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1 Year Later March 6, 2012

Posted by Dru in Japan.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “1 Year Later” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-Nm

Almost 1 year has passed since the earth moved, literally.  I feel like a broken record as I mention the huge earthquake that occurred off the coast of Miyagi on March 11, 2011.  The tremor was felt almost all over Japan and the tsunami that followed cut a swath of destruction from Chiba to Aomori.  To give you an idea of how far that is, in 2007, I rode my motorcycle from Tokyo to a location near the northern point of Aomori.  It took me over 12 hours of riding on mostly highways at around 100km/h.  Of course I had breaks but the distance was roughly 700km or so.  It is almost unbelievable to imagine so much land was washed away due to the tsunami.  The following days after the earthquake was a tense one as people realized just how bad the earthquake had been and the realization of how many lives were lost and the time it would take to rebuild.

My own personal ordeal was somewhat well documented on this blog and I had made updates to travellers when asked about Japan.  It took roughly 6 months for Tokyo to return to complete normalcy.  For the first two or three months Tokyo was a very different city.  With infrastructure being damaged in an area just east of Tokyo, several roads, water mains, and electrical lines were cut.  It didn’t take long to fix everything and the speed at which things were repaired was amazing.  After the earthquake and over the summer, Japan had to institute energy saving measures which made the Tokyo a very dark place, relatively speaking.  Tokyo is usually a bright and vibrant city but from spring till summer, the city was very sombre.  It didn’t take long for people to return to their normal routines and people seemed to quickly forget about the people in Tohoku.  Similar to the events of 9-11 in America, after a week or so, the public starts to turn its attention to regular non-essential things.  In Japan, you can easily see news programs repeating information about the troubles and hardships the people in the eastern Tohoku region are experiencing.  It is a terrible situation for them that will last years if not decades.  In the past year most of the east coast has been cleaned up and only sorted debris remains in some places.  Recently the final evacuation centre closed and most of the people displaced due to their homes being washed away have been placed in various temporary homes.

In the past year I have also come to envy and silently commend a lot of people whom I have met in the past year or so.  A lot of the people whom I have met have made trips up to the Tohoku region.  I have seen one person make a trip almost every month.  It is amazing to see how many people from Tokyo made a trip up to Tohoku in the months following the earthquake.  I would see pictures on Facebook that would highlight their personal trips up to Tohoku and the challenges they had.  Some drove, some took trains, and many took buses.  The main clean-up took roughly 6 months, if the accounts from my friends are any indication.  There are still mountains of garbage in the destroyed towns that need to be removed and disposed of but they are at least sorted and awaiting incineration, burial, or recycling.  It is an unfortunate situation to see in the news recently that many cities and people all over Japan are against the disposal of the waste.  While most of it is safe with no radiation, NIMBYism has been rampant and it has been difficult for municipal officials in other regions to convince their residents that the waste is safe.  I have even heard of pleas from a few mayors from the tsunami ravaged areas pleading for people to understand and help out so that their cities can begin the process of rebuilding.  Without the ability to remove the waste, the area cannot rebuild.

With the spring approaching in Japan, it is hard to imagine how Tohoku can move on.  There are various documentaries and news stories starting to be shown on local TV to remind people of the problems that are still affecting the people on the coast however I fear that the general public is now turning their focus on nuclear energy and the problems in Fukushima.  I remember passing by an Occupy Kasumigaseki camp in Tokyo in early January.  Kasumigaseki is the neighbourhood where the Japanese national government is located.  It was a very small camp with less than 20 people, by my crude estimate.  Most of them wanted to remove nuclear energy from Japan.  There have been various demonstrations over the past year against nuclear power and they continue to be present.  There are a lot of open meetings for various government officials at all levels as well as for TEPCO.  Most of these meetings have been fairly boring but the news programs are sure to show the outbursts of residents at each of the meetings.  While I can’t understand everything that is being said, many are angry at the inability to go home, the thought of burning trash with a potential to have a trace of radioactive material on it, or the idea of restarting nuclear reactors in Japan.  It seems as if nuclear energy is dead in Japan and only time will tell if this is true, but for the people in Tohoku, it is a shame that the general public is no longer trying to help them rebuild. (Note:  This is just a perception that I have from watching various media.  I doubt people don’t want to help rebuild Tohoku, but their focus is more on the nuclear issues that the future of the devastated towns.)

