jump to navigation

Onsen (How to) July 20, 2010

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

Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Onsen (How to)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-rG

Onsen is a traditional Japanese hot spring bath house.  They range in size from quaint little barrels located on a hill to grand modern style baths.  Japan is well known as being one of the most active areas in the world for volcanoes and earthquakes.  With all of this seismic activity, Japan is a hotbed for natural hot springs.  For a tourist, or even a resident foreigner, it’s very difficult to understand the feel of an onsen, or really understand why people do it.  It’s definitely a cultural identity for Japanese people.  When visiting Japan, I would recommend visiting an onsen, but if you are uncomfortable with the process, don’t be sad if you don’t go.  I don’t believe it is necessary to experience Japan, but if you are living in Japan, I would recommend trying to go to an onsen at least once.

When visiting an onsen, you have to understand the rules.  Once you know of all the rules, you can decide whether or not you wish to go to the onsen itself.  All onsen have the same rules, and it’s easy to forget what they are.  The first step to the onsen is to enter the building and take off your shoes.  Most of them have a small entrance with shoe boxes available.  If you wear shoes that are bigger than a size 12 (US), you might have trouble putting your shoes into the shoe lockers.  Don’t go with boots either as they will more than likely not have lockers for boots.  The next step is to pay for the onsen itself.  The prices range from 400-700 yen depending on the place.  I’d recommend bringing a small bath towel with you, and purchasing one at the onsen as well.  Towels are usually very cheap, roughly 100-300 yen each.  These are to be used inside the onsen itself.  Your towel can be used to dry off when you exit the onsen.

After you pay for everything, you can enter the bath area.  There is almost always a men’s and women’s section.  Men’s are usually easy to see as they have a blue curtain in the entrance, and the women’s section uses red or pink.  When you enter the private area, you will be in the locker room.  There is usually dozens of lockers where you can put all of your belongings.  Some onsen have baskets with small lockers for wallets and watches.  There is also a section for you to primp yourself after the bath, but I’ll get into that later.  The first challenge is to get naked.  My first time in the onsen, I was very shy.  I knew what was expected of me, so I stripped down pretty quickly and all was okay.  No one will look at you.  If you have long hair, make sure it’s tied UP.  This is especially important for women.  You can let it down as you shower, but try to keep it up all the time.  The basic rule is, if you can tie your hair up, do it.  From there, you can enter the actual onsen.

When you enter the onsen, it’s traditional to cover up your privates with a small towel.  If you buy a towel at the onsen, you can use this towel.  It’s not very thick, nor fluffy.  The sole purpose of this is to aide in the cleaning process, and to slightly cover up.  You don’t have to use it to cover up, but I do it either way.  The shower area is the first place to head to.  The shower area is very easy to spot.  There are several rows of “seats” and mirrors.  Each shower is pretty standard.  You are given a small area to sit.  Each shower has a mirror, small seat, bowl, soap, shampoo, a faucet, and a shower head.  The method to use the shower depends on the plumbing, but generally, there is a temperature switch on the left, flow for the shower on the right, and a button for the faucet in the middle.  Adjust the temperature and turn on the shower.  Rinse off the entire area with water before you begin.  Clean off the mirror, the soap, the faucet, and both bowl and seat before you sit down.  After this, you can finally take a seat.  Once seated, you can shower any way you like.  Some prefer to wash their hair first, and some prefer to use the towel as a way to scrub their body.  Once you have finished soaping up, you can use the faucet to pour hot water all over your body.  Place the bucket under the faucet and press the centre button.  There is no temperature setting for the faucet, so beware that the water will be hot.  Personally, I prefer to rinse with the shower head itself and use the faucet water to prepare myself for the onsen baths.  Think of it as a warming or preparatory rinse.  Once you have finished your shower, you should give everything in the shower area one final rinse, the same as when you entered, and put everything back where you found it.  You can then proceed to the baths.   Do note that many sites recommend you do a quick rinse, bathe, then shower with soap, and bathe again.  I have not seen this myself when I visited onsen.

How to bathe will depend on your own personal preference.  Whether you prefer to enter the hot bath first, and proceed to the cooler ones, or just enter one bath and finish is up to you.  Smaller onsen have only one or two baths.  Part of the fun is to just try each one.  As you enter the bath, do be aware that the water can be extremely hot, especially the baths inside.  Do not put your towel inside the water, and do not put your head under water.  These are not allowed and you may get a stern lecture on etiquette if you make a mistake.  With the towel, just fold it up into a small square and place it on your head.  You can always place it on the side, but most men will put it on their head.  If you head outside, you can also enjoy the outdoor bath which usually has either natural or concrete rocks that has a very calming effect.  If there is a sauna, do be aware that you will probably have to use your own foam seat if there is one provided.  They are usually located outside the sauna and you return it to the cleaning bin which should be next to it.

