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Gotemba April 3, 2012

Posted by Dru in Chubu, Japan, Kanto, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Gotemba” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/s2liAm-gotemba

Gotemba is a small city located at the foot of Mt. Fuji.  It is surrounded by the towns of Susono and Oyama but most people will consider that entire area to be Gotemba for simplicity.  Gotemba itself is located on the south-east corner of Mt. Fuji on the east side of Shizuoka and at the border of Kanagawa.  It is literally at the border between the Kanto and Chubu regions of Japan.  While Shizuoka is technically within the Chubu region, most consider everything to the east of Mt. Fuji to be part of Kanto and due to the geography, Gotemba falls on the east side of Mt. Fuji.  Gotemba itself has only one major attraction aside from Mt. Fuji, and that’s a large outlet shopping mall.  In the surrounding areas, to the north of Gotemba is the town of Oyama which is famous for Fuji Speedway.  Both of these are the only famous destinations for any travellers to the region, although there are a lot of natural places to visit.

The most famous and obvious attraction in Gotemba has to be Mt. Fuji.  Gotemba is the location for the entrance to the Gotemba hiking trail.  This is probably only for the real adventurists as it is considered the most difficult way to hike up Mt. Fuji as it is the longest trail.  Due to the proximity of Gotemba to Mt. Fuji, you can usually see Mt. Fuji on most clear days.  Mt. Fuji is a very fickle mountain.  I have heard many people complain about the problems of heading out to the foot of Mt. Fuji only to be greeted by clouds instead of the majestic mountain.  Due to its isolation from other mountain ranges and its height Mt. Fuji is often obscured by clouds.  In order to see Mt. Fuji, you need to go there on a perfectly clear day.  If there are any clouds in the sky, it is highly likely that they will slam into Mt. Fuji and hang out for a while leading to a huge disappointment.  Gotemba is one of the few places you can visit and not feel too bad if Mt. Fuji is obscured.  Most people visit Hakone, and I actually recommend visiting Hakone over Gotemba, but it can be harder to see Mt. Fuji as Hakone is located in the nearby mountains which can make seeing Mt. Fuji a little harder.  Kawaguchiko is the other famous place to see Mt. Fuji but aside from FujiQ Highlands, an amusement park, there is nothing to do there.  Gotemba can be better but only if you enjoy shopping.

Currently, Gotemba is well known for its shopping opportunities.  If you tell anyone in Tokyo that you are going to visit Gotemba, almost everyone will ask if you will be going there to go shopping.  The outlet mall in Gotemba is called Premium Outlets and it is an American brand of outlet malls run by the Simon Property Group.  In Japan, they set up a joint venture with Mitsubishi Estate who operates the Premium Outlet Mall chain in Japan.  The Gotemba branch is the flagship mall in Japan and well known among people in Tokyo.  It is a destination for people with long lines to get into the mall on weekends and holidays.  The easiest way into the mall is to purchase a ticket on one of the special direct buses.  These buses run from Shinjuku and Tokyo Station.  They leave in the morning and return by dinner.  All you have to do is show up at the station, board the bus and then board the same bus to return back to Tokyo.  Tickets for the weekend do sell out quickly so it is best to reserve seats ahead of time.  For those who can’t get tickets, you can still easily take a regular highway bus.  A highway bus is a long distance bus that uses highways to get from A to B, but on the way to Gotemba there are several bus stops on the Expressway itself.  There is also a train service but the best option for this is via Shinjuku but it is more expensive than the bus.  For most people, shopping at Gotemba will not be very different to shopping at any other outlet shop in the world.  Most of the shops are the same as in America, but there are several Japanese brands that you can’t find elsewhere.  Depending on your own fashion sense, you may or may not enjoy shopping in Gotemba but if you enjoy shopping anyways, you can always spend a day visiting Gotemba and attempting to see Mt. Fuji up close at the same time.

To the north of Gotemba is Oyama, the home of Fuji Speedway.  Fuji Speedway is the most famous race course in the Kanto region.  It was host to the F1 Japan Grand Prix in the past and considered the most beautiful race course in Japan.  This is mostly due to the fact that you can easily see Mt. Fuji from the track.  Today, the track is used mostly for local racing championships and Toyota sponsored events.  The track itself has undergone several changes over the decades.  Due to financial difficulties by its owner, Toyota, the track was discontinued as an F1 circuit but continues to be used for national races and local events.  Unfortunately, it appears that the racing course will not be used as an F1 circuit in the foreseeable future.  It is a bit of a shame but when compared to Suzuka’s greater history, Fuji Speedway will probably continue to suffer from the lack of attention.

