Sunday, January 30, 2011

Christmas Cards (クリスマスのカード)

Almost all stores in Japan try to capitalize on the Christmas holiday in some way.  This is basically done by combining the product the store sells with some of the more stereotypical Christmas elements.  The larger department stores even make whole sections devoted to the holiday.  In Tokyu Hands, a large department store located pretty close to me in Takashimaya Times Square, I found some nice Christmas cards and decided I should send a few out this year.  Each of the cards I bought has a picture of a famous place in Japan I've been to but properly "Christmastized," which for Japan commercial products basically means adding snow and 100 Santas to it.  Besides the usual Christmas messages I added some information about each of the places the card was about.  Since each card was different nobody has seen more than one of them and most haven't seen any, so here's a chance for everyone to see all of the cards and the information about some of the places I've been to in Japan. (The information here is just about the same as the original letter except for minor changes for privacy).

Asakusa, Tokyo (Sorry forgot to take the picture of the inside)

This card is a picture of Asakusa (, あさくさ).  Asakusa is a district in Tokyo that is famous for the temple Sensō-ji (浅草, せんそうじ).  The front of this card is the main gate to the temple and shrine located here and called Kaminarimon (, かみなりもん), meaning Thunder Gate.  This is the oldest Temple in Tokyo built in 645 and also home to Tokyo’s largest and most popular Matsuri (, まつり), meaning Japanese festival called Sanja Matsuri (三社, さんじゃまつり) “Three Shrine Festival.”  Behind the main gate is Nakamise-Dōri  (仲見世通, なかみせどうり), a large shopping market of traditional Japanese items.  The market stretches from behind the main gate to the main hall of the temple (The inside of the card shows part of this market and the main hall of the temple.  My girlfriend and I went to this festival in the spring this year, and we’ve also been to this area many times.  It is one of my favorite places to go in Tokyo and one of the best places for souvenirs.

Shibuya, Tokyo

This Christmas card shows Shibuya Crossing, a famous intersection in Shibuya (渋谷, しぶや).  Shibuya is a ward of Tokyo (, とうきょう) and the ward that I live in.  This intersection is only about 25 minutes walking distance from my apartment.  It’s a very famous intersection and one of the busiest in the world.  The intersection always has many people trying to cross the intersection and a lot of cars do as well.  All of the buildings here have neon lighting and large television screens showing advertisements while people wait to cross.  In the lower left hand side of the card is a statue of a dog.  This is the statue of the famous dog Hachikō (ハチ, はちこう).  The dog would come to meet his master every day at the train station at the end of the day.  However his master died in 1925, but Hachikō still came to the station every day to wait for his master until Hachikō died in 1935.  Hachikō is well respected for his loyalty, a trait highly valued in Japanese society and this statue is a popular meeting place for people in Shibuya and the Shibuya station exit here is called Hachikō Exit.

Nikko, Tochigi

  This Christmas card shows Nikkō Tōshō-gū (日光東照, にっこうとうしょうぐう) which is a famous shrine and a World Heritage Site.  This gate on the front of the card is known as Yōmeimon (陽明, ようめいもん).  This shrine complex is in the city of Nikkō (日光, にっこう), which is in Tochigi about 2 ½ hours north of Tokyo by train.  Besides the impressive craftsmanship in the buildings and gates of the shrines, this place is famous as the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu.  The first Shogun of the Edo era, Ieyasu was the first to completely unify Japan and the Tokugawa shogunate lasted from 1603-1868, until the Meiji Restoration overthrew the shogunate and replaced it with the Emperor as well as rapid modernization of the country.  The 3rd Shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu is also buried here.  One of the more popular sights here is of the “Three Wise Monkeys” (三猿, さんざる).  This is a carved relief into one of the buildings the same as the inside of this card.  They are Mizaru – See no evil, Kikazaru – Hear no evil and Iwazaru – Speak no evil.  This is where the image first became popular but the teaching was probably learned from China and brought to Japan centuries early.  I have gone to this place twice, once as a trip with my girlfriend and another time for a special festival called Shunki Reitaisai, which 1,000 people reenact the transferring of Iyeasu’s body from his original burial place to this shrine as stated in his will.  People from the city of Nikko wear the traditional uniforms and samurai armor while participating in this reenactment.

