Dunhuang 敦煌, Town of Deserts and Mural Buddhist Art

Mingsha (whistling sands) Mountains 鳴沙山

In the beginning of September, my long-cherished dream of traveling to Dunhuang finally came true. Before starting for the destination, I feared most that it might be extremely hot in the deserts, but it was a needless worry. During my stay the weather was dry and sometimes cloudy, so I was able to make at ease a tour of scenic spots and historic sites located in the middle of the sands.
Dunhuang, an oasis town situated deep in the Gobi Desert, used to prosper as the branching point of the Silk Road to the west in ancient times. Various goods and cultural items were brought to the east via this town, and among them was Buddhism, which was introduced through the centuries' efforts of priests and missions. The name of "Dunhuang" therefore sounds familiar to Japanese people.
As its ancient name "Sands Province" suggests, Dunhuang is surrounded by huge deserts on all sides, and one of those is the “Mingsha (whistling sands) Mountains”, well known as the most popular tourist spot nearest to the town. I took a taxi downtown, and after less than 20 minutes, I was in the sands. It was already past six in the evening, but the sky was still bright, and the sands world I saw on camelback was shining white.

Camels, a funny, honest, patient creature
Around seven o'clock in the evening

Mogao Grottoes, registered in the list of UNESCO World Heritage. 莫高窟
Pictures of mural paintings in the film played to visitors before starting the tour of the site; no photography is allowed inside.

Yumenguan Pass, located 95 km northwest of the town. 玉門関     

Yangguan Pass Museum

It's nice to take a walk in the markets trying different kinds of dry fruits.

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Second Visit in Xi'an 西安

Xuan Zang (602 - 664), a great Buddhist, Traveler and Translator in Tang's age
His statue in front of the temple looks to the west.

Xuan Zang, an ambitious learned Buddhist priest, ventured on a long difficult journey across the deserts to India in the year 629, and after working hard in the birthplace of Buddhism, came back to Xi'an in 645 taking more than 600 Buddhist scriptures and materials with him. Living a life of religious devotion, he left behind great works of scripture translations and travel records for future generations.
The Heart Sutra is one of his painstaking translations introduced to Japan, and up until today it has been earning the great respect among Japanese Buddhists as one of the most authoritative texts teaching the truth of our mental and material world.

Dayanta Pagoda in Ci'en'si Temple








The following are just a few of the numerous artistic treasures of ancient China which are preserved in the Shangxi Sheng National History Museum in Xi'an.









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First Qin Emperor's Holy Place in Xi'an 西安


Xi'an, a big tourist city today, used to be the capital of the dominant dynasties for almost 1,000 years since 221 B.C. when the First Qin Emperor unified the whole country for the first time. In particular, during the Tang Dynasty, the city enjoyed its utmost prosperity as the eastern starting point of the Silk Road and as a major trade center between the East and the West.
Times have changed, but the charm of the ancient capital remains unchanged even today. A lot of valuable historic remains and sightseeing spots, most of them found within the urban areas and one-day trip distances, have been fascinating tourists from all over the world. You might need more than one month to have a quick look around the attractive sites.
At the beginning of September, one morning, I took a shuttle bus on Route 5 in front of the bustling Xi'an Train Station. The bus runs between the city center and the First Qin Emperor's Holy Place, part of which is open to the public as the museum of the terracotta warriors and horses. It was about one hour's drive, but I felt it was a long way because of the heavy traffic congestion on the highways.
After getting off the bus at the terminal, I had to walk another 20 minutes to get to the museum. I paid an admission fee of 150 RMB (about 3,000 Japanese yen) at the ticket counter. Though it was a rainy weekday, I saw a great number of visitors in the buildings and neighboring gardens.
The following are some of the pictures taken inside of the museum.









A photo showing a young lady engaged in rehabilitation

An ancient bronze model measuring 1/2 of the real thing in size

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Trip to Qingdao 青島


Qingdao, a major harbor city located on the northeastern coast of China, is widely known for its quality beer "TSINGTAO", but its unhappy history is less known. The area was under the occupation by Germans for 17 years from 1898, and later by Japanese in the early 20th century.
During the occupation period, the Germans were very active in developing the infrastructures in their districts, such as ports, buildings and roads, and left many of them behind in the aftermath of World War I as "a parting gift" to the local people. One of the typical examples will be the beer brewing facilities preserved in the Qingdao Beer Museum today. I had been curious to look at the historic heritage with my own eyes.
On September 1, early in the morning, I took a taxi at the hotel to visit, at first, Xiaoyushan Gongyuan (or "Small Fish Mountain Park"). Qingdao was still hot and humid. The taxi driver looked reluctant to drive me there probably because the destination was not far enough to make good money.
The outlook from the Park was, as I was told at the travel agency in the hotel, really wonderful with the former German districts and the Yellow Sea in a panoramic view.

