Kevin Frates: Blog en-us (C) Kevin Frates (Kevin Frates) Tue, 12 Jul 2016 12:16:00 GMT Tue, 12 Jul 2016 12:16:00 GMT Kevin Frates: Blog 80 120 Zao Fox Village, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan - (Part 2 - Foxes!) ...Continued from my previous entry.

I arrived shortly after opening so there were very few other people wandering around on a windy and overcast morning. The arrival was by design as I could not wait any longer to see them and I wanted to beat the crowed. The weather was cold and unfortunate but not unexpected in early Spring on the side of a mountain.

After passing the entrance there is a large balcony and some cages with some foxes in them. I had read there were some in cages that were breeding or had some behavior issues but these were there as a temporary place where they waited for holding sessions. They give you a plastic poncho and you can hold one of these foxes on your lap and pet them (while under supervision by staff of course).

Slightly past the deck they had other animals, goats, rabbits and even crows. I visited them briefly hoping to find the main fox area which was behind me.

After opening the gates to the fox area I was very impressed by the number and variety of foxes present in this really large fenced in area. Most were sleeping on shelves or on the ground while a few were walking around.

As I explored they started to awaken and become more active. After about an hour of taking pictures and admiring my fury friends I decided to go inside and buy them some carrots. The gift shop held tons of treasures which I decided I would explore more fully on my way out. After buying 3 little bags of carrots I headed back out to the feeding area which is in the center and in an elevated building.

I tossed carrots down to the foxes who swarmed from nearby. Others spotted me feeding them and also decided to buy carrots and join in the fun. The foxes became very lively. A few showed their Alpha nature so I decided to distract them with some food and quickly fed the foxes that were less aggressive. The white foxes seem to be the least aggressive in general.

It is good to pay attention to what they are doing. Foxes are very curious by nature and have been known to steal from visitors things like lens caps, bags, wallets, cell phones... I had my back turned to one and was taking picture then I felt something on my shoe. A fox had come around from behind me and was licking my shoe and then decided to take a little nibble. Lucky for me it was just a curious little soft bite so I asked it not to make a chew toy out of my foot and stepped away. It gave me a curious look and followed along my side as I walked around for a while but was not aggressive in anyway after that.

As the morning turned to afternoon I decided to leave and go visit Shiroishi Castle. Bidding my Foxey friend goodbye. I washed my shoes for good measure, bought some fox souvenirs and requested a cab from the young lady at the desk and bought some coffee while I waited. The cab arrived soon and took me to my next destination.

People will have various opinions about Zao Fox Village as most view the village as a zoo and have mixed feelings about zoos and captive animals. I felt the people working at Zao Fox Village really loves the foxes under their care and treat them extremely well. They all looked well fed and were protected from farmers/hunters and loss of habitat out in nature. Here at the village their injuries are treated if needed unlike in nature and they had reliable food. In nature many consider them a nuisance. I think if you hate the concept of a zoo then this is probably not a place that you should visit but if you are okay with animals living in semi captivity then you will likely love the Fox Village.

I personally went with very high expectations and I left very happy. I will probably not visit again but only because of the cost and distance involved in visiting. I will always remember my time spent at Zao Fox Village fondly and highly recommend a visit by anyone who really loves foxes.

]]> (Kevin Frates) Animals Asia Blog Fox Fox Village Foxes Japan Japanese Kitsune Miyagi Miyagi Prefecture Miyagi-ken Mount Zao Nature Nippon Photo Photography Shiroishi Tohoku Tohoku region Tohoku-chiho Travel 宮城県 日本 東北地方 白石 白石市 Tue, 12 Jul 2016 13:00:00 GMT
Zao Fox Village, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan - (Part 1 - background and journey) Sorry it has been so very long since I updated this blog. I wish I had an excuse like a won the lottery and have been traveling the world but no turns out I was just lazy about it...

I traveled to Japan again in April of this year and one of the main things on my itinerary was visiting Zao Fox Village. I happened across a video of the place and it was love at first sight.

I remember when I was really young there was a movie called "The Glacier Fox". It was a documentary/story of a family of foxes struggling to survive in Japan by Koreyoshi Kurahara. It was one of the most memorable movies I had seen as a child maybe not Star Wars or E.T. but still it made an impact on me.

During my trip planning I saw a fox on a hill for 2 consecutive days. It had been over a decade since I saw a fox around. It felt like a good omen.

Zao Fox Village is in Miyagi Prefecture. The largest major city near it is Sendai so after staying in Tokyo for a week I headed down to Sendai by Sinkansen. It was my first visit to Miyagi Prefecture so I decided to stay several days and explore what the region had to offer (which is a lot).

I took a local express train the next morning to the town of Shiroishi near Mount Zao. The ride took me through beautiful countrysides full of mountains, farms, and rivers lined with blooming cherry blossoms. It was so tempting to jump off the train and walk along the miles of blooming cherry trees but nothing was going to stop my visit to Mt Zao. 

I arrived at Shiroishi station an hour after leaving Sendai and caught a taxi in the parking lot. The Txi took me over a beautiful river and up the winding road of Mt Zao. The entrance to the Fox Village was full of fox statues. The driver of the cab handed me a paper to call the taxi cab back after I was done. I just needed to pass it to the staff and they would call me a cab if none were around.

