Architectural flavor and Tokyo’s Champs-Élysées.

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It is commonly known that TV does not reflect the reality. The pictures we are brainwashed with every day make us insecure with what we have, who we are and where we belong. Cartoons are different- fiction is accepted and even expected. I always thought that this applies to anime as well and realized how wrong I was when Tokyo and its people turned out to be very much like in Osamu Tezuka’s or Katsuhiro Otomo’s creations. The sci-fi architecture and infrastructure, the rush, the food, the facial mimics, the cats with very human sulky expressions… I had all of it in front of me and I loved it!

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Tokyo International Forum by Rafael Vinoly Architects (above and below).

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Omotesandō is a real magnet for architects and fashion victims :) It is an avenue, and neighborhood in the Minato and Shibuya wards in Tokyo Zelkova trees, lining both sides of the avenue, are almost as characteristic as fancy ladies with Guci bags. It is often being refered as “Tokyo’s Champs-Élysées“.

Today, Omotesandō is known as one of the foremost ‘architectural showcase’ streets in the world, featuring a multitude of fashion flagship stores within a short distance of each other. These include the Louis Vuitton store (Jun Aoki, 2002) Prada building (Herzog & de Meuron, 2003), Tod’s (Toyo Ito, 2004), Dior (SANAA, 2004), Omotesandō Hills (Tadao Ando, 2005) and Gyre (MVRDV, 2007), amongst others.

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Architect Toyo Ito designed the flagship store for Tod’s (above), whose criss-crossing concrete and glass façade imitates silhouettes of the zeklova trees lining Omotesando’s main avenue.

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Prada store (above and below) by Herzog and de Meuron, Omotesando- Aoyama.

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Here is a fantastic website for those who like sightseeing with an ‘architectural lens’: http://www.architravel.com/architravel/city/tokyo

 

 

 

 

Mount Fuji and Lama aus Yokohama

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Mount Fuji is one of the most distinguishable symbols of Japan. Even though, seeing it from a close proximity was somewhere at the top of our to do list, we decided it was too cold to do so. Fortunately, on our way to Tokyo, we had a lot of luck. It was a crispy clear day so thanks to a great visibility we could admire this legendary cone, known for its symmetry and beautiful snowed-cap peak.

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The warmest and most sunny day greeted us in the port of Yokohama. I guess the wedding photo shoot of a pretty Japanese couple planted an idea in our heads. Soon we started our own photo session. Oh how much we laughed…!

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Osaka

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On our way to OSAKA we took a super fast Bullet Train, known as Shinkansen, which gains up to 320 km/h speed. The traveling experience is considered one of the biggest tourist attractions in Japan and tickets for the foreigners are 40% cheaper than for the locals. JR passes with tourist discount, however, cannot be acquired in the country, so don’t forget to apply for them a few weeks in advance! 

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For weeks now I’ve been wondering what to write about our trip to Osaka. The city is big, busy and has a little bit of everything:  historical sites, surrealistic buildings, futuristic towers, boring city centre and mind-blowing night life.  

(above and below- the remaining tower of the Osaka Castle), 

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Umeda Sky Building.

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After sunset,  Osaka showed it’s different- better- face. Considerably a lot of effort was put into the city lights, just as if the inhabitants, architecture and infrastructure were destined for the ‘by night’ perception. The streets network turned out to be logic, the buildings gained form while the people became energetic and alive. 

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The most amazing shrine in Osaka- the figures are covered with moss. On the way from work the residents stop by to say a quick prayer and to water the statues with water.

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Future telling on the streets of Osaka.

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The City of Light is full of love hotels, which rent the rooms for hours.

Golden Pavilion, Bamboo Groove and flowers on paper walls.

IMG_2208Temple of the Golden Pavilion or Kinkaku-ji surprises, marvels, puts in doubt, makes you wonder, then astonishes again…

The view from the entrance area could not be more picturesque. Yes, here it is clearer than ever: the Japanese culture is known for its exquisite landscape design and the constant search for beauty and perfection. Looking at the Golden Pavilion, however, i had a disturbing feeling that all in all it is a little bit too much for me. I kept wondering why do I dare to feel any kind of discontent having seen such a beauty, and I was lost. The only possible answer might have been the visiting experience itself. Kinkaku-ji is like a jewel box- richly looking, shiny outside and inside and closed to the outsiders. I realize how much more do I enjoy minimalistic and humble architecture, which I can experience with all my senses?

