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Top 3 Views of Japan (Reflections) February 28, 2012

Posted by Dru in Chugoku, Japan, Kansai, Tohoku, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Top 3 Views of Japan (Reflections)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-LM

For those who have read my blog since the beginning, or ventured to older posts, you will know that I have visited the Top 3 Views of Japan.  This is not an easy adventure and Japan has a top 3 list for many things.  I have recently written about the Top 3 Chinatowns in Japan and feel that there has been enough time to justify a second reflection of my trips to each of the places on the Top 3 Views list.  The list in alphabetical order is Amanohashidate, Matsushima, and Miyajima.  They all have their own importance and all were chosen by the Japanese scholar, Hayashi Gaho.  The fact that he was the one who chose each of the three has a particular importance that is easily lost to foreigners, including myself, who don’t understand Japanese or to those who have not read the references to these three places.

Amanohashidate is located in Kyoto, but do not expect to be able to easily visit Amanohashidate when you are in Kyoto.  It is a long train ride that goes from Kyoto to the Sea of Japan.  Kyoto city is located in the southern area of Kyoto and Amanohashidate is located to the north.  The trip out to Amanohashidate can be very worthwhile and I remember arriving to a very small town with almost nothing to do.  There were very few restaurants and most of the shops cater to tourists.  It is a very beautiful tourist trap but still definitely worth a visit.  Amanohashidate is nothing more than a long sand bar that separates Miyazu Bay into two parts.  It has also grown over the centuries.  It was once a long bar of sand that has now grown and become populated with many pine trees.  The most famous thing to do is to head up one of the mountains flanking Amanohashidate, bend over and look at Amanohashidate through your legs.  When viewed this way, Amanohashidate is said to appear to be a stairway into heaven.  This view has inspired many writers and artists.  There are so many poems written about Amanohashidate that you can see many of the poems written on plaques all along the sand bar itself.  It is a nice place and my only regret is that I didn’t fully understand the meanings of the poems themselves.  Hopefully the next time I visit I can appreciate the area a lot more.

Matsushima is a small bay that is located near Sendai.  It is a small town that is very similar to the other Top 3 Views in Japan.  The one thing I noticed more was that the entire town, at the bottom of the bay, was heavily promoting the fact that they are part of the Top 3 Views in Japan.  When I visited Amanohashidate and Miyajima, there was little in the way of informing visitors that they were in one of the Top 3 Views of Japan.  Matsushima was a bit different in this way.  I can imagine why as the famous way to see the views are by boat.  There are several tours that head out into the bay so you can see the various islands that make up Matsushima.  Matsushima gains its status as a great view by the hundreds of islands that dot the bay.  They look like some god dropped these large rocks into the bay and then planted some pine trees on top of them.  The islands are also known for their shape.  The islands shoot straight up and the waves eat away at the rock face causing spherical voids.  It is amazing how nature naturally created these voids.  Something that was even more amazing is how Matsushima is naturally protected.  After the major tsunami in 2011, Matsushima was left relatively unharmed.  Some areas had problems but for the most part, everything was safe.  The way the islands were set in the bay created a natural wave break that protected the village.  Matsushima was very quick to declare that they were open for business after the tsunami, but I fear that they are not attracting the number of visitors they would like as most people still don’t know that the bay is safe.  It may take more time to recover from this problem but I’m sure they will.  Unfortunately, I still feel the same about the area as when I first visited Matsushima.  I doubt I would ever recommend it to anyone unless they are living in Japan or they have visited Japan many times as it was a large disappointment for me.

The last place, and in my opinion the best, is Miyajima.  I have been there twice and it is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site list.  The island is a good day trip from Hiroshima and very popular.  It is very much a victim of its own success.  Even on a weekday the island can be overrun with tourists.  It is a very beautiful place that has been written about often.  Most of Miyajima is off limits to all people as it is mostly parkland with very few trails.  The most famous sight is Itsukushima Jinja.  It is the focal point of the entire island and the most visited location.  Walking from the port to the shrine is a very enjoyable experience with many deer lining the path.  The shops cater to tourists as always but they promote a lot of local items such as Hiroshima oysters and Miyajima wood products such as chopsticks and rice spatulas.  One area only a few people visit is the top of the mountain.  It is popular when the cable car is running, but unfortunately it wasn’t running the second time I visited.  The top of the mountain is a very cool and fun place to hang out as it reminded me of various fight scenes between Captain Kirk and various aliens on the original Star Trek series.  I would love to visit the island again to see the peak as I fell in love with Miyajima.  If I had a chance to go again, and I didn’t have to pay, of course I would go however after visiting the island twice, it is no longer on my list of things to do again for the time being.

