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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:

Wikipedia:
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

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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Japanese Football aka Soccer (Kyoto Sanga VS Urawa Reds) December 14, 2010

Posted by Dru in Sports.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Japanese Football aka Soccer (Kyoto Sanga VS Urawa Reds)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-xq

On November 14, I had the pleasure of being able to watch another football game in Japan. It was only my fourth time to ever watch live football in Japan, and as with my other experiences, this didn’t disappoint. In my previous visits, I had been to Ajinomoto Stadium in Chofu, west of Tokyo. This time, I decided to north to Saitama to watch one of Japan’s biggest teams, the Urawa Reds. The Urawa Reds are one of the most popular teams in Japan, and their following is huge. Those who were born in Saitama are supposed to love the team. Those living in Tokyo and even Chiba like the team. Their fans always make the journey to watch their team play no matter where they play. The supporters are very vocal and it can be deafening to just be in the stadium as the team is playing. This was all at Ajinomoto Stadium, so you can imagine what it might be like at Saitama Stadium, the home of the Urawa Reds.

Getting to Saitama Stadium is very easy. Within Tokyo, taking the Toei Metro’s Namboku Line, you are directly connected to the Saitama Railway which terminates at Urawa Misono Station. This is the closest station to Saitama Stadium. It’s also a 20 minute walk from the station to the stadium. The first thing you will notice when you leave the station is that the entire area is a sea of red. No matter which way you look, you will see red everywhere. The station has various signs promoting the Urawa Reds. One of their slogans, at least for 2010, was “We are Reds”. It’s entertaining, but it isn’t the destination of the day. The signs and the walk to the stadium definitely make one excited, but unfortunately, it’s a long walk with few signs between the station area and the stadium to keep you interested. The area between the station and the stadium is nothing more than a broad walkway with a few street vendors along the way. There isn’t much to see, but if you are hungry, it’s best to buy something there. Once you reach the stadium entrance, everything becomes more expensive.

Once I got to the gate, I took a little time to enjoy the atmosphere outside. There were various street vendors selling beer and food. They even had a tent for people to transfer any liquids they had into free cups. Due to safety concerns, plastic bottles and cans are not allowed into the stadium. They do check your bag to ensure you don’t bring anything dangerous into the stadium. When I arrived, they even had a small jazz band playing music, and all of the band members were wearing Reds shirts. I doubt they could afford jerseys for a short show like that. The next thing to do was look for the merchandise. At the time I went, they had a large portable with various goods at discount prices. Due to the time in the season, they were trying to sell their 2010 merchandise before the end of the season so many things were 40-50% off. If you time your visit right, you can get some good things.

After that, I finally decided to head in. The game was a Sunday afternoon game, and they were playing Kyoto Sanga, one of the lowest ranked teams in J1. Kyoto Sanga was facing relegation into the J2 league as they were in the bottom 3. It was a must win for Kyoto. The entire stadium was obviously painted red with everyone wearing red jerseys. Even in the upper deck, it was hard to find someone who wasn’t wearing red. For the day, the only colour that was not allowed was purple, the colour of Kyoto. In fact, because it was Saitama Stadium, the supporter’s section was extremely small. They took up just one section of the entire stadium. If it was a bigger team, such as FC Tokyo, or Gamba Osaka, they would get at least 2, maybe 3, but not much more. The last game I saw was in Ajinomoto Stadium, and the reds took up the entire section behind the net, and even a little more towards the sides. It was almost impossible to see the Kyoto supporters in Saitama Stadium, but they were there, and they did their best to support their team.

The game itself was relatively predictable. With the mid ranked Urawa Reds playing the low ranked Kyoto Sanga, one could almost predict the outcome of this game before it even started. From the kick off, the Reds controlled the ball and kept it moving. They had more chances to score, but Kyoto kept capitalizing on turnovers for short chances. It was a tug of war between the two teams, and while the Reds were winning on the field they just couldn’t get the ball in the goal. At the 25 minute mark, the Reds finally converted and scored their first goal. Needless to say, the entire crowd jumped to their feet shouting in joy. I could barely hear the crowd as I was screaming way too loud to hear anything else. In fact, I screamed so loud, I almost lost my voice! High fives were exchanged between me and my friends, and I even got those around us, pretty much only behind us as those in front didn’t turn around, to also give high fives. Everyone was happy, but the game was far from over. By the second half, the game seemed to have changed. Urawa wasn’t playing as hard as before, and the opportunities didn’t materialize as much as it should have. For the team, they seemed to have stopped trying to score, and played for a 0-1 win. It was a tense second half, and by the end of regulation time, it was announced that they were adding 5 minutes of extra time. For a game that had minimal stoppage, 5 minutes was extremely strange. I thought that 2 minutes would be the most, but 5 minutes was unimaginable. I was talking to my friend about how the refs probably wanted to give Kyoto a chance to tie, but just as I was saying that, the Reds scored for a second time leading to a second round of cheers. By the time everyone had settled down to continue watching the game, the refs blew their whistles and the game was over.

