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Japan, 2017...

First impressions
Tokyo
Kyoto
Nara
Osaka
Himeji
Hiroshima
Kanazawa
Village near Narita
Random Observations

Japan: images and observations

My family and I visited Japan in October 2017; these pages record my impressions, both photographically and verbally.

While Japan is about as far north of the equator as Australia is south of the equator it is hard to imagine two countries being more different topographically, geologically, demographically, climatically and culturally. Where Japan seems to be made up of small flat plains, either along the coasts or between ranges, and steep, geologically new mountains, Australia is mostly huge plains and undulating country and old, worn-down mountains. Where Japan is very crowded Australia is sparsely settled. Where Japan is well watered year-round, Australia is dry for a significant part of each year if not year-round. Where Japan is culturally very much a part of the Orient, Australia is Western.

On these pages I have concentrated on what I found particularly interesting, surprising, or different to Australia. This is the starting page of the series, there are separate pages on Tokyo, Kyoto, Nara, Osaka, Himeji, Hiroshima, Kanazawa and a Village near Narita where we spent our last day in Japan.

The images are generally shown in chronological order within each page; most were taken with an iPhone 7; some were taken with a Canon PowerShot S3 IS. I continue to be surprised and pleased with the quality of the images acquired using the tiny camera in the iPhone.

My apologies to the Japanese people for the mistakes that I'm sure I must have made in place names, terminology, etcetera. I'd be pleased to be corrected.

Japanese suffixes: en, ji and jo. As I understand it a place name finishing in 'en' or '-en' in Japan is a garden; hence Gyoen National Garden, Tokyo. Similarly, a place name finishing in 'ji' or '-ji' is a temple or shrine, and 'jo' is a castle; hence Kinkaku-ji and Osaka-jo.

This page written 2017/11/01, substantially finished 2018/01/02 – ©
Contact: email daveclarkecb@yahoo.com (David K. Clarke)
 
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Google search Ramblings
Temple garden

I've attempted to make these pages compatible with computers as well as pads and tablets.
The result is a compromise not ideal for either, but hopefully acceptable in all devices?


First impressions

Narita:
Beautiful weather? Kingdom of the spiders?

 
Spider

Bush spiders

We flew into Narita, one of Tokyo's two international airports, on the evening of 2017/10/08. I am an early riser; this is one of the first views I saw on going out of the Narita View Hotel (where we stayed on our first night).

This sort of spider seems to be common in vegetation in Japan; there are very similar ones in similar situations in Australia. Not everything in Japan is totally different to Australia!

The Australian bush spiders are unaggressive and near harmless, I have no reason to think that their Japanese counterparts are any more dangerous.

Photo taken 2017/10/09
 
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Cobwebs
One of the hotel garden beds was covered with cobwebs, all loaded with dew, making them conspicuous.

We only stayed in Narita for the night; we caught a morning train into Tokyo where we met the rest of our family.

Ginkgo tree

Also notable in this photo is the ginkgo tree, which while they don't do well in Australia's dry climate, are commonly grown in Japan, particularly, it seemed to me, in temple or shrine gardens. Ginkgos are particularly interesting for their botanical history, quoting Wikipedia, "Ginkgo biloba ... is the only living species in the division Ginkgophyta, all others being extinct. It is found in fossils dating back 270 million years." The Ginkgo is native to China, but in Japan it is valued for its beauty, longevity (it can live for a thousand years) and its endurance.

Photo taken 2017/10/09

 
Narita View Hotel

Narita View Hotel

A view of Narita View Hotel itself and its extensive grounds. It was a beautiful morning as can be seen, with low mist and a clear sky; no wind.

The hotel also had a small area of trees with a walking trail through it.

It was very convenient for us because it was close to the airport and Japan Rail railway station (at the airport) and there was a free shuttle bus that got us there and away.

The first impression of the weather turned out to be rather misleading; we had little sunshine in our three weeks in Japan.

Photo taken 2017/10/09
 
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Random Observations

Bicycles

 
Bicycle parking area
The photo shows a bicycle parking area adjacent to the Kyobate railway station on the south-eastern side of Nara.

