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Takamatsu August 4, 2009

Posted by Dru in Japan, Shikoku, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Takamatsu” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-dc

Takamatsu is considered to be the largest city in Shikoku, at least for its city core.  It is also the head of the Shikoku government offices and the heart of business in Shikoku.  Upon entering the city, you will realize how different it is from other parts of Shikoku.  It is a vibrant city that relies a lot on business to keep it running.  Being part of the Kagawa region of the island also means it is the home of the best udon in Japan.  While the city is fairly large, it isn’t what most tourists would call, interesting, unlike Matsuyama.

There are only two things to really see in Takamatsu, Ritsurin Koen and the Tamamo Breakwater.  Ritsurin Koen is a Japanese style park that is also national treasure.  It is located about two kilometres from Takamatsu station.  The park itself is fairly large.  It can be a little difficult to find your way and to see everything quickly.  There is an old small tea house located near a red cliff.  This tea house is only for viewing as it is no longer in use.  The red cliff is probably the most famous image of the park.  While it is called a cliff, it isn’t that large, and follows the edge of the park.  It is modeled after a similar, albeit much larger, cliff in China.  There is also a large tea house located in the centre of the park.  This tea house is very nice and located next to a calm pond.  Unfortunately, like most tea houses in Japan, it was very expensive.  Walking around the park, you can find yourself lining up to climb a bunch of steps to the top of a mound of earth.  This mound is called Mt. Fuji.  It is said to look similar to the real Mt. Fuji at different times.  Unfortunately, I didn’t see it that way, but it is a great place to take panoramic photos of the park.  Lastly, you can also visit the gift shop area where you can buy very expensive bonsai trees, or wood carvings.  If you have ever been to Shinjuku Gyoen in Tokyo, this park will not be that impressive.  It is still a very nice park overall.

Behind the station, you can head straight to the pier where you’ll be able to enjoy a nice walk out to the breakwater.  The Tamamo Breakwater is a pleasant walk and the lighthouse is an amazing sight at night.  Unlike most traditional lighthouses, where only the top shines, the entire lighthouse glows red.  There is also a small park located between the pier and the station buildings.  Within the park, if you arrive at the right season, you can visit a very beautiful rose garden with dozens of rose bushes.  It makes for a very beautiful and relaxing stroll.  If you have the energy, you can also walk over to the Takamatsu-jo and enjoy the beautiful gardens as well.  Unfortunately, the castle was destroyed many years ago, but is scheduled to be rebuilt starting in 2010.  If you can wait a few years, you might be able to enjoy this castle someday.

If you aren’t so interested in sightseeing, Takamatsu is a very bicycle friendly city.  There are several shotengai with various shops in each one.  Takamatsu claims to have the longest shotengai in Japan. If you consider a shotengai to be just one street, then this is not true. If you combine them, and the fact that they are all connected, then this is true. Each shotengai street seems to have its own theme.  I would recommend renting a bicycle at the station before exploring the shotengai.  Unfortunately, I didn’t know about bicycle rentals and went everywhere on foot.  Being in the area of Kagawa, Sanuki Udon is very famous.  You will be able to find udon in almost every corner of the city.  Going to an expensive restaurant is nice, but you can easily find cheap varieties on almost every street. Most of the time, you just order what you want, grab some side dishes, such as tempura, and grab a seat.  You can easily eat for under 500 yen.  When you have nothing better to do, I would recommend heading to one of the udon shops, grab a quick bowl of udon, and chow down.

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

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Sakura April 21, 2009

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

Late March into mid-April is the Sakura season in Japan.  Every year, within a two week window, the cherry blossoms start to bloom turning Japan into a sea of pink.  It marks the true start to spring.  If you plan your trip to coincide with this season, you will not be disappointed.  You’ll be able to experience a unique Japan that very few tourists will ever experience.

