Adventures of a teenage author...

This is Marta, author of the Darkwoods series and of Marta's Blog. I created this blog specifically for blogging about my 2015 study abroad adventures in Europe, but it's becoming the blog for all my travels. I hope you enjoy all the pictures and stories!

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Ueno Park - Kanei'ji Temple (Kompon Chu-do Hall)

According to Wikipedia (yeah, I know, but I'm pressed for time), a shrine literally holds a Japanese deity or Buddha. The Buddha in this temple is Yakushi Nyorai, the Buddha of Medicine and Mercy. 

The shrines in Ueno are all part of a system of shrines called the Toeizan Kan'ei-ji, built by a priest named Tenkai and supported by the Shogun at the time, Tokugawa Ieyasu. The Japanese believed that evil things come from the northeast, so they built these temples around the northeast of the Imperial Palace to help protect it. 

The Kanei'ji Temple, as it was called in the tour guide, is also the Kompon Chu-do, which, according to the flyer I got there, means "Central Hall". The original Central Hall was burned down in the Battle of Ueno in 1868 (I know nothing more about that battle), and the current one is much smaller than the original. 

Like the rest of Ueno, there were no English signs around this, so I don't know what most of these buildings were. I know the first one is where the deity is housed, but I'm not sure about the rest. 

Okay, I remember this... This is a statue of a monk who was exceptionally holy. But I don't remember the rest. 

What interested me about this was that behind the Kanei'ji Temple is the Tokugawa Shogun Mausoleum. I couldn't go inside, but here is the outside:

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Ueno Park - The Pond Shrine

This is going to be a tricky post to write, for a couple of reasons. The big one is that, for some reason, there were practically no real visitor's plaques around these places. You know the basic ones that tell you what things are, who built them, why they were built, etc.? For whatever reason, the temples and shrines around Tokyo really didn't have those. I'm not sure why, but they didn't.

So, a lot of the information is info I found after the fact. TripAdvisor helps with that a lot, but the rest of this might be tricky. It involves research. (Which I really like, but it's still harder than just writing a post from memory.)

My understanding of Tokyo is this: it used to be a whole collection of different cities that just all grew into each other. I think the various districts of Tokyo used to be those different cities. But, I am not sure. It may just be that the guides I talked with didn't know the word for district and used city instead. I'm not sure.

Anyway, Ueno is one of those districts. It has a lot of beautiful shrines and a single large park with a beautiful pond right in the middle.

Here's the shrine, from the pond:

This shrine is called the Benten-do Temple. The islet in the middle of the pond is artificial, built in the 1600's. The first temple enshrined Benzaiten, goddess of the river, but it, along with many things in Japan, was destroyed in WWII. The current shrine holds Benten, the eight-armed goddess of, among other things, eloquence and poetry. (All that comes from a piece of paper I got at a different shrine.)

One of the things you can do at a Buddhist or Shinto shrine (apparently there's very little difference between the two) is get your fortune told. There is a box of sticks with numbers on them. You shake the box politely (the guide used that word) and then draw out the first stick you can find. You remember the number, but put the stick back. Then you go to a series of drawers, and open the drawer with the number of the stick you pulled out. Inside that drawer is your fortune. 

If you like your fortune, you take it home. But if you don't like it, you tie it to the strings outside the shrine:

That way, you leave your bad fortune behind at the shrine. 

Then there were these slabs of wood. If I remember correctly, they were prayers:

I think I remember reading one that said, "We have everything we need. All we ask for is peace."

Outside the shrine was a giant pot for incense. Worshipers believe that if you wave the smoke from the incense onto the part of your body that was afflicted with something, it will be cured.

Once you visited the incense burner, you would go up some stairs to pray at the shrine. 

Here's what the inside looks like:

There's a certain ritual when you pray here. First, you ring the bell to get the local deity's attention.* Then you throw a coin into the coffer under that giant lantern (it does not matter how big or small). Then you clap twice,** bow, make your wish, clap once, and leave. 

The tour guides used the phrase "make your wish", by the way. That wasn't my term. And... hm. I know I've been using the word "worship", but that doesn't really seem to fit, does it? I always think of worship as something you do to show respect, and not something you do to get a wish granted. I need to think of a better word.

Fortunately, I have lots of opportunities, because there are many shrines upcoming! 

*I can't lie, when I heard that, I immediately thought of this
**The Shinto and Buddhist shrines have different rules about the clapping. If I remember correctly, you clap twice at a Shinto temple, but you don't clap here at a Buddhist temple. But, I may be remembering that wrong. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Ueno Park

If I understood the tour guides correctly, Tokyo is a large city made up of little cities. The first day I was floating around the area called Ueno. If you look at it on Apple Maps, it's a giant green park in the middle of a bustling place.

