Thursday, May 31, 2012

Cherry blossom festival

On April 28th, hubby and I went to cherry blossom festival (hanami) at Senshu Park in Akita city. Hanami is a traditional Japanese custom of viewing and enjoying the beauty of flowers, usually cherry blossoms (sakura) or Japanese plum blossoms (ume). Sakura usually bloom from mid April to early May in Akita prefecture. The cherry blossom season is relatively short and the blossoms last only a week or two. Last year we were not in a mood to go for sakura viewing due to the March 11th earthquake in northern Japan. So this year we went to view sakura after two years.

Senshu Park is the site of Kubota Castle ruins. The park is huge and covers an area of 162900 square meters. There are 830 cherry blossom trees planted in this park. The park is about a ten minutes walk towards the west from Akita railway station. We parked our car near the railway station and walked up to the park. As we neared the park, we saw many blooming sakura trees next to the moat of the castle ruins.
Blooming sakura trees next to the moat as viewed while walking towards the park

Sakura and the moat to our right side as viewed from a bridge above the moat

Sakura on the other side of the bridge

After reaching the park, we saw that all the sakura trees were in full bloom. The weather was bright and sunny, and therefore many people had come to view the sakura at the park that day. Many picnic sheets were spread on the park ground, and people relaxed and enjoyed viewing the sakura blossom. A stage was set up where musical performances were held. Many food stalls were set up that sold various kinds of snacks, soft drinks, and alcoholic beverages.
I am standing inside the park. A music performance is going on at the stage in the background.

Sakura blossom and people having picnic

Sakura blossom and people everywhere

Food stalls inside the park

Sakura blossom, food stalls, and people

A huge sakura tree near a food stall

As I mentioned earlier, Senshu Park is the site of Kubota Castle ruins. Kubota Castle used to be a castle of Lord Satake in Akita for 270 years during Edo period. Yoshinobu Satake, the first lord of Akita’s Satake clan of Kubota domain, built the castle in 1603. The castle was destroyed in a fire in 1880. In 1890, the castle site was converted into a public park. The castle ruins are actually located on a small hill inside the park premises. We climbed up a few steps to the hilltop and reached the front of the castle main gate named Omotemon. Right in front of this gate outside the castle grounds we got a beautiful view of blooming sakura trees, and people having picnic at the lower level of the park.
I am standing in front of Omotemon main gate of Kubota Castle

Sakura blossom as viewed from outside the main gate

After entering inside the main gate of the castle, we were at the site of the front yard called Oshirasu. Beyond that was the site of the castle proper, although unfortunately no trace of the castle remains now. However, presently there are many sakura trees planted at this site, which were in full bloom and it was a wonderful sight to behold. Also, from an observation point on the hill located just inside the main gate, we got a fantastic view of Akita city and many more blooming sakura trees.
The front yard of the castle and sakura blossom

I am standing next to a sakura tree

Sakura blossom and Akita city as viewed from the observation point inside the main gate

Another view of sakura blossom and Akita city

Sakura blossom as viewed from the hill

Next, we started walking towards a castle turret building named Osumi-yagura located in the northern end of Senshu Park. We walked through a pathway that was surrounded by many fully bloomed sakura trees on both sides of the path. It felt as if we were walking through a sakura tunnel. It was a wonderful and memorable experience. While walking, we saw many more people having picnic and enjoying the sakura blossom in the castle grounds. A few tents were put up and people reserved some isolated favorite spots for a couple days to enjoy the sakura blossom while it lasted.
Hubby walking through a sakura tunnel

People having picnic under sakura blossom inside the castle grounds

Blooming sakura trees inside the castle grounds

Walking pathway, another sakura tunnel, and a few tents

Hubby walking through the second sakura tunnel

I am standing next to a blooming sakura tree

After about 15 minutes of leisurely walking on the pathway surrounded by sakura tunnel at two places, we reached the northern end of the park where Osumi-yagura turret building of the castle is located. There used to be eight turrets in Kubota Castle during the rule of feudal lord Satake. All were lost, but in 1989 this one turret was reconstructed. The turret along with the sakura blossom in front of it looked stunning.
Osumi-yagura turret and sakura blossom

Hubby standing in front of Osumi-yagura turret

While walking back towards the exit of the castle grounds we had to walk down many steps. These steps are different from the steps leading up to the castle entrance. From the exit steps we got a wonderful close up view of the blooming sakura trees that surrounded us. It was simply superb. From these exit steps we could also see many sakura trees standing proudly adjacent to Omotemon main gate inside the castle grounds on the hill above.

