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Driving in Japan (2010) [Part II] September 28, 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 II]” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-tt

Our final leg of day 1 was a trip to Sakaiminato, Matsue, and Izumo.  The drive to Sakaiminato was a long and boring one, and one that I wouldn’t recommend.  It wasn’t recommended to me by my map, but it was necessary to reach our destination of Sakaiminato.  The stretch between Yonago and Sakaiminato was one long boring straight stretch.  We got fed up looking for the famous street in Sakaiminato and parked in a supermarket just a couple blocks from the station.  It turned out nice as we could just walk over to the famous Mizuki Shigeru Road.  After a tour of Sakaiminato, my friend took over the driving as I was exhausted and we had agreed to do the switch.  The drive on the north side of the lake between Sakaiminato and Matsue was beautiful and allowed us to see some of the countryside towns of Shimane.  We also got to see how they do construction.  Instead of having flag people directing traffic, they used signal lights and timers.  You would see a timer ticking down with a red light.  When the timer reached zero, the light would turn blue and you could go.  They basically set it up so that there was a “flag person” all the time, even when they weren’t working on the road.  It was the first time I had ever seen that, and we saw it a couple times on this journey.  The roads in and around Matsue and Izumo were nice as well, but there was nothing unique about them, especially when comparing it to other cities in Japan.  It was beautiful to drive around Lake Shinji and I would recommend it to anyone and everyone.

After a couple days off in Izumo to relax and see all of the sights, we took off on the second section of our tour. We drove from Izumo all the way to Hiroshima.  The first part was a quick jaunt on the San’in Expressway and the Matsue Expressway.  We headed south to Unnan City and then south along the Tojo Ourai, route 314.  It was a nice two lane road that had little to no traffic on it.  It was a nice winding road that flowed along a river and past many villages.  It was a perfect way to see the farms and forests of Shimane before we got to Hiroshima.  My plan for the route was to reach the Okuizumo Orochi Loop.  It’s a double loop, kind of like a pretzel, that ends roughly 105 metres above the starting point.  The total length is roughly 2300 metres.  It’s a fun little double loop with a nice small pullout at the top. Be sure to stop here and take a bunch of pictures.  Whenever you go, it will be quiet as most people take the major Izumo Ourai instead of this road.  After we completed the loop, we continued south until we reached the Chugoku Expressway.  We had another “moment” in a national park just before we reached the Expressway.  Unlike other moments, this one wasn’t comfortable.  I was doing the majority of driving on this section and I had a small beetle join me in the car.  I think we hit him and he just happened to fall into the car and get stuck near my crotch.  It was a fairly uncomfortable feeling for me to have a bug wedged under my pants, and it didn’t help that it was as we approached a corner.  Thankfully, I kept cool enough to continue driving.  After about 10 minutes or so, we came to an intersection where I could get out and sweep the bug out onto the ground.  Aside from the near heart attack I got from being surprised, all was well.  By the time we reached the Expressway, things were good.

The trip along the Expressway was quite simple.  We decided to switch drivers as I hate driving in the city.  My friend was really kind enough to “volunteer” his services while I navigated.  We got off the Expressway just before the Hiroshima Expressway started.  We took the main roads and got fooled by our GPS again.  All of the signs and all of the cars went one way, and the GPS said to go another way.  We instinctively ignored our GPS and followed the signs to our next “Expressway”, a tunnel that would bypass a lot of the city and drop us off in the centre of the town.  It was very interesting to exit the tunnel as we were on a bridge over a river and then planted in the downtown core of the city.  Imagine entering a tunnel in the suburbs, with only a few strip malls around.  Once you exit the tunnel, you are immediately on a bridge looking at a big bustling city with tons of traffic.  We managed to safely find Hiroshima Station and then to the hotel.  Needless to say, it was a huge challenge to understand the GPS and we did get a little lost along the way.  When you are travelling in a city, GPS is very difficult to read as the signal tends to bounce off of the tall buildings.  A little heated argument did ensue within our car, but cooler heads prevailed and we made it to our hotel, and dropped off our car at the rental shop and said sayonara to our faithful steed.  I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again, driving in major Japanese cities is very stressful and not fun at all.

I learned a few new things on this trip for my future travels.  The GPS is your friend and your foe.  There were many times where I wanted to use the GPS properly, but I couldn’t figure it out.  I’m sure there is a way, but without the necessary Japanese skills, it was more difficult that it should have been.  If you are trying to get from A to B, there is no problem to input it with basic Japanese skills.  Most of the input data is done in Japanese (hiragana), but finding the way to input in Roman characters was difficult.  It took us a few days to figure it out.  You also have to be aware that many places have the same name.  If you search for a place with a name such as “Sakaiminato”, you have to choose by the city.  Searching for something like Hiroshima Station, while it should mean the train station, it actually means anything with Hiroshima Station in the title.  It was a pain in the butt to figure out how to set it up properly, but with a little fiddling, we got it to work.  Navigation input is also set so that you can’t do anything unless you are parked.  Pressing the brake does not equal park.  You must actually set the car in park.  Other than that, the maps were very detailed and it was easy to navigate.  The instructions were great too, but not as good as the car that I used on my trip to Nikko.

