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Regions of Japan – Kansai to Okinawa June 14, 2011

Posted by Dru in Chugoku, Japan, Kansai, Kyushu, Okinawa, Shikoku, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Regions of Japan – Kansai to Okinawa” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-F0

Kansai is probably the second most popular area to visit by foreigner.  It is home to Japan’s second largest city Osaka, after discounting Yokohama.  It is also home to the most historically important cities in Japan, Kyoto and Nara.  Kobe is another major city but like Yokohama it can be considered as a suburban city of Osaka.  Kansai is also home of Wakayama which is famous for their Buddhist temples and the ability of foreign guests to spend a night and wake up to the prayers within the temples and Himeji, home to Japan’s most famous castle.  There is so much to talk about in Kansai that it is impossible to summarize it in one paragraph.  The people are very distinct and they have their own dialect.  It is often considered the comedy capital of Japan due to the number of comedians who call Kansai their place of origin.  The people are very outgoing and it is often easy to strike a conversation with a stranger compared to the cold and private Kanto region.  It is often a bit colder than Kanto but the warmth of the people more than make up for it.  There is a bit of a rivalry between people from Kansai and Kanto but I do believe it is more in jest rather than prejudice.  As for the food, Kansai is considered the capital for Japanese “soul food”.  They have things such as okonomiyaki and takoyaki.  They are experts in yaki soba and tonpei yaki.  It is mostly fried food but it is delicious.  Kyoto is a small exception as they specialize mostly in traditional Japanese foods that cost an arm and a leg at times.  Either way Kansai is a food lover’s paradise, unless you are trying to eat healthily.

The western end of Honshu is Chugoku.  It can easily be misinterpreted as China as Chugoku is also the same word for China.  This region is best known as the home of Hiroshima and Okayama however the Sea of Japan side includes Tottori and Shimane which are wonderfully beautiful rural areas in Japan.  The Yamaguchi prefecture is also a beautiful place but I have yet to visit that region.  The Sea of Japan side of Chugoku is best characterized as a rural area that appears to be disconnected to Japan itself.  The people seem to not worry about anything and tend to live life as an independent region to the other regions.  They are a proud area that is popular for domestic travel.  The southern region, in contrast, has been stigmatised by the tragic bombing of Hiroshima.  Most people will overlook Okayama and just visit Hiroshima.  It is a very important historical location and it is a place I highly recommend people to visit if they get the chance.  Unfortunately it can be a terribly humbling place due to the amount of artefacts that remind us of the terrible outcome of the atomic bomb.  You can’t travel within Hiroshima city without seeing reminders left right and centre about the bombing itself.  The people in the city are great and they try to live their lives as normally as possible.  The food is delicious.  They are famous for their oysters as well as okonomiyaki.  Of course Kansai is famous for okonomiyaki but the Hiroshima style is different and in my opinion, better.

Shikoku is a small island that is located just below Honshu.  It is an area that only a few Japanese people visit if they don’t have family in the area.  It also happens to be one of my favourite areas to visit.  It is a diverse region that is made up of 4 prefectures.  Each area is also unique.  The eastern side of Tokushima and the southern prefecture of Kochi often fight over who is better.  There is a very old and popular festival in both prefectures that are visited by thousands of Japanese people each year.  Both festivals claim to be the best and most exciting festivals in Shikoku and to be honest they are both wonderful to see.  While I haven’t been to either in person, it is difficult to travel the region and not see video of the traditional dancing during the festivals.        Ehime is the western prefecture that is well known for its onsen, Dogo onsen.  It is considered the oldest onsen in Japan and has various healing factors.  A little north of Matsuyama is Imabari which is famous for its towels.  In the north, you can also visit Kagawa.  It is famous for its udon noodles and also for Naoshima which is a famous art island.  It is a small island that is filled with various modern art sculptures.  Most of it is free however the main museums are not.  Overall, Shikoku is a very diverse region that rivals most regions of Japan.

