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Japan's Must-See Destinations

Tuesday, May 24 2022 by

Japan is an ancient country, built on strong traditions of beauty, formality, respect for harmony and appreciation of nature. These characteristics can be found throughout the country. If you’re lucky enough to visit Japan, consider some of these cities and sites to visit to make sure you really take in the beauty and harmony of Japan and it’s culture. You won’t regret it!

Tokyo

The nation’s capital and one of the world’s biggest and most important cities, Tokyo is certainly on everyone’s list of places to visit.

Senso-Ji Temple was built in 645 AD, making it Tokyo’s oldest temple and one of the oldest in Japan. The large red gates are famous, and are a must-see for visitors. The five story pagoda temple was mostly destroyed by bombing in World War II, but it was painstakingly reconstructed and is still absolutely breathtaking to visit.

Sensō-ji Temple (StreetView)
Sensō-ji Temple

Hachiko Square in the Shibuya area of Tokyo is the busiest place in the city. The square is named after a loyal dog Hachiko. Hachiko would wait for his owner every day at the nearby train station. The owner died while at work and never returned to the station. Hachiko nevertheless went to the station every day for nearly ten years, hoping each day his owner would return. His loyalty became legendary, and the vibrant square is named in his honor.

Hachiko Square (Google Maps)
Hachiko Square

Kamakura

Just south of Tokyo is Kamakura, a former capital city of Japan full of ancient cultural and religious sites, including the Great Buddha, or Daibutsu, which is a bronze statue over 40 feet high that was built around 1200 AD.

Kamakura Daibutsu (Great Buddha of Kamakura) (StreetView)
Kamakura Daibutsu (Great Buddha of Kamakura)

A temple surrounding the Buddha was destroyed in 1498, and the Buddha has since sat in the open air, where he has found harmony in the world in spite of his surroundings.

Great Buddha of Kamakura (Google Maps)
Great Buddha of Kamakura

Mount Fuji

At over 12,000 feet, Mount Fuji is Japan’s tallest and most famous mountain. Visible from Tokyo on clear days, the mountain’s pristine beauty provides a stark contrast to the bustling city. It’s cone is nearly symmetrical, and is covered in snow about half the year, contributing to it’s picturesque feel.

Mount Fuji (Google Maps)
Mount Fuji

Mount Fuji is an active volcano that last erupted in 1708, but visitors are able to hike to it’s summit, and over one million people do it annually.

Mount Fuji (StreetView)
Mount Fuji

The mountain has a long history in Japanese culture, in religious creation myths as well as romantic and historical poetry. Because of it’s scared nature, women were not allowed to summit the mountain until the 1800s.

Crater of Mount Fuji and Ken-ga-mine (StreetView)
Crater of Mount Fuji and Ken-ga-mine

Kyoto

Kyoto holds the essence of Japan, full of history and culture including geisha, maintained in authentic traditions.

Many cities have a “Sakura (Cherry Blossom) Alley”, but Kyoto’s is among the best. The beauty, peace and romantic feel of the trees and landscaping make this a top destination for anyone in Japan in March or April.

Sakura (Cherry blossom) alley (StreetView)
Sakura (Cherry blossom) alley

Kinkaku-Ji, or the Golden Pavilion Temple, is one of Kyoto’s most popular tourist destinations. Dating back to the 1300s, the pavilion burnt down in the 1950s, but has been rebuilt, paying tribute to different Japanese architectural styles.

Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion Temple) (Google Maps)
Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion Temple)

Another one of Kyoto’s beautiful sites are the Sagano Bamboo Groves, some of the most beautiful woodlands in the world. Visitors can walk or bike around the woodlands, have tea within the forest in specially designed restaurants, and enjoy the blending of natural and man made beauty.

Sagano Bamboo Groves (StreetView)
Sagano Bamboo Groves

Hiroshima

Most cities in Japan are especially recognized because of their ancient history, but Hiroshima is famous for more recent history. In 1945, the United States bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki in an effort to end World War II. Many thousands of civilians died, and the war ended shortly thereafter, but the repercussions of the bomb continue to be felt today.

The Peace Memorial is centered around the only building left standing at the epicenter of the bomb, which has been preserved in it’s state immediately after the bomb blast to remind visitors of what happened at that site .It is an important and stark site, which leaves a strong impression on those who visit it.

Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Dome - Ground Zero (StreetView)
Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Dome - Ground Zero

Surrounding the Memorial is the Peace Memorial Park, dedicated to the legacy of the bomb blast and to the commemoration of its victims. It has several memorials and statues paying respect to the dead, including a special memorial for the children who suffered. The memorial and park focus not only on commemorating the event and aftermath, but emphasize the need for peace throughout the world.

