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Monkey Madness in Nagano

Jigokudani Monkey Park in Nagano, JapanThere’s a place near Nagano called Jigokudani Monkey Park, and it gives you exactly what you’re hoping for.  So many monkeys.

Jigokudani Monkey Park in Nagano, Japan

It’s about an hour bus ride from the city — you can actually get a special pass that includes the bus fare to and from Jigokudani, and admission to the park for 3200 yen (about 36 bucks Canadian).  Best 3200 yen I ever spent.

Jigokudani Monkey Park in Nagano, Japan

Even just walking from where the bus drops you off to the park itself is surprisingly memorable, with a really scenic trail taking you through a forest of super tall pine trees.

Jigokudani Monkey Park in Nagano, Japan

Once you get to the area, you can see the steam coming off the ground from one of the natural hot springs.

Jigokudani Monkey Park in Nagano, Japan

Then you get there, and the monkeys are everywhere.  I figured there’d only be a dozen or so monkeys, but there’s gotta be at least 40 or 50.  It’s amazing.

Jigokudani Monkey Park in Nagano, Japan

They’re all just hanging out; walking around, grooming each other, chillin’ in the hot tub.

Jigokudani Monkey Park in Nagano, Japan

Here’s a mother cuddling with her kid.

Jigokudani Monkey Park in Nagano, Japan

After a while, the kid suddenly angled himself butt-up towards his mom, and without missing a beat, she started grooming him.

Jigokudani Monkey Park in Nagano, Japan

More grooming.

Jigokudani Monkey Park in Nagano, Japan

And I guess because these monkeys have spent their whole lives surrounded by gawking tourists, we’re just a part of the landscape to them.  It’s like we’re not even there.

Jigokudani Monkey Park in Nagano, Japan

You can get surprisingly close to them, and they’ll completely ignore you.

Jigokudani Monkey Park in Nagano, Japan

And they’re amazing.  I mean, look at them.  They look like tiny little people wearing fur coats.  They’re almost absurdly adorable.

Jigokudani Monkey Park in Nagano, Japan

Suffice it to say, if you’re in Japan and you’re anywhere even close to the vicinity of Nagano, you’ve gotta go see the monkeys.  It’s amazing.

Jigokudani Monkey Park in Nagano, Japan

Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden

Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden in Tokyo, JapanYeah, I know, yet another Tokyo park post.  But this is the nicest one yet, so I think you’ll just have to put up with one more.

Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden in Tokyo, Japan

It actually costs 200 yen (a bit over two bucks Canadian) to get in, and I was like, what’s this?  I have to pay to get into a park?  What do I look like, Warren Buffet?  I almost turned around.

Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden in Tokyo, Japan

I’m glad I didn’t, though.  The park is huge, impressive, and certainly worth two dollars.

Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden in Tokyo, Japan

I think this is the point where it’s best just to let the pictures speak for themselves.

Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden in Tokyo, JapanShinjuku Gyoen National Garden in Tokyo, JapanShinjuku Gyoen National Garden in Tokyo, Japan

A Million Dollar View (For Free)

Tokyo City Hall in Tokyo, JapanWant an amazing view of Tokyo?  You could go up the Tokyo Tower and spend a whopping 1600 yen (!), or you could visit the Tokyo Skytree, which costs as much as 3090 yen (!!!) to go all the way to the top.

Tokyo City Hall in Tokyo, Japan

Or!  Go to Tokyo City Hall, spend a grand total of zero dollars, and get an absolutely magnificent view of the city.

Tokyo City Hall in Tokyo, Japan

The view from up there is breathtaking.

Tokyo City Hall in Tokyo, Japan

When you’re just walking around the city, it’s easy to forget that it’s one of the largest in the world.  Seeing it from above is a palpable reminder of its size; it’s just unending city stretching all the way into the horizon.  It’s kind of insane.

