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Personal Growth

Omotesando offers up architectural delights


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The most comprehensive survey of Sir Norman Foster’s works ever

We’d planned yesterday to visit the exhibitions of works by two architectural giants held in Roppongi, Tokyo, Sir Norman Foster and Frank Gehry, but we made it to only the former, because the latter museum location was closed.

Above are some of Sir Norman Foster’s better known works: The German Parliament building, the British Museum courtyard and the Renault Distribution Center.
More than merely a parade of skyscrapers (below)…

Sir Foster tackled an amazing array of projects, showing tremendous versatility as well as diversity of forms and styles.

Government buildings,  libraries, residences, pavilions, biodomes, museums, airports, warehouses… he built them all.

Some of his works, like the structure at St Moritz was the spectacular backdrop scene in the latest James Bond flick, Spectre

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Some of the projects are astonishingly outlandish and involve designing residences in wasteland landscapes, on the moon and on Mars.

Below: Models of infrastructure and transportation projects were seen a-plenty…

… but planned mega-city projects ahead, particularly in Saudi Arabia and Stockholm are expected to be especially spectacular and to embody all that is Scifi and futuristic.

The exhibits were displayed in the Mori Art Museum’s observatory somehow fittingly framed by the panoramic views of Tokyo’s cityscape.

The exhibition is billed as the most comprehensive survey ever made of Sir Norman Foster’s works. Many of his other works were also featured in smaller photo displays, creatively mapped out on a 3D globe, so that we could see just how global his architectural firm (the largest in the U.K.) is.
Finally, we see the man himself, Sir Norman Foster beside one of his early works.


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Model models – designs by students of architecture






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Living vicariously…


Both my hubby and I wanted to be architects when we grew up. My husband actually got into the architecture program at Tokyo Universi, but eventually went in another direction (that paid his school tuition fully so…). So once DS got into the architecture program at a local university, we were naturally delighted, and now enjoy hanging around Open Days at his uni, and have lots of fun looking at his projects, designing and making model architecture.


Today, I took some photos on a small tour of his school and looking at a few student exhibits.



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Planning a trip from Tokyo to Izu peninsula?

First of all, know your terrain around Izu peninsula, what are your interests, and then decide what are your “must-see spots”.  Izu peninsula is essentially about volcanic geology and coastal formations(Jogasaki  cliffs below).

Needless to say, the whole peninsula is also dotted with hot spring areas each with an original, distinctive character.

Atami Spa and Beach bustles with tourists and families. Atami is characterized by the laidback atmosphere of its beach resort (Atami Sun Beach), with its rows of palm trees.

It is particularly famous for the “Moon Light Beach”, where the illuminations make it the perfect spot for couples, and the Hydrophile Park with its many decks and terraces, gives it a Northern Italy and Cote d’Azur atmosphere.

Atami Sun BeachHydrophile Park

Atami’s reputation is built upon the its hotsprings as the shoguns are known to have ‘taken the waters’ here and the hotsprings are said to have originally been discovered about 1,500 years ago. Atami literally means ‘hot sea’, the resort was so-named by locals who observed the hot water flowing into the surrounding sea. Atami rises out of the sea and then extends into rather imposing hills that overlook the town – reminiscent of Naples. The hillsides form one side of a volcano, and the town is built in the remnants of the crater. For accommodation, check out: Atami Seaside Spa & Resort (See access info); Hotel New Akao resort or alternatively, check out Atami Furuya Ryokan or this Ryokan listing by price.

At Atami, some of the historical attractions are:

Atami Castle

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The Atami Castle along the Nishiki-ga-ura coast, one of the best sightseeing spots in Atami, inside you can visit the exhibitions of Buke ( Samurai ) Cultures and Japanese Castles. The 360-dgree panoramic view from the top of Atami Castle’s observatory is of note. Atami Castle is a stop on the Yuyu Sightseeing Loop Bus (about 15 minutes from Atami Station, 250 yen per ride or 700 yen for a 1-day pass). Alternatively, the castle is a short walk away from the top station of the Atami Ropeway (400 yen one way, 600 yen round trip) which connects the castle to the port area below. The lower station of the Atami Ropeway can be reached by a ten minute taxi ride from Atami Station or a two minute walk from the Marine Spa Atami bus stop on the Yuyu sightseeing loop bus route. 

