Kasai Rinkai Park

There’s a lot more to Tokyo parks than just Yoyogi and Shinjuku-gyoen. Kasai Rinkai Koen is a seaside park on the edge of Tokyo Bay between Odaiba and Tokyo Disneyland. It’s the largest park in central Tokyo, and is home to an excellent bird sanctuary. There’s also an aquarium, acres and acres of grounds to stroll in, and a huge field of poppies that blooms around Golden Week.

Getting there:

From Tokyo Station, take the Keiyou (not the Keio) Line to Kasai Rinkai Koen Station. It takes about 15 minutes and costs 210 yen. The park is just a one-minute walk from the station.

Tel. (03) 5696-1331

Website: http://www.tokyo-park.or.jp/park/format/index026.html (In Japanese only)

Boso no Mura Folk Village

The Boso no mura is a fantastic blend of history, nature, and beautiful architecture in Chiba, near Narita Airport. It doesn’t seem to get many visitors, which is really a shame because it’s a really worthwhile tourist spot – very educational, entertaining, and great for photography.

The main attraction is this re-created samurai town. The buildings are amazing, and inside there are people demonstrating traditional crafts. Depending on the day and time, there’s Ukiyoe printmaking, blacksmithing, bamboo crafts, straw crafts, ceramic art, weaving, etc. You can even try your hand at things like making pottery or children’s toys. You can see photos of all the buildings on this page, but it’s in Japanese only.

There’s also an old farm that is actually under cultivation. Here are more details, again, in Japanese only, but with lots of photos.

This Jomon Period history museum is really well-done, and has some very interesting displays. In the back, they have Jomon Period houses, and a lonely-looking old man came and talked my ear off for 15 minutes about Jomon house-building techniques.

I only had to wait about 30 seconds to get this photo of the main street of the town with no people walking through it.

You can try on samurai armor for free too.

The admission fee is only 300 yen.

The problem is that it’s kind of difficult to get to. You have to head all the way out to Narita Station and then take a bus for 20 minutes.

Website in English: http://www.chiba-muse.or.jp/MURA/e/index.html

Location: 1028 Ryukakuji, Sakae-machi, Imba-gun, Chiba Prefecture, 270-1506, Japan.
Phone +81-476-95-3333

Much more detailed website in Japanese: http://www.chiba-muse.or.jp/MURA/index.html

From Ueno Station, take the Joban Line and get off at Abiko. From there, take the Narita Line to either Narita or Ajiki Station. It’s about one hour to both stations, and costs 890 yen. You can also take the Keisei Line to Narita, which is only 810 yen and requires no transfer.

From Narita Station, go out the West Exit to the taxi stand. Take the bus bound for Ryuukaku-ji Shako (Japanese: 竜角寺台車庫). It takes about 20 minutes costs 390 yen.

From Ajiki Station, take the bus for Ryuukaku-ji Shako (Japanese: 竜角寺台車庫). It’s eight minutes, and the bus costs 210 yen.

Here is the bus schedule from Narita: 8:25, 8:47, 9:10, ※9:40, 10:10, 13:08, 13:38, 14:12, ※10:40, 11:38, 12:10, 12:38, 14:50, 15:15, 15:40, 16:15
※Weekend buses from Apr. to Nov.

Here is the bus schedule from Ajiki: 8:13, 8:56, 10:02, 12:31, 13:21, 14:21, 15:21, 16:30, 16:54, 17:43

The last bus back is at 18:57 from Ajiki and 15:39 from Narita. Call 0476-95-3333 for more bus information.

Ueno Lotuses

I don’t usually recommend Ueno as a tourist destination (the zoo is just cruel, the museums are stodgy, Ameyoko-cho is charmless, and the park is ugly), but at the end of July and early-August when the lotuses are in bloom, the Shinobazu Pond in the lower section of the park is actually quite nice.
The lotuses will probably be in full-bloom after the 20th or so, and it’s best to go around 10 o’clock in the morning when they’re fully open.

