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


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Hiroshima Redux September 7, 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 “Hiroshima Redux” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-tx

Almost 2 years ago, I wrote my first blog post on Hiroshinma and Miyajima.  I wrote about my 2007 trip to Hiroshima.  Recently, I had the chance to go back after nearly 3 years away from Hiroshima.  Each time I have visited Hiroshima, I have seen it through different eyes.  On my first trip, it was my first year in Japan, and I didn’t speak much Japanese.  I was with a friend of mine who didn’t speak any Japanese and we had a hotel room that wasn’t in the best location to do anything in the city.  It was a good location as it was close to Hiroshima Station, but far from the night life.  On my second trip, I stayed in the same hotel, but I was with my girlfriend, so the experience was also unique.  Travelling with different people to the same place will inevitably give a different impression on you.  This time, I travelled with an old friend from Vancouver who is living in Osaka, and a friend I work with in Tokyo.  This was our last stop on a great adventure that started in Tottori and ended in Hiroshima.

On this trip, we drove into Hiroshima rather than taking the train.  We were coming from Izumo and spent the morning and early afternoon driving.  The approach into Hiroshima from the north-west was amazing.  We drove through a tunnel that basically cut through a mountain and under a park.  The exit into the city shot us out of the tunnel and directly onto a bridge that took us over a river and into the heart of the city next to Hiroshima Castle.  We headed straight to the station to get some tickets, which we failed at, and then on to the hotel.  If there is anything I hate more, it’s driving in major Japanese cities, especially around the station.  It’s a big mess of intersections that leave you wondering how to get from A to B without killing yourself.  We thankfully arrived at our hotel safely.  Our hotel was located on the edge of the Hiroshima Peace Park, which made for a great staging area for our adventures in the city itself.

The city hasn’t changed much, if at all.  It is the same city that I remember when I first visited.  Things look familiar, and staying in a newer area meant that I could get familiar with the surrounding area a lot more.  Hiroshima Peace Park is still a must see for a first time visitor.  The need to educate oneself on the horrors of an atomic bomb in an urban area is something that must be seen and experienced.  I’m not sure how other tourists feel, but I am always humbled to the point of near depression when I visit the park.  The symbols you see are all of peace and destruction.  You will see objects of twisted metal, earthen mounds to symbolize death, and various objects to symbolize the hope for peace.  I didn’t go to the peace museum again as it was something that I would not enjoy.  It’s something that should be done once in your life, but that’s all I can handle.

On this trip, I had a chance to walk around two new areas.  The first is around Former Hiroshima Municipal Stadium and along the river towards Hiroshima Castle.  The stadium itself is not an important place to be anymore as the Hiroshima carp have moved out to be closer to Hiroshima Station.  The stadium is now closed, and I don’t know what they’ll do with it in the future.  The area behind the stadium, near the library is an old train called C59161 or C59 for short.  It is an old steam locomotive that has been mothballed next to a library.  The locomotive is open to the public and you are free to climb into the cab area and take pictures.  Inside the cab, it’s a little dirty, but it’s a fun place to be.  There weren’t many people when I went, but I went on a weekday, so things may be different on a weekend.  The river behind the train is also nice. It’s good for a walk and there are several joggers in the area.  I found it to be a nice relaxing place that is away from the noisy streets near the stadium.

The other place that I had the joy of discovering is a river that is located near Hiroshima Station.  Heading south from the station, you will soon run into a river.  You can’t miss it as all of the trams cross over it.  Walking along this river for an hour or so is wonderful.  The banks are lined with trees here and there, and there are a few pieces of art.  I learned a little about the Kappa, a strange little devil-god that looks like a cross between a turtle, a frog, and a human.  While most people won’t have the time to go for a walk in this area, I do recommend it for people going to Hiroshima to work/live in the area.