Personally, I am also a victim of forgetting.  I have been busy with various work activities and I haven’t been able to sit back long enough to think about the people in Tohoku.  It is an unfathomable job to rebuild the entire area if they even want to.  I really hope things get back to normal for everyone.  I have the luxury to enjoy living in Tokyo where things are virtually back to normal.  Aside from a few reports in the news reminding people about the dangers of a potential future earthquake and meeting up with friends where we sometimes bring up the earthquake again, there are few points where I even think about the earthquake last year.  It is a shame that I haven’t helped Tohoku enough and I do regret not doing my part.  That is the problem of living a relatively busy life.  I hope I won’t be too busy to take a minute out of my supposedly busy life to reflect and pray (to whatever god/spirit is out there) for the people of Tohoku.  I hope you will also do the same this Sunday.

1 Year Later is part of a series of posts following the earthquake in Japan.  Please continue reading the following posts in this series:


Top 3 Views of Japan (Reflections) February 28, 2012

Posted by Dru in Chugoku, Japan, Kansai, Tohoku, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Top 3 Views of Japan (Reflections)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-LM

For those who have read my blog since the beginning, or ventured to older posts, you will know that I have visited the Top 3 Views of Japan.  This is not an easy adventure and Japan has a top 3 list for many things.  I have recently written about the Top 3 Chinatowns in Japan and feel that there has been enough time to justify a second reflection of my trips to each of the places on the Top 3 Views list.  The list in alphabetical order is Amanohashidate, Matsushima, and Miyajima.  They all have their own importance and all were chosen by the Japanese scholar, Hayashi Gaho.  The fact that he was the one who chose each of the three has a particular importance that is easily lost to foreigners, including myself, who don’t understand Japanese or to those who have not read the references to these three places.

Amanohashidate is located in Kyoto, but do not expect to be able to easily visit Amanohashidate when you are in Kyoto.  It is a long train ride that goes from Kyoto to the Sea of Japan.  Kyoto city is located in the southern area of Kyoto and Amanohashidate is located to the north.  The trip out to Amanohashidate can be very worthwhile and I remember arriving to a very small town with almost nothing to do.  There were very few restaurants and most of the shops cater to tourists.  It is a very beautiful tourist trap but still definitely worth a visit.  Amanohashidate is nothing more than a long sand bar that separates Miyazu Bay into two parts.  It has also grown over the centuries.  It was once a long bar of sand that has now grown and become populated with many pine trees.  The most famous thing to do is to head up one of the mountains flanking Amanohashidate, bend over and look at Amanohashidate through your legs.  When viewed this way, Amanohashidate is said to appear to be a stairway into heaven.  This view has inspired many writers and artists.  There are so many poems written about Amanohashidate that you can see many of the poems written on plaques all along the sand bar itself.  It is a nice place and my only regret is that I didn’t fully understand the meanings of the poems themselves.  Hopefully the next time I visit I can appreciate the area a lot more.

Matsushima is a small bay that is located near Sendai.  It is a small town that is very similar to the other Top 3 Views in Japan.  The one thing I noticed more was that the entire town, at the bottom of the bay, was heavily promoting the fact that they are part of the Top 3 Views in Japan.  When I visited Amanohashidate and Miyajima, there was little in the way of informing visitors that they were in one of the Top 3 Views of Japan.  Matsushima was a bit different in this way.  I can imagine why as the famous way to see the views are by boat.  There are several tours that head out into the bay so you can see the various islands that make up Matsushima.  Matsushima gains its status as a great view by the hundreds of islands that dot the bay.  They look like some god dropped these large rocks into the bay and then planted some pine trees on top of them.  The islands are also known for their shape.  The islands shoot straight up and the waves eat away at the rock face causing spherical voids.  It is amazing how nature naturally created these voids.  Something that was even more amazing is how Matsushima is naturally protected.  After the major tsunami in 2011, Matsushima was left relatively unharmed.  Some areas had problems but for the most part, everything was safe.  The way the islands were set in the bay created a natural wave break that protected the village.  Matsushima was very quick to declare that they were open for business after the tsunami, but I fear that they are not attracting the number of visitors they would like as most people still don’t know that the bay is safe.  It may take more time to recover from this problem but I’m sure they will.  Unfortunately, I still feel the same about the area as when I first visited Matsushima.  I doubt I would ever recommend it to anyone unless they are living in Japan or they have visited Japan many times as it was a large disappointment for me.

The last place, and in my opinion the best, is Miyajima.  I have been there twice and it is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site list.  The island is a good day trip from Hiroshima and very popular.  It is very much a victim of its own success.  Even on a weekday the island can be overrun with tourists.  It is a very beautiful place that has been written about often.  Most of Miyajima is off limits to all people as it is mostly parkland with very few trails.  The most famous sight is Itsukushima Jinja.  It is the focal point of the entire island and the most visited location.  Walking from the port to the shrine is a very enjoyable experience with many deer lining the path.  The shops cater to tourists as always but they promote a lot of local items such as Hiroshima oysters and Miyajima wood products such as chopsticks and rice spatulas.  One area only a few people visit is the top of the mountain.  It is popular when the cable car is running, but unfortunately it wasn’t running the second time I visited.  The top of the mountain is a very cool and fun place to hang out as it reminded me of various fight scenes between Captain Kirk and various aliens on the original Star Trek series.  I would love to visit the island again to see the peak as I fell in love with Miyajima.  If I had a chance to go again, and I didn’t have to pay, of course I would go however after visiting the island twice, it is no longer on my list of things to do again for the time being.

For those deciding what to see, my own personal opinion is that Miyajima is the best followed by Amanohashidate and Matsushima.  All of them are nice and definitely beautiful.  Miyajima has become more and more overrun with tourists but it is still a special place.  Amanohashidate has grown on me over time and I remember the remoteness of the location meant that I had the place nearly to myself.  Matsushima was the dark spot but I hope it is mainly due to my experience.  In several years, I might want to re-visit Matsushima and see what it is like.  Perhaps my opinion will change and I would enjoy it a lot more.

The Top 3 Views of Japan series continues with Miyajima (Top 3 Views of Japan), Amanohashidate (Top 3 Views of Japan), Matsushima (Top 3 Views of Japan), and Miyajima Redux.

Original Posts:

Amanohashidate:  http://wp.me/piUxk-i2
Matsushima:  http://wp.me/piUxk-1I
Miyajima (Part I):  http://wp.me/siUxk-miyajima
Miyajima (Part II):  http://wp.me/piUxk-tA

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


Izumo August 24, 2010

Posted by Dru in Chugoku, Japan, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has move to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Izumo” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/s2liAm-izumo

Izumo is a quaint little town located on the other side of Lake Shinji from Matsue.  It is more famous than Matsue due to Izumo Taisha, Izumo soba, and Iwami Ginzan.  The city itself is very small with only a few things to do within the city.  Like most of the cities in the San’in region (Tottori and Shimane), many of the shops close at 5pm.  You can always find good food at most times of the night, but if you are looking to do sight seeing, or looking for fun, you will be out of luck most of the time.  I would highly recommend at least a day, but two or three is best in order to take advantage of all the great things in the area.

By far, the most important place to visit in Izumo has to be Izumo Taisha.  It is a historical shrine and said to be the oldest in Japan.  Some origin stories claim that the god that lives in Izumo Taisha is the god that built Japan.  I have also heard that every year, the other gods visit Izumo Taisha, but unfortunately, I’m not sure as to the reason for this.  The main reason people visit Izumo Taisha is because they wish to find their life partner.  The shrine is well known for being a place where, if you pray to the gods, you will continue to be with your partner, or you will find your life partner soon.  This is especially true for people having a tough time finding someone, or for newlyweds.  Many couples also get married in Izumo Taisha due to the relation to the resident god who happens to be a god for relationships.  Unfortunately, when I visited, the main shrine was under reconstruction, so all I could see was a large steel house that protected the workers as they rebuilt the shrine.  While not being able to see the main shrine is a problem, the gardens around the shrine are very nice and the Kaguraden, which is next to the main shrine, is more famous than the shrine itself.  At this building, you will find the largest religious rope in Japan.  As with all other buildings in the complex, most people pray for their relationships.  The rope itself is a place to pray.  If you take a coin, the goal is to throw it into the rope.  If the coin gets stuck in the rope, you will have good luck.  Don’t forget to make a wish and pray.  It’s similar to tossing a coin into a fountain, but much harder as your coin will more than likely come back at you, or other coins will also come back at you.

