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Driving in Japan (2010) [Part I] September 21, 2010

Posted by Dru in Chugoku, Japan, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Driving in Japan (2010) [Part I]” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-tq

For those of you who have been reading this blog for a while now, you know that I have had many trips in and around Japan, along with many road trips.  I have been taking road trips almost every year now on either a motorcycle or in a car.  In 2007, I took a trip to Hokkaido by motorcycle.  It was my first road trip, and a terrible one at that.  I was alone, cold and wet.  For my second trip, I rented a car for just a day and drove up to Nikko.  The route brought back a few memories of my trip to Sapporo, but with all the comforts of a car.  It was a pretty easy trip, but it taught me the pain of driving in the city, and trying to return to the city on a Sunday night.  One word can sum up that experience, traffic.  Last year, I had my epic adventure, and the last one on my bike.  I took a trip by ferry and rode my bike around Shikoku for two weeks.  It was a wonderful holiday that restored my faith in driving and riding in Japan.  It helped a lot that I went with a friend from Osaka.  Recently, June 2010, I embarked on my big road adventure of the year.  I headed to the San’in region, along with Hiroshima.  What follows is a recounting of what happened as we conquered the roads that lay ahead of us.

As many of you know by now, I have written about my adventures in San’in already.  I have talked about Tottori and Shimane.  My journey started with a flight from Tokyo to Tottori.  I left in the early morning and had time to spend an entire day in Tottori city.  I visited the Tottori Sand Dunes and that was pretty much it.  The actual adventure didn’t start until the next day.  We got up early again as we had a long day of driving ahead of us.  Thankfully, we had two drivers, one being myself, and the other being my friend from Osaka.  We rented a Mazda Axela, which is a Mazda 3 in North America.  It was a little big for what we needed, but we were expecting a total of 4 people in the car, but one person bailed as she booked the wrong tickets for the trip.  The car itself was big for what we needed.  We could have gotten a compact car instead of this one, but the added size made the trip very comfortable.  When we got the car we spent a few minutes fiddling with the GPS navigation system before we took off.  The GPS was easy for us to understand, but it would take at least 2 more days before it was easy to use.  If you ever rent a car in Japan, be sure to learn a little Japanese, or have a good understanding on how to guess the menu system.  It was difficult to use, but we all had various degrees of Japanese knowledge which helped us a lot.

Our first leg of day 1 was a trip along the coast.  We started with a short drive on the mainland to avoid the traffic and made good time.  We reached our junction, ignoring our GPS all the time.  We had our own route planned and the GPS was guiding us to the “best” route but not the most scenic.  Thankfully, we had enough knowledge of the road to navigate smoothly and soon enough we were pros at navigating.  When we hit the coast, we took our sweet time and stopped at a couple beaches. We got our feet wet and took many pictures.  It was a perfect start to the day.  Driving up and down the coast on the Sea of  Japan is amazing. I have heard from many motorcycle riders that the coast is amazing, and I would have to agree.  I would love to just rent a car, or even bring a bicycle to the area and just enjoy the trip.  I was told by a friend that taking the train is also spectacular, but I tend to get a little antsy on trains after a few hours.  At least with a train, I could drink alcohol and not worry about getting into too much trouble.

My friend from Osaka did the first leg of driving.  He handled the coast very well, which was pretty easy.  There weren’t too many turns and the signs were easy for us to read.  We had one tough section through a small town called Hawai.  The pronunciation is the same as Hawaii, and the town played with that name a lot.  Everywhere you went, you saw Hawaii signs and tourist attractions that were a little tongue in cheek with references to the beautiful island resort.  After the town, we switched drivers as my friend had bad experiences driving on small country side roads.  It was my first time to drive in a few months and over a year since I had last driven on the left side of the road.  It was a little shaky at first, but I got my road legs back very quickly.  Aside from getting used to the car, which happens with almost any new car I drive, things were easy.  We were quickly headed down the road that we chose, but we soon reached what looked like nothing more than an access road.  Being in the countryside of Tottori, some of the main highways between cities are more akin to an access road rather than a true road.  Unlike North American streets where designated highways must meet a certain criteria, in Japan, it just indicates the road.  Our first “moment” came as this access road was about 1.5 lanes wide and we came across a truck.  It was a big truck and a challenge.  I was facing the challenge of passing this oncoming truck with only a few centimetres on both sides of the car.  The truck driver was kind enough to stop on the side and let me do all the work, but considering his side had a wall, and mine a drop into a field, it wasn’t that bad.  Creeping slowly, I passed my first hurdle.  Little did I know, this would only be the beginning of our journey of the day.

