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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。

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。


Mt. Daisen August 3, 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 “Mt. Daisen” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-sd

Mt. Daisen is a large mountain standing 1729m tall.  It is located in western Tottori close to the city of Yonago.  To put it into perspective, it is north of Okayama and Okayama is located between Hiroshima and Osaka.  The mountain is the highest in the entire region and often related to Mt. Fuji itself.  It can be an elusive mountain to see as the clouds themselves can roll in.   This is especially true in the rainy season.

Accessing the mountain is relatively easy.  You can easily drive in from neighbouring Tottori, Yonago, Matsue, and Izumo.  Access from the south is not very easy as you would have to pass a large mountain range to get there.  When I visited Mt. Daisen, I approached from Tottori and exited towards Yonago.  The easiest method is to drive along the coast and access the mountain on the Yonago side.  If you decide to drive around the mountain, there is a road, Oyama Loop Road that is open in the summer that wraps around the mountain.  While you won’t directly drive around the top, you will be close to the top and the elevation changes will vary greatly.  Note that the road is very small with room for only 1-2 cars at the most.  There are no lines and the overgrowth is abundant.  It does make for a nice drive and you can enjoy the beautiful scenery and the quiet stops.

Along the north side of Oyama Loop Road, you will pass through Obukijishinsui Park.  This is barely a park and more of a nature reserve.  A stop here is nice and there are various hiking trails that can only be accessed by car.  I would highly recommend renting a small car due to the conditions of the road.  Thankfully, the road itself was well maintained and the stop at the park was beautiful.  There are various points along the road in this park for you to stop, stretch, and see what’s around.  Unfortunately, things don’t change too much.  You will mainly see trees and bushes, and the view of the city or sea is almost non existent.  If you have time to spare, this is a very nice place to stop and see almost no one.  It’s wonderful for a picnic as well.

The main attraction of Mt. Daisen is Daisen-ji and Ogamiyama Shrine.  These are linked temples and shrines.  In the summer, there is a free parking lot that is a short 10 minute walk from the temple.  The temple itself is not spectacular, but worth a visit either way.  It’s more interesting to head up the mountain to Ogamiyama Shrine.  There is an old stone path leading from the back of Daisen-ji going to Ogamiyama Shrine.  In fact, if you decide to skip Daisen-ji, you can just walk straight up to Ogamiyama Shrine.  The shrine is a nice getaway, but the walk to the shrine is more unique.  When we were hiking up the trail, the clouds started to roll in providing an eerie feel to the trail.  At times, we were the only ones on the trail making it feel as if there were ghosts in the area.  I’m sure it is less interesting if it’s a nice sunny day.  If you venture off into one of the small hiking trails that run parallel to the main stone walkway, you will be taken to the river.  There is a nice small river with rock banks that provide an interesting place to rest.  There are several Inuksuk there, including my own.  I don’t know if they were made by locals, tourists, or other Canadians.  Unfortunately, the rocks aren’t good enough to make a human figure.

After a visit to the shrine and temple, you can head back into the small village.  There are only a handful of shops that are there, but there is a huge Mont-bell shop as well.  Mt. Daisen is popular for hikers and I’m sure you could complete the hike in a day or two.  Due to the time constraints, we didn’t bother to hike to the top, and also due to the weather, we didn’t think the view would be nice.  The village has a few gift shops and eateries for local food and traditional tourist food.  It appeared that Daisen soba was popular, and the tourist gifts centred on milk products and pear products.  We were still in Tottori, so pear products were very popular.  Milk produced at the base of Mt. Daisen is very popular.  You can find the milk in Tottori city itself, but it’s difficult to find outside of Tottori.  I was happy to find a small glass of milk and it tasted delicious.  It wasn’t the same as Japanese milk, but more westernized.  It was a nice refreshing treat after a tough drive and hike.  They also have a “kimo-kawaii panda” called Muki Panda which is a panda in a panda suit.  It’s tough to describe but it’s ugly and cute at the same time.  There is one shop that sells these goods and it’s somewhat popular for hikers.

Mt. Daisen can be tackled in less than a day.  The drive up the mountain may not be all that spectacular for most people, and the temple and shrine are standard fare.  I do recommend it if you are visiting the area as it’s a beautiful place to visit.  Very few people know of this mountain and the hiking must be wonderful.  I didn’t get a chance to try it, but I’m sure it would be a lot of fun.