For those deciding what to see, my own personal opinion is that Miyajima is the best followed by Amanohashidate and Matsushima.  All of them are nice and definitely beautiful.  Miyajima has become more and more overrun with tourists but it is still a special place.  Amanohashidate has grown on me over time and I remember the remoteness of the location meant that I had the place nearly to myself.  Matsushima was the dark spot but I hope it is mainly due to my experience.  In several years, I might want to re-visit Matsushima and see what it is like.  Perhaps my opinion will change and I would enjoy it a lot more.

The Top 3 Views of Japan series continues with Miyajima (Top 3 Views of Japan), Amanohashidate (Top 3 Views of Japan), Matsushima (Top 3 Views of Japan), and Miyajima Redux.

Original Posts:

Amanohashidate:  http://wp.me/piUxk-i2
Matsushima:  http://wp.me/piUxk-1I
Miyajima (Part I):  http://wp.me/siUxk-miyajima
Miyajima (Part II):  http://wp.me/piUxk-tA

Regions of Japan – Kansai to Okinawa June 14, 2011

Posted by Dru in Chugoku, Japan, Kansai, Kyushu, Okinawa, Shikoku, 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 – Kansai to Okinawa” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-F0

Kansai is probably the second most popular area to visit by foreigner.  It is home to Japan’s second largest city Osaka, after discounting Yokohama.  It is also home to the most historically important cities in Japan, Kyoto and Nara.  Kobe is another major city but like Yokohama it can be considered as a suburban city of Osaka.  Kansai is also home of Wakayama which is famous for their Buddhist temples and the ability of foreign guests to spend a night and wake up to the prayers within the temples and Himeji, home to Japan’s most famous castle.  There is so much to talk about in Kansai that it is impossible to summarize it in one paragraph.  The people are very distinct and they have their own dialect.  It is often considered the comedy capital of Japan due to the number of comedians who call Kansai their place of origin.  The people are very outgoing and it is often easy to strike a conversation with a stranger compared to the cold and private Kanto region.  It is often a bit colder than Kanto but the warmth of the people more than make up for it.  There is a bit of a rivalry between people from Kansai and Kanto but I do believe it is more in jest rather than prejudice.  As for the food, Kansai is considered the capital for Japanese “soul food”.  They have things such as okonomiyaki and takoyaki.  They are experts in yaki soba and tonpei yaki.  It is mostly fried food but it is delicious.  Kyoto is a small exception as they specialize mostly in traditional Japanese foods that cost an arm and a leg at times.  Either way Kansai is a food lover’s paradise, unless you are trying to eat healthily.

The western end of Honshu is Chugoku.  It can easily be misinterpreted as China as Chugoku is also the same word for China.  This region is best known as the home of Hiroshima and Okayama however the Sea of Japan side includes Tottori and Shimane which are wonderfully beautiful rural areas in Japan.  The Yamaguchi prefecture is also a beautiful place but I have yet to visit that region.  The Sea of Japan side of Chugoku is best characterized as a rural area that appears to be disconnected to Japan itself.  The people seem to not worry about anything and tend to live life as an independent region to the other regions.  They are a proud area that is popular for domestic travel.  The southern region, in contrast, has been stigmatised by the tragic bombing of Hiroshima.  Most people will overlook Okayama and just visit Hiroshima.  It is a very important historical location and it is a place I highly recommend people to visit if they get the chance.  Unfortunately it can be a terribly humbling place due to the amount of artefacts that remind us of the terrible outcome of the atomic bomb.  You can’t travel within Hiroshima city without seeing reminders left right and centre about the bombing itself.  The people in the city are great and they try to live their lives as normally as possible.  The food is delicious.  They are famous for their oysters as well as okonomiyaki.  Of course Kansai is famous for okonomiyaki but the Hiroshima style is different and in my opinion, better.