As I mentioned, everything else in Hiroshima hasn’t changed.  The area around Ebisucho is still a hangout for good food and the sex trade in Hiroshima.  There is one shopping arcade that goes from the Peace Park towards the station that is nice to visit.  I found a nice park that went parallel to the shopping arcade that is near the peace museum.  It’s interesting as it has a few trees that survived the atomic bombing.  I wouldn’t consider this area to be of special interest as it’s not special.  There aren’t too many pieces of art, but it’s nice.  When going to Hiroshima, I always recommend going around and just exploring.  Pick a direction and just go.  You’ll always find something interesting no matter which direction you go.

The Hiroshima series continues with Hiroshima.

Hiroshima Information:

Japan Guide: http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2160.html
Wikitravel: http://wikitravel.org/en/Hiroshima
JNTO: http://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/location/r…mashinai.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。

Tokyo Fireworks August 17, 2010

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Tokyo Fireworks” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-tE

Summertime in Tokyo is a time when you can go to many different festivals.  The usual summer festivals with various food stalls selling okonomiyaki and yakisoba exist, and there is a lot of dancing that happens at these festivals.  The most popular annual festival has to be the fireworks festivals.  These are held weekly starting in the last weekend of July.  There are several famous fireworks festivals in Tokyo.  These include the Sumida River Fireworks (last weekend in July); the Edogawa Fireworks (first weekend in August); Tokyo Bay Fireworks (second weekend in August); and the Meiji Jingu Fireworks (end of August).  Of course, there are several more in and around Tokyo, but these are the biggest festivals.  If you are in Tokyo at that time, and have a day to spare, it’s a good idea if you can make it to one of these fireworks festivals.  If you can’t, I wouldn’t worry too much as you can see video of this at various places on the internet, especially on YouTube.

Coming from Vancouver, I have a very different idea of what a fireworks festival should be.  I am very biased in how things look after growing up enjoying the Symphony of Fire, now the Celebration of Light, in Vancouver.  The Vancouver festival lasts four nights over the course of two weeks and it is actually a competition among various companies from around the world.  They are scored on five basic criteria:

  • General Concept – presentation, structure and scale of display
  • Colour – choice and variety of colours
  • Originality – design and architecture
  • Quality of Production – rhythm of fireworks, volume of effects and quality of construction
  • Correlation of Music – choice of music, synchronization of effects, adaptation of moods

This festival has been going on since 1995 and I have grown to become extremely critical of the types of fireworks used, how it’s used, and the use of music within a fireworks display.  Needless to say, fireworks festivals are no longer as “enjoyable” as used to be.

In Japan, fireworks festivals are not about a competition.  It’s about impressing people with various fireworks, including the use of a large amount of fireworks to impress the crowds.  I have seen a couple of fireworks displays around Tokyo since I first came here.  The first time I saw the fireworks was in Atami several years ago.  Atami is a beach resort that is famous for its onsen. Recently, I have had the pleasure to go to the Edogawa Fireworks festival.  The atmosphere in Japan is extremely different compared to Vancouver.  The first thing you have to realize is that the festival is very calm and relaxed.  If you go to a festival in the city, such as the Sumida River Fireworks, you should expect to see people all over the place.  Since there is limited park space near the fireworks, it’s customary to see people set up their “camp” on local streets and just wait there for several hours.  My friend John, owner and star of Weblish was kind enough to spend a lot of time reserving a huge area in a park next to the fireworks.  We had what was one of the best seats in the city.  If you do go to a fireworks festival, and you do find a way into a nearby park, expect to see a sea of blue tarps on the ground.  It’s customary for Japanese people to rush into a site when it’s opened up and set up these tarps to reserve their area.  You can usually set up shop up to a day or so in advance, but it depends on which festival you are attending, and the rules for the year.  The second thing to note is that by the mid afternoon, people start to flood into the area.  This is a festival, and like any festival, people like to make it a big event.