MOA Museum Visit the MOA’s tea garden where the Maple Festival is being held between 14 Nov – 6th Dec. The MOA Museum has more than 3,500 ancient works of art from Japan, China and other Asian countries – 3 of which are designated as National Treasures, and 65 as Important Cultural Property. Don’t miss the Golden Tea Room.


A villa residence founded in the Taisho Showa era is on view to the public. It provides a tangible link to Atami city’s cultural heritage.


Other sightseeing spots include the Izusan Shrine and Kinomiya Shrine which boasts its “god”-tree – a giant camphor tree, which dates back over 2000 years and stands 26 metres high. And then there is the Akao Herb and Rose Garden. This is a terraced valley featuring 12 differently themed gardens and boasting a total of approximately 100,000 herb plants and 5,000 rose bushes

Access to all of Atami’s sightseeing bus via the Yu-Yu bus

Ryokan map


Next stop, Ito.

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From Ito, visit Mt Omuro. Access info: Take a Shaboten Koen-bound bus … about 40 minutes by bus from JR Ito station. Accommodation at Ito: see Yamatokan Ryokan

Mt. Omuro is a gently-sloped volcano on the Amagi mountain side. A crater of 300m in diameter and 70m deep is located at the summit. A tourist climbing lift (Adults 420yen ・ Children 220yen) operates from the foot of the mountain and from the peak, walk around the small crater and view the panoramic view of the Izu seven islands, Mount Fuji, Hakone and the mountains of Amagi from the summit. You can do a little archery at the range inside the crater. Izu Shaboten Park and Sakura-no-Sato are located at the foot of the mountain. Every year on the 2nd Sunday of February, a famous event called Yamayaki (burning the mountain) is performed.

Walk the trails of the Jogasaki coast, and Kadowaki suspension bridge.

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The Jogasaki coast is a magnificent rias coast formed from the lava of the Amagi Volcano. The coast is cliff-lined and provides spectacular views along the 9 km trail extending along the sawtooth coastline from promontory to promontory, capped by the suspension bridge at Kadowakizaki Point (length 48 m and a height of 23 m).

From Shimoda city to Shirahama Beach. See Shimoda City guide and Tourist Board page on temples and museums in Shimoda. Go Nordic-walking on Shimoda’s beaches

Shimoda city is historic – because it is where Commodore Perry’s fleet of seven ships carrying a total of 1,265 Americans entered Shimoda Port on April 15, 1854.  Take a 20-min harbour cruise around Shimoda harbor in a lifesize replica of the Susquehanna: the “black ship” that brought Commodore Perry here in 1854. Called the Shimoda Konai Meguri “Shimoda Harbor Circuit” offered by Izu Cruise, it sets sail throughout the day between 9:10am and 4pm at intervals of between 40 minutes and an hour. Adults: 1,000 yen, children: 500 yen
Access: On foot (15 mins): Follow Route 135 (Higashi Izu Dohro Road) that runs eastwards past the station, cross the bridge, and, about 600m on, turn right at the first traffic lights.

Take the Izu Cruise offers another cruise around the southern tip of the Izu Peninsula, about 15km south of Shimoda. The Irozaki Meguri takes you around the majestic cliffs and small rocky islands of the peninsula in a funky-looking boat It departs throughout the day between 9:30am and 4pm at intervals of 30 minutes. The cruise itself lasts for about 25 minutes. Adults: 1,200 yen, children: 600 yen. Contact Izu Cruise, Kamori Kanko Co., Ltd. Add: 19 Sotogaoka, Shimoda-shi, Shizuoka-ken
Tel. 0558-22-1151 [Info source: Japan Visitor]