Mt. Daisen Information:

Daisen (Possibly the official site, in Japanese): http://www.daisen.gr.jp/
Daisen (Resort Network, Japanese): http://www.daisen.net/
Daisen (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daisen_%28mountain%29
Daisen-ji (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daisen-ji
Ogami Jinja (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C5%8Cgamiyama_Jinja

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。

Tottori July 27, 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 “Tottori” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/s2liAm-tottori

Tottori is a small city on the cost of the Sea of Japan in western Japan.  It is located north west of Kobe.  The city itself is not a major location for tourists, even for Japanese people.  The city has only one major reason to be.  The Tottori Sand Dunes are the major attraction with Japanese pears being the major tourist gift.  In general, there isn’t much to see or do in this small city, but if you are looking for a small Japanese city to visit, Tottori might be a good place to see what small Japan looks like.  Personally, I think there are many better places to visit than Tottori.

The Tottori Sand Dunes, or rather “dune” is a short bus ride from Tottori Station.  It isn’t very expensive to visit the Sand Dunes and there are many things you can do.  It isn’t a proper beach where you can just lye in the sun and get well tanned.  It’s a tourist attraction with people walking up and down the one dune.  There are several things you can do when you visit the sand dunes, but do be aware that when it’s raining, most of the activities are cancelled.  One of the most interesting things you can do is to enjoy a nice ride on a camel.  The price is a little steep at nearly 2000 Yen per ride, but when in your life will you ride a camel, let alone a camel in Japan!  The other major attraction is to take a horse and carriage ride.  These rides go rain or shine as the wagons are covered.  I can’t comment on the experience as when I went it was raining somewhat heavily, so the smell of the wet horses was pungent.  You can also try sand boarding, paragliding, or just take a nice walk on the beach.  Since most things were closed, I decided to take a nice walk from the main station to the coast.  There are three sections to the sand dune area.  There’s the section between the dune and the tourist centres, the dune itself, and the coast.  The area between the dune and the tourist centres has been changing over the years.  In recent years, there have been grass growing at the basin, and a small pond has been growing in size.  What was once a sand covered basin is now starting to change into a small green oasis in the middle of a large “beach”.  The dune itself is somewhat tall and requires a little energy to climb.  It’s not a difficult climb at all, but the sand doesn’t help in the ascent.  Just past the dune is a steep drop that leads to the Sea of Japan.  The views from the top of the dune are beautiful, if it was a sunny day, and the water is refreshing.  A quick trip to the shore is recommended, if anything to get your feet wet and to enjoy the sea.  The challenge of running down the dune is fun fairly easy, but one has to remember that what goes down must go up to get home.

Other than the sand dune, Tottori has several nice temples and touristy things around the city.  If you have a chance, a bicycle is more than sufficient to get around and a great way to spend a day in the city.  The loop bus would be nice as well, but I prefer to either cycle or walk around on my own.  In my journey, I decided to walk and see whatever came my way.  There is a nice small river that has various old bridges and sculptures lining it.  I also stumbled upon a small zoo, and when I say small, I mean tiny.  There were very small cages for animals such as goats, birds, and monkeys.  The cages themselves looked too small to keep the animals happy. I arrived after 5pm, so the zoo was closed, but the entire area is encased in a park.  It’s free to walk around the outside of the zoo, and the paid area of the zoo is only a single 10 metre long path that showcases, at most, a dozen or so animals.  I doubt it’s worth the admission as you can easily see the animals from outside.  There was nothing I could do to help the animals, and I could only hope that when the zoo was open, the animals are free to walk around the park, or a bigger area.

Other than that, there really isn’t much to do in Tottori.  If you go to the sand dunes, you can try to pick up a sand dune egg.  These are hard boiled eggs that were cooked in the sand itself.  It’s not particularly delicious, but it is “unique” to the area.  I’d probably recommend trying the “ago” (ah-go).  The main Japanese name is “Tobiuo” or Flying Fish.  It’s a small fish that literally jumps out of the water and can fly for several metres.  The main food to come from Tottori is rakkyo and Asian pears.  Due to the climate and poor soil conditions, these are the only foods that Tottori can produce consistently.  Rakkyo is a type of pickled onion. It’s difficult to explain, but it has a somewhat sweet taste.  It’s popular as a topping for Japanese curry or as a small side dish for lunch.  The pears themselves are generally in season towards the end of summer.  Any other time, you’d only get pear treats rather than fresh pears themselves.

If you do go to Tottori, I highly recommend renting a car.  Tottori city can be visited in a day, maybe two, but if you want to really see the area, a car is a must.  There are various beautiful beaches just outside of the city towards the west.  You can also head towards Mt. Daisen which is a large mountain that is considered to be the Mt. Fuji of the area.  Another great option is to take the San’in Railroad, run by the JR Company.  I have heard it’s a beautiful train that goes up along the coast.  You can enjoy a beautiful day going from Kyoto all the way up to Tottori, then over and along the coast.  If you have the time, and want to just enjoy a day as the world passes by, this is a good way to spend it.

Tottori Information:

Tottori (Wikipedia): http://wikitravel.org/en/Tottori

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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