Many people wonder what is so special about the cherry blossoms.  It isn’t, necessarily, only the fact that they are beautiful, but also some of the history of the cherry blossoms with Japan.  It has been part of their culture for centuries, if not millenia.  There is a fairy tale saying that there is a body buried underneath each cherry tree.  Cherry trees are the only trees in Japan that have flowers that bloom before leaves are grown.  While I cannot verify this claim, it does help promote the tale.  This also brings a feeling that cherry trees are somewhat magical and it can bring about powers to many people.  It is very common to see cherry trees planted within temple grounds, parks, along rivers, and almost everywhere else a tree can be planted.

The most popular thing to do in Japan during the sakura season is to go to a hanami.  In fact, many Japanese people don’t say “sakura season” but rather “hanami season”.  Literally translated, this means flower watching season, or more specifically watching the cherry blossoms.  On weekends, it’s common to see families enjoying a nice stroll in the park or along the river enjoying the beautiful cherry trees.  You can see many friends playing Frisbee or just having a nice time talking to one another.  It’s a great time to have a picnic.  These usually involve bentos (Japanese style packed lunches) and onigiri (rice balls with some type of filling and seaweed wrapped around it).  When the sun goes down, things can change dramatically.  Often, there are many floodlights that are turned on to make the pink blossoms stand out even more.  It can create very surreal experience.  It is also when all of the office workers come out to party.

Hanami parties are very common for offices and friends.  For the two weeks that the cherry blossoms are blooming, almost every office in Japan will have their own hanami party.  While this is probably declining in recent years, it’s still a popular tradition among the older companies.  Being the end of the fiscal year for most companies, and the start for most new recruits, it’s the final menial task for new recruits who are about to enter their second year with a company.  They have one, and only one mission.  Find a nice spot in a park, a park that has been decided by the office, and start camping out there from the mid-afternoon.  The spaces under the cherry trees, themselves, are often taken by noon, and some workers must camp out there all day.  It’s a long and boring task that essentially involves unfurling a large blue tarp, making sure it’s secure, and then sleeping all day.  They can also play games on their phone or whatever electronics they have.  Once their co-workers finish for the day, they can start to party.  Generally, it’s a loud, crowded, and jovial event.  If you are weary of such crowds, it’s best to avoid the parks at night, but there are a few places you can visit that are still nice, and not too bad.

In Tokyo, there are several great places to visit.  Ueno Park is one of the most famous places in the north.  The entire park is lined with cherry blossoms, but unfortunately, the entire park is paved, so there is very few, if any, grassy areas to sit, eat, and enjoy the cherry blossoms.  It’s also one of the most crowded areas in this season.  Another area is Kudanshita.  It is an area north of the Imperial Palace.  There are many areas here that can be enjoyed, along with almost any other place around the Imperial Palace.  Yasukuni Shrine is another famous, if not controversial, place to visit.  There are many cherry trees within the shrine and along the streets surrounding this shrine.  It’s a beautiful place.  Shinjuku Gyoen is also highly recommended, as is Shiba Park at the foot of Tokyo Tower.  The Sumida River and Meguro River is also famous and worth a visit if you have the time; and you aren’t tired of looking at cherry blossoms.

If you need to get out of Tokyo, Kyoto is always highly recommended.  The cherry blossoms are always nice, but I have not had the chance to see them.  I would also recommend visiting Himeji.  It becomes more beautiful with all the pink blossoms providing a new look to the castle.  It’s somewhat rare to see the white castle framed with cherry blossoms.  The park in front of the castle is also very nice and extremely popular for locals to enjoy the weekend.  If you get a chance, I’d also highly recommend visiting Himeji during this season as well.

The cherry blossom season is a beautiful time to visit.  Just remember that you have to be very lucky to get your timing right.  Pick a few weeks to visit and cross your fingers.

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 – East side and Kabukicho) Part III December 15, 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 – East side of Kabukicho)” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-4R

This is Part III of my Shinjuku post. Please go to my first and second post for more information Shinjuku .

