is only valid for foreign tourist.

{ Shinjuku Gyoen 新宿御苑 } We walked to the garden from the Shinjuku Station. Refer to this website for other ways to get there. It is opened from 9am to 4.30pm everyday, except Monday. Admission costs 200 yen. 

Monday, 19 April 2010

All That Jazz!

Welcome. Ladies and Gentlemen, you are about to see a story of murder, greed, corruption, violence, exploitation, adultery, and treachery - all those things we all hold near and dear to our hearts. Thank you.
That was the overture to Chicago: the Musical. It summarised the story nicely, but it was all that and more - there were amazing dances, great jazz music and powerful vocals.

I first watched the movie when it came out in 2002. I was transported to another time and was in awe of the performances of Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renée Zellweger and Richard Gere. The movie went on to receive countless nominations and won six Academy Awards, including Best Picture. I bought the soundtrack and kept listening to the songs over and over again. Since then, I have watched the movie many times!

When I was in New York in 2008 for a few days, I couldn't resist watching Chicago on Broadway. It was shown in the Ambassador Theater. Though tired after a day of walking around New York, I thoroughly enjoyed the musical. It was similar yet different from the movie. It did not have the grandeur that was only achievable in the movie. The simple set and the minimalist costume ensured that the music, story and casts remained the main attraction.

{ Taken in Oct 2008 in Broadway, New York }

So, when the musical came to Esplanade Theatre, Singapore, I decided to watch it again. I just came back from the show, and I still absolutely love it! The music and songs were still catchy, the dances were amazing and the story line was still intriguing.

Of all the musical, plays, theatre, dances and movies that I've watched, Chicago still remained my favourite! And my favourite song from Chicago would definitely be All That Jazz!


Thursday, 15 April 2010

Culture Shock in Japan!

It was hard to believe that Japan is a country in Asia and only 7 hours away on the flight from Singapore. It was extremely different from all the Asian countries that I have been to - no, make that all the countries that I have been to. Japan is a land of contradictions....
  • Ancient temples and huge amazing gardens in the midst of modern skyscrapers
  • Traditional wedding in Meiji Shrine with the bride in full fledged kimono and ladies in cosplay costumes right outside the shrine in Harajuku
  • Clean streets and yet it was difficult to find rubbish bins (apparently Japanese will keep their rubbish in their bags till they see a rubbish bin!)
  • Separating rubbish by combustible, non-combustible, plastic bottles, cans and papers while using lots of papers, ribbons and packaging materials for gifts and decorations.
  • Young man purchased a fortune from a shrine and tied it to a frame with the rest of the paper fortunes, and walked away using all the gadgets and gizmos imaginable
  • Modern anime and manga contrasting against traditional paintings like The Great Wave off Kanagawa (below)
  • Busy Japanese men and women would squeezed into the trains during peak hours and yet they would not think twice to take time to guide you to where you want to go when you are lost
  • They walked extremely fast in the fast-paced Tokyo but would be patient and speak to you in slow (although still incomprehensible) Japanese with hand signals when they realised you do not understand them
[Image of The Great Wave off Kanagawa from Wikipedia]
My experience in Japan was amazing, and I will be writing more about the places and experience in Tokyo, Yokohama, Kyoto, Osaka and Himeji in my 10-day holiday in Japan. In the meantime, here are some photos of sakura (cherry blossoms) that was blooming during the time I was there.


[Edit: After finishing up my Japan travelogues, I realised that there are more contradictions, and has since added more in the list.]

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