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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

Miyajima Redux September 14, 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 “Miyajima Redux” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-tA

It has been a couple years since I last visited Miyajima, and I was excited to return to an area that I found to be the most beautiful place in Japan.  Since I last visited, I have made visits to the other three Top 3 Views of Japan, and I still think it’s the most beautiful of the three.  I have been to various areas including a trip around Shikoku, and a trip to the San’in area, and I still think Miyajima is beautiful.  While the natural beauty wasn’t as special this time around, the actual island didn’t disappoint me too much.  The second time around was not as good as the first time, but it was still great to say the least.

The first time I went to Miyajima, I went on a busy weekend.  I had time to see almost everything, and I did almost everything.  One of the main places I wanted to visit was the top of the mountain.  I enjoyed my trip up a rickety ropeway but this time, I was burdened with a choice to either hike up or not go to the top as the ropeway was closed.  I didn’t mind too much, but with the hot weather and the fact that I had been travelling for about a week already, I wasn’t up to the challenge of hiking up to the top.  Especially when I knew I would have to rush a little to get things done.  Instead, I decided to relax in the village and just absorb the atmosphere.

The first thing people should be doing is head straight to Itsukushima Jinja and the Torii.  It’s a short walk and you can see it from the ferry as you approach Miyajima.  The walk over on the weekend can be extremely busy with tourists taking up every available piece of real estate.  It’s a simple walk to get to the torii, and the best location for the view is generally reserved for those on tours.  They set up a set of benches/steps for groups of 10 or more to join together for a photo with the torii.  This area is the best for photos as you can see the torii with the main island in the background.  Like my last trip, I arrived at low tide, so I immediately made my way out to the torii.  Unlike last time, there were only a few people around the torii.  I was able to get more photos and not worry too much about getting in the way of other people.  Nothing had changed at all.  The gate was in the same location, with the same paint.  Although the paint did look a little older, it was still an amazing sight.  From there, I went into the shrine as it is a must see, even for a second time.  I headed in and felt that things were different.  With less people, pictures were much easier to take.  The only sad part was that there wasn’t a wedding happening this time.  I did get more time and things went much faster as there were very few people in the shrine itself.  Do be aware that on weekdays, while there are fewer tourists, there are hundreds of school kids taking educational tours of the island.  It’s tough to get around, but if you just wait a few minutes, they’ll soon pass.  The peak of these tours occurs around noon and in the early afternoon.

Afterwards, I headed over to a few of the other shrines in the area before my major task of the day, shopping!  I spent nearly the entire day in the shopping street of Miyajima.  Miyajima is famous for its wood products.  I have mentioned that Miyajima has the largest wooden rice spatula in the world.  You can still buy wooden rice spatulas (obviously not the largest one) as well as other wood products.  Finding things such as wood bowls and cups are harder to find, but chopsticks and chopstick rests are easy.  I was also introduced to an interesting character that looks a bit like a bald Buddhist monk.  Of course, they have the typical tourist goods such as t-shirts, pens, and whatnot.  I also had a lot of time to think about my gifts for friends.  Miyajima is the best place to buy momiji manju.  It’s a maple leaf shaped “pancake” with a sweet filling.  Typically, you’ll find red bean paste or custard, but in Miyajima you can also find macha, chocolate, and cheese.  There are a lot of flavours to choose from and I highly recommend trying them all.  I went to one famous shop that was recommended by the Japanese travel books.  The shop is easy to find.  It is the only shop that sells cream cheese filled momiji manju.  It can be easy to miss, but if you are looking for it, you will find it.

I also had a chance to eat in Miyajima.  It was the first time I had deep fried oysters.  Hiroshima is a region well known for its oysters.  They typically grill oysters in their shells and you can buy them for a few hundred yen each.  Being a weekday, these oysters were a little scarce, so I decided to go into a small restaurant and order a fried oyster set lunch for about 1000 yen.  I don’t normally enjoy oysters, but this time, it was delicious.  It was dangerously hot and I nearly burnt my tongue, but somehow, they got me to enjoy it.  Miyajima is also famous for its Anago, or salt water eel.  While it wasn’t in season, it was still a specialty of the area.  I can eat oysters, but I can’t eat eel, so I didn’t get a chance to try it.  While I was in Miyajima, I had a chance to run into a small liquor shop.  Of course it was focusing on souvenirs, but liquor was still a major presence.  Hiroshima is not well known for its liquor, but there is one brand of liquor that I generally recommend.  Kamotsuru is an old brand of sake that is somewhat well known in Japan, but well known in Hiroshima.  It is one of my favourite brands of sake and you can pick up bottles of it easily in Miyajima.  I was lucky to meet the store owner who gave me a little information (in Japanese) about the different varieties of Kamotsuru.  While I would recommend trying to speak a little with her, it’s best to wait until you are at Hiroshima Station and at a department store to get information as store owners in Miyajima have very limited English skills.  I have talked with many shop clerks about sake, so it’s easier for me to understand what they are saying.  Essentially, just buy what you want and hope you have the right type.