As for maps, I still recommend the Touring Mapple.  It’s a brand that is geared towards motorcyclists.  The routes that are recommended are highlighted, and there is a ton of information on the maps themselves.  In British Columbia, we have Destination Highways, which is a great book, but it can’t compare to Touring Mapple.  Touring Mapple has information on tight corners which are dangerous, information on closed roads, and even information on restaurants and hostels where you can stay.  While it’s a terrible city map, it’s great for travelling between cities.  Do note that Destination Highways does have descriptions on the roads themselves, which is better than Touring Mapple, but Touring Mapple is more complete as you can get information on roads to access the great roads.  It even featured onsen which are great to relax in.  If you are driving a car, I still highly recommend this map as it’s perfect for any adventure that requires the open road.  Choose any route that includes as many highlighted sections as possible, otherwise keep to the Expressways.  If you drive on anything that isn’t highlighted, you can expect to see nothing but traffic and the view wouldn’t be as nice either.  Surprisingly, the rural Expressways are very scenic.  Stopping at the rest stops are wonderful as you can sample some of the local food and there are various activities that you can do.  Most of all just take your time and always venture off the beaten path.  You never know what you might encounter.

Note:  This is part two of a two part series.  If you haven’t read part one, please head over to Driving in Japan (2010) [Part I].
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。

Hiroshima Redux September 7, 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 “Hiroshima Redux” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-tx

Almost 2 years ago, I wrote my first blog post on Hiroshinma and Miyajima.  I wrote about my 2007 trip to Hiroshima.  Recently, I had the chance to go back after nearly 3 years away from Hiroshima.  Each time I have visited Hiroshima, I have seen it through different eyes.  On my first trip, it was my first year in Japan, and I didn’t speak much Japanese.  I was with a friend of mine who didn’t speak any Japanese and we had a hotel room that wasn’t in the best location to do anything in the city.  It was a good location as it was close to Hiroshima Station, but far from the night life.  On my second trip, I stayed in the same hotel, but I was with my girlfriend, so the experience was also unique.  Travelling with different people to the same place will inevitably give a different impression on you.  This time, I travelled with an old friend from Vancouver who is living in Osaka, and a friend I work with in Tokyo.  This was our last stop on a great adventure that started in Tottori and ended in Hiroshima.

On this trip, we drove into Hiroshima rather than taking the train.  We were coming from Izumo and spent the morning and early afternoon driving.  The approach into Hiroshima from the north-west was amazing.  We drove through a tunnel that basically cut through a mountain and under a park.  The exit into the city shot us out of the tunnel and directly onto a bridge that took us over a river and into the heart of the city next to Hiroshima Castle.  We headed straight to the station to get some tickets, which we failed at, and then on to the hotel.  If there is anything I hate more, it’s driving in major Japanese cities, especially around the station.  It’s a big mess of intersections that leave you wondering how to get from A to B without killing yourself.  We thankfully arrived at our hotel safely.  Our hotel was located on the edge of the Hiroshima Peace Park, which made for a great staging area for our adventures in the city itself.

The city hasn’t changed much, if at all.  It is the same city that I remember when I first visited.  Things look familiar, and staying in a newer area meant that I could get familiar with the surrounding area a lot more.  Hiroshima Peace Park is still a must see for a first time visitor.  The need to educate oneself on the horrors of an atomic bomb in an urban area is something that must be seen and experienced.  I’m not sure how other tourists feel, but I am always humbled to the point of near depression when I visit the park.  The symbols you see are all of peace and destruction.  You will see objects of twisted metal, earthen mounds to symbolize death, and various objects to symbolize the hope for peace.  I didn’t go to the peace museum again as it was something that I would not enjoy.  It’s something that should be done once in your life, but that’s all I can handle.

On this trip, I had a chance to walk around two new areas.  The first is around Former Hiroshima Municipal Stadium and along the river towards Hiroshima Castle.  The stadium itself is not an important place to be anymore as the Hiroshima carp have moved out to be closer to Hiroshima Station.  The stadium is now closed, and I don’t know what they’ll do with it in the future.  The area behind the stadium, near the library is an old train called C59161 or C59 for short.  It is an old steam locomotive that has been mothballed next to a library.  The locomotive is open to the public and you are free to climb into the cab area and take pictures.  Inside the cab, it’s a little dirty, but it’s a fun place to be.  There weren’t many people when I went, but I went on a weekday, so things may be different on a weekend.  The river behind the train is also nice. It’s good for a walk and there are several joggers in the area.  I found it to be a nice relaxing place that is away from the noisy streets near the stadium.

