October 2015 - Vikingess Voyages

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Sightseeing in Nikko: The Grand Autumn Festival Shuki Taisai (秋季大祭)

12:45:00 PM

Festival participants waiting for the parade to begin
If you're planning on a visit to Nikko you might want to time it so that you get to see one of the local festivals as well. There are many events held throughout the year, such as the Grand Autumn Festival, also known as Shūki Taisai (秋季大祭). This annual event is taking place on the 16th-17th of October, and it is a smaller version of the Grand Spring Festival (Shunki Reitaisai). During the festival you can among other things see the Parade of 1,000 Samurai Warriors (百物揃千人武者行列 Hyakumono-Zoroe Sennin Gyoretsu). In reality the parade consists of not 1000 but 800 men dressed up in various historical costumes.

The parade began outside the entrance to the Taishōgun, which is Nikko's most famous temple. It is inside this temple area where the famous shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu has his final resting place. This year the event was particular important, as it commemorates the 400 years since the death of the shogun, and as you can imagine the area was packed with people traveling from near and afar to enjoy the historical event.

I traveled to Nikko with my mother and stepfather to visit the famous temples here, and we timed it so that we could see parts of the big festival as well. Although we arrived in Nikko a bit later than planed we were extremely lucky with the timing. Because it had been raining slightly in the morning the festival was delayed with a couple of hours, which gave us just enough time to do some sightseeing at some of the minor temples before the actual festival began. We lined up by the entrance gate to the Taishōgun, and ended up getting a spectacular view of the parade from where we stood. Here are some of my pictures from the parade:

Toshogu Tourist Information

Name of Place Toshogu Shrine (東照宮)
Address 〒321-1431 栃木県日光市山内2301
2301 Sannai, Nikko, Tochigi Prefecture 321-1431
Admission Tosho-gu Shrine tickets - ¥1,300 for adults,
¥450 for elementary and middle-school students
Business Hours Open all year from 8:00 a.m._5:00 p.m.
(closes at 4:00 p.m. in November through March)
Note: Last entry is 30 minutes before closing time
Public Transit
Tobu-nikko Station → Tobu bus
(for Chuzenji Onsen or Yumoto Onsen) (5 minutes)
→ Shinkyo Bridge bus stop → 10 minutes on foot
* Or a 40-minute walk from Tobu-nikko Station.
Homepage http://www.toshogu-koyoen.com/toshogu/ (Japanese)
(Nikko Tourist Association, English)

Recommended Hotels in Nikko

Nikko Station Hotel Classic
Nikko Station Hotel Classic
Hotel Lungwood Niigata
Iwaiyado Jyuan Ryokan
Kinugawa Onsen Hotel
Kinugawa Onsen Hotel
Nikkorisou Backpackers
Nikkorisou Backpackers

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Thank you for reading! Please feel free to leave any comments or questions below
- Anette

Sunday, October 25, 2015

TED Ed Lessons: 3 Tips to Boost Your Confidence

2:58:00 PM

When faced with a big challenge where potential failure seems to lurk at every corner, maybe you’ve
heard this advice before: “Be more confident.” And most likely, this is what you think when you hear it: “If only it were that simple.” 

But what is confidence? Take the belief that you are valuable, worthwhile, and capable, also known as self-esteem, add in the optimism that comes when you are certain of your abilities, and then empowered by these, act courageously to face a challenge head-on. This is confidence. It turns thoughts into action. So where does confidence even come from?

There are several factors that impact confidence. One: what you’re born with, such as your genes, which will impact things like the balance of neurochemicals in your brain. Two: how you’re treated. This includes the social pressures of your environment. And three: the part you have control over, the choices you make, the risks you take, and how you think about and respond to challenges and setbacks. It isn’t possible to completely untangle these three factors, but the personal choices we make certainly play a major role in confidence development. So, by keeping in mind a few practical tips, we do actually have the power to cultivate our own confidence.

Tip 1: A quick fix. There are a few tricks that can give you an immediate confidence boost in the short term. Picture your success when you’re beginning a difficult task, something as simple as listening to music with deep bass; it can promote feelings of power. You can even strike a powerful pose or give yourself a pep talk.

