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Tokushima June 9, 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 “Tokushima” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-bZ

Tokushima is situated in the north-eastern region of Shikoku.  It is the major gateway to the island from Kansai.  It is connected via Awaji Island to Kobe.   Unfortunately, this city is very small and easily visited within a day or two.  You can easily get out of Tokushima city and head to Naruto in the north; Iya Valley in the west; and towards Muroto in the south.

Tokushima is primarily known for one thing, and only one thing, the Awa Odori.  It is a summer festival held in August.  It is one of the most distinct and unique festivals in Japan.  The Awa Odori is literally a traditional dance of the region.  People dress up in the regions unique festival clothing and the dance can be heard for blocks.  It is very difficult to describe the dance and it is something that must be seen in video to truly understand how complex, active, and interesting it really is.  All over Tokushima city, you’ll be able to see statues, banners, art, and videos of the Awa Odori.  You can even take a dance class at the base of Mt. Bizan.  While the Awa Odori is the most famous thing about Tokushima, sudachi is the most famous gift from Tokushima.  It is a small green citrus fruit that is similar to limes and lemons.  It has a slightly stronger taste, but very refreshing.  Beware that buying any sudachi sweets can be dangerous.  They last a long time, but once opened, they “could” expire within a day or two.  I would recommend buying sudachi alcohol and drinks, which are very popular.

There are only a few things to do in Tokushima itself.  The most famous thing to do is to head up Mt. Bizan.  There is a gondola that will take you from the base to the peak, but it runs every 15 minutes.  You can also get a discount if you go in the evening.  The top of the mountain is very beautiful and gives you a great view of the city.  Heading up in the evening is worth the price, however heading up at full price may not be worth it for those on a budget.  You can also hike up the mountain, and the peak offers various hiking paths.  If you are an avid hiker, this is a great place to get started for a short day hike.  Routes tend to be well marked and wind their way around the mountain.  In May, you will also be greeted with beautiful flowers blooming around the peak station.  If you are lucky, Mt. Bizan has over 1000 cherry trees, so the cherry blossom season is supposed to be extremely beautiful.

After Mt. Bizan, Tokushima Central Park is the next best place to visit.  It is located on a hill behind the station.  It can be a little difficult to reach as the station has only one entrance, to the south.  The park is located north of the station.  Once you find the park, it is a very nice place to visit.  The entire park is the site of the ruins of Tokushima Castle.  There are two routes to the top of the hill.  While both routes are equally difficult, be aware that the main route may have some school kids running up as part of their training exercises.  In all honesty, this park is better served to the locals.  There isn’t too much to see.  The view from the top of the hill, while nice, isn’t that great.  It’s difficult to see much of the city as there are large trees surrounding the old courtyard.  However, it is a good way to enjoy an afternoon in Tokushima.

Finally, walking along the Shinmachi River, south of the station, is a lot of fun.  The parks along the river are very beautiful, and there is a lot of outdoor art to enjoy.  You can even take a boat cruise around the city for only 100 yen.  It takes about one hour to go around the city.  You can also take a 4 hour cruise up to Naruto.  The river is also conveniently located near the main shopping area.  Shopping in Tokushima is sparse, to say the least.  It is probably the smallest major city in Shikoku, so finding any major name brands would be very difficult.  If you are looking for something to eat, I would recommend ramen.  It is a local specialty and the local food maps, available in most hotels, show the locations of famous ramen shops.  While it isn’t very different from other ramen shops in Japan, they tend to add slices of meat, and the soup base tends to be a little thinner and saltier, in my opinion.

Overall, I couldn’t say there is a lot to do in Tokushima city itself.  However, there is enough to make it a good weekend trip.  If you are just backpacking around Japan, timing a visit to coincide with the Awa Odori is the best way to go; otherwise it’s best to skip this city.  I would definitely like to return someday.

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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Miyajima (Top 3 Views of Japan) November 18, 2008

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 (Top 3 Views of Japan)” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/s2liAm-miyajima

In October of 2007, I made my second trip to Hiroshima.  A city infamously known as the first city to be bombed by an atomic bomb, and famously known as the headquartres of Mazda.  While Hiroshima is a nice city, it shouldn’t be considered high on a list of cities to visit.  While it’s a mandatory place to educate children, it’s a pretty depressing city, overall.  The amount of memorials to remember the dead lives is extremely hard to take in.  For my second trip, I decided not to visit the depressing areas, but to go to Miyajima instead.  Miyajima is also one of the Top 3 Views of Japan, and between Matsushima and Miyajima, Miyajima is hands down the best.  As I approached the island from the ferry, you can feel a special energy that isn’t as common in other tourist sites in Japan.