While the game was over, the crowd wasn’t ready to go home yet. In the upper deck, a lot of people were heading out, and people were trickling out of the lower bowl. For those in the supporters section, not a soul had left. They were still singing and cheering and the action wouldn’t stop until all of the Urawa Reds players came out and saluted them. All of the players did their ceremonial salute to the stadium. As in Ajinomoto, the team came out, bowed, and raised their arms to the air as the crowd chanted in unison. It’s difficult to describe the chant, other than it was a long “oh”. You do have to visit the stadium itself to understand it.

Saitama Stadium is one of the only, if not the only, stadium in Japan that is dedicated to only football. The seats are very close to the pitch and all the seats are good. While I was in the upper deck, because I am a casual fan, it’s nearly impossible to get into the lower bowl for a reds game, unless you know someone. It was a lot of fun and I highly recommend going if you can. The only sad part was the fact that there are no beer girls in Saitama Stadium. Unlike Ajinomoto, they don’t make a lot of money on beer as everyone watches the game. Why drink when you should drink after the game. Needless to say, I had a great time and I’ll definitely go again if I get the opportunity. I’m still an FC Tokyo fan as I started out watching them. My second team will now be the Reds.

Urawa Reds Information:

Official Homepage (Japanese): http://www.urawa-reds.co.jp/index.html
Official Homepage (English): http://www.urawa-reds.co.jp/index_en.html

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urawa_Red_Diamonds

Access Information: http://www.urawa-reds.co.jp/english/saitama.html

Saitama Stadium Official Site (Japanese): http://www.stadium2002.com/
Saitama Stadium Official Site (English): http://www.stadium2002.com/en/index.php

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。

Tokyo (Nippori) December 22, 2009

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Tokyo (Nippori)” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-iQ

Nippori is an overlooked area of Tokyo.  Most people who do venture to this area will more than likely pass straight through it.  It can be considered a focal gateway to Saitama, a residential city to the north of Tokyo.  There really isn’t much for the regular tourist, but there area a couple of interesting things to see and do that could warrant a visit.  The first would be the Fabric Town, and the other would be the Yanaka Cemetery.  The other main reason to visit Nippori is to head to Narita Airport.  It’s a popular transfer point for those on the west side of Tokyo who want to save some money by taking the Keisei Skyliner instead of the Narita Express.

The first thing to do in Nippori, would depend on your purpose.  If you want to see the cemetery, I’d recommend heading there first.  It’s a large area with a long history.  If you head to the southern exit, you will be near the central entrance of the cemetery.  From here, it’s a short walk up the hill to reach Tennoji Temple.  This is a nice little temple with a seated Buddha inside.  It’s actually a bit of a surprise as the outside appears somewhat modern and inside is a quaint little Buddhist Temple.  It’s a nice place to go and relax for a few minutes, but the temple itself is pretty small.  From there, you can head straight into the centre of the cemetery.  The entire cemetery is lined with cherry trees.  It is very beautiful in the spring as the entire area is bathed in pink from the cherry blossoms.  In the autumn, it’s the same, but with colourful leaves.  Yanaka Cemetery is also one of the most famous cemeteries in Japan with various writers, poets, politicians, and scholars.

Fabric town is located on the opposite side of Nippori Station.  It’s a short walk from the station, and a little difficult to find.  Look around the main entrance of the station, where all the taxis park, and you’ll find a few signs pointing you in the general direction.  You have to walk past a major street before you enter Fabric Town.  While it is called Fabric Town, it’s more or less of a street.  There are very few shops located off the street that sell fabric, so don’t worry about venturing off the main street.  Here, if you love to buy fabric of any type, this is the place to be.  You can find various patterns, colours, thread, accessories, and so on.  The fabric can come in silk, polyester, cotton, and even leather.  If you love arts and crafts, enjoy sewing, or just looking for a good costume idea, this is a great place to get started.  Metres of fabric can start at 100 yen each.  Often, there are spools of fabric just sitting in bins in front of each shop inviting you to enter.  Once inside, you’ll have to decide what you want, how much you are willing to spend, and how to bring it home.  Husbands beware, if your wife loves sewing and crafts, you might want to drop her off and head over to Ueno for a little shopping, or even Akihabara to look at more electronics.

