Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Brink looks good but can't rekindle my passion for Hong Kong movies (film review)

The first Hong Kong movie I've viewed in months

The Brink (Hong Kong-Mainland China, 2017)
- Jonathan Li, director
- Starring: Max Zhang Jin, Shawn Yue, Wu Yue, Gordon Lam Ka Tung, Janice Man

Not so long ago, I'd get excited by the thought of a new Hong Kong movie opening in cinemas.  Heck, there was even a time when I'd regularly watch more Hong Kong films -- new as well as old -- than non-Hong Kong ones; and actually one year -- early on in my rediscovery of Hong Kong cinema -- that my cinematic consumption was restricted to the output of what was then the third largest film industry in the world!

In recent months though, my movie diet has been more likely to involve old Japanese movies (including Akira Kurosawa's amazing The Hidden Fortress and Setsuko Hara star vehicle The Ball at the Anjo House) and contemporary Hollywood offerings (among them, the very watchable The Big Sick).  In all honesty, the negative experience of viewing Paradox back in August actually put me off wanting to watch a new Hong Kong movie for a while.  And, in the end, I only got to deciding to check out The Brink because two friends had told me they thought it was markedly better than John Woo's latest film, Manhunt, which opened on the same day as this debut directorial offering from Jonathan Li.

Starring wushu athlete turned actor Max Zhang Jin (who previously caught the eye in supporting roles in the likes of Ip Man 3 and SPL II) as Sai Gau, a cop who employs highly unorthodox -- and violent -- ways to generally get his man, The Brink is a crime actioner that's heavy on the action and visual style but lightweight and suspect on the storytelling front.  Like its moody blue-tinted poster suggests, the focus is on atmospheric and aesthetic flourishes more so than actual plot and character development; with Sai Gau's rebellious nature visually spelt out via his having bleach-blonde hair that his superior officer (Gordon Lam Ka Tung) characterizes as more appropriate for a bad boy gangster than someone charged with upholding the law.   

Rivalling the movie's nominal hero for visual distinctiveness is Jiang Gui Cheng, a wild-haired fisherman turned gold smuggler who's essayed with large amounts of sullenness along with menace by Shawn Yue.  After his boss-mentor (Tai Bo) decides in favor of his son (Derek Tsang) taking over as head of the business rather than his much more capable number two, Jiang turns on the two and attracts the attention of Sai Gau, who gets to belatedly realizing that he may have bitten off more than he can chew by going after this villain with a distinctly ruthless streak with just the help of his much put-upon partner, A-de (Wu Yue).      

The increasingly rare Hong Kong-Mainland Chinese co-production that doesn't have a single scene which takes place in Mainland China, The Brink is to be applauded too for eschewing the usual settings in such as Central and Kwun Tong (the latter of which has become home to many film company offices in recent years) in favor of other, visually interesting locales.  Something else that's actually pretty innovative is its having a number of scenes that take place by, on and in the water -- which, when you come to think of it, makes real sense since Hong Kong does have miles and miles of coastline, hundreds of islands and jurisdiction over a not insubstantial amount of marine area.

In their enthusiasm to feature underwater action in the film, however, the makers of The Brink actually made what could have been pretty cool sequences feel over long and consequently seem less special.  Similarly, in over-emphasizing Sai Gau's dogged nature and Jiang's ruthlessness, these two potentially cool leading characters became too unlikeable for the viewer(s) to care for.   