The other place that I had the joy of discovering is a river that is located near Hiroshima Station.  Heading south from the station, you will soon run into a river.  You can’t miss it as all of the trams cross over it.  Walking along this river for an hour or so is wonderful.  The banks are lined with trees here and there, and there are a few pieces of art.  I learned a little about the Kappa, a strange little devil-god that looks like a cross between a turtle, a frog, and a human.  While most people won’t have the time to go for a walk in this area, I do recommend it for people going to Hiroshima to work/live in the area.

As I mentioned, everything else in Hiroshima hasn’t changed.  The area around Ebisucho is still a hangout for good food and the sex trade in Hiroshima.  There is one shopping arcade that goes from the Peace Park towards the station that is nice to visit.  I found a nice park that went parallel to the shopping arcade that is near the peace museum.  It’s interesting as it has a few trees that survived the atomic bombing.  I wouldn’t consider this area to be of special interest as it’s not special.  There aren’t too many pieces of art, but it’s nice.  When going to Hiroshima, I always recommend going around and just exploring.  Pick a direction and just go.  You’ll always find something interesting no matter which direction you go.

The Hiroshima series continues with Hiroshima.

Hiroshima Information:

Japan Guide: http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2160.html
Wikitravel: http://wikitravel.org/en/Hiroshima
JNTO: http://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/location/r…mashinai.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。

Hiroshima November 11, 2008

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 “Hiroshima” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-2z

In February 2006, I made my first trip to Hiroshima.  In October 2007, I made my second trip to Hiroshima.  Hiroshima is a well known city.  It’s the first city to be attacked by a nuclear bomb in 1945.  Today, Hiroshima is better known for being the home of Mazda and Hiroshimayaki (Hiroshima style Okonomiyaki).  The city itself is very similar to many other medium-small cities in Japan and has a very interesting street car system.

In 2006, I arrived into Hiroshima in the afternoon.  I had previously spent a couple days in Kyoto and was extremely tired.  I had a nice curry rice lunch before embarking on the trek into the city itself.  My first afternoon/night was spent at Hiroshima castle.  It’s a very nice place to visit and relax.  There are many places to climb and explore.  It is best to go there early as the castle grounds close early.  Unfortunately, I didn’t arrive until after the castle itself closed, and the grounds were also closing.  All I could do was take a few pictures and venture back into the city.  On my second trip to Hiroshima, I had a lot of time to enjoy things.  I could visit some of the ruins of the old army barracks, explore the outer wall, and quickly visit one of the restored sentry walls.  It was a very peaceful place.  I do recommend visiting the guard wall located at the main entrance of the castle grounds.  It’s very beautiful and it has a unique smell.  The castle itself isn’t amazing.  The outside is the best, but paying the entrance fee is nice to get a good view of Hiroshima city.  Inside, it’s a museum where you can look at how the castle used to look, and even try on a few pieces of samurai armour.  Bring a drink when visiting the castle grounds as you will probably get thirsty.

The second place you must visit when going to Hiroshima is the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.  It’s a section of Hiroshima that was the focal point of the nuclear bomb.  It’s something you should see when you go to Hiroshima, but be warned that I found it very depressing.  It’s a necessary place to remind us of how devastating a nuclear bomb can be.  The first stop for most visitors would be the Atomic-bomb Dome.  It’s the ruins of Hiroshima’s Industrial Promotional Hall, and one of the only standing buildings in Hiroshima after the bomb.  It’s a humbling sight and when I visited the Dome, it was cloudy, cold, and surreal.  I had a truly eerie feeling looking at the dome.  After visiting the Dome, a quick walk around the Memorial Park is a must.  There are various memorials and statues erected to remind us of the death after the bombing.  The Peace Memorial Museum is something I wouldn’t recommend unless you have extra time and nothing better to do.  The artifacts and mannequins are amoung the most sobering and depressing things I’ve seen in my life.  They have a few recreations of the aftermath of the bombing, various descriptions of what happened, and also many artifacts from after the bombing.  The images you will see will be burned into your mind forever and you will probably feel extremely depressed.  I regret entering the museum, yet, I’m happy I did.  It’s a necessary evil in order to understand the true effect of nuclear weapons.

When you have finished visiting the sights in Hiroshima, the main shopping district is very close.  There are many things to see and do, but if you have been to other mid sized cities in Japan, the shopping arcade will be nothing new.  However, do try to find some okonomiyaki, oysters, and momiji manju.  When you need some dinner, Ebisucho is a good place to find good eats.  There are also many good restaurants near Shintenchi.  If you are looking for gifts to bring home, the best place to visit is Hiroshima Station.  Inside the station, there is a huge Omiyage floor with lots of things to buy.  If you are travelling by Shinkansen to Tokyo, make sure you stock up on food and drinks on the way home.  It’s a very long journey if you are using a JR Pass, or about 4 hours if you use a Nozomi train.

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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