Nepal

My first stop after leaving my life in Japan was Nepal. I spent my time in Kathmandu and Pokhara. Kathmandu was bustling, charming and at times overwhelming. Life seemed to spill out everywhere. Pokhara was more laid-back, offering chances to relax or set off on an adventure. Workers at the Boudhanath in Kathmandu chip paint from the aging facade of the holy Buddhist site. The stupa, one of the largest in the world, had accumulated many layers of paint over its existence.

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This sādhu, or holy man, left, approached me in Kathmandu and gave me a tikka, a red spot on my forehead. Then he asked for money. Anyway, sādhu live on the edge of society after renouncing material goods. Right, a woman sells dyes in a square in Kathmandu.

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Clothes lie drying in the sun near an outdoor water fountain used for washing in Kathmandu.

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A man carries eggs in baskets through the streets of Kathmandu.

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A woman in Kathmandu Durbar Square.

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Dye adorns a statue in a small Kathmandu temple.

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A man relaxes in Patan, an area south of Kathmandu.

A motorcycle zooms through the streets of Kathmandu.

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Women carry baskets in Pokhara beneath the Himalaya mountain range.

Boats lie empty at dusk in Phewa Lake in Pokhara.

Under the Gates

In my last week in Japan, I spent a couple days in Fukuoka on Japan’s Kyushu island. The city is famous for tonkotsu ramen of which I ate three bowls over the course of about 24 hours. No regrets. While not slurping down pork bone-based noodle soups, I visited a few temples and shrines in the city. 20131026_fukuoka085lr

This worker at Kushida Shrine in Fukuoka walks under a series of gates carrying a box of donations made to the shrine. Kushida Shrine is famous for a festival in the summer in which participants carry giant floats, some taller than ten meters and weighing over two tons.

I’m sad to be leaving Japan after spending three years here, but excited to travel in Nepal and the US before moving to London this winter.

 

Japan in Summer

Summer vacation this year took me down to the cities of Osaka and Nara in the middle of Japan, and then up to the northern island of Hokkaido. We camped, slept in capsules, dug out hot springs, barbecued, rowed across a lake, and generally had all sorts of fun. Here's a sample of the trip.

 Eric wades through lake Kussharo, the largest lake in Hokkaido. The lake is actually a massive volcanic crater that is home to the legendary creature Kusshii. Though I'm going to go out on a limb and say that this legendary dino-creature isn't going to surface any time soon.

Eric wades through lake Kussharo, the largest lake in Hokkaido. The lake is actually a massive volcanic crater that is home to the legendary creature Kusshii. Though I'm going to go out on a limb and say that this legendary dino-creature isn't going to surface any time soon.

 The Five-Story Pagoda of Kofuku-ji, a temple in Nara. 

The Five-Story Pagoda of Kofuku-ji, a temple in Nara. 

 This is one of the famous deer that live among the temples and shrines of Nara. If you feed the deer, they chase after you. I do not believe there is an elegant way to do this.

This is one of the famous deer that live among the temples and shrines of Nara. If you feed the deer, they chase after you. I do not believe there is an elegant way to do this.

 A wooden wall at Kofuku-ji in Nara.

A wooden wall at Kofuku-ji in Nara.

 Iozan, a mountain in Hokkaido, constantly emits sulfur gas, creating these yellow formations. 

Iozan, a mountain in Hokkaido, constantly emits sulfur gas, creating these yellow formations. 

 Eric braves the smell.

Eric braves the smell.

 Back in Osaka, I stayed at a capsule hotel. It looked like a space station. And yes, I was able to fit inside. Surprisingly comfortable.

Back in Osaka, I stayed at a capsule hotel. It looked like a space station. And yes, I was able to fit inside. Surprisingly comfortable.

 Fields and mountains covered the landscape in Furano, Hokkaido. 

Fields and mountains covered the landscape in Furano, Hokkaido. 

 Both fields and mountains covered the landscape in Furano, Hokkaido. Will takes pictures of Furano from a moving train.

Both fields and mountains covered the landscape in Furano, Hokkaido. Will takes pictures of Furano from a moving train.

 Lake Kussharo. We barbecued on this dock. It was a bit too cold to swim, but we rowed a boat 4km out to a massive island in the middle of the lake. All told, a lovely summer vacation.

Lake Kussharo. We barbecued on this dock. It was a bit too cold to swim, but we rowed a boat 4km out to a massive island in the middle of the lake. All told, a lovely summer vacation.