Considering how much screentime Max Zhang and Shawn Yue get to shine in this movie, I honestly expected more and better from two actors who have shown in other works that they can be charismatic as well as generate far more empathy for their characters than was the case in The Brink.  Fans of Janice Man and Yasuaki Kurata will be even more disappointed, since their parts are pretty superfluous as well as distinctly one-dimensional, and serve very little purpose beyond adding unneccesary complications to the plot rather than actual substantial layers to the story.
My rating for this film: 6.0   

Monday, November 27, 2017

Hong Kong sky watch

Earlier this month, the sky was often so bright blue
that it looked almost unnaturally so!
These days though, it's more cloudy gray
but still eye-catching in its own way 
Many years ago, when I was still living in Philadelphia, I watched an enchanting Hong Kong movie called Chungking Express that brought to my attention the existence of such as the Central-Mid-Levels Escalator (or Travelor), whose very concept I had trouble wrapping my head around until I came over to the Big Lychee and rode on it.  Something else that struck me at the time as rather odd in the film was how quickly the clouds moved in a section of the cinematic offering where the camera had been trained upwards to showcase the sky along with buildings on whose tops appeared to be covered with various antennae and wires. 
Disinclined to think too much about the whys and wherefores of it, I just got to assuming that that section of film had been speeded up for artistic purposes.  And it was only after I moved to Hong Kong that I got to realizing that there really are days when the clouds do move pretty fast in the sky here in the part of the world whose local term for big winds (i.e., the Cantonese tai fung) has contributed the area's tropical cyclones being known as "typhoon".
Since moving to Hong Kong, I also find myself looking up at the sky far more than I fancy that I used to do so.  During many a hot summer's day, I tell myself to focus on how beautifully bright blue -- and cloudless -- the sky can be.  When part of me gets upset at how hellishly uncomfortable the heat can make one feel from as early as mid May and as late as mid October, I try to console myself by enjoying how brilliantly blue the sky above me is as well as how far one can clearly see during those times of the year when the winds blow in from the south.      
Sadly, when the temperatures drop to comfortable levels -- usually around late October -- is when the skies tend to turn considerably grayer as well as more cloudy, and there is a noticeable drop in the visibility levels.  But whereas gray skies and days can get me down if they are around for an extended period of time, there also are occasions when I fancy that they actually look beautiful in their own right, and even pleasantly dreamy.  
Take a recent afternoon when I was up on 546-meter-high Kwun Yam Shan, at the Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden. Yes, there were bits of blue in the sky but the predominant color was gray.  Yet I found the sky to be pretty spectacular looking, thanks to the many clouds floating about in it that threatened to block out much of the sun's light -- though it's also true enough that what sun rays that were let through really did help to brighten up things in a very visually pleasant way.  And yes, at times like that, you can't help but think that nature can be so very beautiful -- and that so much actually is still right with the world after all. ;b

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Interesting critters (including those of the human variety!) spotted while out hiking in Hong Kong (Photo-essay)

Unlike many a Sundays when I'm here in the Big Lychee, I didn't go out hiking today.  Instead, I actually ended up sleeping a good part of the afternoon away as it turns out that yesterday's beach clean-up on Cheung Chau -- and the associated hikes to and out of Tung Wan Tsai (Coral Beach) -- took more out of me than I realized was the case!

So here's going back into my photo archive to share images from a couple of hikes that I went on some time back: one up in the northern New Territories; and another down in the southeastern section of Hong Kong Island.  Since both involved going along trails I'd been on more than once before, I focused less on taking landscape shots and more on a variety of interesting critters I encountered along the way -- and yes, I include some of my fellow humans in the latter category! ;b

I often see bees and wasps getting attracted to flowers 
but less so ants like the solitary red one in the above picture...
In recent years, the monkeys -- that actually are not native to 
Hong Kong! -- have extended their considerable range to Tai Po Kau
A rare toad spotting in Hong Kong for me!  
Hairy caterpillar on a thin tree branch on Tai Tau Chau
 In the nearby waters, I spotted a swimmer complete with snorkel and 
wet suit that got me initially mistaking him for a dolphin or porpoise!
 Further out at sea, sailing enthusiasts 
took advantage of the blowing breeze
 That same afternoon appeared to be an ideal time for 
rock climbing as far as a number of folks were concerned!
And even though the waves were far from big over at Big Wave Bay,
there still were surfers out in the water under the lifeguard's gaze ;b

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Post Cheung Chau beach clean-up musings