The Tokyo Port Wild Bird Park

Last summer I was really excited to find the Gyotoku Yachou Kansatsusha, a great bird sanctuary just 30 minutes on the subway from downtown Tokyo. Its really interesting, but the Tokyo Port Wild Bird Park is even more convenient and enjoyable.

Surprisingly, it’s right by Haneda Airport, but the birds don’t seem to mind all the planes at all. It’s a wonderful escape from the crowds and noise of Tokyo.

To be honest, I have no idea what kind of birds I was seeing, but they were really amazing and I spent hours photographing and enjoying their beauty.

If you go down to the basement of the visitor’s center, there’s a mud flat with hundreds of crabs and mudskippers.

The reason this park is better than Gyotoku is that you can get a little closer to the birds and have a bit more freedom to go where you want.

As with Gyotoku, there are lots of telescopes you can look through, but if you want to take photos you’ll probably want to have at least a 200-300 mm lens.

Admission is just 300 yen.

There’s a good article with more information at:
http://metropolis.co.jp/travel/travel-features/tokyo-port-wild-bird-park/

The official website is in Japanese only:
http://park15.wakwak.com/~tokyoko/index.html
Open:
09:00-17:00 (Feb.-Oct.)
09:00-16:30 (Nov.-Jan.)
Closed:  Monday (Tues. if Mon. is a holiday), New Year holidays
Admission]:

Private Group (20 or more)
Adults (high school and above) 300 240
Over 65 150 120
Jr. high school 150 120
Elementary school free free

Monorail: Take the Tokyo Monorail to Ryutsu Center Station and walk 15 minutes. (Warning, airport express trains [Kukou Kaisoku] do not stop at this station.) Go out of the exit and you’ll find yourself on a big street called Kannana-dori. Turn right on this street, and walk straight,  crossing a river, and highway #357. The wild bird park is a few minutes walk past the highway on the right side. It’s about 15 minutes on foot.

Tel:03-3799-5031/FAX:03-3799-5032

Cherry Blossoms vs. Plum Blossoms

Yesterday I realized that despite having lived more than 15 years in Japan, I can’t tell the difference between a plum blossom and a cherry blossom. Even more shockingly, my Japanese wife, and many other Japanese people can’t either. They both come in a wide variety of colors, and both blossoms have five petals each.

Of course sakura (cherry blossoms) and ume (plum blossoms, or more accurately, Japanese apricot) do bloom at different times, so if you see them in February you know they’re probably plum blossoms, and if you see them in April, they’re probably cherry blossoms. There are some plum blossoms still on the trees now, though, and there were early-blooming cherry trees a few weeks ago, so it’s not always easy, and you often see them misidentified on various websites and blogs.

Anyway, I did some research, and here’s how to tell the difference:

1. Look at the stems. Cherry blossoms are usually connected by a long stem to the branch. Plum blossoms are usually (but not always) stuck right on the branch.**

Cherry blossoms

2. Plum blossoms tend to be round, whereas cherry blossoms are oval, and tend to have a little indentation at the top of the petal.

Plum blossoms.

Cherry blossoms

This is my son Matthew enjoying some early-blooming cherry blossoms called higan zakura in Ueno Park yesterday.

By the way, these photos (except the last one) come from the excellent stock.xchng website, an excellent place to find free photos on the Web.

** Sorry, originally I had posted this photo as an example of cherry blossoms that are off the branch. I have been informed in the comments section, however, that they are actually cherry-plum blossoms. Not all plum blossoms grow on the branch, so you have to be careful.

Susuki

Susuki, or pampas grass is a well-known symbol of fall in Japan, but I took these susuki photos in Nara around New Years.

Thousand-tatami Cliff in Shirahama

The senjojiki (thousand tatami mat cliff) in Shirahama. Shirahama is a popular tourist resort in Wakayama prefecture and these cliffs are a popular tourist attraction. The rock is very soft, and thousands of visitors have carved their names in it.

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