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park (StreetView)
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park

Not all of Hiroshima and it’s surrounding area was destroyed in the blast. Much of Japan’s signature ancient architecture and landscaping are still evident in the region.

Itsukushima Shrine, built on the Itsukushima Island, is an ancient sacred place that has housed several shrines and temples over the years. The one visible today was built on piers in the bay so that it would appear to float during high tide, with a special gate famous throughout all Japan.

Torii of Itsukushima Shrine at low tide (StreetView)
Torii of Itsukushima Shrine at low tide

The gate can be visited on foot during low tide, or by boat during high tide. The shrine and gate have significant symbolism and deep meaning to Japanese and Shinto followers.

Itsukushima Shrine - "floating" Torii Gate (Google Maps)
Itsukushima Shrine - "floating" Torii Gate

Anyone planning a trip should expect to spend much of their journey being impressed, in awe and without words at the natural beauty, stunning architecture, efforts to blend the two in harmony, and the crazy bustle of the megacities throughout Japan. It will instill a desire for more beauty, harmony and peace in your own life long after you leave the island.

 

 

 

 

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Deep Dive into History: the Life and Death of Anne Boleyn

Thursday, May 19 2022 by

Anne Boleyn is one of history’s most famous women, with a reputation for capturing the heart of King Henry VIII and influencing a fundamental shift in political and religious power that changed the world.

But before all that, she was just a young noble Englishwoman.

On the 486th anniversary of her untimely end, let’s take a look at the life of Anne Boleyn.

Hever Castle, England

Anne was (probably) born in 1533, and raised at Hever Castle in Kent, near London. She and her two siblings grew up here. Anne left at age 13 to serve in royal households across western Europe. As a teen, she spent much time in France, excelling in music and entertainment, which helped her catch the eye of the King of England after she returned home.

It is reported that, while Henry VIII pursued her romantically, Anne would retreat to her childhood home for a reprieve from the attention and pressure to entertain the king.

Hever Castle (Google Maps)
Hever Castle

Pembroke Castle, Wales

While being courted by the king, Anne was given the title Marquess of Pembroke, making her one of the most powerful women in England. While it’s not likely she ever visited the lands associated with the title, the lands and castle are an important part of England’s history.

The first structures were built in the 1000s, and the castle constructed in the 1200s. But by the late 1500s, the earl had earned the disfavor of the king, who encouraged the literal dismantling of the structure. It was restored about 100 years ago to its former glory.

Pembroke Castle (StreetView)
Pembroke Castle

Westminster Abbey, London, England

On June 1, 1533, Anne was formally crowned queen in a  large ceremony at Westminster Abbey. Anne was pregnant at the time, and Henry was eager to have his baby born with all the royal protection possible.

The cathedral has long been an important site in England, especially for royalty. Now part of the Church of England, the cathedral has long been home to royal weddings, funerals, coronations, and other ceremonies. William and Kate were married here in 2011.

Westminster Abbey (Birds Eye)
Westminster Abbey

St. James Palace, London, England

While Anne and Henry were still on good terms, the king began construction on a new, smaller palace. Henry even indicated his love for Anne by inscribing their initials on the exterior. It was a popular residence for royalty during the Tudor years, and a primary residence for the Stuarts and Hanovers.

These days, it’s the primary residence for several of Queen Elizabeth’s children and grandchildren.

St. James's Palace (Birds Eye)
St. James's Palace

Windsor Castle, Windsor, England

Founded by William the Conqueror, Windsor Castle has been so integral to the royal British family that they officially adopted the name in the 20th century. Henry VIII made significant modifications to the structure. The building complex, once a medieval fortification, became a diplomatic and and entertainment hub.

Today, the castle complex is as important as ever. It was a safe haven during World War II bombings, and was even the location for Henry and Meghan’s wedding in 2018.

Windsor Castle (Birds Eye)
Windsor Castle

Hampton Court Palace, London, England

Originally built for Cardinal Wolsey, the disgraced cardinal gave the property to Henry VIII to try and buy back his good favor. It quickly became one of the king’s favorite properties. It was a perfect weekend retreat for the entertainment-happy Tudors, and the the Stuarts.

In addition to a remarkable chapel, the gardens are world-famous. They even include a grape vine that is over 300 years old and still produces grapes for the annual wine production!

Hampton Court Palace (Google Maps)
Hampton Court Palace

Tower of London, London, England

Anne only spent a few short years in the favor of the king. Shortly after giving birth to the future Queen Elizabeth I, Anne began to lose the attention of Henry. In his zeal to have a male heir, he listened to rumors and believed slander against Anne.

