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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。

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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。


Shinkansen – North Routes March 2, 2010

Posted by Dru in Hokkaido, Japan, Kanto, Tohoku.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Shinkansen – North Routes” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-kJ

Heading north, rather than south, provides a very different experience using the Shinkansen.  Unlike the Tokaido/Sanyo/Kyushu Shinkansen, the lines heading north share a main trunk and branch off at various points.  There are three main lines, and two “mini-shinkansen” that start from Tokyo Station.  The longest line is the Tohoku line.  This line started at the same time as the Joetsu line, but the Tohoku line will become more important in the near future.  The Tohoku line currently runs from Tokyo all the way to Hachinohe.  By the end of 2010, this service will be extended to Aomori, which is the larger than Hachinohe.  Ultimately, the line will be extended further from Aomori to Hakodate, and then Sapporo.  Unfortunately, Hakodate won’t be open until 2015, projected, and Sapporo may not open until 2020.  It will be a long time, but when finished, it will cut the time from roughly 12 hours, to just under 4 hours for the most direct services.  This will severely affect air travel as it currently takes 3 hours for most people to reach Sapporo from Tokyo.

The Tohoku line is also connected to the Yamagata and Akita Shinkansen lines.  These services are slightly different compared to regular Shinkansen.  These lines use special trains that are narrower, and run at grade with various level crossings.  They are usually coupled with regular Tohoku trains, but branch out at their respective start points.  For this reason, it’s very important to know which train you are boarding.  It’s very easy to be on the wrong train from Tokyo Station, but the signs are usually clearly marked, and train staffs usually check tickets while the train is between stations.

The Joetsu Shinkansen is far simpler as there is only one line with no connections.  The complex part is that it shares the tracks with the Tohoku Shinkansen from Tokyo to Omiya.  This is due to costs.  It’s very easy to see trains along the Tokyo portion of the line due to the volume of trains passing.  Recently, it has also become popular for hotels to create “train” suites.  These are rooms with views of the train tracks.  This is popular for “te-chans”, slang for train spotters in Japan.  You could also make it derogatory by saying “densha-otaku”, but that’s a different story.  It has also proved popular for young families with boys who love trains.  What better way to “take a trip” and not spend too much money.  As always, kids love boxes more than the toys that are inside them.  The Joetsu Shinkansen itself was built to service Niigata, but it also serves a small ski resort called Gala-Yuzawa.

A relatively less used, yet equally important Shinkansen line is the Nagano line.  This was built in time for the Nagano Olympics.  Currently, it shares over half of its line with both the Tohoku and Joetsu Shinkansen lines.  There are relatively few trains that travel this section due to the limited service range.  It basically follows the Joetsu route from Tokyo to Takasaki, where it branches off on its own to Nagano.  There is a planned extension from Nagano to Kanazawa by 2015.  By this time, the line should be renamed to the Hokuriku Shinkansen, further extensions to Tsuruga Station has been planned and will be built.  The line will ultimately link up with Osaka someday in the future.  The main purpose of this line is to connect the major cities on the Sea of Japan side of Japan to the main cities of Japan.  Whether it will prove popular or profitable will remain to be seen.

All three main lines utilize the same trains, while the Yamagata and Akita Shinkansen use their own specialized trains, for reasons mentioned above.  The trains have a similar styling to the southern route trains.  They used to use similar naming methods as their southern route cousins, but now they use the prefix E before their designation.  Due to this naming convention, you can still ride the 200 series train, which is very similar to the 0 and 100 mentioned in my previous post.  The first “modern” train you can travel on is the E1, a wedge nosed, bi-level, Shinkansen.  In 1997, the E2, E3, and E4 were introduced.  The E2 is similar to a duck billed train, but it isn’t as strongly pronounced.  It’s also one of only two trains that have been exported, the other being the 700 series.  The E2 was exported to China for use on their high speed railway.  The E4 is a bi-level train, like the E1, but with a duck bill nose.  The E3 looks like most European high speed trains, but used only for the Yamagata and Akita lines.  By 2011, there will be a new rain, the E5 entering service.  This is expected to take the system into Sapporo when that line opens.  It will be the fastest train in the entire Shinkansen fleet.

The final impression of this fleet is that it’s great!  Coming from Canada where high speed rail is non-existent, this would go a long way to connecting any country.  Countries such as China have begun their own high speed networks.  President Obama has also pledged to start thinking, and possibly building it soon.  If done right, it can earn money and save a lot of fuel.  Connecting Vancouver to San Diego is a viable option, so is Toronto to Miami.  While we must never forget how we get the electricity to power trains, it’s still probably cleaner overall compared to planes.  Can they replace planes completely?  Conventionally, they cannot replace planes at the moment.  We’ll have to wait for maglev trains before that could happen, but even then we are limited to specific ranges.  If you do travel to Japan, do try to use the Shinkansen.  It’s a fun, if expensive, way to travel.  Be sure to buy a JR Pass if you are only visiting.  It’s worth the cost if you head from Tokyo to Kyoto, even for just a day.