Kyushu is the final region.  It is the western most main island of Japan.  It is famous for its food and onsen as well as its nature.  Most people will travel only as far as Fukuoka and northern Kyushu.  This is the area that has the best onsen as well as the best food.  Fukuoka is well known for its regional delicacies as well as being close to Nagasaki.  Nagasaki is not as popular but important for foreign tourists.  The southern region is not as well known but they are famous for shochu and various poultry and pork products.  One of the more interesting, yet overlooked, areas is Yakushima.  It is a small island just south of Kyushu’s main island and setting for Hiyao Miyazaki’s Princess Monomoke.  It is one of the few natural environments unique to Japan.  South of Kyushu is the Ryukyu Island chain which encompasses Okinawa.  Most people will lump Okinawa and the Ryukyu into Kyushu but that shouldn’t be the case.  Okinawa is, in its own right, a separate area.  They have a different history compared to Japan and have been fighting for their own rights as a small “nation within a nation”.  The entire chain of islands is beautiful, from the pictures I have seen, and make a nice vacation spot with lots of opportunities to relax on the beaches.  The culture is very unique with a unique style of music, dress, and language.  The food has been heavily influenced by the regional natural fruits and vegetables as well as the heavy presence of the US military.  One of the most famous items has to be Taco Rice which is basically taco filling on a bed of rice.  They also make use of bitter melon which is unique in Japan as other regions cannot grow bitter melon easily.

There is one region that almost never gets named when talking about regions of Japan.  These are the Izu and Ogasawara Islands (Bonin Islands).  These are a set of small islands that stretch south of Tokyo for over 1000kms.  The Izu Islands are a set of islands that are somewhat populated.  They have a lot of tourism however don’t expect access to be easy.  Farther away are the Ogasawara Islands in which only two islands are inhabited.  The Ogasawara Islands are historically more important that the Izu Islands.  Iwoto, or previously known as Iwo Jima is part of this group of islands where the US fought hard to get a foothold in taking down the old Imperial Japanese Army.  It has been a long time and few people visit these sets of islands.  In fact it is very difficult to get to any island other than Chichijima and Hahajima.  Most people in Japan never even consider visiting these islands so they have evolved into a very self sufficient area.  It is hard to believe that they are Japanese yet they are very much Japanese.

As you can see, Japan is a very long and diverse country.  Each region ranges from cool temperate to sub-tropical.  Japan is bound by 4 seas and 1 ocean.  There are 4 main islands and hundreds of other small islands that span over 1000 kilometres from one end of Japan to the other.  There are several mountain ranges and many diverse rivers.  Each region has their own distinct version of Japanese culture along with their own distinct foods.  People imagine Japan as being a homogeneous culture but they either forget or neglect that there are two indigenous groups, the Ainu in Hokkaido and the Okinawans in Okinawa.  You can also see the various culture differences between each region of Japan that is accentuated by the differences between people in the Kanto region and the Kansai region.  It is a wonderful country with many things to see.  Visiting only a few areas is not enough and visiting at one time of the year is not enough.  It can take a lifetime to fully explore every corner of Japan and even then you’d still have trouble experiencing everything.

Regions of Japan Information:

Wikipedia:
Japan:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_regions_of_Japan
Kansai:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kansai_region
Chugoku:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ch%C5%ABgoku_region
Shikoku:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shikoku
Kyushu:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ky%C5%ABsh%C5%AB
Ryukyu Islands:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ryukyu_Islands
Okinawa: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Okinawa_Prefecture
Izu Islands:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Izu_Islands
Ogasawara Islands: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bonin_Islands

Japan Guide:  http://www.japan-guide.com/list/e1001.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。

Regions of Japan – Nagoya to Hokkaido June 7, 2011

Posted by Dru in Chubu, Hokkaido, Japan, Kanto, Tohoku, Tokyo, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Regions of Japan – Nagoya to Hokkaido” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-EX

 

Japan is a small country that happens to be very long.  From end to end, Japan is well over 1000km long.  It is larger than Germany in terms of land mass and has a very diverse ecosystem.  You have the cold snowy north and the sub-tropical south.  It is a common misconception that Japan is a small country.  I would also argue that many people feel that any country that is outside of their own region is small, especially for Americans and Canadians.  It is important to know that Japan, while small overall, is actually very long which helps create the illusion that it is small.

