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Gotemba April 3, 2012

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

Gotemba is a small city located at the foot of Mt. Fuji.  It is surrounded by the towns of Susono and Oyama but most people will consider that entire area to be Gotemba for simplicity.  Gotemba itself is located on the south-east corner of Mt. Fuji on the east side of Shizuoka and at the border of Kanagawa.  It is literally at the border between the Kanto and Chubu regions of Japan.  While Shizuoka is technically within the Chubu region, most consider everything to the east of Mt. Fuji to be part of Kanto and due to the geography, Gotemba falls on the east side of Mt. Fuji.  Gotemba itself has only one major attraction aside from Mt. Fuji, and that’s a large outlet shopping mall.  In the surrounding areas, to the north of Gotemba is the town of Oyama which is famous for Fuji Speedway.  Both of these are the only famous destinations for any travellers to the region, although there are a lot of natural places to visit.

The most famous and obvious attraction in Gotemba has to be Mt. Fuji.  Gotemba is the location for the entrance to the Gotemba hiking trail.  This is probably only for the real adventurists as it is considered the most difficult way to hike up Mt. Fuji as it is the longest trail.  Due to the proximity of Gotemba to Mt. Fuji, you can usually see Mt. Fuji on most clear days.  Mt. Fuji is a very fickle mountain.  I have heard many people complain about the problems of heading out to the foot of Mt. Fuji only to be greeted by clouds instead of the majestic mountain.  Due to its isolation from other mountain ranges and its height Mt. Fuji is often obscured by clouds.  In order to see Mt. Fuji, you need to go there on a perfectly clear day.  If there are any clouds in the sky, it is highly likely that they will slam into Mt. Fuji and hang out for a while leading to a huge disappointment.  Gotemba is one of the few places you can visit and not feel too bad if Mt. Fuji is obscured.  Most people visit Hakone, and I actually recommend visiting Hakone over Gotemba, but it can be harder to see Mt. Fuji as Hakone is located in the nearby mountains which can make seeing Mt. Fuji a little harder.  Kawaguchiko is the other famous place to see Mt. Fuji but aside from FujiQ Highlands, an amusement park, there is nothing to do there.  Gotemba can be better but only if you enjoy shopping.

Currently, Gotemba is well known for its shopping opportunities.  If you tell anyone in Tokyo that you are going to visit Gotemba, almost everyone will ask if you will be going there to go shopping.  The outlet mall in Gotemba is called Premium Outlets and it is an American brand of outlet malls run by the Simon Property Group.  In Japan, they set up a joint venture with Mitsubishi Estate who operates the Premium Outlet Mall chain in Japan.  The Gotemba branch is the flagship mall in Japan and well known among people in Tokyo.  It is a destination for people with long lines to get into the mall on weekends and holidays.  The easiest way into the mall is to purchase a ticket on one of the special direct buses.  These buses run from Shinjuku and Tokyo Station.  They leave in the morning and return by dinner.  All you have to do is show up at the station, board the bus and then board the same bus to return back to Tokyo.  Tickets for the weekend do sell out quickly so it is best to reserve seats ahead of time.  For those who can’t get tickets, you can still easily take a regular highway bus.  A highway bus is a long distance bus that uses highways to get from A to B, but on the way to Gotemba there are several bus stops on the Expressway itself.  There is also a train service but the best option for this is via Shinjuku but it is more expensive than the bus.  For most people, shopping at Gotemba will not be very different to shopping at any other outlet shop in the world.  Most of the shops are the same as in America, but there are several Japanese brands that you can’t find elsewhere.  Depending on your own fashion sense, you may or may not enjoy shopping in Gotemba but if you enjoy shopping anyways, you can always spend a day visiting Gotemba and attempting to see Mt. Fuji up close at the same time.

To the north of Gotemba is Oyama, the home of Fuji Speedway.  Fuji Speedway is the most famous race course in the Kanto region.  It was host to the F1 Japan Grand Prix in the past and considered the most beautiful race course in Japan.  This is mostly due to the fact that you can easily see Mt. Fuji from the track.  Today, the track is used mostly for local racing championships and Toyota sponsored events.  The track itself has undergone several changes over the decades.  Due to financial difficulties by its owner, Toyota, the track was discontinued as an F1 circuit but continues to be used for national races and local events.  Unfortunately, it appears that the racing course will not be used as an F1 circuit in the foreseeable future.  It is a bit of a shame but when compared to Suzuka’s greater history, Fuji Speedway will probably continue to suffer from the lack of attention.

