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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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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。

Himeji October 28, 2008

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

On September 26, I ventured down to Hyogo to see the famous Himeji-jo.  It is famous for being one of, if not the only, true Japanese castle in Japan.  Most castles in Japan have been restored, or rebuilt as they were destroyed in the war.  Hiroshima-jo looks very beautiful, however once you step inside, you are greeted with a modern concrete museum.  Osaka-jo was also rebuilt and has a very strange glass elevator that takes you from a lower level to the entrance of the castle.  Looking at public pictures of the castle, it looks very out of place for a “heritage” site.  Thankfully, Himeji was lucky to be bombed only twice still retains most it’s the original architecture.

Himeji city is a very small city.  It is located roughly one and a half hours by express train from Osaka, or 40 minutes by Shinkansen.   There are only 2 things to do within Himeji itself.  The most popular is to go to Himeji-jo, and the second is to go to Shoshazan (Mount Shosha).  The latter is famous for being the filming spot for the Last Samurai staring Tom Cruise.  Unfortunately, I spent too much time in Himeji-jo to go to Shoshazan.  Spending the night in Himeji is not necessary unless you spend almost the entire day there.  It’s better to spend the night in Kobe, or Osaka instead and leave Himeji as a day trip.

As mentioned, the main attraction of Himeji is Himeji-jo.  It’s a very beautiful place and it costs 600 Yen to enter, but the fee is worth it.  You start off walking up a small hill and then you have a choice of directions.  Himeji castle is built to be confusing and maze-like.  As you approach the main castle, you have to travel in a generally spiral direction.  Head left and you’ll be taken to the “women’s quartres”.  You will be granted a taste of how people might have lived when it was a real functioning castle.  As you continue to access the castle itself, you will be given views of various courtyards and water wells before reaching the main courtyard in front of the castle.  Within the castle itself, you’ll find it cooler and bigger than expected.  The design tends to make you think it’s smaller than it really is.  Inside, you’ll be able to see some representations of Samurai armour, various weapons, and several gun racks.  Aside from the hike up the castle, there isn’t too much to see, but the experience is more important.  There are various places to go and look outside.  Once at the top, you’ll be greeted by many people who are just checking the view and looking around.  There really isn’t much to see, but it’s a must do.  The way up, you will use the original stairs, but going down, I believe they made new stairs to relieve pressure from all the people who visit the castle.  Upon exiting the castle, there is a few ways to return to the station.  The main route will take you to the Harakiri courtyard.  It is the main place where people killed themselves.  The story of how it came to be is unknown, and there was still blood on the walls until 50 years ago.

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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