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Top 3 Views of Japan (Reflections) February 28, 2012

Posted by Dru in Chugoku, Japan, Kansai, Tohoku, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Top 3 Views of Japan (Reflections)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-LM

For those who have read my blog since the beginning, or ventured to older posts, you will know that I have visited the Top 3 Views of Japan.  This is not an easy adventure and Japan has a top 3 list for many things.  I have recently written about the Top 3 Chinatowns in Japan and feel that there has been enough time to justify a second reflection of my trips to each of the places on the Top 3 Views list.  The list in alphabetical order is Amanohashidate, Matsushima, and Miyajima.  They all have their own importance and all were chosen by the Japanese scholar, Hayashi Gaho.  The fact that he was the one who chose each of the three has a particular importance that is easily lost to foreigners, including myself, who don’t understand Japanese or to those who have not read the references to these three places.

Amanohashidate is located in Kyoto, but do not expect to be able to easily visit Amanohashidate when you are in Kyoto.  It is a long train ride that goes from Kyoto to the Sea of Japan.  Kyoto city is located in the southern area of Kyoto and Amanohashidate is located to the north.  The trip out to Amanohashidate can be very worthwhile and I remember arriving to a very small town with almost nothing to do.  There were very few restaurants and most of the shops cater to tourists.  It is a very beautiful tourist trap but still definitely worth a visit.  Amanohashidate is nothing more than a long sand bar that separates Miyazu Bay into two parts.  It has also grown over the centuries.  It was once a long bar of sand that has now grown and become populated with many pine trees.  The most famous thing to do is to head up one of the mountains flanking Amanohashidate, bend over and look at Amanohashidate through your legs.  When viewed this way, Amanohashidate is said to appear to be a stairway into heaven.  This view has inspired many writers and artists.  There are so many poems written about Amanohashidate that you can see many of the poems written on plaques all along the sand bar itself.  It is a nice place and my only regret is that I didn’t fully understand the meanings of the poems themselves.  Hopefully the next time I visit I can appreciate the area a lot more.

Matsushima is a small bay that is located near Sendai.  It is a small town that is very similar to the other Top 3 Views in Japan.  The one thing I noticed more was that the entire town, at the bottom of the bay, was heavily promoting the fact that they are part of the Top 3 Views in Japan.  When I visited Amanohashidate and Miyajima, there was little in the way of informing visitors that they were in one of the Top 3 Views of Japan.  Matsushima was a bit different in this way.  I can imagine why as the famous way to see the views are by boat.  There are several tours that head out into the bay so you can see the various islands that make up Matsushima.  Matsushima gains its status as a great view by the hundreds of islands that dot the bay.  They look like some god dropped these large rocks into the bay and then planted some pine trees on top of them.  The islands are also known for their shape.  The islands shoot straight up and the waves eat away at the rock face causing spherical voids.  It is amazing how nature naturally created these voids.  Something that was even more amazing is how Matsushima is naturally protected.  After the major tsunami in 2011, Matsushima was left relatively unharmed.  Some areas had problems but for the most part, everything was safe.  The way the islands were set in the bay created a natural wave break that protected the village.  Matsushima was very quick to declare that they were open for business after the tsunami, but I fear that they are not attracting the number of visitors they would like as most people still don’t know that the bay is safe.  It may take more time to recover from this problem but I’m sure they will.  Unfortunately, I still feel the same about the area as when I first visited Matsushima.  I doubt I would ever recommend it to anyone unless they are living in Japan or they have visited Japan many times as it was a large disappointment for me.

The last place, and in my opinion the best, is Miyajima.  I have been there twice and it is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site list.  The island is a good day trip from Hiroshima and very popular.  It is very much a victim of its own success.  Even on a weekday the island can be overrun with tourists.  It is a very beautiful place that has been written about often.  Most of Miyajima is off limits to all people as it is mostly parkland with very few trails.  The most famous sight is Itsukushima Jinja.  It is the focal point of the entire island and the most visited location.  Walking from the port to the shrine is a very enjoyable experience with many deer lining the path.  The shops cater to tourists as always but they promote a lot of local items such as Hiroshima oysters and Miyajima wood products such as chopsticks and rice spatulas.  One area only a few people visit is the top of the mountain.  It is popular when the cable car is running, but unfortunately it wasn’t running the second time I visited.  The top of the mountain is a very cool and fun place to hang out as it reminded me of various fight scenes between Captain Kirk and various aliens on the original Star Trek series.  I would love to visit the island again to see the peak as I fell in love with Miyajima.  If I had a chance to go again, and I didn’t have to pay, of course I would go however after visiting the island twice, it is no longer on my list of things to do again for the time being.