DSC_0170cDSC_0188cDSC_0215cFrom Kinkakujicho we took a small train to Arashiyama forest. Since Tenryu-ji temple was closed due to renovation, we walked around the gardens on our way to the famous bamboo grove. 

DSC_0254cDSC_0278cDSC_0292cDSC_0324cDSC_0289c   DSC_0376cDSC_0384cDSC_0547cIn the afternoon we went back to Gion, knowing how much more we have to see.
Chion-in temple above and below.

DSC_0533cDSC_0586cShoren-in temple with beautiful floral paintings on the wall was almost completely abandoned. Those atmospheric interiors and garden tempted us to pose a bit for a few pictures :)

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Geisha Hunt

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Spotting a real geisha is not easy; they are like butterflies- beautiful, colorful and ethereal.
Despite the differences in the cultures, everyone, sooner or later, starts to admire their elegance and strive for perfection. Gion in Kyoto is the most famous geisha districts in all of Japan, where a chance to see a real one are pretty high. It is a place, where kimono rental shops grow like mushrooms after rain, offering a glimpse of a traditional life style to whoever desires it.

Geisha means ‘artist’ and refers to Japanese female hostesses who serves and entertain powerful, wealthy male businessman and politicians- the ‘modern samurai’. The ones who live in Gion are called geiko, understood as ‘a woman of the arts’. The geishas still in their training period are called maiko– ‘dance child’ and usually receive only half of the geisha salary. It takes years to master traditional Japanese arts such as dance, classical music, art of games and conversation, before an apprentice becomes initiated into the geisha community.

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After hours of a ‘Geisha Hunt’ I lost hope to see one. The moment I complained aloud a geisha almost run into me. She was in a big hurry, apparently trying to reach the pick-up spot, which was exactly where we stopped a few seconds earlier. I stood there not believing my luck. Feeling like an intruder in her presence, I was brave enough to take only this one picture (above). A few seconds later another geisha rushed by (below). Honestly, photographing running cheetahs was easier, and even though the pictures could have been better I was extremely happy to see real geishas in an atmospheric Gion district.

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Gion remains an enclave of old-style Japanese houses called machiya, some of which are okyia– the geisha houses. There are also ‘tea houses’ called ochaya, where geishas work in the evenings. The most famous one- Ichiriki Chaya, is located right at the entrance of the Hanami-koji street. It is one of the oldest and most exclusive in the country, thus the access is strictly invitation-only. It became famous because of the story of 47 Ronin and their leader- Oishi Kuranosuke’s, who spent time there trying to mislead the potential spies. Some of the most prominent scenes from the ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ were also located there. It is easy to recognize thanks to the groups of tourists waiting in from of it with their cameras on a stand by :)
The ochayas usually have no kitchens, therefore, the food is being delivered from the nearby restaurants (below).

DSC_0497cMemoirs-of-A-Geisha-Image-Source-gabtorbA scene form the ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ Movie; Ichiriki Chaya in the background.

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Thousand Vermilion Gates.

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One of the first directions we took in Kyoto was its Southern Part.

Fushimi Inari is said to be the most important Shinto shrine dedicated to Inari, the god of rice. It is famous for its thousands of vermilion tori gates, which mark out the whole network of paths through the forest of Mount Inari. This was a good physical exercise for us; a quick way to warm up and loose breath ;) We were definitely not fit enough for these trails, unlike small Sayuri in a famous scene from ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ movie (below).

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A priest in a shrine.

DSC_0679cFoxes are believed to be messengers of Inari, thus there are a lot of statues resembling foxes can be seen on the way. 

DSC_0723cDSC_0793cDSC_0715cDSC_0797cWe were not the only ones who were cold :)

DSC_0802cDSC_0805cDSC_0729cA beautiful panorama of Kyoto from the viewing platforms on Mount Inari.

DSC_0665cDSC_0678cDSC_0836cA tiny restaurant was bursting with guests- either fried fish was really good or the spectacle of preparing it worked like a magnet on its clients… the second definitely worked on me as I must have been observing it for good 10 min.

DSC_0637ccHello? Can I call you Mr Nakata? ;)

‘Kafka on the shore’ by Haruki Murakami was a good companion in Japan.

Japanese house in motion picture.

The Last Samurai is not my favorite movie with the Japanese culture in the background (since Tom Cruise is the leading actor). However, I always appreciate this film for portraying Japanese culture and lifestyle in the surrounding of traditional, country side houses. The interiors are created with care of details. And the scenes in the snowy weather are exquisite! picture-of-ken-watanabe-in-the-last-samurai-large-picturecpicture-of-tom-cruise-and-s-xf4-suke-ikematsu-in-the-last-samurai-large-picturec

Sleeping on tatami.