Shirahama Ohama Beach

「Shirahama beach Izu」の画像検索結果

This is one of the most beautiful white sand beaches in Eastern Japan. Don’t miss the picturesque Shirahama shrine that gives Shirahama ohama Beach its character. Check out the Shirahama walking guide. However, Shimoda city has many glorious beaches – Shimoda’s Shirahama Chuo Beach and Sotoura Beach have been selected for inclusion in the “Top-100 List of Japan’s Most Pleasant Beaches” compiled by the Environment Agency. Accommodation: Pension Izu-Sakuraya or Prince Hotel (located on the Shirahama beach, Shimoda) [At Shimoda Bay, Rendaiji Spa Kurhaus Ishibashi Ryokan]

Southern Cape Irozaki — see Izu Travel and the Minami Izu Hiking Trail and Cape Tarai trail that ends at Toji, and Cape Irozaki

One usually runs out of time for a visit (unless you have at least 3 to 4 days to spare) to the remote southern cape Irozaki and there is only one bus a day bound for Toji (Touji). The sea cave and the sand ski ground in Toji are a five minute walk from Toji bus stop, about 20 minutes from Izukyu-Shimoda Station via a Toji (田牛) bound bus (20 minutes, 440 yen one way).  Go beach horseriding at Toji

Tokai Bus offers a 2-day Minami Izu Free Pass for 2790 yen for unlimited use of buses in the southern Izu Peninsula. The buses between Izukyu-Shimoda Station and Irozaki, including those to Cape Tarai and Toji, are fully covered by the pass.

One usually runs out of time for a visit to the remote southern cape Irozaki and there is only one bus a day bound for Toji (Touji). The sea cave and the sand ski ground in Toji are a five minute walk from Toji bus stop, about 20 minutes from Izukyu-Shimoda Station via a Toji (田牛) bound bus (20 minutes, 440 yen one way).  Go beach riding at Toji

From Shimoda to Cape Irozaki which is the southernmost promontory of Izu Peninsula. It is distinguished by tall perpendicular cliffs. Irozaki Lighthouse stands on the edge. The Seven Islands of Izu can be seen away in the distance from atop the cape.

Access: 40 min. by bus from Shimoda Sta. The Tokai Bus offers a 2-day Minami Izu Free Pass for 2790 yen for unlimited use of buses in the southern Izu Peninsula. The buses between Izukyu-Shimoda Station and Irozaki, including those to Cape Tarai and Toji, are fully covered by the pass.  Note: If you run out of time, you can take an Izu cruise from Shimoda city instead which will allow you to see Cape Irozaki from the sea. (See above – Shimoda)


Kawazu’s Seven Waterfalls (30 mins from Shuzenji stn)


The Kawazu Nanadaru (河津七滝) are seven waterfalls in the mountains above Kawazu Town in southeastern Izu. They range from the 30 meter tall Odaru (“large waterfall”) to the 2 meter tall Kanidaru (“crab waterfall”). A pleasant walking trail leads for about one kilometer through the forest, river gorges and past the waterfalls.

The Joren-no-taki Waterfall (photo featured above) is one of the largest falls of Izu Peninsula. One can see “columnar joints” (rocks shaped like columns that are formed when lava cools down and contracts). The cascading waters are seen against of the backdrop of the lava formation that once flowed from the Hachikuboyama Volcano. The lava created the Kayano plateau and today, a large road (Route No. 136) runs through the landscape. The flatlands were also ideal for farmlands, which prompted people to build villages around the area. At the Joren Fall, try the wasabi ice cream and other products. Wasabi can only be grown where waters are very clear and clean. Read more here and here.

“… near the Joren Waterfall — the largest of Izu’s many cascades — we allow ourselves to be sidetracked by signs for a wasabi farm. With a microclimate perfectly suited to the growth of this root some term Japanese horseradish, the Izu Peninsula is the source of nearly a quarter of all the wasabi consumed nationwide. Clear waters and cool temperatures are an absolute must for this notoriously difficult crop, something the shaded Kawazu River can deliver almost year-round.”– Mandy Bartok, “Beat the heat in the Hills of Izu


Read about Shuzenji ‘s many attractions here.