As I mentioned in the beginning, Gotemba is not a place most people will ever visit, nor will they really want to.  It is a beautiful place to go but compared to the more popular areas such as Hakone, Gotemba will be overlooked a lot.  For nature, people will visit Hakone.  For Mt. Fuji hikes, people will go to Kawaguchiko.  For shopping, most tourists will stay in Tokyo or visit one of the outlet malls that are easier to visit such as the Mitsui chain in Makuhari.  For locals and people living in Tokyo, Gotemba will be a place to visit once in a while.  If you can justify a visit to the region, I recommend doing so, but unfortunately, I doubt most will want to spend the time to go there.

Note:  Unfortunately I have no photos of Gotemba Premium Outlets.  I almost never go there to take pictures, only to do shopping.  🙂

Regions of Japan – Nagoya to Hokkaido June 7, 2011

Posted by Dru in Chubu, Hokkaido, Japan, Kanto, Tohoku, Tokyo, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Regions of Japan – Nagoya to Hokkaido” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-EX


Japan is a small country that happens to be very long.  From end to end, Japan is well over 1000km long.  It is larger than Germany in terms of land mass and has a very diverse ecosystem.  You have the cold snowy north and the sub-tropical south.  It is a common misconception that Japan is a small country.  I would also argue that many people feel that any country that is outside of their own region is small, especially for Americans and Canadians.  It is important to know that Japan, while small overall, is actually very long which helps create the illusion that it is small.

Japan is divided into 8 main regions with a few sub-regions.  In the north is Hokkaido.  I have written a lot about Sapporo and the various festivals there.  It is a winter wonderland and also a great summer getaway.  In the winter, people head up there for skiing and to enjoy the delicious seafood.  In the summer, the seafood is still around but people go to escape the heat and humidity of the south.  Compared to other regions in Japan, Hokkaido is a relatively stable and sparsely populated region.  It isn’t the “wild west” but it isn’t like Tokyo either.  Getting from point A to point B in Hokkaido can be very difficult due to the sheer distances between cities and towns and the lack of trains can make it a difficult task.  Renting a car is definitely recommended if you want to see the local areas such as Shiretoko but it isn’t a necessity.  The bus network between cities is pretty good and you can get from Sapporo to most cities in Hokkaido by bus.  Planes are not so popular and trains are good for the major cities.  Unfortunately the trains can take a long time to get from place to place but keeping on the main belt from Asahikawa to Sapporo, then down to Hakodate via either Chitose or Niseko is relatively easy.  Be prepared for long travel times and you will have a good time.

Tohoku is the northern section of Honshu, the main island of Japan.  The main island forms an ‘L’ shape and Tohoku is at the top of the ‘L’.  It is a region that is very similar to Hokkaido yet also very temperate in nature.  The most common starting point is Sendai.  Including Sendai, all points north are considered Tohoku.  Points below Sendai are generally Tohoku as well but places such as part of Fukushima can be considered part of the Kanto plains.  Honshu itself is a very mountainous area with mountains bisecting the entire island into the Pacific and Sea of Japan side.  This creates a very distinct feel in each city depending on which coast you are on.  On the Pacific, the winters can be cold but there isn’t a lot of snow.  The Sea of Japan side which includes Akita and Yamagata receive a lot of snow in the winter.  In the summer, this area is more pleasant but the southern regions can be pretty hot and humid.  It is literally a transition between Hokkaido and the temperate south.  There are many local delicacies such as the Aomori apples and the beef tongue of Sendai.  It isn’t a popular place for tourists as there aren’t many things to see and do compared to other regions.  Hokkaido is well known for seafood and snow, but Tohoku doesn’t have a major drawing point for tourists.