Tokyo City Hall in Tokyo, Japan

Imperial Palace East Gardens

Imperial Palace East Gardens in Tokyo, JapanTokyo seems to be pretty good about making sure that the city has a bunch of green space mixed in with the in-your-face modernity of the majority of the city.  I’ve been to a few of these areas so far, though I think the Imperial Palace East Gardens might be my favourite.

My visit started quite memorably — the place is formerly a castle, so it’s surrounded by a watery moat.  There was a heron standing in the water, staring intently at a specific spot.

Imperial Palace East Gardens in Tokyo, Japan

In one impressively quick motion, he suddenly had a fish in his beak, and then he just sort of hung out for a few minutes (I think he was trying to figure out how to eat the fish without dropping it in the water).

Imperial Palace East Gardens in Tokyo, Japan

Eventually, he made a few skillful moves, and that fish went right down his gullet.

Imperial Palace East Gardens in Tokyo, Japan

The rest of the visit wasn’t quite as dramatic, but it was no less memorable.

The place was quite impressive, so I think I’m just going to shut up and let the pictures do the talking.

Imperial Palace East Gardens in Tokyo, JapanImperial Palace East Gardens in Tokyo, JapanImperial Palace East Gardens in Tokyo, JapanImperial Palace East Gardens in Tokyo, JapanImperial Palace East Gardens in Tokyo, Japan

And speaking of birds, I saw these two guys on my way out.  I have no idea what they were doing; they were just standing there flapping their wings, like a couple of old guys doing calisthenics in the park.

Another Shrine in the Middle City

Nezu Shrine in Tokyo, JapanI mentioned the Meiji Shrine in a recent post — one of the city’s many other shrines is the Nezu Shrine, and though it’s not nearly as popular, I’d say it’s equally worth visiting.

Nezu Shrine in Tokyo, Japan

The Meiji Shrine is pretty deep inside Yoyogi park; it feels like you’ve gotten out of the city, even though you really haven’t.  The Nezu Shrine can’t compete there; you’re always only a few steps from the street.  But that doesn’t make it any less entrancing.

Nezu Shrine in Tokyo, Japan

I love that Tokyo makes room for places like this throughout the city, though obviously these shrines aren’t just for goofy tourists like me; they’re holy places.  Which, as I mentioned before, makes me feel a little bit awkward.

Nezu Shrine in Tokyo, Japan

Not awkward enough to forgo snapping a bunch of pictures, but awkward nonetheless.

Yanaka Cemetery

Yanaka Cemetery in Tokyo, JapanWalking around cemeteries is becoming a bit of a theme on this blog, isn’t it?  What can I say?  It seems like a weirdly dark thing to do on a trip (and yeah, it kinda is), but it’s also really interesting.

Yanaka Cemetery in Tokyo, Japan

I mean, it’s basically like walking through a park, only with a bunch of dead people and tombstones.  So… not really like walking through a park at all.

I’m not really selling this, am I?

Yanaka Cemetery in Tokyo, Japan

Well, the Yanaka Cemetery in Tokyo (which is enormous) is especially interesting, if only for how different it is from Western cemeteries.

Yanaka Cemetery in Tokyo, Japan

The tombstones look completely different, and there are these long wooden boards — they look like they were pulled from a fence — all over the place.

Plus, it’s grim, obviously, but there’s also a scenic beauty there.

Yanaka Cemetery in Tokyo, Japan

I wouldn’t say that a trip isn’t complete until you visit a cemetery, but if you’ve got some time, it’s probably worthwhile.

On Seeing Nature (Without Leaving the City)

Yoyogi Park in Tokyo, JapanSometimes it’s nice to get out of the city and see some trees — it’s especially nice when said trees are actually in an enormous park inside the city.  Because let’s face it, that’s just so much easier.

Yoyogi Park in Tokyo, Japan

There’s a pretty huge park near the Shibuya district in Tokyo called Yoyogi park.  The park itself is quite nice, especially with the fall colours doin’ their thing.