First off, there's a massive pond right outside the Shitamachi Museum with a shrine built in the middle of the pond:

Then there was a nice park to wander around with beautiful gardens and statues:

I don't think that's a totem pole, but wow, it looks like a totem pole!!!!!!!

Then, there was this water fountain:

The water goes straight up!
That's just a quick overview of Ueno. It was also full of shrines and temples.

Oh, and the oldest zoo in Tokyo.

I'm going to have separate posts about each part of Ueno, for the sake of low-data blog posts. So, keep your eyes peeled for those posts!

Friday, November 9, 2018

The Shitamachi Museum

When I got to Tokyo, I had pretty much no plan. I hadn't even tried to make a plan. So what I did was check into my hostel and then grab one of their guidebooks. Then I went looking for anything that looked older than America.

I have to say that I think Tokyo was the wrong city for that. The guide books are filled with shopping streets and amusement parks. But, anyway, I did find some historical sites, and, most importantly, some museums.

One of the first things I did in Tokyo was visit the Shitamachi Museum (shee-TA-ma-chi). This is a museum that shows different houses in Tokyo throughout the city's history. You get to see how the houses stayed the same, and how they were different.

Having had about 5 hours of sleep on the night bus, I wasn't especially alert for this, but I still remember some of it very well. Some of what really stuck out to me was that some parts of Japanese inside life really haven't changed.

Anyway, I highly recommend this museum. The displays are fascinating!


Most of these pictures are from the time of the Edo Period, so between 1603-1868. Edo was the first name of Tokyo.

First, the signs of fortune! This is the business area of a merchant's home. He had the cat there to bring him money in his business deals. The shield in the upper right-hand corner is also a way of bringing luck:

I remember the tour guide saying that the cat with one paw raised will bring lots of money, and the cat with the other paw raised will bring something else good. But, they never have cats with both paws raised, because that would be a symbol of surrender. If you know much about World War II, you know how the Japanese feel about surrendering. 

Anyway, that was the merchant's room. I actually remember (but don't have a picture) that there were flags put out in front of his house when his store was open for business. Those flags are still used in Tokyo today! 

After looking at the merchant's shop, we looked at the less well-to-do houses. First, we saw the well water and the oven:

This next picture really stuck in my memory. Care to guess what this is?

This is a kimono. Before they would wash kimonos, they would take the entire thing apart, stitch by stitch. Every. Stitch. Then they would dry the pieces on these boards. That would make them very flat and stiff, so they looked very nice. 

Can you imagine having to take apart and then re-sew your clothes every time you washed them? Especially by hand

Anyway, this was all outside the houses. We then went inside the houses. 

First, every house would have had a shrine. 

This is where people would pray to their ancestors.

See those squiggly white pieces of paper? Those are everywhere in Kyoto, and I'm pretty sure I saw them all around Tokyo (but I honestly can't separate them in my memory right now). 

That is lightning. 

Lightning is considered a symbol of good luck in Japan, because summers with a lot of lightning usually produce very good rice crops. And rice is exactly as important to Japanese diets (and Chinese diets) as popular western perception would have you believe. 

Me, sitting around their dinner table.
Do you see what I'm sitting on? It's not actually wood, but rather some kind of mat. I don't know what it's made from. But this is why people would take their shoes off: you cannot wear shoes on that floor and expect it to be in good repair for long. (Especially since Japanese shoes are made out of wood.)

Moving on, we then saw a metalworker's shop (I forget what kind of metal):

I remember that it was right here the tour guide told us something that really astonished me. 

Ueno, the part of Tokyo the museum was in, was almost destroyed in a fire. I guess that it makes sense that all these tiny houses, all crammed together, would catch fire easily. But they actually had a way of keeping fires from spreading too far. All of these houses were built out of very light wood and paper. This made them easy to knock down. If the houses are knocked down and pulled away, they can't catch fire. 

It makes sense, but still, stop and think about this. These peoples' homes were made to be destroyed. 

When I think of home, I think of a place that is solid. It's a refuge, of sorts. But how could it have been that way to them? Their home was built, specifically, so it could be easily destroyed. 

I still can't wrap my head around that. 

Moving on... 

Like in Iceland, the end of this museum offered visitors a chance to try on a Japanese garment (not a kimono, but I forgot what it was called), for pictures:

That was all the first floor. 

The second floor showed some of the more modern rooms. I only took a picture of one... 

I mean... it looks so different, but so similar! I love that! I love everything about that! 

There was much, much more to see in the Shitamachi Museum. It really was a fascinating place! The comparisons between older Tokyo and newer Tokyo really are striking. And, as I said, some of the things they did in old Tokyo, they still do.

Friday, October 26, 2018


Nara is a city in Japan that has lots and lots of Buddhist temples, but it is mostly famous for its deer park. There is a large park in Nara where deer live wild, and people can walk around and look at the deer.