Japan is divided into 8 main regions with a few sub-regions.  In the north is Hokkaido.  I have written a lot about Sapporo and the various festivals there.  It is a winter wonderland and also a great summer getaway.  In the winter, people head up there for skiing and to enjoy the delicious seafood.  In the summer, the seafood is still around but people go to escape the heat and humidity of the south.  Compared to other regions in Japan, Hokkaido is a relatively stable and sparsely populated region.  It isn’t the “wild west” but it isn’t like Tokyo either.  Getting from point A to point B in Hokkaido can be very difficult due to the sheer distances between cities and towns and the lack of trains can make it a difficult task.  Renting a car is definitely recommended if you want to see the local areas such as Shiretoko but it isn’t a necessity.  The bus network between cities is pretty good and you can get from Sapporo to most cities in Hokkaido by bus.  Planes are not so popular and trains are good for the major cities.  Unfortunately the trains can take a long time to get from place to place but keeping on the main belt from Asahikawa to Sapporo, then down to Hakodate via either Chitose or Niseko is relatively easy.  Be prepared for long travel times and you will have a good time.

Tohoku is the northern section of Honshu, the main island of Japan.  The main island forms an ‘L’ shape and Tohoku is at the top of the ‘L’.  It is a region that is very similar to Hokkaido yet also very temperate in nature.  The most common starting point is Sendai.  Including Sendai, all points north are considered Tohoku.  Points below Sendai are generally Tohoku as well but places such as part of Fukushima can be considered part of the Kanto plains.  Honshu itself is a very mountainous area with mountains bisecting the entire island into the Pacific and Sea of Japan side.  This creates a very distinct feel in each city depending on which coast you are on.  On the Pacific, the winters can be cold but there isn’t a lot of snow.  The Sea of Japan side which includes Akita and Yamagata receive a lot of snow in the winter.  In the summer, this area is more pleasant but the southern regions can be pretty hot and humid.  It is literally a transition between Hokkaido and the temperate south.  There are many local delicacies such as the Aomori apples and the beef tongue of Sendai.  It isn’t a popular place for tourists as there aren’t many things to see and do compared to other regions.  Hokkaido is well known for seafood and snow, but Tohoku doesn’t have a major drawing point for tourists.

Kanto is the centre of Japan.  It is a small section of Japan that includes Tokyo and located at the bend of the ‘L’ of Honshu.  It is where almost everyone goes when they visit Japan and it is a pretty small area.  The entire Kanto region can be considered as Greater Tokyo as many people do commute from the edges of Kanto to get into Tokyo.  Some would argue that there are major cities and industries as well such as Yokohama but the shear size of Tokyo makes Yokohama feel like a twin city similar to the twin cities in Minnesota.  Of course this is not the same however the idea that both cities can be considered the same city, rather twin cities, is true.  There isn’t really much to say or add to this region as most people know about the Kanto region already.  It is the heart of Japan.  Most companies and most people live in this area.  There are not a lot of historical places to visit anymore but places such as Nikko, Kamakura, and Hakone are excellent places with their own unique feel.

Chubu is a very complex region.  There are several sub-regions to Chubu due to its geography.  It is a region that is bound by Mt. Fuji, bordering the north-western area of Kanto and extending west to Kyoto.  It is also one of the most “visited” regions in Japan yet most people never stop to enjoy the region.  I am also a victim of just passing through the region more times than not.  Most people will go up to Mt. Fuji or pass through on their way to Kyoto.  The few people who do go to the Chubu region will usually head off to Niigata and Nagano or do a little business in Nagoya.  Due to the geography of the area is further subdivided into 3 regions.  The lesser known is the Koshinetsu region that encompasses Nagano, Niigata, and Yamanashi.  This area is well known for its snow and excellent onsen however the use of the name Koshinetsu is not popular.  They are more commonly known by their own respective prefectures.  The Hokuriku region is an area on the Sea of Japan side that is bordered by Niigata and Kyoto.  It is considered a northern path to reach Kansai but it is often overlooked by people.  It is still a somewhat remote area that is easily accessible by plane.  Trains do travel to the region but the new Hokuriku Shinkansen isn’t expected to be finished for a long time.  The main sections allowing access from Tokyo to the heart of Hokuriku will be complete in 2014 but the final section to Osaka has yet to be finalized.  As it stands, this area is often overlooked due to its remoteness.  The Tokai region is the most famous region as it is the main route for the Tokaido Shinkansen that links Tokyo to Osaka.  Shizuoka is one of the biggest prefectures in Japan yet very few people will visit it.  The most famous area is Nagoya where you can enjoy many delicacies.  Nagoya is not a particularly interesting for those visiting other cities but it is famous for its castle, local deep fried delicacies, chicken wings, and Toyota.  Toyota has their main factories located just outside Nagoya with a large museum as well.  Nagoya is also one of the most popular cities for people wishing to see races at the nearby Suzuka Circuit, but the circuit is located in Kansai, not Chubu.

