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 there, but it was a needless worry. The weather was dry and sometimes cloudy during my stay, so I was able to make a tour of scenic spots and historic sites in the deserts without problems.
Dunhuang, an oasis town situated deep in the Gobi Desert, once prospered 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 one of those was Buddhism, the most influential religion in Japan today. The name of "Dunhuang" therefore sounds familiar to the Japanese.
As its ancient name "Sands Province" (a translation of the Chinese characters) suggests, Dunhuang is surrounded by huge deserts on all sides, and one of them 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.

Around seven o'clock in the evening

Mogao Grottoes, registered in the list of UNESCO World Heritage 莫高窟
The mural painting pictures below were taken from the film played to visitors before starting the site tour; no photography is allowed inside the caves.

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

Yang-guan Pass Museum 陽関

Dry fruits, a specialty of this region, on sale in the markets

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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
The 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 it seems that the charm of the ancient capital still remains unchanged today. A lot of historic sites 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 historic spots.
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 office. It was a rainy weekday, but I saw a great number of visitors in the buildings and neighboring gardens.









A photo in the gallery showing a young lady engaged in restoration

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. It was under German rule for 17 years from 1898 and under Japanese in the early 20th century.
Germans were enthusiastic about expanding infrastructures such as ports, buildings and roads in their districts, and later left many of them behind in the aftermath of World War I as "a parting gift" to the local people. The former German beer brewery, preserved in the Qingdao Beer Museum today, is probably one of those cultural assets. I had been very interested in looking at it 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 Park, a popular scenic spot in the urban areas, is set on a hill from which it is possible to see a panoramic view of the former German settlement zones and the milky blue Yellow Sea below. The outlook from the hill, as I had heard about it at the travel agency in the hotel, looked like a gorgeous picture scroll full of an exotic atmosphere.

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 Germans are exhibited following the order of brewing process all round the floors. The articles on exhibition include brass boilers, Siemens brand power motors, maturing cellars with countless barrels, bottling and packing machines, and life-size wax dolls in work postures. It was exciting to see how people had made beer 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

One day in September, I joined a one-day tour of Mutianyu Great Wall, located north-east of Beijing. 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. The visitors I saw at the destination were much fewer than I had expected. We were lucky. "In a few days", the tour guide said, "the tourist site here 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".
The Wall was showing a grand collaboration of structures and nature. The endless long-wall fortresses and the surrounding steep mountains and deep valleys, all together, looked as if creating a different world that was so unreal. I stayed there as long as time allowed trying to keep such amazing views in mind.
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.

Teahouse "Dr. Tea"

Precious stones 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 to make a short trip to Tianjin. The train, 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.
It was during the Second Opium War in the mid-19th century that Tianjin made its appearance on the global stage, and during the early modern age it developed into one of the most influential commerce points. The old, stately buildings of the former banks and companies in the central district are the remaining trace of the concession period after the War. On the other hand, the city has been known for its jewelry industry, so I tried to spend as much time as possible looking around the different types of jewelry shops and processing places downtown.


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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 took the subway downtown to visit the Shanghai Expo. Shanghai was still very hot and humid under a scorching sun. After leaving the subway at a station designated on the publicity map of the Expo, I chose to start the exposition tour from the Asian Zone.
As soon as I entered through the gate, I saw numerous visitors everywhere on the site, and I had to wait in line for 30 to 60 minutes in front of the popular pavilions. The Expo looked like a giant show of cultures and technologies with more than 200 foreign participating organizations.
Such great interest of those international communities in the Expo seems to indicate the growing existence of China in the world economy. In fact, according to certain official statistics of the year 2009 issued over the Internet, the foreign capitals accounted for 55.9% in the export value and 54.2% in the import value respectively in the Chinese foreign trade.

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Yuan Ming Yuan Park, a Witness of Second Opium War 円明園

Late April 2010, I took a trip to Beijing and spent four days there. What made me anxious before leaving Japan was the yellow sand, a natural disaster notorious for making the population unhappy around this season. Fortunately, however, there was no need to worry about it. During my stay, the yellow sand was not much observed, and my trip, with the breeze cool and dry, was fairly comfortable.
One of the spots I wanted to visit most during the trip was Yuan Ming Yuan, a spacious public park today, but there stood Ching's luxurious palace buildings from the 18th to 19th century. All the structures, including the most prominent European-style buildings, are said to have been completely destroyed or burned down in the fire of the Second Opium War in October 1860. The stone ruins remaining in the European-style gardens look as if telling the tragedy of the war.
The following pictures will 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 in 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 in 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 in particular 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 of doing 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, though 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 for it in the urban areas seem moving on at a good pace. The main street corners are decorated with a lot of colorful publicity signs, and old buildings are being demolished for replacement with new ones. It is noisy everywhere in the downtown areas.
Now, the purpose of my trip is to attend a summer school to learn Chinese in Beijing, so the next day of my arrival, I visit the Academy of Arts & Design, a Qinghua University-affiliated college. At the application office, I am recommended to take a one-to-one teaching course rather than attending a class lesson because of the limited length of my stay.
My instructor Ms. Lao looks fresh like a student, but actually she is in her middle thirties, and married as well. The textbook, which is as thick as 200 pages, is written in both Chinese and English and compiled mainly for pronunciation and pattern exercises. Lao speaks loud and clear in a confident voice and often gets tough on me when I give the wrong answer.
Lao's husband was working for a foreign-affiliated company near the school, and she called him to the school after the morning lesson. We had lunch together in a dining hall at the college and talked about jobs, salaries and other daily affairs. It was a very informative time for me. As I was a beginner of Chinese, all the conversation was in English.

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 luxurious summer palace of the "Qing" dynasty (1644 - 1912). Relatively close to the downtown areas, it is one of the most popular sightseeing spots of foreign visitors in Beijing today. Early September, I took a taxi at the subway station Xizhimen to visit there. The following are some pictures of the buildings 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, an English-speaking girl I employed 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, and serving as a national museum today. The site, located in the middle of the city, covers an area of 720 thousand square meters, creating something mystic in the atmosphere. As 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, 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, built on the ridges of the steep mountains, were partly visible from the foot. We headed to the ropeway station.
The Great Wall was amazingly huge and extensive. I wish the pictures in this article could tell all things I saw there.

"The Forbidden City"

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