Miyajima is a wonderful island that will always leave me wanting more. I would love to be able to visit it again when the tide is in, and to go back to the peak of the island. It’s hard to find the time to go to Hiroshima, but I’m sure I’ll go back again someday. If you ever make it to Hiroshima, it is a shame if you don’t visit Miyajima as well. It’s not that close, but it is close enough that an extra day would not hurt.

The Miyajima series continues with Miyajima (Top 3 Views of Japan) and Top 3 Views of Japan (Reflections).

Miyajima Information:

Japan Guide: http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3401.html
Wikitravel: http://wikitravel.org/en/Miyajima

Itsukushima Jinja (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Itsukushima

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。

Maps January 31, 2010

Posted by Dru in Uncategorized.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Maps” and other posts from this blog.  http://wp.me/s2liAm-maps 

For a time at the end of 2009 till 2010, I was creating maps to accompany my posts.  Unfortunately, I no longer have the time to keep this up.  I will continue to keep these existing maps online and you may continue to view them along with the posts that are here at Dru’s Misadventures.

Dru

MAPS:

Ajinomoto Stadium (2010-01-31)
Japanese Football: Kashima Antlers VS FC Tokyo
Japanese Football: Urawa Reds VS FC Tokyo

Asakusa (2010-01-31)
Part I
Part II

Ginza (2009-10-25)
Part I
Part II

Gundam (2010-01-31)
Shizuoka

Harajuku (2009-11-01)
Part I
Part II

Japan’s Top 3 Views (2010-01-31)
Amanohashidate
Matsushima
Miyajima

Jingu Stadium (2009-12-06)
Japanese Baseball: Tigers VS Swallows

Makuhari Messe & Chiba Lotte Marine Stadium (2010-01-31)
2009 Tokyo Motor Show
Japanese Baseball: Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles VS. the Chiba Lotte Marines

Nippori (2010-01-31)
Nippori

Odaiba (2010-01-31)
Part I
Part II

Otaru (2009-11-28)
Otaru
Otaru Snow Gleaming Festival

Samezu (2010-01-31)
Converting a License in Japan

Shibuya (2010-01-31)
Part I
Part II
Part III

Shinjuku (2009-11-15)
Part I
Part II
Part III

Suzuka Circuit (2010-01-31)
2009 Formula 1 Fuji Television Japanese Grand Prix

Toyocho (2010-01-31)
Renewing a License in Japan

Tsukiji (2010-01-31)
Tsukiji

Amanohashidate (Top 3 Views of Japan) October 27, 2009

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 “Amanohashidate (Top 3 Views of Japan)” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-i2

Amanohashidate is one of Japan’s Top 3 views.  Along with Miyajima and Matsushima, it is considered beautiful.  In my previous posts, I have mentioned both Miyajima and Matsushima.  I was awestruck by the beauty of Miyajima and let down by Matsushima.  For the third year in a row, I went to visit one of Japan’s Top 3 views.  This time, I went with no expectations at all.  I was looking for a nice relaxing day and to just explore a remote area of Japan.  Getting to Amanohashidate is much harder than Miyajima and Matsushima.  Miyajima is difficult because you have to take a ferry.  Matsushima is difficult because it’s located outside Sendai.  Amanohashidate, however, is located far from Kyoto, and Kyoto is the nearest major city.  In fact, Kyoto is closer to the Pacific Ocean, and Amanohashidate is located on the Sea of Japan coast.  If you are travelling from Tokyo, expect to travel for roughly 5 hours.  Bring a fully charged iPod and you’ll be okay.