Bouldering on the Beach

The highlight of my trip to Okinawa, Japan's southernmost prefecture, was bouldering next to the ocean. I've been bouldering in a gym in Tokyo for more than a year now, but this was the first time I've done it outside on real rocks. I went bouldering with Will, and these pictures are of him on the rocks. 20130504_okinawa135lrWill jams his feet into climbing shoes before starting. Climbing shoes are designed to be incredibly tight to help provide grip on rocks.

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A reach for the final hold on a route we designed ourselves.

20130504_okinawa219lrConcentration, pain, or both. The sharp coral rocks on the beach were a lot more painful than the plastic holds in the gym.

20130504_okinawa129lr A lot of the routes we found on the rocks were difficult, but the soft sand underneath provided a nice cushion if we fell. When there were rocks on the ground, we spotted each other to make sure it was safe.

20130504_okinawa193lrThe beach was a beautiful place to go bouldering. When we took breaks, we sat on the beach and looked at the waves. Not a bad way to spend the day.

Summer in the Southern Hemisphere

I can cross one more continent off my list: Australia. Though I was confused by Christmas trees set up under balmy weather, and spent a considerable amount of time trying to avoid deadly snakes and insects, I found Australia to be a lovely and even familiar place. The architecture reminded me of the US, as did the beer selection, but there were plenty of exotic creatures to see and places to go. Hello! A friendly Emu pokes his head up at the Healesville Sanctuary near Melbourne. Silly things can't fly, and it's commonly believed that they, along with kangaroos, can't walk backwards. The two "forward moving" animals are on the Australian coat of arms, and it's said that they represent a country always progressing. But there seems to be some dispute about whether they actually can walk backwards or not. But I digress.

Australian wilderness! Sort of. This is in the Healesville Sanctuary which is located in a rural area, and the scenery beyond the fences looked a lot like this. The animal sanctuary had natural environments for all sorts of Australian animals like kangaroos, Tasmanian devils, dingos and koalas.

Emily works to cut off the "beards" of mussels before boiling them. We collected a few dozen mussels from rocks near the beach shack we stayed in outside of Hobart in Tasmania. The mussels use their beard, technically called a byssus, to cling onto rocks. In non-mussel news, the shack we stayed in barely escaped a large bushfire just a day after we left.

We cleaned the mussels before boiling them in green tea. They tasted incredibly fresh and were just a little bit sweet.

Visitors to Hobart's Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) interact with a piece of art. Each section of the piece pulled out like a drawer, and a different voice would repeat "I love you."

A visitor to MONA ducks into a small gallery.

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A man in Melbourne waits by the ocean during a chilly summer night to see a flock of Little Penguins, the smallest species of penguin, return to their nests. It was too dark to get a good look at the penguins, but they were probably cute.

Kamikochi

The mountainous valley of Kamikochi sits high in Japan's Nagano Prefecture in what some call the Japan Alps. Surrounded by mountain peaks, the highland area features beautiful ponds, a peaceful shrine, and leisurely hiking trails.  A number of dead trees protrude from Taishoike Pond, giving the water a pretty, though eerie feeling.

Nathalie, left, crosses a wooden portion of a hiking trail. Right, visitors to Hotaka Shrine examine boats and mountains near the shrine's pond.

 The Azusa River flows throughout the valley of Kamikochi.

The Myōjin Bridge crosses over the Azusa River near Hotaka Shrine.

Awa Odori Festival

Dancers and musicians perform at the Awa Odori festival in Koenji in Tokyo on Sunday, August 26. The dance festival is part of the summer Obon celebrations in Japan in which Japanese honor the spirits of their ancestors. There are choreographed dances and a traditional song the performers sing. The festival in Koenji attracts thousands of dancers and many times that number of spectators.

 Lanterns function as signs announcing a group of dancers.

Lanterns function as signs announcing a group of dancers.

 Performers play the shinobue flute, a traditional Japanese instrument.

Performers play the shinobue flute, a traditional Japanese instrument.

Islands in the Sun

Sunscreen and sunglasses. Sand and sandals. Coconuts and crabs. Ahh the beach. The beautiful Philippine island Palawan played host to my recent relaxing vacation.

Coconut trees dominate the coastline of Palawan.

A local man helps guide a boat towards land to retrieve fresh fish to cook for me and my friends later.

A different boat guide uses a pole to launch our boat toward another island, Isla Arena.

Isla Arena, a tiny island off the coast of Palawan, features a sanctuary which works to protect endangered sea turtles. Near the island is a beautiful coral reef I got to snorkel in.

We got to examine a number of ocean creatures near Isla Arena, including starfish, horseshoe crabs, and puffer fish.

