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Naoshima August 11, 2009

Posted by Dru in Chugoku, Japan, Shikoku, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Naoshima” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/s2liAm-naoshima

Naoshima isn’t a very well known island for most people, but if you are into art, and especially modern art, Naoshima is the place to be in Japan.  It is an island that has embraced art and made it the number one attraction on the island.  Access to Naoshima is relatively easy.  The most common route is to take a ferry from Uno, near Okayama.  Since this is on the main island of Japan, and the easiest way to get there from the Shinkansen, it is also the busiest way to Naoshima.  However, from Shikoku, you can catch a ferry from Takamatsu, which takes less than an hour.  Travelling to and from Naoshima is an interesting adventure in itself.  Naoshima is located near several other islands, and it is near a busy shipping lane for Japan.

Upon arriving in Naoshima, you will more than likely enter the main port.  This area is Miyanoura.  It is a tiny area which gives a glimpse into what Naoshima is about.  From here, you’ll have two choices, to either rush onto the bus, or look for a bicycle rental shop.  The day I visited Naoshima, it was raining on and off, so I decided to take the bus.  Do note that the bus drivers speak minimal English, at best, but they can help you with the very basics of buying a ticket.  If you have a little time, a quick trip to a giant red pumpkin at the port is worth a visit.  You can literally walk inside.  There are two pieces of art around the ferry terminal that is sure to wet your appetite for what’s to come.  You can also walk over to the “007 ‘The Man with the Red Tattoo’ Museum” which is only a few hundred metres from the terminal.  This is not worth visiting unless you have extra time waiting for the ferry as it comprises of just one room with only a few pieces of James Bond memorabilia.

The easiest place to visit is the Honmura district.  This is the location of the “Art House Projects”.  It is a collection of 7 homes that were designed by artists.  One of the homes requires a reservation in advance, but the rest don’t.  There is a 1000 yen fee to visit all of the homes and you will get a very nice souvenir listing the homes and a map of the Honmura area with locations of each house.  If you are taking a bus, make sure you get off when you see the school and post office.  It will be on the right.  It is very easy to miss, but it’s the best starting point.  You will be located very close to “Haisha”.  This is a very interesting house that was built to look derelict.  It is a collection of trash that was formed into a two storey house.  It was by far the most interesting house, in my opinion.  “Ishibashi” was the second house I visited and it was a nice place.  Inside the house, it was designed to look like a waterfall.  Without pictures, it is impossible to give a good description in only one or two sentences.  It was a nice place, but too easy to forget.  “Gokaisho” is another easy to forget place.  It was nothing more than a couple of shacks, albeit extremely nice shacks that faced a beautiful stone garden.  Of course you couldn’t walk into the garden, but you could sit down and enjoy the peacefulness of the garden.

“Kadoya” had the most interesting message.  Throughout the house, there were digital numbers counting up or down and at different speeds.  It provided a very surreal experience.  If I had more time, I would have liked to stay even longer.  “Minamidera” was more interesting outside than inside.  It was an interactive house of darkness.  You are taken inside a pitch black room where you have to wait for about 5 minutes while your eyes adjust.  After that, you’ll be able to faintly see a screen with fog, which you can walk up to.  It’s not very interesting, but something that’s worth a visit.  The last house was “Go’o Shrine”.  This one wasn’t difficult to find and it was fairly beautiful.  However, finding the entrance to the inside was more difficult.  There is a hill next to the sea where you can walk down.  Then, you have to walk through a thin concrete hallway till you are under the shrine itself.  It provided a very peaceful experience that was even better because very few people were on the island when I visited.  After visiting Go’o Shrine, you can also take a quick look at some castle ruins, but be warned, there was nothing but garbage in the area, so you shouldn’t feel a need to see it.  The area is very small and easily accessed on foot.  Do note that it’s a little difficult to find each street and the map makes the town look much bigger than it really is.

The Benesse area is located along the south cost of the island.  If you rent a bicycle, it is probably the first place you will visit.  Otherwise, it is the last few stops on the bus route.  There are two museums, the Chichu Art Museum and the Benesse House.  I didn’t enter the Chichu Art Museum due to the cost, and my lack of real appreciation of modern art.  I did enter the Benesse House where I got a map to the outdoor exhibits.  The Benesse House is a small modern art museum that took me less than an hour to look through.  It wasn’t as impressive or breathtaking as I was lead to believe, but if I do go back, the Chichu Art Museum is on my list.  I was told I missed a very important museum.  The main attraction in the area is the outdoor works of art.  There are 18 works and they are all free to see.  You can get a map from the Benesse House, and maybe the Chichu Art Museum.  Although they are scattered throughout the area, from the Chichu Art Museum, past Benesse House, and out to a fishing port, the majority are located in clusters.  One set is located near Benesse House, and it’s a little difficult to find the entrance as there are no signs.  This makes it more interesting.  Along the beach, between Benesse House and the fishing port is the second cluster.  The beach is where the most famous piece of art on the island is held.  It is a giant pumpkin located on a small pier.  It provides a great beacon for anyone on the water, and an even better photo opportunity for travellers.  While I don’t get the entire message of the art, it was something I had to do on the island.

Naoshima is a great one day adventure from either Okayama or Takamatsu.  While most people recommend a day and a half, staying overnight at the Benesse House is extremely expensive, and the other accommodations are difficult to book.  Language can be a problem, but most people who work for the Art House Project, the Museums, and the Ferry Terminal all speak minimal English.  They can help you get tickets and find your way, even without English.  Just smile, speak slowly, and say “arigato”.

Information on Naoshima:
http://www.naoshima.net/en/
http://wikitravel.org/en/Naoshima

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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Route 197 & 320 (Kochi to Ozu, via Uwajima) June 30, 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 “Route 197 & 320 (Kochi to Ozu, via Uwajima)” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-c5

There are two routes to reach the west coast of Shikoku, from Kochi.  The most famous is to take route 56, a continuation of route 55, from Kochi all the way to Matsuyama.  The other less travelled route is to cut across the island and take route 197 and reconnect to route 56.  To reach Matsuyama in one day, you will probably have to cut across the southern cape, or else you would have to skip a lot of places.  Travelling along route 197 is a very nice trip.  This road cuts through the mountains allowing you to see very small villages along the way.  There are a few places selling local fruits and food, but other than that, there isn’t much to see.  When route 197 reaches 320, you will be in the town of Kihoku.  It is a town that is very easy to miss, but I was lucky to arrive during a small festival.  There were typical festival foods, but only a little.  It is a great way to see how small town Japan lives.  It isn’t that special and easy to see in a few minutes.  Route 320 is also the same, cutting through the mountains until you reach Uwajima.  Uwajima is a small city that, like most cities in Shikoku, has its own castle.  It is also slightly infamous for its own temple devoted to the phallus.  I didn’t spend any time in this city, so unfortunately, I’m not sure if there is anything of interest here.

Ozu is a very small city that normally has nothing of interest.  The downtown area closes very early, and there are very few shops left.  It is a victim of big box shops coming in and strangling the mom and pop businesses.  Driving down the main shopping street feels like a ghost town.  Shutters are closed and very few people are around.  While this is true, the town itself is very beautiful.  If you are looking for something to do from Matsuyama, Ozu is a great place for a day trip.  However, heading to Uchiko, or Uwajima is probably easier.  Even the hotel staff in Ozu can’t really speak English, however they are still helpful.

Ozu has a few things of interest, and almost all of them are easy to reach on foot.  The first thing to see is the river.  There is a pedestrian walkway along the river.  There are usually a bunch of families and students out on the water enjoying themselves on the weekends.  The river walk will take you to the back entrance of Ozu-jo.  As I said, Shikoku has many castles.  This castle is even smaller than Kochi, but the castle grounds are wonderful.  You can see the biggest water well in Japan, or so they say, and some huge trees next to the castle.  There is a beautiful garden and a nice grassy area to relax on.  All of this is free, however, entrance into the castle itself isn’t.  If you are backpacking, there is a youth hostel behind the castle that looked very nice.  I would have stayed here, but I didn’t know it existed.

Route 56 cuts through the middle of Ozu.  The castle is located on one side, and the old town is located on the other.  The old town has many activities that any other small Japanese town has.  It is also an area where you can see the old style of Japanese homes.  This is very similar to Naramachi in Nara, but not as grand.  They also have a large red brick building, but unfortunately, when I arrived, it was after 5pm and everything was closed.  From anywhere in Ozu, you can see Mount Tomisu.  It is a small mountain that overlooks the town.  It is very beautiful as there is a large garden at the top.  It was highly recommended to me by the hotel staff, but you do have to drive there.  Ozu is not a friendly place if you don’t have a great map, or navigation.  It’s easy to get turned around and lost.  However, I would definitely recommend visiting this city, as almost any other city I have been to in Shikoku.