This is the second part of two in the Shinkansen series.  To read more, continue to the Shinkansen – South Routes.

Information:

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 East:  http://www.jreast.co.jp/e/routemaps/shinkansen.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。

Takamatsu August 4, 2009

Posted by Dru in Japan, Shikoku, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Takamatsu” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-dc

Takamatsu is considered to be the largest city in Shikoku, at least for its city core.  It is also the head of the Shikoku government offices and the heart of business in Shikoku.  Upon entering the city, you will realize how different it is from other parts of Shikoku.  It is a vibrant city that relies a lot on business to keep it running.  Being part of the Kagawa region of the island also means it is the home of the best udon in Japan.  While the city is fairly large, it isn’t what most tourists would call, interesting, unlike Matsuyama.

There are only two things to really see in Takamatsu, Ritsurin Koen and the Tamamo Breakwater.  Ritsurin Koen is a Japanese style park that is also national treasure.  It is located about two kilometres from Takamatsu station.  The park itself is fairly large.  It can be a little difficult to find your way and to see everything quickly.  There is an old small tea house located near a red cliff.  This tea house is only for viewing as it is no longer in use.  The red cliff is probably the most famous image of the park.  While it is called a cliff, it isn’t that large, and follows the edge of the park.  It is modeled after a similar, albeit much larger, cliff in China.  There is also a large tea house located in the centre of the park.  This tea house is very nice and located next to a calm pond.  Unfortunately, like most tea houses in Japan, it was very expensive.  Walking around the park, you can find yourself lining up to climb a bunch of steps to the top of a mound of earth.  This mound is called Mt. Fuji.  It is said to look similar to the real Mt. Fuji at different times.  Unfortunately, I didn’t see it that way, but it is a great place to take panoramic photos of the park.  Lastly, you can also visit the gift shop area where you can buy very expensive bonsai trees, or wood carvings.  If you have ever been to Shinjuku Gyoen in Tokyo, this park will not be that impressive.  It is still a very nice park overall.

Behind the station, you can head straight to the pier where you’ll be able to enjoy a nice walk out to the breakwater.  The Tamamo Breakwater is a pleasant walk and the lighthouse is an amazing sight at night.  Unlike most traditional lighthouses, where only the top shines, the entire lighthouse glows red.  There is also a small park located between the pier and the station buildings.  Within the park, if you arrive at the right season, you can visit a very beautiful rose garden with dozens of rose bushes.  It makes for a very beautiful and relaxing stroll.  If you have the energy, you can also walk over to the Takamatsu-jo and enjoy the beautiful gardens as well.  Unfortunately, the castle was destroyed many years ago, but is scheduled to be rebuilt starting in 2010.  If you can wait a few years, you might be able to enjoy this castle someday.

If you aren’t so interested in sightseeing, Takamatsu is a very bicycle friendly city.  There are several shotengai with various shops in each one.  Takamatsu claims to have the longest shotengai in Japan. If you consider a shotengai to be just one street, then this is not true. If you combine them, and the fact that they are all connected, then this is true. Each shotengai street seems to have its own theme.  I would recommend renting a bicycle at the station before exploring the shotengai.  Unfortunately, I didn’t know about bicycle rentals and went everywhere on foot.  Being in the area of Kagawa, Sanuki Udon is very famous.  You will be able to find udon in almost every corner of the city.  Going to an expensive restaurant is nice, but you can easily find cheap varieties on almost every street. Most of the time, you just order what you want, grab some side dishes, such as tempura, and grab a seat.  You can easily eat for under 500 yen.  When you have nothing better to do, I would recommend heading to one of the udon shops, grab a quick bowl of udon, and chow down.

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。

Matsuyama July 14, 2009

Posted by Dru in Japan, Shikoku, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Matsuyama” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-cN

Matsuyama is a city located on the western side of Shikoku.  It is, by some standards, considered the largest city on Shikoku, but this is debated with the city of Takamatsu.  The city itself has a very small feel, yet has enough shops to keep city folk happy.  It is also an excellent place to see different things at a somewhat relaxed pace.  You’ll be able to see a castle, onsen, parks, and temples, all in one city.  If you don’t have a lot of time, Matsuyama is a great place to see everything in a couple of days.

