Gaijin on Getas Blog

Hidden Gems

Okunoin Cemetery at Koya-san (Part 1)

Posted on December 21st, 2011 by Mike Roberts

Takeda Shingen

Takeda Shingen

Many people visit Koya-san during the course of the year, primarily to stay overnight at one of the 55 temples offering temple lodging. And of course to tour the many historical and beautiful temples at Koya-san, including Okunoin Temple. The cemetery directly in front of Okunoin Temple is also another large draw at Koya-san. Because the oldest monument in the cemetery was constructed in the year 997, walking along the 2 km path from Ichi-no-hashi bridge to Okunoin Temple is like walking through 1,000 years of Japanese history and culture. Along the path you will find memorials to emperors, shoguns, fuedal lords, actors, singers, writers, poets and even fugu (blowfish) and termites. Having the oppurtunity to explore the cemetery with our Koya-san guide, Kaori Kodama, who has been guiding people around Koya-san for 15 years is a treat. Here are just a few of the more than 200,000 memorials found in the cemetery. (We will write about more later.) Read the full post »

Sengaku-ji Temple and the 47 Ronin

Posted on December 1st, 2011 by Mike Roberts

Ronin Graves

Just one stop from Shinagawa on the Toei Asakusa subway line (Sengakuji Station), Sengaku-ji is one of Tokyo’s most famous temples. Although it isn’t big or particularly impressive, it is charged with history. This is where the 47 Ronin (Ronin are masterless samurai) are buried. The tale of the 47 Ronin is one of Japan’s most celebrated samurai stories, and remains one of the most popular historical stories in Japan. The story of the 47 Ronin has been told and retold in numerous movies, and kabuki and bunraku plays. Today, Hollywood is currently making a movie starring Keanu Reeves retelling the story. The movie is currently scheduled for release in November 2013. The tale has been described by one noted Japanese scholar as the country’s “national legend.” This true story has been popularized in Japanese culture as emblematic of the loyalty, sacrifice, persistence, and honor that all good people should observe in their daily lives. Read the full post »

Byodo-in Temple

Posted on October 28th, 2011 by Mike Roberts

Byodo-in Temple

Byodo-in, initially created as a villa for Fujiwara-no-Michinaga, was converted to a temple by Fujiwara Yorimichi in 1052. The Phoenix Hall was constructed the following year (1053) to enshrine a statue of the Amida Buddha. A National Treasure, it is the only building at the temple dating back to the time of the temple’s establishment. Its graceful appearance conjures up a paradise dreamed of by the Heian aristocracy. The garden, a Pure Land (Jodo)-style borrowed landscape garden, has been designated as a special place of scenic beauty and was a favorite among the aristocracy of the Heian Period. Read the full post »

Musashi Miyamoto in Kyoto

Posted on October 19th, 2011 by Mike Roberts


Musashi Self Portrait

Musashi Self Portrait

Musashi Miyamoto (1584-1645) was Japan’s most famous and most skilled swordsman. It is thought he participated in at least 60 duels and was never defeated. In his book,  ”The Book of Five Rings”, he set down his thoughts on swordplay, on winning and on spirituality. Along with The Art of War by Sun Tzu, The Book of Five Rings has long been regarded as an invaluable treatise on the strategy of winning. Musashi’s timeless advice on defeating an adversary, throwing an opponent off-guard, creating confusion, and other techniques for overpowering an assailant was addressed to the readers of earlier times on the battlefield, and now serves the modern reader in the battle of life. This book is an almost required read by Japanese businessmen, many of whom see themselves as modern-day Samurai waging war in the boardrooms of Japanese companies. He was also the founder of the Niten-ryū (Two Sword Style)  school of swordmanship. In this style two swords are used, one in each hand. He spent the last years of his life as a hermit living in a cave near Kumamoto on the island of Kumamoto, concentrating on his writing, art works and spirituality until his death in 1645. Read the full post »


Posted on October 16th, 2011 by Mike Roberts

Kurama is a rural town in the northern mountains of Kyoto City, less than one hour from the city center. Kurama is best known for its temple Kurama-dera and its hot spring, one of the most easily accessible hot springs from Kyoto.