It turns out that my flight into Osaka meant I missed the earliest bus I could get to Nara, and the second earliest bus got me there after 8 PM. Most things of interest in Nara were closed. But I figured that it couldn't hurt to walk around and look! The bus dropped me off very near the deer park, so I decided to walk up and see if there were any deer near enough to the edge for me to see.

It turns out that the deer park does not close! So I walked around and saw some of the wild deer in Nara's deer park.

Nara also has a whole host of Buddhist and Shinto shrines scattered around it. All of them were closed, but you could still see some of them.

Then there's this shrine, or monument, or something... I'm not sure, since there was no English sign. but it was in the train station:

After this, I had to get on the night bus, so I didn't see more of Nara. But there's still lots of stuff from Tokyo to see, so be on the lookout!

Friday, October 19, 2018


It would figure that my first real vacation, I would go visit another country.

Actually, I have a childhood friend who lives in Tokyo. I meant to take some time to visit her before I got to China, but the visa, etc., made all of that impossible. So instead, I got tickets to Japan for our first break.

This post is something of an overview of how I traveled around Japan. See, flying into Tokyo is really expensive, but I heard from a friend that it's cheaper and easier to fly into Kansai International Airport in Osaka, and then take a train or a bus into Tokyo. The cool thing about Kansai is that the airport is actually on an artificial island. They built an island just so they could have an airport there. I was on the second terminal, which was very windy.

What I ended up doing was flying into Kansai and taking an "airport limousine" bus into Nara, a little town that's famous for its deer. Then, I took a night bus from Nara to Tokyo. (I'm sort of smug about not paying for a hotel for one night.)

The night bus was actually super comfortable!

Every seat had a blanket, slippers, a phone charging station, and a nice little curtain. I got lots of writing done! 

Here was the first real view I had of Tokyo:

Anyway, once I got into Tokyo, I just took the subway and the JR train everywhere. The subway train tickets are tiny!

Just like America, the subway trains have all kinds of ads on them. Here was one that made me smile:

There are a lot of TV commercials in an anime style, too.

Tokyo has all kinds of canals dug through it - either that, or they built a lot of square islands in the rivers - so we have lots of water views.

Also, I decided I would stay in one of those capsule hostels:

I don't know if you can see the phone on the shelf in the back? The one thing that's lit up? That's not my phone. That's a semi-phone called a handy that the hostel lets you use. That way, you can use maps and such and not get charged roaming data. It's pretty handy!

One of my traveling games is to see if there's a Guinness pub in every major city. I haven't seen one in Shenyang yet, but here in Tokyo...

One more thing you can do in Tokyo... there's a live Mario Kart tour. As in, you put on a costume, get on a go kart that looks like a Kart from Mario Kart, and get a tour of the city. In order to do that, you need an international driver's license, which I don't have, so I didn't get to do that. I did, however, get the chance to see it: 

I'm pretty sure that black-and-white one is the bullet bike

Once done with Tokyo, we took the shinkansen (the bullet train!) to Kyoto, the place that's famous for all the shrines. Once again, we got to stay in a capsule hostel!

Then, we took a direct train from Kyoto back to Kansai Airport. I'm explaining all of this because it actually was a struggle to figure out how it all worked, so I want to share it. There are all kinds of buses and trains that go between cities in Japan, so if you plan to book a trip there, definitely keep an eye out for those!

Anyway, I have a post from Nara, 3 days' worth of posts from Tokyo, and then a days' worth of posts from Kyoto to share. So I'll have lots to tell! Stay tuned!

Friday, October 12, 2018

Beiling Park

Shenyang is one of those cities that changes pretty dramatically depending on where you are. Su Jia Tun, where I live, is definitely a country-esque part of the city, but just 10 minutes into the city and you're in a high-tech, flashy, shopping-type city that would make Chicago envious. Then, in the middle of that, you suddenly find Beiling Park.

The easiest way I can describe Beiling Park is to compare it to the Asian exhibits in zoos in America, minus the animals. You know how the plants always grow dark green and close together over your head? Beiling Park was like that. There were thick, waterproof green trees growing everywhere.

This was super surprising, at least to me, because a) I've never seen a zoo exhibit look close to reality before, and b) this was a very quiet, natural oasis in a bustling city of 8 million people. It went from being a fast-paced city to a peaceful garden in a few seconds.

The thing about Beiling Park is that it's not just a park. It is also a cemetery for important people. For example, there's a big tomb there with a bright red star (the symbol of the Communist Party) of a communist general.

But the most important tomb in the tomb of the Hong Taiji Emperor, the second Qing dynasty emperor, and his empress. The tomb is also a fortress, with places for soldiers to stand guard. It is a magnificent place, with beautiful architecture!

The entrance to his tomb

And... one of the cool things they have for you to do at Beiling Park is dress up in a costume and take pictures for souvenirs! I picked the costume of a princess.

More to come! Lots more to come!