Japan: images and observations;

My family and I visited Japan in October 2017; these pages record my impressions, both photographically and verbally.

On these pages I have concentrated on what I found particularly interesting, surprising, or different in Japan to Australia, where I live.

There is too much to be placed on a single Internet page, so the material has been divided among several pages.

This page written 2017/11/08, last edited 2021/03/04
Contact: David K. Clarke – ©

Our group

Our group

The adults, from the left: my daughter Julia, my wife Denece, son-in-law Shayne, son Ken, daughter-in-law Claire; the children: Julia and Shayne's daughters Anna (aged 7) and Beth (5), Ken and Claire's daughter Adelaide, aged 20 months. (There is a photo of me on the Osaka page.)

The photo was taken shortly after we all met-up in Tokyo. Julia and her family had flown from Perth into Tokyo's other airport, Haneda, so we didn't meet in Japan until finding our AirBnB accommodation in Tokyo itself.

While Tokyo was very densely populated (greater Tokyo is one of the biggest cities in the world, with 38 million people – about half again as many as in the whole of Australia) we were pleasantly surprised at the number of little parks nearby; this one was only a couple hundred metres from our accommodation.

Our accommodation and this park were within easy walking distance of Tsukiji subway station.

Photo taken 2017/10/09

River-side garden

Scattered gardens

This photo was taken a few metres from the group photo above. There were similar garden beds along the bank of the Sumida River and in several places away from the river near our Tokyo accommodation.

Photo taken 2017/10/12

Sumida River

Low lying Tokyo

A view along the Sumida River from a bridge close to our accommodation.

The river surface is sea level. Notice how low the surrounding area is; it will be very susceptible to sea level rise that will come with climate change (as will Osaka and the delta areas of Vietnam).

Photo taken 2017/10/10

Ebike hire

Ebike hire in the Tokyo area

Bicycles are a popular way of getting about in Japan, and electric-assisted (Ebikes) are common.

Unlike Australia, where there are commonly multiple sprockets on both the driving and driven ends of the chain, those bicycles in Japan that had gears usually had a single sprocket at the driving end with multiple sprockets only on the back wheel. Perhaps half of the bicycles I saw did not have gears at all; quite probably because most Japanese cities are built on flat, or near-flat, ground. See my note on the geomorphology of Japan.

It was common to see a mother and child on an ebike, and sometimes there was a child both in front of, and behind, the mother. Unlike in Vietnam, I don't think I ever saw anyone carrying a large or heavy load on a bicycle in Japan.

Also see my section on bicycles in Japan.

Photo taken 2017/10/09

Meiji-jingu Shinto shrine, Tokyo

This shrine park was the first religious site that we visited in Japan. Religion must be very important to the Japanese to judge by the area that has been reserved for shrines/temples and the extensive gardens that often surround them.

The clear sky is significant. Our first and second days in Japan were fairly clear (the second day was hazy), we had few other clear days.

Photo taken 2017/10/10

A torii seen through a ceremonial gate. Wikipedia says that a "torii is a traditional Japanese gate most commonly found at the entrance of or within a Shinto shrine, where it symbolically marks the transition from the mundane to the sacred".

It seems that in Japan there are Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. As I understand it, a Buddhist shrine is a small structure used for private devotion and making offerings, while a temple is a much bigger building or group of buildings. Shinto shrines are full sized buildings within dedicated grounds(?) Both Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines in Japan always (in my very limited experience) have carefully tended gardens.

Shinto shrines always have torii gates and I don't think Buddhist temples ever do, but otherwise there seems to be a lot of borrowing in one 'religion' from the other.

Photo taken 2017/10/10

Prayer boards

Prayer chips

For a small fee visitors to the shrine could buy one of these little wooden boards, write a prayer on it, and hang it up. Most, of course, were written in Japanese, but some of those written in English were interesting – see below.

Photo taken 2017/10/10

Prayer boards

Prayer chip

One of the prayers that I could greatly sympathise with. Trump has made the USA look ridiculous and has to be a huge gift to China in its aim of taking global leadership from the USA.

I have since read that 46 of the 50 world's busiest railway stations are in Japan.

Meiji-jingu Shinto shrine.

Photo taken 2017/10/10

The great torii near Meiji-jingu Shinto shrine, said to be, I think, the largest in Japan. (In fact we saw another somewhere else, also in Tokyo?, which was bigger. Perhaps this is the largest built in the traditional way, of wood?)

The shrine is within a large forested area in greater Tokyo; the total area of what are called the inner and outer garden is 100ha. The commercial value of the land would be astronomical, but how much more valuable the land is, retained as park, to the people of Tokyo than it would be if it was sold off for housing or commerce!?

Photo taken 2017/10/10

Wine donated to the Meiji-jingu Shinto shrine, all from the Bourgogne region of France.

Photo taken 2017/10/10

Saki donated to the Meiji-jingu Shinto shrine. This was on the other side of the path from the wine racks.

You'd have to hope that the wine and saki don't go to waste!

Photo taken 2017/10/10

I'm not sure, but I think this torii was at the southern extremity of the Meiji-jingu Shinto shrine park area.