View from the Park



Catholic Church


The map shows that the Qingdao Beer Museum is not a long way from the downtown areas, but it took more than 40 minutes by taxi to reach there because of traffic congestion. The city was flooded with cars everywhere. At the reception counter, I was greeted by a Japanese-speaking young lady, requested to pay an entrance fee of 30 yuan (or about 500 Japanese yen), and urged to proceed inside.
The beer brewing machines formerly used by the Germans are exhibited following the brewing procedures throughout the floors. The main installations are huge brass boilers, Siemens brand power motors, maturing cellars with countless barrels, bottling and packing machines, and life-size wax figures taking a working posture; these apparatuses excitingly show how the beer used to be made from barley such long time ago.
At the end of the tour inside, in a small bar in the museum, I was served a glass of free non-filtrated premium beer. It was a great time of refreshment for me.

Qingdao Beer Museum





A bar in the museum

Beers of the world
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Great Wall at Mutianyu 慕田峪

While staying in Beijing in September, I took part in a group tour of Mutianyu Great Wall. On the way to the destination, the tour guide, a cheerful man around forty and fluent in English, showed us to the Olympic Stadium Park and a big jewelry production factory.
The minibus arrived at the gate of the Great Wall about three hours after leaving the city centers. I felt we were lucky because large crowds of tourists were not found around the Wall. "In a few days", the tour guide said, "this whole area will be flooded with millions of people for holidays of the National Foundation Day, so today will be the last day you can enjoy sightseeing as you like".
I was excited to look around this famous Wall for the first time. The endless walls, together with the surrounding steep mountains and deep valleys, looked as if creating a different world that was so unreal.
On the way back to downtown, we stopped by a locally known teahouse "Dr. Tea" to experience a simple tea ceremony, where a young lady, explaining how to make tea in English politely, served different types of Chinese tea, inviting us to buy tea products in their shop.

The following are some of the views of Mutianyu Great Wall.


Teahouse "Dr. Tea"


A huge precious stone on sale at the jewelry production factory

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Short Trip to Tianjin 天津

In the middle of September, I took the CRH (China Railway High-speed) in Beijing for a one-day trip to Tianjin. The train, which is known as China’s Bullet Train, was quiet and comfortable just like the Shinkansen in Japan. Just 30 minutes after the departure, I was in Tianjin Station.
Tianjin made its appearance on the global stage during the Opium War in the mid-19th century, and developed as one of the most influential commerce points during the early modern age. The old, stately buildings of the former banks and companies in the central district are the remaining trace of the concessions after the War. As the city is also known for the jewelry industry, I spent a good time looking around different types of jewelry shops in the liveliest shopping area.


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Shanghai Expo 2010 上海

Chinese Pavilion


Swiss Pavilion


Shanghai Culture Center Pavilion

Sri Lanka Pavilion
A scene of a craftsman cutting raw ores into gemstones


The funnel-shaped tower in front of the entrance gate of the Asian Zone

Spanish Pavilion

Growing Foreign Investments in the Chinese Economy

On September 21, 2010, early in the morning, I got on the subway downtown to visit the Shanghai Expo. Shanghai was still very hot and humid under a scorching sun. After arriving at the station as designated on the Expo map by the Expo Agency, I chose to enter the Asian Zone first because I was already familiar with some pavilions of it through the publicity.
There were numerous visitors everywhere inside the Zone, and I had to wait in line for 30 to 60 minutes in front of the popular pavilions. The Expo was like a competition of cultures and advanced technologies with 246 participating organizations from all over the world.
So much interest of foreigners in the Expo will be a sign of the growing existence of China in the world economy. According to some official statistics on the Internet, in 2009 the foreign capitals accounted for 55.9% of the export value and 54.2% of the import value in the Chinese foreign trade; these figures indicate that about one half of the national economy was supported by the foreign enterprises.

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Yuan Ming Yuan Park 円明園

Late April, I took a trip to Beijing and spent four days there. What made me anxious before leaving Japan was yellow sand which is notorious for making the population unhappy around this season. But there was no need to worry about it. The yellow sand was no big problem; the breeze, cool and dry, made the trip rather comfortable.
During the stay, I visited Yuan Ming Yuan, a huge park where a luxurious, gigantic imperial palace of the Qing Dynasty was placed from the 18th to 19th century. All buildings in the palace, however, are said to have been destroyed or burned out by the Allied Forces in the Second Opium War in 1859, and there are only the ruins left today. The following pictures trace back what happened in this park 150 years ago.






