Wednesday, 31 October 2012


Castles in Japan? They've got it all. The feudal era fortress that dominates the little town of Himeji is well worth a visit. It's the biggest example of castle architecture in Japan and an iconic site for any movie depicting that era. Google anything with Shogun in the title and Himeji-jo will be looming.

The big boy.

Wait, why is the central donjon in a cakebox? Renovations, to be completed in 2016. Stick around for more details in our next post. How'd we get the first pic? A travel poster in the train station! You get your pics where you can. Of course, the castle has its own mascot. Hello Himeji-jo!

No matter on the renovation inconvenience, you can still get a good idea what the place looks like by concentrating on the fine rooflines and shapes of the smaller sections.

The drains are clever, using roof tiles for water guidance. Looking down an imposing wall.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Hello Cyclone Nilam

Did you think we could just sit idly by in India while your big, new girlfriend Sandy got all the press? Let her twist and turn and flood the hearts and minds of all those East Coasters back in the US of A? Well, we've got our own East Coast and it's called the Bay of Bengal. We're talking tiger. And it's roaring right now.

OK, don't go Google "Cyclone Nilam," because then we'll get embarrassed. It barely has a name. It is headed right toward us in Chennai, hitting tomorrow. Some wind, a bunch of rain -- more a meow than a Sandy-like roar. But it's not all dosas and sweet lime juice all the time in South India.

Storm junkies, get your fill here.

And the best part about coverage in India? How about this awesome hand-drafted storm update:

The art of the storm! 

Monday, 29 October 2012

Art Hopping To Naoshima

Naoshima was a typical Japanese island, populated mostly by a small community of folks who made their living fishing. The industry and the population were slowly dying and then the mighty publishing giant Benesse stepped in to revitalize the island through various art projects. Three beautiful museums and a handful of art projects later, Naoshima is on the international art-themed travel map. It got our attention.

The island is hilly and rural for the most part, with only a couple of one-street towns. Stroll around and you bump into site-specific sculpture that makes the most of the settings.

Checking out one of the beaches. No texting! A Naoshima landmark, a giant pumpkin.

Photo Op! Interacting with art!

More sculpture dotting the landscape, doubling as seating. A broken boat art installation at the beach.

Unfortunately, no snaps allowed of the various museums. Which is too bad because the buildings were art pieces in their own right, lovingly sited, built into the hilly landscape and quite dramatic inside. You'll have to go visit.

At least we can give you a taste. A couple eating outside a museum cafe, enjoying the view. The matching wardrobe is a little creepy.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Hopping The Ferry To Naoshima

Japan may have the bullet train and an excellent rail system, but it's also a nation of islands. Sometimes you gotta take the ferry. We decided to check out a trendy place called Naoshima, a sleepy fishing village island that's been slowly transformed into an art destination -- and the big boat was our ride for the day.

All aboard? Our sea-riding chariot.

Time to load up at the terminal at Uno.

Various ferries ply the waters around Naoshima, crisscrossing the area, almost as busy as a typical Japanese train schedule. The ride is idyllic.

The little nephew loved it!

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Supermegafantasticmonstertruck Japan

The vehicles in Japan are the most neat and efficient we've ever seen. No one drives around in whale-boat convertibles or big SUVs (unless you're an oblivious ex-pat). The design of choice is wagon-style, in all sorts of varying sizes, from little mini-box coupes to regular wagons to minivans. Utility is emperor.

So when we ran across this bad boy, it kind of shocked us. P*mp my truck.

Looking at the back, the ride comes complete with a detailed Pikachu-like mural. Perfect!

The details make the truck. How big a mirror do you need? Hubble telescope not available? Nice badging, did you snag that off a hip hop star? And nice extendo bumper, you probably don't even feel it when you hit someone.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Visiting Hiroshima

We took a day trip to Hiroshima to take in the remarkable Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum dedicated to the devastating atomic bombing of the city during the final stages of World War II in 1945. Built in 1955 and remodeled in 1991, the museum is an enormously moving collection of artifacts -- belongings left behind by victims, photos, maps and displays depicting the impact of the bombing on the city, and a look at the nuclear age.