 

Shinjuku Nichome is an infamous district in Tokyo.  It’s known as the gay and transvestite section of Tokyo.  There are many TV shows showcasing the bars and atmosphere of Nichome.  It is very well known to Tokyoites, however many people rarely venture into this area.  You will definitely see male oriented adult shops, but it’s relatively tame during the daytime.  When the sun goes down, and the bars open up, you’ll start to see people enter and enjoy a crazy time.  While this area is known as a gay district, just West of Nichome and East of the train tracks is Shinjuku Gyoen.  This is one of the Imperial Gardens of Tokyo.  The cost of admission is 200 Yen, and depending on the time of year, it’s worth it.  During the Spring time, you’ll be greeted by tall cherry trees that are completely pink with cherry blossoms.   It can be a beautiful sight.  Beware of the early afternoon and night as it’s also a famous place for Hanami parties.  During the Hanami season, Japanese people gather with their friends or co-workers for a night of drinking beer under the cherry blossoms.  It can become a very exciting night.  During the day, you’ll even see one of the new employees sleeping on a big blue tarp, keeping the space reserved so that his co-workers can join him for the party.  In the Summer time, the trees are green allowing you a beautiful getaway from the city.  You’ll be graced with the presence of rare birds and fauna for Tokyo as well.  In late Autumn there is a Chrysanthemum exhibit and the Autumn Leaves season.  This is when all the leaves turn a magnificent red, yellow, and orange.  Like the cherry blossom season, you must be very lucky to be here at that time.  Being one week too early or too late will not help you.  The season lasts around one week, max.  If you just happen to be here at that time, this is a place that I’d definitely recommend.  Note that in Winter, the leaves of most trees have fallen, and the grass begins to turn yellow or brown, so it isn’t worth it.  Avoid December-March.

Kabukicho is considered to be the most dangerous place in Tokyo, if not Japan.  It’s Tokyo’s unofficial red light district and home to many bars, clubs, and adult (sex) shops.  Like most places where sex is the main attraction, you’ll be able to enjoy great food in this area.  Restaurants and bars are everywhere and getting fast food is also very easy.  If you miss your train and need food or coffee, this is probably the most guaranteed area where you’ll find something.  You may even be surprised by the quality of the food.  The clubs, on the other hand, tend to have mixed results.  While I have never visited one myself, they range from typical host and hostess clubs (kabakura), to strip clubs.  Dancing is better in Roppongi or Shibuya.  Visiting a host or hostess club is a very strange experience, from what I’ve been told.  You are basically paying to drink and talk to someone.  The bill usually starts from 10,000 yen, and there are no limits.  The women in this area can be quite beautiful, however they tend to be dressed in very fancy evening gowns and very puffy hair.  The hosts tend to wear cheesy suits and also have puffy (Dragonball) hair.  Unfortunately, foreigners may have a tough time entering one of these clubs as the owners are afraid of foreigners abusing the system and not knowing how to act in one of these clubs.  Each club will be different and the types of girls/guys working there will vary.  While the majority look the same, be aware that there are some transvestite clubs in this area too.  In terms of sex stores and clubs, they are also everywhere, but they tend to be behind opaque curtains.  Many African men, and Japanese of course, will solicit you (mainly men) to enter one of their clubs.  This will probably mean a very high cover charge that you were never told about, or something even more expensive.  I’ll let your own imagination paint the picture.  The good thing is that these guys are rarely, if ever, in the area before 6pm.  However, it’s a great place to walk and see the other side of Japan, the side that most people would like to forget.  Regarding the “most dangerous place in Japan”, I don’t believe this place is that dangerous.  It’s not completely safe, but it’s still safer than the rest of the world.  If you have lived a sheltered life, I don’t recommend it, but if you have travelled a lot, or know how to handle yourself, it’s a fun place to check out.  You don’t have to spend a lot of time here either.  It does get boring, very fast.

So that’s Shinjuku.  In all respects, it is a city unto itself.  If you pick a direction and start walking, you’ll see something different every time.  You can spend two full days exploring the different areas of Shinjuku, but I only recommend one.  There is so much more to see in Tokyo.   However, if you live in Tokyo, please visit Shinjuku often and check out each district.  The “city” has a bad reputation among many people, but it’s still a wonderful city to check out and enjoy.  It literally has something for everyone, unlike most of the other districts in Tokyo.

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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