One Ebike (electric bike) can be seen on the left; I saw only one other in this parking area. This proportion was not typical of the bikes that I saw in use, where Ebikes were quite common; it is possible that people don't like to leave expensive Ebikes in a parking area like this for fear of theft.

As I recall there were roughly an equal number of geared bikes and ungeared bikes in this area. Most geared bikes in Japan that I noticed had multiple sprockets only on the rear wheel, while in Australia most geared bikes have multiple sprockets on the rear wheel and with the peddles in the centre.

Bicycles are common in Japan, and are often ridden on footpaths where they can be a hazard to pedestrians. When there is no bicycle lane on a road it seems bicycles are usually ridden on the footpath.

We noticed that obesity seemed to be quite unusual in Japan, in contrast to Western Countries (Australia very much included). Perhaps the frequent use of public transport, walking and cycling, rather than the common use of private cars, helps to keep Japanese from putting on excess weight?

Also see Ebike hire in the Tokyo area.

Photo taken 2017/10/18
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Vending machines

 
Vending machines
Vending machines were common in Japan. Like the subject of rubbish the vending machines and their contents tell us something about Japanese society.

Not only can one buy hot and cold tea and coffee from vending machines, one can also buy alcoholic drinks. We heard the question asked, what is to stop minors from buying alcohol from vending machines. The answer was, 'but that would be illegal'. The Japanese are generally a very law-abiding people.

Photo taken 2017/10/12



Japanese food

 
Lunch
We loved eating Japanese food, but did have trouble finding restaurants when we wanted to eat, especially ones that had space to accommodate our group of nine. Many restaurants only had seating for a dozen or so people, many only served take-away food. We found restaurant food prices to be similar to those in Australia.

Generally we had breakfast and dinner in our AirBnB accommodation, and bought lunch out. We usually found that there was a supermarket where we could buy food to heat in our accommodation within easy walking distance.

Bread was interesting; it was typically available in packages of about a half the size of an Australian loaf. These were pre-cut into four, five or six slices; even the loafs cut into six had rather thick slices. There was very little choice; almost all bread was plain white, although French-style bread sticks were sometimes available.

Cheese was generally available only in very small packs, often of individually wrapped small pieces. (Overpackaging was typical in most of the things we bought or considered buying.) Only once did we find (in Hiroshima) a place that specialised in imported foods that had packs of cheddar cheese as large as 500 gramms (at a price more than we would have paid for 1 kg at home.

Most restaurants had an English version of their menu. However, when food such as this came we often didn't know what the individual items were.

My wife, Denece, is in the foreground in this photo, Beth and Anna are visible in the background.

Photo taken 2017/10/13

 
'English' menu
An interesting drinks menu. The title states 'Drink Menu' in large English print, with 'We serve alcohol in extra charge', and something else that is illegible, written on the bottom, everything else in Japanese. Not of much use to anyone who does not read Japanese!

Photo taken 2017/10/13
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Power lines

 
Power lines generally run down the middle of Japanese city streets. They spoil many a view.

As can be seen in the high-resolution copy of this image, many of the actual power conductors are supported by a steel cable; the power lines, the support cables, and the wiring that joins them together all add to the clutter.

Photo taken 2017/10/13



Graffiti

 
Graffiti
At the end of the holiday I didn't remember seeing any graffiti in Japan, and none of the family did either. Going through my photos I came across this shot.

It is notable that all the graffiti is confined to the rubbish bin. It seems that most Japanese are responsible in their behaviour and consider their community in their activities. My impression is that Australians are more inclined to think selfishly.

Photo taken 2017/10/12.



Rubbish

 
Rubbish under nets
This is the way household rubbish was put out for collection in at least a part of Kyoto. The nets are apparently to stop crows picking holes in the plastic bags.

Rubbish bins are few and far between in Japan; public toilets are easier to find – but that's another subject. Yet, while there are few bins, there is less rubbish on footpaths and roadsides than there is in Australia.

Generally rubbish must be sorted into at least three types (see the bin in the above photo) and exactly what is included in each of the three types seems to vary from place to place. If a householder does not sort his rubbish correctly the garbos may refuse to pick it up.

Given the difficulty of disposing of rubbish one might think that packaging on goods from stores and supermarkets would be minimised. Quite the contrary! We were continually astounded at the level of unnecessary packaging that we came across in Japan; it is bad enough in Australia, far worse in Japan.