Izu’s oldest hot spring, Shuzenji Spa, is located in the central area. A famed spot for autumn colour, green bamboo groves and with its quiet, green and peaceful atmosphere, it is named ‘Little Kyoto’. Walk along the Chikurin no Komichi(Bamboo Forest Pass see photo above) path which meanders along Katura River for 400 meters from the Katsura Bridge past the Kaede Bridge to the Takishita Bridge.

At Shuzenji, visit the Niji-no-Sato which has a forest of approximately 1,000 maples, and which is therefore famous for its Maple Festival and fall colour as well as night light-up illumination. Access and more info about Niji-no-Sato. Lots of hands-on activities may be had at this amusement park.

Illuminated MapleMaple Forest

From Shuzenji, visit Toi Kinzan mines and go gold-panning. There is an interesting shrine of the mine gods within the tunnels. Read more info here.

DOGASHIMA, in Western Izu.

Dogashima’s cliffs and islands are one of the best-kept geological secrets of Japan. The coastline of Dogashima is an approximately 2-kilometer-long extending from Sebama to Cape Ajo and is famous for small islands, amazing rock and cliff formations, due to the past volcanic eruptions and the erosion by the sea. [Source: The Japan Travel Digest]

Much like France’s Mont St Michel, a “Tonboro Phenomenon,” induced by the ebb and flow of the tide, allows the visitors to walk from Sehama-kaigan Coast to Sanshirou-jima Island at low tide. Boat service is also available from the Dogashima-onsen, allowing visitors to enjoy a Dogashima Island Caves Tour that will take you around several islands, such as Sanshirou-jima and Zou-jima.

I recommend a visit, weather-permitting, to the Tenso-do Cave (see photo above) that was created by sea erosion. Dogashima Spa which boasts a beautiful sunset view from the hot spring. 1 hr. by bus from Shimoda Sta., or 2 hrs. by express bus from Mishima Sta., is noted for its cave, through the top of which the sky can be seen. A sightseeing boat going into this cave departs twice a day. Time required: 25 min. Fare: ¥1,600. See Dogashima Cave Tour

On the northern side of the Dogashima-kaigan Coast is the Golden Cape, named for its golden color at sunset. Created by volcanic lava that slid down into the sea, it is a cape, known for its rugged scenery, displaying powerful white capped waves that pound against the towering cliffs. Many tourists visit this spot.

The best way to see the coast is from constantly departing sightseeing boats, which briefly enter one of the large caves along the way. The cruise takes about 20 minutes and costs 920  — see Cruising Route Accommodation


For a shorter visit, visitors can by-pass Atami, and go straight on to start from Ito as a base for exploring the Izu peninsula.

Access to Ito and Minami-izu (Shimoda)

Odakyu Limited Express “Romancecar” (Shinjuku-Odawara) / Approx. 70 minutes
JR / Izu Kyuko Limited Express Odoriko (Odawara-Ito) / Approx. 45 minutes
Shinjuku-Odawara-Izukyu Shimoda
Odakyu Limited Express “Romancecar” (Shinjuku-Odawara) / Approx. 70 minutes
JR Line / Approx. 50 minutes
Izukyu Line / Approx. 60 minutes

Further reading:

Surviving Japan’s “Traveling the Izu Peninsula

Izu Peninsula: Follow Perry’s Black Ships to Japan’s best beaches

A perfect day on the Izu hanto

Western coast Ita and Osezaki (Diving off Izu Peninsula)






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Lake Ashi, Hakone-jinja and other lakeside attractions