Inside I was greeted by a cheerful older lady who I bought a ticket from. She showed me various warning signs and offered to sell me some carrots to feed the foxes. I declined at that time as I was very eager to explore.

I will update the remainder of my trip to Mt Zao soon in part 2 of my experience at Mt Zao Fox Village in a couple of days...


]]> (Kevin Frates) 2016 Asia Blog Fox Foxes Japan Japanese Kitsune Miyagi Mt. Zao Nippon Photo Photography Rail Shinkansen Shiroishi Train Travel Village 日本 Tue, 12 Jul 2016 02:46:44 GMT
Tokyo Japan (Day 11 Part 3) - Ueno (上野)! Ueno is such an interesting area of Tokyo to explore. Since my zoo visit did no work out I decided to walk around and see what the area had to offer. I headed to Ameyokocho which is a busy market street near Ueno park and Ueno station.

Ameyokocho had a really lively feel. It was full of tourists and locals alike all mingling together searching out good deals on food, clothes and other items. I noticed a lot of foreigners both selling food and trying to get people to go into shops. Some of them were a bit aggressive for Japan I thought but people mostly ignored them.

Ueno, shopping and bargainsUeno, shopping and bargains

There was a large mix of fresh a prepared food around and it seemed a great destination for a cheap and delicious meal. Judging by the looks on peoples faces thy were enjoying the food a lot. I was not really hungry so I mostly jus explored an took photos.

There were several adult shops in the area. They seemed to be located in the alley ways and seemed pretty busy even early in the morning. It really added to the lively gritty feel to the area. 

After I had explored all the streets and alleys near the station I decided to pick up a couple of souvenirs and head over to Ginza by foot. I bought a small stuffed Panda and a shoulder bag which was a perfect size for a small camera and my glass cases.

]]> (Kevin Frates) 2013 Ameyoko Ameyokocho Asia Blog Japan Japanese Market Nippon Photo Photography Street Taito Tokyo Travel Ueno アメ横 日本 Sat, 14 Mar 2015 13:45:00 GMT
Tokyo Japan (Day 11 Part 2) - Ueno (上野) - Ueno Park As it was still early Still I was kind of amazed at how many people already were walking around the park. I could imagine how busy it could be later in the day when everything was opened. There are tons of museums and places of interest along the way but I was determined to see the Panda's before the big crowds started to show up.

Along the way though I could not resist a small shrine dedicated to Inari - Gojōten Jinja (Hanazono Inari Jinja). It was not a large shrine but anything related to foxes (Kitsune) is always an attention getter for me.

I saw a couple people at Gojōten Jinja but not many. It seemed most people were just enjoying walking along them pathways and relaxing on the benches. After a quick prayer and a few pictures back to the Zoo saga.

At last I had made it to the zoo... That is when I noticed it was closed for the day. I had somehow forgotten it was closed on Mondays. So... I decided to go explore Ueno and think up plan B. The Ueno Zoo would need to wait 1 more day.

It was not a total loss though. I enjoyed walking in the park and next to the zoo I found Doraemon! It was a tiny amusement park for little kids which brought out the kid in me.

]]> (Kevin Frates) Asia Blog Bloggyness Doraemon Japan Japanese Nippon Photo Photography Taito Taito-ku Temple Tokyo Travel Ueno ドラえもん 上野 台東区 日本 Sat, 07 Mar 2015 14:00:00 GMT
Tokyo Japan (Day 11 Part 1) - Ueno (上野) - Ueno Park My plan for Ueno was to visit the Zoo and meet the Pandas after that I planned to walk around the Ameyoko (アメ横) shopping district for a while get some lunch maybe. Well I got off to a good start. Ueno was a very short train ride from the hotel and the atmosphere near the station was lively even early in the morning.

I made my way to Ueno park which was across the street from the station. I quickly noticed panda signs, logo's toys etc. all over the place. No doubt I was in the right place.

Ueno has an interesting mix of locals and foreigners. It is a bit more gritty than most of the other districts I had been in. I wanted to arrive at the zoo before all the crowds arrived so I made my way in that direction. Along the way I saw a little lake with a temple over to my left and decided to check it out.

The temple turned out to be Bentendo temple. It's shape was very unique and it was surrounded by a lake. I walked around the area. There was some interesting wildlife around the lake. I had planned on photographing animals at the zoo anyway so I went to it and enjoyed the lake.

After shooting some of the local birds I could not resist taking some pictures of the swan shaped boats.

The boat rental place was closed but I spotted a cat sunning itself on the docks. As I leaned in to take a photo a man spoke to me. I thought maybe he wanted to say the docks were closed but he picked up the cat and brought it over to introduce me to it. It was really a good start to the day. I had not spoken to anyone yet that day so it was good to enjoy some chatting on the dock.

After that it was back towards the zoo...



]]> (Kevin Frates) Ameya Yokocho Asia Blog Bloggyness Japan Japanese Lake Nippon Photo Photography Swan Boats Taito Tokyo Travel Ueno Wildlife 上野 日本 Sat, 28 Feb 2015 14:15:00 GMT
Odawara to Tokyo Japan (Day 10 Part 4) - Chiyoda Ward (千代田), Tokyo, Japan After enjoying some Starbucks coffee at the Odawara train station I hopped onto a Shinkansen train from Odawara to Tokyo.