Located in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in central Hiroshima, the museum is incredibly thoughtful, perfectly understated and highly educational. The museum makes a point of encouraging that the future be peaceful and free of nuclear weapons. More than 1 million people visit the museum each year.

The museum.

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial, commonly known as the atomic bomb dome. Originally built in 1915 as the Hiroshima Prefectural Commercial Exhibition, the structure is preserved as a stark reminder of the bombing.

Sarah and the memorial. The great lawn between the museum and the memorial, full of kids. School groups are constantly visiting, to make sure they're educated on the disaster.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Oh No, It's Okonomiyaki Time!

We took a quick trip to Hiroshima and arrived in time to try a lunch item the city is famous for: okonomiyaki. It's a little difficult to explain exactly what this pancake on steroids is, but try to imagine cleaning out your refrigerator onto a grill. It's an omelet, noodles, meats or seafood, green onions, cabbage, maybe cheese. Grind up some yams. Season with a Worcestershire type of sauce, sprinkle with seaweed flakes. Grill that baby, chop in half and serve at a counter.

Lunch counters that specialize in okonomiyaki are all over the city, including one building that houses a dozen or so stacked up next to each other. The professionals getting down to business.

A typical stall, before the midday rush. The fleet must be in. Oops, just another school group.

The boys aren't so well behaved, but at least are for peace. The matron proprietor, trying to enforce the suggested peace.
What all the fuss is about. And worth it: a satisfying, belly-stuffing lunch.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

The M(i)sterious Ginkaku-ji

So may temples and villas in Kyoto with beautiful gardens, how to tell them all apart? Look for the unique feature. For Ginkaku-ji, we were lucky to arrive during a downpour. Lucky? Once the rain passed, the mist moved in and gave the place a stunning, eerie look.

The pavilion is unassuming at Ginkaku-ji. The big mound of sand in the garden is not.

The rest of the garden is beautiful, whether from the edge of a pavilion or overlooking a small lake.

Another view of the main pavilion and the impressive sand cone.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Fabulous Fushimi-Inari

South of Kyoto there's a big shrine from the Inari cult that's dedicated to the god of rice and saki. What the place really seems to be interested in is the construction of a zillion, beautiful red gates. There are a few buildings at the entrance before the gates start and then, the fun begins.

The big teaser gate.

At the entrance, a school procession of marching umbrellas. Sarah, not ready to make the big decision: "Which way?"

There are around 10,000 gates, each replaced every 10 years and sponsored by companies looking to gain success in their business by footing the bill for the offering. The black writing on the gate is for the sponsoring company. Strolling along.

A perfect place for a portrait.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Looks So Good You Can't Eat It

Everyone knows about Japanese restaurants using plastic food to show what's available at their fine establishment to passersby on the street. You don't? You're in for a treat (but not to eat)!

Here's a common scene, the exterior of a restaurant. Forget a waiter hawking a menu, they go for the full 3D display. Salivate, point and order.

Where does one get such beautiful plastic delicacies? Head to the kitchenware part of Tokyo and pop into the stores specializing in fake food. A regular grocery store of plastic.

You know you'll be able to grab sushi. The ever-popular pasta with levitating fork is a standard.

The meat and fish section, complete with lemon garnish and ice, all fake. Onto the vegetable section, a regular inedible horn of plenty.

The good stuff looks absolutely real. Check out this breaded panko chicken. It's the prices that suddenly also seem unreal. This entree will set you back about $70. But it's the meal that keeps on displaying. You've gotta pay for such good artistry. We topped out at a $15 sushi magnet. But it looks soo real, so worth it!

The biggest piece of plastic food we found? Easy, and it warmed our Maryland-born hearts.