Shikoku is a small island that is located just below Honshu.  It is an area that only a few Japanese people visit if they don’t have family in the area.  It also happens to be one of my favourite areas to visit.  It is a diverse region that is made up of 4 prefectures.  Each area is also unique.  The eastern side of Tokushima and the southern prefecture of Kochi often fight over who is better.  There is a very old and popular festival in both prefectures that are visited by thousands of Japanese people each year.  Both festivals claim to be the best and most exciting festivals in Shikoku and to be honest they are both wonderful to see.  While I haven’t been to either in person, it is difficult to travel the region and not see video of the traditional dancing during the festivals.        Ehime is the western prefecture that is well known for its onsen, Dogo onsen.  It is considered the oldest onsen in Japan and has various healing factors.  A little north of Matsuyama is Imabari which is famous for its towels.  In the north, you can also visit Kagawa.  It is famous for its udon noodles and also for Naoshima which is a famous art island.  It is a small island that is filled with various modern art sculptures.  Most of it is free however the main museums are not.  Overall, Shikoku is a very diverse region that rivals most regions of Japan.

Kyushu is the final region.  It is the western most main island of Japan.  It is famous for its food and onsen as well as its nature.  Most people will travel only as far as Fukuoka and northern Kyushu.  This is the area that has the best onsen as well as the best food.  Fukuoka is well known for its regional delicacies as well as being close to Nagasaki.  Nagasaki is not as popular but important for foreign tourists.  The southern region is not as well known but they are famous for shochu and various poultry and pork products.  One of the more interesting, yet overlooked, areas is Yakushima.  It is a small island just south of Kyushu’s main island and setting for Hiyao Miyazaki’s Princess Monomoke.  It is one of the few natural environments unique to Japan.  South of Kyushu is the Ryukyu Island chain which encompasses Okinawa.  Most people will lump Okinawa and the Ryukyu into Kyushu but that shouldn’t be the case.  Okinawa is, in its own right, a separate area.  They have a different history compared to Japan and have been fighting for their own rights as a small “nation within a nation”.  The entire chain of islands is beautiful, from the pictures I have seen, and make a nice vacation spot with lots of opportunities to relax on the beaches.  The culture is very unique with a unique style of music, dress, and language.  The food has been heavily influenced by the regional natural fruits and vegetables as well as the heavy presence of the US military.  One of the most famous items has to be Taco Rice which is basically taco filling on a bed of rice.  They also make use of bitter melon which is unique in Japan as other regions cannot grow bitter melon easily.

There is one region that almost never gets named when talking about regions of Japan.  These are the Izu and Ogasawara Islands (Bonin Islands).  These are a set of small islands that stretch south of Tokyo for over 1000kms.  The Izu Islands are a set of islands that are somewhat populated.  They have a lot of tourism however don’t expect access to be easy.  Farther away are the Ogasawara Islands in which only two islands are inhabited.  The Ogasawara Islands are historically more important that the Izu Islands.  Iwoto, or previously known as Iwo Jima is part of this group of islands where the US fought hard to get a foothold in taking down the old Imperial Japanese Army.  It has been a long time and few people visit these sets of islands.  In fact it is very difficult to get to any island other than Chichijima and Hahajima.  Most people in Japan never even consider visiting these islands so they have evolved into a very self sufficient area.  It is hard to believe that they are Japanese yet they are very much Japanese.

As you can see, Japan is a very long and diverse country.  Each region ranges from cool temperate to sub-tropical.  Japan is bound by 4 seas and 1 ocean.  There are 4 main islands and hundreds of other small islands that span over 1000 kilometres from one end of Japan to the other.  There are several mountain ranges and many diverse rivers.  Each region has their own distinct version of Japanese culture along with their own distinct foods.  People imagine Japan as being a homogeneous culture but they either forget or neglect that there are two indigenous groups, the Ainu in Hokkaido and the Okinawans in Okinawa.  You can also see the various culture differences between each region of Japan that is accentuated by the differences between people in the Kanto region and the Kansai region.  It is a wonderful country with many things to see.  Visiting only a few areas is not enough and visiting at one time of the year is not enough.  It can take a lifetime to fully explore every corner of Japan and even then you’d still have trouble experiencing everything.