For those deciding what to see, my own personal opinion is that Miyajima is the best followed by Amanohashidate and Matsushima.  All of them are nice and definitely beautiful.  Miyajima has become more and more overrun with tourists but it is still a special place.  Amanohashidate has grown on me over time and I remember the remoteness of the location meant that I had the place nearly to myself.  Matsushima was the dark spot but I hope it is mainly due to my experience.  In several years, I might want to re-visit Matsushima and see what it is like.  Perhaps my opinion will change and I would enjoy it a lot more.

The Top 3 Views of Japan series continues with Miyajima (Top 3 Views of Japan), Amanohashidate (Top 3 Views of Japan), Matsushima (Top 3 Views of Japan), and Miyajima Redux.

Original Posts:

Amanohashidate:  http://wp.me/piUxk-i2
Matsushima:  http://wp.me/piUxk-1I
Miyajima (Part I):  http://wp.me/siUxk-miyajima
Miyajima (Part II):  http://wp.me/piUxk-tA


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:

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


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:

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


Kyoto – Higashi Honganji & Nishi Honganji May 24, 2011

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 “Kyoto – Higashi Honganji & Nishi Honganji” complete with photos. http://wp.me/p2liAm-EH


There are two famous large temples located just within walking distance of Kyoto Station. These are Higashi and Nishi Honganji. They are both some of the largest temples I have visited in Japan and both are extremely important to Japan both culturally and historically. They are both free to the public and both are very similar in appearance. The first time I visited Kyoto was around 2006, and the second time I visited Kyoto was in 2009. Although the difference in time was only about 3 years, I can’t clearly distinguish the difference between the two temples. It can be very difficult, so visiting one temple only is not a big problem. If you are pressed for time, you don’t have to feel the pressure to visit both temples as you might be better off visiting only one of them and spending the extra time at another temple around Kyoto.

In 2009, I visited Nishi Hongaji. Nishi Honganji was recently renovated, so the entire temple grounds are remarkably beautiful. The approach to the temple from the station is somewhat bland. There is a long wall stretching along the entire complex with gates along the way. The gates themselves are very beautiful with typical Japanese temple designs. Upon entrance into the temple grounds, you will be amazed by the sheer size of the main hall and the open area. Unfortunately, like my visit to Kinkakuji earlier in the day, it was raining heavily when I visited which made things difficult. On the other side of the coin, the fact that there was almost no one around made it a very enjoyable experience for me. Entering the hall is free and the hall itself is very spiritual. It’s hard to explain but whenever I enter a Japanese temple, I always feel a type of calm. Even with the rain and humidity, I felt very relaxed. The entire area may look and feel like a typical Japanese temple, but the atmosphere is the most important aspect of any temple visit. I can’t imagine a teenager visiting any temple and having the same feeling that I had but I hope they will. One of the more interesting aspects of the hall is the windows or rather wooden panels. There are large wooden panels that line the sides of the main hall that allow more light and air into the hall. These are huge panels that hinge upwards. If you are lucky, you’ll be able to see these in use. The other interesting piece is the lights. There are several gold covered lamps located around the outer walk of the hall. From afar, they don’t look very unique or interesting but when you see them from underneath, you can see the detail of a dragon that has been sculpted into the bottom. It is not unique to Nishi Honganji, but it is still a very beautiful thing to see. When you are finished, you can always head to the adjacent office and relax a little.

Higshi Honganji is the younger sibling of Nishi Hongaji. They are both different sects of Buddhism that have splintered away from each other. You can think of this as akin to the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches. They are similar yet different religions. Higashi Hongaji was built 11 years after Nishi Hongaji and replicates the look and feel of Nishi Honganji. The main difference is that Higash Honganji is actually bigger than Nishi Honganji and there is a gold alter located inside Higashi Hongaji. Otherwise, it can be difficult to discern the difference between both temples. Both temples used to be in the same sect of Buddhism but due to political pressure, the temples were split up leading to the construction of Higashi Honganji. As I mentioned above, visiting one of the two temples is enough for a visit to Kyoto. While Higashi Honganji may be closer to the station, Nishi Honganji shouldn’t be overlooked either. If you take a bus, you can always stop at Nishi Honganji on the way to another location. Be sure to plan ahead and you can see a lot more.