The route we took to Daisen, our first real destination, was simple enough and only a few points of caution.  My map had a few warnings that the road we were about to embark upon was closed during the winter months due to the weather.  This didn’t worry me too much.  We had a nice car, supplies to keep us fed and hydrated, and lots of time.  By the time we reached the road, things changed very quickly.  The first challenge of a small countryside road was past, but we had another road that was also only 1.5 lanes wide.  Being the countryside, and having seen the last stretch of road, I thought that this would be a short stretch of narrow roads.  I was wrong.  We also had to contend with a few construction signs with which we had no idea what they meant.  After our trip, we reviewed photos of the signs, and the sign said that cars were not allowed in, but when we went, it had a sticker on top saying it was “cancelled”.  Essentially, we got lucky.  We ended up doing most of the trip up and around Daisen on the narrow style road.  I have had experience on these types of roads before in Canada.  In Victoria, there are a few nice places like this.  The road is narrow and the vegetation is abundant.  On this road, it was the same.  The overgrowth from the bushes and trees made it a challenge to drive.  Being a kinder driver, I took a little more time to get around, along with the fact that I was worried about oncoming traffic, whatever it may be.  We spent roughly an hour or so going up, down, and around the north side of the mountain in what was one of my toughest drives ever.  The road was immaculate, and the beauty of the forest was unrivalled.  If I had the chance to skip that area, I would probably say no.  It’s something that has to be seen and experienced.  Before long, we were at Daisen-ji and taking a long deserved break from the car.

Note:  This is part one of a two part series.  Please continue reading in Part II.
For further reading about the San’in region, please follow the links below:

Driving Information:

Chugoku Expressway (Wikipedia – English): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chugoku_Expressway

Chugoku Expressway (Wikipedia – Japanese): http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/中国自動車道

Izumo Orochi Loop (Wikipedia – Japanese): http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/奥出雲おろちループ

Drive Plaza (Information on Expressways in Japan including travel times – JAPANESE): http://www.driveplaza.com/

About Touring in Japan (English): http://www.e-wadachi.com/howto/map_e.html

How to Cycle Around Japan (This is for cycling, but it’s very useful for driving as well): http://www.e-wadachi.com/howto_e.html

Touring Mapple (Official – Japanese): http://touring.mapple.net/

Rental Car How To (Japan Guide) [Note: There are links to major car rental companies towards the bottom of the page]:http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2024.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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Honolulu, Hawaii (Part II) December 30, 2008

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 “Honolulu, Hawaii (Part II)” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-5e

This is Part II of a two part series.  Please see Part I for the beginning of this post.

The next day, I had to attend my friend’s wedding.  It was an all day affair.  I did wake up early and had a nice run along the beach.  Waikiki’s beach is very nice, but the path for runners is very short.  You are better to go elsewhere, but I wanted a beach that was close to my hotel.  The morning is also a nice time to visit as there aren’t too many people there.  By the afternoon, I’m sure it was busy.  The beach itself is also nice, but a little rocky compared to other natural beaches on Oahu.  I saw many people swimming and surfing in the area.  The wedding I attended was a beach wedding.  The wedding party was about 20 people and we all sat on the beach.  We went to Waimanalo Bay, which is about 1 hour from Waikiki.  It’s a wonderful place with very few people.  There were a few people who looked at us in envy, but it was generally our own private beach.  The women had a lot of problems as they wore heels.  Heels and sand do not mix.  Most of them changed to flip flops or just went barefoot.  The beach was beautiful with nearly white sand and a turquoise surf.  It wasn’t too windy either.  Just perfect.  We got lucky.  After the ceremony, we had a break time to relax before we had dinner.  Dinner that night was at Roy’s.  A very nice upscale restaurant, but not as good as Orchids.  The food wasn’t as good either, but there was a lot of choice.  We were all stuffed.

On my third day in Honolulu, I headed to the Premium Outlets.  It’s a major chain of outlet shops that has several outlets in Japan as well.  The only difference is that Honolulu’s Premium Outlets is very small, but they have better discounts.  Most shops had 20-50% off the lowest ticketed price.  Very good deals to be had.  I do recommend heading to this outlet shop if you have a car and the time.  For lunch, I headed to a famous Cheeseburger restaurant.  Cheeseburger in Paradise is relatively famous and they offer HUGE burgers.  They are so huge, that you don’t need fries.  However, who can eat a burger without fries?