Other than that, there really isn’t much to see or do around the station.  There are a few shops to visit, some izakayas and restaurants, but other than that, it’s a pretty boring place.  The only interesting shop would be the Edwin store.  They have a large shop located in front of the station where you can buy all of their latest jeans.  Edwin is a Japanese jean maker whose headquarters are located at the end of Fabric Town.  It is akin to Evisu jeans, although Edwin is not as big, nor as popular as Evisu.  Either way, happy shopping.

Nippori Information:

Nippori (An article about an area that I barely visited in Nippori): http://www.nihonsun.com/2009/06/01/nippori-shopping-street-a-shotengai-worth-a-visit/
Nippori:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nippori_Station
Yanaka Cemetery:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yanaka_Cemetery
Fabric Town Blog Post:  http://www.askingfortrouble.org/crafts/2007/11/02/tokyo-shopping-guide-tomato/
Edwin Jeans:  http://www.edwin.co.jp/index.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。

The Tohoku Expressway – Driving in Japan June 9, 2009

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “The Tohoku Expressway – Driving in Japan” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-bi

In February 2009, I had my second experience on the Tohoku Expressway, and my first driving experience in Japan.  It was a vastly different experience compared to the first time I was on this expressway.  This time, I was in a temperature controlled car with navigation and ETC.  Words cannot describe the differences in my experience.

For this trip, I went from Shinjuku, in Tokyo, to Nikko.  It’s about a 160km drive.  I decided to rent a car from a rental company near my apartment.  In front of the rental company, I tried to set the navigation system to take me to Nikko.  Unfortunately, they showed me five different routes and none of them were quick, or the best route.  I ended up heading to the Shuto Expressway, Tokyo’s Expressway system, on my own as I knew how to get there.  The nearest Shuto entrance was for the Yamate Tunnel, which is the fastest way to get to the Tohoku Expressway.  It is a brand new section of the Shuto, so the tunnel itself is still very clean, and very bright.  Once the tunnel ended, I had to face my first challenge in navigating the Shuto’s confusing system, a small junction to head a little east.  To give you a better idea, the Shuto is a series of “C” roads that run around Tokyo.  There are various connecting highways to go from the inner circle to the outer circles.  This was also my first experience to test the car’s navigation system.  Thankfully, the system knew the roads in this area and helped me find my way to reach the Tohoku Expressway.  The rest of my journey to Nikko was very simple and easy.  I made a side trip to Utsunomiya as well, and the navigation system worked flawlessly to get me to my destination.  However, navigating the streets can be nerve wrecking as you have to consider your actions as others on the road may or may not be patient with you.

Using the navigation system in Japan is both a blessing and a curse.  If you can’t read, write, or understand Japanese to some extent, you will be in a lot of trouble.  Obviously, in Japan, they don’t need English navigation systems as most foreigners take the train.  However, driving is sometimes fun and very enjoyable.  It is very important to at least have a Japanese native, who is capable of using the navigation system to help you.  Along the way, the system would give audible warnings of where to go, what lane to be in, and about toll booths that were coming up.  It made driving very simple and the audio prompts weren’t too intrusive.  With the navigation screen being in the dashboard, it wasn’t blocking my view as other portable systems do.  The only problem that occurred was passing through city limits, as the system would update me to tell me when I reached a new area.  This was okay, but sometimes the highway would cross in and out of an area and I’d get a few prompts.  Definitely not something I would care to hear often, but it was a nice addition.

The other important thing to have in Japan is an ETC card.  It is essential when driving on the expressways.  The first reason to get it is for convenience.  When driving up to a toll booth, all you have to do is enter the ETC lane.  When you enter the ETC lane, you just slow down to about 20kph and wait for the system to tell you, via a chime, that it recognizes your car and you can go.  The second reason is for the discounts.  As of this posting, weekends and national holidays are now 1000 Yen per trip, regardless of the distance.  Do note that some expressways are cheaper and each expressway is owned by a different company.  Travelling would probably end up being more than 1000 Yen.  If you are travelling late at night, you can also save a little money.  If you enter or exit the expressway after midnight, you will receive a discount.  If you use the roads via the regular method, you must pay the full cost.  Almost all car rental shops have ETC systems installed within their cars.  The only problem is getting a card on your own.  If you are a resident, this should be as difficult as getting a credit card.  However, if you are only visiting, you will be out of luck as an ETC card is used like a visa card.  If you are living in Japan, do your best to get one if you plan to do any driving.  If you are given the option to get one with your credit card, I’d apply at the same time as you never know if you’ll be driving in the future.  In the end, good luck and safe driving.

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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