Regions of Japan Information:

Wikipedia:
Japan:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_regions_of_Japan
Kansai:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kansai_region
Chugoku:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ch%C5%ABgoku_region
Shikoku:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shikoku
Kyushu:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ky%C5%ABsh%C5%AB
Ryukyu Islands:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ryukyu_Islands
Okinawa: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Okinawa_Prefecture
Izu Islands:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Izu_Islands
Ogasawara Islands: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bonin_Islands

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

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

Driving in Japan (2010) [Part II] September 28, 2010

Posted by Dru in Chugoku, Japan, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Driving in Japan (2010) [Part II]” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-tt

Our final leg of day 1 was a trip to Sakaiminato, Matsue, and Izumo.  The drive to Sakaiminato was a long and boring one, and one that I wouldn’t recommend.  It wasn’t recommended to me by my map, but it was necessary to reach our destination of Sakaiminato.  The stretch between Yonago and Sakaiminato was one long boring straight stretch.  We got fed up looking for the famous street in Sakaiminato and parked in a supermarket just a couple blocks from the station.  It turned out nice as we could just walk over to the famous Mizuki Shigeru Road.  After a tour of Sakaiminato, my friend took over the driving as I was exhausted and we had agreed to do the switch.  The drive on the north side of the lake between Sakaiminato and Matsue was beautiful and allowed us to see some of the countryside towns of Shimane.  We also got to see how they do construction.  Instead of having flag people directing traffic, they used signal lights and timers.  You would see a timer ticking down with a red light.  When the timer reached zero, the light would turn blue and you could go.  They basically set it up so that there was a “flag person” all the time, even when they weren’t working on the road.  It was the first time I had ever seen that, and we saw it a couple times on this journey.  The roads in and around Matsue and Izumo were nice as well, but there was nothing unique about them, especially when comparing it to other cities in Japan.  It was beautiful to drive around Lake Shinji and I would recommend it to anyone and everyone.

After a couple days off in Izumo to relax and see all of the sights, we took off on the second section of our tour. We drove from Izumo all the way to Hiroshima.  The first part was a quick jaunt on the San’in Expressway and the Matsue Expressway.  We headed south to Unnan City and then south along the Tojo Ourai, route 314.  It was a nice two lane road that had little to no traffic on it.  It was a nice winding road that flowed along a river and past many villages.  It was a perfect way to see the farms and forests of Shimane before we got to Hiroshima.  My plan for the route was to reach the Okuizumo Orochi Loop.  It’s a double loop, kind of like a pretzel, that ends roughly 105 metres above the starting point.  The total length is roughly 2300 metres.  It’s a fun little double loop with a nice small pullout at the top. Be sure to stop here and take a bunch of pictures.  Whenever you go, it will be quiet as most people take the major Izumo Ourai instead of this road.  After we completed the loop, we continued south until we reached the Chugoku Expressway.  We had another “moment” in a national park just before we reached the Expressway.  Unlike other moments, this one wasn’t comfortable.  I was doing the majority of driving on this section and I had a small beetle join me in the car.  I think we hit him and he just happened to fall into the car and get stuck near my crotch.  It was a fairly uncomfortable feeling for me to have a bug wedged under my pants, and it didn’t help that it was as we approached a corner.  Thankfully, I kept cool enough to continue driving.  After about 10 minutes or so, we came to an intersection where I could get out and sweep the bug out onto the ground.  Aside from the near heart attack I got from being surprised, all was well.  By the time we reached the Expressway, things were good.

