Long before my Japan trip, I absolutely fell in love with Hokusai's 36 Views of Mount Fuji, a fascinating collection of woodblock prints, some of which happen to be on display at the LACMA. While the limited duration of my trip and the busy conference schedule made it difficult to plan a trip to this active volcano and the highest mountain in Japan, my flight to Kyoto offered me a spectacular surprise: Mount Fuji, with its strikingly symmetrical cone was peeking at me through the cloud covers! Thus commenced my glorious adventure in the Land of the Rising Sun.
|Aerial view of Mount Fuji|
Kyoto used to be the capital of imperial Japan. Today, in addition to being a major metropolitan area in Japan, it boasts a formidable collection of UNESCO World Heritage sites and is a mecca for tourists.
Kinkaku-ji temple (the Golden Pavilion), Kyoto:
This fabulous Zen Buddhist temple features a traditional Japanese garden surrounding a 3-story pavilion layered by pure gold leaf.
|A panoramic shot of the Kinkaku-ji|
Nijo Castle, Kyoto:
This castle was abode to the Tokugawa shoguns (military dictators). Unfortunately, cameras are not allowed inside the buildings. I was most impressed by the concept of the "nightingale floors" here, which generate a pleasant squeaking sound when tread upon, however lightly, to protect the shogun from intruders.
|The outer facade of the Ninomaru Palace|
This city is a close neighbor of Kyoto and is home to a number of famous shrines and temples. Note: In Japan, Shinto places of worship are usually referred to as "shrines" while their Buddhist counterparts are called "temples."
Kasuga Grand Shrine, Nara:
This is a Shinto shrine famous for the myriads of lanterns adorning its premises. These lanterns, lit daily in the ancient times, are now only lit during festive seasons twice a year.
|Sake casks stacked near the Kasuga shrine|
|Arrays of lanterns at the Kasuga shrine|
|And more lanterns... To think of all of these shining in unison!|
Todai-ji temple, Nara:
This is another Zen Buddhist temple. Its Great Buddha Hall is the largest wooden building in the world and houses the world's largest bronze statue of the Buddha.
|The 500 ton bronze Buddha|
|The Todai-ji premises are famous for its free-roaming (hungry) Sika deer.|
Japan is famous for its bullet trains. The Nozomi N700 series happen to be the fastest of these. This is the train I took from Kyoto to Hiroshima.
Hiroshima Castle, Hiroshima:
This castle, once home to daimyos (feudal lords) was obliterated by the fateful bombing of Hiroshima and rebuilt later.
|The reconstructed 5-story Hiroshima Castle tower|
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, Hiroshima:
This memorial park is a solemn and poignant reminder about the ravages of nuclear warfare. Here in this park a peace flame burns quietly and constantly since 1964 waiting to be extinguished only when all nuclear ammunition has been eradicated from the earth.
|The A-Bomb Dome, Hiroshima, one of the few structures that survived the fateful bombing of the city|
|Hiroshima before and after 8:15 AM, August 6, 1945|
|Paper cranes sent by kids all over the world in memory of Sadako (a little girl who was one of the many unfortunate victims of the lethal post-explosion radiation)|
This is a uniquely beautiful island near Hiroshima that can be accessed by a ferry trip. It it home to the sacred Itsukushima shrine.
Itsukushima shrine, MiyajimaThis serene Shinto shrine is world-renowned for its "floating" torii (a wooden gate leading to a Shinto shrine.)
|The Itsukushima shrine torii that can be reached on foot when the tide is low but appears to be floating under high tide|
|Itsukushima shrine - the front facade|
|The five-story pagoda behind the shrine|
|A traditional Shinto altar, where you offer donations (through the wooden slots at the bottom of the photo) and then clap to wake up the deity before you join hands and make a wish|
Mount Misen, Miyajima:
The highest point on this island is the peak of Mount Misen, which can be accessed via a ropeway, followed by a long and tedious hike. The actual view is simply ethereal and no camera can do justice to it.
|View from Mount Misen: The archipelago in the mist|
|View from the return ferry: Sunset in the Land of the Rising Sun|