Inside of Nikko card

Yokohama, Kanagawa
This Christmas card shows Yokohama’s (, よこはま) Red Brick Warehouse (横浜赤レンガ倉, あかレンガそうこ).  There are two buildings like this one that are the same in this harbor area.  They were originally custom houses, but now have been renovated as shopping buildings.  Yokohama was originally a very tiny fishing village, but upon Admiral Perry’s arrival in 1853 and the United States forcing the country open to trading; Yokohama was turned into the major contact point of international trade for what had been a very closed country for 250 years.  It went from 600 people to now being the second largest city in Japan.  In the background are 2 of the more famous Yokohama landmarks which are nearby these warehouses.  The first is Yokohama’s Landmark Tower.  This building is Japan’s largest building standing at 972 feet tall and has the 2nd fastest elevators in the world, but originally the fastest before Taipei 101 was built.  The other is the famous Ferris Wheel here called Cosmo Clock 21.  It was the world’s tallest Ferris Wheel from 1989-1997 and is the world’s largest clock at 353 feet.  It is currently 369 feet due to being relocated onto a taller platform.  Yokohama is very close to Tokyo only being a 30 minute train ride south of here and the Red Brick Warehouse is my favorite building in Yokohama.  They also have a lot of international events there and I’ve gone there for Oktoberfest when I was studying abroad here and went with my girlfriend recently during their Christmas Market Festival.

Nara, Nara

This Christmas card shows the temple Tōdai-ji (東大寺, とうだいじ).  It means “Eastern Great Temple.”  This is a World Heritage Site in Nara (Nara-shi, 奈良市, ならし), Japan.  Nara is the prefecture below Kyoto and was the capital of Japan from 710-784.  It’s about a 9 hour bus ride from Tokyo.  Todai-ji is the largest wooden building in the world, standing at 57 meters wide, 50 meters long and 48 meters tall.  The temple has been destroyed by fire twice so this building is even only 2/3 the size of the original.  A temple was first started on these grounds in 728.  Inside the temple (as well as inside your card) is the main image of the temple.  It is a huge sculpture of the Buddha, known in Japan as Daibutsu (, だいぶつ).  It’s 50 feet tall and 500 tons making it the largest bronze statue of the Buddha.  Being contained inside the wooden temple makes it look even larger than this; it’s a massive statue.  On the right side of the statue inside your card and inside the temple is a pillar with a hole in it.  The legend of this pillar is that it is the same size as the nostril of the Buddha statue and whoever can pass through it will achieve enlightenment in their next life.  The deer shown on the card are Sika deer and are seen as messengers of the gods in the Shinto (Shintō, 神道, しんとう) religion (indigenous faith of Japan).  As such they can basically do whatever they want and many now wander the shrine grounds looking for food (with lots of stalls of people selling deer treats for this purpose near the shrine) and are very tame compared to other deer.  My girlfriend and I went here for a trip when I came last May when Nara was celebrating its 1300th anniversary of being the capitol.

Inside of Nara card

Minato, Tokyo

This Christmas card shows Tokyo Tower.  Tokyo Tower was the largest tower in Japan, until the Sky Tree recently was made taller.  The Sky Tree however is not done yet and won’t be done until next year.  Tokyo Tower was built in 1958 and at the time took over the tallest tower in the world that was the Eifel Tower being 1091 feet tall.  It is still the world’s tallest self supporting steel tower.  It has been Tokyo’s main broadcasting tower for years and a major tourist attraction.  The Sky Tower is being built due to Japan’s conversion to a digital signal.  Tokyo Tower is in Shiba Park (Shiba Kōen, 芝公園, しばこうえん) in the Minato Ward of Tokyo (Minato-ku, 港区, みなとく).  This is the ward I lived in when I was a study abroad student, so I have passed by Tokyo Tower many times.  For New Years Eve, My girlfriend and I will go to Zōjō-ji temple (増上寺, ぞうじょうじ) to celebrate.  It’s a famous temple in Tokyo, and is in front of Tokyo Tower so lots of people like to take pictures there.  The temple itself is famous as being the Tokugawa family temple.  The Tokugawas controlled Japan from 1603-1868.  6 of the 15 shoguns are buried here at this temple.