Miyajima itself is an island located off the coast of Hiroshima.  It’s about 1 hour from Hiroshima station, and a quick 15 minute ferry to the island.  As you approach the island, you are graced with the view of the “Torii” of Itsukushima Jinja.  Torii is a gate that marks the entrance of a temple.  They can be as small as a single person, or as large as a building itself.  Once onto the island, I made my way to the shrine (Itsukushima Jinja).  The route to the shrine was full of people, and there were a lot of deer along the entire route.  With so many tourists, the opportunity to get free food, or steal some free food, is common for these animals.  While they are sacred, they can be annoying, so be careful.  They are very aggressive.  My first stop at the shrine wasn’t inside, but rather outside.  I went straight to the Torii as it was low tide.  I walked straight up to it, touched it, and was amazed by the sheer size of it.  After taking several pictures, I started to admire the shrine itself.  The shrine is built on the sand and it appears to float on the water during high tide.  Unfortunately, I wouldn’t experience this, but I can imagine.  The shrine is a beautiful red and white.  Red pillars with white panels.  I was amazed by how clean and smooth the pillars were.  The craftsmanship was amazing.  I was also treated by the view of a traditional Shinto wedding.  Weddings are apparently popular at this shrine for it’s beauty.  I would consider it myself for my own wedding.  The bride and groom were, to say the least, beautiful, and looked happy.  There is even a traditional Noh theatre, but I doubt it’s used much these days.  The atmosphere of the shrine is also interesting.  You have a bunch of tourists, and lots of kids running around.  Once I had finished playing around the shrine, I headed to the ropeway.

The ropeway to the top, or near top, of Miyajima is interesting.  You can fit about 4-6 people into each car for the first section.  You CANNOT stand.  You are crammed like sardines and if you are claustrophobic, you will probably have a tough time in this one.  However, while you feel you will die because it also feels old, you will get a very beautiful view of the forest below.  I recommend either hiking up and taking the ropeway down, or vice versa.  I never hiked up or down, but I’d imagine it’s a nice hike.  The second leg of the ropeway wasn’t special.  Just a typical 2 car system.  At the top of the mountain, there is only one warning, monkey poop.  Miyajima has several monkey families living on the mountain.  If you wanted to see them, this is a good place.  Just don’t look them in the eye and watch where you walk because their poop is everywhere.  It’s a short 30 minute hike/walk to the peak where you can climb onto a large metal structure.  I recommend the walk, if not just to see the natural fawna and rock formations.  The rock formations near the top of the mountain are a lot of fun.  Kids love to climb around the big rocks, and so did I.  🙂  If you are a Star Trek fan, this will remind you of all the classic battles where Captain Kirk fought on alien planets.  Just be careful as you can easily fall or slip.  The view from the top of the mountain isn’t so special.  The metal structure is actually pretty ugly, but since less people venture to the peak, it’s more relaxing.  You could also see monkeys, but I saw none in this area.  There is another lookout at the ropeway station, however it isn’t a 360 view.

Upon returning to the base of the mountain, I decided to do a little shopping.  Hiroshima is famous for “Kaki” (oysters).  They grill oysters everywhere and the smell fills the entire shopping area.  I wanted to try some, but I don’t like oysters.  I did try some Momiji Manju.  This is basically a typical Japanese desert/snack.  It’s a little dry and traditionally filled with anko (red bean paste).  It’s not for everyone, but after a while, you get used to it.  In Miyajima, they are formed to look like Maple leaves and filled with various fillings such as macha, chocolate, and cream cheese.  I highly recommend trying it.  I also had a chance to buy one of my traditional Japanese souvenirs.  Sake.  🙂

When Japan decided on it’s Top 3 Views of Japan, Miyajima definately deserves it’s ranking.  I have recommended this to many family and friends, however, many cannot understand the true beauty of this little island.  Kyoto and Nara are wonderful cities with culture, but Miyajima is prestine and untouched.  Get away from the crowds and you’ll feel like you’ve found a secret untouched world of Japan.  One that hasn’t been influenced by the West.

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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