The heart of Matsuyama has to be the castle.  Matsuyama-jo is located on Mount Katsuyama.  This is a relatively small mountain that provides a nice getaway from the city itself.  There are about four different routes to climb Katsuyama to reach Matsuyama-jo.  Heading to the east side of the mountain is by far the easiest way to get to the top.  You can ride the gondola, or take the chairlift.  Both take roughly the same amount of time to reach the top.  The chairlift is a single chair that slowly climbs the mountain.  It is a very Japanese style of moving people.  It is very peaceful, providing beautiful views of the city as you climb the side of the mountain.  Riding the gondola is better if you have many small children with you.  The gondola is usually packed, so the view depends on where you are inside the car.  At the top of the gondola station, you’ll be greeted by many shop keepers trying to entice you to buy one of the citrus fruit drinks and bring a bottle home with you.  It is a nice refreshing drink, especially if you decide to hike up the mountain, but a little expensive.  Depending on the day you visit the castle, you might also find a few activities in the outer courtyard.  On the day I visited, there were opportunities to dress up in period clothing, such as a samurai, or in an old style kimono.  The castle itself is a well preserved original.  As I mentioned before, Shikoku has many wonderful and original, castles, unlike Honshu, the main island.  This one is no exception.  Upon paying the entrance fee, you will have a great opportunity to have spectacular views of the city.  The inside of the castle is extremely busy.  You must remove your shoes and wear slippers as you walk through the castle.  Unlike Kochi-jo, there isn’t much to see or do in this castle.  It is too busy to place dioramas, so you can only enjoy the original architecture and views from inside the castle.  It was amazing to see the Japanese people lining up in a very orderly fashion to leave the main tower of the castle.  If you have the energy, I would also recommend hiking down the mountain and taking a look at a shrine located halfway up the gondola.  If you head to the south side of the mountain, you can also visit Bansuiso.  It is a French style villa that is now part of an art gallery.  Unfortunately, I didn’t visit this gallery, but if I do return to Matsuyama, I will.

Matsuyama has two stations named Matsuyama, JR Matsuyama and Matsuyama-shi.  When you travel to Matsuyama, it is important to know which one you are at.  JR Matsuyama is a nice station, but it is highly focused on travellers only.  There are very few things to do around the station itself.  Located a fair walk west of the station is Matsuyama Central Park.  It is a more secluded park that is probably used by locals rather than everyday tourists.  It does have its own “castle”, but it is modeled after European castle walls, rather than Japanese style castles.  Matsuyama-shi station is more interesting.  It is the start of Matsuyama’s long shopping arcade.  As I have said, countless times, shopping arcades in Japan tend to look and feel the same.  Matsuyama’s shopping arcade is no different.  It is definitely worth a visit as it is somewhat unique.  I would probably take a quick look through the arcade, but focus more on the area just below Matsuyma-jo.  Around the gondola, you will be able to enjoy a more touristy and local experience.  This is also the location of the Matsuyama Guesthouse.

Matsuyama Guesthouse was my home for one night.  As a tourist on a budget, hostels are a great way to save money.  Although the sign says it’s a guesthouse, you can also rent rooms for one night.  The day I arrived, the hostel filled up completely.  There were two long term guests.  One was a New Yorker who had lived in China for a couple years.  He was just starting out in Japan, and decided Matsuyama would be his base.  There were also a couple of American hikers who were hiking all around Shikoku, but had to stop and return to Tokyo as they needed to get back to work.  An older Australian couple also came by.  They shared their stories of travelling throughout Japan and how they were going to another country, maybe Korea, to visit their son.  I also got to meet a Dutch “kid” who just finished High School and wanted to spend his GAP year in Japan.  At night, they had a special party for either Kids Day or Green Day.  In May, Japan has Golden Week, 5 consecutive days off, including the weekend.  With so many new guests, I guess we had to party.  We had some homemade okonomiyaki, cold sake, and some umeshu.  It was a wonderful time, but unfortunately, I couldn’t stay more than one night.  They were fully booked the next night.  The host of the hostel is very friendly and very kind.  Her English may not be perfect, but she tries so hard and she is always smiling.

Overall, Matsuyama is a wonderful city that is a must visit if you go to Shikoku.  While in Matsuyama, I would also recommend heading over to Dogo.  It is a very short tram ride, and I’ll talk about that next week.

Please feel free to visit Guesthouse Matsuyama and read their blog.  Unfortunately, their blog is only in Japanese, but the pictures are always nice.

Website: http://www.sophia-club.net/guesthouse/
Blog: http://www.sophia-club.net/blog.php

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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