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Tokushima June 9, 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 “Tokushima” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-bZ

Tokushima is situated in the north-eastern region of Shikoku.  It is the major gateway to the island from Kansai.  It is connected via Awaji Island to Kobe.   Unfortunately, this city is very small and easily visited within a day or two.  You can easily get out of Tokushima city and head to Naruto in the north; Iya Valley in the west; and towards Muroto in the south.

Tokushima is primarily known for one thing, and only one thing, the Awa Odori.  It is a summer festival held in August.  It is one of the most distinct and unique festivals in Japan.  The Awa Odori is literally a traditional dance of the region.  People dress up in the regions unique festival clothing and the dance can be heard for blocks.  It is very difficult to describe the dance and it is something that must be seen in video to truly understand how complex, active, and interesting it really is.  All over Tokushima city, you’ll be able to see statues, banners, art, and videos of the Awa Odori.  You can even take a dance class at the base of Mt. Bizan.  While the Awa Odori is the most famous thing about Tokushima, sudachi is the most famous gift from Tokushima.  It is a small green citrus fruit that is similar to limes and lemons.  It has a slightly stronger taste, but very refreshing.  Beware that buying any sudachi sweets can be dangerous.  They last a long time, but once opened, they “could” expire within a day or two.  I would recommend buying sudachi alcohol and drinks, which are very popular.

There are only a few things to do in Tokushima itself.  The most famous thing to do is to head up Mt. Bizan.  There is a gondola that will take you from the base to the peak, but it runs every 15 minutes.  You can also get a discount if you go in the evening.  The top of the mountain is very beautiful and gives you a great view of the city.  Heading up in the evening is worth the price, however heading up at full price may not be worth it for those on a budget.  You can also hike up the mountain, and the peak offers various hiking paths.  If you are an avid hiker, this is a great place to get started for a short day hike.  Routes tend to be well marked and wind their way around the mountain.  In May, you will also be greeted with beautiful flowers blooming around the peak station.  If you are lucky, Mt. Bizan has over 1000 cherry trees, so the cherry blossom season is supposed to be extremely beautiful.

After Mt. Bizan, Tokushima Central Park is the next best place to visit.  It is located on a hill behind the station.  It can be a little difficult to reach as the station has only one entrance, to the south.  The park is located north of the station.  Once you find the park, it is a very nice place to visit.  The entire park is the site of the ruins of Tokushima Castle.  There are two routes to the top of the hill.  While both routes are equally difficult, be aware that the main route may have some school kids running up as part of their training exercises.  In all honesty, this park is better served to the locals.  There isn’t too much to see.  The view from the top of the hill, while nice, isn’t that great.  It’s difficult to see much of the city as there are large trees surrounding the old courtyard.  However, it is a good way to enjoy an afternoon in Tokushima.

Finally, walking along the Shinmachi River, south of the station, is a lot of fun.  The parks along the river are very beautiful, and there is a lot of outdoor art to enjoy.  You can even take a boat cruise around the city for only 100 yen.  It takes about one hour to go around the city.  You can also take a 4 hour cruise up to Naruto.  The river is also conveniently located near the main shopping area.  Shopping in Tokushima is sparse, to say the least.  It is probably the smallest major city in Shikoku, so finding any major name brands would be very difficult.  If you are looking for something to eat, I would recommend ramen.  It is a local specialty and the local food maps, available in most hotels, show the locations of famous ramen shops.  While it isn’t very different from other ramen shops in Japan, they tend to add slices of meat, and the soup base tends to be a little thinner and saltier, in my opinion.

Overall, I couldn’t say there is a lot to do in Tokushima city itself.  However, there is enough to make it a good weekend trip.  If you are just backpacking around Japan, timing a visit to coincide with the Awa Odori is the best way to go; otherwise it’s best to skip this city.  I would definitely like to return someday.

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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The Great Motorcycle Adventure (Take II) June 5, 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 “The Great Motorcycle Adventure (Take II)” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-bW

On April 28, 2009 I embarked on my second great motorcycle adventure.  I went for two weeks to Shikoku.  Shikoku is an island located south of the main island.  It’s the fourth largest island and a dream destination of mine.  I had two destinations for riding adventures, Hokkaido and Shikoku.  As I have written before, I had already visited Hokkaido, with a bad result.  This time, things were completely different.

From Tokyo, there are two simple ways to reach Shikoku.  The fastest and possibly cheapest is to take the highway from Tokyo to Tokushima.  This is roughly 700km in total.  You will start off in Tokyo, head past Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe before going over the Akashi Bridge to Awaji Island and then over the Naruto Bridge into Shikoku.  In Japan, the ETC system can provide significant savings to your trip.  On weekends and holidays, there is a flat rate of 1000 yen for cars and motorcycles with an ETC system.  If you travel overnight, enter or exit between 10pm and 6am, you can receive up to 50% off your total travel costs.  Many people make use of this system, however be very aware that during the weekends and holidays, traffic will be backed up for kilometres.  During the first Golden Week rush, there were traffic jams along every expressway on Japan’s main island and they could stretch for over 100 kilometres in some cases.  ETC has also become so popular, that it’s sometimes faster to go through a regular pay toll gate than the automatic ETC gates.

The second route, and something I recommend if you don’t have ETC, is to take a ferry.  From Odaiba, you can board a ferry and reach Tokushima in 18 hours.  It’s an overnight ferry, but the gas and sanity that you save is a lot.  Plus, you can meet a lot of people if you want to.  It’s definitely better if you can enjoy the trip with a friend.  The ferry arrives around 1pm in Tokushima and it’s just enough time to go around the city.  Going outside the city to other regions can be difficult unless you plan everything correctly.

When travelling in Japan, most Japanese people will use their car navigation to find out how to go from A to B.  This is the most efficient way to do things, but it isn’t always the best.  For motorcyclists, we have a touring bible.  It’s called “Touring Mapple”.  It’s written completely in Japanese, but there are references within each book, road recommendations, and information about camp grounds, hostels, and almost anything you need to know when travelling.  I would highly recommend this book to anyone and everyone.  Whether you travel by bicycle, car, or by it’s intended audience, by motorcycle.  Without it, I would have been lost in my travels.

Please note that this is just an introduction to my actual adventure.  I will be writing about things in much greater detail in the coming weeks.

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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