Kanto is the centre of Japan.  It is a small section of Japan that includes Tokyo and located at the bend of the ‘L’ of Honshu.  It is where almost everyone goes when they visit Japan and it is a pretty small area.  The entire Kanto region can be considered as Greater Tokyo as many people do commute from the edges of Kanto to get into Tokyo.  Some would argue that there are major cities and industries as well such as Yokohama but the shear size of Tokyo makes Yokohama feel like a twin city similar to the twin cities in Minnesota.  Of course this is not the same however the idea that both cities can be considered the same city, rather twin cities, is true.  There isn’t really much to say or add to this region as most people know about the Kanto region already.  It is the heart of Japan.  Most companies and most people live in this area.  There are not a lot of historical places to visit anymore but places such as Nikko, Kamakura, and Hakone are excellent places with their own unique feel.

Chubu is a very complex region.  There are several sub-regions to Chubu due to its geography.  It is a region that is bound by Mt. Fuji, bordering the north-western area of Kanto and extending west to Kyoto.  It is also one of the most “visited” regions in Japan yet most people never stop to enjoy the region.  I am also a victim of just passing through the region more times than not.  Most people will go up to Mt. Fuji or pass through on their way to Kyoto.  The few people who do go to the Chubu region will usually head off to Niigata and Nagano or do a little business in Nagoya.  Due to the geography of the area is further subdivided into 3 regions.  The lesser known is the Koshinetsu region that encompasses Nagano, Niigata, and Yamanashi.  This area is well known for its snow and excellent onsen however the use of the name Koshinetsu is not popular.  They are more commonly known by their own respective prefectures.  The Hokuriku region is an area on the Sea of Japan side that is bordered by Niigata and Kyoto.  It is considered a northern path to reach Kansai but it is often overlooked by people.  It is still a somewhat remote area that is easily accessible by plane.  Trains do travel to the region but the new Hokuriku Shinkansen isn’t expected to be finished for a long time.  The main sections allowing access from Tokyo to the heart of Hokuriku will be complete in 2014 but the final section to Osaka has yet to be finalized.  As it stands, this area is often overlooked due to its remoteness.  The Tokai region is the most famous region as it is the main route for the Tokaido Shinkansen that links Tokyo to Osaka.  Shizuoka is one of the biggest prefectures in Japan yet very few people will visit it.  The most famous area is Nagoya where you can enjoy many delicacies.  Nagoya is not a particularly interesting for those visiting other cities but it is famous for its castle, local deep fried delicacies, chicken wings, and Toyota.  Toyota has their main factories located just outside Nagoya with a large museum as well.  Nagoya is also one of the most popular cities for people wishing to see races at the nearby Suzuka Circuit, but the circuit is located in Kansai, not Chubu.

Note:  Due to the amount of information available, this is only part 1 of 2.  Part 2 will be posted next week.

Regions of Japan Information:

Japan:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_regions_of_Japan
Hokkaido:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hokkaid%C5%8D_Prefecture
Tohoku:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T%C5%8Dhoku_region
Kanto:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kant%C5%8D_region
Chubu:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ch%C5%ABbu_region
Hokuriku:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hokuriku_region
Koshinetsu:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K%C5%8Dshin%27etsu_region
Tokai:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T%C5%8Dkai_region

Japan Guide:  http://www.japan-guide.com/list/e1001.html


Shinkansen – South Routes February 23, 2010

Posted by Dru in Chubu, Chugoku, Japan, Kansai, Kanto, Kyushu.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Shinkansen – South Routes” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-kH

Travelling by train in Japan is one of the easiest, yet most complex things to do.  It is a must for anyone who visits Japan. Going to Tokyo, or even Osaka, you are generally better off using the trains.  Travelling by car can take a lot more time.  While the most used trains are in Tokyo, the most famous train line is the Shinkansen.  This is Japan’s high speed rail line, which happens to also be the first high speed rail line in the world.  It was opened before the Tokyo Olympics, and has been expanding ever since.  The most famous image of the Shinkansen has to be that of the 0 series.  These were the original trains that have only recently been retired.  As of December 2008, these trains were taken out of service.  All of the other trains have remained, but each year, several of the older trains have been retired.

The first Shinkansen line was the Tokaido line.  This is the most famous line as it helps tourists head from Tokyo all the way to Kyoto, and for business travellers as it connects Tokyo with Nagoya and Osaka.  While all of the trains are called “Super Express”, this moniker can be confusing.  The Shinkansen is a super express, relative to regular train services.  When taking the Shinkansen, it’s very important to know which train you are taking.  A Nozomi, Hikari, and Kodama are all very different.  When using the JR Pass, the Nozomi is off limits.  If you do take this train, you might end up paying for the full fare regardless.  This is due to the sheer numbers of people using these trains.  Thankfully, the Hikari is still pretty quick with only a few extra stops, compared to the Nozomi.  The only downside is that travelling to Hiroshima and Hakata, in Fukuoka, is a little difficult.