Photo taken 2017/10/16



Overpackaging

 
Packaging
If I was asked to pick one thing wrong with Japanese society I might well say over-packaging.

As and example: I bought the little package of pickled daikon, top right on this photo, at the Kyoto Golden Temple souvenir area. The bloke wrapped it in the paper (bottom right), put that in the plastic bag (bottom left) and then that went into the paper bag (top left). There was no need for any packaging other than the inner plastic wrap.

Overpackaging to this sort of degree was very common. We refused packaging many times, but a lot of the time refusal is not an option.

Also see rubbish, on this page.

By the way, we ate some of the daikon, but through out most of it; it must be an acquired taste.

Photo taken 2017/10/14
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Breakfasting alone

Most days we breakfasted in our accommodation, but one morning in Tokyo we had breakfast in Deny's, on the bank of the Sumida River. Many Japanese were doing the same thing; it was interesting that most of them were breakfasting alone.

Birds

Most of our time was spent in the cities, so we could not expect to see a huge variety of bird life, but we were surprised how few birds were to be seen. Crows (or ravens) were fairly common, we also saw sparrows, pigeons, a few herons, kites, a couple of pheasants (in a country area), and, I think, ducks. We also recall seeing a few small birds we were unable to identify in various gardens.

From memory, and looking through my photos, it seems that there were very few water birds on the ponds within gardens.

A far greater variety of bird life would be seen in most Australian cities.



Renewable energy

This is one of my particular interests, as I am very concerned about anthropogenic climate change. See, for example, my page on Mid-North South Australia leading the nation in renewable energy.

Wind power

We saw several utility scale wind turbines while travelling on the trains. The first was between Narita and Tokyo, another was on the outskirts of Kanazawa on the way to Tokyo; shortly after this there were three more close together (~<1MW); and another sub-MW turbine a little later again, still on the railway from Kanazawa to Tokyo.

I didn't get close enough to any of these to get a decent photo.

In Australia most utility scale wind turbines are in 'farms' where there are commonly at least twenty or even up to a hundred in one area. The three mentioned above was the most I saw in one place in Japan.

Julia, my daughter, photographed one from her accommodation in Tokyo on her last night in the country.

Solar power

 
Solar panels

A small and typical installation of solar panels in a Japanese village (Kibara?, near Narita)

Japan is one of the leading countries in the world in solar power, second only to China.

We saw many small solar farms like this from trains as we travelled around. This particular one was within easy walking distance of our AirBnB accommodation near Narita; it was probably about 40 kW.

Small installations like this, on the ground, are very unusual in Australia. Instead there are many of a similar size on the roofs of commercial buildings (see solar power on winery, Clare Valley, South Australia), and there are far bigger installations on the ground (102MW solar farm, Nyngan, NSW, Australia).

Photo taken 2017/10/28
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Solar shade link

Jake Richardson wrote an article for CleanTechnica on 2015/02/20 titled Solar Power and Farm Crops Created at the Same Time. The article discussed farmers in Japan installing solar panels and growing vegetables beneath them. It dealt particularly with Chiba Prefecture; the pictured solar installations hear are in Chiba Prefecture.

The article also mentioned installing solar panels for shade in pastureland which would be particularly suitable for Australia.

 
Solar panels

Another couple of small solar farms near our AirBnB accommodation near Narita (Kibara?)

A second solar farm can be seen beyond the first on the right and is shown in more detail below.

Photo taken 2017/10/28

Solar PV panels not uncommon on Japanese roofs, and we saw lots of small commercial solar installations (typically no more than 50kW). The capacity factor (CF) in Japan is low compared to Australia, cloud cover being common; the latitude is similar, 35 degrees north for Japan, 35°S for my part of Australia. I read that the expected CF for a new commercial plant in Japan was 12%; 18% is typical for the agricultural areas of southern Australia, it is higher in the drier areas.

 
Solar panels

A detail from the above photo; showing the second solar farm a little better.

Photo taken 2017/10/28

There would have to be incentives provided for installation of solar power in Japan to make these small solar farms economically viable.