Once you have finished with the baths, you should either shower completely, or rinse off.  A quick trip to the shower area or utilizing a standing shower stall is effective.  I generally don’t enjoy the residue left on my skin by the onsen water, so I prefer to shower completely, but very quickly.  Some onsen and many websites recommend that you don’t rinse at all.   As I said, I personally don’t like the feel of the minerals left on my body, so I prefer to shower quickly.  I also suggest towelling off with the wet towel before entering the locker room.  Depending on the onsen, it may or may not be required, but it does make drying easier when you are finished.  After you exit the bathing area, you can get dressed and make use of the powder room area.  There is almost always an area set up with a counter, mirrors, and hair dryers.  If you go to an expensive onsen, there will be an array of facial creams and hand lotions that you can use.  There may even be some hair products.  Generally, you should bring your own stuff.  You can take as much time as you need to get ready, and it’s pretty simple and straight forward.  Afterwards, you can exit and enter the common area.  The common area is a place to relax after the bath.  There is usually a place to buy some food, but mainly for drinks.  Japanese people love to drink alcohol, especially beer, after a nice bath.  At night, don’t be surprised to see lots of people sitting in a tatami room enjoying a few beers and having a nice conversation.  You can also buy things such as milk, or ramune, a type of citrus soda.  If you are waiting for someone to come out of the onsen, you can enjoy a magazine, newspaper, or manga while you wait, but it will depend on the onsen itself.  There are also several gifts that you can buy, such as scrubbing blocks, soap, and other bathing products.  They are generally not cheap, but the quality is very good.

This is the basic onsen experience.  If you decide to go, do expect to spend at least an hour, maybe more at the onsen itself.  The bathing experience shouldn’t be more than 15-30 minutes.  Bathing in the onsen is not like bathing at home.  It’s part utilitarian and part relaxation.  The relaxation is party done outside in the common area.  Don’t be too afraid of going to an onsen, even if you are by yourself.  The only time to be worried is if you have tattoos.  Generally, tattoos are not allowed by patrons, but if it’s a small one, you could be okay.

Onsen Information:

Wikipedia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Onsen
Furano Tourism Authority (Guide to Furano Onsen and short instructions on how to use the onsen):  http://www.furano-kankou.com/english/onsen.htm
Japan Guide (Note:  I don’t agree with their instructions on how to use an onsen):  http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2292.html
Japan Guide (Basic areas for Onsen):  http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2292_where.html
Onsen Japan (English guide to a few onsen):  http://www.onsenjapan.net/

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。

Hakone (Part I) January 26, 2010

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

Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Hakone (Part I)” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-jd

Hakone is one of the most popular areas near Tokyo.  It’s a great place to head for a day trip and there are many things to do.  There are various places to visit, and the area itself is fairly vast.  It can take a lot of time to get around and do everything, so as a day trip, it can be a little tight.  I would recommend at least two days and one night, that way you can at least experience a ryokan or an onsen.  For those that don’t know, a ryokan is a traditional style Japanese Inn.  It’s similar to a bed and breakfast, with a twist.  Usually, your room is a typical tatami room with futons on the floor.  You are served a traditional dinner and breakfast, so this can be a little scary if you aren’t used to raw fish, rice, and sleeping on the floor in a room full of people.  There are several western friendly hotels in the area as well, and almost all of them feature an onsen.  Onsen are Japanese style natural hot spring baths.  It’s almost always separated into men and women, and the bathing rooms can be as detailed and large as a spa, or as small and simple as a large private bathroom.  It really depends on the hotel.  All in all, it’s a great experience, and something you can might want to try while visiting Japan.

When heading to Hakone, there are a couple of routes to take.  If you are lucky enough to have a JR Pass, taking the shinkansen to Odawara Station is probably the easiest way.  Otherwise, most people would take the Odakyu lines from Shinjuku.  Odakyu offers a two day Hakone Free Pass, which is great if you are spending two days there.  Otherwise, just go for single tickets.  There are tourist booths that have English speakers inside the station, so don’t worry too much about buying tickets.  The ticket machines also have English instructions.  Once at Odawara Station, you have to switch to the Hakone Tozan Train.  If you take the special express train, which costs more, you will probably go all the way to Hakone Yumato Station.  Otherwise, you’ll have to change at Odawara, and again at Hakone Yumato.  From Hakone Yumato, you will board the original Hakone Tozan train.  This is a small mountain line that makes its way slowly up the mountain.  It can be extremely beautiful in November with the beautiful autumn leaves, or even in the spring when the hydrangeas are in full bloom as both sides of the tracks are lined with trees.