The second Shinkansen line is the Sanyo line.  This is essentially an extension of the Tokaido line.  This allowed the line to connect Fukuoka, in Kyushu, to Tokyo.  Unfortunately, the trains can take around 8 hours to connect both cities making it impractical for most travellers.  Flying is still the best, but Hiroshima can be better than flying, due to airport locations.  When travelling along the Tokaido/Sanyo Shinkansen, there are several trains you could use.  The oldest currently being used is the 100 series.  This is styled like the 0 series.  These trains only travel along the Sanyo portion for Kodama (local) services.  It stops at every station, so the chance of riding this is pretty low for the average traveller.  The 300 series is the next oldest of the trains.  This series was fairly popular, but as I am writing this, they are slowly being phased out.  Currently, they are used for Kodama and Hikari services, with an occasional Nozomi.  This was the first Shinkansen that utilized a wedge style nose, rather than a “bullet” style nose.

In Japan, one of the most famous Shinkansen has to be the 500 series.  It is the most unique Shinkansen for its styling.  These trains have a sharp pointed nose, grey and purple colouring, and resemble a fighter jet, rather than an airplane or train.  Prior Shinkansen were made to resemble airliners.  The 500, while striking, was not very popular with customers.  It was very fast, but it was like a Ferrari.  It was relatively small inside, due to the tube like shape of the body.  The windows were smaller, it was darker inside, and a little noisy as each car had its own engine.  Few of these trains were made, but it’s still a popular train for train spotters.  The recent designs along these lines are the 700 series.  The 700 was the first duckbill styled Shinkansen.  The N700 is an evolution of the 700 series with more emphasis on comfort.  The N700 is also the first Shinkansen to be all non-smoking.  They do have smoking rooms.  In the older trains, there are smoking cars.  Entry into these cars is only for smokers.  Anyone else would be forced to leave, not by the train staff, but by the amount of smoke inside the car.  You can literally see a thick haze of smoke, and you can smell it in the adjacent car.  The N700 is quickly entering service and will be the main workhorse of these lines.  While the windows are a bit smaller than the 700, there is wifi access, for a fee, and two prong outlets in each row.  They are definitely thinking about their businessmen.

Connecting to the Sanyo Shinkansen is the Kyushu Shinkansen.  Currently, this Shinkansen line is under construction, with the southern portion complete.  This will link Hakata with Kagoshima, a city in the south of Kyushu.  At this moment, the line is running from Kagoshima to a point roughly half way to Hakata, the end of the line.  By the spring of 2011, this line is expected to be completed with through service to Osaka starting.  This line uses the 800 series of trains, which abandoned the duckbill style of the 700 series.  These trains have a more European styling, and the interior is said to be nicer than other Shinkansen trains.  When the line is completed, N700 trains will be used as well.  This will make it very easy to reach Kagoshima for most travellers.

This is the first part of two in the Shinkansen Series.  Please continue on to read more about the Shinkansen – North Routes.


Wikipedia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shinkansen
Japan Guide (Great page for a snapshot of major services): http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2018.html
Japan Railways (Lots of information on what to do in Japan):  http://www.japanrail.com/
Japan Railways (Shinkansen Page):  http://www.japanrail.com/index.php?page=JR-Shinkansen-bullet-train
JR Central (Note:  Lots of information on operations and reliability):  http://english.jr-central.co.jp/about/index.html
JR West (Note: This page is not very interesting):  http://www.westjr.co.jp/english/travel/
JR Kyushu (Note:  Great pictures of their trains):  http://www.jrkyushu.co.jp/english/tsubame_top.html


Climbing Mt. Fuji September 10, 2008

Posted by Dru in Chubu, Japan, Kanto, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Climbing Mt. Fuji” along with the pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-p

On Wednesday, July 23, I went to Fuji-san. Not to see it, but to climb it. Most people would say I’m stupid, but as the saying goes, you’re only stupid if you do it more than once.  Just give it time. 🙂

The day started early with the 7:45am bus from Shinjuku to Kawaguchiko 5th Station. It was the first bus we could take, and the fastest way there.  It is also really cheap. When we got to the 5th station, there were a lot of people. Most of them were just coming down from Mt. Fuji.  I’m guessing they spent the night, watched the sunrise, and then waited for the post office to open at 8am to send their postcards home.  We wandered around a little and I picked up a walking stick.  1000 Yen, but they burn “stamps” into it as you climb.  My friend also bought an oxygen bottle, but we didn’t touch it.