When you get a spot to watch the fireworks, the next thing to do is relax.  It’s a great time to be with friends and enjoy the conversations.  To be prepared, bring lots of food and lots of drinks.  The great thing about Japan is that you can drink in public.  It’s necessary to bring enough alcohol to keep yourself happy up to and including the fireworks.  Bring enough snacks so that you won’t be starving after the fireworks.  The only question is where to use the washroom.  Like any public event, expect lines to use the washroom.  I had the unfortunate event of needing the washroom about halfway through the fireworks, and had to wait a bit to use it after the fireworks.  It wasn’t bad, but it’s not something that I’d feel comfortable doing again, if I could help it.

As I mentioned, fireworks in Japan are all about amazing the crowd.  They usually start with a countdown, if you are near a speaker, followed by a large display of fireworks.  They tend to go in a 10 minute loop.  There are a few minutes of spectacular fireworks that light up the sky followed by several minutes of smaller fireworks.  They tend to go one after another rather than several at the same time.  I believe this is done to allow the smoke to dissipate for the next round of large fireworks.  This entire process is repeated for just over an hour. If you are worried about catching a train to escape the area, you should think about leaving 10 minutes, or earlier, from the area.  If you wait till the end, you could be waiting for over an hour to just get to the station platform before you can wait for a train.  Needless to say, the trains are packed as badly as the morning rush.  If you don’t want to wait in line, chill out at your spot for at least 30 minutes, and then try to find a place nearby that you can just hang out and spend money for a couple hours.  If you are lucky, you’ll have a friend who lives nearby and you can just hang out there until the trains aren’t too busy.  The fireworks ended at around 8:30pm, and I left my friend’s house around 11pm.  The train was still packed as if it was the morning rush hour, but at least the station platform wasn’t that busy.

Comparing fireworks in Japan to fireworks in Vancouver is not an easy thing to do.  Vancouver is a beautiful display that is timed to music which makes it more art that spectacular.  In Japan, it’s the opposite. It’s all about impressing the crowds with images such as famous Japanese characters, and also to have the largest size of fireworks possible.  I’m not sure which is best, but both have their merits.  In Vancouver, everything feels different.  In Japan, with alcohol, things just feel like a party.  I can’t truly explain the difference.  You must go and enjoy the show to understand the difference, but it’s something that must be done if you have the chance to experience it.

Fireworks Information:

Vancouver’s Celebration of Light (Official Site): http://www.celebration-of-light.com/
Vancouver’s Celebration of Light (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celebration_of_Light

Tokyo Fireworks Schedule (Jalan – Note: May not be accurate past 2010 events):http://www.jalan.net/jalan/doc/theme/hanabi/13.html
Sumida River Fireworks (English): http://sumidagawa-hanabi.com/index_eg.html
Sumida River Fireworks (Japanese): http://sumidagawa-hanabi.com/index.html
Edogawa Fireworks (Japanese): http://www.city.edogawa.tokyo.jp/chi…event/hanabi8/
Tokyo Bay Fireworks (Japanese): http://www.city.chuo.lg.jp/ivent/tou…anabisaimeinn/
Jingu Fireworks (Japanese): http://jinguhanabi.nikkansports.com/

Weblish:  http://weblish.co.jp/

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。

Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics (Part II) March 16, 2010

Posted by Dru in Canada, Sports, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics (Part II)” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-nE

In terms of the Olympics themselves, the opening ceremonies were wonderful.  I heard a lot of great reviews from many people.  Of course, we couldn’t top Beijing, and we never tried to.  We did our own thing and had a great time with it.  I am extremely biased, so of course I loved it.  It was artistic and the music was wonderful.  I did, however, fall asleep halfway through, but I blame jetlag as the biggest factor, and it wasn’t very interesting in the middle, to be honest.  In terms of the events themselves, there has been a lot said about different things, and about the Canadian pride.  I will let the media and others talk about that on their own.  For myself, I thankfully had the opportunity to see two events.  I went to see women’s curling on two different days.  When people talk about curling, they only think, “curling”?  It’s a strange sport that is extremely underappreciated.  There is a lot of skill needed to do curling, and there is a lot of thinking involved.  You must use a lot of strategy.  During the games themselves, it was extremely rowdy.  The crowds, obviously it was mainly Canadian, cheered loud and hard for Canada.  Thankfully, many people understand the basic rules of curling, so most of the people could cheer correctly when there was a good or bad shot.  It wasn’t perfect, but people were pretty good about it.  Unfortunately, some of the other players were complaining that it was too loud and they couldn’t hear each other due to the cheering for the Canadian team.  It was part of the Olympic experience, and part of being an athlete.  I personally feel that they should be capable of dealing with these problems as they arose, but I also understand that the fans shouldn’t be as mean about things either.  Even the crowd should get penalties for unsportsmanlike behaviour.