The trip along the Expressway was quite simple.  We decided to switch drivers as I hate driving in the city.  My friend was really kind enough to “volunteer” his services while I navigated.  We got off the Expressway just before the Hiroshima Expressway started.  We took the main roads and got fooled by our GPS again.  All of the signs and all of the cars went one way, and the GPS said to go another way.  We instinctively ignored our GPS and followed the signs to our next “Expressway”, a tunnel that would bypass a lot of the city and drop us off in the centre of the town.  It was very interesting to exit the tunnel as we were on a bridge over a river and then planted in the downtown core of the city.  Imagine entering a tunnel in the suburbs, with only a few strip malls around.  Once you exit the tunnel, you are immediately on a bridge looking at a big bustling city with tons of traffic.  We managed to safely find Hiroshima Station and then to the hotel.  Needless to say, it was a huge challenge to understand the GPS and we did get a little lost along the way.  When you are travelling in a city, GPS is very difficult to read as the signal tends to bounce off of the tall buildings.  A little heated argument did ensue within our car, but cooler heads prevailed and we made it to our hotel, and dropped off our car at the rental shop and said sayonara to our faithful steed.  I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again, driving in major Japanese cities is very stressful and not fun at all.

I learned a few new things on this trip for my future travels.  The GPS is your friend and your foe.  There were many times where I wanted to use the GPS properly, but I couldn’t figure it out.  I’m sure there is a way, but without the necessary Japanese skills, it was more difficult that it should have been.  If you are trying to get from A to B, there is no problem to input it with basic Japanese skills.  Most of the input data is done in Japanese (hiragana), but finding the way to input in Roman characters was difficult.  It took us a few days to figure it out.  You also have to be aware that many places have the same name.  If you search for a place with a name such as “Sakaiminato”, you have to choose by the city.  Searching for something like Hiroshima Station, while it should mean the train station, it actually means anything with Hiroshima Station in the title.  It was a pain in the butt to figure out how to set it up properly, but with a little fiddling, we got it to work.  Navigation input is also set so that you can’t do anything unless you are parked.  Pressing the brake does not equal park.  You must actually set the car in park.  Other than that, the maps were very detailed and it was easy to navigate.  The instructions were great too, but not as good as the car that I used on my trip to Nikko.

As for maps, I still recommend the Touring Mapple.  It’s a brand that is geared towards motorcyclists.  The routes that are recommended are highlighted, and there is a ton of information on the maps themselves.  In British Columbia, we have Destination Highways, which is a great book, but it can’t compare to Touring Mapple.  Touring Mapple has information on tight corners which are dangerous, information on closed roads, and even information on restaurants and hostels where you can stay.  While it’s a terrible city map, it’s great for travelling between cities.  Do note that Destination Highways does have descriptions on the roads themselves, which is better than Touring Mapple, but Touring Mapple is more complete as you can get information on roads to access the great roads.  It even featured onsen which are great to relax in.  If you are driving a car, I still highly recommend this map as it’s perfect for any adventure that requires the open road.  Choose any route that includes as many highlighted sections as possible, otherwise keep to the Expressways.  If you drive on anything that isn’t highlighted, you can expect to see nothing but traffic and the view wouldn’t be as nice either.  Surprisingly, the rural Expressways are very scenic.  Stopping at the rest stops are wonderful as you can sample some of the local food and there are various activities that you can do.  Most of all just take your time and always venture off the beaten path.  You never know what you might encounter.

Note:  This is part two of a two part series.  If you haven’t read part one, please head over to Driving in Japan (2010) [Part I].
For further reading about the San’in region, please follow the links below:

Driving Information:

Chugoku Expressway (Wikipedia – English): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chugoku_Expressway

Chugoku Expressway (Wikipedia – Japanese): http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/中国自動車道

Izumo Orochi Loop (Wikipedia – Japanese): http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/奥出雲おろちループ

Drive Plaza (Information on Expressways in Japan including travel times – JAPANESE): http://www.driveplaza.com/

About Touring in Japan (English): http://www.e-wadachi.com/howto/map_e.html
How to Cycle Around Japan (This is for cycling, but it’s very useful for driving as well): http://www.e-wadachi.com/howto_e.html

Touring Mapple (Official – Japanese): http://touring.mapple.net/

Rental Car How To (Japan Guide) [Note: There are links to major car rental companies towards the bottom of the page]:http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2024.html

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

Driving in Japan (2010) [Part I] September 21, 2010

Posted by Dru in Chugoku, Japan, Travel.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
comments closed

Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Driving in Japan (2010) [Part I]” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-tq