Close up view of a few fully bloomed sakura trees

Hubby standing next to a blooming sakura tree

I am standing next to a sakura tree

Blooming sakura trees adjacent to the main gate inside the castle grounds

Another view of the sakura trees next to the main gate

Afterwards we had some snacks and then left the park. We loved viewing the sakura blossom at Senshu Park.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Grand Palace and Wat Pho

Hello everyone. My name is Kazuo Nagata and I would like to thank my wife Manisha for inviting me to write in her blog. My office colleague and I visited Thailand for a business trip in the beginning of March. The trip was very hectic business-wise but on the third day we got some free time during afternoon and so we visited a few sightseeing places in Bangkok. We visited two of the most famous sightseeing places, namely the Grand Palace and Wat Pho. These places are grand, colorful and beautiful. Let’s enjoy these places through my photos.

The Grand Palace
The Grand Palace is a complex of many buildings located in Bangkok. It is a spectacular place built in 1782 by King Rama I, the founder of Chakri Dynasty. The palace was the official home of Thai Kings until 1925. The complex is rectangular and has an area of 218400 square meters. The palace precinct has many buildings, halls, gardens, a royal temple Wat Phra Kaew, and pagodas. All these buildings have beautiful architecture and intricate details.

On our way to the Grand Palace, we saw many pagodas and tuk tuk. The palace is surrounded by four walls. From the main entrance of the Grand Palace, we saw many visitors and got a wonderful view of Wat Phra Kaew Temple.
A pagoda on our way to the Grand Palace

Tuk tuk

The Grand Palace surrounded by wall

Entrance Gate

Many people inside the Grand Palace precinct

Pagodas and buildings of Wat Phra Kaew Temple

A close up view of the pagodas

Inside the Grand Palace precinct, we saw many buildings with a wonderful blend of Thai and European styles. First we decided to visit Wat Phra Kaew Temple which is located within the palace precinct and is considered to be the most sacred Buddhist temple in Thailand. The construction of the temple was started by King Rama I in 1785. The temple has many elaborately decorated holy buildings, statues, and pagodas. We saw an amazing glistening golden pagoda named Phra Si Ratana Chedi located in the central region of the temple complex. This pagoda was built by King Rama IV in the nineteenth century and is said to enshrine sacred relics of Buddha. Adjacent to this is another building named Phra Mondop which is a library that was built in Thai style by King Rama I. In front to these buildings towards the southern area of the temple complex we saw an extremely beautiful ornate colorful building named Ubosot Chapel. Ubosot is the main prayer hall and houses the Emerald Buddha which is the principal statue of worship at this temple. Ubosot is the only original building in the temple complex. It was built at the same time as the temple in 1785. The exterior of Ubosot is finished in colored mirror tiles and gilt carving.
Inside the Grand Palace precinct

Entrance of Wat Phra Kaew Temple

Inside the temple complex

Phra Si Ratana Chedi

Phra Mondop

Ubosot Chapel

Ubosot as viewed from the side

Wat Phra Kaew Temple complex is a wonderful place for sightseers. We saw colorful mythical guardian figures at the entrance of various buildings. In addition, we saw a model of Angkor Wat inside the complex. We noticed a relatively quieter area towards the northeast corner of the temple complex where an inner compound building structure called Ho Phra Monthien Tham is located. This inner building was built by the brother of King Rama I and is used as a supplementary library. There are two more golden chedi pagodas with many colorful mythical Ramakien figures that seem to support and hold the chedi. We saw many monks in saffron robes moving around amongst the visitors. I compiled a video of our visit to the temple complex.
Dhosa Kiridhorn guardian figures at the entrance of a building

Kinnara guardian figures at the entrance of another building

A model of Angkor Wat

The inner compound structure Ho Phra Monthien Tham

A golden chedi with mythical Ramakien figures

Ramakien figures

Another golden chedi

Monks in saffron robes

A compiled video of our visit to the temple complex

While going out of the temple complex, we saw eight ornate pagodas called Phra Asda Maha Chedi standing in a straight row. These pagodas were built by King Rama I. We also saw a small statue of Buddha onto which people placed gold leaf offerings. It was so peaceful inside the temple complex. We noted that even the roof of the sheds of the galleries surrounding the temple was well decorated.
Three of the eight Phra Asda Maha Chedi