A short drive out from Izumo Taisha is Hinomisaki.  This is a small cape that is famous for its lighthouse and shrine.  It is home to the Hinomisaki Lighthouse, the tallest stone lighthouse in East Asia.  The light house itself is not particularly spectacular, but the views of the Sea of Japan are.  A climb to the top of Hinomisaki is a must, but be aware that the hike to the top is not easy.  There are over 150 steps to the top, and they are all steep.  Like any lighthouse, there isn’t anything special at the top.  The only special thing would be to see what a modern light house looks like, and to get a little information on how they work.  Unfortunately, the information is all in Japanese.  The best thing to do, while in the area is to explore the shore.  There is a large park connecting Hinomisaki village with the lighthouse, but venturing a little north of the lighthouse will take you to Izumo-Matsushima.  The rocky cliffs on the way from the lighthouse towards Izumo-Matsushima are great for exploring and taking various photos.  You could spend hours just walking along the rocks, and there are a few places where you can enjoy a great swim.  When the rock cliff ends, and the forest trail begins, you will be able to see Izumo-Matsushima.  It is called Izumo-Matsushima due to it’s similarities with Matsushima near Sendai.  While there aren’t many rock island formations, there are a few, and it wasn’t as disappointing as Matsushima.  I would recommend a short walk out this way to enjoy the peace and quiet.  It’s great for an hour of relaxing. On the way back to the parking lot, you can also stop by some of the shops.  It was a little strange, but there are a lot of blowfish skins that can be bought.  I didn’t bother to buy them, but it was available for purchase, but I was a little scared of what it might do to me as we travelled.

Hinomisaki village is a small area next to the lighthouse.  When leaving the lighthouse, turn left at the first set of lights and you’ll be in the village.  It’s famous, mainly, for Hinomisaki Shrine.  It’s a typical red coloured shrine that is nestled into the hillside.  A little further from the town, towards Izumo Taisha, there is a hotel located on a Cliffside.  It’s a little scary as it has been abandoned.  It is said to be haunted, which makes Hinomisaki feel slightly haunted.  It might have been due to the time, the clouds, and the story of a haunted hotel, but the shrine was very spooky.  It didn’t help that when I visited Hinomisaki Shrine, it was getting a little dark, only a few people were there, and some of the smaller shrines were in the forested hills.  Those smaller shrines were nestled into the forest creating a dark and eerie feel that I may not forget.  That aside, the shrine wasn’t all that spectacular, but if you are in the area, it’s worth a quick stop.  Once you finish with the shrine, you should walk out to the pier.  At the pier, you’ll be able to see Fumishima.  It is a small island that’s very close to the coast.  Depending on the time of year, November to July, you’ll be able to see thousands of black tailed gulls.  They are a protected species, and the island is off limits to everyone except the priest of Hinomisaki Shrine.  The birds are very noisy and a little messy, but the sight of thousands of birds hanging around a very small shrine and a single wooden torii is interesting.  If you are too lazy to drive over from the lighthouse, or vice versa, it’s a short walk along the coast between Hinomisaki village and the lighthouse.

While you are in the Izumo area, it’s recommended that you visit an onsen.  In Izumo, and neighbouring Hikawa Town, you can visit many onsen.  Lake Shinji is well known for its onsen hot springs.  While you can visit many onsen all around the lake, the onsen in and around Izumo are easy to reach.  The easiest onsen to visit would have to be Lamp Onsen.  It’s a small onsen located on the south side of Izumoshi Station, and relatively cheap.  The name comes from the fact that they use oil lamps inside the onsen for lighting.  It’s a great small place to go and relax for an entire afternoon.  There isn’t too much to do there aside from bathe, but the water is great.  The numbers of baths are small, so there is little chance of making a mistake. Another unique aspect to this onsen is the fact that it has reddish brown water, probably due to the clay or earth from which they get their water.  I would also recommend a small onsen called Yurari, which is located north of the Izumo airport.  This onsen is not as nice as Lamp, but it had more baths, a large resting area, and a few restaurants.  Unfortunately, it did feel a little sterile due to the more modern nature.  If you want a unique feel, Lamp would be your best bet.

Izumo is a great place to visit.  If you combine it with a trip to Matsue and Iwami Ginzan, it would be a great week.  While you don’t truly need a week to see and do everything, running around as fast as you can, in the countryside is not always ideal.  If you want to be more like a local, take things slow and absorb the energy each area has to offer.

Izumo Information:

Izumo City (Travel Information – English): http://www.izumo-kankou.gr.jp/english/
Izumo City (Travel Information – Japanese): http://www.izumo-kankou.gr.jp/
Izumo (Wikitravel): http://wikitravel.org/en/Izumo

Izumo Taisha (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Izumo-taisha

Lamp Onsen: http://odekake.ojaru.jp/onsen/chugoku/shimane/izumo/izumoekimae/lampnoyu/lampnoyu.html
Yurari Onsen: http://odekake.ojaru.jp/onsen/chugoku/shimane/izumo/kappou/yurari/yurari.html
Izumo Taisha (Japan Guide): http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e5804.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/


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