Higashiyama, Kyoto

This Christmas card shows Sanjūsangen-dō (三十三間, さんじゅうさんげんどう) literally meaning hall with 33 spaces between columns.  The temple was constructed in 1164 and is in Kyoto, Japan (Kyōto, 京都, きょうと).  Inside the temple is a sculpture of a 1000 arm Kannon or Bodhisattva that stands about 30 feet high.  Flanked on both sides are 1000 more life-size versions of the 1000 arm Kannon in 10 rows and 50 columns all of gilded wood.  124 are from the original temple rescued from a fire in 1249 that destroyed the temple.  The other 876 are built after the fire.  I saw this temple when I was a study abroad student and might honestly be the most impressive man-made object I’ve ever seen.  120 meters long of one life size intricately carved statue after another.

Kamakura, Kanagawa

This Christmas card shows the Daibutsu (, だいぶつ) at Kamakura (鎌倉, かまくら).  Kamakura is a little over an hour south-south-west of Tokyo by train.  It was once Japan’s capitol during the Kamakura period from 1192-1333.  This bronze statue was built in 1252, is 13.35 meters tall and weighs 93 tons.  It was originally contained inside a building but after the original wooden statue and hall were destroyed in 1248 and the halls containing this statue were damaged or destroyed by storms or tsunami in 1334, 1369 and 1498 the statue was left by itself outside ever since.  The actual sculpture is hollow and people are allowed to go inside of the statue.  The only time I visited as a study abroad student, I was unfortunately too late to go inside of the statue itself.  At this point in history Kamakura is a pleasant and tiny seaside town showing no evidence of its formal glory except for the abundance of shrines in the area and this Daibutsu statue.

Mt. Fuji
This Christmas card shows Mt. Fuji (Fuji-san, 富士山, ふじさん).  Mt. Fuji is Japan’s tallest mountain at 12,389 feet.  This iconic mountain also has some sacred significance in Japan.  Many people from Japan and around the world climb this mountain every year and many climb the mountain at night so that they will reach the summit during the sunrise known as “Go rei kou” (御霊, ごれいこう); meaning spiritual light.  The peak of the mountain has the old Mt. Fuji Radar System station, which when completed in 1964 was the highest radar station in the world used to monitor weather.  The weather station was decommissioned in 1999 due to weather satellites becoming more practical, however much of the old buildings still lie at the top of the mountain.  It takes about 5-8 hours to reach the top and 3-5 hours to get back down.  A popular saying is “You’re a fool if you don’t climb Fuji, but you’re a fool if you climb it more than once.”  I climbed it with some friends during my study abroad here and maybe I’m a fool for wanting to climb it again with my girlfriend this time and see the sunrise, which I didn’t get to see the first time.  The other image on the card is of the bullet train (Shinkansen, 新幹線, しんかんせん).  The bullet trains go about 190 miles an hour linking to lots of places within Japan.  I’ve been lucky enough to go on one from Tokyo to Kyoto during my study abroad here, but they’re a bit expensive.  However it cut what would be a 9 hour bus ride down to 2 ½ hours.  It’s really interesting seeing the scenery of Japan whiz by and the ride is very smooth. 

Kita-ku, Kyoto

This Christmas card shows the Temple of the Golden Pavilion or Kinkaku-ji (金閣寺, きんかくじ).  Kinkaku-ji is located in Kyoto, Japan (Kyōto, 京都, きょうと).  It was first made in 1397.  In 1950 the building was burned down by a troubled monk, however it has since been restored finishing in 2003.  However they are unsure if the amount of gold-leaf that is used now was used back then.  Right now the entire outside of the building is gilded in gold-leaf.  The building itself is also inside a Japanese strolling garden and sits over top a pond that reflects the building in its waters.  It is a very pretty sight and I was lucky enough to go see this when I was a study abroad student here.  It is one of the most famous and popular buildings in Japan. 

Hope everyone enjoys them.  If you have any questions about any of the places leave me a comment below or send an email.