A statue of Buddha with golden leaf offerings

Galleries surrounding the temple complex

The Grand Palace is a blend of Thai and European architecture. The present King still uses it for ceremonial functions. In fact, there is a distinct contrast in style between Wat Phra Kaew Temple and the more European inspired design of the Grand Palace, except for the roof. In the central court we saw a panoramic view of many beautiful buildings of the palace. To our left on the eastern edge was a group of buildings named Phra Maha Monthein. It was the main residence and audience hall for the king. Right in front of us was a modern central court named Chakri Maha Prasat Hall. It was a royal reception hall built by King Rama V and completed in 1882. This building has western style lower half and Thai roof. To our right on the western edge was a wonderful building named Dusit Maha Prasat throne hall which was built by King Rama I in 1790. This building is the least altered since its construction and has finest architectural style. On the east wall of the Dusit Maha Prasat, King Rama IV built a small pavilion named Aphornphimok Pavilion as a changing area.
Panoramic view of the Grand Palace with Phra Maha Monthein group to the left, Chakri Maha Prasat Hall at the center, and Dusit Hall to the right of the photo

Phra Maha Monthein group

Chakri Maha Prasat Hall

A guard standing in front of the stairs going to the Chakri Maha Prasat Hall

Dusit Maha Prasat group

Aphornphimok Pavilion

Dusit Maha Prasat Hall

Wat Pho
Next my colleague and I visited another temple named Wat Pho which is located behind the Grand Palace. Wat Pho was founded in the seventeenth century and is the oldest temple in Bangkok. Later King Rama I restored and enlarged the temple, installed several statues, and renamed the temple Wat Phra Chetuphon in 1801. King Rama III further enlarged the temple in 1832 and constructed the well known reclining Buddha. Wat Pho is one of the largest temples in Bangkok with an area of 80000 square meters. The temple also contains more than 1000 Buddha images.

We first visited the building housing the reclining Buddha. The golden reclining Buddha is about 45 meters long and 15 meters high. The face of the Buddha looked so serene and calm. The 3 meters high and 4.5 meters long foot of Buddha has soles inlaid with mother-of-pearl and divided into 108 panels, each displaying auspicious symbols. The statue of reclining Buddha was very impressive and shiny. There were many small statues of Buddha in front of the huge reclining Buddha.
Intricate fine features of reclining Buddha’s face

The right arm of reclining Buddha supporting his head

Buddha’s head with curly hair resting on two box pillows encrusted with glass mosaic patterns

Reclining Buddha

Feet of reclining Buddha

Toes and portion of the feet of Buddha

Foot indicating 108 auspicious symbols

A small statue of Buddha in front of the reclining Buddha

Another statue of Buddha

Laughing Buddha

Yet another statue of Buddha in front of reclining Buddha

Next we walked towards a garden from where we got a wonderful view of four royal chedi pagodas in an enclosure. These four chedis are the largest of the 95 chedi pagodas of the temple. The four chedis are about 41 meters high and are dedicated to the first four Kings of Chakri Dynasty. All these chedis of this temple are square shaped and are decorated with ceramic tiles and three dimensional ceramic pieces forming refined floral patterns. Behind the courtyard containing the four chedis, we saw another interesting structure named Mondop that holds Buddhist scriptures.
A welcoming sign located in front of the enclosure having four royal chedis of the temple. Mondop building is seen to the right side of the photo.

Four largest chedis of the temple

Next we visited the four satellite pavilion halls located on the east, west, north, and south sides of the main prayer chapel Ubosot. The western pavilion hall facing the royal chedis is a bit larger than the others and contains an image of Buddha called Pang Nak Prok where he is seated under Naga's hood. The northern pavilion hall has an image of seated Buddha called Phra Paleylai. Other two pavilion halls have images of Buddha set up in a different style. We also walked through a double cloister gallery surrounding the courtyard of Ubosot Chapel. This gallery is connected by the four satellite pavilion halls. We enjoyed viewing the 400 statues of Buddha mounted on matching pedestals and housed in the gallery. Later we walked through the inner courtyard of Ubosot Chapel.
Two of the royal chedis along with the western satellite pavilion hall and Ubosot Chapel

Portion of the western satellite pavilion hall to the left side and Ubosot Chapel in the center of the photo

Western satellite pavilion hall

Image of Pang Nak Prok Buddha under Naga's hood in the western pavilion hall

Seated image of Phra Paleylai Buddha (topmost in the center) in the northern pavilion hall

A few statues of Buddha in the gallery

A white pagoda named prang in the inner courtyard of Ubosot Chapel. Pillars of the chapel are seen on the right side of the photo.

I liked visiting the Grand Palace and Wat Pho Temple. Next time I would like to visit Bangkok on a private trip along with my wife, visit more places, and enjoy Thai food.
A typical breakfast at hotel