Meiji Shrine in Tokyo, Japan

And though you technically have to leave the park to get there (it has its own separate entrance), you can’t go to Yoyogi Park without visiting the Meiji Shrine.

Meiji Shrine in Tokyo, Japan

It’s a serene enclave in the middle of the park (well, as serene as a place can be that’s swarming with tourists) and it’s absolutely worth seeing — though I will admit that whenever I visit a place like this with people legitimately praying, I feel a bit like a gawking interloper.

Meiji Shrine in Tokyo, Japan

You can also pay 500 yen to have a wish tied to this sacred tree.  I passed, though maybe I just missed out on having my dreams come true like a chump.

Interestingly, right in the middle of my visit, a wedding procession (I’m assuming) came marching out, wearing very traditional garb.

Meiji Shrine in Tokyo, Japan

At first I felt a bit awkward taking pictures of these strangers, but then everyone else started doing it, so yeah, I snapped some photos.  They started it.

Walking Through the United Nations Memorial Cemetery

The UN Memorial Cemetery in Busan, South KoreaCommemorating the many soldiers from throughout the world who gave their lives during the Korean War, the UN Memorial Cemetery in Busan is actually the only United Nations cemetery in the world.

The UN Memorial Cemetery in Busan, South Korea

It’s an eerie place to wander around (the fact that I only saw about three or four other people while I was there added to this feeling).   I’ve been to other graveyards, but there was something about this one that was particularly grim, and oddly moving.  There are over 2300 graves here, mostly for young men who were barely old enough to buy a drink.

The UN Memorial Cemetery in Busan, South Korea

On my way to the cemetery, an old man in a park stopped me and asked me where I was from.  When I told him Canada, he thanked me for Canada’s contributions to the war, and it’s like, jeez, don’t thank me.  If I had been alive in the ’50s, there’s no way I would have fought in that war.  There was no draft for that one in Canada, but if there were, I can pretty much guarantee you I would have dodged it.  No thanks.

The UN Memorial Cemetery in Busan, South Korea

But Canada is one of the bigger presences in this cemetery, with hundreds of graves and even a statue to commemorate its soldiers.

And there was someone else at the cemetery who, I’m sure, would have joined me in my hypothetical draft-dodging.  This guy:

The UN Memorial Cemetery in Busan, South Korea

Me and cats — lookin’ out for number one.

Colours Aplenty at the Gamcheon Culture Village

Gamcheon Culture Village in Busan, South KoreaThe Gamcheon Culture Village in Busan is definitely one of the more striking sights I’ve seen on my trip so far.

Gamcheon Culture Village in Busan, South Korea

The whole neighbourhood is on a pretty serious incline (I’ll admit that I got so winded walking up a particularly long and steep hill on my way there that I legitimately wondered if I was going to have a minor heart attack), and all of the houses have been painted in various vibrant colours.

Gamcheon Culture Village in Busan, South Korea

Most of it is just a regular neighbourhood that people live in, but there is a road going all around the area that has coffee shops, food vendors, and random quirky stores and murals.

Gamcheon Culture Village in Busan, South Korea

The main appeal is just looking at it from afar, but it’s a neat area to walk around in, too.

Exploring the Forbidden City

Forbidden City, Beijing, ChinaBuilt in the early 1400s, the Forbidden City is a really impressive palace compound (consisting of 980 buildings over 180 acres) right in the middle of Beijing.

Forbidden City, Beijing, China

There’s not a whole lot to do in there other than wander around and admire the various buildings and statues (like Pompeii, this is one of those places I kind of wish I had done in a tour for a little bit of historical context).

Forbidden City, Beijing, China

Still, it’s seriously impressive, and if you’re in Beijing, there’s really no excuse to miss it (when I say it’s in the middle of the city, I mean it’s literally almost exactly in the centre of the city, so it’s very easy to get to).

Forbidden City, Beijing, China