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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



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/


Ozu to Matsuyama July 7, 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 “Ozu to Matsuyama” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-cI

Ozu is a short ride from the coast of Shikoku.  From route 56, I would recommend heading up route 24 in Ozu to reach the coast.  It is a very nice flowing road that generally follows the river.  Upon reaching the coast, I had two options; head west to a peninsula that runs along the Inland Sea and the Pacific Ocean, or head east towards Matsuyama.  I had a full day ahead of me, so I decided to head west.  Going west along route 378 and then route 197 will take you into the city of Ikata and then the port town of Misaki.  Route 197 is a “Melody Line” that winds its way along the peninsula, cutting through the mountains.  There are a couple of highway stations that offer very nice views of the Inland Sea and the Pacific Ocean.  Other than that, there is nothing very special about this road.  Looking at the coast, there is an interesting road that winds its way around the mountains instead of cutting through them.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have much time to enjoy this.  The main thing to see is a major wind farm.  It is very hard to miss all the large windmills that generate a lot of power for the region.  It does offer a couple of photo opportunities if you are interested.  Once you reach the town of Misaki, you will realize how little there is to do.  It is a fishing town that is used mainly to ferry people from Shikoku to Kyushu.  On clear days, you can easily see Kyushu.  If you have the time, you can also venture a little further to the tip of the peninsula, which has a large lighthouse.  I didn’t bother to go, but I doubt it is very interesting.

Upon returning, I would highly recommend the drive up the coast.  To do this, you head the same way you started.  You will see many small towns dotting the coast as you drive towards Matsuyama.  There are various places to stop, let the children out, and play in a playground.  However, it isn’t until you get to Futami, that there is anything to do.  Futami has a famous beach where people from Matsuyama can enjoy as a daytrip.  It is a very small beach artificial beach, but it is still beautiful.  Unfortunately, it is lined with tetrapods to protect the sand from being washed out.  This beach has a lot of things to see and do.  The first thing you will notice is a large structure located in the middle of the beach.  There is also a wedding arch that is usually standing.  They try to promote beach weddings in Japan.  Unfortunately, when I arrived, the wind knocked down the arch leaving a small mess.  The buildings at the beach offer the usual souvenirs, but they also offer a couple works of art.  The first is the Moai, mini replica statues of the Moai men from Easter Island.  It is a very small piece of art that is easily missed.  Most people tend to look out towards the beach and the Inland Sea, rather than the buildings.  The other main piece of art is a replica of Stonehenge.  This is located on the roof of the building, and very few people head up there.  It is a very strange piece of art, but worth a quick look.  The main thing to do is to just relax and enjoy the beach as much as you can.  Bring a lunch, or wait in line for some of the barbequed food and your afternoon will be set.


Honolulu, Hawaii (Part I) December 23, 2008

Posted by Dru in Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Honolulu, Hawaii (Part I)” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-4J

This is Part I of a two part series.  Part II will be posted next week.

On November 19th, I headed out to Hawaii for my first trip as an adult.  I had previously visited Hawaii as a child, so I couldn’t really remember anything.  As many of you know, Hawaii is a set of islands in the Pacific that is part of America.  The most popular Island to visit is Oahu.  It’s not the biggest, but the most tourist friendly.  All of the hotels are located in Waikiki, with lots of shopping available and a large calm beach.  Generally, I wouldn’t think about going to Hawaii as it’s a typical “tourist trap” that’s a little far from Tokyo.  However, a friend of mine was getting married, so I seized the opportunity to have a nice adventure to Hawaii.

When I first arrived in Honolulu, I was greeted by a severe lack of sleep.  The flight from Tokyo to Honolulu leaves at night and arrives in the morning.  A typical red-eye flight, with one major difference.  You relive the same day.  Surprisingly, entering the US was relatively easy.  Just a quick hello to the immigration inspector and a little run around for my luggage and I was off.  Do note that for some strange reason, they had 2 carousels for our luggage which made things extremely confusing.  Upon my exit, I had to wait for about 1 hour before my “tour group” was assembled and we could head to Waikiki.  There was about 10 of us in a huge tour bus.  Destination?  The Duty Free Store (DFS).  We had to attend an orientation talking about various optional tours we could arrange, free cell phones we could rent (note that the talk time rates were ridiculous), and tipping courtesy.  Needless to say, once that was over (I couldn’t sleep as I was at the very front), I tried to make my way out of the shop.  If you ever go there, note that it’s a complete maze meant to keep you in.  You must tour every floor if you start at the top.  Even when you get to the main floor, you can’t get out.  I felt like I was in a prison.

Once out of prison, I took a while to get my bearings.  I grabbed a map and headed out to Ala Moana Shopping Centre.  My goal of the trip was just shopping.  America is well known for their bargains and sales, and with Thanksgiving around the corner, I wanted to see what they had available.  Ala Moana is the most famous place to visit as it’s the biggest shopping complex near Waikiki.  I spent the better part of the day there before heading back to Waikiki.  I did have a little trouble finding the right bus route to get to my hotel.  Do note that I had to wait until 3pm to check in, so I was carrying a lot of stuff during the day.  After checking in, I still had a little time to myself to just relax and enjoy the hotel/apartment.  It was a huge place.  A small, but decent sized, balcony, a nice bedroom, and a large living room and kitchen.  I didn’t have to cook, but I did enjoy everything.  I spent some time out on the balcony and at the beach as well.  At night, I met up with my friends from Vancouver.  We were going to a restaurant called Orchids.  It’s a lovely restaurant that is right on the beach.  I do recommend it for a nice romantic dinner, but the price might be a little much.  Service was excellent as well.   The only down side was that I was still extremely tired and in need of sleep.


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