Arrival of ShinkansenArrival of Shinkansen The Shinkansen train made a huge difference in the time it took to get back to Tokyo compared to the slow moving local train. It was so smooth and before I knew it I was back in Tokyo. I would not have changed anything though. I enjoyed my side trip to visit the home of the Maneki-neko and the slow ride through the country setting of Kanagawa prefecture.

Entrance to Tokyo StationEntrance to Tokyo Station I arrived at Tokyo Station again but this time I decided to walk around Chiyoda ward a little. I really wanted to see the Imperial Palace and the famous Nijubashi bridge. I knew without an appointment I could not tour the palace but that was okay with me I really just wanted to see a few things from the outside was fine. Once I left the station I saw a  pair of robots for the famous Robot Restaurant and could not resist a couple pictures.

Robot Restaurant (ロボットレストラン)Robot Restaurant (ロボットレストラン) The downtown was full of expensive stores as it is pretty close to Ginza. The streets were pretty quite though. At least more than I had expected them to be. It was getting a little late in the day at this time. As the sun was starting to set I made quick time to the Imperial Palace for a few photo's of Nujubashi Bridge (Double Bridge)

Nijubashi (二重橋) - Double BridgeNijubashi (二重橋) - Double Bridge There were a few people taking pictures but not many. Maybe about 5 or 6 people around. I was a little surprised as it is the most famous bridge in Japan but it was a weekday and kind of late for tourists to visit there maybe...

Sunset of the Imperial Palace moatSunset of the Imperial Palace moat After my brief visit I decided I would come back again before I left Japan earlier in the day. I enjoyed a peaceful sunset over the moat as I walked over to  the Kasumigaseki station and rode back to my hotel.


]]> (Kevin Frates) Asia Blog Bridge Chiyoda Chiyoda-ku Imperial Palace Japan Japanese Nijubashi Nippon Photo Photography Shinkansen Tokyo Eki Tokyo Station Travel 二重橋 千代田 千代田区 日本 Sun, 22 Feb 2015 02:41:30 GMT
Odawara - Japan (Day 10 Part 3) Hotoku-Ninomiya-jinja (報徳二宮神社) Despite being increasingly hungry once I am in photo mode I just can't stop myself. I noticed a Shrine next to the castle and had to check it out. It was called Hotoku-Ninomiya-jinja. It was very lively as it was close to Shichi-Go-San (七五三), which means "Seven-Five-Three" a Japanese right of passage so to speak for children who are age 7, 5 and 3 years old.

Shichi-Go-San - "Seven-Five-Three" HolidayShichi-Go-San - "Seven-Five-Three" Holiday At the shrine parents pray for the children's health and good fortune to Ujigami (氏神) the shrines god. A purification rite called "harai" is performed and a shinto prayer "norito" is recited. The Children are dressed in traditional Kimono's and are given a special candy called chitose Ame (千歳飴), which literally translates to thousand year candy.

Pose just one more minute...Pose just one more minute... I really enjoyed the atmosphere of this small shrine. It was a very unexpected side adventure just a few moments away from the castle. 

I stuck around for about 15 minutes but it started to sprinkle a little more so I decided to start my walk back towards the station. The area near the station had a number of interesting streets which I enjoyed taking little detours among.

The more I explored Odawara the more I liked it. The pace was very slow and the weather kept alternating between rain and sun. I could easily have spent longer but I still had more planned back in Tokyo and it was time to make my way back to the station.

Odawara StationOdawara Station

]]> (Kevin Frates) 7 5 3 Asia Blog Hotoko Ninomiya Shrine Hōtoku-Ninomiya-jinja Japan Japanese Nippon Odawara Photo Photography Shichi-Go-San Shrine Travel 七五三 報徳二宮神社 小田原市 日本 Sat, 14 Feb 2015 14:15:00 GMT
Tokyo - Japan (Day 10 Part 2) Odawara Castle (小田原城) After my early morning adventure visiting the maneki-neko statues it was time for my long train ride to Odawara. I could have taken the Shinkansen but I decided to take a local train and I am glad I did. There was hardly anyone on the train and it was peaceful riding the train out in the countryside. It really makes you appreciate the beauty of the small farms and little towns that surround the cities.

I could not resist a few photo's while I was on the train of course. Above is a photo I shot from the back of the train. The conductor left for the front of the train for a bit. The countryside was so green!

View from Odawara StationView from Odawara Station You can actually see Odawara Castle from the station as it sits upon a small hill escalating it above most of the buildings. It was overcast and starting to sprinkle so I moved pretty quickly to the castle itself hoping to beat rain. It was only a short walk maybe 5-10 minutes at most.

Manabubashi across the moatManabubashi across the moat The first thing I noticed was a beautiful red bridge going across the moat and into the castle grounds. There were several people feeding the Koi that were eagerly accepting the free food and attention. Though the castle is a reconstruction that really did not matter much to me. It was really beautiful architecture and I could still feel a rich sense of history.

Odawara Castle ParkOdawara Castle Park Inside was what may be called a mini zoo... really it was some cages with animals in them. To be honest I did not stop to look. I moved into a little park where people sat and enjoyed snacks. I paused briefly to change my camera lens and shoot the main castle donjon.

Entrance to Castle DonjonEntrance to Castle Donjon Odawara Castle is one of the most famous castles in Japan. It was home to the Hojo clan and was extremely well fending off attacks by Uesegi Kenshin and Takeda Shingen before finally being defeated by Toyotomi Hideyoshi in the Battle of Odawara back in 1590. There was a great museum inside as well as a gift shop.

View of Sagami BayView of Sagami Bay From the top of the castle a 360 degree view of the city, as well as the ocean and mountains. Due to the clouds I was not able to see as far as I had hoped but it was still beautiful.

Akagane GateAkagane Gate The Castle grounds were really beautiful and it was great to just walk around and soak in the history. I am a little surprised by how few people seem to make this a destination when visiting Tokyo. It was not that far and is really incredible. Maybe the fact it is a reconstruction puts people off but even the few original castle have all been repaired at various times. I was very satisfied with my experience at Odawara Castle.

]]> (Kevin Frates) Asia Blog Bloggyness Castle Japan Japanese Kanagawa Prefecture Kanagawa-ken Nippon Odawara Castle Odawara-jo Photo Photography Travel 小田原城 日本 神奈川県 Sat, 07 Feb 2015 14:15:00 GMT
Tokyo - Japan (Day 10 Part 1) Setagaya, Tokyo and Gotoku-ji After a great night's sleep it was amazing to wake up with a view of Tokyo and the Rainbow bridge. I felt completely refreshed and ready to roll. I had a list of wanted I wanted to do but weather was a factor so I kind of changed the order of events a little. With a greater chance of rain in Tokyo and a little less chance in Odawara I decided it was the best day to go go on my Odawara adventure. I drank my can of coffee and was off.

My first stop along the way was Setagaya (世田谷区), a special ward in Tokyo. I have to admit that this was my most challenging adventure among my various trips. I somehow got on the wrong line and had get off at a random station and transfer not once but twice. Maybe I was not as well rested as I thought? I also forgot to bring any map or information.

An early morning walkAn early morning walk Despite my delay I made it to Setagaya and had breakfast near the station. I was really looking forward to seeing the Birthplace of Maneki-Neko (Beckoning cat). I got rough directions to Gotoku-ji and just kind of walked in the direction that it was described to me. I found a temple but as I entered was not really sure it was the correct place. It was early and nobody was around so I just kind of looked around hoping I was not completely lost.  Unlike other parts I had visited there were very few signs in English as this was mostly a residential area and well away from the hustle of the city.

Incense BurnerIncense Burner I enjoyed the calm air and feel of the temple but saw no signs of the famous Maneki-neko. I started to fear I was in the wrong place. Almost ready to go back to the street I saw an area near the cemetery and a few maneki0neko statues. As I rounded a corner I was overwhelmed by hundreds of little Maneki-neko statues!

Maneki-Neko with Autun leavesManeki-Neko with Autun leaves It was everything I had read and more to see them in person. Even I was surprised at how much fun it was to see these cute statues. As I was there it started to rain so I did not spend a ton of time there. I headed back towards the train station but took a different road. It was my first time in the area so I wanted to experience it as best I could in the short amount of time I was there. There were a lot of beautiful houses and small shops. People just started to fill the streets though most shops were closed still. I did find a little shop next to the station that sold Maneki-neko cookies. I could not resist...

]]> (Kevin Frates) Asia Blog Cat Japan Japanese Maneki-neko Nippon Photo Photography Setagaya Statue Temple Travel the beckoning cat 世田谷区 日本 東京 Thu, 05 Feb 2015 01:51:20 GMT
Tokyo - Japan (Day 9 Part 3) Prince Park Hotel and Shiba Park From the world trade center I walked to my hotel. I studied the maps pretty well the night before and I could see Tokyo Tower so I knew I was headed in the right direction. The area had a good mix of stores and office buildings. There were not as many places to eat along the way as I had suspected. I think compared to San Francisco or NY it seemed like half as many as I would expect for that type of congested area. 

My Hotel was located in Shiba Park so I cut through the park. Again I saw wild cats walking around. Japan has so many of them but they always seem well taken care of.

Checking in was a snap. The service was simply incredible. The concierge was really terrific and they upgraded my room to an amazing corner room on a higher level floor with a breath taking view of Rainbow Bridge and Zojo-ji Temple.

I have to say this was by far the greatest room I ever stayed at. The remote control blinds opening to reveal the amazing views of Tokyo were incredible but maybe my favorite part of my experience was the view from my bathtub. Nothing relaxed me more after a day of walking, climbing, crawling and all the other things photographers do to get a photo than I nice jacuzzi bath with a view.

I spent a brief amount of time in my room soaking it in but the day was still too young to turn in yet so I headed out for more adventure in Tokyo. But seriously this is one of the few places I have stayed that made me really excited to return back to a hotel room again. Normally for me a Hotel room is just a place to sleep and take a shower in so I can leave and have fun elsewhere. This Hotel I could enjoy on a whole different level.

]]> (Kevin Frates) Asia Awesomeness Blog Bloggyness Hotel Japan Japanese Nippon Park Photo Photography Prince Park Hotel Room Shiba Stay Tokyo Travel View 日本 Sun, 28 Dec 2014 03:30:00 GMT
Tokyo - Japan (Day 9 Part 2) Kyu Shiba Rikyu Garden and World Trade Center It is interesting that both Hama Rikyo and Kyu-Shiba Rikyu are so close together and both are great examples of classic traditional Japanese landscape gardens. Kyu-Shiba Rikyu is on a much smaller scale than Hama-Rikyu but it is still a beautiful little oasis in

During the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 all the buildings in the garden were destroyed and were not rebuilt so it is purely a garden. Although it was small in comparison to the previous garden I visited it was still very enjoyable. The features were beautiful and the paths took you around the garden in a winding and interesting manner.

