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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。

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Route 197 & 320 (Kochi to Ozu, via Uwajima) June 30, 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 “Route 197 & 320 (Kochi to Ozu, via Uwajima)” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-c5

There are two routes to reach the west coast of Shikoku, from Kochi.  The most famous is to take route 56, a continuation of route 55, from Kochi all the way to Matsuyama.  The other less travelled route is to cut across the island and take route 197 and reconnect to route 56.  To reach Matsuyama in one day, you will probably have to cut across the southern cape, or else you would have to skip a lot of places.  Travelling along route 197 is a very nice trip.  This road cuts through the mountains allowing you to see very small villages along the way.  There are a few places selling local fruits and food, but other than that, there isn’t much to see.  When route 197 reaches 320, you will be in the town of Kihoku.  It is a town that is very easy to miss, but I was lucky to arrive during a small festival.  There were typical festival foods, but only a little.  It is a great way to see how small town Japan lives.  It isn’t that special and easy to see in a few minutes.  Route 320 is also the same, cutting through the mountains until you reach Uwajima.  Uwajima is a small city that, like most cities in Shikoku, has its own castle.  It is also slightly infamous for its own temple devoted to the phallus.  I didn’t spend any time in this city, so unfortunately, I’m not sure if there is anything of interest here.

Ozu is a very small city that normally has nothing of interest.  The downtown area closes very early, and there are very few shops left.  It is a victim of big box shops coming in and strangling the mom and pop businesses.  Driving down the main shopping street feels like a ghost town.  Shutters are closed and very few people are around.  While this is true, the town itself is very beautiful.  If you are looking for something to do from Matsuyama, Ozu is a great place for a day trip.  However, heading to Uchiko, or Uwajima is probably easier.  Even the hotel staff in Ozu can’t really speak English, however they are still helpful.

Ozu has a few things of interest, and almost all of them are easy to reach on foot.  The first thing to see is the river.  There is a pedestrian walkway along the river.  There are usually a bunch of families and students out on the water enjoying themselves on the weekends.  The river walk will take you to the back entrance of Ozu-jo.  As I said, Shikoku has many castles.  This castle is even smaller than Kochi, but the castle grounds are wonderful.  You can see the biggest water well in Japan, or so they say, and some huge trees next to the castle.  There is a beautiful garden and a nice grassy area to relax on.  All of this is free, however, entrance into the castle itself isn’t.  If you are backpacking, there is a youth hostel behind the castle that looked very nice.  I would have stayed here, but I didn’t know it existed.

Route 56 cuts through the middle of Ozu.  The castle is located on one side, and the old town is located on the other.  The old town has many activities that any other small Japanese town has.  It is also an area where you can see the old style of Japanese homes.  This is very similar to Naramachi in Nara, but not as grand.  They also have a large red brick building, but unfortunately, when I arrived, it was after 5pm and everything was closed.  From anywhere in Ozu, you can see Mount Tomisu.  It is a small mountain that overlooks the town.  It is very beautiful as there is a large garden at the top.  It was highly recommended to me by the hotel staff, but you do have to drive there.  Ozu is not a friendly place if you don’t have a great map, or navigation.  It’s easy to get turned around and lost.  However, I would definitely recommend visiting this city, as almost any other city I have been to in Shikoku.

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。

Nara September 30, 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 “Nara” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/s2liAm-nara

On Saturday, April 19, 2008, I went to Nara for a 2 day trip. Nara is a relatively unknown historical centre in Japan. When people talk about old Japan, they almost always say Kyoto.  Kyoto is a beautiful city, but as some people say, it’s a mix of new and old.  Kyoto has lost a lot of what makes it a true old city.  Nara fills that gap.

Located roughly 1 hour from Kyoto, it was the capital in Japan just prior to it moving to Kyoto.  When entering Nara, the biggest difference you see and feel is the size of the city.  Kyoto has a grand department store towering over the city and various other modern buildings surrounding the station.  Nara, by contrast, is a typical small city in Japan.  When you enter the city, the buildings aren’t as tall, and the surrounding mountains are easier to see.  The historical temples and shrines are also easier to visit, compared to Tokyo.  Visiting Kyoto should take 2-3 days.  Nara can be finished within 2.  However, the main disadvantage of Nara is that when it’s night, the city shuts down.  However, after a full day of walking around the city, this isn’t a bad thing.

If you plan to go to Nara, you should start with Nara Park.  It is by far the most important place to visit when in Nara.  All of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites are located there.  The park itself can be explored in half a day, however spending a full day or two is needed to truely explore this park.  Don’t forget to spend a few hundred yen to buy some Shika Senbe (Deer Crackers).  It’s fun to feed the deer, but beware, they are very aggressive when you have food for them.  Also note that May is the birthing season, so mothers will be extra protective of their offspring.  The only other activities in Nara are within Todai-ji.  The first is Yakushi Nyorai.  This is the scary wood carving to the right of the main hall’s entrance.  He’s wearing a red cap and cape.  While scary, this carving is the Buddha of Medicine/Healing.  In Japanese, rubbing the statue will heal any of your problems.   In English, it said you have to rub the corresponding part of the sculpture.  You can take your pick.  The other activity is a small hole in one of the pillars within the main hall itself.  You will often see children crawl through.  If you can make it through the hole (also said to be the size of the Buddha statue’s nostril) you’ll gain enlightenment in your next lifetime.  I don’t know if it matters if you go head first, feet first.

Spending a few hours in Naramachi is also essential.  You will be able to see a lot of the old city.  Houses and shops in this area are from the Edo era.  You’ll be able to see some small museums and other small shops selling various goods.  You can spend a few hours getting lost or take a guided walking tour.  Wandering on your own is fine, but expect to be bored after an hour or so.  You may even stumble upon an old shrine that is surrounded by homes.

Horyu-ji is also a place to visit if you have time.  It’s a wonderful temple complex located just outside the city.  There are 3 main temples in the complex and each of them are beautiful.  Also located outside the city itself is Yoshino (about 1 hour) .  It’s a mountain range that my friends say is beautiful and offers wonderful hikes.  Beware, however, as the buses back down the mountain may stop running before you finish the hike.  🙂

Just a quick tip when going to Nara.  Bring LOTS of money.  While most temples and shrines in Japan are free, the famous ones tend to cost money.  The average price is 500 Yen per temple/shrine.  Be aware of this and plan accordingly.  Lastly, just enjoy yourself.  I find that in all of my travels, taking your time is more enjoyable than trying to see everything.  Allow for this and you’ll enjoy it.

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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