As I mentioned in the beginning, Gotemba is not a place most people will ever visit, nor will they really want to.  It is a beautiful place to go but compared to the more popular areas such as Hakone, Gotemba will be overlooked a lot.  For nature, people will visit Hakone.  For Mt. Fuji hikes, people will go to Kawaguchiko.  For shopping, most tourists will stay in Tokyo or visit one of the outlet malls that are easier to visit such as the Mitsui chain in Makuhari.  For locals and people living in Tokyo, Gotemba will be a place to visit once in a while.  If you can justify a visit to the region, I recommend doing so, but unfortunately, I doubt most will want to spend the time to go there.

Note:  Unfortunately I have no photos of Gotemba Premium Outlets.  I almost never go there to take pictures, only to do shopping.  🙂

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Regions of Japan – Kansai to Okinawa June 14, 2011

Posted by Dru in Chugoku, Japan, Kansai, Kyushu, Okinawa, Shikoku, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Regions of Japan – Kansai to Okinawa” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-F0

Kansai is probably the second most popular area to visit by foreigner.  It is home to Japan’s second largest city Osaka, after discounting Yokohama.  It is also home to the most historically important cities in Japan, Kyoto and Nara.  Kobe is another major city but like Yokohama it can be considered as a suburban city of Osaka.  Kansai is also home of Wakayama which is famous for their Buddhist temples and the ability of foreign guests to spend a night and wake up to the prayers within the temples and Himeji, home to Japan’s most famous castle.  There is so much to talk about in Kansai that it is impossible to summarize it in one paragraph.  The people are very distinct and they have their own dialect.  It is often considered the comedy capital of Japan due to the number of comedians who call Kansai their place of origin.  The people are very outgoing and it is often easy to strike a conversation with a stranger compared to the cold and private Kanto region.  It is often a bit colder than Kanto but the warmth of the people more than make up for it.  There is a bit of a rivalry between people from Kansai and Kanto but I do believe it is more in jest rather than prejudice.  As for the food, Kansai is considered the capital for Japanese “soul food”.  They have things such as okonomiyaki and takoyaki.  They are experts in yaki soba and tonpei yaki.  It is mostly fried food but it is delicious.  Kyoto is a small exception as they specialize mostly in traditional Japanese foods that cost an arm and a leg at times.  Either way Kansai is a food lover’s paradise, unless you are trying to eat healthily.

The western end of Honshu is Chugoku.  It can easily be misinterpreted as China as Chugoku is also the same word for China.  This region is best known as the home of Hiroshima and Okayama however the Sea of Japan side includes Tottori and Shimane which are wonderfully beautiful rural areas in Japan.  The Yamaguchi prefecture is also a beautiful place but I have yet to visit that region.  The Sea of Japan side of Chugoku is best characterized as a rural area that appears to be disconnected to Japan itself.  The people seem to not worry about anything and tend to live life as an independent region to the other regions.  They are a proud area that is popular for domestic travel.  The southern region, in contrast, has been stigmatised by the tragic bombing of Hiroshima.  Most people will overlook Okayama and just visit Hiroshima.  It is a very important historical location and it is a place I highly recommend people to visit if they get the chance.  Unfortunately it can be a terribly humbling place due to the amount of artefacts that remind us of the terrible outcome of the atomic bomb.  You can’t travel within Hiroshima city without seeing reminders left right and centre about the bombing itself.  The people in the city are great and they try to live their lives as normally as possible.  The food is delicious.  They are famous for their oysters as well as okonomiyaki.  Of course Kansai is famous for okonomiyaki but the Hiroshima style is different and in my opinion, better.

Shikoku is a small island that is located just below Honshu.  It is an area that only a few Japanese people visit if they don’t have family in the area.  It also happens to be one of my favourite areas to visit.  It is a diverse region that is made up of 4 prefectures.  Each area is also unique.  The eastern side of Tokushima and the southern prefecture of Kochi often fight over who is better.  There is a very old and popular festival in both prefectures that are visited by thousands of Japanese people each year.  Both festivals claim to be the best and most exciting festivals in Shikoku and to be honest they are both wonderful to see.  While I haven’t been to either in person, it is difficult to travel the region and not see video of the traditional dancing during the festivals.        Ehime is the western prefecture that is well known for its onsen, Dogo onsen.  It is considered the oldest onsen in Japan and has various healing factors.  A little north of Matsuyama is Imabari which is famous for its towels.  In the north, you can also visit Kagawa.  It is famous for its udon noodles and also for Naoshima which is a famous art island.  It is a small island that is filled with various modern art sculptures.  Most of it is free however the main museums are not.  Overall, Shikoku is a very diverse region that rivals most regions of Japan.

Kyushu is the final region.  It is the western most main island of Japan.  It is famous for its food and onsen as well as its nature.  Most people will travel only as far as Fukuoka and northern Kyushu.  This is the area that has the best onsen as well as the best food.  Fukuoka is well known for its regional delicacies as well as being close to Nagasaki.  Nagasaki is not as popular but important for foreign tourists.  The southern region is not as well known but they are famous for shochu and various poultry and pork products.  One of the more interesting, yet overlooked, areas is Yakushima.  It is a small island just south of Kyushu’s main island and setting for Hiyao Miyazaki’s Princess Monomoke.  It is one of the few natural environments unique to Japan.  South of Kyushu is the Ryukyu Island chain which encompasses Okinawa.  Most people will lump Okinawa and the Ryukyu into Kyushu but that shouldn’t be the case.  Okinawa is, in its own right, a separate area.  They have a different history compared to Japan and have been fighting for their own rights as a small “nation within a nation”.  The entire chain of islands is beautiful, from the pictures I have seen, and make a nice vacation spot with lots of opportunities to relax on the beaches.  The culture is very unique with a unique style of music, dress, and language.  The food has been heavily influenced by the regional natural fruits and vegetables as well as the heavy presence of the US military.  One of the most famous items has to be Taco Rice which is basically taco filling on a bed of rice.  They also make use of bitter melon which is unique in Japan as other regions cannot grow bitter melon easily.

There is one region that almost never gets named when talking about regions of Japan.  These are the Izu and Ogasawara Islands (Bonin Islands).  These are a set of small islands that stretch south of Tokyo for over 1000kms.  The Izu Islands are a set of islands that are somewhat populated.  They have a lot of tourism however don’t expect access to be easy.  Farther away are the Ogasawara Islands in which only two islands are inhabited.  The Ogasawara Islands are historically more important that the Izu Islands.  Iwoto, or previously known as Iwo Jima is part of this group of islands where the US fought hard to get a foothold in taking down the old Imperial Japanese Army.  It has been a long time and few people visit these sets of islands.  In fact it is very difficult to get to any island other than Chichijima and Hahajima.  Most people in Japan never even consider visiting these islands so they have evolved into a very self sufficient area.  It is hard to believe that they are Japanese yet they are very much Japanese.

As you can see, Japan is a very long and diverse country.  Each region ranges from cool temperate to sub-tropical.  Japan is bound by 4 seas and 1 ocean.  There are 4 main islands and hundreds of other small islands that span over 1000 kilometres from one end of Japan to the other.  There are several mountain ranges and many diverse rivers.  Each region has their own distinct version of Japanese culture along with their own distinct foods.  People imagine Japan as being a homogeneous culture but they either forget or neglect that there are two indigenous groups, the Ainu in Hokkaido and the Okinawans in Okinawa.  You can also see the various culture differences between each region of Japan that is accentuated by the differences between people in the Kanto region and the Kansai region.  It is a wonderful country with many things to see.  Visiting only a few areas is not enough and visiting at one time of the year is not enough.  It can take a lifetime to fully explore every corner of Japan and even then you’d still have trouble experiencing everything.

Regions of Japan Information:

Wikipedia:
Japan:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_regions_of_Japan
Kansai:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kansai_region
Chugoku:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ch%C5%ABgoku_region
Shikoku:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shikoku
Kyushu:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ky%C5%ABsh%C5%AB
Ryukyu Islands:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ryukyu_Islands
Okinawa: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Okinawa_Prefecture
Izu Islands:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Izu_Islands
Ogasawara Islands: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bonin_Islands

Japan Guide:  http://www.japan-guide.com/list/e1001.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。

Regions of Japan – Nagoya to Hokkaido June 7, 2011

Posted by Dru in Chubu, Hokkaido, Japan, Kanto, Tohoku, Tokyo, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Regions of Japan – Nagoya to Hokkaido” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-EX

 

Japan is a small country that happens to be very long.  From end to end, Japan is well over 1000km long.  It is larger than Germany in terms of land mass and has a very diverse ecosystem.  You have the cold snowy north and the sub-tropical south.  It is a common misconception that Japan is a small country.  I would also argue that many people feel that any country that is outside of their own region is small, especially for Americans and Canadians.  It is important to know that Japan, while small overall, is actually very long which helps create the illusion that it is small.

Japan is divided into 8 main regions with a few sub-regions.  In the north is Hokkaido.  I have written a lot about Sapporo and the various festivals there.  It is a winter wonderland and also a great summer getaway.  In the winter, people head up there for skiing and to enjoy the delicious seafood.  In the summer, the seafood is still around but people go to escape the heat and humidity of the south.  Compared to other regions in Japan, Hokkaido is a relatively stable and sparsely populated region.  It isn’t the “wild west” but it isn’t like Tokyo either.  Getting from point A to point B in Hokkaido can be very difficult due to the sheer distances between cities and towns and the lack of trains can make it a difficult task.  Renting a car is definitely recommended if you want to see the local areas such as Shiretoko but it isn’t a necessity.  The bus network between cities is pretty good and you can get from Sapporo to most cities in Hokkaido by bus.  Planes are not so popular and trains are good for the major cities.  Unfortunately the trains can take a long time to get from place to place but keeping on the main belt from Asahikawa to Sapporo, then down to Hakodate via either Chitose or Niseko is relatively easy.  Be prepared for long travel times and you will have a good time.