It was easy to take in many different perspectives with the circular trails, small hills and little islands.

I was hungry at this point and wanted to visit the Tokyo World Trade Center building. It was just a few minutes walk from the garden. The trade center sits above Hamamatsucho Station. It was on my list because of the observation deck on the top floor and in the basement there were lots of restaurants. I started with a coffee and a little treat at the St. Marc Cafe.

After my delicious lunch I took the elevator to the 40th floor and took in the amazing views of the city. They already had it decorated for Christmas. It was not the perfect time of day and it was not really sunny but the view was still beautiful to me. I regret I did not visit it at night as I am sure it was spectacular but I knew I would be visiting Tokyo tower so it was okay.

I enjoyed the Christmas spirit here and the friendly staff. After taking in the view it was at last time to make my way to the Hotel to check in. A few last photos and I was on my way.

]]> (Kevin Frates) Asia Blog Bloggyness Former Shiba Villa Japan Japanese Kyu Shiba Rikyu Kyū Shiba Rikyū Nippon Photo Photography Tokyo, World Trade Center Building Travel 世界貿易センタービル 日本 旧芝離宮 Sat, 20 Dec 2014 14:00:00 GMT
Tokyo - Japan (Day 9 Part 2) Hamarikyu Garden Hamarikyu Gardens (浜離宮恩賜庭園) looked much smaller on the map than what it was up close and personal. It is a brief walk from the Shiodome station maybe about 5-10 minutes. After paying a small entry fee I busted out my trusty D-600 and took my first left turn.

There were some people but it was far from crowded. I remember a family with a young mother and son enjoying finding an insect in the grass. The boy seemed so excited by it and the Mom... well she seemed happy he was happy I am not sure she enjoyed the insect so much herself.

The park is located at the mouth of the Sumida River at Tokyo Bay. The garden features several seawater ponds various paths, and a teahouse built out on a little island. The tradition Japanese garden standing among the skyscrapers of the Shiodome district poses a really interesting contrasting image. You can also catch a view of the Rainbow bridge while walking along the river bank.

While walking around I met a cat at the top of a little hill. As soon as I sat on a bench it came to me. After petting it I decided it was time to head over to Kyu Shiba Rikyu Garden which was a short walk away and on the way to my Hotel.

As I walked away from my little friend though I young couple walked the path and was the next to be greeted by this friendly park ambassador. They seemed a very cute couple and the cat soaked up their attention.

]]> (Kevin Frates) Asia Blog Chuo Ward Hama-rikyu Onshi Teien Hamarikyu Garden Japan Japanese Japanese Garden Nippon Photo Photography Tokyo Travel 日本 浜離宮恩賜庭園 Sat, 13 Dec 2014 14:00:00 GMT
Kyoto to Tokyo - Japan (Day 9 Part 1) Shinkansen and Minato I woke up early and decided to grab a cab. It was time to take the Shinkansen back to Tokyo. As much as I loved the Hana Hotel in Kyoto it was time to head to the Park Prince Hotel in Tokyo.

Kyoto StationKyoto Station

I learned my lesson and booked a reserved seat on the Shinkansen heading back to Tokyo. It was much more relaxing knowing that I had a seat and was able to get my luggage tucked away nicely. While on board I met a really nice older woman. We chatted for a long time and the trip went by very quickly.  I arranged to sit by the Window but sadly could not get a great view of Mount Fuji due to clouds.

I arrived at Tokyo station and grabbed a taxi to go to my Hotel. It was still too early to check in but I wanted to drop off my suitcase. It was a short 10 minute drive from the station to my Hotel. I was promptly greeted and escorted in where they checked my luggage for me. I was more than ready to explore.

O-jizo-sama at Zojo-ji TempleO-jizo-sama at Zojo-ji Temple

The Hotel is located next to Tokyo Tower ad Zojo-ji. I had visited both of these places before but could not wait to go back to both again. The day was still young so I started with Zojo-ji. Zojo-ji is a famous Buddhist temple founded in 1393 but has roots dating back even further to to about the 8th century. There is a large cemetery with rows of stone statues of children which represent unborn children. The statues are called Jizo. Relatives can choose a statue and decorate it with small clothing some also place small toys. The statues are often accompanied by a small gift for Jizo, who is the guardian of unborn children. It is a sad sight to see so many jizo statues.

Zōjō-ji (三縁山増上寺)Zōjō-ji (三縁山増上寺)

Tokyo Tower is an impressive backdrop to the temple. I walked around for about 20 minutes before walking to the subway station and taking the Oedo line to Hama-Rikyo Garden (Hama-Tiryu Teien) in the Chuo ward. It was just a few station away and I read some great things about it.

]]> (Kevin Frates) Asia Blog Japan Japanese Nippon Photo Photography San'en-zan Zōjō-ji Temple Tokyo Travel Zojo-ji 三縁山増上寺 日本 Mon, 08 Dec 2014 05:17:22 GMT
Kyoto - Japan (Day 8 Part 4) Gion and Yasaka Shrine Gion is a very famous historic area of Kyoto well known for being home to Geisha (also known as Geiko) but the draw to Gion is so much more than that alone. Gion has a very unique feel to it that is really hard to describe it is mysterious, lively, fun, naughty but innocent. There is a mix of ancient and modern, tourists and locals crowding the major streets and then there are the countless small streets and even smaller alleys. There is always a feeling that just about anything can happen at any moment here but not in a bad way. There is no feeling of danger just a sense of electricity and wonder.