Tip two: Believe in your ability to improve. If you’re looking for a long-term change, consider the way you think about your abilities and talents. Do you think they are fixed at birth, or that they can be developed, like a muscle? These beliefs matter because they can influence how you act when you’re faced with setbacks. If you have a fixed mindset, meaning that you think your talents are locked in place, you might give up, assuming you’ve discovered something you’re not very good at. But if you have a growth mindset and think your abilities can improve, a challenge is an opportunity to learn and grow. Neuroscience supports the growth mindset. The connections in your brain do get stronger and grow with study and practice. It also turns out, on average, people who have a growth mindset are more successful, getting better grades, and doing better in the face of challenges.

Tip three: Practice failure. Face it, you’re going to fail sometimes. Everyone does. J.K. Rowling was rejected by twelve different publishers before one picked up “Harry Potter.” The Wright Brothers built on history’s failed attempts at flight, including some of their own, before designing a successful airplane. Studies show that those who fail regularly and keep trying anyway are better equipped to respond to challenges and setbacks in a constructive way. They learn how to try different strategies, ask others for advice, and persevere. So, think of a challenge you want to take on, realize it’s not going to be easy, accept that you’ll make mistakes, and be kind to yourself when you do. Give yourself a pep talk, stand up, and go for it. The excitement you’ll feel knowing that whatever the result, you’ll have gained greater knowledge and understanding. This is confidence.

You can find this and other TED Ed lessons here

Monday, October 19, 2015

Smarter Hotel Booking: Agoda Secret Deal

9:22:00 PM
Go smarter. Go Agoda.
If you’re looking for a chance to stay at one of those high-class hotels at attractive rates or you’re simply ready for an adventure into the unknown, the hotel booking site Agoda’s secret sale Secret Deal might be just the right thing for you. Here you can find hotels offering their rooms at around 20% - 70% discount, certainly a number that sounds appealing to us travellers. It is also good to know that the hotels participating are of a certain caliber. Only hotels with 3 or above star rating and over 7 in review score from previous guests are eligible to set a Secret Deal promotion, so you are guaranteed a hotel with a certain credibility as well. This means customers can enjoy great savings on quality accommodation at distinguished brands worldwide, from luxurious five-star to charming boutique.

So what is it that makes this deal “secret”? 
Well, you won’t actually know for sure which hotel you’re booking until the reservation is done! Instead the hotel picture shows up as a Secret Deal icon. In order to keep the hotel’s anonymity some of the information about the hotel has been made vaguer than the original content, you will for instance not be able to see the exact customer review score. Instead you will find generalized feedback such as “Very Good 7+” or “Fantastic 8+”, and the number of reviews will also be a round number like for instance “based on 150+ reviews”. Although you can’t see the exact number of reviews you’ll know more or less the popularity of the property, and as the hotels have to have a certain number and quality of reviews it is ensured that no matter where you choose to stay you’ll only get hotels that keep a certain level of quality.

How does it work?
Simply browse the list of Agoda Secret Deals and apply filters based on your preferences. Book the deal that matches your liking and upon completion, the accommodation name, location, and contact details will be revealed.

Step one: Go to Agoda's page and search for the area you're going to visit

Step two: From the Search Results page, choose Deals -> Agoda Secret Deals

Step 2: Select the hotel and finalize your booking

Example of confirmed booking

So why does it have to be so secretive?
Hotels are usually reluctant to offer cheap hotel rooms in the open, as a cheap room rate visible to anyone can be damaging to the hotel’s brand. It might also lead to increased price competition between hotels in the area, where the different hotels try lower their prices in order to attract customers, which of course is not an ideal situation for the hotels.
It is also hard for the hotels to offer open discounts to just one Online Travel Agent (OTA), as other OTAs are eager to keep prices at the same level as their competitors.
When being able to sell their rooms without showing the hotel’s name it is thus easier for the hotel to offer bigger discounts, since the name and location of the hotel is only revealed to customers after the booking and transaction has been made.