For those of you who have been reading this blog for a while now, you know that I have had many trips in and around Japan, along with many road trips.  I have been taking road trips almost every year now on either a motorcycle or in a car.  In 2007, I took a trip to Hokkaido by motorcycle.  It was my first road trip, and a terrible one at that.  I was alone, cold and wet.  For my second trip, I rented a car for just a day and drove up to Nikko.  The route brought back a few memories of my trip to Sapporo, but with all the comforts of a car.  It was a pretty easy trip, but it taught me the pain of driving in the city, and trying to return to the city on a Sunday night.  One word can sum up that experience, traffic.  Last year, I had my epic adventure, and the last one on my bike.  I took a trip by ferry and rode my bike around Shikoku for two weeks.  It was a wonderful holiday that restored my faith in driving and riding in Japan.  It helped a lot that I went with a friend from Osaka.  Recently, June 2010, I embarked on my big road adventure of the year.  I headed to the San’in region, along with Hiroshima.  What follows is a recounting of what happened as we conquered the roads that lay ahead of us.

As many of you know by now, I have written about my adventures in San’in already.  I have talked about Tottori and Shimane.  My journey started with a flight from Tokyo to Tottori.  I left in the early morning and had time to spend an entire day in Tottori city.  I visited the Tottori Sand Dunes and that was pretty much it.  The actual adventure didn’t start until the next day.  We got up early again as we had a long day of driving ahead of us.  Thankfully, we had two drivers, one being myself, and the other being my friend from Osaka.  We rented a Mazda Axela, which is a Mazda 3 in North America.  It was a little big for what we needed, but we were expecting a total of 4 people in the car, but one person bailed as she booked the wrong tickets for the trip.  The car itself was big for what we needed.  We could have gotten a compact car instead of this one, but the added size made the trip very comfortable.  When we got the car we spent a few minutes fiddling with the GPS navigation system before we took off.  The GPS was easy for us to understand, but it would take at least 2 more days before it was easy to use.  If you ever rent a car in Japan, be sure to learn a little Japanese, or have a good understanding on how to guess the menu system.  It was difficult to use, but we all had various degrees of Japanese knowledge which helped us a lot.

Our first leg of day 1 was a trip along the coast.  We started with a short drive on the mainland to avoid the traffic and made good time.  We reached our junction, ignoring our GPS all the time.  We had our own route planned and the GPS was guiding us to the “best” route but not the most scenic.  Thankfully, we had enough knowledge of the road to navigate smoothly and soon enough we were pros at navigating.  When we hit the coast, we took our sweet time and stopped at a couple beaches. We got our feet wet and took many pictures.  It was a perfect start to the day.  Driving up and down the coast on the Sea of  Japan is amazing. I have heard from many motorcycle riders that the coast is amazing, and I would have to agree.  I would love to just rent a car, or even bring a bicycle to the area and just enjoy the trip.  I was told by a friend that taking the train is also spectacular, but I tend to get a little antsy on trains after a few hours.  At least with a train, I could drink alcohol and not worry about getting into too much trouble.

My friend from Osaka did the first leg of driving.  He handled the coast very well, which was pretty easy.  There weren’t too many turns and the signs were easy for us to read.  We had one tough section through a small town called Hawai.  The pronunciation is the same as Hawaii, and the town played with that name a lot.  Everywhere you went, you saw Hawaii signs and tourist attractions that were a little tongue in cheek with references to the beautiful island resort.  After the town, we switched drivers as my friend had bad experiences driving on small country side roads.  It was my first time to drive in a few months and over a year since I had last driven on the left side of the road.  It was a little shaky at first, but I got my road legs back very quickly.  Aside from getting used to the car, which happens with almost any new car I drive, things were easy.  We were quickly headed down the road that we chose, but we soon reached what looked like nothing more than an access road.  Being in the countryside of Tottori, some of the main highways between cities are more akin to an access road rather than a true road.  Unlike North American streets where designated highways must meet a certain criteria, in Japan, it just indicates the road.  Our first “moment” came as this access road was about 1.5 lanes wide and we came across a truck.  It was a big truck and a challenge.  I was facing the challenge of passing this oncoming truck with only a few centimetres on both sides of the car.  The truck driver was kind enough to stop on the side and let me do all the work, but considering his side had a wall, and mine a drop into a field, it wasn’t that bad.  Creeping slowly, I passed my first hurdle.  Little did I know, this would only be the beginning of our journey of the day.