Note:  Due to the amount of information available, this is only part 1 of 2.  Part 2 will be posted next week.

Regions of Japan Information:

Wikipedia:
Japan:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_regions_of_Japan
Hokkaido:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hokkaid%C5%8D_Prefecture
Tohoku:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T%C5%8Dhoku_region
Kanto:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kant%C5%8D_region
Chubu:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ch%C5%ABbu_region
Hokuriku:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hokuriku_region
Koshinetsu:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K%C5%8Dshin%27etsu_region
Tokai:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T%C5%8Dkai_region

Japan Guide:  http://www.japan-guide.com/list/e1001.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。

Mutsu and Oma January 20, 2009

Posted by Dru in Japan, Tohoku, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Mutsu and Oma” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-6A

This is Part II of a multi-part series chronicling my motorcycle adventure from Tokyo to Sapporo and back again.

Background:  In 2007, I had finally gotten my Japanese driver’s license and a motorcycle.  I had been an avid motorcycle rider in Canada before I came to Japan, so after 2 years of no riding, I finally bought a motorcycle and decided to go on a big adventure.  I went from Tokyo to Sapporo by motorcycle and ferry.  It was an adventure to say the least.

Leg 2 (Mutsu to Hakodate)

On day two, I woke up early and left for Hokkaido.  Mutsu was everything I expected, a simple pit stop.  There are several routes I could have taken to reach a small fishing village called Oma.  I decided to take the main road to be safe as I had to catch my ferry.  I stopped at many places along the way and enjoyed this part of my trip a lot.  It is the best memories I had.  I found a small shrine just outside the city centre.  It was built on the side of a hill and very close to the sea.  I then took brief stops at various villages along the way for pictures.  There was so many things to see and so many interesting and natural things that I took a long time to reach my destination.  The villages were technically part of the “city” but they looked independent of each other.  There was a nice park and lookout along the way as well.  The park looked well maintained, but I was curious as to why it was even there.  The lookout allowed me to see some interesting mini islands.  They look like rocks sticking out of the sea.  If you travel to Matsushima, it’s very similar.  The only difference is that there were no holes under the island, but there were lots of tetrapods around.

Once I got into Oma, I got lost looking for the peninsula.  Trying to understand road signs in Japan is a nightmare.  If you ever drive in Japan, you’ll hate them; even Japanese people hate the signs.  The peninsula was nice, but very out of the way.  It is the northern most point on Japan’s main island, and a mini tourist attraction.  The people seemed friendly, but the wind made it cold.  There is a very interesting statue of fists fighting tuna.  It’s a symbol of the town, which makes it’s living by catching bluefin tuna.  There were a few shops there, but I decided that after taking a few pictures I wanted to head straight to the ferry wharf. Only one question… where was it?  The story of this adventure has to be me being lost almost every day that I rode my motorcycle.  Once I found it, I relaxed for about an hour and talked to another rider.  At the time, I got to practice my really bad Japanese.  He was an older guy from the Kansai (Osaka) area and riding an old BMW.  Even his bike was older than me.  I had a few pictures taken at the wharf and then boarded the ferry.

The ferry was a strange design for me.  In Vancouver, the ferry is relatively simple to understand.  Follow the lanes to your parking space.  This ferry was different.  It was a medium sized ferry with a special area for motorcycles.  Unlike Vancouver, they actually had tie downs for my bike.  Once secured, I rushed up to the passenger area.  If you have ever taken a ferry from Vancouver to Victoria, I’d consider that luxurious.  This ferry wasn’t good at all.  There were vending machines selling old looking things and a small kiosk selling your average ferry souvenirs.  There is only one place to rest, and that’s the tatami room.  It’s a large open room where you can put your things and lie down.  While it sounds nice, it’s far from it.  The room isn’t that warm and you are given a terrible pillow.  It’s basically a black foam block.  You do have the ability to watch TV, but unfortunately, reception is horrible.  All you can really do is relax and hope the seas are calm.  The ferry ride was short, but I got a little sick on the way.  My destination for this ferry ride was Hakodate.