IMG_2167A big variety of movies, which take place in Japan, give us quite a good picture of how a traditional Japanese house looks like. Paper sliding walls, floors covered with tatami and squeaking shiny floors- this is what I expected to see in the first hostel we stayed in.

DSC_0479ccJapanese traditional houses have no clear devisions- the walls can seperate rooms or disappear when needed, crating more spacious interiors. Only sanitary- a kitchen, a toilet and a bathroom have a distinct and defined location. The most characteristic elements of the interior are the tatami straw modular mats covering the floors and defining the proportions of the rooms- and the shoji– sliding doors made out of wood grid, covered on one side with a paper layer that allows soft light to pass through.

In the pictures you can also see
tokonoma– a kind of a small alcove, located in the guest room, were usually a vertical scroll of calligraphy or piece art is hanging, decorated with traditional ikebana flowers. (In this case the ‘piece of art’ wasn’t very impressive ;)
rōkasmall hallways connecting the roomsDSC_0481ccDSC_0487ccNot really knowing what to expect I kept wondering if thin, single-layered glass walls can keep the warmth inside? The moment we entered the hostel through a tiny sliding doors to a tiny low corridor (genkan), my concerns did not disappear. It was freezing cold inside! I had no intention to take my jacket off and soon my feet turned into icicles. The nice reception girls offered, however, warm slippers and invited us to a peculiar table. Only later have I found out that it is a kotatsu a low, wooden table frame covered by a futon, or a heavy blanket. Underneath was a heat source and a hole for the legs, so we could sit comfortably enjoying the warmth and pleasant chat with hot green tea in out hands.326DSC_0491cc DSC_0488cc DSC_0492cEntrance doors from inside of genkan. The doors lock can not be more advanced ;) (above).IMG_2393Backpackers Guest House, Nara- than you for your hospitality.

The first capital of Nippon.

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Many months ago we run across cheap tickets to Japan and without much thinking we booked the flights. Only later have we realized that we are going to spend 1.5 weeks in the area, which is not so close to the equator any more. At the end of January we packed our ridiculous winter jackets and off we went to a lifetime adventure!

Kansai Airport, the one close to Osaka, is only a 6 hours long flight from Singapore. From there we went straight to Nara, where an annual fire festival was taking place that same evening! More about that in the next post.

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Nara was the first capital of Japan for only 74 years, before it was moved to Kyoto. This short period of time was, however, enough to turn a sleepy village into a significant spot on a cultural and architectural map of Japan. Among temples and shrines, which together are part of UNESCO Heritage Site, the Eastern Great Temple is definitely the most impressive. So called Tōdai-ji is a temple complex and one of the biggest wooden structures in the world. Its Great Buddha Hall houses the world’s largest bronze statue of the Buddha.

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The columns in the Hall are massive! One of them has a hole at the bottom. Whoever manages to squeeze through will leave the temple with a lot of luck. The spot seem to be extremely popular among students, who line up in long queues to face the challenge. The smart ones start with the arms up and have their friends to pull them out- lets say it works as well ;)

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In stead of real donations, one can buy a real roof tile, sign it and become a part of the temple for another few years.

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The Great Hall, just like all the other historical places, were always full of Japanese school trips. DSC_0140cIMG_2395IMG_2147IMG_2396

Nara was the coldest places of all we have visited. The monks in this particular monastery were kind enough to offer hot free tea in a warm and cosy room to weary travelers and local worshippers.

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The ‘Jewel of Khmer art’.

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BANTEAY SREI- is a temple dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva built in 10th century.
The complex looks even more spectacular in the evening sun, for the reddish color of the sandstone walls gain on the intensity. I could not look enough on the decorative details of the temple- the carvings on the red sandstone walls are truly masterpieces! No wonder Banteay Srei is called the ‘jewel of Khmer art’.

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Phnom Kulen Area.
The half day of cycling brought us to the remote off-the-beaten-tracks temples. Over 50km away to the North from Siem Reap, the Phnom Kulen National Park is located.

PHNOM KULEN TEMPLE.
Numerous terraces bracing the main core of the temple forced us to do some extra exercises in the unbearable heat. Nevertheless, it was worth climbing till the top point.
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KBAL SPEAN.
The site consists of a series of stone carvings in sandstone formations carved in the river bed and banks. The forest around it looks like enhanced with ‘hobbit caves’ and weirdly twisted roots and lianas.