A total of 7 GW+ solar PV was installed in Japan in 2014; a total of 43 GW was in place by the end of 2016. Australia had a total of 6.2 GW in July 2017.

Triangular panels

In Australia I've never seen solar panels any shape but rectangular. It seems that in Japan roof space is in sufficient demand to justify triangular panels; to make the most of all the available space. This photo was also taken near our AirBnB accommodation in the Narita area.

Photo taken 2017/10/28

Hydro power

About half of Japanese hydro is pumped hydro: Wikipedia.


Gardens

Anyone giving more than a glance at these pages will see that I was greatly impressed with Japanese gardens. In addition to to the Japanese gardens in Japan, one that is well worth visiting in Australia is at Cowra, NSW; another, not quite at the same very high standard perhaps, but still very good is that at Dubbo, also in NSW.

Another garden that everyone who visits Australia should see is that of the Gleeson Wetlands in Clare, at the heart of the premier wine region of Australia. (I should admit some bias on this point as I am heavily involved in the GW.)

Alfresco dining

We saw little in Japan; the first I remember seeing was a very little in Hiroshima. The lack is quite probably due mostly to the shortage of space on footpaths.

Terracing

We hardly saw any terraced hillsides in Japan. I was surprised at this considering the shortage of available farmland. Typically the low-lying land was farmed and the hillsides forested.

Tree-lined country roads

 
A tree lined road near my home in Australia
Jacobs Range Road
This is more a tree-lined bush track than a road, but ideal for a stroll.
I spend most of my time in the Clare Valley of South Australia; an area where there are many minor roads lined with trees.

After a week or so in Japan I felt that what I would like to do was walk down a quite country road. Tree-lined country roads are very few and far between in Japan.

Trains

I saw very few freight trains (I did see a few between Kanazawa and Tokyo); on the other hand there were lots of passenger trains (Wikipedia states that 46 of the world's 50 busiest railway stations are in Japan). Wikipedia also states that "The share of railways in the national logistics [freight system] is as small as 6.2% (2010), by far the lowest in the G8."

The container trains that we saw had predominantly 6m shipping containers; 12m containers are far more common in Australia.

There was a noticeable 'thump' when blunt-nosed (passenger) trains pass (at around 80km/h). I suspect that is one of the reasons why Shinkansen have such long, pointed noses; see elsewhere.
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Train tunnels/Railway altitude

I wonder what proportion of Shinkansen track is underground? It seemed from what I saw that it could easily be 30-50%.

I tried to find out what total length of railway tunnels there were in Japan. The only relevant reference I came across stated that "prior to 1945, more than 2,000 tunnels of the total length of 700 km were constructed for railways in Japan." That was over 70 years ago; there must be far more now, especially with the development of the Shinkansen network, which requires very gentle curves.

A surprising proportion of the Shinkansen is at low altitude. Nagano 370m, was the highest altitude I noticed; I suspect that there would be far higher railways in Europe, the Americas and mainland Asia. There are extensive plains even in the centre of Honshu; eg Nagano.

Homelessness

We didn't see any homeless people until one possible in Hiroshima, after 16 days in Japan. See Wikipedia. The Australian Broadcasting Commission states that while there are few of them the Japanese homeless are invisible most of the time.

Trailers, caravans

We saw very few trailers, one small caravan (parked, not on the road). Perhaps this is because people just do not have space to park or store trailers or caravans? (In Australia trailers, big caravans, big camper vans and camper trailers are very common. I have a camper trailer and a general-use trailer.)

Cars

Most cars in Japan are small, in particular they are short (often high and boxy) to fit in small parking spaces. It could be that aerodynamics are unimportant because of generally low speed driving?

Shipping containers

In Australia by far the most common length of a shipping container is 12 metres. The great majority of shipping containers that I saw in Japan were 6m.

Cheese

Cheeses make up an important part of my diet; I don't like going without cheese. Japanese shops have a poor selection of cheeses, no substantial packs of cheddar at all. Butter too, in reasonable sized packs, can be hard to find. Is this lack of dairy foods because of the Asian intolerance for lactose? On the 16th of our 21 days in Japan we found the first 500g blocks of cheese (we didn't ever see bigger), in a store advertising imported foods.

