Awaji Island and the Kobe Area

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These are the pix I took during and after a conference in the Awaji island. That was my first trip to Japan, and I was impressed. Imagine some 130 million people packed in a few islands, with total area less than California (population 34 million, the most in US), with very few natural resources, yet it has long become the top economic power in Asia. It's amazing how the Japanese keep this crowded place so clean, neat, orderly, and considerate (sorry to say, better than most places in the US I've been to). The public transportation system is extremely efficiently and user-friendly. What's more, the food is just fabulous. To say it all, I was happy, very happy.

 

Awaji Island, a small island near the Osaka Bay. The residence houses there are quite retro -- or maybe they're actually very old. Our hotel and conference center are within a modern building complex called the Awaji Yumebutai, or the Awaji Dream Stage. That's some luxurious hotel we stayed. The room is huge even by American standard (remember this is Japan), and it took me quite a while to figure out how to use their extra-fancy electronic toilet : ) The last pix is the international conference center. Very Japanese design.

The first day we arrived happened to be some summer festival. We enjoyed a wonderful firework show form our balcony.

Pleasant sceneries around the Yumebutai. The sophisticated garden is made of one hundred patches of flowers. The Yumebutai complex includes a large conservatory, with a large display of exotic tropical plants.

Near the Yumebutai is the Akashi Kaikyo State Park. Great for an evening walk.

 

The wild. The first 4 pix is two kinds of Wood Spiders, one can weave very sophisticated features in their web. Next one is a Cicada, something we don't usually find in the States. They're noisy little creatures, singing in the trees all day. Then it's a Bumble Bee and two beautiful Butterflies. First butterfly is probably a Swallowtail, the last one is called Blue Triangle, or Bluebottle.

More. Three different kinds of Dragonflies. The raptor in the next 3 pix is probably a Black-ear Kite. I've seen one of those kite grabbing a huge fish. In the last pix is a Grasshopper.

 

The Akashi Kaikyo Bridge (kaikyo = strait), the longest suspension bridge in the world, connects the Awaji Island to the Kobe area. With a center span of 1991 meters (1.24 miles), the bridge body got to have extraordinary physical strength. On the bridge, every cable is composed of 290 strands, and each strand contains 127 hexagonal wires made of high tensile galvanized steel. An engineering wonder isn't it?

 

On the Kobe side of the bridge (Maiko) there's a Dr. Sun Yat-sen memorial building. I guess every Chinese should pay a tribute here since Sun is considered the founding father of modern China by all Chinese around the world. Sun started his revolution of overthrowing the Manchurian Dynasty in China here in Japan in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

 

The Himeji Castle, a 17th century architectural wonder and a World Heritage Site. The Japanese also call it "Shirasagijo" or "White Heron Castle" because its white and graceful central tower and symmetrical surrounding resemble a white heron that is about to strike the sky. History of the Himeji castle can be traced back to 1346, when a primitive fortress was built in the Himeji area. In 1580, near the end of the civil war period, Hideyoshi Toyotomi, ruler of Japan, rebuilt the Himeji castle into a three-story tower. With Toyotomi losing power to Tokugawa, the castle also exchanged hand to Ieyasu Tokugawa's son in law, Terumasa Ikeda, reportedly a brave shogun. Ikeda remodeled Himeji castle to today's form, which is considered a masterpiece in Japanese architectural history.

From a distant we've already been astonished by the white silhouette high above us. The castle is well-designed in terms of both architectural beauty and practicality. The immaculate white central tower looms high above in the sky. How elegant. At the same time, thick and burly outer walls, a maze-like layout, plenty of loopholes, and even wooden valves to drop rocks or boiling water ensure the castle an equally excellent defensive fortification.

Finding your way to the central tower is not as easy as it looks. Trust me, without a guide you'll get lost easily fall into all kinds of deadly traps, that is, if you're the enemy. We started our winding trip at the outer fringe, where the residence are, and slowly find our way to the central tower.

So finally here we are, underneath the 150 feet main tower.

So we attacked the tower and after some fierce battles, finally took control of the upper floors. What a view! Own a castle like this, you'll think you're on top of the world.

Display along the way.

This little courtyard, where the samurais perform their solemn and cruel suicide, is called the Harakiri-maru. Before we leave, take a final look at this unique, elegant fortress. Japanese claimed it a national treasurer in the 1930. I totally understand why.

 

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