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。

Tohoku Expressway and the Shimokita Peninsula January 5, 2009

Posted by Dru in Japan, Tohoku, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Tohoku Expressway and the Shimokita Peninsula” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-67

This is Part I of a multi-part series chronicling my motorcycle adventure from Tokyo to Sapporo and back again.

Background:  In 2007, I had finally gotten my Japanese driver’s license and a motorcycle.  I had been an avid motorcycle rider in Canada before I came to Japan, so after 2 years of no riding, I finally bought a motorcycle and decided to go on a big adventure.  I went from Tokyo to Sapporo by motorcycle and ferry.  It was an adventure to say the least.

Leg 1:  (Tokyo to Mutsu)

On a crisp June morning, I left Tokyo and headed for the Tohoku Expressway.  I would head north as far as I could go in a day.  I started by racing to the Tohoku Expressway which was about 30 minutes away in the city.  In Japan, each expressway is owned by a different company, rather than the government, so taking the regular roads in the city is cheaper and sometimes faster.  Within Tokyo, it can be faster to take the regular roads, but often it’s faster to take the Shuto Expressway (the only expressway in central Tokyo).  I saved a little money, but in general, once I got close to the Tohoku Expressway, traffic was backed up and my plan to save money and time went out the window.  I only saved money.

Once I was on the highway, it would be a short 9 hour trip to Hachinohe, about 700km.  I took many stops along the way.  Along the expressways in Japan, every 50 km or so, there is a Service Area or Parking/Pit Area (SA or PA).  These are very convenient.  They often have local foods during the day, gas stations, and sometimes kid parks and dog parks.  It’s a great way to stretch your legs and relax on long road trips.  Making use of these SAs and PAs are essential.  All expressways in Japan are private roads, and thus, you have to pay to use them.  Because of this, you cannot enter and exit any expressway without paying.  You can also save money if you travel farther in a day, or if you travel at certain times.  Because of this, I decided to go all the way from Tokyo to Hachinohe.  Hachinohe is actually one of two end points for the Tohoku Expressway.  The main branch goes to Aomori, the biggest city in the Northern region of Honshu, while a Hachinohe branch expressway runs to Hachinohe.  The Tohoku Expressway itself is not a very interesting expressway.  It’s pretty straight and boring. Once you are on the Hachinohe branch, things look nicer and more natural.  Being on a motorcycle, you will also experience the changes of traveling 700 km North of Tokyo.  Every 100 km felt like I lost about 2C.

Hahinohe was a nice little town, the first time I passed through.  It’s relatively small, but unfortunately, all of the roads are curved.  This made me disoriented and I always got lost.  It took about 20 minutes before I found a police station and got directions.  I wanted to head north to a small city called Mutsu, and the highway was impossible to find.  Once the police pointed me in the right direction, everything went smoothly.

Along the way, I stopped at a park near the town of Misawa.  Misawa is a very small town with absolutely nothing.  It’s mainly a town for the Japanese Self Defense Force and American military.  The park I visited was very little small, but I was able to see and enjoy the Pacific Ocean a little.  The park was completely devoid of life.  I took this opportunity to relax a little and to start enjoying my trip.  This was also my first encounter with Japan’s infamous “tetrapod”.  They are 4-8 legged concrete “jacks” that are placed in the water to absorb the force of the waves.  The purpose of them is to save the coast from eroding and protect any wharfs from typhoons and such.  While I feel this is necessary in some places, Japan seems to go overboard with them.  They are placed in the oddest places and excessively so.  Once I was finished with the park, I continued north in the Shimokita Peninsula.  It’s a very beautiful place.  There are many windmills collecting energy for the area.  It provides a very unique look at technology and nature trying to interact with each other.

By nightfall, I had reached the town of Mutsu.  It is a small city that few Japanese people even know of.  It’s a quaint little town, but in reality, there is nothing special about it.  The area is known for its sciences, but little else.  While I don’t really recommend this place, if you need a base to get out and about in the area, it’s a nice central place.  This was also the destination of leg one.  It took me one full day, and I was completely exhausted.

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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