The first stop on the way to Hakone should be at Chokoku no Mori.  This is the second to last stop on the line heading into Hakone.  This is the home of the Hakone Open Air Museum.  If you need instructions, you should call it the Chokoku no Mori museum as that’s the Japanese name.  This museum opened in 1969 and has over 70,000 square metres of open space.  It’s built into the side of the mountain and the museum itself is spectacular.  There are several permanent exhibits and also several rotating sculptures within the museum grounds.  Almost everything is interactive.  You can almost touch each sculpture.  There are some pieces of art where you can enter them, play on them, and of course contemplate the meaning of them.  If you love taking photos, this place is great and it’s easy to spend a couple hours here.  Be sure to bring a few snacks when you get hungry.  There is also a nice little foot bath where towels are just 100 yen each.  It can make a nice little souvenir, and the bath water isn’t bad.  Be sure to check out all of the buildings, and if you have kids, bring them too.  There are a few places where kids can just play for hours on end.  The only problem is the weather.  Try to go on a sunny day and you’ll be treated with a great experience.

If you head to the next station, Gora, you’ll be able to enjoy a nice little park, some places to eat, and an opportunity to do some glass blowing.  Do note that you must pay to enter the park.  This area itself isn’t that interesting.  The food can be delicious, and there are several souvenirs to buy, but unfortunately, I didn’t have a chance to really look around.  The weather was terrible when I went.  I only had a chance to try one of the small local shops.  There is a delicious tonkatsu shop, breaded and deep fried chicken cutlets, made from black pigs.  It appears to be a specialty and there is always a lineup whenever I’m there.  It’s a little pricey, but it’s delicious.  Do note that the wait can be over 30 minutes to get in, especially if you have bad timing.  While Gora is a good place to stop and have lunch, you can always take the cable car that is connected to Gora Station and head up to Souzan.  Taking the cable car is a nice simple journey.  It isn’t very steep, but there are several stops along the way.  Unfortunately, there is almost nothing to do at the top of the cable car, aside from going to the gondola.

If you are making this a day trip, you might want to think about heading back at this time.  Thankfully, there are still things to see and do on the way back that had been missed on the trip out to Souzan.  Along the cable car route, there are various hotels and ryokans that you can visit and spend a night.  Otherwise, you should head back and take the Hakone Tozan, get off at Miyanoshita and you will be at the Fujiya Hotel.  While I have never visited this hotel, it is a famous hotel.  It is expensive but it offers a nice dining experience and a few other touristy treats.  There is a nice onsen inside and the area of Miyanoshita has various shops where you can buy Japanese style fine china.  If you head back to Hakone Yumoto, you can take a bus for 30 minutes and visit the Little Prince Museum in Hakone.  This is a museum based on the author of “The Little Prince”.  It’s a famous French book that Japanese people love.  The museum looks nice, but as with many things around Hakone, I didn’t have a chance to visit this museum.  It is fairly popular with Japanese tourists, and from the pictures, the museum itself looks beautiful.  If you have a two day free pass, it’s probably worth a quick visit.

This is part one of a two part series.  To continue reading, please head over to Part II.

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/

Amanohashidate (Top 3 Views of Japan) October 27, 2009

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

Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Amanohashidate (Top 3 Views of Japan)” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-i2

Amanohashidate is one of Japan’s Top 3 views.  Along with Miyajima and Matsushima, it is considered beautiful.  In my previous posts, I have mentioned both Miyajima and Matsushima.  I was awestruck by the beauty of Miyajima and let down by Matsushima.  For the third year in a row, I went to visit one of Japan’s Top 3 views.  This time, I went with no expectations at all.  I was looking for a nice relaxing day and to just explore a remote area of Japan.  Getting to Amanohashidate is much harder than Miyajima and Matsushima.  Miyajima is difficult because you have to take a ferry.  Matsushima is difficult because it’s located outside Sendai.  Amanohashidate, however, is located far from Kyoto, and Kyoto is the nearest major city.  In fact, Kyoto is closer to the Pacific Ocean, and Amanohashidate is located on the Sea of Japan coast.  If you are travelling from Tokyo, expect to travel for roughly 5 hours.  Bring a fully charged iPod and you’ll be okay.