Kurama Onsen

Kurama Onsen Outdoor Bath

Outdoor and indoor baths can be enjoyed at Kurama Onsen, located at the upper end of the town of Kurama. It can be reached in a 10 minute walk from the train station along the town’s only road or along a nature trail following the river. Guests, who are staying at the ryokan, can use the baths for free, while day-trippers pay 2500 Yen per person to use all of them or 1100 Yen per person to use the outdoor pool (rotemburo) only. Towels are also available for rental. Read the full post »

Iga Ueno

Posted on October 3rd, 2011 by Mike Roberts

Iga Ueno Castle

Located about half-way between Nagoya and Osaka, the city of Iga Ueno is a little hard to get to, but is a perfect day trip from either Osaka or Kyoto. Iga Ueno is most famous for ninja. The Iga school of ninjutsu (art of stealth), based in Ueno City, was at one time one of the two leading ninja schools in Japan during the late 15th and early 16th centuries (the Koga school in the nearby Shiga Prefecture was the other). Today, Iga Ueno attracts visitors with its excellent ninja museum. Iga Ueno is also known as the birthplace of one of Japan’s greatest poets, Basho Matsuo, who lived during the early Edo Period. A memorial museum, his birth home and a former hermitage are some of Ueno’s Basho related attractions. Iga Ueno is also known for the Iga Ueno Castle. Iga Ueno Castle is famous for having the highest stone walls in Japan. These stone walls were selected for use in a scene for the movie “Kagemusha,” directed by the internationally renowned film maker Akira Kurosawa. Read the full post »

Daio Wasabi Farm

Posted on September 22nd, 2011 by Mike Roberts

Daio Wasabi Farm

The Daio Wasabi Farm is located about 32 kilometers north of Matsumoto in the city of Hotaka. The farm, covering 15 hectares, is the largest wasabi farm in Japan. Established in 1915, the natural water springs fed by melting snow from the surrounding mountains enable the farm to produce 150 tons of wasabi annually. Its beautiful watermills alongside the clear river running through the farm and views of the surrounding Japan Alps make it a popular tourist spot with the Japanese. The farm is also famous for its appearance in the 1990 film “Dreams” by the world-famous film director Akira Kurosawa. The watermills and river appear in the segment called “Village of the Watermills”. These watermills still remain today, and can be best viewed by taking one of the special raft tours available during the spring and summer months. Read the full post »

Kamigamo Shrine – Kyoto

Posted on September 7th, 2011 by Mike Roberts

Kamigamo Shrine

Kamigamo Jinja lies up against the northern hills, in a quiet residential area of Kyoto, and is therefore often less-crowded than shrines in the city centre, though no less impressive. The shrine is a designated UNESCO World Heritage site, and most of the shrine buildings are classified as Important Cultural Properties. The shrine was established in the 7th Century, a hundred years before Kyoto was founded.

When the Imperial capital moved to Heiankyo (present day Kyoto) the Kamigamo Shrine, along with its sister shrine Shimogamo Shrine, enjoyed imperial patronage and support that has continued to the present. Read the full post »


Posted on August 13th, 2011 by Mike Roberts

Kintaikyo Bridge

Kintaikyo Bridge

Naturally, when people visit Hiroshima, the first item on everyone’s list is the Peace Museum and Park. Then, many people might think about visiting Miyajima Island. But very few people consider visiting Iwakuni. Iwakuni is located just a short 15 minute ride from Hiroshima by Shinkansen to the Shin-Iwakuni train station, or a 40 minute train ride from Hiroshima on the JR Sanyo line to the Iwakuni station. Each station is only a short 15-20 minute bus ride from the major sights in Iwakuni.

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Kappabashi – Tokyo’s Restaurant Supplier or “So That’s Where All those Plastic Food Models Come From”

Posted on August 11th, 2011 by Mike Roberts

Entrance to Kappabashi

Entrance to Kappabashi

Located only a short 15 minute walk from the busy Kaminari-mon gate, one of Tokyo’s most popular tourist destinations, is the sleepy Kappabashi, a concentrated area of wholesale restaurant suppliers. If you are planning to start a restaurant in Tokyo, this is the place to go. Everything you need to start, furnish and operate a restaurant is here in this area. Even if you’re just a frustrated, amateur cook looking to add Japanese cooking utensils to your arsenal, if you are just looking for a different souvenir for someone at home or if you are just looking for inexpensive ceramics and porcelain, then this is the place for you.

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