The main streets are filled with people busy shopping and dining. There are numerous large department stores mixed with many high end smaller stores. If you are a foodie you have found paradise. There are many generations old places to dine intermingled with new modern restaurants.

I did a little shopping but mainly I just walked around Gion. This trip I did not see any Geisha though in prior trips I was able to get a quick glimpse. That did not put a damper on things though. The architecture is wonderful and it is a great place to people watch. Once I exhausted this though I headed towards one of the areas most famous destinations.

Yasaka Shrine is well known in Kyoto and my timing was perfect. In the short time I was there I was able to see a Wedding and enjoy some delicious street food that was being cooked up.

Main Gate at Yasaka Shrine (八坂神社)Main Gate at Yasaka Shrine (八坂神社)

I have bee to the shrine before but it was also a rushed trip. Next trip to Kyoto I must stay longer here!

I honestly wished I had at least 1 more day just to spend in Gion. Next time I will make sure and do this. As I walked back to my hotel on my final night in Kyoto I was physically exhausted but mentally exhilarated. I reflected on the places that I had revisited during this trip and the new places I discovered. I met several interesting and kind people in Kyoto. There really is nowhere on earth quite like Kyoto!

Exploring the streets of Gion, KyotoExploring the streets of Gion, Kyoto


]]> (Kevin Frates) Asia Blog Gion Gion Shrine Gion-jinja Japan Japanese Kyoto Nippon Photo Photography Shinto Travel Yasaka Shrine Yasaka-jinja ぎおん 京都 八坂神社 日本 祇園 祇園神社 Thu, 20 Nov 2014 01:08:25 GMT
Kyoto - Japan (Day 8 Part 3) Kyoto station and area Well after spending most of the morning and early afternoon at Temples and Shrines I felt it was time for a change of pace. Kyoto station is a great destination of its own.

Not only is Kyoto station a major railway and transportation hub but it is home a shopping mall, hotel, movie theater, and a department store. It is one of the largest buildings in Japan. Walking into Kyoto station after a long day of visiting ancient buildings and gardens almost feels like you are walking into the future. The architecture and busy feel are really a change of pace.

First thing I did was buy a Manneken Belgium Waffle and some tea and started making my way up a series of escalators to reach the observation level. The observation level is an open air roof area on the top of the building. Along the way of course I stopped for a few photo opportunities.

The observation deck is like a park. Several people were there enjoying the fresh air and trees while sitting on park benches. You can see most all of Kyoto from there including Kyoto Tower which is just a short distance away. There was a young mom playing with her kid, some young lovers and some seniors scattered around. It was very peaceful and the weather was beautiful.

Kyoto Tower (京都タワー)Kyoto Tower (京都タワー)

I did a little shopping in the department store and walked around for a while. I decided to have lunch at an Italian restaurant there. It was really popular. I ended up being seated next to a group of schoolgirls. I was amazed how much food they ordered the entire table was loaded with dishes but they finished it all.


After my visit to the station I walked across the street to Yodabashi the land of electronics. No matter how many times I go to Yodabashi I am always blown away by the incredible amount of electronics they have. It is nearly endless. I picked up an extra memory card and then walked around central Kyoto for a while learning the streets and checking out interesting shops as I walked around.

After wearing out my feet I headed back to my hotel room for a bit of a rest.

]]> (Kevin Frates) Asia Blog Bloggyness Japan Japanese Kyoto Kyoto Station Kyoto Tower Kyoto-Yodabashi Kyoto-eki Nippon Photo Photography Travel Yodabashi 京都駅 日本 Sat, 04 Oct 2014 14:00:00 GMT
Kyoto - Japan (Day 8 Part 2) Tofuku-ji (東福寺) Tofuku-ji is one of the best places if not the best place in Kyoto to view Autumn leaves. I visited several years ago in Spring and had found it to be beautiful in that season as well with all the lush green Japanese maple trees (momiji). It was a very short ride from Fushimi Inari Station to Tofukuji station and not a long walk from the station to the shrine.

During my walk from the station I found a school with some really fun statues out front and could not resist taking some pictures.

I pretty much just followed the heard of people. Tsuten-kyo bridge was the first part of the temple that I noticed as I approached. There were a lot of people posing for photos and admiring the wonderful timeless architecture of the bridge. It was one of the things that stood out in my mind most from my previous trip as well. The wooden bridge really has such style.

I am not sure what it was but I felt a little disoriented walking around Tofuku-ji. I just sort of meandered around in no particular direction. I am pretty sure that I missed a lot which is a shame but what I did see was really outstanding. Though Tsuten-kyo is my favorite part of Tofuku-ji the zen garden Kaizando Hall is also just beautiful. This area is a must see. I sat there about 15 minutes just soaking in the atmosphere.

There are a number of paths that take you around the complex and bring you amongst the momiji trees. The air was just so clean and fresh smelling I really felt energized as I took my time walking the pathways.

After walking around I headed back to the same station. On the way I saw a sign for another small temple so I popped in. There was nobody else there. The garden was really lovely. I felt I found a little hidden treasure.


