A really long due post! =)
A glimpse of the short trip to Japan this March. I was there to attend ACM TEI 2017. TEI is one of ACM’s International HCI (Human Computer Interaction) Conferences and showcases the latest findings in Tangible, Embedded and Embodied Interactions. It is a single-track, relatively smaller HCI conference.
TEI 2017 was the 11th edition of the conference and was held for the first time in Asia. Keio University’s Media Design school was the host for the event and their campus is in Hiyoshi, Yokohama.
I landed at Tokyo and headed to Yokohama. It was a jam packed week at the conference. It was my first experience at an International academic conference and we were delighted that our work and demos were well received among the audience.
Yokohama is an industrial city and the view at the port is quite nice.
Post the conference, I headed to Kamakura, a close by city. Kamakura is an ancient city and was the capital of Japan from 1185 to 1333. It is home to some famous shrines and temples, nice market area and a relaxing beach.
Tsurugaoka Hachimangu’s Shrine
This is the most important shrine in the town, I was told at the tourist information centre. The shrine is dedicated to Hachiman, the guardian deity of warriors. At the entrance of any shrine is a temizuya (water purification basin) where people wash their hands and mouth before entering the shrine. The praying ritual at a shrine is 2 bows followed by 2 claps followed by 1 bow.
The architecture in Japan catches the eye immediately for its unique structures and combination of colors.
Daibutsu (“Great Buddha“)
Next morning, I visited Kōtoku-in, the Buddhist temple where a 13.35 m Bronze statue of Buddha dating back to 1252 AD is installed. Kamakura is small and one can easily walk across the city. Also there’s a nice market area all across buzzing with lots of tourists.
The temple itself is quite nice and peaceful. I was there just at the onset of Spring and a variety of cherry blossoms had started to bloom in the temple gardens and was catching everyone’s attention.
The statue is an engineering marvel of older times. Due to its huge size, the structure was cast in multiple parts and a unique technique (‘ikarakuri’) was employed to lock all the parts together.
Even though the statue itself has withstood severe natural calamities over the centuries without being damaged, the effects of pollution due to increased economic activities in the recent times, resulting in acid rain in the region, are constantly damaging it. [Isn’t it high time to start to save our planet?]
After Kōtoku-in, I visited another Buddhist temple in Kamakura which houses a massive statue of Kannon (a form of East Asian Boddhisattva). Legends say that a monk commissioned two sculptors to carve two statues of Kannon from the bark of a large camphor tree. One of the statues was enshrined at Hasedera Temple in Nara and the other statue was put in the sea with the hope that someday it would come back to the land to save humanity from their sufferings. After 15 years the statue washed ashore near Nagai beach, not too far from Kamakura and a temple dedicated to the statue was built.
Prayer halls for several other deities are in the premises, including Amida-do Hall, Jizo-do Hall, Daikoku-do Hall and Benten-do Hall. Daikokuten or Daikoku is widely known in Japan as the happy-looking god of wealth, farmers, food, and good fortune, although in earlier centuries he was considered a fierce warrior deity . Benzaiten (Benten) is the goddess of everything that flows: water, time, words, speech, eloquence, music and by extension, knowledge. 
The temple also houses other deities including Ryouen Jizo idols. My friend Nao says that these gods pray for good relationship between people. Jizo are also the guardian deity of children.
One of the nice things about Buddhist temples is availability of purely vegetarian food and I had a really really nice vegetable bun at Hasedera temple. =)
KAWAGUCHIKO, Mt. FUJI
From Kamakura, I headed to Mt. Fuji. Even though its close by, there is no direct connection from Kamakura to Fuji and I had to go via Tokyo.
Mt. Fuji is the highest mountain in Japan and stands 3776 m tall. It is surrounded by 5 lakes: Kawaguchi, Yamanaka, Sai, Motosu and Shōji. Fujikawaguchiko is a town surrounding Lake Kawaguchi and I reached there via 3 trains (Kamakura -> Shinjuku -> Otsuki -> Fujikawaguchiko). I reached there pretty late and it was snowing. However, as soon as I walked to my hostel, I was delighted to find that it was so nice and clean and full of backpackers from all over the world. Folks had come to ski, to climb Fuji, with all their gear. [I would highly recommend the stay to anyone visiting Fujikawaguchiko]
The next morning, although we were on the foothills of Fuji, we couldn’t see it as it was snowing heavily since night. Since I was missing snow since my Germany days I was happy to experience such weather again.
I went up to get a view of the place in a cable car, saw a Kimono musuem, roamed a bit around the lake and got back to the hostel by evening. The kimono museum displays magnificent kimonos made by artist Itchiku Kubota. The current exhibit’s theme was ‘Riot of cherry blossoms’. Itchiku Kubota was a textile artist who spent his whole life in reviving an ancient textile-dyeing and decorating technique called ‘tsujigahana‘. Each of the displays were splendid. The gallery has beautiful gardens and a waterfall and a very unique entrance.
Saiko Iyashi no sato NENBA
Next morning I visited Nenba Village. This area on the north west of Lake Saiko had been a settlement with thatched houses until a typhoon in 1966 hit the area and devastated the village. After more than 40 years, the earlier scenic thatched houses were revived with each house now displaying a certain craft of the region for tourists to see and experience.
And by afternoon, the sky finally cleared and we saw Mt. Fuji in all her glory. 🙂
I returned to Tokyo from Mt. Fuji only a few hours before I had to leave. I went to Akihabara and saw the huge electronics stores where you can buy any electronics you could possibly think of. More of Tokyo in some other trip. This was surely the first of many trips to come to experience Japan to the fullest!
So to the seamless blend of culture and technology, cherry blossoms, matcha, unique food, beautiful architecture, cute market places.. and so much more!
HONGKONG (in transit)
On the way back home, I was in Hongkong for a day. I visited Po Lin monastery at Lantau Island.