Of course, as the hotels are willing to give what in some cases are really huge discounts to their customers there are of course some limitations set by the hotels in return. Most of the hotels choose to operate with a strong cancellation policy limited to the Secret Sale plan, which means that the chances are high you will have to pay the total amount of the booking even if you decide to cancel or are unable to show up at the hotel no matter the reason. Although this means that there is a higher risk for the customer it can be argued that it is fair to the hotel, that is willing to offer a stay at a significantly reduced price and thus minimum or no profit.

Also be aware that there of course might be a reason behind the hotel being willing to give such a significant discount in the first place. As you probably understand no hotel would be willing to give discounts if they were able to sell all their rooms at full price in the first place. Although the participation requirements from Agoda’s side ensure that the hotel holds a certain standard, the hotel might for instance be located at an inconvenient location. It might be low season, or the particular hotel might be losing customers to a competitor that recently opened in the area.
It might also be that the hotel simply want to fill up as many rooms as possible. Even during more popular times of the year some hotels are looking for a “plus alpha” increase in occupancy rate, as it is better for the hotel to sell an extra room at a discounted price than simply not being able to fill the room for that one night (hotel rooms come with a “best before” date, as today’s unsold rooms cannot be sold tomorrow).

If you’re adventurous and want to try something new it might be a fun way for you to book your hotel. Remember that there are the mentioned risks involved – but hey, that’s a part of being on an adventure!

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Thank you for reading! Please feel free to leave any comments or questions below
- Anette

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Sightseeing in Sendai: The house of Bansui Doi (晩翠草堂)

10:10:00 AM
Sendai is Northern Japan's largest city, and it is situated in the Miyagi prefecture approximately 1 hour and 40 minutes away from Tokyo by the bullet train (Shinkansen).

During the Japanese Silver Week I had the chance to go traveling to Miyagi prefecture with my friend Amee, and we had decided to spend one day in Sendai. We arrived in Sendai in the morning without any concrete plans for the day, and since the weather was good we decided to walk to our hotel to drop of our luggage.
House of the famous poet Bansui Doi
On the way to our hotel we passed by an interesting traditional Japanese building that was situated next to an UNESCO building, and just because we liked the atmosphere of the place we decided to check out what it was. Imaging our surprise when we entered the house and were greeted by a guide who could tell us that this used to be the home of the famous poet Bansui Doi (土井 晩翠).
Doi's house (turned out quite dark unfortunately) with the UNESCO House in the background
The guide, mr. Kikuchi, could also tell us that the UNESCO building also was a part of Doi's land, and that UNESCO had received approval to use the space which resulted in the Sendai UNESCO House opening in 1957. Unfortunately the building was heavily damaged during the Great East Japan Earthquake and has not been in use since.

A statue of Bansui Doi seen from his house
The guide seemed very enthusiastic and happy to have visitors (perhaps in particular because he could talk with us without having to to use English), and gladly taught us the whole life story of Bansui Doi.

Doi was born in Sendai in 1871, and started studying Chinese already in his early childhood. During his youth he spent many years living in Europe. According to our guide he was also a friend of the famous novelist Natsume Soseki, who also was living in Europe during the same time, and they regularly exchanged letters.
Some of Doi's works, including the translation of the Iliad and Odyssey

Naturally Doi was influenced by European culture and writings, and as a master of many languages he translated a number of Greek and Latin classics into Japanese. Among the titles were famous works such as Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. But he also published his own poetry, and together with Shimazaki Toson his epoch-making works sat the standard for this period.
Some of his famous works include the poem and song "Kojo no Tsuki" (The Moon over the Ruined Castle), the poetry collections "Tenchi Ujo" (Emotion in the Universe) and "Gyosho" (Morning Bell).

Bansui Doi's bed. Notice the garden and statue of Bansui Doi in the background
Unfortunately for Doi his house and many of his books were lost during the fire bombing in World War II. His students and supporters helped build the Bansui Sodo house on the site of his former residence in 1949, and he spent his last years in this house until he passed away in 1952.

The house is still kept the way it was in 1952, and entrance to the house is free. If you're spending some time in Sendai and are interested in Japanese poetry and writings this house will be well worth a visit.

