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Thursday, April 17, 2014

How fast are Japan's bullet trains?

When transportation between Osaka and Tokyo was via conventional service trains, it took almost 7 hours to travel between the two cities.  Today, with Japan's bullet trains, the same journey takes less than 3 hours.

We rode the bullet train from Osaka to Tokyo and while waiting for our train, I tried snapping photos  but I couldn't catch the end of the train every time. Haha...

This is the best shot I ever got. 

According to our tour guide, the trains in Japan are super efficient that's why her strict instruction to us was to follow Japanese time on the day we were to board the train.  Haha... Each route is timed by the second and if a train gets delayed by even just a minute, the delay is declared.  Wow!

Japan's bullet trains travel about 300km/hour (the first batch of bullet trains travelled at 220km/hour).  But when you're inside the train, you don't realize the high speed because the ride is super smooth.  You only realize that it's fast when you look out the window and see you're rapidly passing by houses and fields.

I checked out the safety record of Japan's bullet trains and in the 45+ years since the bullet train's inaugural run, not one of the 7 billion riders has been injured or killed. Wow...  The only not-so-good record was in 2004 where an earthquake caused the derailment of 8 cars.  

By 2025, guess what is in the pipeline of Japanese bullet trains?  Shortening the Osaka-Tokyo trip from less than 3 hours to 1 hour with a train prototype that holds a world speed record of 581 km/hr.  Whoa...

Tips when visiting the Umeda Sky Building

The Umeda Sky Building is the 12th tallest building in Osaka, Japan.  It’s a 40-storey tower with a height of 173m or 568 ft and was completed in 1993.


Umeda Sky Building has a 360-degree observatory at the rooftop.  To go to the observatory, from the ground floor, go up the 3rd floor via the escalator.  At the 3rd level, you can take the see-through elevator that will bring you up to the 35th floor.  Here's a view on our way up inside the elevator.

When you reach the 35th floor, you'll have to ride a see-through escalator to bring you up to the 39th floor!  Yes, the escalator ride is that long and high.  If you're afraid of heights just focus on the view ahead. :)

When you reach the 39th floor, you can take the stairs or elevator to go the 360-degree observatory deck. 

When you reach the rooftop, you'll see a fenced area with these colorful locks.  I saw some kids playing in the area so I thought it was a playground.

Apparently, the area is called a luminous deck or Lumi Deck.  At night, the floor lights up like this.  

Source: Umeda Sky brochure
Couples can buy heart locks which they can hang in the Fence of Vows. Then they sit on the red bench and touch the outer dome of the bench.  The light pattern on the floor then changes to check the degree of the couple's love. When it comes to creativity, it's hard to beat the Japanese. :)

If you want to witness the Lumi deck, schedule your visit at night.  Because if you go during the day,  you might also think that the area is a kiddie playground like I did! Haha... 

This is the Skywalk, the 360-degree observatory.   

At night, the floor also lights up like this.  

Source:  Umeda Sky brochure
It might be really worthwhile to schedule a night visit if you want to see the lumi floors.  :)

Anyway, here are some shots of the beautiful skyline of Osaka taken from the rooftop. 

BTW, at the parking grounds of the Umeda Sky Building, you may want to check out the hanging garden. 

And this matching cafe nearby. :)

Heian Shrine and Shintoism

Shinto is one of the two major religions in Japan (the other one is Buddhism).   Shinto is about living in harmony with nature and all things. 

We visited 3 Shinto temples in Japan and the Heian Shrine in Kyoto is one of them.  

Here is the main gate leading to the Heian Shrine.

Upon entering a Shinto Shrine, worshippers wash their hands and rinse their mouth because cleanliness is a sign of respect to the deities.  This is where you can cleanse yourself.

Usually, Shinto temple grounds are also covered with white sand or gravel.  According to our tour guide, the sound your walk produces – shoes scratching against the gravel – is also part of the cleansing as you walk towards the temple. 

This is the Heian Shrine which dates back to 1895.   It was built to commemorate the 1,100th anniversary of Kyoto (Japan's old capital before it was moved to Tokyo).  It is dedicated to the spirits of the first and last emperors who reigned the city.  The word "Heian" is actually the old name of Kyoto.

Just like Buddhist temples, you can also write your wishes and petitions on wooden boards like these.

You can also write your prayers and wishes on paper and tie them on trees.  From afar, I actually thought these trees were cherry blossoms. Haha...  

The paper and wooden boards bearing the prayers are just left outside in the belief that the wind carries the wishes out into the world.

Within the grounds, you can also find some sakura or cherry blossoms.  The shrine is most popular for its weeping cherry trees.

Kyoto's Kiyomizu-dera - where to wish good fortune

“Kiyomizu” in Japanese means clear water or pure water and “dera” means temple.  Thus, Kiyomizu-dera when translated in English means “pure water temple”. 
This is the pathway leading to Kiyomizu-dera. 

The pathway is lined up with stores selling Japanese souvenirs, delicacies and potteries.  These shops have been catering to pilgrims and tourists for centuries.  

But do your shopping after visiting the temple to make sure your arms are free when you take photos. :) 

Kiyomizu-dera, a Buddhist temple, was founded in 798 in Kyoto (Japan's capital for more than 1,000 years before it was moved to Tokyo).  But the buildings we see today were constructed in the 17th century.    The place has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. It was also one of the 21 finalists for the New 7 Wonders of the World in 2007.
This is the gate that leads to the temple.

Right before reaching the temple, you'll see wooden ornaments like these.  These are prayer petitions of visitors.
Prayer petitions

This is the main temple - the popular Kiyomizu-dera.  

This structure was constructed without using a single nail!  
The wooden pillars that support the temple are 13 meters high. Did you know that during the Japanese Edo Period which was between the 17th and 19th century, there was a popular expression in Japan which means “to jump off the stage at Kiyomizu” or in English, “to take the plunge”.  And they literally meant a physical plunge! 
During the Edo period, there was a tradition that if you were to survive the 13 meter jump from the stage, one’s wish will be granted.  According to Wikipedia, there were 234 jumps recorded and out of these, about 200 survived.  Good thing, this practice has been prohibited!
Anyway, from the veranda, here’s the beautiful view of Kyoto.
And here’s the view of the Otowa waterfall (upper left corner of the photo) and a souvenir store - also taken from the temple veranda.

You have to go down these steps to get to the Otowa waterfall.

The Otowa waterfall has 3 streams of water that fall into a pond.  Each water stream represents success in an area - one is love, another is longevity and the third, studies or career.   The belief is you have to catch and drink water from your selected stream to enjoy the benefit.  But you can’t drink from all the 3 streams because it is considered greedy.   Nope, we didn't line up to catch and drink water because we wanted all 3! Haha...  
Visitors catching water to drink from the Otowa waterfall.

Within the grounds of Kiyomizu-dera are beautiful cherry blossoms (sakura).   We were there on April 7 so the season was about the end already but still breathtaking! :)

While exploring the grounds, we also saw a Japanese cemetery.

This is how Japanese tomb stones look like.

While in Kiyomizu-dera, you can also rent out Japanese kimonos if you want to take the Japanese experience a notch higher.  Here are some ladies we spotted wearing kimonos.

Utsukushii (Beautiful).