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Hakone (Part II) February 2, 2010

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

If you have the energy to continue into Hakone, you’ll have to travel a bit farther than Souzan.  Most of the activities around Hakone are centred in the area between Hakone Yumoto and Souzan.  From there, you can venture out past Souzan on a cable car and head out towards Lake Ashi.  This is probably where you’ll get the best views of the countryside of Japan, if that’s what you are looking for.  Do be aware that if it’s even slightly cloudy, you won’t get the best view of Hakone.  The most famous view is from Lake Ashi where, on a clear day, you can see Mt. Fuji.

Souzan is the starting point of the gondola that will take you to Owakudani, and then off to Lake Ashi.  Owakudani is generally translated into great boiling valley, or hell’s valley.  It’s an active volcano that is constantly emitting sulphur.  Be aware that you’ll be near the top of the mountain, so the weather will be cooler and because of the sulphur, it will be very smelly.  There is pretty much only one major route to follow.  Head with most of the people and look for signs and maps.  It can be a little difficult to get around, but once you are on the path, it’s pretty easy.  The people who work at Owakudani are careful about the amount of sulphur in the air and will advise you to make your way down if it’s too dangerous.  When you do get to the end of the hiking trail, there is a large boiling pool that is too hot to swim in.  It’s nice for pictures, but the main point of the journey is to buy eggs.  When at the top, you can buy the freshest boiled eggs in the area.  The eggs are boiled in the boiling sulphur water, which actually makes the shells black.  The inside of the egg is still natural, and the taste is normal, but the shell is black and a little brittle.  The main selling point is that each egg you eat can add around 5 years to your life.  This can be a lot if you are desperate.  The trip out to Owakudani is something that isn’t necessary, but if you are interested in seeing new things, and experiencing Japanese travel culture, you should head here.  The other reason to stop off at Owakudani is the ticket to get to Lake Ashi requires a transfer at Owakudani, so you might as well stretch your legs and enjoy the smell of sulphur.

Lake Ashi, as I mentioned, is probably the most famous place in Hakone, yet one of the hardest places to get to.  If you only want to go to Lake Ashi, you might be better off taking one of the highway busses out there.  From Owakudani, you can take the second extension of the cable car to Lake Ashi.  Do be aware that on major holidays, this area is also very busy and not easy to get around quickly.  Once at Togendai station, it’s necessary to transfer to one of the sightseeing boats.  During the high season, there are many boats trolling the lake.  These have been called gaudy and I can imagine why.  From the pictures, they are nothing but elaborate pirate ships that look like they were stolen from Disneyland.  It does look like a very interesting ship to travel on and I’m sure the views from the ship are beautiful.  There are only two stops, other than Togendai, for the Hakone Sightseeing Ships.  It is Moto-Hakone and Hakonemachi.  Both are equally important from what I’ve heard.

At Hakonemachi, you’ll be within the old town of Hakone.  Here, you can see some of the most historical buildings in Kanto, the greater Tokyo region.  From here to Moto-Hakone, the old Tokaido Road heads into Tokyo.  The old Tokaido Road is a historical road that was the only road in and out of Tokyo, heading west.  In Hakonemachi, you can visit the Hakone Checkpoint.  The Hakone Checkpoint is where all travellers, Japanese and foreign, had to check in to ensure they were allowed to travel within the country.  Walking to Moto-Hakone is something that has been recommended.  Along the way, you can walk down a path of cedars and once at Moto-Hakone, you can visit the Hakone Shrine.  Taking the ship to Moto-Hakone would also be special as it’s a famous place for pictures.  One of the torii, gate, is placed at the edge of the water making it a beautiful sight in the day.  If you are adventurous enough, you can continue along the Tokaido road for about an hour or so.  You’ll be able to read a small tea house and museum, as well as see some of the original unpaved road.  Do note that the road is nothing more than a walking path.

If you have two days, there are a lot of things to see and do in Hakone.  If you only have one day, it’s a little difficult, but you can get all of the main places.  If you are looking for nature and scenery, I’d recommend heading out to Lake Ashi first as it’s a little difficult to get there.  Do be aware that I have never been there so most of my descriptions are from what I’ve read on other websites.  I am also unsure as to the timing of reaching Lake Ashi itself.  Owakudani, however, is a very quick stop, so it shouldn’t take too long.   Hakone is so popular amongst Japanese people, that there are several ways to get there.  By and far, the easiest has to be by train.  All you have to do is spend a little extra to make it easy.  Going by bus is also simple.  If you are going to only one stop or overnight at an onsen, this would also be viable.  Do note that you will have to be careful of the traffic.  It can take two or three times longer to get back to Tokyo due to traffic on the expressways.  Finally, you can drive yourself.  If you have a total of four people going, this could be a lot cheaper.  Parking in Hakone isn’t difficult and with modern navigation systems, you can easily find parking.  Either way, have fun.

This is part two of a two part series.  To read more about Hakone, head back to Part I.

Note: I didn’t have enough time to head to most places mentioned in this post.  I have added pictures of the Hakone Open Air Museum to fill the space.

Hakone Information:

Hakone (Japan Guide):  http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e5200.html
Hakone (Wikitravel):  http://wikitravel.org/en/Hakone
Hakone (Hakone Navi):  http://www.hakonenavi.jp/english/
Odakyu Hakone Free Pass (Travel Information):  http://www.odakyu.jp/english/freepass/hakone_01.html
Hakone Open Air Museum:  http://www.hakone-oam.or.jp/english/index.html
Yunesson Spa:  http://www.yunessun.com/english/
Fujiya Hotel:  http://www.fujiyahotel.jp/english/index.html
The Little Prince Museum in Hakone: http://www.tbs.co.jp/l-prince/en/

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。

Kotohira July 28, 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 “Kotohira” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/s2liAm-kotohira

Kotohira is a short day trip from Takamatsu.  The town itself is very uneventful with almost nothing to do.  The first thing that I recommend doing is going to the tourist information booth in Takamatsu station and getting a timetable for the trains.  That way, you know when the trains will leave Kotohira station.  There is usually one train per hour.  Upon arriving in Kotohira, you will be greeted with nothing.  Walking out of the station and up the street will take you to one of the main streets in the town.  This street is filled with various shops, vendors, and onsens.  Several people enjoy an overnight stay in an onsen in Kotohira.  I would recommend this as there would be very few people in the area and you might get luck enough to have an onsen almost completely to yourself.

The main purpose of Kotohira is Kompira Shrine.  This is a mountain shrine.  The base of the mountain is where you will see many aggressive shop staff selling you everything they possibly can.  It is very popular to see Buddhist prayer beads, wood carvings, and anything else that can be considered Japanese or religious.  It can be a lot to handle as people might be shouting, enticing people to come in.  This is also the best place to find the easiest way up the mountain.  For roughly 6000 yen, you can pay two men to carry you up to the main shrine.  They can also carry you down if you’d like.  This is usually for old people, but if you feel like throwing money around and you are too lazy to walk, this is a fun way to get to the main shrine.  It also provides an interesting picture to show your friends and family if you are lucky enough to see someone being carried up or down.  Once get past this short entrance area, the rest of the hike will start to get more peaceful.

As you start climbing the steps, you will have to contend with the greatest problem of the mountain, tour groups.  If you are a fast hiker, they will definitely make you slow down, or even stop.  They walk line abreast and block the entire path.  Making your way through these people is a challenge, but generally they stop along the way and let people go.  This can be similar to the rows of tourists climbing Mt. Fuji, but the numbers here are much lower.  After a few minutes of hiking, you will reach the first sign that you are at a shrine.  You will reach a big gate.  This is the official entrance and where things will finally get interesting.  Past the gate, there is a treasure hall.  I have been told that the treasure hall is not special and was to be avoided, so I did avoid it.  The next area is a nice rest area.  It is at the foot of Asahi Shrine.  Unfortunately, you cannot visit Asahi Shrine on the way up, so take a quick picture while you are here.  You can get close up pictures on the way down.  Asahi Shrine was a nice shrine, but as many people say, once you see a shrine, you’ve seen almost all of them.

On the way up to the shrine, you will see a few odd things.  I saw a large bronze ship’s propeller.  I was wondering what this was for until I reached the main shrine.  The main shrine is a nice area.  There is a side courtyard with a path up to the inner shrine and spectacular views of the surrounding area.  The main courtyard is equally beautiful with many people selling various lucky charms.  Off to the side is Ema Hall.  It is a very interesting hall dedicated to the safety of seafarers.  Many pictures of ships and their crew are placed here for luck and safety.  Just past the hall is a very strange set of buildings that is fashioned to look similar to a ship.  Words alone can’t explain it, but it was very odd to see for this area.  It was extremely modern and didn’t blend at all with the old buildings just a few metres away.  However, it is a great place to rest while before you head back down the mountain.

If you still have energy, you can go all the way to the top of the shrine.  The inner shrine is an extra 583 steps from the main shrine.  Reaching the inner shrine is a total of 1368 steps.  The challenge itself is worth the trip, and once you venture past the main shrine, you will notice a significant drop in tourists.  The walk within the forest is very calming and cool, even on a hot spring afternoon.  The views from the inner shrine is not as good as the main shrine, but as I said, it’s a great challenge and it provides a good photo opportunity with a sign telling you how many steps you walked to reach that point.  Thankfully, there are many seats at the inner shrine, so you don’t have worry about finding a place to rest.

Information on Kotohira:
http://wikitravel.org/en/Kotohira
http://www.town.kotohira.kagawa.jp/english/index.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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