Just a small percentage of the trash on Cheung Chau's
Beach clean-up in progress
 Still trash strewn but actually less so than a few hours previously!
I (still) like Cheung Chau a lot.  This even though, these days, I tend to associate it more with dirty beaches in need in tender loving care than the idyllic walks or hikes amidst photogenic scenery and seafood lunches that I've enjoyed in the past there but actually haven't been to the island for in a while.  
Instead, when I've been over to Cheung Chau these last couple of years, it's been to take part in beach clean-ups: once at Pak Tso Wan (AKA Italian Beach) down on the southwest section of the island but mainly at the even more out-of-the-way Tung Wan Tsai (AKA Coral Beach) over on the northeast section of Cheung Chau.  The one time that we held the beach clean-up at Pak Tso Wan, I had the surreal experience of seeing people opting to frolic about in its waters while the group I was with focused on picking up the trash that had been strewn about on the beach.  
Alternatively, I've never seen anyone going for a swim in the waters of Tung Wan Tsai.  I'd like to think that it's because anyone would find the large amounts of trash on its beach to be disturbingly off-putting.  But, if truth be told, I think it's more likely so that this particular beach really is off the beaten path for residents of, and visitors to, the island alike; this not least since getting there (and out of there) requires a bit of a hike up and down a small but steep hill.    
As I've pointed out to more than one person, Tung Wan Tsai's off-the-beaten-path location also makes it far more likely that the trash we see on its beach has been washed ashore rather than was dumped there by island residents.  And, actually, the type of rubbish strewn on its beaches also does strongly indicate that it's marine debris brought there by the currents -- and from as far away as Mainland Chinese waters (since quite a lot of the plastic waste, which includes cigarette lighters along with food containers, have Simplified Chinese writing on them and identifying marks that quite clearly indicate the product's origins having been Shenzhen).
This is not to say though that Hong Kongers can be totally let off the hook when it comes to polluting the waters and, associatedly, the beaches too.  And, strangely to my mind, it seems that one of those groups who would seem to stand to lose the most from Hong Kong's waters being badly polluted may well be among its worst polluters.  
For the record: I'm not making this allegation lightly.  Rather, when you consider that a high percentage of the trash found on Tung Wan Tsai is styrofoam of the sort that makes up the boxes that seafood gets transported in, I think it's safe to conclude that those who make their living fishing in Hong Kong's waters actually contribute quite a bit to this area's marine pollution.  And then there's the "ghost nets" that have washed ashore and been half buried in the sand or stuck on the rocks at the water's edge which -- I do thank goodness for small mercies -- thus are at least no longer in the water continuing to trap sea life long after they no longer have are of any use to any fishing folk.
In all honesty, I find it really perplexing that those who make their living from the sea seem to care so little about the health of the sea.  By the same token, it's rather frustrating that, thus far, all but one participant in the beach clean-ups I've taken part in on Cheung Chau has actually been a resident of the island (and that woman concerned is actually a native of Japan rather than a long-term local)!   
Looking on the bright side though: it's actually quite astonishing from how far away the beach clean-up participants have come.  Unexpectedly, I've made the acquaintance of tourists visiting from the USA, flight crew from Kazakhstan and exchange students from Germany by way of these beach clean-ups in Hong Kong.  And one also shouldn't scoff at the undertaking and sacrifice involved for people living as far away as Tuen Mun, Sheung Shui and Tseung Kwan O to get up early on a Saturday morning to make it to these beach clean-ups in a far corner of Cheung Chau! ;b     

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Still more light(s) in Hong Kong these nights thanks to the Lumieres light festival!

Kawaii art at Hong Kong's first ever light festival

Can you tell which installations are part of the light festival
and which are nightly fixtures in Hong Kong? ;b

Smoke, light and human movement combine to deliver a spectacle

If ever there was a place which seemed to have no need for a light festival, I would have figured that it'd be Hong Kong.  This is, after all, the territory where the world's largest permanent light and sound show takes place every night of the week, and which has so much light pollution that catching sight of even a single star in the night sky can seem like a miraculous achievement.