After asking a few people for directions, we began our ascent. There isn’t too much to say about this. Generally, there are signs the entire way up showing you how to get to the top, and how to get back down.  There were also a lot of schools hiking up to the 7th station. Going to the top took us around 4 to 4.5 hours.  I didn’t really check the time.  We also stopped a lot to catch our breath, get our walking sticks stamped, and to take pictures of course.  There are roughly 3-4 sections of the climb.  The first is relatively easy. A nice slope with lots of rocks.  After the 7th station, it’s very rocky and steep.  You feel like you are climbing up, not walking up.  It’s similar to climbing the Chief (in Squamish, Canada) except the rocks aren’t smooth, rather they are jagged. At the 8th station, it turns into a nice walk again.  Note that a nice walk up Mt. Fuji and a nice walk around the house are completely different.  The very top saw us climing up like the 7th station.  The only difference is that the rocks weren’t as jagged as the 7-8th station section.  At the top, you are greeted by a torii (gate) and 2 lions/lion-dogs.  You walk around a bit, check out the crater, and then head down. Circumnavigating the crater takes about an hour, but we didn’t have time.

The trip down was fun.  We beat the 2 hour “expected” minimum time.  Then again, we were almost running down the mountain.  Our bus left at 6:25, it was 4, and they said it should take about 3 hours to get down… ….  We got down in about 1.5 hours.  Going down is fun and a pain.  The rock path isn’t too steep, but it’s very loose and rocky.  The top has a lot of soft rocks, and it’s easy to slide down.  As we descended, the rocks got bigger.  It became harder to “slide” down the mountain. Some areas had lots of lava rocks that were just a pain to walk down.  Other sections had big rocks that I kicked.  Yes, I probably hurt my feet. 🙂  Things don’t get easy until you are close to the 6th station.  From there, you are on the same path as the path that goes up the mountain, so the path is easy to walk… relatively speaking.  You are also probably very tired after climbing Mt. Fuji.

In the end, you are left at the 5th station, thinking about how to get home, and starving as food at the top costs an arm and a leg.  However, you also feel elated because you accomplished something that few people do, or even think of doing.

So, if you are crazy enough to think of climbing Mt. Fuji, here is what you should bring:

Clothes: Bring some warm clothes, but I didn’t feel cold at all.  Only at the summit.  Other people felt cold and needed a fleece.  Staying overnight will probably require warm clothes, and if it’s cloudy and windy, you’ll need warm clothes too.  We were lucky and it was mostly sunny and not too windy.  Sunglasses would be recommended but not necessary.  They would help a lot on the descent with all the dust you kick up.  A hat is a MUST.  Keeps the sun off your face and prevents a bad sunburn.

Money: Bring as many 100 and 500 yen coins.  Even 1000 yen bills.  Don’t even think they’ll accept 10,000 for a banana.  If you get a walking stick, it costs 200-300 for each stamp, and the stamps themselves will cost around 3400 yen.  That’s on top of the stick.  If you need to use the toilet, they start at 50 yen at the 5th station, and go up to 200 (I think) at the summit. Most are only 100 yen. If you need lunch, you can get hot food for around 1000 yen at the top.  Anything tastes good when you are hungry and tired. 🙂

Shoes: Wearing good hiking shoes is great, but wearing old runners is fine too.  Just make sure they are expendable.  I can’t wear my shoes again.  I wore out the sole of the shoes running down the mountain.  Now I have to find new ones. 🙂  Then again, my shoes were pretty old.  Also, I saw someone walking up the mountain in Crocs, but he wasn’t doing the entire thing.  Just going between stations.

Food: Buy those energy drinks in a bag.  If you are in Japan, you’ll know what I mean. It’s kind of like a jelly.  Bring 2 bottles of water (350mL*2), at least.  Also, pack a lunch if you don’t want to buy one at the top or along the way.

Lastly, check the weather before you go.  As long as it’s sunny, or no chance of rain, you’ll be fine.  The mountain is not humid, and very nice in the summer.


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