Amanohashidate is famous because it’s a 3 km sand bar.  Translated, Amanohashidate means “Bridge in Heaven”.  The most famous thing to do, when visiting Amanohashidate is to venture up one of the nearby mountains, stand with your back facing the sand bar, and look at it from between your legs.  This gives the impression that the sand bar is actually in heaven, or heading to heaven.  You can do this on both sides of the sand bar, and it isn’t too expensive to head up.  When you do head up, be sure to take the chair lift.  It’s one of my favourite things to do in Japan.  These chair lifts are not like your traditional ski lifts.  Rather, they are simple chairs with almost no safety features whatsoever.  It can be a little scary at first, but it’s such a peaceful ride that you’ll feel almost as if you were floating in the chair.  Unfortunately, the views of the sand bar aren’t great from the chairlift.  If you head up from Amanohashidate station, you’ll have a little luck as the top of the hill has a small, and I really mean small, amusement park.  It’s probably great for kids, but for adults, it’s nothing special.  You can easily spend an hour just relaxing and taking your time wandering the area.

When you finish looking at the sand bar and get tired of seeing the same static views, Chionji is the only notable temple around the station.  It’s somewhat large for the population, but it isn’t bad.  I’d say it’s worth checking out, and don’t worry about time.  If you arrive on the late train, you’ll still have plenty of time to walk around the entire area as the first trains back to Kyoto aren’t until around dinner time.  The temple itself, however, isn’t special.  The main point of interest is probably the omikuji, fortunes.  They come in small wooden fans which are pretty cute, and I’ve never seen them in that form before.  From there, you can take a look at a type of key/lantern.  Located next to the bridge leading to Amanohashidate is a key that looks similar to an Egyptian Key.  Of course, it doesn’t look the same, but this key is supposed to bring luck for ships.  Many people climb into it and enjoy a picture with it.

Heading to Amanohashidate, you’ll have to cross a bridge.  This is a famous point for photos.  It’s an old swing bridge that opens up many times a day to allow the tour boats to pass.  It’s nice for photos, but after you’ve seen it once, there isn’t much of a point to wait for it a second time.  When you do cross the bridge, you’ll be on Amanohashidate.  This 3 km sand bar is easily traversed by bicycle, but if you feel up to it, feel free to run across.  It appears to be somewhat popular for locals looking for exercise to run up and down the sand bar.  You could also go for a nice swim as the beach is quite beautiful.  The water is very clean and there are various showers located along the beach.  Do note that the showers are turned on during the summer season only.  Also, be aware of traffic.  The sand bar is closed to cars, but motorcycles up to 50cc are allowed and maintenance trucks may travel along the sand bar on weekdays.  Located in the middle, there is a small shrine and various haiku passages.  A famous Japanese writer was inspired to write several haikus while in Amanohashidate.  If you didn’t bring your own bicycle, don’t worry.  Just rent one from one of the many souvenir shops next to Chionji Temple.

One of the last few things you can do is to take a boat ride to the northern shore.  While I never did this myself, it looks nice and it’s a good way to burn time.  The other is to head to the sento.  There is a nice looking sento located next to the station.  A sento is a Japanese public bath house.  The prices for bathing in this sento are a little expensive, but apparently there is a free foot bath in front of the sento.  If you need to pick up some gifts, Amanohashidate is famous for its black bean snacks.  While this is not for everyone, it is an option, and some of them are delicious.  They also have a few varieties of sake and shochu.  Amanohashidate also has a regional beer, but I never tried it.

Other than that, there really isn’t anything to do.  I’d suggest bringing a picnic and enjoying it on the beach.  Amanohashidate feels very remote and other than a few souvenir shops and touristy restaurants, there isn’t much to do.  Once you’ve seen the sand bar, that’s it.  Unlike the other two Top 3 views, there is much less to do here.  I do feel that it ranks in at number 2 compared to Matsushima, but by and far, Miyajima is still the best.  The best thing to do is to make the most of your time when you are in Amanohashidate.  Enjoy being out of the big city.  Relax at the beach.  Read a book.  Talk with your friends.  Enjoy a beer on the beach.  Do everything that you should do when you are on vacation, mainly relax!

