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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.


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.


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