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Book Review

Yang Yi’s Prize-winning Japanese Novel
"On the Morning Blurred with the Mists of Time” (The Japanese original title is "Tokiga Nijimu Asa")「時が滲む朝」

Ms. Yang Yi, a Chinese lady residing in Japan, has recently been awarded the “Akutagawa Prize”, one of the most honorable awards for the people seeking a literary career in Japan. She has become the first writer with foreign nationality who won the prize. Her work honored is the novel titled “On the Morning Blurred with the Mists of Time” (which is my free translation from the Japanese original).
The story, staged in China and Japan, covers ten years from the end of the 1980s to the beginning of the 2000s. In a press interview after winning the prize, Yang Yi said that she had wanted to write down something about the Tiananmen Square Incident, though no reference is made to political ideologies or propaganda in the book.
With the spotlight being put on two boys in the novel, the story develops in a provincial town in China. These two hero students, after enrolling in the same university with an earnest hope to do something useful for the nation, gradually become involved in the student movements for political reforms, and get interested in American democracy as well. But after a while, they suffers a great setback amid the political turbulence in their country, and are finally expelled from the campus. The author’s narratives depict the incidents in an objective,detached manner with her personal feelings least involved.
After being forced to leave the campus, the heroes go to Japan and further continue to involve themselves in democratization activities with their country fellows. However, one of the heroes, working in a printing factory and raising his own children, gradually loses interest in politics, and finally decide to move back at the risk of being blamed in his homeland. The title of this book signifies a painful parting from the friends at the airport near Tokyo.
In the novel, Yang Yi tells only a little about the heroes’ personal communications with local people in Japan. That may come from her skillfully plotted story-telling approaches, but such writing style is not very familiar and likely to lead to different opinions in the readers' evaluation in Japan. According to the local press, it was at the second vote that the award was decided to her by the prize screening committee. After announcement of the decision, one of the members of the committee, Mr. Ishihara, issued a comment that this novel was pretty good writing, but did not make so strong an impression as her previous ones.

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Summer School in Beijing

I stayed in Beijing from July 16 to 23, 2007.
The Beijing Olympics 2008 is just one year away, and the preparations in the urban areas seem moving on at a good pace. Signboards at the main street corners are decorated with a lot of colorful advance publicity, and old buildings are being demolished for replacement with new ones. It is noisy everywhere in the downtown areas.
The main purpose of my trip was to attend a summer school to learn Chinese in Beijing, and the next day of the arrival, I visited the Academy of Arts & Design, a Qinghua University-affiliated college. At the application desk, I was recommended to take a one-to-one teaching course rather than attending a class lesson because of my limited length of stay.
My instructor Ms. Lao looks young like a student, but actually she is in her middle thirties, and married as well. She speaks in a loud and clear voice, and is tough with teaching. If I make a mistake or delay in response in exercises, I am exposed to her strict behavior. The explanatory texts in the textbook, which is as thick as 200 pages, are written in both Chinese and English, with the contents mostly focusing on pronunciations and pattern exercises.
The Chinese and Japanese languages share the same or similar characters in writing, so foreigners often think that Japanese people will learn Chinese quickly, but that is not true. Chinese is rather difficult to learn; one of the main reasons is that its phonetic structures are extremely different from Japanese. I often faced a lot of difficulty communicating with local people during the trip.

Evening walking
Good friends like to walk holding hands.

Construction booming
The evening rush hour

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Yi-he-yuan Garden 頤和園

Yi-he-yuan Garden in Beijing, a World Heritage Site about eight kilometers around, was a summer palace of the "Qing" dynasty (1644 - 1912). Relatively close to the downtown area, it is one of the most popular sightseeing spots of foreign visitors in Beijing today. Early September, I took a taxi at Subway Station Xizhimen to visit there. The following are pictures taken around the Garden.

Summer Palace Photo 2Summer Palace Photo 1Summer Palace Photo 4Summer Palace Photo 6IMG_0117.JPGIMG_0120.JPGIMG_0132.JPG
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Beijing Station

Beijing Station and main station building
Beijing Train Station

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Great Wall at Badaling 八達嶺






Late August 2005, on my first visit to Beijing, I arrived late in the evening. It was hot and humid like in Tokyo. The arrival lobby in the airport was crowded, but fortunately I hadn't much difficulty catching a taxi to go downtown.
The first day, I visited Gugong, commonly known as "the Forbidden City" abroad, and some other popular sightseeing spots with Ms. Jiang I engaged as a guide through an acquaintance. Touring around the downtown areas, I was most impressed by the overwhelming presence of Gugong, once the home palace of emperors who ruled the country for centuries. The site, located in the middle of the city, covers an area of 720 thousand square meters, creating something mystic in the atmosphere. When I stepped into the courtyard, I felt as if I slipped back in time centuries ago.
The second day, I chartered a taxi for a one-day tour of Badaling Great Wall and a few other distant spots. Ms. Jiang, though busy working as a computer engineer in Beijing, helped again by acting as guide and interpreter for me. It was still seven o’clock in the morning, but we started soon to avoid possible traffic congestion. The chartering fare was 550 Renminbi, or about 60 US dollars.
The taxi driver was a middle-aged, good man. He said that he used to work as a driver for the Japanese embassy in Beijing. Ms. Jiang enjoyed chatting with him, and sometimes translated points of their talks into English for me.
After about one hour's drive, we arrived at the gate of Badaling Great Wall, which is about 80 kilometers away from Beijing. It was still before nine o’clock in the morning, but the parking areas were full of cars and buses. The wall structures, standing along the ridges of the steep mountains, were visible from the foot. We headed to the ropeway station.
The Great Wall was huge, silent, and beautiful. I wish the pictures posted in this article could tell all what I saw there.

"The Forbidden City"



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