Amanohashidate Information:

Japan Guide:  http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3990.html
Wikipedia (minimal information at best):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amanohashidate
Wikitravel (the best guide, but still not great):  http://wikitravel.org/en/Amanohashidate
Official Site (Good information on events and tours, but no information on the sites themselves): http://www.joho-kyoto.or.jp/~center/english/shop/amanohashidate/

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 (Odaiba – Part I) September 15, 2009

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

Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Tokyo (Odaiba – Part I)” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-gN

Odaiba is well known as being a leisure area of Tokyo.  Originally used as a way to protect Tokyo in the 1800s, it never found its true calling until the late 90s.  Today, Odaiba is a hub of shopping and entertainment with various hotels and apartments located on several islands.  The main island of interest is Daiba itself.  It is home to several shopping malls, a water amusement park, various futuristic exhibits, and Toyota’s main showroom.  Going to Odaiba is one of the most expensive trips in Tokyo.  The main mode of transport is the Yurikamome line.  It’s an elevated train system that is very scenic and quiet, due to the use of rubber wheels instead of traditional steel train wheels.  The trip over Rainbow Bridge, while using the lower deck, is quick and provides a very unique view of Tokyo and Odaiba as you enter and exit the bridge.  The Rinkai line is also popular and cheap, but do note that it is all underground, so the view is not good.  Also note that it is possible to walk across Rainbow Bridge, but you will be on the lower deck and completely sealed into the deck by a wire fence.  It is probably very smoggy due to all the traffic.

The first area people will see is one of the largest shopping malls in Tokyo.  Running at over 500 metres in length, and several stories tall, there are three shopping malls located on the Northern waterfront.  Often referred to as Decks, this shopping mall holds most of the value brands of Tokyo.  It can feel very crowded and chaotic, especially on the weekends, so weekday shopping is advised.  However, the views of Tokyo and a nice dinner with a view are worth the hassle of visiting this shopping complex.  I’d recommend a stroll along the upper outdoor deck of the shopping complex to enjoy the views.  There is a small indoor theme park, Joypolis, located in the centre of the complex where you can enjoy various small rides and games.  The main attraction has to be the beach that is just across the street, the Statue of Liberty, and a nice scenic park where you can walk out to Rainbow Bridge and some of the outlying islands.  No one would ever recommend a swim in the bay, and if they do, never listen to them.  You are likely to get some type of infection.

On the other side of the shopping complex is Fuji TV.  It is a well known building, and you can’t miss it.  You can see it from almost everywhere in Odaiba.  The distinctly grey building with a large silver ball in the centre makes it very unique.  Inside, there are various activities and on weekends and holidays, there may be some amusement like activities in the parking lot in front of the station.  Like many television stations in Japan, most of the shops cater to their current line-up of shows, so unless you like Japanese TV, or some of the anime that Fuji TV produces, you won’t find too much to see or do in the area.  However, if you walk towards Odaiba-Kaihin-Koen Station, there is a small Shell Museum that has a replica of a Ferrari F1 car and other various F1 goods.  The last thing to see in the Northern area of Odaiba is Shiokaze Park.  While it isn’t necessary to see, it has a nice area for barbecuing and more views of Tokyo.

If you head south or further along the Yurikamome line, you’ll reach an area that has many museums and activities.  First is the Maritime Museum.  It’s hard to miss, so just look for the large ships that straddle the western waterfront.  There are two ships moored next to the main building, but if you are expecting anything out of the ordinary, you might be let down.  From the website, it appears to be nothing more than a display of various aspects of Japan’s maritime history.  If you are a boat nut, go for it, otherwise, you might be better off going to the other attractions.  If you have kids, or you are a big kid yourself, you might be more interested in the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation.  This building might be a little difficult to notice, but there is a large glass wall and inside you’ll see a large electronic globe featuring the earth, moon, and other celestial objects.  It is a typical science museum with a planetarium and other various interactive exhibits.  Next door is the Telecom Center which is easy to skip, but I heard there is a nice observation deck in the area.  If you are looking to relax, the Oedo Onsen is very famous and located in the same area as the Telecom Center.  If you are unable to make it out to Hakone, Izu, or other onsen areas, this is the next best thing.  You can enjoy the baths for a reasonable fee, and they have a famous foot bath with small fish that eat the dead skin off your feet.  Overall, there is pretty much something for everyone in the south-west area of Odaiba.

This is Part I of a II part series.  Please continue to Part II to finish this series.

Odaiba Information:

Japan Guide:  http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3008.html
Wikitravel: http://wikitravel.org/en/Tokyo/Odaiba
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Odaiba
Map of Odaiba:  http://www.tokyoessentials.com/odaiba-map.html

Joypolis: http://sega.jp/joypolis/tokyo/home_e.shtml
Decks Shopping Mall (Japanese Only):  http://www.odaiba-decks.com/
Aqua City Shopping Mall: http://www.aquacity.jp/en/index.html
Museum of Maritime Science: http://www.funenokagakukan.or.jp/index_e.html
National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation: http://www.miraikan.jst.go.jp/en/
Oedo Onsen:  http://www.ooedoonsen.jp/higaeri/english/

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.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
comments closed

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。

%d bloggers like this: