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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.  🙂

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/

2009 Formula 1 Fuji Television Japanese Grand Prix October 13, 2009

Posted by Dru in Sports.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “2009 Formula 1 Fuji Television Japanese Grand Prix” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-hI

On October 4th, 2009, Japan hosted it’s annual round of the Formula 1 Japanese Grand Prix.  For those of you who have been reading this blog, last year, I also attended the Japanese Grand Prix.  This year was a little different.  After two years at Fuji Speedway in Shizuoka, the Japanese Grand Prix moved back to its traditional home of Suzuka Circuit in Mie Prefecture.  Mie is located south west of Tokyo.  The closest major city is Nagoya, but you can still access Kyoto and Osaka from Suzuka.  By and far, the easiest and most common way to reach the circuit itself is to leave from Nagoya.

The biggest difference between Fuji Speedway and Suzuka Circuit is the owner.  Fuji is ultimately owned by Toyota, while Suzuka is owned by Honda.  The two car giants of Japan competed for the rights to hold the Japanese Grand Prix for the last three years.  From this year, the plan was to alternate between Fuji and Suzuka.  Next year’s race was supposed to be held in Fuji.  Unfortunately, due to the downturn in the economy last year, Fuji decided to not hold the race in 2010, so Suzuka stepped up and will hold the race in Japan for the next few years.  Many of the drivers were very happy about this, but what about the fans and the Japanese people themselves?  While a lot of people don’t really care, race enthusiasts were always happy to hear that Suzuka won the race.  It is one of the very few figure 8 circuits in the world, and the only one on the F1 calendar.  It is steeped in history that, while not as old as Fuji, is more prestigious.

Accessing and retuning home from Suzuka Circuit is very easy.  From Nagoya, it’s a simple reserved express train from Nagoya Station to Suzuka Circuit Inou Station.  You can also purchase reserved tickets to get back to Nagoya.  While this may be a little expensive compared to the regular trains, it guarantees that you’ll have a seat, and when you return to Nagoya, that may be very important.  When you do reach the station, it’s very easy to find your way to the circuit.  Just follow the groups of people and you’ll be fine.  While it may be different in future years, be sure to pick up a map and ask the staff for some information to make sure you know your options.  If you want to play it safe, just return to the same station.  The second option is to take the Kintetsu trains to Shiroko Station.  It’s about 5 kilometres away from the circuit, or an hour walk.  There is a shuttle bus, but it can take up to an hour to wait for it.  Many people enjoy a nice walk in the countryside to get to this station.  To reach it, you must also walk past the Inou.  The main advantage of walking to Shiroko is that trains come more often than at the Inou station.  When leaving Nagoya, don’t worry too much about buying tickets.  You can easily buy them at the main entrance as there will probably be a table set up for selling return tickets.  Just be sure to know which tickets you need before leaving.

When entering Suzuka circuit itself, it’s evident that Honda’s circuit company knows what it’s doing.  It has held the F1 event and other major world sporting events for years.  The F1 event itself is very similar to the one in 2008, but there are noticeable differences.  The first is that the party is slightly bigger, yet more compact.  In Fuji, everything was spread out a lot more.  Suzuka’s main entertainment area was behind the main grandstand, and there wasn’t a lot going on outside of that area.  Of course, you can always buy the basic souvenirs around the course, but there were fewer opportunities to do so.  However, buying food was ten times better in Suzuka.  The options were slightly limited, and it wasn’t the cheapest food in the world, but it was good and reasonable for a world sporting event.  The major plus is the number of activities that are available for children.  There is a large ferris wheel, and other various amusement rides that are centred for children.  Suzuka, being Honda’s signature track, has a better amusement area compared to Motegi.  There are various boat rides, and roller coasters.  There was a go-kart track, but this was closed to add more space for exhibitions.  Overall, I’d prefer Suzuka over Fuji, and most Japanese people would tend to agree.  Fuji’s major advantage was being close to Tokyo.

Looking at the race, it was your typical F1 race.  I had the chance to enjoy the event during qualifying for the first time.  It was a nice event, and qualifying made walking around the main areas easier.  It was extremely busy on race day, so if you can enjoy the Saturday qualifying, be sure to do your shopping then; don’t wait until race day or things will be sold out.  Qualifying was riddled with accidents, and the race itself wasn’t that exciting.  In typical F1 fashion, there were several passes on the first few laps, but after that, it was a war of attrition.  Everyone kept circling the circuit and any passing was done in the pits.  By the end of the day, Sebastian Vettel won the race with home team Toyota’s Jarno Trulli in second.  Bringing up the last spot on the podium was McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton.

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。

Suzuka Circuit Links:

(English – Note that this site has only information on the facilities) http://www.mobilityland.co.jp/english/
(Japanese – Note that this site has information on events) http://www.suzukacircuit.jp/
(Wiki) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suzuka_Circuit
(Official F1 Website) http://www.formula1.com/

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。

Tokyo (Shinjuku – West Area) Part I December 1, 2008

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Tokyo (Shinjuku – West Area)” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-3O

So far, I have spent a lot of time talking about many places around Japan, but I have yet to touch on any places within Tokyo itself.  Having lived in Tokyo for over 3 years, a lot of the wonder and awe that I had felt when I first arrived has left.  However, every time one of my friends, or family arrive for the first time, I’m reminded of the exact same feelings I had when I first stepped out of the station and into Tokyo itself.

To give you an idea, Shinjuku is about the size of a city’s downtown core.  There is the business district, the shopping districts, and the dinner/bar district.  The main train in and out of Shinjuku is run by JR (Japan Rail).  It runs North-South through the heart of Shinjuku.  While the majority of interest is located on the East side, business generally runs on the West.  The old English saying talking about “the other side of the tracks” is very noticeable here.  Living on the West side, you feel relatively safe amongst the everyday workers and it’s generally peaceful at night.  When you cross the tracks into the East side, you suddenly feel how busy and hectic Shinjuku can truly be.

The West Side has two sections.  The main section is generally the business section, also called the “Skyscraper District”.  There are many skyscrapers in this area.  The most famous is “Tocho” which is the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.  It’s iconic for Shinjuku.  It is the tall “castle” like building located at the edge of the West side.  This building has a wonderful observation floor that is free for all tourists and has the best view of Mt. Fuji, when you can actually see it.  The only problem is that the windows tend to be dirty, the lights within the building are too bright at night, and you can’t see a lot of the famous landmarks within Tokyo.  However, it’s still a great place to visit, and it’s FREE.  Just past Tocho is the Shinjuku Chuo Koen (Shinjuku Central Park).  It tends to be a popular place for tourists to visit after a quick trip up Tocho, but beware of the homeless people.  Around dinner time on Sunday’s, they tend to give out free meals and on weekdays, you can see lots of homeless people all over the park.  Don’t worry though.  They tend to stick to themselves and it provides a very interesting look into the poor side of Japan.  The other famous location for people to visit is the Park Hyatt.  It is the location of Bill Murray’s hotel in “Lost in Translation”.  It’s a wonderful movie that explains a lot of how people feel when they first enter Tokyo, but the hotel itself isn’t so important.  For photo opportunities, I recommend visiting the area both in the day and at night (before 10pm).  All of the buildings are lit up, and Tocho usually looks colourful.

The second region of the West side tends to be directly adjacent to the station itself.  Running from Odakyu to Keio, and out to Yodobashi Camera.  Odakyu and Keio are two department stores and Yodobashi Camera is an electronics shop.  Finding Yodobashi Camera is a good idea as you’ll be able to search the buildings for hours looking for unique things to buy.  While Akihabara is the cutting edge of technology, Shinjuku is still a decent place to pick up the latest technology.  You just won’t get exclusive items, or as many international models with English.  The West side is also the best way to get out of Tokyo (westward, of course).  Within the Keio Department store is the Keio train line.  It runs out West towards Mt. Takao, where you can enjoy a nice day hike.  It’s also the best way to get to Ajinomoto Stadium, home of Tokyo’s Football (Soccer) Teams.  Odakyu is great to head into Odawara and Hakone.  This area is famous for it’s hotsprings.  Near the Yodobashi Camera store, the Keio Bus Terminal is a great place to take a highway bus out of Tokyo.  Heading to Mt. Fuji is relatively cheap and FAST, if you take the Keio Highway Bus.

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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