Henry had her arrested in 1536, less than three years after their marriage. During her “trial” she was housed at the Tower of London, on May 2. Only two weeks later, and without a chance to defend herself, Anne was convicted of charges including adultery and treason.

She was sentenced to death, and on Friday, May 19, she was executed by beheading. Before her death, she addressed the crowd and reminded them of her innocence. While it did not preserve her life, it did lay the groundwork for the restoration of her image in history.

Tower of London (Birds Eye)
Tower of London

Anne Boleyn died at 36 years of age, and yet she is one of the most famous, and influential, women in history. Her marriage to Henry VIII set in motion a series of events that eventually brought about an age of religious tolerance, allowing people to move to America and setting in motion for the creation of an entirely new nation.

Anne Boleyn is certainly a woman who changed the world.

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Man Hands, Festivus, and Newman: Remembering Seinfeld

Saturday, May 14 2022 by

Hello, Jerry!

For nine glorious years, the ensemble cast of Seinfeld entertained audiences, with the banality of daily life expressed with humor and antics. Described as “a show about nothing” it quickly became an integral part of American culture, which persists to this day. On May 14, 1998, the last episode of the series aired, but Jerry, Elaine, Cramer, and Newman are still as relevant as ever.

Let’s take a look at some of the best places from the show, and the people who brought it all together.

Jerry Seinfeld

Jerry brought the show to life, fictionalizing his own life as a comedian in New York City. By the end of the series, he was making more than $100,000 per episode, and the payoff has continued. With reruns, and services like Netflix and Hulu paying hundreds of millions of dollars for rights to stream the show, Jerry is richer now than when the show wrapped. Estimates place his wealth around one billion dollars!

NYC Apartment

Like his on-screen counterpart, Jerry Seinfeld lives in New York City. But the real Jerry lives in the elite Beresford building, right next to Central Park on the Upper West Side. Units in the building sell for $10-20 million.

Jerry Seinfeld's House (Birds Eye)
Jerry Seinfeld's House

East Hamptons Residence

Jerry also owns a residence in the East Hampsons, where he and his family spend time out of the city. He bought the home from Billy Joel for $30 million in 2000. It also has a 22-car garage, which is essential for the car collector. The mansion boasts every luxury, including a coffee maker that costs $17,000! That’s a whole different brew than what you get at Monk’s.

Jerry Seinfeld's House (Google Maps)
Jerry Seinfeld's House

Larry David’s Pacific Palisades, CA Residence

Larry David worked with Jerry to produce and develop the show, and has been financially blessed as well. Like Jerry, he owns several properties, but the Pacific Palisades residence is his main home. With an estimated net worth around $500 million, he can afford to live anywhere!

Larry David's House (Google Maps)
Larry David's House

Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s California Residence

Julia played one of the most annoying, and beloved, women on television with her character Elaine Benes. Bad dancer, oblivious friend, selfish partner, and yet so funny! She has gone on to star in several other television shows and holds the record for most Emmys for a woman in a leading role. And she’s turned a tidy profit, with a net worth around $250 million.

She has a few residences, but calls one in the LA area home. She has always been very private about her family and home life, but we know that she’s focused on environmentally-friendly development.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus' House (Google Maps)
Julia Louis-Dreyfus' House

People love Seinfeld as much these days as ever, as shown by the $500 million Netflix recently paid to have exclusive streaming rights! The sites from the show are still as popular, too.

Television Show Apartment

Funnily enough, the apartment used for the street views in the show for nearly a decade is just down the street from Jerry Seinfeld’s actual residence, and is a popular attraction for pedestrian tourists checking out NYC according to Seinfeld.

The "Seinfeld" Apartment (Birds Eye)
The "Seinfeld" Apartment

Tom’s Restaurant/Monk’s Cafe

Tom’s Restaurant, a real-life diner in New York City serves as the exterior of Monk’s Cafe. It’s been around, serving (mediocre) food for more than 100 years, kept alive in recent years perhaps by its reputation as a Seinfeld diner.

Tom's Restaurant (Birds Eye)
Tom's Restaurant

Soup Nazi

The episode featuring the “soup Nazi” was based at least somewhat in reality. There is in fact a man who makes superb soups in NYC, named Al Yeganeh. Like the character, he was also very particular about ordering and getting food. He closed his shop for a few years, but opened back up in 2010.

Al's Soup Kitchen International (StreetView)
Al's Soup Kitchen International

From “yada, yada, yada” to “man hands” and “Hello, Newman” the verbal and visual gifts of Seinfeld just keep on giving. To remember the legacy of the show, you can rewatch some of your favorite episodes, quote your favorite lines, or celebrate a spontaneous Festivus, for the rest of us.

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Thursday, May 26, 2022

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Tuesday, May 24, 2022

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