After taking a few photos and enjoying the peaceful area I headed onto my next destination Kyoto Station.

]]> (Kevin Frates) Asia Blog Bloggyness Japan Japanese Kyoto Nippon Photo Photography Tofuku-ji Travel 日本 東福寺 Sat, 27 Sep 2014 14:00:00 GMT
Kyoto - Japan (Day 8 Part 1) Fushimi Inari Shrine (伏見稲荷大社) If you asked me what my favorite shine is I would probably have to say Fushimi Inari Taisha. I love fox's and this shrine is full of them. Fox in Japanese is called Kitsune (狐). They are pretty common in Japanese folklore and often known to be wise and able to take human form but in this context related to the Shinto shrines they are seen as messengers to Inari a Shinto Kami or Spirit. They are also a kind of Guardian at shrine entrances as well.

Kitsune - The GuardianKitsune - The Guardian

Getting there was pretty easy it is a very short walk from the Keihan Fushimi-Inari Station which is also decorated with foxes. The streets were very empty in the early morning. Lucky for me the shrine is opne 24/7 so my early start was no problem. As I walked the few short blocks to the shrine I noted a couple places to visit upon my return.

Though I love foxes that is not the only reason I love Fushimi Inari Taisha. There are literally thousands of beautiful Torii (鳥居)! Torii are a traditional Japanese gate marking a symbolic transition into the sacred world. There are numerous styles made from a variety of materials. The torii at this shrine have mostly been donated by people who have enjoyed great success in business.

The shrine complex is huge and is said to have as many as 32,000 sub-shrines within it!! After walking around for several hours and not seeing close to everything I can believe that figure.

As I was walking around I found that there are numerous cats that live in the shrine. They were very curious and playful. I know I saw at least a dozen different cats and suspect there are many more that live on the Mountain.


I noticed people were mostly in clusters. I could walk 5-10 minutes and not see anyone then run into large groups of people all at once. I had such a blast exploring I almost did not want to go but I still had more places I wanted to visit and I was ready for breakfast. I ate at a small cafe near the station. It was really yummy and it had a very locals kind of atmosphere. The shop workers chatted with the people at the counters quite a bit and they had both Japanese and English menus. I felt very refreshed after my time in the wonderful small cafe.

Breakfast with a smileBreakfast with a smile

To see more photo's of Fushimi Inari Taisha please visit my collection here:

]]> (Kevin Frates) Asia Blog Bloggyness Fushimi Inari Shrine Fushimi Inari Taisha" Shinto, Japan, Japanese, Kyoto, Nippon, Photo, Photography, Travel, 伏見稲荷大社, 日本, Torii, Komainu, Kitsune, Fox, Statue, 狐, 伏見区, Fushimi-ku, Fushimi, 稲荷神社, "Inari Jinja" Sat, 20 Sep 2014 14:00:00 GMT
Kyoto - Japan (Day 7 Part 7) Nishiki Market AKA Kyoto's Kitchen It was a very long and busy day walking around Kyoto but visions of Nishiki market were dancing in my head. Nishiki market is one of those can't miss places if you are spending any notable amount of time in Kyoto. The sites, sounds and aromas of the place are beyond tantalizing even if you are not foodie. I am clearly not a foodie myself but I love this 5 block long shopping street full of small food shops none the less.

Nishiki Ichiba has an long history which adds to the appeal at least for me. The market can trace its roots back to the year 1310! Coming from a city founded in the late 1800's that is really impressive for me. Nishiki market has a really interesting mix of both locals and tourists all sharing the joy of its culinary delights. This place is known as Kyoto's Kitchen for a reason.

Nishiki MarketNishiki Market

I went extra hungry which was great because there are many free samples to try things out (though I am a picky eater so I passed on several that others would surely enjoy). I walked from one end to the other to scope things out and then walked back again sampling and buying.

There are some stores selling medicine or clothing but most places sell food ranging from produce to pickled goods or fish and meat. You can also find a couple of places to order prepared meals or drinks as well.

The street can get very crowded around the most popular vendors so it can take time to wander around. Taking photo's slowed my personal progress a lot as well so it was nearly closing time before I finished looking at everything. I decided to just bring things back to my hotel room to enjoy. I did not have a microwave or anything so I just bought things I could eat fresh without preparation.

]]> (Kevin Frates) Alley Asia Blog Bloggyness Food Japan Japanese Kyoto Kyoto's Kitchen Locals Market Nippon Nishiki Ichiba Nishiki Market Photo Photography Shopping Street Tourist Travel 日本 錦市場 Sat, 13 Sep 2014 14:00:00 GMT
Kyoto - Japan (Day 7 Part 6) Kiyomizu-dera and Jishu-Jinja When asking Kyoto locals about the best places to visit in Kyoto Kiyomizu-dera was always among the top of the recommendations and for good reason. I have visited 4 times myself because of the great location, view, atmosphere and history. It is always very busy and I don't know of many tours that it is not the main feature of in Kyoto.  

Deva Gate and Pagoda at Kiyomizu-deraDeva Gate and Pagoda at Kiyomizu-dera

Kiyomizu-dera is located on Otawa Mountain and was founded in the year 778 making it well over 1200 years old! It is also a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site and the Main Hall is a National Treasure of Japan. One of the most famous features is the huge deck (also known as the stage) in front of the Hondo (Main Hall) which is supported by wooden beams that are roughly 40 feet up from the ground below. The views are sensational!