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The numerous Faces of Bayon Temple

cambodia-panorama02cBAYON TEMPLE in Angkor Thom is one of the Khmer religious centers. It is famous for its multiple huge stone faces representing the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara.

At first it seems like a fun place. However, you might become slightly intimidated by the numerous smirking ‘Mona Lisas of the East’ observing every step of yours ;)

Despite that, it is absolutely one of the most picturesque places in Angkor Thom- the other former town next to Angkor Wat.
DSC_4769cDSC_4599cDSC_4693bDSC_0301cDSC_0307cAffected by the stone faces I decided to spy a bit as well ;)  (above)

In front of this temple (which name I have forgotten), a small stand with durian flavored ice-cream was very popular among the monks. (below)DSC_4584cDSC_4590c

 

The amazing Angkor Wat

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Despite all the incredible temples we have seen, the ‘oscar’ definitely goes to Angkor. As the prime attraction of the whole Cambodia, it overwhelms with it’s grandness, picturesqueness and variety of details. Build originally as a Hindu temple in the early 12th century, Angkor is the largest religious monument in the world. Currently it is a hindu sanctuary, eagerly visited by big groups of monks. Honestly, vivid orange robes is a cherry on top of a visual deligh of the Angkor Wat’s panorama.
If you still don’t have it on the ‘must see before I die’ list- put it there!

DSC_4792cDSC_0390c:)cambodia-panorama06dDSC_4883cDSC_4891ccambodia-panorama08cDSC_0498cDSC_4598cTime to go further!

Cambodia: Ta Prohm

DSC_4467cCambodia always appeared to me as a mysterious land, unspoiled by the modern civilization. On the spot it turned out to be more than true.

Angkor is a region in Cambodia that served as the seat of the Khmer Empire, the largest empire of Southeast Asia that flourished between the 9th and 15th centuries. This ancient and revered Cambodian province is home to astonishing and enduring architectural evidence of the Khmer Empire’s Hindu and Mahayana Buddhist beliefs. There are over 100 stone temples scattered throughout the Angkor area, out of which we managed to visit 9 during our 3-days bike tour. Most of the sanctuaries are completely deserted in the jungle, thus exploring them makes you feel like Indiana Jones or Miss Lara Croft. Tomb Rider by the way, wether you find it ridiculous or not, made me fall in love with Cambodia for the first time. And even though I did not dress like Lara (some female tourist actually do that!!) or did not manage to find ‘the only jasmine tree’, roaming the ruins made me hungry for adventures :)

P.S. Big thank you to Daniela and Michael for making this happen and for great time we had in Cambodia!

P.P.S. Thanks also to National Geographic for including a guide book for Cambodia in the package of books I won last year.

CHAPTER 1: TA PROHM

DSC_4359cDSC_4361ctr_angelina_jolie_cambodiaDSC_4553cThe trees’ roots are not only picturesque but proved to hold the temples’ stones together. The few attempts to remove them resulted in collapsing the structures.DSC_4505cThe most remarkable spot from Tomb Rider is occupied by lines of tourists. We did not want to be worse ;)DSC_4506bcDSC_4488cDSC_4402b&wcDSC_4432b&wcDSC_4443cDSC_4428cDSC_4516cDSC_4408cDSC_4395cDSC_4394cDSC_4386cDSC_4384cDSC_4406cDSC_4423cDSC_4372cThe president of the European Council- Herman Van Rompuy turned out to be a historic architecture fan ;)DSC_4371cDSC_4377cDSC_4416cDSC_4564cOur reliable companions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Welcome to New Territories

New Territories- the Northern region of Hong Kong is not a typical touristic destination. A few routes appointed for those few, who are either architects and urban planners or have seen everything on Hong Kong Island and Kawloon Peninsula, reveal a world of low cost houses interwoven with not always well maintained temples and cultural centers. This gives, however, a strong feeling of honesty and authenticity. Like a Christmas present, every corner reveals a surprise. Charming, XIX century old streets tell their stories and asks for visitors’ attention.

In XIX century HK was a magnet to thousands of Chinese and Westerns who came to the city driven by a perspective of wealth. The colony was soon overcrowded and under high risks of plagues. In order to accommodate it’s growing population an area, 12 times bigger than original Hong Kong Colonial. The extension of Kawloon was called New Territories.

   Unlike HK, New Territories present a peaceful, suburban life style.

How about a group photo? ;)

Fairytale- like house for sale. Anyone interested?

Multi storey housing create quite a strong contrast to the idillic small houses.