Tohoku is the northern section of Honshu, the main island of Japan.  The main island forms an ‘L’ shape and Tohoku is at the top of the ‘L’.  It is a region that is very similar to Hokkaido yet also very temperate in nature.  The most common starting point is Sendai.  Including Sendai, all points north are considered Tohoku.  Points below Sendai are generally Tohoku as well but places such as part of Fukushima can be considered part of the Kanto plains.  Honshu itself is a very mountainous area with mountains bisecting the entire island into the Pacific and Sea of Japan side.  This creates a very distinct feel in each city depending on which coast you are on.  On the Pacific, the winters can be cold but there isn’t a lot of snow.  The Sea of Japan side which includes Akita and Yamagata receive a lot of snow in the winter.  In the summer, this area is more pleasant but the southern regions can be pretty hot and humid.  It is literally a transition between Hokkaido and the temperate south.  There are many local delicacies such as the Aomori apples and the beef tongue of Sendai.  It isn’t a popular place for tourists as there aren’t many things to see and do compared to other regions.  Hokkaido is well known for seafood and snow, but Tohoku doesn’t have a major drawing point for tourists.

Kanto is the centre of Japan.  It is a small section of Japan that includes Tokyo and located at the bend of the ‘L’ of Honshu.  It is where almost everyone goes when they visit Japan and it is a pretty small area.  The entire Kanto region can be considered as Greater Tokyo as many people do commute from the edges of Kanto to get into Tokyo.  Some would argue that there are major cities and industries as well such as Yokohama but the shear size of Tokyo makes Yokohama feel like a twin city similar to the twin cities in Minnesota.  Of course this is not the same however the idea that both cities can be considered the same city, rather twin cities, is true.  There isn’t really much to say or add to this region as most people know about the Kanto region already.  It is the heart of Japan.  Most companies and most people live in this area.  There are not a lot of historical places to visit anymore but places such as Nikko, Kamakura, and Hakone are excellent places with their own unique feel.

Chubu is a very complex region.  There are several sub-regions to Chubu due to its geography.  It is a region that is bound by Mt. Fuji, bordering the north-western area of Kanto and extending west to Kyoto.  It is also one of the most “visited” regions in Japan yet most people never stop to enjoy the region.  I am also a victim of just passing through the region more times than not.  Most people will go up to Mt. Fuji or pass through on their way to Kyoto.  The few people who do go to the Chubu region will usually head off to Niigata and Nagano or do a little business in Nagoya.  Due to the geography of the area is further subdivided into 3 regions.  The lesser known is the Koshinetsu region that encompasses Nagano, Niigata, and Yamanashi.  This area is well known for its snow and excellent onsen however the use of the name Koshinetsu is not popular.  They are more commonly known by their own respective prefectures.  The Hokuriku region is an area on the Sea of Japan side that is bordered by Niigata and Kyoto.  It is considered a northern path to reach Kansai but it is often overlooked by people.  It is still a somewhat remote area that is easily accessible by plane.  Trains do travel to the region but the new Hokuriku Shinkansen isn’t expected to be finished for a long time.  The main sections allowing access from Tokyo to the heart of Hokuriku will be complete in 2014 but the final section to Osaka has yet to be finalized.  As it stands, this area is often overlooked due to its remoteness.  The Tokai region is the most famous region as it is the main route for the Tokaido Shinkansen that links Tokyo to Osaka.  Shizuoka is one of the biggest prefectures in Japan yet very few people will visit it.  The most famous area is Nagoya where you can enjoy many delicacies.  Nagoya is not a particularly interesting for those visiting other cities but it is famous for its castle, local deep fried delicacies, chicken wings, and Toyota.  Toyota has their main factories located just outside Nagoya with a large museum as well.  Nagoya is also one of the most popular cities for people wishing to see races at the nearby Suzuka Circuit, but the circuit is located in Kansai, not Chubu.

Note:  Due to the amount of information available, this is only part 1 of 2.  Part 2 will be posted next week.

Regions of Japan Information:

Wikipedia:
Japan:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_regions_of_Japan
Hokkaido:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hokkaid%C5%8D_Prefecture
Tohoku:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T%C5%8Dhoku_region
Kanto:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kant%C5%8D_region
Chubu:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ch%C5%ABbu_region
Hokuriku:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hokuriku_region
Koshinetsu:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K%C5%8Dshin%27etsu_region
Tokai:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T%C5%8Dkai_region

Japan Guide:  http://www.japan-guide.com/list/e1001.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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