The fourth, and essentially last, day in Honolulu, was not so fun.  I woke up to rain.  It was pouring out.  I cancelled my morning plans.  I was going to enjoy the beach, but obviously that was out of the question now.  Instead,  I headed to Wallmart with some friends and found some cheap things.  Nothing too special.  If you have time, it’s nice to go there.  After that, I headed to Ala Moana again for a final round of shopping.  Nothing bought, but I enjoyed browsing all of the shops.  After shopping, I headed back to the hotel to pack as I would have a very eventful evening.  After packing all of my things, I headed back to meet my friends for drinks.  We met up and started drinking in one of the rooms.  After, we headed out to a bar for more.  We ate and drank and had a great time.  By the end of it, we were kicked out as they place had closed and we moved the party to the beach.  In our drunken state, many people started to jump into the ocean for a night swim.  Nothing too dangerous.  Just up to the chest.  I might have gone in if asked, but I had no option.  My friends picked me up and tossed me into the ocean.  I was soaked from head to toe.  I jumped out of the water, stripped down to my jeans and jumped back in.  It was a fun night of swimming that lasted about an hour or so.  I couldn’t quite remember as I was quite drunk.

The next morning, I was awoken to the sound of a phone.  I had missed my first bus to the airport.  i had only 5 hours of sleep, my alarm was broken by the sea, and I had about 30 minutes to change, pack, and go.  I didn’t even have time to shower.  Thankfully, I finished packing the night before, so all I had to do was put a few things away and off I was to get picked up.  Needless to say, the flight back wasn’t so good, but I did make my flight and I did arrive in Tokyo as expected.  However, when rushing, it’s best to take a quick breather before heading through security.  I spent a lot of time there as I made mistake after mistake.

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。

Honolulu, Hawaii (Part I) December 23, 2008

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 “Honolulu, Hawaii (Part I)” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-4J

This is Part I of a two part series.  Part II will be posted next week.

On November 19th, I headed out to Hawaii for my first trip as an adult.  I had previously visited Hawaii as a child, so I couldn’t really remember anything.  As many of you know, Hawaii is a set of islands in the Pacific that is part of America.  The most popular Island to visit is Oahu.  It’s not the biggest, but the most tourist friendly.  All of the hotels are located in Waikiki, with lots of shopping available and a large calm beach.  Generally, I wouldn’t think about going to Hawaii as it’s a typical “tourist trap” that’s a little far from Tokyo.  However, a friend of mine was getting married, so I seized the opportunity to have a nice adventure to Hawaii.

When I first arrived in Honolulu, I was greeted by a severe lack of sleep.  The flight from Tokyo to Honolulu leaves at night and arrives in the morning.  A typical red-eye flight, with one major difference.  You relive the same day.  Surprisingly, entering the US was relatively easy.  Just a quick hello to the immigration inspector and a little run around for my luggage and I was off.  Do note that for some strange reason, they had 2 carousels for our luggage which made things extremely confusing.  Upon my exit, I had to wait for about 1 hour before my “tour group” was assembled and we could head to Waikiki.  There was about 10 of us in a huge tour bus.  Destination?  The Duty Free Store (DFS).  We had to attend an orientation talking about various optional tours we could arrange, free cell phones we could rent (note that the talk time rates were ridiculous), and tipping courtesy.  Needless to say, once that was over (I couldn’t sleep as I was at the very front), I tried to make my way out of the shop.  If you ever go there, note that it’s a complete maze meant to keep you in.  You must tour every floor if you start at the top.  Even when you get to the main floor, you can’t get out.  I felt like I was in a prison.

Once out of prison, I took a while to get my bearings.  I grabbed a map and headed out to Ala Moana Shopping Centre.  My goal of the trip was just shopping.  America is well known for their bargains and sales, and with Thanksgiving around the corner, I wanted to see what they had available.  Ala Moana is the most famous place to visit as it’s the biggest shopping complex near Waikiki.  I spent the better part of the day there before heading back to Waikiki.  I did have a little trouble finding the right bus route to get to my hotel.  Do note that I had to wait until 3pm to check in, so I was carrying a lot of stuff during the day.  After checking in, I still had a little time to myself to just relax and enjoy the hotel/apartment.  It was a huge place.  A small, but decent sized, balcony, a nice bedroom, and a large living room and kitchen.  I didn’t have to cook, but I did enjoy everything.  I spent some time out on the balcony and at the beach as well.  At night, I met up with my friends from Vancouver.  We were going to a restaurant called Orchids.  It’s a lovely restaurant that is right on the beach.  I do recommend it for a nice romantic dinner, but the price might be a little much.  Service was excellent as well.   The only down side was that I was still extremely tired and in need of sleep.

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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