Lake Ashi
If the weather is good and the waters not choppy, recommend a leisure cruise on Lake Ashi is a pleasant activity.
Lake Ashi is also one of Hakone’s key tourist attractions, framed by the nearby mountain range that includes the famous Mt. Fuji.
Situated some 720 m above sea level, Lake Ashi is the largest lake in Kanagawa prefecture, with an area of seven square kilometers and a circumference of 19 km.
Leisure cruises ply the route between Kojiri on the north shore and the township of Hakone to the south. At Lake Ashi, Hakone Sightseeing Cruises operates ships that connect the three ports on the lake. Enjoy a leisurely tour of the lake on these vessels which link Togendai Port, Moto-Hakone Port and Hakone-machi Port. Read more:

Visible from the lake is the Hakone Jinja Shrine — a very ancient Shinto shrine constructed in 757 during the reign of Emperor Kōshō (dedicated to the kami Ninigi-no-mikoto, Hiko Hohodemi-no-mikoto and flower princess, Konohana-sakuya-hime: Japan Encyclopedia). The much photographed torii-gate-on-the-water adds a bright focal point to the lake. The original shrine was at the summit of Mount Komagatake, but was later relocated to Lake Ashi’s shores. Its current form dates to 1667.

Lake Ashi is home to a mythical nine-headed dragon that was originally an evil spirit. An ascetic monk who had practised at the shrine on top of Mt. Komagatake had exorcized and pacified the dragon, turning it into a protective being instead. Mangan had received an oracle from the Hakone-Okami (Chief god of Hakone) through a dream while had training on the mountain, and in the year of 757, the shrine held a Chinsai ceremony (religious ceremony to appease the gods) at the current location of the lakeside of Ashinoko. The monk Mangan then enshrined the dragon here, along with the three kami deities that were already venerated here. Hakone Shrine celebrates shrine’s founder Priest Mangan and the legendary dragon on July 31st in the Ashinoko Kosui-Sai (Lakefront festival). One day before the festival, a precedence festival takes place one day before Hakone Shrine Festival is held. Shuji Ozawa, the chief priest of Hakone Shrine, gets on a boat on Lake Ashi and offers traditional red rice to the legendary nine-headed dragon believed as the protective god of the lake.

Apart from the dragon, other mythical beasts may be found. The “Kirin”(giraffe), an animal who has the face of a dragon, the tail of a bull, and hooves of a horse…is seen under the roof of the main hall. It is a sacred animal that lives 1000 years, its voice precisely replicates the musical scale, its footprints form perfect circles, and when it turns it always does so at a right angle. A pair of koma-inu (koma-dogs) or lions sit in front of the main shrine building.

Approximately 3,000 lanterns are lit and float on the water. More details on shrine rituals at Green Shinto’s page. The Shrine was popular with shogun and samurai from the Kamakura era. Hakone Shrine is a five minute walk from the Moto-Hakone boat pier. Fireworks displays take place on July 31st over the water.

You can take a pleasure boat across Lake Ashi (also referred to as “Lake Hakone” in some English-language brochures). Believe it or not, a couple of the boats plying the waters are replicas of a man-of-war pirate ship. It takes about half an hour to cross the lake to Hakone-machi (also called simply Hakone; machi means “city”) and Moto-Hakone, two resort towns right next to each other on the southern edge of the lake. This end of the lake affords the best view of Mount Fuji, one often depicted in tourist publications. Boats are in operation year-round (though they run less frequently in winter and not at all in stormy weather); the last boat departs around 5 pm from the end of March to the end of November.

Source: AshigaraNetTimes

You can take a boat from Moto-Hakone to Hakone-machi where you visit the other sights – the Sekisho Checkpoint and the Old Cedar Avenue (see this link):

The Hakone Checkpoint. Of historical interest if you want to get a sense of how the Castle Town of Edo (Old Tokyo) developed and functioned strategically, see for more
Tokugawa shogun placed 53 sekisho (facility for inspection) on major roads across the nation to defend Edo (current Tokyo).
Hakone Sekisho was one of the largest and was thought to be important among them.
Hakone Sekisho was placed on the current location in 1619, during an early period of Edo Era.
One of the main roles of sekisho was to control ‘incoming guns and outgoing women’, which means to prevent weapons from being brought into Edo and wives and children of feudal lords from fleeing from Edo.
However, Hakone Sekisho did not inspect ‘incoming guns’, and severely inspected ‘outgoing women’.
Sekisho, which operated for about 260 years during Edo Era, was dissolved in the next year of 1868, when the government changed.