The route we took to Daisen, our first real destination, was simple enough and only a few points of caution.  My map had a few warnings that the road we were about to embark upon was closed during the winter months due to the weather.  This didn’t worry me too much.  We had a nice car, supplies to keep us fed and hydrated, and lots of time.  By the time we reached the road, things changed very quickly.  The first challenge of a small countryside road was past, but we had another road that was also only 1.5 lanes wide.  Being the countryside, and having seen the last stretch of road, I thought that this would be a short stretch of narrow roads.  I was wrong.  We also had to contend with a few construction signs with which we had no idea what they meant.  After our trip, we reviewed photos of the signs, and the sign said that cars were not allowed in, but when we went, it had a sticker on top saying it was “cancelled”.  Essentially, we got lucky.  We ended up doing most of the trip up and around Daisen on the narrow style road.  I have had experience on these types of roads before in Canada.  In Victoria, there are a few nice places like this.  The road is narrow and the vegetation is abundant.  On this road, it was the same.  The overgrowth from the bushes and trees made it a challenge to drive.  Being a kinder driver, I took a little more time to get around, along with the fact that I was worried about oncoming traffic, whatever it may be.  We spent roughly an hour or so going up, down, and around the north side of the mountain in what was one of my toughest drives ever.  The road was immaculate, and the beauty of the forest was unrivalled.  If I had the chance to skip that area, I would probably say no.  It’s something that has to be seen and experienced.  Before long, we were at Daisen-ji and taking a long deserved break from the car.

Note:  This is part one of a two part series.  Please continue reading in Part II.
For further reading about the San’in region, please follow the links below:

Driving Information:

Chugoku Expressway (Wikipedia – English): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chugoku_Expressway

Chugoku Expressway (Wikipedia – Japanese): http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/中国自動車道

Izumo Orochi Loop (Wikipedia – Japanese): http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/奥出雲おろちループ

Drive Plaza (Information on Expressways in Japan including travel times – JAPANESE): http://www.driveplaza.com/

About Touring in Japan (English): http://www.e-wadachi.com/howto/map_e.html

How to Cycle Around Japan (This is for cycling, but it’s very useful for driving as well): http://www.e-wadachi.com/howto_e.html

Touring Mapple (Official – Japanese): http://touring.mapple.net/

Rental Car How To (Japan Guide) [Note: There are links to major car rental companies towards the bottom of the page]:http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2024.html

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。


Miyajima Redux September 14, 2010

Posted by Dru in Chugoku, Japan, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Miyajima Redux” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-tA

It has been a couple years since I last visited Miyajima, and I was excited to return to an area that I found to be the most beautiful place in Japan.  Since I last visited, I have made visits to the other three Top 3 Views of Japan, and I still think it’s the most beautiful of the three.  I have been to various areas including a trip around Shikoku, and a trip to the San’in area, and I still think Miyajima is beautiful.  While the natural beauty wasn’t as special this time around, the actual island didn’t disappoint me too much.  The second time around was not as good as the first time, but it was still great to say the least.

The first time I went to Miyajima, I went on a busy weekend.  I had time to see almost everything, and I did almost everything.  One of the main places I wanted to visit was the top of the mountain.  I enjoyed my trip up a rickety ropeway but this time, I was burdened with a choice to either hike up or not go to the top as the ropeway was closed.  I didn’t mind too much, but with the hot weather and the fact that I had been travelling for about a week already, I wasn’t up to the challenge of hiking up to the top.  Especially when I knew I would have to rush a little to get things done.  Instead, I decided to relax in the village and just absorb the atmosphere.