Photo taken 2017/10/10

Senso-ji Buddhist Temple in Asakusa, Tokyo

We were warned that this temple, and the shopping/souvenir area adjacent would be very busy at any time other than early morning. Denece (my wife) and I arrived before the shops opened and there were few people; this was our experience in many of the popular places – get there before 9am and avoid the crowds; it works all round the world.

Our kids and their families had gone to Tokyo's version of Disneyland.

Photo taken 2017/10/11

Resting area

Stone seats in a sheltered resting area

A shady shelter and resting place in the Senso-ji grounds. Note the stone seats, which seem to have been made of sections of basalt columns, with polished tops.

Granite seemed much more commonly used for paving, walls and other construction than basalt in Japan, perhaps surprising in a country with many active volcanoes. Basalt, of course, is solidified lava.

Japanese like to use stone, in as natural as possible a state, in gardens.

Later in the day I suspect that there would have been few spare seats.

Photo taken 2017/10/11

The main building of Senso-ji, with the pagoda on the left.

The weather, which had been clear the previous day, was hazy, or was it smoggy? If it was smog rather than haze it was not unpleasant.

Photo taken 2017/10/11

Temple garden
A small part of the beautiful temple garden at Senso-ji.

We were to see many gardens in Japan, this one was quite small compared to a number of others.

Photo taken 2017/10/11

Shibaraku Statue in the grounds of Senso-ji

"A copper statue of the 9th Danjuro Ichikawa (1838-1903), the famous Kabuki actor. He is shown in the role depicting "Shibaraku, which was his forte."

Perhaps not the sort of thing one would expect to see in a religious site?

It seems likely that the statue would be bronze (an alloy consisting mostly of copper) rather than pure copper, for one thing, the melting point can be significantly lower.

Photo taken 2017/10/11

Abacus shop
Denece and I walked from Senso-ji to the nearby Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden; we happened across this abacus shop on the way.

I would have thought that abacuses would have been replaced by electronic calculators, as have slide rules; but then abacuses have traditionally be used by shop keepers for addition while slide rules were used by engineers and scientists for more complex mathematics. I enjoyed using a slide rule; a remarkable device.

Photo taken 2017/10/11

Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden

Japanese gardens are world famous with full justification. While this one did not strike us as being among the best examples, it is very good and is a great place to get away from the crowds and bustle of Tokyo. It is conveniently close to Senso-ji so easy to combine visits.

The greenhouse in the gardens was outstanding, see below.

Stone 'lanterns', which seem to serve much more as garden ornamentation than as sources of light at night, come in a great variety of sizes and forms. This one seems to have been made from stones that have had minimal modification.

Tokyo's climate is not thought to be as suitable for moss as is that of Kyoto and Kanazawa, that would be a part of the reason for the lawn, rather than moss, in this garden. Another reason, of course, would be that lawn can handle a certain amount of foot-traffic, moss is much more easily damaged.

Photo taken 2017/10/11

Another view of Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, which is within walking distance of Senso-ji Buddhist Temple.

Photo taken 2017/10/11

Interestingly this garden was in the international news in November 2018 when it was reported that a "Park employee didn’t collect admission fees from 160,000 foreigners over two and a half years because one scared him." The Guardian reported that the garden had lost 25 million yen ($220,000) as a result of the man's failure to collect the entry fees.

He was no longer employed at the garden when my wife and I visited.

Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden; the pavilion and a part of the lake.

Photo taken 2017/10/11

Lake and lanterns
Another part of the lake, with two very different stone lanterns, in Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden.

Photo taken 2017/10/11

The greenhouse in Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden

Not only are the plants selected for the greenhouse attractive and interesting, but the landscaping is very artistic and effective.

This greenhouse might be compared to Singapore's Cloud Forest Dome, although it is much smaller and simpler. Unlike the Cloud Forest Dome the Shinjuku Gyoen greenhouse is much cheaper to enter and much less crowded.

Photo taken 2017/10/11

'Spanish moss', an epiphitic lichen

Photo taken 2017/10/11

Greenhouse, waterfall
Another beautiful part of the greenhouse

Photo taken 2017/10/11

The lilly pond of the greenhouse in Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden

Photo taken 2017/10/11

Leaky roof in subway

Leaky roof
An interesting makeshift collector for a leaky roof in a shinkansen subway station in Tokyo. The plastic sheet funnel collects the water, which then trickles down the tube into the plastic water bottle.

Anna is holding the column up.

Photo taken 2017/10/12

Shinkansen (bullet trains)

Two shinkansen locomotives; it was probably the nearer one that took us from Tokyo to Kyoto.

These trains often get up to 250 km/hr and sometimes to 300 km/hr.

The long, tapering nose would at least partly be for aerodynamics, but it would also minimise the 'thump' that is felt when blunt-nosed trains pass each other, even at much lower speeds (see elsewhere).

Travel by train is far more practical in Japan than it is in Australia; Japanese trains are far faster, far more frequent, and far more economically competitive with alternative forms of transport than Australian trains. (Air travel in Australia is generally much cheaper than trains for long-distances.) A large part of the reason for this is the high population density and much shorter distances in Japan.

Something very Japanese I noticed; conductors bow when entering and leaving carriages on the Shinkansen.

Photo taken 2017/10/12

We next went to Kyoto.