Sena holds a feisty horseshoe crab by the tail. Horseshoe crabs are an ancient species having variants existing as long as 450 million years ago. And their blood is blue. Cool.

Tiny Isla Arena sits in the tranquil sea.

The Water Temple

Hidden under an unassuming soccer field outside of Tokyo lies a massive column-filled chamber like something out of a video game or an action movie. And indeed, this cavern has been used as a fantastic setting for super hero movies, but its purpose is very practical: flood prevention.

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A cameraman for Fuji TV waits between shots while filming a TV show in the huge cave which lies near the end of an extensive anti-flooding system. The system diverts water from swollen rivers into a 6.3 kilometer-long tunnel. The tunnel ends in this cavern where potentially-surging water pressure can be controlled before it is pumped out into another river that can handle the water. Each of the pillars is 18 meters high and weighs 500 tons.

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The remains of dried dirt cracks near stairs leading down into a 72 meter-deep shaft that is used to contain excess water before it flows into the cavern. When the system is not in use, and the water is drained, the area is open to tourists.

Racers

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[/wpcol_1half_end] Motorcycles and Formula One race cars fill the display floors of the Honda museum in Motegi, Tochigi, Japan.

Elements of Hakone

Steam surrounds a worker in Hakone, Japan, as he prepares to extract 黒玉子, or black eggs, from the sulfurous water of a mountain hot spring. The eggs boiled in the water take on a black color from the sulfur. According to legend, eating one of these eggs adds five years to your life.

Steam rises from a hot spring on a mountain in Hakone. The high sulphur content of the area gives the landscape an dark orange tint. The picture was taken from a cable car suspended above the mountain.

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Artist Motoi Yamamoto's "Forest of Beyond" installation is seen from above in the Hakone Open-Air Museum. The artist spread individual lines of salt on the ground to create the room-sized exhibit.

Speed of Light - Video

The ceiling sounds like the sky threatening to rain as trains thunder by on tracks overhead. Ticket gates in the distance whine with the constant "beep-beep" of passengers entering and exiting with electronic cards. Eyes look to the ground, look at cell phones, or look for a quicker path through the crowds. People here in the center of the station either run or walk. Few stand still. This is Shinjuku Station in central Tokyo. It is the busiest train station in not only Japan, but in the world. More than 3 million people travel through the station everyday, rushing to transfer to trains, buses, jobs, stores, and homes.

But all this commuting may have its downsides. A study in the Scandinavian Journal of Economics suggests that longer commuting time translates to a decrease in happiness, and in a recent survey, Japanese reported having among the longest commuting times in the world. Squeezing into packed trains for long rides may actually be squeezing the fun out of life.

Here the video and still images of commuters in Shinjuku Station are squeezed and stretched as well. Commuters passed by blank panels of lights in the station that are usually used to display advertising. Using a long shutter speed, the camera captured a distorted picture of the travelers as they rushed around at what seems like the speed of light.

Some of these photos were published on the Sankei Shimbun website. And you can check out the Japanese translation of the story after the jump.

頭上からは路線を通過する電車が今にも雨が降り出しそうな雷に似た音を響かせる。 長く続く改札では出入りする乗客が絶えずICカードの電子音を響かせている。 目線は地面か携帯電話へと落とされているか、少しでも速く人混みの間を通り抜けようとずっと遠くを見つめている。東京の中心となるこの駅では人々は立ち止まることなく、歩き続けるか、走り続ける。数人を除いては。 ここは日本で、いや世界一、一日の利用者が多い駅、新宿駅だ。 3億人以上の人々がこの駅を乗り換えに、仕事に、はたまた家路へと忙しく通り過ぎる。 しかし、この駅から始まる旅路は全てが幸せへは続かないようだ。 スカンジナビア経済ジャーナルの研究によると、一日の移動時間が長いほど幸福感を感じにくくなるという結果が出た。また最近の調べでは日本人の一日の移動時間が平均して世界一長いことが分かった。ぎゅうぎゅうの満員電車は、幸せまでおしくらまんじゅうで車外へと押し出してしまっているようだ。 今回の動画は、新宿駅を行き交う人々が伸び縮みする様子をイメージした。 乗客が空白の広告掲示板の前を通り過ぎる瞬間を撮影した。 シャッタースピードを意図的に長目に設定することで、通り過ぎる人々が忙しく移動する様がまるで光速のように描写されている。 Translated by Sena Fujisawa (藤澤瀬奈)

Kansai

A man walks through torii gates at Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto, Japan. The gates lead up a mountain toward various shrine buildings. Many of the thousands of torii gates are donated by companies and individuals. This is sort of the standard picture people take of Kinkaku-ji, or the Golden Pavilion in Kyoto. But there you go. It's a pretty thing.