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。

Kochi June 23, 2009

Posted by Dru in Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Kochi” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/s2liAm-kochi

Kochi is a small city located on the south coast of Shikoku.  It is well known throughout Japan that the people of Kochi drink the most out of any other Japanese area.  Due to the location of this city, very few people ever visit this town, and most people are either locals, or Japanese people.  Tourists tend to be few and far between.  In fact, most cities in the south of Shikoku can be considered difficult for any foreigner who cannot speak Japanese; like any other non-English speaking city, you can always get by with hand signals and gestures.

The first thing you will notice about Kochi is the low skyline, fresh air, and lack of transportation.  It is very much a car centric city.  Public transportation relies on buses or trams.  The downtown core is where most people will want to spend their time.  It provides a great place to find good restaurants and do a little shopping.  Being well known for drinking, you will probably find more pubs and restaurants than anything else.  The downtown core has three main attractions.  Going to the main intersection, where the two tram lines meet, you can be entertained every hour by a clock.  Every hour, you can watch a special show where figures come out and dance to a tune.  Adjacent to the clock is a small park with a man made stream.  It is a very nice place to get away from the hustle and bustle of the main street.  It is also the location of Harimayabashi.  It is a wooden bridge that is the title of the 2009 movie of the same name, “The Harimaya Bridge”.  This will probably provide a lot of tourism dollars for Kochi itself, and the bridge will also become a major tourist attraction.  Unfortunately, it may no longer be the tranquil place it once was.

The main attraction within the downtown area is Kochi-jo.  It is Kochi’s white castle, located on the western edge of the downtown core.  The grounds of Kochi-jo are not as magnificent as Himeji, but they are still very beautiful.  Unfortunately, I visited Kochi in May, and the flowers and shrubs hadn’t started blooming yet.  I have heard that it is more beautiful during the summer months than in the spring.  Upon reaching the main courtyard, you will be graced with a nice view of the city, but it isn’t the best view of the city.  Instead, head for the inner courtyard to see the main building.  It looks relatively small and simple.  It is a very simple castle that can be explored very quickly.  You must pay to enter the castle, but I thought it was worth the entry.  It is very cool inside and there aren’t too many people.  You can essentially get parts of the castle to yourself.  At times, there are volunteers explaining how the castle was used in the past, but do note that they tend to be retired people who probably don’t speak any English.  If you have ever visited Himeji, you will remember how boring the inside of the castle was.  Kochi realizes that looking at a castle can be boring, so they added several dioramas.  These range from depictions of Kochi in past times to how Kochi was a whaling city.  They provide an interesting snapshot into the history of the people from Kochi.

Godaisan is a small mountain located within the city, but too far to reach on foot or bicycle.  There are some busses that do go up the mountain, but they are infrequent.  The easiest way to reach this area of Kochi is to drive.  When you reach Godaisan, you will have to drive up a steep and narrow road.  This road, thankfully, is only one way.  The first place you can stop is the Godaisan Park.  It is a very nice hillside park that gives great views of Kochi city.  I would highly recommend a quick visit and climb to the lookout point.  The lookout point is easy to find.  It is atop the main building in the park.  You can also look back to the mountain and see the peak of the pagoda of Chikurinji.  Walking to Chikurinji from the park is very easy, but the path can be a little difficult to find if you aren’t looking in the right area.  You can also walk along the street, but because it’s so narrow, I don’t recommend it.  Chikurinji is the 31st temple along the 88 temple pilgrimage of Shikoku.  It is a very nice temple that feels very secluded.  The entrance near the park is the back entrance.  From here, you will be able to see some of the disused areas of the temple, and some of the graves.  The main attraction of this temple is the pagoda.  It is a typical Japanese style pagoda.  The temple and other areas of the temple are not particularly special either, but it is a significant temple in Kochi.  Next to the temple is the Makino Botanical Garden.  It is a very nice garden, but be aware that many schools in the Kochi area visit this garden on school trips, so it may not be as peaceful as you’d like.

My overall impression of Kochi is of a small city with a small town feel.  It is very beautiful and a place I could return to.  It is easy to relax, and there is a beach that isn’t too far away.  If you ever have a chance, I would recommend heading to Kochi to get away from everything in Japan.

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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