Yet among the official events conceived in celebration of the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region has been the three day -- or should it be night? -- Lumieres light festival!  Envisioned as a a way for people to "rediscover the city's heritage and architecture through the the medium of light", I suppose it does at least make more sense as a celebratory event than, say, the Death in Ancient Egypt special exhibition mounted at the Hong Kong Science Museum earlier in the year which also was somehow supposed to help lift up the spirits of Hong Kongers in the 20th year of Hong Kong's no longer being a British colony.

If nothing else, the mood among the not insubstantial number of folks strolling about and enjoying the light shows this evening did seem to be on the distinctly light and bright side.  That's how it felt anyway as I walked around Central -- which has the most Lumieres sites in place -- and over to Sheung Wan -- which has another two -- with a group out to get a bit of exercise and enjoy the light festival along with the wonderful weather that Hong Kong has been treated to this week!     

Quality wise, the installations appeared to be a mixed bag -- with a few being really eye-catching but some others being artistically underwhelming, even while I grant that they were conceptually ambitious.  For example, I thought it a cool idea to attempt to visually transform a heritage building -- specifically the former French Mission Building on Government Hill -- into what'd appear to be a giant fish tank full of goldfish but the execution didn't have as much of a "wow" effect as one would have thought.   

As it so happened, the route we took had us checking out what we later decided were the two best pieces in the festival first.  "The Anooki Shake Up Hong Kong" consists of a whimsical cartoon show whose two Inuit characters' playful antics were projected onto a side facade of the General Post Office building in Central that's set to be demolished in the near future while "E-Motion" is an artistic expression of Hong Kong's evolution that bathes one side of Hong Kong City Hall's High Block in light that forms beautiful patterns and images.

All in all though, I must admit to thinking that more often than not, officially sanctioned public art in Hong Kong (including Antony Gormley's series of naked sculptures installed in various parts of Hong Kong a couple of years ago) seems to lack the soul and emotional impact of many of the art and related installations created by supporters of the Umbrella Movement and exhibited at the various Occupy sites in 2014.  Perhaps it's because they don't have as pure an inspiration behind them? 

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Okonomiyaki once more, this time Osaka's version of the delicious dish!

From what starts off looking pretty messy indeed...

...come some pretty tasty okonomiyaki!

And while it's true that the finished products don't look great,
the large prawns and generous slices of bacon within 
sure do help make them tasty!

All too soon, it was time to say au revoir to Japan.  And for the final meal of what had turned out to be a pretty gastronomically epic trip (that had included memorable oyster, uni, tai, anagomeshi and sushi meals), I decided to go for okonomiyaki at Momotarou, a respected Osaka specialist with a branch located conveniently within the LUCUA section of the Osaka Station complex.

Having had her first delicious taste of okonomiyaki in Hiroshima a few days previously, my mother had turned into a veritable okonomiyaki connoiseur: able not only to distinguish between the layered Hiroshima- and really mixed together Osaka-styles of this dish but having definite preferences as to which style she preferred more.  As for myself: I will readily admit to having been a greater fan of Hiroshima style okonomiyaki for some years now but, well, needs must and I actually do reckon that Momotarou's okonomiyaki, despite being Osaka-style okonomiyaki, still was pretty tasty as well as being incredibly substantial.

While my mother contented herself with a classic Osaka-style okonomiyaki, I elected to have a modanyaki: that is, an Osaka-style okonomiyaki that -- as with Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki -- came with an additional noodle component.  For some reason, I actually thought that it'd also be good for me to order a side dish of vegetables; only to belatedly discover that what had been listed as mixed vegetables on the restaurant's English menu actually also came with pork and squid and, frankly, could have been a pretty filling meal by itself!  

In retrospect, I'm sure that the waiter who took my order must have thought that I was a major glutton and I wish that he had told me that I had actually over-ordered.  But since the deed was done, I was determined to polish off what had been set in front of me -- and very nearly succeeded but had to give up with two or three bites to go because I truly felt like I would have burst if I had stuffed more okonomiyaki into my mouth and stomach!

Even while I manfully chowed down on my mammoth modanyaki and supposed  "vegetable side dish", I was thinking that the Osaka- and Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki (even the modern Osaka-style version that comes with noodles, like Hiroshima okonomiyaki) really are pretty different.  Among other things, whereas I think people are correct in describing Osaka-style okonomiyaki to be pancake-like, I reckon that Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki is actually more like a savory layer cake than pancake.   

At the risk of upsetting fans of Osaka-style okonomiyaki, I also happen to think that the Hiroshima-style version of this dish is neater looking and consequently generally more visually more appealing.  At the same time though, I must admit to also thinking that about the one way in which Hiroshima-style okomiyaki could be aesthetically improved -- and maybe taste-wise too -- would be by having be topped by bonito flakes that the steam causes to "dance" about, as is the case with Osaka-style versions of this very Japanese offering! ;b

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Osaka Museum of History can turn a museo-phobe into a museophile!

Beautiful and creative exhibits are the order of the day 

As far as I'm concerned, this history museum's exhibit designers
have created veritable works of art that are interesting to boot!

The attention to detail for even 1/20th scale 
miniature models is truly something to behold

Ever since I was a kid, I've loved visiting (good) museums.  So it's actually rather ironic that neither of my parents are keen museum goers, with my mother deciding against venturing into a museum despite just being a few meters away from its entrance on more than one occasion -- and even opting to have a nap outside of one while I spent a couple of hours checking out its exhibits

Imagine my surprise, then, when, upon asking her to name the top five attractions we had visited on our most recent Japan trip together, she actually put two museological establishments on her list; with one of them being the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum (which I told her was a "must visit" when we went to the first city ever to have an atom bomb dropped onto it) and the other being the Osaka Museum of History (which, if truth be told, I only decided to go to on this visit after it rained heavily for much of the final full day of the trip)!

Housed in a modern, multi-storey building whose upper floors offer up birds'-eye views of Osaka Castle (located just across the street), the Osaka Museum of History's exhibits cover the period in Osaka's history that predates the establishment of a permanent imperial capital at Nara (710-794), when the Naniwa Palace was the residence of choice of the reigning Emperor (and before Osaka came to be known by that particular name), all the way to the 20th century.  

While there are artifacts on display from those ancient as well as later times, it became apparent early on during our tour of the museum that this institution has seen fit to augment their exhibition with very detailed dioramas, colorful, large-scale reconstructions and atmospheric audio to help history come so much more alive.  As an example: a good part of "The Ancient Period Floor" of the museum is taken up by a partial reconstruction of the Daigokuden (Main Hall) of the Naniwa Palace, complete with multiple vermillion-painted pillars 70 centimeter in diameter and life-size mannequins, all of them with distinct faces and dressed in elaborate period court attire.  

And on the "Modern and Contemporary Period Floor", there are reconstructions of Late Taisho and Early Show Period homes, shops (ranging from a humble grocer to a store selling fashionable clothes) and the advertisement-festooned facade of a grand kabuki theater that are really impressive in terms of their detail.  Nonetheless, it's the floor covering the Middle Ages and Early Modern Period whose exhibits I found enchanting and even downright amazing; with scale models and dioramas that I look upon as works of art in their own right but actually also communicate so much about life then in that which was dubbed "the Water City".    

As if all that weren't already impressive enough, each of the museum's floors containing permanent exhibitions have audio-visual sections, many of them cleverly worked into dioramas and interactive displays.  Still, it is highly recommended that visitors rent the audio sets available near the entrance to the museum as they really do provide a lot of supplemental information that's actually really interesting and often makes one appreciate further some of the little but cool (and even humorous!) touches that the exhibit designers have added to many of their immaculately crafted displays.

All told, my mother and I ended up spending over three hours at the Osaka Museum of History.  And I can't think of a higher tribute for this commendable museological establishment than to state in no uncertain terms that both this avowed museophile and her supposedly museo-phobe mother both enjoyed our visit to it tremendously! ;b

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Delights in store for Funatomo at Funassyiland Osaka!

Funassyi mania at Funassyiland Osaka!

Your eyes do not deceive you -- the Funassyiland Osaka 
stock included Funassyi butt-shaped handbags... ;D

And yes, there's a post box at the store which 
can be used to send the Pear postcards and such :)

After visiting Todaiji -- and running the Nara deer gauntlet -- earlier in the day, I decided to pay a pilgrimage to the temple of kawaii that is Funassyiland Osaka Umeda (henceforth referred to as Funassyiland Osaka for short!).  Located within a Kiddy Land (like the Tokyo Funassyiland that was the first of the Funassyilands that I visited), it's the smallest of the three Funassyilands I've been to thus far (with the flagship Funassyiland in Funassyi's hometown of Funabashi being expectedly the largest of the lot).   

Still, it wasn't as though there was a dearth of merchandise at Funassyiland Osaka to catch the eye of this Funatomo (fan of Funassyi).  And, in fact, I ended up not only needing to wander the aisles for several minutes to take it all in but also deciding that more than one visit was required for me to narrow down what I wanted to purchase at the store cum shrine to the Pear (Fairy) with "fun" and "ass" in its name!

Even before I set foot in Funassyiland Osaka though, I knew that I absolutely wanted a 2018 desktop calendar since the 2017 desktop calendar has consistently brought smiles to my face since the beginning of the year and viewings of the "making of" videos for the 2018 desktop calendar have got me cackling with laughter at the Pear's imaginative attempts to impersonate historic personalities as diverse as Murasaki Shikibu (the Heian period author of The Tale of Genji), Commodore Matthew Perry and Ludwig von Beethoven!  So it was with much relief as well as happiness that I found that the 2018 calendars were already on sale on my visit.

Of course, the 2018 desktop calendar was far from the only Funassyi item I came away from my visits to Funassyiland Osaka with.  And, actually, Funassyiland Osaka wasn't the only place where I came by items bearing the Pear's visage; with their also being some available at the very cool Tokyu Hands (think Funassyi-themed stationery such as pens and file folders, and also gachapon putitto) and various souvenir shops, including over on Miyajima and in Hiroshima (in the form of Funassyi-themed key chains, charms and handkerchiefs)! 

Still, for dedicated Funatomo, the fact of the matter is that it's well nigh unthinkable to not visit a Funassyiland if you're in a city with one of those stores.  Because, if nothing else, you definitely have proof when you're in one of them that there are plenty of other people around who share your passion for the hyper-energetic Pear with a big heart along with jumping ability! :)   

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Oh dear re the deer of (and deer mania at) Nara!

The official mascot of Nara, 
Sento-kun... and Puppet Ponyo ;D

Graphic warning sign in deer-infested Nara Park

 A deceptively serene landscape photograph, 
considering that there's a deer in it... ;S

As vivid as my memories of visiting Todaiji were my encountering the deer at Nara Park when I visited the ancient city of Nara back in the fall of 1982.  Back then, I was innocent enough to buy some of those deer crackers sold by vendors; whereupon I got damn near assaulted by a bunch of persistent deer -- none of whom I recall having had the manners to bow to me the way that the deer of Nara are famously able to do.

Expecting to come across though soon after arriving in the city, the way that I had quickly and easily encountered deer seconds after getting out of the ferry terminal at Miyajima, I was initially disappointed that the only "deer" spottings I made were of such as a statue of Sento-kun (the antlered mascot of Nara that Last Week Tonight host John Oliver famously described as looking like the result of "Andre Agassi f**king a reindeer!) at the train station, deer sculptures that were part of an outdoor art exhibition and a deer-themed Daruma doll in a shop window.  