A big rock and a smaller rock and lots of very tiny rocks. This is a zen garden. The garden at Ryōan-ji is actually pretty large, and there are 15 of these main rocks surrounded by moss. The rocks are cleverly arranged so that you can only see 14 of them at any time. When you achieve enlightenment, you can see the 15th rock. So I'm just going to assume birds are enlightened.

Osaka Castle looms over the moat surrounding it in the middle of Osaka, Japan's third-largest city. The original castle, destroyed a number of times since first being built in the late 1500's, played an important role in unifying Japan in the 1600's. Today the reproduction of the castle features a modern museum in the interior. There's nothing really historic inside unless they had elevators in the 1600's. It's actually kind of depressing.

 

Everything is Art (Even Fish)

The intersection of art and fish is currently on exhibit at the Art Aquarium in Tokyo's Nihonbashi district. Full of exotic-looking fish and even more exotic looking aquariums, this aquatic gallery is a good place to take a date or buy an overpriced cocktail.

A pair of goldfish swim in a tank lit with colored lights.

A trio of fish tanks comprise the aptly named Zen Aquarium.

Sena watches a goldfish swim in one of the many small tanks that lined a long hall in the venue.

After leaving the long hallway of small fish tanks, visitors turn the corner and are greeted by a series of giant tanks, colorful lights, and a DJ.

Some of the fish were absolutely shocked at the price of a beer. Shocked!

Another room featured goldfish dancing in lace-lined containers. All these fish make me want to go eat some sushi. Sushi is art, too, right?

Wise Man of Fuji

A Japanese proverb states, "He who climbs Mount Fuji once is a wise man, he who climbs it twice is a fool." I now rest comfortably in the sweet spot of that proverb. I've done just enough climbing to be wise, but not enough to be a fool. Success!

Mt FujiA cloud forms at the summit of Mount Fuji, the tallest mountain in Japan. At it's peak, the mountain reaches a height of 3,776 meters. That's 12,389 feet for anyone who likes unit conversion.

Climbers ascend FujiRetaining walls protect against erosion on the mountain caused by the mass number of annual climbers. Hundreds of thousands of people climb Fuji each year.

Climbing Fuji

A group of colorful climbers takes a lunch break near the summit.

Climber rests on FujiA climber surveys the cloudy view from near the top of Mount Fuji.

Placing coins in a toriiA woman places a coin in a torii gate just before reaching the peak of the mountain.

Walking into the fog

Emily Powell works her way through a cloud while descending Mount Fuji.

Pairs, disordered

Having grown up in the middle of a continent, I'm not very accustomed to boats. So the party I went to on a ship the other day was especially fun for me. Below are two pairs of pictures from that night, though the pairs are not next to each other.Girl in YukataA woman wearing traditional Japanese yukata enjoys the atmosphere of the boat cruise on the Tokyo Bay. People were encouraged to wear traditional dress on the two-hour cruise. I wore a t-shirt and shorts.

Toyko Tower from the BayThe Tokyo Tower sticks out amongst the buildings of Tokyo's skyline.

Emily running to izakaya Emily rushes off into the night while searching for a bar after the cruise.

Tokyo Bay Airplane An airplane takes off from Haneda Airport in Tokyo Bay. Our boat got so close to the airport at one point that passing planes seemed to just miss the tops of our heads.

Sky Tree

The massive Sky Tree rises over everything in Tokyo's Sumida ward. Actually, it rises over most things. At 634.0 metres (2,080 ft), the Sky Tree is the world's tallest tower and the second tallest structure in the world behind Dubai's Burj Khalifa. Tokyo Sky TreeA Tōbu Isesaki Line train passes in front of the tower. Though the Sky Tree has reached its final height, it won't be fully completed until at least the end of 2011. When finished, the tower will be used for digital television broadcasting, but will also feature an observation deck and restaurant.

 

Footprint of a Castle

A man inspects the remaining stone base of a castle that once stood in what is now the Imperial Gardens in Tokyo. The castle was completed in 1638, but burned down only 19 years later. This stone base is all that remains.

Imperial Gardens

I visited the Imperial Gardens in central Tokyo on a rainy day last week.

Despite the rain, people enjoyed the blooming flowers in the gardens.

This building is a teahouse that can be used for traditional Japanese tea ceremonies.
A couple works to untangle a necklace in the gardens.