Cost of living

The general cost of living in Japan seemed similar to that in Australia.

Paper maps

It would be very useful if Airbnb hosts were to provide paper tourist maps, but in our experience none did. They were sometimes, but not commonly, available from tourist information centres.

Geomorphology

Approaching Kanazawa I realised that Japan is much like Vietnam; coastal plains and mountains; no middle ground. But there was fertile flat land near Lake Biwa too; not particularly close to the coast. There were also extensive plains in central Honshu, between Kanazawa and Tokyo.

These plains must be geologically old. We saw very little land having moderate slopes or could be called undulating country. Almost all the land we saw was either flat or steep.

The steep hillsides have relevance to a lack of terracing in Japan and a land-slip that I observed near Narita.

Stone and masonry

Stone is used very widely in Japan:
  • Buildings;
  • Castle walls;
  • Retaining walls, of may different types;
  • Bridge building;
  • Seats;
  • Paving;
  • Statuary.
The most common type seems to be granite (that is, coarse-grained igneous rocks), but basalt and marble are also seen.
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Lack of lounge chairs in AirBnB

Not one of the places we stayed in had a comfortable lounge chair; a couple had a sofa. Old people, like me, appreciate a comfortable lounge chair. Of course space is always at a premium in Japanese houses.

Public toilets

Public toilets in Japan are much more numerous and easy to find than in Australia. It was often easier to find a public toilet than a rubbish bin.

Overweight

Why are so few Japanese overweight or obese when it is so common in The West? Bicycling? Walking? Diet? Perhaps the frequent use of public transport, walking and cycling rather than the common use of private cars helps to keep Japanese from putting on excess weight?

Weather

You can look up the statistics of Japanese climate; there's no point in me going into detail here. However, I will write a word or two on our experience with Japanese weather.

We didn't see much sunshine; it would have been nice (for photography especially) if there had been more. We did have a lot of rain; part of that was due to Typhoon Lan which happened to strike Japan during our visit, but Japan is much more rainy than almost all parts of Australia at any time.

I never carry an umbrella in Australia, I usually did in Japan.




Index

Alfresco dining
Arashiyama district, Kyoto
  Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, Kyoto
  Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama, Kyoto
Bicycles
Birds
Bread
Breakfasting alone
Cars
Cheese
Cost of living
Ebike hire in the Tokyo area
Food
Gardens
Geomorphology
Ginkgo tree
Graffiti
Greenhouse in Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, Tokyo
Himaji
Hiroshima
  Shukkei-en (Shukkei garden), Hiroshima
  Hiroshima-jo (Hiroshima castle)
Homelessness
 
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Isui-en Garden, Nara
Kanazawa
Kinkaku-ji Temple, Kyoto
Kyoto
  Kyoto railway station
Lack of lounge chairs in AirBnB
Land-slip
Meiji-jingu Shinto shrine, Tokyo
Nara
  Isui-en Garden, Nara
  Today-ji, Nara
  Yoshiki-en Garden, Nara
Narita
  Village near Narita
  Shinsho-ji (Buddhist temple)
  Narita city centre
Nanzen-ji, (temple), Kyoto
Osaka
  Osaka-jo (Osaka castle)
Overpackaging
Overweight
Paper maps
Power lines
Public toilets
Random Observations
Renewable energy
Rubbish
Ryoan-ji Temple and grounds
Senso-ji Buddhist Temple, Tokyo
Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, Tokyo
Shinkansen (bullet trains)
Shinsho-ji, Buddhist temple, Narita
Shipping containers
Shukkei-en (Shukkei garden), Hiroshima
Solar power
Spiders
Stone and masonry
  Stone slab bridge, Kyoto
  Stone wall, Kyoto
  Osaka-jo (Stone walls at Osaka castle)
Terracing
Thatched roof
Tiny gardens
Tokyo
  Senso-ji Buddhist Temple, Tokyo
  Greenhouse in Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden
  Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, Tokyo
Today-ji (Buddhist temple), Nara
The toy museum in Nara
Trailers, caravans
Trains
  Train tunnels/Railway altitude
Tree-lined country roads
Vending machines
Village, Kibara?
Weather
Wind power
Umbrellas
Yoshiki-en Garden, Nara


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