UNESCO World Heritage Site - Kiyomizudera, KyotoUNESCO World Heritage Site - Kiyomizudera, Kyoto

I walked up through the colorful Deva Gate and wandered around the Bell Tower and past the three storied Pagoda before heading into Kaizan-do hall and the Hondo or Main hall area. It was very very busy this trip. More crowded than any of the previous time I had visited but I kind of enjoyed the different pace from some of the quieter temples and shrines I had been to.

Visitors to KiyomizuderaVisitors to Kiyomizudera

I was asked many times to take group pictures for people. I gladly did it. I wanted to take a good photo for them to keep as a souvenir of their time there. Once I made it to the main deck I had a challenge getting to the edge to see the view. It was a little bit hazy but still beautiful.

Kyoto view from KiyomizuderaKyoto view from Kiyomizudera

It is kind of unusual but there is a Shrine kind of in the middle of this temple. Once you walk past the Deck/Stage and the Main hall it is on your left up some stone stairs. It is called Jishu-jinja and it is a kind of match makers shrine extremely popular with young girls and people seeking their match. This is seriously a fun and lively shrine.

Jishu-Jinja - Matchmaking Shrine, KyotoJishu-Jinja - Matchmaking Shrine, Kyoto

One of the most popular things at Jishu Jinja is the love stones. Two stones are decorated and placed about 20 feet apart, If you can walk between them from one stone to the next with your eyes closed it is said you will find true love. I also understand that you can be assisted in the crossing, but this is means that a go-between will be needed for success in finding love. While I was there I saw several young girls succeed at making the journey between the stones.

The love stone challengeThe love stone challenge

In addition to the love stones there are tons of other attractions built within this small shrine various talismans, incense, and omikuji (paper fortunes). It is a wonderful place to people watch.

The reading of Omikuji (御御籤)The reading of Omikuji (御御籤)

Headed back down the and going back to Kiyomizu-dera territory I walked passed Okuno-in hall which gives you a wonderful view of the city and of the main deck of Kiyomizudera. After a few photos I walked down the windy trail to the base of the temple complex where Otawa Waterfall is located. This is another highlight of the area. There is often a long line to drink the pure water that comes from the fall. In fact that is what the name Kiyomizudera is Pure water temple. It is said that the water has wish granting abilities. Simply use one of the ladles that have a very long handle and reach out to catch the water from one of the three steams.

Drinking from Otowa-no-takiDrinking from Otowa-no-taki

I stayed a long time taking pictures and people soaking in the atmosphere but it was time to get back to my hotel. The thought of walking back was not very appealing so I grabbed a taxi and relaxed in comfort giving my tire legs a break after another busy day.


]]> (Kevin Frates) Asia Blog Bloggyness Japan Japanese Jishu-jinja Kiyomizu-dera Kyoto Nippon Otowa-san Kiyomizu-dera Photo Photography Shrine Temple Travel UNESCO World Heritage Site 日本 清水寺 音羽山清水寺 Sat, 06 Sep 2014 14:00:00 GMT
Kyoto - Japan (Day 7 Part 5) Ninen-Zaka and Sannen-zaka One of my favorite areas of Kyoto for people watching and exploring is the area of Ninen-zaka and Sannen-zaka. They are a pair of sloped lanes that are between Kodai-ji and Kiyomizu-dera.

Walking along Yasaka-doriWalking along Yasaka-dori

The streets are home to beautifully restored traditional shops and have a lively atmosphere. A couple more things that I love about this area is that Ninen-zaka and Sannen-zaka are pedestrian use only and have no overhead power lines which help make it among the most atmospheric places in Kyoto.

Sannen-zaka AKA Sainen-zakaSannen-zaka AKA Sainen-zaka

It feels almost like you are being transported back in time. There are lots of restaurants and teahouses as well as other goods for sale so it is really a nice area to explore. I took my time here soaking in the atmosphere.

Inoda CoffeeInoda Coffee

One of my favorite coffee places is located in this area and I built up a bit of thirst so it was time to pop into Inoda Coffee. The store is beautiful and the staff is so friendly. I ordered an iced coffee and some ice-cream as I was hot from lots of walking. I was able to sit near the windows to the beautiful garden that they have. After my coffee break was over I picked up some souvenirs to take back. They have a nice little gift shop near the entrance.

It was now time to head up the stairs to Kiyomizudera. At this time it was extremely crowded as tons of school kids descended on the area in large groups. I held back for a while but it seemed there was no end to the group so I just went along with the flow. Once you reach the top of Sannen-zaka and head left up the Mountain you enter another busy street lined with tons of great shops called kiyomizu-michi and also there is Matsubara-dori both leading to Kiyomizu-dera.

Looking backLooking back

I think half of the fun of going to Kiyomizu-dera is exploring this area of Higshiyama, eating delicious food and soaking in the vibe.

To see more pictures of Nininen-zaka and Sannen-zaka checkout my complete Kyoto set:


]]> (Kevin Frates) Asia Blog Bloggyness Dori Japan Japanese Kiyomizu-michi Kyoto Ninen-zaka Nippon Photo Photography Sannen-zaka Street Travel 二念坂 日本 清水道 産寧坂 Sat, 30 Aug 2014 14:00:00 GMT