Crytomeria (Japanese cedar) Avenue

Crytomeria (Japanese cedar) Avenue

Cryptomeria or Cedar Avenue
A section of path alongside Lake Ashi featuring over 400 cedar trees of more than 350 years old, provides us with an insight into the experience of what it would have  been like during olden days traveling along the Tokaido highway during the Edo period. Nearby, cedar trees also survive in Mukaisaka area, where is close to the Hakone Pass and boasts stone paving; in Shinya-machi, adjacent to the Hakone Sekisho; and Azumadake area, where is a network of walking trails. The trees reach up to 30 meters high, and some have a girth of over four meters.

The Best Views are from:

Source: Japanicam

Mt. Komagatake is a 1357-meter high lava dome, created by a Hakone volcanic eruption 40,000 years ago.  Reach the top of Mt. Komagatake in only 7 minutes using the ropeway (lakeside station is at Hakone-en). The total length of the ropeway is 1800 meters. Going up the mountain,Mt. Fuji and a chain of Hakone mountains are on the left; Odawara, Yokohama, Ohshima Island, and Sagami Bay on the right; and Ashinoko Lake and Suruga Bay behind you.

Almost 2400 years ago, the top of this mountain became a holy precinct for mountain ascetics. People never climbed Mt. Komagatake except on special, rare occasions because they were afraid. They held ceremonies and festivals at the lakeside Hakone Shrine to appease angry gods and evil spirits. At the peak of Mt. Komagatake however, is the Hakone Shrine Mototsumiya.  Just before the red shrine gate, there is a rock with a sacred straw rope. It is called “Bakou-seki” meaning that God came down on the rock with his white horse. They say there are some holes in it from where the horse stepped.  At the back of the shrine, some cube-shaped rocks that are scattered around. Those rocks had been used for various rituals in the old days.

Hakone Detached Palace Garden
The Hakone Imperial Villa was built here in 1886 as a summer retreat for the Imperial family and also to accommodate their foreign dignitary guests. Onshi Hakone Park is situated on a peninsula that juts into Lake Ashi.

The site of the former Hakone Imperial villa, is now a park that has been selected as one of Kanagawa’s best 50 scenic sights, one of the best 100 views of Mt. Fuji in the Kanto area, and one of Japan’s best 100 historical parks.

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The Glory of Glass at the Hakone Glass Forest (& Venetian Glass Museum)

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The fairytale setting in Medici style courtyard gardens dripping with roses, on the stunning hillside terrace made us want to linger at this museum all day. Housed in an aristocratic building modeled on a Venetian medieval villa, the museum’s grand collection of fine and elegant Venetian glassware, included among them the cobalt blue goblet handed down through the Rothschild family. Also on display are beautiful and luxurious antique furniture and still-working music-boxes and toys of the the 15th to the 18th century aristocracy of Venice. The republic of Venice in ancient times once called “the noblest country”, a “city on the water”, “Queen of the Adriatic” —  it was a prosperous maritime nation engaged in the bustling east Mediterranean Sea trade. Walking through this museum is like walking through the history of glass with a chance to the view the Venetian glasses which were once the favorite glasses of aristocracies all over Europe. Glass craft workshops occupied my kids, while our my elderly in-laws enjoyed their refreshments and pastries in cafes and five-star restaurants. A delightful way to pass the time for the whole family. Take a walk through the glorious history of glassmaking here.

More access info here and at these links: Hakone Garasunomori MuseumHakone Glass Forest Museum

Take a Hakone Tozan bus bound for Togendai and get off at Hyoseki/Hakone Glass no Mori Ma

Map Source:  Japan Guide

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