Amanohashidate is famous because it’s a 3 km sand bar.  Translated, Amanohashidate means “Bridge in Heaven”.  The most famous thing to do, when visiting Amanohashidate is to venture up one of the nearby mountains, stand with your back facing the sand bar, and look at it from between your legs.  This gives the impression that the sand bar is actually in heaven, or heading to heaven.  You can do this on both sides of the sand bar, and it isn’t too expensive to head up.  When you do head up, be sure to take the chair lift.  It’s one of my favourite things to do in Japan.  These chair lifts are not like your traditional ski lifts.  Rather, they are simple chairs with almost no safety features whatsoever.  It can be a little scary at first, but it’s such a peaceful ride that you’ll feel almost as if you were floating in the chair.  Unfortunately, the views of the sand bar aren’t great from the chairlift.  If you head up from Amanohashidate station, you’ll have a little luck as the top of the hill has a small, and I really mean small, amusement park.  It’s probably great for kids, but for adults, it’s nothing special.  You can easily spend an hour just relaxing and taking your time wandering the area.

When you finish looking at the sand bar and get tired of seeing the same static views, Chionji is the only notable temple around the station.  It’s somewhat large for the population, but it isn’t bad.  I’d say it’s worth checking out, and don’t worry about time.  If you arrive on the late train, you’ll still have plenty of time to walk around the entire area as the first trains back to Kyoto aren’t until around dinner time.  The temple itself, however, isn’t special.  The main point of interest is probably the omikuji, fortunes.  They come in small wooden fans which are pretty cute, and I’ve never seen them in that form before.  From there, you can take a look at a type of key/lantern.  Located next to the bridge leading to Amanohashidate is a key that looks similar to an Egyptian Key.  Of course, it doesn’t look the same, but this key is supposed to bring luck for ships.  Many people climb into it and enjoy a picture with it.

Heading to Amanohashidate, you’ll have to cross a bridge.  This is a famous point for photos.  It’s an old swing bridge that opens up many times a day to allow the tour boats to pass.  It’s nice for photos, but after you’ve seen it once, there isn’t much of a point to wait for it a second time.  When you do cross the bridge, you’ll be on Amanohashidate.  This 3 km sand bar is easily traversed by bicycle, but if you feel up to it, feel free to run across.  It appears to be somewhat popular for locals looking for exercise to run up and down the sand bar.  You could also go for a nice swim as the beach is quite beautiful.  The water is very clean and there are various showers located along the beach.  Do note that the showers are turned on during the summer season only.  Also, be aware of traffic.  The sand bar is closed to cars, but motorcycles up to 50cc are allowed and maintenance trucks may travel along the sand bar on weekdays.  Located in the middle, there is a small shrine and various haiku passages.  A famous Japanese writer was inspired to write several haikus while in Amanohashidate.  If you didn’t bring your own bicycle, don’t worry.  Just rent one from one of the many souvenir shops next to Chionji Temple.

One of the last few things you can do is to take a boat ride to the northern shore.  While I never did this myself, it looks nice and it’s a good way to burn time.  The other is to head to the sento.  There is a nice looking sento located next to the station.  A sento is a Japanese public bath house.  The prices for bathing in this sento are a little expensive, but apparently there is a free foot bath in front of the sento.  If you need to pick up some gifts, Amanohashidate is famous for its black bean snacks.  While this is not for everyone, it is an option, and some of them are delicious.  They also have a few varieties of sake and shochu.  Amanohashidate also has a regional beer, but I never tried it.

Other than that, there really isn’t anything to do.  I’d suggest bringing a picnic and enjoying it on the beach.  Amanohashidate feels very remote and other than a few souvenir shops and touristy restaurants, there isn’t much to do.  Once you’ve seen the sand bar, that’s it.  Unlike the other two Top 3 views, there is much less to do here.  I do feel that it ranks in at number 2 compared to Matsushima, but by and far, Miyajima is still the best.  The best thing to do is to make the most of your time when you are in Amanohashidate.  Enjoy being out of the big city.  Relax at the beach.  Read a book.  Talk with your friends.  Enjoy a beer on the beach.  Do everything that you should do when you are on vacation, mainly relax!

Amanohashidate Information:

Japan Guide:  http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3990.html
Wikipedia (minimal information at best):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amanohashidate
Wikitravel (the best guide, but still not great):  http://wikitravel.org/en/Amanohashidate
Official Site (Good information on events and tours, but no information on the sites themselves): http://www.joho-kyoto.or.jp/~center/english/shop/amanohashidate/

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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