Here is the English version of Doi's famous "Kojo no Tsuki" (The Moon over the Ruined Castle) (credit: Norio Shimizu from Lyric Translate)

The Moon over the Ruined Castle 

Flowery feast in spring high up in the castle
Cups were passed around with moonlight reflected on the surface of sake
The moonlight shined through the old pine branches
Where is that old moonlight now?
 Encampment in autumn was white covered with frost
A number of geese honked as they flew across the sky
The moonlight shined on the swords thrusted upright into the ground
Where is that old moonlight now?
 Now at midnight the moon is right above
For whom does it shine like in the past?
Nothing remains on the rampart but some ivy
Nothing to hear but the rustle of pine branches in the storm
Up in the sky the moon and the stars remain unchanged
But in the earthly life, rises and falls come and go
Does the moon hang there to reflect those changes?
Ah! the midnight moon over the ruined castle

The bed where Bansui Doi passed away
1 Chome-2-2 Omachi, Aoba Ward, Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture

Recommended Hotels in Sendai

Sendai Washington Hotel
Sendai Washington Hotel
The Westin Sendai Hotel
The Westin Sendai Hotel
Mitsui Garden Hotel Sendai
Mitsui Garden Hotel Sendai
Sendai Royal Park Hotel
Sendai Royal Park Hotel

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Monday, October 12, 2015

The City of Trees: A visit to Sendai and the Aoba Castle

4:28:00 PM

The Hirose (広瀬) River
Sendai is Northern Japan's largest city, and it is situated in the Miyagi prefecture approximately 1 hour and 40 minutes away from Tokyo by the bullet train (Shinkansen).

As many costal areas in Miyagi, parts of Sendai were also affected by the tsunami that followed the Great East Japan Earthquake that struck Japan in March 2011. Some places you can still see the effect of the disaster, and if you visit areas close to the coast you might notice the many new buildings and building projects as you pass by. Still, life in Sendai seems to be back to normal, and tourists are finally starting to come back to visit the area as well. With its history and beauty it is well worth a trip if you're looking for a short getaway from Tokyo.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Fishy Japanese Art: Nihonbashi Art Aquarium

11:01:00 PM

Japan is certainly the place to go if you want to experience modern and unique types of art. One example of this is the immensely popular Art Aquarium exhibition, where art is created using a selection of specially selected fish as fish tanks. The first Art Aquarium exhibition was held in 2011 when the famous Nihonbashi bridge celebrated its 100th anniversary. This year the Art Aquarium Exhibition was held for the fifth time in Nihonbashi, but even though the event already has been held multiple years in a row we still had to queue up for 90 minutes in order to get in.
Nihonbashi Art Aquarium
Entrance to the exhibition
As the name of the exhibition suggests you can see a range of fish tanks shaped in different forms and sizes. What separates this exhibition from a regular aquarium is that the fish tanks come in all kinds of fancy shapes, and that they light ups in different colours creating an exciting backdrop for the colourful fish that swims lazily around inside the tanks. Here are some of my pictures from the exhibition:

Taking pictures of the fish

A kimono with gold fish pattern

Details on the kimono
From Art Aquarium's official page
Kids watching tiny goldfish 
Fish and Japanese sake

The last day of the Art Aquarium exhibition in Tokyo was held on September 23rd, but the Art Aquarium is being held in Okinawa from Sep. 18, 2015 (fri) – Nov. 15 (sun). If you plan on a trip to Okinawa you can check out the official page for the Art Aquarium exhibition in Okinawa.

Art Aquarium Official Page
Art Aquarium Okinawa

Recommended Hotels in Tokyo

Royal Park Hotel The Shiodome
Royal Park Hotel The Shiodome
Bunka Hostel Tokyo
Bunka Hostel
Sotetsu Fresa Inn Nihombashi-Ningyocho
Sotetsu Fresa Inn Nihombashi
Ryokan Asakusa Shigetsu Hotel
Ryokan Asakusa Shigetsu Hotel

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Thank you for reading! Please feel free to leave any comments or questions below

About Me

Adventures ofAnette

A modern day shield-maiden who loves to explore the unbeaten paths of the world. From her base in Tokyo, Anette takes on both rural and urban challenges, and goes by the motto "No challenge too big, no adventure too small"!
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