The first thing people should be doing is head straight to Itsukushima Jinja and the Torii.  It’s a short walk and you can see it from the ferry as you approach Miyajima.  The walk over on the weekend can be extremely busy with tourists taking up every available piece of real estate.  It’s a simple walk to get to the torii, and the best location for the view is generally reserved for those on tours.  They set up a set of benches/steps for groups of 10 or more to join together for a photo with the torii.  This area is the best for photos as you can see the torii with the main island in the background.  Like my last trip, I arrived at low tide, so I immediately made my way out to the torii.  Unlike last time, there were only a few people around the torii.  I was able to get more photos and not worry too much about getting in the way of other people.  Nothing had changed at all.  The gate was in the same location, with the same paint.  Although the paint did look a little older, it was still an amazing sight.  From there, I went into the shrine as it is a must see, even for a second time.  I headed in and felt that things were different.  With less people, pictures were much easier to take.  The only sad part was that there wasn’t a wedding happening this time.  I did get more time and things went much faster as there were very few people in the shrine itself.  Do be aware that on weekdays, while there are fewer tourists, there are hundreds of school kids taking educational tours of the island.  It’s tough to get around, but if you just wait a few minutes, they’ll soon pass.  The peak of these tours occurs around noon and in the early afternoon.

Afterwards, I headed over to a few of the other shrines in the area before my major task of the day, shopping!  I spent nearly the entire day in the shopping street of Miyajima.  Miyajima is famous for its wood products.  I have mentioned that Miyajima has the largest wooden rice spatula in the world.  You can still buy wooden rice spatulas (obviously not the largest one) as well as other wood products.  Finding things such as wood bowls and cups are harder to find, but chopsticks and chopstick rests are easy.  I was also introduced to an interesting character that looks a bit like a bald Buddhist monk.  Of course, they have the typical tourist goods such as t-shirts, pens, and whatnot.  I also had a lot of time to think about my gifts for friends.  Miyajima is the best place to buy momiji manju.  It’s a maple leaf shaped “pancake” with a sweet filling.  Typically, you’ll find red bean paste or custard, but in Miyajima you can also find macha, chocolate, and cheese.  There are a lot of flavours to choose from and I highly recommend trying them all.  I went to one famous shop that was recommended by the Japanese travel books.  The shop is easy to find.  It is the only shop that sells cream cheese filled momiji manju.  It can be easy to miss, but if you are looking for it, you will find it.

I also had a chance to eat in Miyajima.  It was the first time I had deep fried oysters.  Hiroshima is a region well known for its oysters.  They typically grill oysters in their shells and you can buy them for a few hundred yen each.  Being a weekday, these oysters were a little scarce, so I decided to go into a small restaurant and order a fried oyster set lunch for about 1000 yen.  I don’t normally enjoy oysters, but this time, it was delicious.  It was dangerously hot and I nearly burnt my tongue, but somehow, they got me to enjoy it.  Miyajima is also famous for its Anago, or salt water eel.  While it wasn’t in season, it was still a specialty of the area.  I can eat oysters, but I can’t eat eel, so I didn’t get a chance to try it.  While I was in Miyajima, I had a chance to run into a small liquor shop.  Of course it was focusing on souvenirs, but liquor was still a major presence.  Hiroshima is not well known for its liquor, but there is one brand of liquor that I generally recommend.  Kamotsuru is an old brand of sake that is somewhat well known in Japan, but well known in Hiroshima.  It is one of my favourite brands of sake and you can pick up bottles of it easily in Miyajima.  I was lucky to meet the store owner who gave me a little information (in Japanese) about the different varieties of Kamotsuru.  While I would recommend trying to speak a little with her, it’s best to wait until you are at Hiroshima Station and at a department store to get information as store owners in Miyajima have very limited English skills.  I have talked with many shop clerks about sake, so it’s easier for me to understand what they are saying.  Essentially, just buy what you want and hope you have the right type.

Miyajima is a wonderful island that will always leave me wanting more. I would love to be able to visit it again when the tide is in, and to go back to the peak of the island. It’s hard to find the time to go to Hiroshima, but I’m sure I’ll go back again someday. If you ever make it to Hiroshima, it is a shame if you don’t visit Miyajima as well. It’s not that close, but it is close enough that an extra day would not hurt.

The Miyajima series continues with Miyajima (Top 3 Views of Japan) and Top 3 Views of Japan (Reflections).

Miyajima Information:

Japan Guide: http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3401.html
Wikitravel: http://wikitravel.org/en/Miyajima

Itsukushima Jinja (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Itsukushima

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

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