But while the deer in Nara do seem to be restricted to a more specific area than over on Miyajima, it's also true enough that once my mother and I got near to Nara Park, we saw a far greater density of deer there than we saw on Miyajima as a whole. 

In addition, it really was noticeably the case that the deer at Nara look generally bigger as well as older than the bulk of those that we caught sight of in Miyajima -- and also were far more aggressive in their pursuit of things edible.  In particular, I pity those tourists fooled into buying deer crackers because once the deer discovered that someone was in possession of those, they'd surround the hapless human and effectively hound them into giving those precious edible discs up!

Put another way: hearing individuals screaming while running away from a gaggle of deer is a very common thing in Nara Park and its environs (including the outer sections of Todaiji)!  Even more embarassing must be what those folks tasked with cleaning up a not insubstantial amount of deer poop daily have to do in full view of other people (along with the supposedly divine deer)!

And yes, those deer will go after folks who are not in possession of deer crackers too.  As an example, while standing around waiting for my mother (who had wandered off to another section of Todaiji) at one point, I felt someone nudging me, only to discover upon turning and looking that it was -- but of course -- a deer rather than a fellow human doing so.  And it was only after scurrying about in a wide circle that I managed to get that deer away from me -- or, rather, get it to decide that someone else was an easier "mark" than me! ;S

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Daibutsuden and more at Nara's Todaiji (Photo-essay)

On my very first visit to Japan back in 1982, I spent a few hours in the ancient city of Nara.  If my memory serves me right, the only temple my party visited there was Todaiji and the only part of the very large Buddhist temple that we were in was its very big Daibutsuden (Great Buddha Hall) which actually is the largest wooden structure in the world.

Considering that Nara is home to a number of other historic monuments which are along the UNESCO World Heritage list along with Todaiji, I perhaps should have checked some of them out on my second visit to that which was the capital of Japan from 710 to 784.  Instead, this time with my mother in tow, I couldn't resist returning to Todaiji -- though, in mitigation, I also did explore more sections of this great temple complex on this second visit than the earlier one, including ones which are far less crowded and way more peaceful than the Daibutsuden...    

The largest wooden structure in the world is one very large building...
... and the 15 meter tall gilt bronze Buddha housed within 
the Daibutsuden is the largest of its kind in the world

but opted against trying to accomplish the same feat in 2017! :)
Upon going up these stone steps, you'll feel like you're in
another world rather than just another part of Todaiji
The area around the temple's Nigatsudo is vastly less crowded
and substantially more peaceful than that around the Daibutsuden
Puppet Ponyo near the top of the steps to the Nigatsudo :)
 Click on the above photo for clear evidence that there's so much 
more to Todaiji than just the Daibutsuden, however great it is
And my favorite part of Todaiji might actually be the inside of
the Hokkedo or Sangatsudo (where photography is not allowed)!

Monday, November 13, 2017

Admiring Okayama's Korakuen in rain and sunshine

It was raining early on during my mother's 
and my visit to Okayama's Korakuen
Happily though, the rain stopped and blue sky appeared 
while we were still at this charming stroll garden
And we were also there when clouds, sun and water
combined to create magical scenes like this :)
The afternon that I went to Shukkeian, it was on my own as my mother was tired out from her exertions earlier that day and had retired to our hotel in Hiroshima to rest before venturing out in the evening for dinner at Sushi Tei.  Afterwards, when I showed her the photos I had taken at that restored stroll garden, she had expressed her regret that she hadn't gone there with me.