On the Japanese side of things, there were only two sports that really mattered.  The first, and by a long shot, was figure skating.  Figure skating is now the number one winter sport in Japan, at least for the number of fans.  With the rivalry between Mao Asada and Yu-na Kim, it was impossible for Mao Asada to escape the limelight.  She had intense pressure, but by and far, the favourite was Yu-na Kim.  As you must know, by now, the results of their ranking didn’t change anything, and it was a predictable 1-2 finish for them.  The men’s side, however, had a small surprise with Daisuke Takahashi.  He is one of the most passionate skaters I’ve seen in a long time and it was fun to watch him skate.  Many skaters have very little passion when they skate, and it appears lifeless.  He had beaten the odds to become the first Japanese medalist in men’s figure skating.  He should be a hero in Japan.  The second biggest sport of these games was curling.  The Japanese women’s curling team was a young team from Aomori.  They were dubbed, Team Aomori, or Curling Musume (young girls curling).  They were all in their 20s and fairly cute overall.  It was a typical Japanese thing where they took the cutest women and focused a lot on them.  It was a little sad to see them knocked out in the round robin, but I think they did a great job.  If they had another 4 years to train, I’m sure they could come in and possibly steal a bronze medal.  Unfortunately, it’s unlikely, but a new group of young girls will take over and I’m sure women’s curling will get stronger and stronger for them.

By and far, the biggest “event” of these Olympics has to be the party.  Everyday during these Olympics, there was a party somewhere in Vancouver.  Whether it was in the bars, or just on the streets of downtown Vancouver, there was a party somewhere.  When the Canadian women’s hockey team won gold, we had a party.  On the final day of the Olympics, the Canadian men’s hockey team won gold in a nail biting overtime victory over the US team.  The entire country roared to life and screamed at the tops of our collective lungs.  There wasn’t a quite voice in Canada.  From that point on, the city partied until the early morning.  It was amazing to see all of the people erupt into cheers, if not tears, of joy when Sidney Crosby scored the winning goal.  To see thousands of people jump and scream at the same time is amazing.  The only other time you will see this is during a FIFA World Cup final.  You will never see this again.  The only other time you will ever, possibly, see this again is if a Canadian team wins the Stanley Cup.  It was amazing and I hope to experience this again sometime soon.

All in all, the Olympics were an experience that I will never forget.  I will never forget the energy that was in Vancouver while I was there.  I wish it was like that all the time.  People seemed friendlier, and to be able to see so many people walking around and enjoying themselves was a treat.  After the Olympics are finished, and the city returns to normal, things will be different.  I doubt it will return to normal, but the city itself has changed.  Hopefully, the amount of fun we had, and the amount of fun we will have, will continue to grow.  If you ever have a chance to visit Vancouver, I hope you will enjoy it and see all of the things that are left to see.  It’s amazing to enjoy this beautiful city.  It may not have the fashion of New York, or the history of Paris.  It may not have business of Hong Kong, or the craziness of Tokyo.  I would say it’s the most beautiful city in the world with some of the friendliest people as well.  Make sure you meet some people and have fun with them.

This is Part II of a two part series.  To read more about my experiences at the 2010 Winter Olympics, please go to Part I.

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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