Honganji Information:

Honganji (Japan Guide):  http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3920.html
Honganji (Wapedia):  http://www.wa-pedia.com/japan-guide/nishi_higashi_honganji.shtml
Honganji (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hongan-ji
Nishi Honganji (Wikipedia):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nishi_Honganji
Higashi Honganji (Wikipedia):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Higashi_Honganji


Kyoto – Maruyama Park May 10, 2011

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 “Kyoto – Maruyama Park” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-EK


One of my favourite memories of Kyoto is on my first trip to Kyoto. I walked along the entire east side of Kyoto from Kyoto Station all the way to Ginkakuji. For anyone who has ever visited Kyoto and looked at that area, they probably won’t believe me when I say I walked all of that and walked almost all the way back to Kyoto Station as well. I didn’t have any real idea as to what each area was about, and my Japanese was no where near good enough to navigate around town smoothly. Now, I wouldn’t do it again, but it was an experience that I don’t regret doing and I would do it all over again if I had to. Walking around Kyoto was a great experience that allowed me to see a lot of Kyoto, although I don’t necessarily remember everything. One of the best memories I had on that walkabout was my visit to Maruyama Park and heading up a nearby mountain to a small shrine.

Maruyama Park is a small park that is either left off the guide books or barely mentioned. It is famous at one time of the year, the cherry blossom season. Most of the park is covered in cherry trees making this the place to be during the cherry blossom season. It is difficult to find a place, or so I’ve been told, to sit and enjoy the cherry blossoms. When I visited, I was about 1-2 weeks too early to enjoy the cherry blossoms. One or two trees had buds on them, but that was about it. The park itself is quite easy to navigate and without much foliage to enjoy I finished walking the park in about 15 minutes. I enjoyed the small pond of water that flowed through much of the park and found it interesting to see piles of neatly folded blue tarps near the trees. Little did I know that when the cherry trees started to blossom, the park workers would unfold these blue tarps and create a space for people to sit and enjoy the cherry blossoms. At night, much of the park would be lit up and hundreds, if not thousands of people would be there to enjoy the cherry blossoms, the company of each other, and of course the beer and alcohol.

The main reason I enjoyed this park wasn’t so much the park itself. It was the small mountain and “secret” shrine that I found above the park. If you head to east through the park, you will start to head up a small steep hill. You will then find a small shrine in the corner of the park. I believe it was the north east corner of the park. From there, you will find a small path that starts to lead into the woods and up the mountain. I remember it as being near a set of washrooms, but I don’t know how helpful that would be for someone looking for the path. I headed up the path with a friend of mine not knowing what we would find. Little did I know, we would have one of the best adventures of the entire trip. It wasn’t an easy walk as we were walking up a small mountain. I was surprised to see small altars, or graves along the path. I believe they were altars. There were several small Buddhist statues on each one and they have been there for years, if not decades. The faces of many of the statues had been worn off by the rain and wind. There were altars at nearly every corner of the dirt path. It took a while before we made it to the top and we considered turning back a couple of times. The one good thing was that we didn’t give up. We continued until we reached a small garden/temple at the top. This temple was really nice but I was surprised to find that we had to pay to enter and see Kyoto from a viewing platform. We decided not to pay and just relaxed at the top for a bit before heading back down the way we came. We had the options to take a small road down from the temple but we had no idea where it went, so the prudent thing was to head back the way we came. I do regret that we didn’t enter the temple, but the memory of hiking up that small mountain will remain in my mind forever.

As I mentioned, we walked all the way from Kyoto station to Ginkakuji. It was a full day walk from 9 am till 9 pm. We had a tough time, physically, going around and seeing everything. When you are on a budget of $0, you’d be surprised at how willing you are to just walk around. Renting a bicycle would have been better but at the same time it wouldn’t. Walking allows you to just take your time and wander around to wherever you want to go. Many times, I prefer to just choose an area and just walk in one direction and wander in a direction that interests me. On this trip, I was lucky enough to see a couple of geisha/maiko around a pagoda as well, but whether they were true maiko or not, I had no idea. In Kyoto, it is fairly common to see “fake” maiko. These are tourists who get dressed up in a costume shop and spend a few hours walking around as a “geisha” or “maiko”. You never really know who is a true maiko or not, but if I had been on a bus or riding a bicycle, I wouldn’t have been able to discover such amazing things. I highly recommend this walking tour, but do be aware that it isn’t easy and requires a full day to do it.

Maruyama Park Information:

Maruyama Park (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maruyama_Park
Maruyama Park (Japan Guide): http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3925.html


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