Still, rather than take my mother to Shukkeian, I decided to take her to a larger and justifiably more famous garden -- one considered to be among the Three Great Gardens of Japan (along with Kanazawa's Kenroku-en and Mito's Kairakuen).  As a matter of fact, when I visited Okayama's Korakuen a few years back, I actually had told myself that it'd be a good place to bring her on one of our Japan trips.
Consequently, I didn't let a little bit of rain stand in my way of doing so.  And a good thing too since, like Takamatsu's Ritsurin Koen, whatever precipitation that fell during a visit to it didn't detract all that much from one's being able to admire the beauty on view in that expansive, ingeniously-designed and well-maintained garden.  Also, as it turned out, it stopped raining midway through our Korakuen visit.  Not only that but the clouds parted sufficiently to reveal patches of sparkling blue sky for part of our visit and then also combined with the sun to produce magical scenes that truly were a sight to behold!
Commissioned in 1687 by a daimyo, Korakuen was completed only in 1700 and made regularly accessible to the public from 1884.  Like Shukkeian, it was damaged by bombing during the Second World War but beautifully restored after peace was declared; in the case of Korakuen, thanks in no small part to extensive and detailed records of the original designs having been passed down from generation to generation over centuries. 

Sunday, November 12, 2017

A meal at Takotsubo made memorable by the company as well as food!

It became quickly apparent upon sitting at the counter of Takotsubo
that our meal there would be far from average... 
We're talking, after all, of a place whose tsukemono moriawase
(assorted pickles) side dish looks like a work of art!
 More than enough in front of me 
to make me very happy :)
All too soon, it was time to say farewell to Hiroshima, a city whose fantastic food makes it so that I definitely want to go back there before too long.  Before heading east on the shinkansen though, my mother and I made time and room for lunch at Takotsubo, a one Michelin star restaurant which I got to know about thanks to Paul's Travel Pics.

All the information I had read about Takotsubo had led me to believe that it only opened for lunch at 12noon.  But on the day that my mother and I went there, the restaurant looked open for business at around 11.30am and already had a few clients installed at its counter when I finally perked up the courage to go in there at 11.45am.
Probably we had arrived so early, there was room in the 13-seat restaurant for my mother and myself.  Having set my heart on the koiwashi (sardines) sashimi set lunch that Paul had raved about, I was disappointed to find that -- like with the oysters -- I had arrived too early in the year for them.  (It didn't help that the early part of this October had been unseasonably hot; something that also may have accounted for a surprising number of area residents looking quite a bit more tanned or darker skinned than I expect of Japanese folks who are neither natives of Okinawa nor Kyushu!)
Happily though, my second choice option of uni meshi (cooked sea urchin rice) was available -- and, from what I gathered when glancing at what other diners were eating, a very popular option along with anago meshi (which I will forever associate with Ueno!).  More than incidentally, one reason why I was happy about this was because Takotsubo doesn't have an English menu and its staff don't seem to know any English (which is why it also was a good thing that I know enough Japanese to at least order specific dishes and such as glasses of draft beer!).
Thanks to Paul's blog post, I had a pretty good idea of what to expect in terms of the food I'd be having at this restaurant which has been in operation since 1927.  Suffice to state here that everything was stellar, from the flavorful yasai-no-nimono (slow-simmered vegetables and tofu) we were served first all the way to the colorful and wonderfully crunchy tsukemono moriawase (assorted pickles) side dish, the umami-rich miso soup (with clams) and the piece de resistance that was the seaweed topped uni-meshi.         

Adding to the overall experience were the restaurant customers we found ourselves seated in between.  To my left was a middle-aged man who had a bunch of toys (including miniature rubber duckies and Fuchico Puttito) that he posed next to his food and then took photos of (and yes, I couldn't resist showing him Puppet Ponyo though I did not take any photos of her at Takotsubo)!  Meanwhile, to my mother's right sat two matronly women who, after overhearing our conversation and realizing that we were not Japanese, started chatting to us in English, telling us, among other things that they reckoned this was the "number one" restaurant in Hiroshima!
Incidentally, my mother remarked later that she noticed that those two women -- and the young man seated to their right -- had been drinking tea rather than beer with their meal.  After a few days in Japan, she was realizing how unusual this actually is since women as well as men really do seem to love their tipple in the land of sake -- and especially beer, it seems (rather than nihonshu, actually)! ;b